Article last updated: February 2018 by Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer
Fitness can often appear complicated. There are so many variables that people think will give them their dream physique faster. For example, hitting each muscle from all possible angles with 10 different exercises, counting macronutrients, weighing meals and so on. Those kind of things only do one thing for you: they make fitness rule your life, instead of just making it part of your life.
Is your goal to be a competitive bodybuilder, fitness model or something similar? If not, then you should simplify fitness so it doesn’t rule your life. The price you pay is too high compared to the benefit.
However, you should still put effort into your new lifestyle. The ideal strategy is to channel all your effort into the right activities; progressing in your training as often as possible while eating solid and nutritious meals. If you do those 2 things for several years, there is NO WAY that your physique won’t transform. Nobody get’s lean and muscular by focusing on small details such as replacing hammer curls with concentration curls or buying tons of supplements, but plenty of people get lean and muscular by changing their eating habits and progressing in their training.
A Typical Training Routine
A typical bodybuilding split can look something like this :
Day 1: Upper Body
- Bench Press: 4 sets of 6-8 reps
- Bent Over Row: 4 sets of 6-8 reps
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Bicep Curl: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Rope Tricep Pull-downs: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Day 2: Lower Body
- Front Squat: 4 sets of 6-8 reps
- Deadlift: 4 sets of 6-8 reps
- Lunges: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Hamstring Curl: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Standing Calf Raises: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Day 4: Upper Body
- Incline Bench Press: 4 sets of 6-8 reps
- Lat Pull-down: 4 sets of 6-8 reps
- Barbell Shoulder Press: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Front Lateral Raises: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Dips: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Day 5: Lower Body
- Back Squat: 4 sets of 6-8 reps
- Stiff-Legged Deadlift: 4 sets of 6-8 reps
- One-Legged Squats/Leg Press: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Hamstring Curl: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Seated Calf Raises: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
This workout has a total of 19 exercises! Just take a look at this type of routine… It makes tracking progress so complicated. For example, if I go to the gym on day 2, I have to perform 5 different exercises for the lower body. However, the next time I train lower body I would have to replace 4 of the exercises with different ones.
In addition to that, some of the exercises state how many sets to do and a small rep range. In my experience those kind of rep ranges suck. Let’s say I can do 8 reps with 220 lbs on the back squat. Then the next set I would probably only be able to do 6, then 4-5 on the last 2. In order to complete that rep range and move up I would have to “save” energy for my later sets, unless I use smaller weights on the later sets, but that would make tracking progress even more complicated.
How to Simplify Training
So how do you simplify your training? If you’re a beginner I have already done this for you in Bodyweight Training for the Skinny-Fat Beginner.
The routine I shared with you has 3 exercises you can progress on, and 2 optional exercises you can perform if you have the energy. It makes progressing so simple and effective. Here’s the routine:
- Warm-up (Don’t skip this!!): Dynamic stretching + light cardio for 10 min
- Exercise 1: Chin-Ups 2-4 sets
- Exercise 2: Push Ups or Diamond Push Ups 2-4 sets
- Exercise 3 (if your legs and glutes grow fast, reduce the squat frequency): Squat or Pistol Squat 2-4 sets
- Assistance Exercises (optional): Leg Raises for abs and Supermans for lower back (2 sets to failure on each)
Your focus is to progress on 3 exercises. The big advantage of focusing on a few exercises rather than a lot of exercises, lies in the mental benefit of it. When you know that your training routine only has 1 or 2 exercises for each muscle group, you will push yourself much more on those exercises, compared to if you had to go in and do 4-5 exercises.
I would much rather see you add 10 reps to your chin-up max, than add 20 lbs to 10 different isolation exercises. Once you got a solid base of strength, you can always focus on lacking muscle groups, by doing different variations of the basic exercises. Currently, I’m focusing on growing my shoulders, so my routine looks like this:
- Exercise 1: Handstand Push-Ups – 3 sets
- Exercise 2: Chin-Ups – 3 sets
- Exercise 3: Diamond Push-Ups – 3 sets
- Exercise 4: Leg Raises – 3 sets
- Exercise 5: Pistol Squats – 3 sets
As you can see, my current routine is VERY similar to the basic routine I give to a beginner. Instead of adding 5 different isolation exercises for my shoulders, I simply added handstand push-ups. If this doesn’t work out I may add an isolation exercise, but the point remains: I’m making sure that my training routine has as few exercises as possible so I can focus all my effort to progress on those exercises.
How to Simplify Eating
Eating starts at the grocery store. If you’re on a tight budget I recommend you to find the closest discount store and shop there everytime. My closest grocery store is about a 2 min walk from my appartment, and it’s as cheap as it get’s here in Denmark. I always go there, buy what I need, and get out fast. I never buy useless stuff such as candy, chocolate, bagels and useless supplements that won’t make a significant difference to my physique.
The money I save can be spent on buying proper testosterone boosting foods such as steaks, organic eggs and red meat.
I buy meat and fish in bulk, cook for 2-3 days and freeze the rest. I don’t care if I have to eat the same food for 2 weeks. Not only does it enable me to become good at cooking certain types of food, but I also save money in the long run since I buy big packages that are on discount. Cook more food than you need and store the rest in tupperware:
By doing this I can afford a good cut of red meat on a regular basis.
My grocery list is divided in 3 parts. One part is the meat, eggs and fish that will provide me with protein and fat. The other part is the carbs such as rice, potatoes and rye bread. The final part is fruit and vegetables.
For dinner I usually eat beef, steak or chicken breast with white rice and vegetables while my breakfast is either rye bread with peanutbutter, or 6 eggs with a bit of rye bread. The breakfast takes me roughly 10 minutes to make, and dinner usually takes 45-60 minutes including cleaning., and as I mentioned earlier, I make dinner for several days. By eating this food I can stay lean and I’m never hungry despite eating only 2 meals, because the meals are so filling.
If I want to lose fat, I simply eat less. This is done by either reducing the portion sizes and/or reducing the meal frequency. If I want to gain muscle, I increase the portion sizes or add high calorie foods to my diet. I personally had succes with snacking on 5-6 tablespoons of peanutbutter everyday and making peanutbutter mass gainer shakes during my bulks to gain muscle. As you can see, it’s quite simple. I have a few staple meals that keep me full all day long, and when I want to gain muscle I just add more peanutbutter to my diet.
With that said, I stick to the basic foods listed above +80 % of the time. Once in a while I go out to a restaurant or to a friend’s place to eat, but when I do that, I eat whatever I desire.
Finally, when I make changes to my eating or training, I usually change a few things at a time. Not only does it keep my eating and training simple, but it enables me to learn what works best for me.
If I switch from bodyweight training 6 times a week to heavy weight training 3 times a week, while adding 10 supplements and switching to a KETO diet, then how will I know what actually works and what doesn’t? Chances are, that I will just keep looking for a magical training routine and diet that doesn’t actually exist. The key is to learn what works for you, and stick to that as long as it works.
A simple training routine that makes it easy to track progress, combined with buying solid foods at the grocery store and cooking for several days will make this lifestyle simple, yet effective.