I’m not sure exactly when this trend began. For as long as I can remember, I’ve noticed tons of trainers constantly giving clients randomized workouts. My guess is they do this to entertain the client, to give the illusion that they know what they’re doing. The illusion is necessary because these trainers either don’t know or don’t care how to write a systematic training program that will make the client into the best version of himself/herself. I even had a trainer tell me, “I want my clients to have no idea what to do in the gym without me”, and suggested I do the same.
Regardless of the reason for this plague of random circus tricks (single leg curls on a BOSU anyone?), it’s robbing many an office worker of the physiques and strength they could be working towards. Here, I will explain why this approach is detrimental to desired results and why a simpler, more progressive approach is more effective.
Brilliance in Simplicity and the Learning Curve.
A simple training program that’s composed of a few exercises with an emphasis on quality movement and heavy weights is much more effective than one that contains 100 absurd maneuvers. All you really need to do is squat, hinge, pull, press, and walk around with heavy weights. That’s about it.
Below I’ve included a list of some exercises that fit into these categories.
Squat: Front squat, back squat, lunge, zercher squat, step up
Hinge: deadlift, kettlebell swing, romanian deadlift, pull through, hip thrust,
Push: push-ups, military press, bench press, incline bench press.
Pull: pull-ups, bent over rows, dumbbell rows, inverted rows
Carry: farmer walks, overhead carries, waiter walks, front rack carry.
Too simple to work, right? Wrong – it’s so simple that that it WILL work. “Keep things as simple as possible, and no simpler” is especially relevant here. Einstein said it, and he’s a literal GENIUS.
The basics work. Squats, Deadlifts, presses, pulls and carries, are all considered basic because they provide a solid foundation for all other movements. People have been getting strong and fit focusing on these basics for centuries. Old-timey strongmen and athletes did just fine without stability balls and “muscle confusion”.
While these movements are basic, the technical execution of them is anything but. There is a bit of a mental investment in learning these movements, but the physical rewards more than make up for it. In order to get the curves you want, there has to be a learning curve.
A learning curve implies the necessity of practice. And the best way to practice is consistently. That means you need to do the same movements over and over again to get good at them so you don’t catapult your spleen across the room when you try to deadlift or move furniture.
In summary, nobody learns to ride a bike by doing it once a month.
WHY is a simplistic approach more effective?
The random workout craze could be said to stem from the misinterpretation of this fact:
The body becomes more efficient at a movement the more it performs it.
Here is what this means. Let’s say you do 20 bodyweight squats on day 1. Initially, this takes a lot of effort. On day 14, you notice 20 squats is a breeze. You will burn more calories doing 20 squats on day 1 then you will doing 20 squats on day 14. This is because your body has adapted and become more proficient at the movement.
And this is where nonsense gains a foothold. People say, “I must switch up my workouts constantly to prevent this caloric efficiency!”. However, this proficiency of movement is actually a good thing. It means you are stronger and moving more effortlessly. This is an opportunity to get stronger at squats rather than change movements to avert caloric efficiency. Now, you can upgrade to dumbbell or barbell squats.
Adding resistance will not only burn more calories than a “muscle confusion” approach but will also make you stronger, increase bone density, and build more muscle.
Calories are a unit of energy. Thus, to burn more calories we must expend more energy. Check out the equation below. The more massive the object, the more energy(calories) it takes to move it.
We can use this idea to make workouts more effective. The more weight we move, the more energy we expend in a minimal amount of time. Exercises that allow for heavier weights are more useful for this. This why it is beneficial to have your training centered around big, multi-joint exercises, namely a push, a pull, a hinge, a squat, and a weighted carry. By getting strong in these movements, you get the most bang for your buck.
There are many variations of these movements, but the idea is to change it up when your progress on a lift stalls rather than when you get bored. And don’t change it entirely. Switching from a wide stance squat to a narrow stance is sufficient variety. Pick a lift from each category that your body responds well to and work on getting better at those lifts. Work on perfecting technique, adding weight to the bar and doing more reps. I guarantee that by keeping things simple you will reach your goal faster.
Got any questions about this article? Unsure of how to perform these exercises safely? Frustrated with all of the conflicting information on weight loss? Message me with some info about yourself to schedule an in-person consultation. I am currently accepting new clients and would love to help you slim down or bulk up for summer.