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The Minimalist

Updated: Apr 8

Minimalist Conditioning

The Minimalist

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“Less is More”

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Minimalist Conditioning

"It is vain to do more with more what can be done with less."

-William of Occam

The Minimalist

I need things simple. I need simple direction. Clear cut and to the point. I have found that even the simplest of things can be overcomplicated by my mind. If something is working, I ask myself, is it working good enough? If I am happy, am I happy enough. 2 plus 2 equals 4. Does it? My mind can be hamster wheel of nonsense. I avoid the news channels, cable TV, and most social media in general because too much information is bad for a mind like mine. Sometimes I genuinely feel like my brain is going to melt because of all the useless information that I have floating around in my head. The scary thing is that I was doing this way before I heard those first dial-up modem sounds. I don’t spend hours scrolling my phone because I am scared that if I let in all that information that we are bombarded with, I would end up in a straight-jacket.

Before America got online, I got into exercising. I started working out on an old nautilus machine in my middle school gym before my seventh-grade year started. I was hooked immediately. I tried to learn everything that I could about exercises when my older cousin saw me doing some goofy looking bicep curl that I saw another older kid doing in the weight room, and laughed at me. I would look for book at the library and bought some old muscle, health, and fitness magazines at the grocery store or gas station. I just wanted to learn and do it right. Eventually as I started to learn the exercises, I went in search of the Holy Grail of training. I knew that the perfect program was out there waiting to be discovered. Little did I know that an afternoon weight training session in the early 90’s would send me on a lifelong passion and quest.

Like Percival or Lancelot, I searched high and low. I tried all kinds of programs. I also tried them too frequently because I worried that if I didn’t try this new program that I would be missing out. My “old” program sucked compared to what this new expert was saying.

Fortunately, I read an article from Bill Starr, the strength and conditioning from Johns Hopkins back in the day, and his program was so straight forward and basic that something clicked in my confused, overloaded young mind. It was a Monday, Wednesday, Friday program. A heavy day, light day and a medium day. It centered around barbell squats, power cleans, and bench press. The reps were low.

Once I figured out how to do a power clean, which I hadn’t heard of up to that point, I was off. There was something about this program that made so much sense to me, and I stuck with it. I worked out after school in this old dingy YMCA weight room. It was dark. The old dumbbells, barbells, and plates had that kind of rusty look to them where my hands would get all dirty from the rust. I stuck to my one corner which was an old power rack, because on the other side of the tiny weight room was a bunch of crazy, loud and aggressive rugby players and I knew they would crush me if I got in their way so I got in the habit of sticking to myself, doing my basic exercises with a few auxiliary exercises, writing down what I did in my spiral notebook and getting out there as quickly as I could so that rugby guys didn’t notice me. I did my whole deal in under an hour. A couple things about this crack me up because there was a whole new modern weight room with bright lights, pretty machines and people right down the hall from this old, dark rusty dungeon and I was somehow drawn to my little corner. The rugby guys actually turned out to be cool too. They actually started saying hi to me as I kept showing up. Nothing more than that, but I also knew that they were cool with me being there now.

I did my three day a week routine then swam the other days in the over chlorinated pool. I think I had my learner permit so my dad or mom would drop me off or I would walk through neighborhoods from school. This was the old YMCA back when people would still sleep there just to help paint the picture even more.

As I made progress on this “basic” program in a dark weight room with a rusty barbell, and swam my laps, I didn’t realize that I was laying the foundation for my training philosophy that two decades later would save my life. Simple. Straight-forward. Consistent. Efficient. Fun.

There was one more piece to the puzzle so to speak that became a part of how to train.

We moved away from the old steel town during the recession of the mid 90’s. By that time, I loved training. It had become such a part of my life that I would do something every day, and I couldn’t wait to get to the next workout. I joined the new local YMCA right away. It was much more modern but it still had a power rack in the corner, so I naturally gravitated towards that. I would make some friends who worked out every day at the same time so I started to train with them. A few of us were that group of teenagers trying to get “diesel.” I trained with them and their bodybuilding routines, but it all started to get ridiculous again for most of that first year at my new school. I hurt myself a few times doing these crazy, high volume bodybuilding split systems. Drop sets. Super sets. Strip sets. Everyone had an opinion so we would spend just as much time debating as we would training. Sessions lasted hours because of it.

In all this craziness though, I did figure something out, besides what didn’t work for me. I decided late that year that I needed to put my Mr. Universe dreams on hold. I can’t remember if it was out of frustration of an injury or both. I got back to running or swimming in the morning before school. I needed a break from the weights and all the debating. Besides the morning runs and swims, I started looking at how the military trained. I started doing a ton of calisthenics again. Jumping jacks, squat thrusts, squats, all kinds of push up and pull up variations, flutter kicks. I would go outside on the tennis court in our apartment complex, and just PT the hell of myself. I would be drenched in the hot, southern sun. Besides seeing how effective and challenging bodyweight exercise could be, I discovered something else. I got it into my head that I wanted to get really good at pushups, like crazy good. I didn’t know what that meant yet, but I just knew I wanted to be able to do crazy amounts and in different positions that made it harder. I figured that to do this that I would need to practice throughout the day. I set a daily goal, and would do them whenever I had a chance through the day. Wake up. Do a set or two. If I went to the bathroom, do a set. If I needed a study break, boom. Knock some out. Before bed, finish the day off with some. AT first, I did them to failure every day, every set and I beat myself up bad. Eventually, my shoulder started to hurt and moving my arms wasn’t any fun. After taking a few days off, I figured that I would still do them all day long but I couldn’t go to muscle failure. I spread my daily goal over even more sets. Sets of ten or twenty tops even though I could do more. This worked. I did this consistently until I graduated high school and used it with all kinds of exercises. I built myself up to 1000 pushups a day.

