In fact, quite the opposite, but you wouldn’t know it from the popular media, marketing, or simply old myths that everyone assumes are true.
If you were to listen to the popular media, the rack of contradictory and confusing fitness magazines, and all the Instagram “experts” you’d think that it would take hours a day in order to get fit, whether that’s gaining muscle, losing fat, moving better, or getting in better condition.
And a lot of people do the math, they look at the time they have available, the energy they think they need to put out (training doesn’t work unless you finish in a pool of sweat!), and they decide to take a pass.
This is sad on so many levels. Quitting on your physicality means that you’re saying yes to a much faster decline, more aches and pains, and a much smaller world. It’s not a sign that you’re a “head and not a dumb jock”, it’s a sign of giving up.
And it’s based on falsehoods. I want to shout from the rooftops that you can see amazing things happen in just 10 – 20 minutes a day if you’re smart about it. And that being fit actually feels really good on every level.
The other mistake that I see happen is that people will do something to address cardiovascular fitness, but little to stay strong. Being strong isn’t the sole province of preening body builders or lucky teenage student athletes with mom and dad paying the bills and cooking all their meals. It is available to everyone. There’s no need to strike a Faustian bargain and just do one thing (usually jogging) because that’s all you have time for or because you dislike commercial gyms.
If you think strength training is dangerous, try being weak. Being weak is dangerous.
Look at the example of La Sierra High School in the early 1960’s. The calisthenics program took 12 minutes, which was followed by a typical gym class, and finished up with five minutes of “off the ground work” at the end.
High repetition body weight strength training – that’s you versus gravity with minimal or no equipment, and sticking with the basics can absolutely change the game for the vast majority of the people out there.
But first, I want to talk about differentiating between can and should.
Can you work as hard as possible every time you train?
Because you’ll stop seeing improvements fairly early on and eventually run out of motivation.
By contrast, if you focus on approaching each session as a strength practice (this is not just semantics) keep the movements controlled and powerful versus grinding out ugly reps, you’ll end up moving and feeling better, get stronger, and you’ll actually enjoy the training.
Yes, movement is actually enjoyable. It’s not punishment!
You’ll also find it easier to stay consistent and that you see better results than if you pushed yourself to a maximum effort every time you worked out.
Put simply, the harder you push the body, the more stubbornly it refuses to change.
Gradually raise the bar on what feels easy to you rather than trying to run through brick walls. We’ve all hit that sixth rep and started to slow down and fought our way to that tenth rep and had to stop. Reps 7, 8, 9, and 10 generally look (and feel) pretty bad most of the time.
What if instead, you did five, stopped for a couple of seconds, did five more, and by training this way, hit twenty quick and powerful reps?
While this will still be hard work, it won’t feel like a grind.
You’d be training yourself to ingrain good movement habits, improve strength (which makes everything easier to do), and reap the benefits of high repetition training which I outline below.
Here’s what you need to know
- The basics will take you far. Push-ups, bodyweight rows, pull ups (assisted are fine), squats and lunges will help you get fit, strong, and resilient. All these movements can be scaled back or advanced for any strength and skill level
- High repetition bodyweight movements strengthen joints, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. These tissues get stronger at less than half the rate of muscle (200 days vs 90 days). They don’t have a direct blood supply, they improve through movement, so high reps make sense on this count as well.
- Bodyweight movements engage more of your nervous system, reset your balance, and will help you move better.
- This style of training allows you to safely work on mobility, multiple angles, and getting stronger in those end ranges of motion where so many injuries tend to happen.
- Higher rep ranges open the door to allowing you to do more challenging movements or to approach bigger weights more safely. You earn the right to go heavy or do more advanced variations through high reps.
- 10 to 20 minutes per day done consistently can change your life. Connect it to something you do routinely like your morning shower and make this a daily habit.
If time is tight and you have to get it done in eight minutes, then follow this plan.
Set a timer and work the legs for five minutes. I like to start with the most demanding variations and switch down to easier ones as the legs get tired.
- 2 – 3 minutes of alternating reverse lunges (I demonstrated split squats in the video)
- 1- 2 minutes of side lunges
- 1 minute of bodyweight squats
Following that, set a timer for three minutes and switch to push-ups.
- 1 minute of push-ups (knees or straight leg), take a short break every few repetitions
- 1 minute of dive bomber push-ups or yoga push-ups
- 1 minute of hands elevated push-ups (IE on a bed, couch, or counter top)
You can also set a timer for eight minutes and simply alternate between high rep push-ups (you can do them on knees or elevate your hands) and high rep squats or lunges.
That’s the express version.
You can add in work a modular fashion depending on the time you have available. Each additional module – upper body pull and midsection – should take about three minutes each. Calf work, because of the high reps, will generally take a little over five minutes.
If you’re pressed for time, then do the calf work in a short, separate session.
Here’s a sample full body workout using this approach:
Calf raises (parallel, toes out, toes in) x as many reps as possible of each variation. Stretch for 20 seconds after each version). Take 2 – 3 seconds to lower, pause at the bottom in the stretch position, and come back up with control. The calf series will take about three to six minutes. This is really important, so don’t skip it.
The feet and lower legs are the Dickensian orphans of fitness. We ignore, abuse, and complain about them and then turn around and expect them to perform well. Until someone blows out an Achilles tendon. Make time to work on your lower legs.
Leg work for five minutes. (See above)
Upper body push for three minutes. (See above)
Upper body pull for three minutes. Weights, a resistance training band or a suspension training system like a TRX will come in handy. A bar or railing at the right height can also do the job well, and that’s what I use when I train outdoors.
- 1 minute of hanging pull-ups
- 1 minute of inverted Row
- 1 minute of band pull apart or reverse shoulder fly.
Midsection for three minutes
- Roll-tuck-roll x 5 – 10 R/L
- Corkscrew x 5 – 10 R/L
- Hollow Body Rockers x 5 – 10
- Leg Lowering x 5 – 10 per leg
Other favorites: Janda sit ups, ab wheel roll outs. BTW, I was on a noisy part of the mat in the video!
All told, this whole routine takes right around 20 minutes. Over time you’ll get stronger, you’ll be able to do more challenging variations, and there is just something about moving yourself that is empowering like nothing else.