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What A Simple Fitness Routine Can Teach You About Life

My workout routine for the past few months has been very simple. My home gym, if you want to call it that, consists of two 80lb kettelbells, two 25lb kettelbells, and two resistance bands. And guess what? I’m stronger than ever.

I don’t say this as a humble-brag but rather to point out how little in the way of equipment I’ve needed to gain strength. Though my minimalist set-up does not allow me to perform any of the three big compound lifts I’m most focused on—the dead-lift, back-squat, and bench-press—I have little doubt that after six to eight weeks in a proper gym (whenever that may be) I’ll be stronger than ever on those lifts, too.

I’ve been consistent with the kettelbells and bands which has resulted in increased all-around strength. It’s also prevented me from getting injured, over-training, or burning out on the specific lifts mentioned above, even if only because I can’t do them. My regimen has been constrained, simple, and boring. It has also been effective.

A younger version of me might have been concerned that I wasn’t doing any of the specific compound lifts I am focused on. But I’ve come to learn it doesn’t really matter. In just about any pursuit, from lifting weights to writing to creating art, if you keep the foundation sturdy it doesn’t take much to layer on top of that. As a good friend of mine who is a former United States national-team rower puts it, if you focus on building a thick knife you can sharpen it quickly.

Too often we get caught up on the details, overly focused on the tips of our metaphorical knives. And while the details can be the most alluring and exciting parts of our pursuits, the bright and shiny objects, they can also be the most complex, exhausting, and hard to get right. There is increased freedom in not always stressing out about the details and concentrating on the foundation instead. In the example above, this means not worrying that I can’t dead-lift, back-squat, or bench-press and merely getting strong instead.

If there has been one good thing about the coronavirus it is that it’s forced us to get back to the basics in so many areas of our lives. In doing so, it’s helped us identify things we thought were absolutely necessary to our work and personal lives but turned out not to be. It’s wielded a kind of simplicity, making crystal clear the difference between the foundational elements of our lives and the details. One thing I hope we hold onto long after this pandemic has passed is this difference, and the benefits of paying more attention to the former and spending less time and energy stressing out about the latter. I’d much rather have a thick knife that I can occasionally sharpen when I need to than a super-sharp-all-the-time-knife with a flimsy and fragile base.

Brad

(For related reading see: Stop Hiding Behind Complexity, How to Make the Good Changes from Quarantine Stick, and The Zen of Weight Lifting.)

For the fitness nerds, here are the movements I’ve been doing. I’ve been training either three days a week (full-body each day) or four days a week (two “push” days and two “pull” days). My workouts take about 70 minutes. I warm up and do mobility for 20 minutes and then lift for the remainder.

  • Double kettelbell front-squats with the heavy kettelbells in the 2-6 repetition range for between 3 and 5 sets.
  • Push-ups (with and without banded resistance; normal grip, wide grip, and narrow grip).
  • Double kettelbell dead-lifts with the heavy kettelbells in the 12-20 repetition range for between 3 and 5 sets.
  • Bent-over rows with the heavy kettelbells in the 4 to 8 repetition range for 3 to 5 sets.
  • Goblet squats with the heavy kettelbells in the 8-16 repetition range for between 3 and 5 sets.
  • Kettelbell swings with the heavy kettelbell in the 6 to 10 repetition range for between 3 and 10 sets.
  • Bottom’s up (griping the kettelbell by the horn) shoulder press with the light kettelbells in the 4-8 repetition range for between 3 and 5 sets.
  • Loaded carries with the heavy kettelbells for between 40 and 70 seconds and for 3 sets.
  • Single-arm shoulder press with the band for 8-15 repetitions and 3 sets.
  • Single-arm triceps extension with the band for 8-15 repetitions and 3 sets.
  • Biceps curls with the band for 8-15 repetitions and 3 sets.
  • Single-arm pull-down (tying the band to a stable garage hook) for between 8-15 reps and 3 sets.

For beginners: I’ve also partnered with Outside Magazine to develop a free 10-day holistic fitness program called MOVE EVERY DAY, delivered to your inbox every day. Check it out here!

8 Comments

  1. Luke on July 16, 2020 at 5:26 am

    Thanks for this post and routine, Brad. Are you doing any cardio/running in addition to this?

    • Brad Stulberg on July 16, 2020 at 6:21 am

      Hi Luke! I am! I try to walk around a 3 mile lake near me at a fast clip twice a week. And then on the weekend I usually take a 2-3 hour hike, loaded with my 2 year old on the back! Also, a good regimen for CV fitness if you are tight on time (and also one that’ doesn’t zap power and strength) is 15 minutes of Kettelbell swings with a heavy KB doing 7 maximal force swings every minute. By minute 11 you are worked.

  2. Cherie on July 16, 2020 at 11:51 am

    Hi Brad, great post, thanks for the info! What weight kettle bells for the heavy pair would you recommend for women? And is it possible to get away with only one kettle bell in either weight pair?

    Also, besides the obvious benefits of lap swimming, what might you recommend for incorporating swimming into a simple regime?

    Thanks!

    • Brad Stulberg on July 16, 2020 at 3:27 pm

      That is SO personal. For some women “heavy” is 10 pounds and for others it is 80 pounds! I would recommend a pair for each. Especially for the heavy ones, since some of those movements you do holding both. For the lighter one, you could get away with a single KB and do one arm at a time. Hope this helps!

  3. Megan Deutmeyer on July 16, 2020 at 1:19 pm

    Nice post. I have signed up for the Move Every Day series from Outside. However, I was a bit disheartened by post #4 in the series – a primer on weight training. It recommends pull-ups, which I cannot do (and since most women can’t do a pull-up, and I imagine many men can’t either, this probably turns off other readers as well). Any suggestions on what to do in lieu of pull-ups? https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/25/why-women-cant-do-pull-ups/

    • Brad Stulberg on July 16, 2020 at 3:26 pm

      Hi Megan! Two ideas:

      1) You could try isometric pull-ups, which means you either jump or step up to the bar, and then hold the pull-up position for 2-4 seconds. Do a few reps of that. And then progress to gradually lowering yourself over time.

      2) You could get an exercise band and tie it to something sturdy and overhead, and then kneel in a lunge position and pull down on the band.

      Both of those movements would help train the pull-ups muscles!

  4. Jeremy Boone on July 16, 2020 at 3:20 pm

    Great stuff as always Brad!

    The only thing I would add to that routine is to challenge rotational and lateral planes of movement. Everything you listed is ALL Sagittal plane (front to back)!! 😉

    Thanks for helping so many people!!

  5. […] What a Simple Fitness Routine Can Teach You About Life (COVID Training is About Nailing the Basics a… […]

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