This Workout is not CRAZY, INSANE, or EXTREME… but it works.

male exercising
I train on the beach in my jeans all the time. Don’t you, bro?

You know, lately, I’ve seen a lot of wacky workouts with sensationalistic themes or titles. Things like…

The EXTREME Pec-Punisher Workout!
The INSANE Home Workout That Will Set Your Body Fat on Fire!
The Ab-Annihilator That Will Drive You CRAZY (and will get you institutionalized, too)

The list goes on and on. And you know what I think? What a bunch of wusses! I mean, do you really think that a workout – or any workout program for that matter – is really that extreme. Who are you kidding? Have our standards dropped so low that we really think that lifting weights, doing calisthenics, and the like borders on the extreme. Because when I think of something extremely hard that could actually drive someone to the point of insanity, I’m thinking hell week for Navy SEALs hard – not “I just did a 5×5 workout, gulped down a protein shake, and went home to take a nap before my afternoon massage” hard.

I’m sorry, but working out – as challenging as it can be – isn’t exactly on my list of extreme activities. And sure, there are fitness and athletic events that are truly extreme – like competing in an Ironman, or running an ultra-marathon. But those events involve a little more than an hour or so at the gym. And no, sorry, the Tough Mudder doesn’t count, and I won’t think you’re tough because you did one. Sure, it may be tougher than making pancakes on a Saturday morning, but not by much. The Death Race, on the other hand, probably comes pretty close, though.

My point being that in an effort to pump up egos, and make average, mostly unfit people feel like superheroes for doing a few pushups, we’ve lost sight of what hard work really looks and feels like. And this only complicates the problem because so many people are falsely indoctrinated that they have to train to the extreme in order to get the results they want – when simply working hard enough would be enough. Of course, most people these days aren’t all that familiar with real hard work, but I digress.

And sure, it’s easy to make a workout hard. If you make someone do more than they think they can, then trust me, it’ll be hard. For example, take a guy who thinks his max set of pushups is 50 reps, and then don’t let him get up until he’s done 100 reps. That’s hard. And believe it or not, it’s more of a mental/emotional challenge than a physical one. But that doesn’t mean it’s extreme – not by a long shot.

And this is very good news because most people don’t need to go to extremes in order to achieve their fitness goals. And so, with that said, here is a workout that is NOT crazy, insane, or extreme, but still works just fine.

Instructions: After an adequate warmup, perform the following exercises in the listed order with no more than 3 minutes rest between exercises:

1 max set of bodyweight squats
1 max set of pull-ups
1 max set of push-ups

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

That’s it?

Well, hold your horses there, bub. What do you mean, “that’s it?” Have you seen my video demonstrating one maximum set of bodyweight squats? Yeah. Didn’t think so.

But I get it. Maybe you were thinking of your version of a set of squats, pull-ups, and pushups instead of my version. You see, if you’re only going to squeak by with a mini-workout like this, then you’re going to have to pour some serious effort into it, at least, if you want to get a return on your investment instead of just breaking a sweat and burning a few calories. And so, when you hit 50 reps and think you’re DONE – that’s when you know it’s time to try for 100 reps. And just between you and me, if you’ve only got three sets of exercises to work with for any given workout, then you’ve got to earn the right to pry yourself off the floor when you’re done. And that takes some serious commitment. Believe me.

Note: feel free to adjust the exercises to match your skill and conditioning level. So, if bodyweight squats are too easy, then perform jump squats, single-leg squats (aka pistols), goblet squats, or barbell squats, etc. If they’re too hard, then perform partial squats, assisted squats, or a wall sit if you have to. And the same goes for the pull-ups and pushups.

Key Points

Now, there are a few things to keep in mind while you’re doing this short, high-intensity workout.

Perform a proper warmup before attempting near-max effort sets and any high intensity exercise. I’d suggest some joint-specific mobility exercises such as hip circles, leg swings, shoulder shrug circles, arm swings, and elbow circles as a bare minimum (click here for free joint mobility instructional videos). But ideally, you’ll hit all the major joint complexes with some basic range of motion exercises, and do so in a circuit fashion to increase your heart rate and core temperature. It might also be a good idea to do a few slow repetitions of each exercise prior to beginning the actual workout.

Maintain excellent technique throughout the entire duration of each set, and perform each repetition with a slow and controlled cadence (i.e., no bouncing or kipping, etc.). The goal is not necessarily to get as many reps as possible, like you would try to do during a fitness test. Rather, the goal is to train as many quality repetitions as possible with excellent technique.

You will want to do your sets to the point that you can no longer maintain good technique. This should be at or near muscle failure, but not to muscle failure. A perfect set would involve stopping one repetition short of true muscle failure (i.e., leaving just one rep in the tank). Now, keep in mind that your idea of muscle failure may be different than mine. When in doubt, keep going. Chances are good that you can do close to double what you think you can. If you’ve never trained to failure before, then there will be a learning curve both for you and your body.

Rest as much as you need, but no more than 3 minutes between exercises. Your goal should be to catch your breath, lower your heart rate, shake out and loosen up any tension that accumulated during the exercise, and also to get your mind ready to do it again.

Perform a proper cooldown once you’ve finished. I’d suggest some yoga poses to release tension in and around your arms, shoulders, back, chest, and hips. A few ideas would be table pose, seal pose, locust pose, cat pose, gunslinger, and a basic hip flexor stretch as a minimum.

Final Words

Listen. You don’t need to train to the extreme in order to achieve outstanding fitness results. You need to train hard – just hard. And sometimes, a very simple workout like the one above is all it takes to see results each time you train. The truth is that most people don’t need some special workout protocol to get the results they want. They just need a good, basic program that they can follow consistently and work hard at. But it all hinges on how much you put into it.

So, work as hard as you can safely manage, but don’t kid yourself and think you’re putting in an Olympian’s effort because some fitness wannabe rock-star labels certain workouts “extreme.” And be encouraged that you don’t have to train like an Olympic athlete or Navy SEAL to get the results you want.

And now, on a related note, may I present The Beg For Mercy Extreme Fitness Workout. If you’re brave enough to try it, I bet you won’t finish this one!

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Health-First Fitness Coach

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P.P.S. Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ian-arlett/

2 Responses

  1. Wait are you telling me that the insane-sit-in-my-office-chair-workout isn’t actually that hard? Maybe I need to add a Bosu Ball to really make it extreme…

    It is funny how personal perspective shapes what we see as extreme. You are right that we need to set ego aside and do hard work. It doesn’t need to be fancy for us to improve.

    I love the picture…the extreme denim destruction workout!

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