Last week, we got together for the Fall Equinox Strength Camp – a celebratory outdoor workout to welcome in the fall. In other words, it was an excuse to take our workout outside and meet some of the members of the LLF community.
Afterwards, we discussed how to replicate a similar workout at home since the one we had just done required minimal equipment.
The truth is, anyone can design a conditioning workout with little to no equipment. And while we spent about an hour together last week, the workout itself only took about 40 minutes. Not bad for a Monday night.
Designing your own workout with the KISS method
When it comes to conditioning I prefer to use the KISS method: Keep It Simple and Sane. The less equipment, the better, and for the majority of us, KISS workouts are as effective as any other with more equipment or more time required. My top rules for an effective KISS workout include:
-Engages all basic movement patterns
-Moves in different planes of motion
-Emphasizes only 1-2 variables at a time
Use compound movements. Compound movements are exercises that engage multiple muscle groups at once. The squat is an excellent example of a compound movement. Incorporating 1-2 compound movements into the routine takes more effort, energy and focus, which translate into more bang for your buck fitness-wise.
Engage in all basic movement patterns. As humans we repeatedly move in a few basic patterns. We squat down, we hinge to pick things up, we push a grocery store cart, we pull our screaming children/ /uncooperative boyfriend to the mall. And we carry stuff, sometimes with one hand or two, above our head or in a bear hug. When designing your own workout or program, aim to have at least one exercise for 3-5 of these movements. Triceps dips, for example, are great for loading the triceps with zero equipment but we don’t normally dip or move with just our triceps, so it’s not the most energy-efficient exercise to throw into your conditioning workout.
Move in different planes of motion: We walk forward and sometimes backwards. That’s about it for 99.9% of our day, but when we engage in recreational sports or activities, we move in all directions. We jump, hop, skip, shuffle and sometimes bend sideways and backwards. The goal of training movements in multiple directions means we train our muscles and neuron pathways to move efficiently in different directions too. If you’re a weekend warrior that enjoys partaking in a pick up game of basketball or Spartan races, you’ll minimize your risk of injury by getting stronger in different planes of motion.
Focus on 1-2 variables. There are several variables in a conditioning workout that you can manipulate to make an exercise harder or easier. Consider time under tension, recovery time, duration of the workout, sets, reps, intensity, etc. To keep your conditioning workout effective and KISS, focus on altering only 1-2 variables at a time to either scale back the intensity or dial it up. For instance, you may want to do a 20-minute routine (duration) that involves a 30×15 seconds on/off time (effort). This will make the routine pretty intense and difficult towards the end because you’ve minimized the recovery time between bouts of effort.
The Fantastic Four of Conditioning Protocols
Keeping the KISS rules in mind, the ‘Fantastic Four’ are simple and effective templates to structure your workout around. And just like the superheros, they each give you superpowers. The details, such as exercise, equipment, load or recovery time are all up to you to manipulate.
The circuit is one of the simplest and most effective templates in the Fantastic Four. Select 5-8 exercises to do back to back, preferably with alternating muscle groups, and incorporate your preferred duration and recovery time. Here’s an example of a circuit balanced with a strength and cardio component that also alternates muscle groups.
A1) Side shuffle (endurance/lower body)
A2) Pushup (strength/upper body)
A3) Jumping squats (endurance/lower body)
A4) Plank (strength/ full body)
A5) Burpees (endurance/full body)
30 seconds per station for 4 rounds. Rest 60-90 seconds between rounds.
Stacked chain sequence
In the chain sequence, you perform one exercise for a pre-determined amount of time or reps. The next set involves performing that first exercise again followed by a new exercise. The third set has you start from the top, performing the previous two exercises first before moving on to the third, and so on. A stacked chain might look like this:
A1) 10 Kettlebell swings
B1) 10 Kettlebell swings
B2) 10 push-ups
C1) 10 kettlebell swings
C2) 10 push-ups
C3) Medicine ball slam
D1) 10 kettlebell swings
D2) 10 push-ups
D3) Medicine ball slams
D4) Tuck jumps
The ladder is very similar to the stacked chain except the rep scheme is the main focus of the protocol. Select 2-8 exercises and do them all in a sequence for the same number of reps (say, 10 reps). After completing all the exercises, you start back at the top but do them for 9 reps, 8 reps, 7 reps, and so on. You can do them in ascending or descending order, or select even/odd numbers or reps of 5 (20-15-10-5 reps). Here’s an example of a simple Ladder sequence.
Descending order: 15-10-5-2 reps
A1) Front squat
A2) Med ball slam
A5) Mountain climbers
Rest as needed.
AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible)
The AMRAP is my favorite conditioning protocol because it requires the minimal amount of brainpower possible. Select a few exercises you can perform back to back, set a timer for 10-25 minutes and go for it. While you can incorporate as much rest as you want, the goal is to get through as many rounds as possible. It’s a common protocol in CrossFit and an easy way to get a quick, fat-burning workout in the least amount of time. Here’s an example:
For 20 minutes, complete as many rounds of:
100m side shuffles
10 box jumps
What exercises do I choose?
Exercise selection is really all up to you. The KISS rules open up a whole can of possibility –hinge, push, pull, squat, carry, cardio, strength, ballistic movements, etc. Whatever you decide, make sure it’s an exercise that you can perform safely with good form and avoid selecting exercises just because it looked cool on YouTube.