I became a huge fan of these mini workouts through out the day. Even when I got off track into adulthood, I still did mini workouts through the day. Some pushups. Sit ups. Not much but it was at least something.

Right around the time I graduated, the classic book, Dinosaur Training by Brooks Kubik came into my life. I couldn’t tell you how I found this book but it got me back to what I loved about strength training. Basic. Effective. Hard-nosed. It took me back to the dark dungeon, and I haven’t done an isolation exercise since except for some barbell curls.

There are no magic programs. So much can be done for our health with just the basics. A mat, a jump rope, a pull up bar or a tree limb maybe some kettlebells and dumbbells are enough to make incredible conditioning and health gains. In my experience, consistency, progression, and hard work are the most important factors. I have tried many different approaches to training, always searching for that magic and perfect program that doesn’t exist. Barbells, dumbbells, bodyweight exercises, kettle bells are all good. I do what I enjoy doing. My only criteria is that I can do it consistently, safely, and I enjoy doing it. I stay away from machines because I have never felt like they are effective for me, but many people do them and they make gains on it. Its better to do something than nothing at all, and as long as people are doing it consistently, making progress and staying safe, it really doesn’t matter.

I think it’s all become so confusing with the overabundance of information that’s out there. I think one of the main reasons is that simplicity doesn’t sell stuff. If everyone knew that they could make progress to their overall health with some sets of pushups, leg raises, bodyweight squats and some walking daily without grinding themselves down into the ground, I think more people would take charge of their health. Instead, too many people, and I have been one of them, are stuck in analysis paralysis. There is too much information to sort through and beginners genuinely don’t know where to start, get intimidated, frustrated and don’t even get off the couch. That’s sad. I believe that most people want to genuinely take care of themselves. Our bodies were built to move. The human body is the most incredible machine on this planet. It was built to move, heal itself, and protect itself. It will respond if it’s taken care of. Period. We all have this natural primal instinct to move and take care of ourselves. Its in our DNA. I have always known when I am not taking care of myself and doing the right thing. That little voice knew that I should exercise, eat right, and not put garbage into my system. I ALWAYS knew. I would lie to myself and justify it with excuses but I always knew.

More or less, I let myself go for two decades. Working too much. Not sleeping enough. Poor eating. No structured exercise. Smoked cigarettes. Drank too much.

The farther I let myself go, the more intimidating it was to get started. I would spend a ton of time trying to find that program that I could do, and stick with safely. Analyze. Read. Find something else. Read another “guru’s” opinion. See another infomercial. And on and on and on.

Finally, I said this is ridiculous. I got up one morning and went for a walk. I got up the next day and did it again, and then again. I started. I picked the time of day that I knew that I wouldn’t get interrupted and I could be consistent with it. A few days later, I did some pushups at the end of the walk. After that I started eating a healthy breakfast everyday and cut out the processed stuff. Shortly after that, I quit smoking. Alcohol didn’t make much sense in my life any more either.

One simple action first thing in the morning, led to another good choice and another after that.

I also went back to doing my mini workouts to start. I knew my body was too fat, my lungs were too scorched, and my joints were too stiff for me to handle any type of long intense workout. I also knew that if I got hurt or frustrated, it was over. I needed multiple mini-victories every day. I had to stop beating myself up for all my bad decisions and comparing myself to what I used to be, and just move forward. I set myself a daily goal of doing 50 pushups every day. The crazy thing is though even though my body and health were wrecked, I could still do one set of 50 pushups if I pushed myself. It was probably the result of working in sets of pushups between cigarettes for years. What I needed though was not one set to failure and be so wrecked that I didn’t want to do it every day, so I started with 50 pushups a day, but I had to do it every day. That was the deal I made with myself. I didn’t have to workout until I puked or my lungs were burning but I had to do something every day. No exceptions. No matter what.

I guess one would wonder how someone who loved working out so much during my early formative years could go down such a bad path for so long. What I have come to is this: it doesn’t matter. Its in the past. All that matters is what I do today and going forward.

One thing I do know for sure from my experience of losing myself and finding it again, is that it just takes one bad decision to start a chain reaction of more bad decisions and before you know if decades have passed and you are sitting in the doctor’s office being walked through the signs of a heart attack because the doctor has told you that the heart attack is coming, and its not a matter of “if” but “when.”

The flip-side of that coin is that one good decision and action can lead to many good decisions and actions. It all started with that winter morning that I decided that I am done thinking about getting healthy, but I am going to go out there and put one foot in front of the other.

The fitness industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry. However, its missed the boat somewhere because we as a nation are morbidly unhealthy. I am not unique. Plenty of folks have heard the same lecture as me or worse from their doctor. All of it has been made way too complicated for what people really need which is just to get moving again.

What I didn’t realize either was that my body will respond quickly to just a few minor changes in eating and movements. I dropped ten pounds fairly quickly.

I want to show people how uncomplicated it can be to make big changes in their lives. I am not taking about six pack abs, huge biceps, and chiseled pecs. I am talking about real, life changing actions with very little equipment.

I had the heart and the desire to change my life. I was tired of being out of breath and feeling sluggish all the time. The most important thing that I did was START.

I want to show people how to get back to basics. It doesn’t have to be complicated. There is no magic formula other than desire, consistency, progression and safety.

Less is more < = >

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