Due to time constraints and mandatory Army physical training, I once had to design a program built around five simple exercises.
Pavel Tsatsouline, a master fitness trainer from the Former Soviet Union once said, “The fewer parts something has, the less likely it is to break down. The success of the famous – or infamous – Russian Kalashnikov assault rifle is a case in point.”
For the non-gun types in the audience the Russian Kalashnikov rifle is a highly successful design in the field of small arms. The weapon has as few as eight moving parts and will function even in the most austere of conditions.
But we aren’t talking about firearms here, we’re discussing the selection of strength and conditioning. The creator of Military and Mountain Athlete whose programs have prepared many for endeavors ranging from mountaineering to selection for various Special Operations units, Rob Shaul had this to say:
“Strength and conditioning program design mirrors all other types of design. You can generally improve it, by cutting stuff away. The simpler, the better.”
The acronym GPP or General Physical Preparedness is simply being physically prepared for anything. It is the ‘base’ if you will, for preparation for practically any athletic endeavor one might do. Googling the terms or even the acronym GPP yields anywhere from 12 million to 469 million results which can result in one chasing proverbial rabbits in the effort to shed fat and live better.
Read More: CrossFit for GPP
The base for General Physical Preparedness is strength. Why? It bears repeating, a properly designed strength program provides the ‘base’ for practically any athletic endeavor. The benefits of lifting weights include greater bone density and ligament strength (important for runners) which mitigate the effects of falls and prevents overuse injuries.
Of course, lean muscle helps the sedentary even if the numbers on the scale may remain the same or may say one is heavier. This isn’t a bad thing. Far from it. That simply means a better body composition. Every added pound of muscle will burn between 6-10 calories, provided of course progressive strength training is implemented.
Now for the point(s) on selecting exercises. Walk into practically any gym and you’ll see an array of machines and free weights. The reasons why are beyond the scope of this post. Suffice to say, free weights make the best choice.
When it comes to free weights there are hundreds of different movements one can use. Look on the internet or even look through any muscle magazine for sale at the nearest bookstore and you’ll see routines so complex they would cause Rube Goldberg to go green with envy.
Recall earlier I brought the example of the Kalashnikov rifle with its eight moving parts and its inherent rugged simplicity. Well, when it comes to exercise selection the same philosophy can be applied. Basic, simple movements yield the greatest gains in strength and lean (or not so lean if one’s goal is hypertrophy) muscle.
I only had at most an hour for my extra training, so I had to select exercises that worked multiple joints and muscle groups. The five exercises I used were as follows:
1. Bench Press – The proverbial ‘king’ of upper body exercises also can and does work the core, and even the legs at heavier loads. Plant the feet flat on the floor for proper form and forget putting the feet up on the bench or elevating the legs when lifting.
2. Squat – A good lower body exercise, predominantly the legs, especially when done below parallel. Supporting heavyweights on one’s back also places stress on the core muscles to support the load. Forget the rubbish about squats being bad for one’s knees.
3. Military Press – Pressing a weight overhead does not only work the shoulders but practically every other muscle group from the core down to the legs. After all, it does not require a physicist to know that supporting the weight, even at the rack position, requires effort on the part of the aforementioned core and leg muscles. And this lift is even versatile enough that you can work the power clean in by power cleaning the barbell off the ground. However, I recommend starting with pressing the barbell overhead from a rack if starting training.
4. Pullups – Since I am already doing an upper-body overhead push, a good balance is an overhead pull, it’s opposite motion. Strengthening a muscle group while failing to strengthen its neighbor equals bad juju.
5. Deadlift – The lower body push of the squat is nicely complemented by the lower body pull of the deadlift which ‘carpet bombs’ practically every muscle, not just the legs and lower back, but the abdomen, and arms are quite nicely worked when holding on to a heavily loaded bar and pulling it off the floor.
Read More: The Foundation of Physical Development
With the five exercises, my main considerations were strengthening the entire body, involving as many muscle groups as possible, and doing each repetition with good form in each set.
So with an eye towards ensuring that multiple joints and muscle groups are involved in the movement over wide ranges of motion, a minimalist can work his or her entire body efficiently with five exercises. The question on boredom can be addressed, of course, by variations on basic strength drills. A simple program built on consistent progress can and does deliver better results than a complicated array of exercises.
Editor’s Note: Carl Amolat is a fan of lifting heavyweights. He is passionate about breaking down tough training principles into easy to use bits of information that are simple & effective. As a graduate of the US Naval Academy in English, he is uniquely equipped to navigate the mountains of training information that exist in order to use and write about works best.
- Beyond Bodybuilding by Pavel Tsatsouline
- Military Athlete (Rob Shaul)
- Conditioning is a Sham by Mark Rippetoe
- How Many Calories does 1 lb. of Muscle Burn by Pat Koch
- Get Your Press Up by Mark Rippetoe
- Power to the People by Pavel Tsatsouline