The most important piece of fitness equipment bar none.
If you are reading this I assume you are trying to get somewhere with your fitness and strength. You probably have a good idea of the end goal, such as thirty minutes faster on a marathon or 30kgs heavier on a shoulder press. You also probably have a good idea where you are right now, you finished a five hour marathon or managed a 20kg shoulder press. The challenge is finding the quickest and simplest path from A to B (not the most difficult and painful route as everyone seems to think. Though not to say it won't be tough).
It does not matter what training equipment you have access to, it does not matter what training method you want to use, it does not matter what supplements you take and it does not matter what your goal is.
Without a good program to guide what you will do and a way to record what you have done you won't get far. I see people in the gym hammering away month after month working for the most part pretty hard but not really moving forward. They simply lack focus and consistency with what they do. They split their effort over so many different movements and methods that nothing has enough push to improve.
In my opinion the gym should only be for fitness goals. I urge people to have health goals like symmetrical mobility or a pain free back as well as health goals like reduced body fat or lower blood pressure but these bigger goals have to be supported through lots of other changes outside of the gym. I would advise you to choose a physical goal to pursue in training that supports your bigger goal.
For example a person who built up to be able perform seven hundred and fifty kettlebell snatches in three quarters of an hour of short intervals with a 16kg weight would probably lean down a hell of a lot or a person who worked on hip and back flexibility and strength until they could deadlift their body weight and a half for five reps with perfect form would not likely suffer back pain.
Once your physical goal is selected you need to work out a path to achieve it. A program can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.
Those Facebook plank challenge programs would be an example of a very simple program. First a program needs some requirements. Can you plank? Yes? Then you pass. Start at 10 seconds and increase by five each day. Take Sunday off and take about a step back each Monday. Go for a month or so until you are planking for multiple minutes with ease.
An elite Olympic lifting program would be example of a very complicated program. Requirements? Multiple years of serious lifting, total mastery of all the main lifts and accessory excercises, perfect shoulder and hip mobility and daily access to all equipment. The lifts would be planned to rise and fall in intensity over each session, each week, each month and even each year building up over four years to a peak performance during the Olympic Games. During this time additional movement testing would be used to show when to add additional mobility work. This type of program isn't for mortals.
Most people need to stick closer to the plank end of this spectrum. In fact nearly everyone would benefit from simpler and more minimalist programming. It allows focus and won't over burden people with busy jobs, children or actual lives. Keeping your body in decent condition should be a lifelong challenge and the simpler the program the more likely you will be to stick with it.
So, what does a minimalist program actually look like?
Write down a general goal or goals. Select the fewest number of movements that would influence the goal or goals. Next decide how you want to make progress on them. You could improve the movements by lifting heavier, increaseing the number of reps you are capable of or the speed you can perform a set number of repetitions. Deciding how best to progress the movements requires a little knowledge of excercise physiology as you must know what progress will cause what changes in your body.
Finally build in some form of cycling. This means not trying to work at the same level all the time. A light, medium and heavy day is the simplest or you can build up the difficulty and then take a sharp step back like in the plank example. Failing to do this will cause you to get ahead of your bodies ability to adapt to the excercise and will eventually cause problems. This is why the super enthusiastic new jeans resolution people always burn out by mid February.
To make life simple let's say the main goal was weight loss. The best way to progress a movement to achieve this would be to do a lot of something in a short space of time. The fewest movements required would in honesty be one although a second would offer a bit of balance. Let's say this person begins performing my favourite excercise, the kettlebell swing. They can only spare twenty minutes before work.
Five days a week with weekends off they perform 10 swings every 30 seconds followed by 30 seconds rest after a couple minutes warm up. Once they can last the full 15 minutes they will start again aiming for 15 swings every thirty seconds. Again when they complete this they will start again with 20. If they are unable to make the number of reps in an interval then they are finished for the day. When they cannot go any faster then it's time for a heavier bell.
By cutting short the sessions after you miss the target for an interval means the cycling is built in. After a very hard 15 minute session the following few will be very short as you can only manage a handful of intervals.
All you need to start using these ideas in your traning is a notepad and a pen. Don't trust your memory and don't just play by ear. Decide on what you are trying to achieve, decide how you are going to achieve it and then follow the plan until you get there. Not easy but very simple.
Don't over complicate things and never pretend you can get around consistent hard work through chopping and changing your routine until you find a magic one. Master the basics and work hard. Let me know how it goes in the comments section. Please like and share so we can get everyone where they need to get.