The holiday season is winding down. Are you going to be ready for the beach when the pandemic is over? Trying to get your body beach-ready in a month is not a good strategy.
Exercise is the most important lifestyle intervention you can do.
Long term consistency always beats short term intensity. Start simple, start now, and stick with it.
Consistency is the key to getting and staying in shape, and keeping it simple is the key to being consistent.
Lockdowns have forced gyms to close. The pandemic changed our routine.
Even without access to various equipment, it's still possible to see progress by doing the right exercises.
In life, change is inevitable. Progress is optional.
Just because the gym is closed is no excuse for not working out. Here is a total body workout in three bodyweight exercises that you can do at home anytime throughout the day.
This triumvirate of compound moves is the perfect workout while being stuck at home. You can do it in chunks as quick breaks from sitting at the desk on the computer or during commercial breaks while watching TV. No excuses.
Here are the three exercises you need to build muscle at home: pull-ups, push-ups, and squats.
The only piece of equipment you need is a pull-up bar.
You can buy a pull-up bar that fits in a doorway and is removable for less than fifty dollars. It will last you decades.
With this workout, you don't need to put on fancy workout clothes or sneakers. You can fit it in throughout the day in short sets of a few minutes each.
I will go into each exercise in some detail and give you tips on form and repetitions, but first, let's talk about the workout's overall structure.
This workout is a stripped down version of the most famous CrossFit hero workout: Murph.
The Murph WOD (Workout Of the Day) is a hero workout named after Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy. You can learn more about Lieutenant Murphy in the book Lone Survivor. I highly recommend reading it.
Murph consists of a one-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats, and another one-mile run, all done while wearing a 20-pound weighted vest.
It's not for beginners or the faint of heart.
Every Memorial Day weekend, all the Crossfit boxes do Murph. Start preparing and participate next time.
Murph is an excellent format for modification to fit any fitness level and program.
I try to do a variation of it every day. I have been doing my variations since May 2020. Every day.
Here's how to trim it down to a simple core. First, eliminate the weighted vest. After doing the routine for several months, you may decide to challenge yourself with getting one and trying it out. They are available on the internet in lots of different versions and prices.
Next, make the runs optional. A mile run is an excellent warm-up and cool down. You can do one or the other, or both at the beginning and end. But start simple, so you keep with it.
Now into the meat and potatoes: let's break up the 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats into sets. 20 sets of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 squats is a great starting point. You can start with any number of sets and make getting up to 20 sets your goal.
Then try moving up to 10 sets of 10 pull-ups, 20 push-ups, and 30 squats. Again, on any given day, you may not make it up to doing all ten sets.
Spread the sets out through the day. Maybe a few in the morning, a few after lunch through the afternoon, and some in the early evening.
Keep a diary/log of your daily sets and progress. I have a small notebook and each line I use to record each day's sets. I put the date, and then each time I do a set, I register a tally mark and make bunches of five.
Tally marks keep track of numbers in groups of five. A vertical line is made for each of the first four numbers, and the fifth number is represented by a diagonal line across the previous four. You've seen this grouping before.
I have been surprised by how this simple log of my work keeps me motivated and honest. It has been a powerful and straightforward way to hold myself accountable. It's also a great way to measure your progress quickly.
It works like the Seinfeld productivity hack of Don’t Break the Chain. The idea is to do something each day. Set a realistic goal. Something you can do even on days when you're busy or don't feel like it. Somedays, you make it all the way, and some days you end up doing half or less, but you always do something.
The best exercise for getting fit and building muscle is not missing a workout.
Now on to some tips on the three exercises:
First, the two exercises that target all the major upper body muscle groups with two basic movements: push and pull.
Pull-ups are the most challenging of the three bodyweight exercises. If you can't do a pull-up, the best place to start is jumping up to where your chin is at the bar and slowly trying to let yourself down. You can also use bands around the bar and place a knee inside the loop to assist.
Work on doing them slowly with perfect form: all the way extended at the bottom and hold your chin above the bar for a second before starting the decline.
Try different hand grips like overhand, reverse grip for chin-ups, narrow grip, wide grip, and hammer grip if your bar has two extensions. Changing up the grip hits the muscles in slightly different ways and keeps you from repetitive stress injury.
Push-ups are a great exercise for developing your chest, shoulders, triceps, lower back, and core. It's like doing a moving plank. Push-ups are a compound exercise that gives lots of "bang for your buck."
If you want to target your chest, make your hands wider than shoulder-width. If you're going to develop your triceps, bring your hands narrower than shoulder width. Try it with your hands for an extra challenge, forming a diamond pattern with your thumbs and forefingers.
You can make push-ups more challenging by lowering your chest down to the ground at a slower tempo and holding at the bottom for a count. Try counting to four as you lower your body.
Better control will improve the amount of tension on the muscle. The more time-under stress the muscles are under, the more it will contract and lead to more gains.
Squats target the lower body, including your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Plus, your core and lower back. Squats are another incredibly effective compound exercise. The quads and glutes are the biggest muscle groups in the body, so you also get a good calorie burn and cardio component from squats.
There are a variety of squats you can do with no equipment:
- Standard bodyweight squat
- Single-leg squat
- Sumo squat
- Jump squat
The standard bodyweight squat is a perfect exercise to learn the form and technique. Focus on bringing your hips back and sticking your butt out. Imagine you’re about to sit in a chair during each repetition. Your back should stay at the same angle as your shins.
The single-leg squat is an excellent way of increasing intensity. Descending your body down on one leg takes control and strength. Grab the foot of your extended leg for balance. Single leg squats are an advanced and challenging technique that will take time and practice.
For sumo squats, take a wide stance with your feet wider than your shoulders. You will feel more of a burn in your glutes and inner thighs when performing this exercise.
Jump squats are an explosive movement to get a burn going in your quads and booty.
For more booty exercises, check out the glute guy and Glute Lab.
For details on squat form and all exercise forms, check out Kelly Starrett and his Supple Leopard program.
Keep a log to measure progress.
Be consistent and do as many sets as you can. It’s all about consistency, volume, and load.
To add load, get a weighted vest. Check out GVT German Volume Training for inspiration and variation.
When you are ready, add a little running. A true Murph bookends the routine with 1-mile runs.
Check out Pavel Tsatsouline, former Soviet Special Forces instructor and the kettlebell's original promoter in the West. Pavel's Russian secret to strength training is to Grease the Groove. Continually greasing the groove will make doing push-ups, pull-ups, and squats feel increasingly natural and more manageable, allowing you to gradually do more reps and building your strength in these exercises.
Last, always focus on the health basics: eating, sleeping, breathing, and hydration.