5 years ago I found myself in a peculiar situation.
Well, peculiar for me at the time.
My first full-time job.
It was so strange to me that I had responsibilities, people that needed my time and a sense of 'busyness' which I'd never experienced before.
To me, this meant one thing. I could no longer live for fitness.
Previously, I was training 6 days a week, sometimes twice a day, eating as much as I could stuff my face out of my parent's fridge and sleeping as much as I wanted.
I remember the exact day, about 3 weeks into starting when I realised I'd have to become more efficient and make fitness work for me. It was raining outside and I'd just got home from a long day on my feet, and for the first time, I had no desire to train.
Instead, sitting down at the kitchen table, I made a plan.
Know the best 'bang-for-your-buck' exercises.
Learn how to optimise my training schedule for return on time investment.
Strip back my nutrition to 5 key principles
Reduce the things I need to think about.
"Don't work harder, work smarter."
We've all heard that before as a key tenant of efficiency. Many people nail this concept in business and find huge success in doing so.
But why then, in fitness, does working smart get thrown out the window?
For people whose life doesn't revolve around the gym, there is no need to listen to all the jacked dudes on social media who ask for 2-hour gym sessions, 6 days a week to get hyyyoooge.
For these people, efficiency is the 'word of the day'.
There once was a fella named Vilfredo Pareto and he noticed that 20% of the peapods in his garden contained 80% of the peas. Being an extremely smart scientist he went on to study this in economic and social circumstances.
And thus, the 80/20 principle was born. (Also known as the Law of the Vital Few).
Exercise efficiency is defined as:
"Minimising the input of time spent exercising to derive the maximal benefits from said time"
(a definition I made up while watching a bro do 4 bicep curl variants in the time it took me to complete my full body session)
Time is money friends, and unfortunately, most people piss their time away in the gym.
The 'Vital Few' Exercises
Not all exercises are created equal. There are a few that reign supreme and their ability to influence your body composition beat out any other options.
The all-time best bang-for-your-buck movements:
Pull (upper body)
Push (upper body)
By becoming competent and strong at these exercises, you will find muscles popping out of places that you never knew you had muscles.
As Eric Bach says "Success lies in relentless pursuit of the basics."
Seem boring doing just 6 things? Allow me to expand on a few variations.
Pull - Neutral grip, over-hand grip, under-hand grip, pendlay row, barbell row, 3 point row.
Press - Barbell bench press, incline bench press, dumbbell bench press, barbell overhead press, barbell push press, dumbbell overhead press.
Lunge - Forward lunge, reverse lunge, split squat, walking lunge, step up.
Now you have 27 exercises in your arsenal, but they are still all variants of the 6 basic movement patterns. Mix and match these with different orders, sets and rep schemes, intensities and primary focus and you have enough variety to last you a lifetime.
Getting fucking strong at the basics will optimise any gym time you have.
A quick word on warm-ups
Don't spend 30+ minutes 'warming up' and doing 20 activation drills for your glutes, they are firing just fine. You want to optimise your time. Check out the warm up I do here. In 5 minutes and I'm more than ready to go lift.
How To Optimise Your Training
The following phase should revolutionise and dictate the way you train.
"Minimal effective dose"
You want to do the minimal amount of work, just enough to get the benefit of adaptation.
James Clear (JamesClear.com) has a great post on this concept of 'aggregation of marginal gains.' Even if the improvements are not noticeable day by day, over the long run they can add up to be huge.
It's not a race, my friends, you must play the long game.
In reality, you only need to train 3 times per week. The sessions must be full-body and intense enough to hit the minimal effective dose.
You see, your body cannot handle being pushed to it's maximal capacity day-after-day, week-after-week. It will break.
There is a cycle of damage and recovery constantly raging on.
During your training session, essentially you are breaking down your body and causing a stimulus for it to adapt and get stronger. Each session must elicit that stimulus or you have kinda wasted your session (unless the focus was on mobility or other aspects of fitness).
The graph below shows how the body responds to training, through the cycle of 'depression' then 'supercompensation'. The ideal training program will have continuous increases in the supercompensation peak after each session. Thus, building up your fitness slowly and steadily.
It's called optimal training. It's not about the 'very best' but it's practical, efficient and sustainable. The three words which rule your health.
To summarise, train with a high level of intensity 3 times per week (with one days rest between each session), with the minimum amount to get an adaptive response. Rest, recover and repeat.
Minimalist Nutrition - how to eat for a lean physique and maximal energy
Nutrition is one of the easiest things to overthink.
Some nutritional gurus like to talk about metabolic pathways, detoxing, hormonal cascades, meal timing and superfoods. But, when the goal is "doing the 20% you need to, to get 80% of the results" none of it matters much.
This kind of stuff can still affect how you look and feel, but if your goal is just to look sexier in your birthday suit you need to nail the most important 20%.
The 5 principles which make up the 20%.
Nutrition can seem like a complex subject, but it all starts with a few simple rules.
Yes, there are more advanced ways to go about nutrition, but following the 5 principles above will have you looking better than 90% of the population (especially if your training is in line as well).
And that's the beauty of it. You can spend less time thinking about food, calories, metabolisms and kebabs, and spend more time thinking about the other stuff in life that matters.
Reduce your inputs
There is a hell of a lot of information out there in the media. Unfortunately, much of it is ill-advised.
Unfollow most of the coaches and influencers who are giving you advice on social media. Pick just a handful who you resonate with and focus on what they are saying.
Develop a level of scepticism against anything that promotes results which seem too good to be true. They usually are.
Focus on yourself. Fitness is YOUR journey.