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Volume 2: The Start

Minimalist Conditioning

Volume 2: The Start

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Minimalist Conditioning

Volume 2:

The Start

“Progress not perfection.”


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The Start

When I started on the path to getting my health on track, I decided that I would focus on just a handful of basic bodyweight exercises in addition to my daily walks and impromptu desk and bathroom pushup sessions. I had been walking every morning and then doing push-ups leaning against my bathroom sink counter, as well as doing mini-workouts in my office during the day.

I needed to get more focused and structured with my training.

I decided that it was best for me to master the most effective exercises that I could do. I would focus on push-ups, squats, and leg raises. To work my whole body, I knew that I wanted to be able to do pull-ups, a wrestling bridge, and handstands eventually. These are all considered compound exercises, because they work multiple muscles at the same time. I wanted to make the best use of my time, and I felt these were the most effective exercises to concentrate on.

I felt using my bodyweight for resistance was the safest for me starting out given that my body was an absolute wreck. I was overweight and felt terrible most of the time. I didn’t want to risk hurting myself, or get frustrated and give up. Just like new recruit training in the military, these basic bodyweight exercises would build my base of fitness for more complicated exercises and routines down the line. They would be my way of building strength, increasing range of motion, and muscular endurance.

I had a plan. I had a blurry vision about where I wanted to go. I knew the vision and the goals would get clearer, but I didn’t have the time or energy anymore to spend worrying about the exact goals. I needed to get moving.

My initial goal was move every day.

The issue was that my body was wrecked. My ankles and lower back were always sore. My ankles had a tendency to swell up, and I could barely walk when that happened. My elbows and wrists were stiff. My breathing was labored as I went through my day. I had daily headaches from chronic hypertension.

I knew what exercises that I wanted to be good at. I wanted to build my program around the basic compound exercises that worked multiple muscle groups at once. Squats, pushups, and leg raises was where I was going to start. The pull ups, bridges, and handstands were down the line.

These would be the foundation in which I would build on. I would start with the best variation that I could do safely so that I didn’t hurt myself. I wouldn’t go to muscle failure because I didn’t want to grind myself into the ground. I figured that daily and consistent exercise was the key. I had to do it every day, and that was non-negotiable. I had to build the daily habit. Even if it was ten minutes a day, I had to get my body used to moving and working again. I also knew that I couldn’t accomplish that if I couldn’t move my arms.

I knew that I could push hard, and hit 20 pushups but that would wear me out for the day, so I decided that I was going to do a push-up progression to “oil up” my joints and muscles. Once they were used to doing that motion again, I would gradually increase the workload.

I had been doing some pushups against my bathroom sink counter after my walk in the morning, so I knew that I could start there. I would do multiple sets of 25 repetitions of countertop pushups. My goal was to work up to five sets of 25 spread out over the course of each day. Once those started to feel easy, I would get back into the standard pushup position. I tested myself to see how many sets and reps I could do before I got worn out. That would be my baseline to build on.

When I was in high school, I exercised every day. One of my goals was that I wanted to be “good” at pushups. I didn’t know exactly what that meant but I knew that if I wanted to improve my ability to do pushups, I needed to practice them every day.

That’s what I did. I did pushups all through the day. I would do my normal after-school or morning workout, then I would fit a set or two in during breaks in my day. If I needed a study break, I would knock out a set or two and then get back to studying. If I went into the bathroom, I would do some more. Over the course of my senior year, I built up to being able to do a 1000 per day. Little did I know, that this method of training would become my way of digging myself out of a hole, and change the course of my life over two decades later.

I remembered that experience from high school, and applied it to getting back in shape. I would walk in the morning and work my push-ups, squats, and leg raises into my day. I wrote in my journal every day what my daily goals were, and I had to make those goals each day.

At this point, the goal was building the habit of exercising every day. I needed to build my routine and be able to stick with it. I would write in my journal every day to track my progress.

I could do two sets of 25 countertop pushups without straining to start. This was my daily goal. I did these every day. After three of four days, these started to feel easy, so I added a set. I continued like this daily until I worked up to my progression goal, adding a set once the current volume became easy.

