A Simpler Approach to Strength Training

For many people, starting a strength training program can be a daunting task.  For some people, it’s the effort required to actually exercise seems like too much.  For some, it’s the amount of planning involved and the endless options that seem to hinder people from starting.  There are a ton of other reasons why people don’t exercise but I want to shut down the notion that strength training has to be complicated and even leave a simple guideline and sample workout that can be done at home.

The majority of people do not need anything complicated.  I’d venture a guess that 95% of people would require only the most basic program to see significant results.

Start With Less Variety

The more decisions your brain has to make the less likely it is to keep making good decisions as the day goes on.  The more options it has the more likely it is to just say “No thanks, I’m not choosing”.  Brains are stupid.  The latter scenario is something called option paralysis.  It is defined as an inability to make a decision when presented with a wide range of choices.  This is why choosing one of Baskin Robins’ 31 flavours is so damn hard and you resort to plain old chocolate or something childish like bubble gum or disgusting like date nut flavour.  Your brain can’t process the 31 choices so it cuts out the options and resorts to a default option (that you probably don’t like).

If there are seven thousand ways to start a workout today then you’re most likely going to go with option 1, version 2: Nevermind super-set with fuck it.

This is where we cut out the noise and take the Dan John approach of simplifying workouts.  You’re going to choose only 5 exercises and do them over and over.  Many successful business people take this approach by limiting options in their daily routines.  It simplifies life for them by allowing them to function on autopilot and they don’t waste valuable time or brain power making decisions.  Often it will consist of eating the same thing for breakfast every day (a practice I have taken up, after some very careful planning about what exactly I put into my oatmeal), doing the same morning workout before work and for some the routine even extends to wearing the same thing every day.  Some people will go buy 10 of the exact same shirts and pants, further limiting the choices they have to make in a day and saving the brain power for more important things.

Simplifying everything not only reduces the number of choices so you will actually start working out, it also reduces the amount of decisions you have to make in a day, freeing up brain power to make better decisions about other things like snacking and parking further away.


Exercises will be split into 5 categories

Squat & Knee Dominant – Anything that resembles a squat, lunge or step up

Hinge & Hip Dominant – Anything that resembles a deadlift, hip thrust or leg curl

Push – Any time you are pushing your environment away from you

Pull – Any time you are bringing the environment closer to you

Carries & Everything Else – If it doesn’t fit above, it goes here

With this approach you don’t have to worry about what muscles are working and should be paired with what else.  You’re going to pick 5 exercises, one from each category and do them over and over.  Someone like me might consider the intricacies of how best to pair exercises for a client to maximize their growth but in this case it doesn’t have to be hard.  We are not talking about maximizing performance.  All I want from this is for you to get moving and to keep doing it.  You don’t have to plan a program like an Olympic athlete would because you are not one. Almost none of us are. Your goal is to do something.  Anything.  Then do it again.  The professional or Olympic athlete will still use these basics plus some fancy programming and equipment but the foundation is the same.

Your Program

Barring you have no major injuries that would suggest you don’t complete this program here is what you’re going to do.


Squat to Bench (or couch)

Bench Hip Thrust (Single leg if you can)

Push Up

Horizontal Pull Up (Buy a TRX, brand name or knock-off, or make suspension straps – look on Pinterest.  Thank me later)

Farmer’s Carry


Here are 2 ways to schedule your workouts

  1. Do these 5 exercises every day
  2. Do 3 of these exercises one day, then the other 2 plus a bear crawl the next day

If you have stairs in your home or apartment here are 2 options for you

  1. Do these 5 exercises one day, then the next day climb stairs for 1 minute then rest for 2 minutes and repeat 2 to 5 times.
  2. Do 3 exercises one day, then the other 2 plus a bear crawl the next, then the third day climb stairs

I know, I just gave you options.  Just pick one that describes your situation.  Don’t think too hard about it.  If you have stairs do option 3 or 4.  If not, then 1 or 2.


What about sets and reps?


Do as many reps as it takes to feel hard.  (That’s what she said)  Maybe 1 or 2 short of “technical failure” – before your technique looks like garbage.

Do one set of each exercise the first time, then after 1 or 2 weeks do it twice, then thrice.

There’s your workout.  It’s simple, it’s repetitive and it’s complete.

But Tony Horton said…

Yes, muscle confusion.  Variety.  Blah, blah, blah.  If muscle confusion is in fact a real thing, believe me, if you haven’t been consistently active your muscles will be confused and wonder what they are doing and why you’re only briefly touching the couch while you squat to it.  They will wonder why you are not listening to your couch’s cries for affection.  But you are stronger than your couch’s demands.  You will finish your simple workout first. You and your couch will be together soon enough.


5 exercises.  Every day.  Do it for 30 days. Then another 30 days.  Then another 30.  Repeat.

4 Replies to “A Simpler Approach to Strength Training”

  1. Brandon, it’s Charlie Madder from station 8A. I’ve done T25 (beachbody program) twice and it worked great for me but I’m getring bored and also would like to integrate some more strength training in with all the HIIT stuff. I had some bad luck with kidney stones and shingles this year and haven’t worked out since early February amd feel like shit now. Interested in what you could put together. Email me an estimate price for your services and an idea of what you couls put together for me. I’ve got a door chin up bar, 25lb dumb bells and down at home but could do weights at work. Kids make my time tight but you know what that’s like now. Thanks


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