Tag archive

Building strength

Part 3 Training Essentialism: Eliminate Useless Exercises

In today’s post we”ll work together to Eliminate Useless Exercises to optimize your training. Before we dive into that lets rehash what we covered in the past two posts.

First, we covered the essential pieces what every workout needs. The 80/20 if you will, that give you the most bang for your buck. Training for one goal while ensuring progressive overload in the major movements is key to long-term results. If you haven’t read part one What Every Workout Needs please do so now.

In part two we addressed the biggest issue of all: training consistency. A plan is only as good as it’s execution. To set yourself up for success you must understand your limits and create a plan that accounts for your goals and busy lifestyle. Your training isn’t 100% perfect for your goal, but a program performed with focus and intensity consistently will beat the perfect program performed sporadically every time.

Moving on my friends. It’s time to delve into the truth about elimination. I don’t mean throwing away all your clothes, getting rid of your possessions, and moving to a shack in Guam, but eliminating unnecessary barriers in training. The biggest problem most guys have is focusing on too many damn goals at once. You have a limited attention. Remember this: You can do anything, but not everything.

Limited Attention:

Throughout the day you have a limited attention. Despite all the advances in technology that make information easily attainable it’s only possible to absorb so much. As an example, Tim Ferris breaks it down into attention units.

The choice-minimal lifestyle becomes an attractive tool when we consider two truths:

1) Considering options costs attention that then can’t be spent on action or present-state awareness.

2) Attention is necessary for not only productivity but appreciation.


Too many choices = less or no productivity

Too many choices = less or no appreciation

Too many choices = sense of overwhelm

Tim Ferriss breaks attention down to “Attention units.”

If you start the day with 10 attention units, have a complicated workout with percentages, a choice of six squat variations, fluctuating volume, and advanced methods it might demand 3/10 daily units calculate and complete. If work, family obligations, and a big side project take up 9 attention units before you get to your workout we have a problem— attention debt. Focus diminishes, effort dwindles, and your workout sucks.

It’s safe to say, after a grueling day even a Tracy Anderson workout is a strain for your mental capacity.

Side note: What in the actual hell is this exercise?

Photocredit: www.lookgreatnaked.com/blog/stay-away-from-the-pink-dumbbells/

Don’t Strive For Exercise Variety

Don’t strive for variation—and thus increase option consideration—when it’s not needed. Too many choices zaps your focus and negate your ability to put into energy into what matters most like building strength in major, multi-joint lifts. You should enjoy exercise, but remember exercise is a results-driven with task, not solely enjoyment driven. Your goal is to create a physiological response in the body to build muscle, shred fat, and improve athleticism. Stick with the major movement patterns, get stronger, and get a routine that works around your limited time.

Define, identify, and eliminate

Instead of giving up altogether you must first define what is essential to your goal. The next step is ruthlessly hacking away at the unessential. A plan is only as good as its execution—this is the way to set yourself up for success.

In this post I’m going to provide you with the path to stick to your goal, hack away at the unessential, and optimize your workout plans for optimal effort and consistency. I’ll use real-world examples from my clients to give you a template to hack away your workout and focus on the important parts. As a result, you’ll have a clear vision of the goal and the brainpower to do it.

Remove the Unessential:

Before hacking away chunks of your workout you must first define what is essential. These steps help you define what’s essential to your goal, and what must be eliminated.

1.) Define Your Goal and Stick to It

If you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve how will you possibly make the changes to make it happen?

It won’t happen. Define your goal, and as Dan John says “ The goal is to keep the goal, the goal.” If you constantly change workout goals and never see them through you’ll never have success. Rep schemes, exercises, and programs shouldn’t always change—the body needs to strain and adapt to stress to grow. Patience, dedication, and time are required. It’s painfully difficult in today’s “everything right now” world, but all true accomplishments take time. Define your goal and stick to it until it’s complete.

Example Goals:

“ I want to look awesome naked by losing fat and gaining muscle. I want to look better than guys 20 years younger than me and be able to play sports with my kids.”

“ I want to be strong. I don’t care what else. I want to be able to lift a fricken’ house.”

“I want to gain muscle so I (begrudgingly) fill out my schmedium t-shirt and have to buy a large. This will be 2-3 inches on my chest and – or so.”  

2.) Identify Your Obstacles To Reaching The Goal

Here’s the fun part: Take an introspective look at your training and lifestyle to see what factors hinder you from reaching your goal.

Take these examples from my clients:

“I work 60 hours per week and start missing gym sessions after I start training 5 days per week.”

“ I can’t eat enough calories following an intermittent fasting diet to support training and muscle growth.”

“ My kids are in hockey season, I run my own business, and I need for time for my family. I’ll train 30 minutes 4-5 days per week, but can’t do longer workouts. The sacrifice isn’t worth neglecting my family.”

Identify in order to eliminate. Look at the big picture and your whole lifestyle.What obstacles are the biggest roadblock to my success?

Are they removable?

Do they fix more than one problem?

If the answer is “yes” to any or all of these problems then take the next step to elimination.