Training has to be progressive to make progress. Our bodies will adapt to the demands we put on it.

At the same time that I started my pushups, I also started to do chair squats. These did not feel great when I started. I would sit down to a chair, and my right knee would buckle in a little bit. My Achilles tendons and ankles were sore. I didn’t have the ankle flexibility to keep my feet pointed straight. I could not lower myself without lifting my heels off the ground. I was tight and weak.

I slowed my repetition tempo down. I would lower myself slowly to the point where I felt my form starting to slip. I would hold the squat in that position for a second and go back up. I was going to work through the weak points slowly.

I started at ten repetitions as a goal, but I wasn’t worried about hitting those numbers as much as I was correcting my form. This is what I could do at the time, and I knew that I would never be able to go further until I corrected these muscle imbalances and increased my range of motion. If I didn’t, I knew I would get frustrated or injured.

I had to be able to hit those ten squats with perfect form. I wouldn’t let myself lift my heels off the ground. My knees and feet had to stay pointed straight. I had to keep my balance. I also knew that I was much stronger standing up than I was sitting down, so I attacked my weakness.

I kept at it. As I lowered myself slowly, I would hit my sticking point and hold it for a few seconds. If I could go lower, I would keep going. If not, I would stand back up and go down again.

Eventually, after a few days of practice, I could go all the way to the chair in one motion. I remained mindful of my form during each rep, and made adjustments as needed. I was doing continuous reps.

Once I could do my ten squats to my chair, I started doing a set of 25. After I could do a set of that number, I built up to multiple sets like I did with my countertop pushups.

I wrote my progress down in my journal. That’s not to say that every day, I made progress in my number of repetitions but I reminded myself that progress was in the daily practice itself considering, a few weeks earlier I was still sitting on the couch. The daily act was the progress itself.

I added in the leg raises eventually and followed the same progression. I would sit in my chair with my legs out straight. I put my hands on the side of the chair, and pull my knees back to my stomach. These helped to strengthen my core muscles.

I also added in floor bridges shortly after that. I would lie on the floor with my knees bent, and raise my hips off the floor. These helped my lower back and loosened my hip flexors.

My daily beginning exercise goals were:

< = > Countertop pushups- 5 sets of 25 then progressing to standard pushups

< = > Squat to the chair-5 sets of 25 then progressing to parallel squats without the chair

< => Chair leg raises-5 sets of 25 then progressing to pulling my knees to my chest while lying on the floor

< => Floor bridges- 5 sets of 25 then progressing to floor bridges with one leg in the air

< = > I also walked daily building up to 30 minutes daily.

As I continued to practice my movements daily, my body adapted to the push-ups, leg raises, squats, bridges, and walking. I took the same approach as I added in the pull-ups and other basic exercises later down the road.

For me, the most important thing when I was thinking about getting in shape was to stop thinking about it, make a start, and get into action.

My advice to someone who doesn’t know where to start but wants to change their life is this:

< = > Stop thinking about it and just start. Start with the basic movements of your daily life. Walk around the block or practice getting up and down from your chair, if that’s what you feel comfortable doing. Set a number of reps you want to do and go for it. If you can’t do that yet, do arm circles in your chair. DO something. Make a start.

< => Keep it simple. In my experience, the most effective training programs focus on basic exercises in an abbreviated and progressive form. Focus on the mastering the exercises that you can do, and try to progress at them.

< = > Do something every day, but don’t grind yourself into the ground. Stop short of failure. The daily habit is what is important.

< = > Try to progress as it feels right. Keep a journal of the exercises, reps and sets that you are doing.

< = > Do today just a little bit better than yesterday. Whether that is a little extra effort in your training, or making a better decision, it doesn’t matter but try to do one thing better. For example, say no to the bag of chips, the candy bar, or that can of beer.

< = > Be safe. Do what you can handle. Practice perfect form.

< = >Be patient. The progress will come. For me in the beginning the progress was the daily act itself. The numbers come later.

But no matter what, above all else:


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