Dan John is a strength and fitness guru, an autodidact with professional experience informing a passion for learning. He has broken down movements into categories in a way that makes it possible to think about the bare minimum workout: What’s the least you could do and still have a chance of being reasonably fit?
Not that I think the bare minimum is the ideal workout—I just realize that sometimes circumstances conspire to make it really hard to find time to work out. When excuses abound, what’s a workout that’s so easy and effective that none of the excuses seem good enough?
Here’s Dan John talking about the five movements:
They are, in a different order,
- The Hinge
- The Squat
- The Pull
- The Push
- The Loaded Carry
I put the hinge first because if it is really understood, the hip movement can help you to sink down into a good bottom squat position like this:
The hinge looks like this:
… and is a basic movement in its own right that can be exercised with several movements, including the kettlebell swing:
Aside: This is a world champion doing a kettlebell swing with an 88 pound kettlebell. You will see some people doing swings that go above their head, but those are recent inventions by people who don’t seem to know the difference between a kettlebell snatch and swing.
Here’s the snatch, the original movement where the kettlebell swings above your head. Notice the control that is mandated by the form:
OK, the aside is over.
For the bare minimum workout, we’re going to rely on the big systemic stimulus that you get from doing many squats. Dan John presents this idea in “Mass Made Simple,” but don’t be afraid that squats will necessarily make you into The Rock if that’s not what you’re after. I think of it as a strong suggestion to your body that it use food to make you more healthy and strong, not … the opposite.
The details of the squat movement are important. I suggest Mark Rippetoe:
For the bare minimum workout, you’re going to do,
- a squat (prefered) or hinge (for variety and practice) movement,
- a pull, and
- a push.
One set of each. (A set is a sequence of repetitions of a movement. E.g., if you’re doing pushups, a pushup is a “rep”, and if you do 10 in a row, that’s a “set of ten”.) Ideally you’ll do over ten reps of squats, so you have to figure out a weight that will start to feel difficult after ten reps.
The key with this workout is that it’s something you can do ridiculously quickly in your regular clothes. Doing the maximum weight is not the priority—Completing any somewhat difficult physical activity is. If you are so pressed for time that you have to do this workout, it will keep you going until your life settles down.
For each set, you just do enough to start to feel like it’s difficult, not nearly enough for you to fail to perform a repetition.
You might notice the absence of the loaded carry in the workout. It’s just deferred to the rest of the day. For the loaded carry, look for any excuse you can to carry heavy things (children, jugs of water, chairs, ladders, books, etc.) in your regular life. Make a habit of finding opportunities to carry heavy stuff. It’s pretty fun and takes no extra time.
So we’ve talked about the squat and hinge. Let’s talk a bit about the pull and push.
The pull is probably best performed with a pull up, which is like the movement in the video below but with the grip facing the other way. Chin ups (like the grip in the video) are good too.
But a lot of people haven’t yet cultivated the strength needed to do a pull up. Another pull exercise that comes highly recommended by my favorite strength gurus is the one-arm dumb bell row:
For the push, I like the kettlebell press. You’ll have to clean it into place first.
Other pushes are pushups, bench press (dumbbell bench press is easier to do alone), and other more whole-body pushes like the push press and the jerk. But the kettlebell press is just great.
Note: This post shares content and concepts with an earlier post on a Squat-Centric Workout, but it’s meant to stand alone and was written for someone specific.