3.) Remove the Obstacles

Identifying and being aware of what’s holding you back is great, but you need to take action on and remove your obstacles. As the father of the light-bulb (and maybe light sabers?) Thomas Edison said, ” Knowledge without action is meaningless.”

No-one will do this step for you—it takes real willpower to remove obstacles. That’s why building an awesome body is more than physical—it’s mental growth, sacrifice, and determination.

Obstacles you remove/ changes you could make to fit the goals above could be:

– One less training day per week

– Take out isolation work

– Reduced rest periods

– Shorten up your fasting window to get more calories

– Decrease training volume during workouts to allow a greater training frequency

Changes highly dependent on you and your goals. Using an example below I illustrate the entire process of hacking away the unessential with one of my online training clients:

Tom: Hey Eric, I need to reduce my training and switch to mornings. Tom JR. has hockey every night during the week, work is insane, and I need to spend my nights with my wife instead of the gym.

I still want to be a shredded Beast (*goal*), but I need more time for my family. (*Obstacle*)

Here’s how we *Removed the Obstacles*:

We shortened all Tom’s workouts and took out anything that appeared redundant. Tom still wanted to workout for 30 minutes each morning in his basement and only wanted the essentials. Each week we made sure Tom had the following movements:

– Weighted Carries

– Upper Body Pull

– Upper Body Push

– Lower Body Squat pattern

– Lower Body Hinge pattern

– Single Leg movement

– High-Intensity Intervals,Versa Climber

So a sample workout could be:

Dynamic Warm Up (Top-secret recipe)

1a. Weighted Chin Up 5×8

1b. One Arm Push-Up 5×8

2. 5x 30 sec (30 sec rest) Versa Climber SprintO


Dynamic Warm-Up

1a. Kettlebell Floor Press 4×12

1b. Goblet Squat 4×12

2a. Kettlebell Swing 3×20

2b. Farmers walk 3×50 steps

Spread out over the course of 5 days Tom gets in five efficient, challenging workouts without missing any major movements. Plus, he’s able to see his son play hockey, spend time with his wife, and relax. In the end training is about more than building an awesome body, it’s about building an awesome body and hitting your goals on your terms. Training should improve your life, rather than consume it.

Now it’s Your Turn:

Embrace essentialism into your workouts and eliminate all that is unnecessary. It’s a subtle way to produce dramatic results in the gym with less overwhelm.

-Focus on the big movements

-Ensure progressive overload

-Schedule your training when it fits your life. Make it a priority, but don’t sacrifice everything else for your gains.

-Remove unnecessary exercises

Define your goal, identify the obstacles, and ruthlessly remove them.

The biggest mistake most guys make is focusing on every finite details of their program. Keep your eye on the prize, remove anything that isn’t essential, and see the best gains of your life.

“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”-Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less


McKeown, Greg. “Subtract.” Essentialism. New York: Crown Business, 2014. 190-191. Print.

Ferriss, Tim. “The Choice-Minimal Lifestyle: 6 Formulas for More Output and Less Overwhelm.” Fourhourworkweek.com. 6 Feb. 2008. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

Recommended Reading:

The Power of Less by Leo Babauta

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

80/20 Pareto’s Principle

Part 1: Training Essentialism: What Every Workout Needs

Doing less but better is what every workout needs for more efficient training and faster gains. As a trainer, I have the privilege to meet and get to know many successful clients.

Most of them hold high status jobs, make great money, and live the “American dream.” Unfortunately, most are consumed and overwhelmed by all pressures around them. They’re eager for success in all walks of life, willing to take on more and more opportunities. Every opportunity is a “yes” and performed with enthusiasm. Determination and passion are enviable traits, but always saying “yes” leaves you focusing on the trivial many, rather than the vital few.

Plain and simple, saying “yes” is akin to reading every fitness blog and magazine around and getting information overload. Having too much information clouds our vision of what important.  Applying every training style to your workouts over-complicates training and leaves you confused on how to train.Tweet: You can anything, but not everything. You must selective.

In this first of three posts I’m going to dive into what your exercise program needs. By eliminating the trivial bull-shit in your workout we’ll maximize your training. Every decision is either a hell yes, or an absolute no.

Defining Training Essentialism:

Before deciding what is essential to your training you must be clear on your goal. Focus on one thing at a time to accomplish your goal.  I want to “lose 10 lbs and add 50 pounds to my deadlift,” doesn’t work, you need just one. Look for the minimum effective dose, the 20% in your 80/20, or the few variables that lead to the most success.

Drop the bicep curls, get good at pull-ups.

Drop the hamstring curls and do deadlifts.

Train the body with total body workouts three times per week instead of missing 1-2 workouts per week with a 5-day body part split.

Understand the Fear of Missing Out

Flashback ten years ago I read every fitness magazine, book, and blog I could get my scrawny little fingers on. I ate every tip up—every tip, suggestion, and exercise was something I had to add immediately to my workouts. I gained a ton of knowledge, but not results. A common misconception is that if you can fit something in, you need to. Busyness is rewarded as more valuable over productivity or less. This concept is known as the fear of missing out and is relevant across all areas of life.

“To attain knowledge, add things everyday. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.”- Lao Tzu

It wasn’t until I simplified training that I started seeing great results. Pointing your focus in one direction at a time yields superior results to focusing on 10 factors.

training essentialism, what every workout needs
Photocredit: picture: http://glennstovall.com/blog/2014/06/02/learning-to-say-no/

Focus on One Goal:

What is your through and true number one goal? This should be clear. In the examples below I have included the most common goals and vital components to reaching them.

Building Muscle: Progressive overload in big, multi-joint movements. Train with enough volume to build muscle and eat enough calories to support muscle growth.

Unleashing the Inner Athlete: Incorporating movement skills like acceleration, top-end speed, and agility mechanics. Build strength and power to express strength on the field. Relative strength is key.

Building Strength: Progressive overload in the major movement patterns. Minimize weak points in training to prevent injury and improve strength.

Lose Fat and Look Great Naked: Be in a caloric deficit to lose fat while training to maintain strength to preserve muscle mass.

What all Training programs need:

Every good training program has essential qualities that improve training, regardless of goal. Occlusion training, slide boards, tempo training and the hottest eastern European squat program are all great, but the human body hasn’t changed significantly over the last hundred years. The exercises, methods, and progressions that worked best years ago still work best today. Your training doesn’t need complicated methods, your training needs to create a stress above baseline for physiological adaptation. Focus on the quality ver quality in your workouts. Save for specific injury considerations all training routines should have the following:

 Progressive overload:

You must overload the systems current level of fitness to receive a training effect. Serious work must done. You should sweat, strain, and let out the occasional uncontrolled grunt.  Tweet: “ no strain, no gain.” Volume, intensity, increased range of motion, and shorter rest periods are all potential variables.

Improve your health and wellbeing:

If you’re getting hurt physically or mentally hurt from your training you’re training wrong. You need a baseline of conditioning and exercises that are pain free. Discomfort and strain is necessary with pain and injury kept minimal.

Workout Movement Patterns:

Compound basic movement patterns always have and always will be the driver of success in your workout program. The body moves as an integrated unit in sport and life; you’re training should reflect that.Instead of curls, leg extensions, and biceps curls do deadlifts, presses, sprints, and pulls.

The basic movements are the squat, carry, hinge, lunge, sprint, push, and pull. These movements require the body to stabilize, transfer, and product force acrossed many joints like movements in life. I include core work and conditioning work is essential in every routine. You have no reason to be out of shape or set yourself up for injury due to pathetic cores strength.

These are my favorite exercises from each movement pattern:

Squat: Front squat

Hinge: deadlift/ any Olympic lift

Lunge: Bulgarian split squat

Carry: Single arm farmers walk

Press: (vertical) push press

(horizontal) Floor Press

Pull: (vertical) narrow grip chin-up

(horizontal) Dumbbell one-arm row

Core: paloff press

Conditioning: hill sprints

In all actuality you don’t need more than 2-5 exercises to get a great workout. Cover your bases with the basic movement patterns, improve with progressive overload, and reap huge rewards.

Workout Quality Over Quantity:

A stunning what happens when technique takes precedent over weights. Injuries fade, performance increases, and confidence sky-rockets.

Overload is still important and necessary for gains, but piling weights and volume on a faulty base of movement sets you up for injury.

Stay tight on your deadlift rather than losing lumbar position and snapping in half. Learn how to land on a jump without knee valgus (diving in) before performing dumbbell jump squats. Learn how to sprint efficiently before blowing a hamstring.

“It is quality rather than quantity that matters.” – Seneca

Workouts must fit your schedule:

A workout program that doesn’t fit your schedule is a program that won’t be done consistently. This, above all other factors is necessary to see results. Check out this post on a friend of mine who made a huge transformation. If you’re slammed with work this month and your schedule doesn’t allow for five workouts get one that has three workouts. Hitting workouts 75% of workouts while missing 25% is a huge problem. All well-designed workouts play off of one another– missing a piece throws off the balance of the program.

Be Enjoyable Most of the time:

You have enough obligations in life. Working out with a routine you hate isn’t one of them. Take time to enjoy yourself while you’re getting better. Save for the occasion set of high rep squats, training should be fun. If weights aren’t your thing that’s fine—incorporate bodyweight movements, get out and go hiking, and enjoy yourself. Being in shape isn’t about your one-rep max, it’s about being able to do what you enjoy and maintaining good health.

Wrap Up:

Do less, but do it better.

This isn’t a quick tip or strategy; rather, a mind-set to apply to all facets of life. In the gym you don’t need to “isolate” every muscle group and choose one-body part for every day of the week. You don’t need a thousand different tempos, a complex eastern European squat program, and forty exercises to make progress.Worry about every minute detail approach leads to over-analyzing, and sub-par results.


You need progressive overload on a few exercises.

You need to train consistently.

You need to train with focus and intensity.

The rest is fine and wonderful, but when all else fails, simplify.


Recommended Reading:


Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Photo credit:

McKeown, Greg. “The Essentialist.” Essentialism. New York: Crown Business, 2014. 6. Print.



Go to Top