The Micro-Workout Un-Chronicles, Volume 1: Inching Along the Continuum from Volume to Intensity

I recently did a podcast for Matt Shifferle’s Red Delta Project, where we discussed my experience with Micro-Workouts. This was a very positive experience for me overall but I must admit, I did not really know what to expect going into it. Matt’s a known entity in the calisthenics space, with numerous books and many very excellent Youtube videos on the subject. I have read his latest book “Grind Style Calisthenics” and really liked it and highly recommend it.

Now, imagine how Matt felt. He only knew me from a blog post I wrote a while back on the subject, and I am not a known entity in the field. I could have been some random guy tooting a horn that he doesn’t know how to play, or worse. I may still be that random guy. To some degree I expected this particular challenge or concern, so I made sure before the interview to do some homework and try and figure out just what it is, if anything, that I might have to say on the subject that would be of any value to someone who is far more accomplished than me and spends his professional life working on it. I spent three or four days going back over some of my workout notes throughout the years and tried very hard to capture just what I’ve done and what I am doing now and what this might have to say that is new and/or useful on the subject. Before the interview Matt said these things usually take 20 to 40 minutes and ours took 58, so I am assuming that is a good thing. The responses to the podcast have been very positive. This homework has been a very useful exercise and so I am going to summarize it here.

All About Volume

I’ve said numerous times before that I’m far more process-oriented than goal-oriented if nothing else what I can show for all these years of exercise effort is that I am still doing it and still motivated and am looking forward to getting up tomorrow and doing it again. And I’m strong and my muscles are pretty big. For a 54 year old. Or anyone. That’s a lot, to my mind. But most would say you must have specific goals and you must document your progress towards them. I’m not much of a documenter. I’ve been at this for close to 10 years but fortunately, sometime four or so years into the journey I did start scribbling some things down on a piece of paper, which I recently found in my basement (where I have my gymnastics rings installed).

I do recall in scribbling these notes that most of the time I lost interest and didn’t write down the final few sets. Regardless, what I see here on the whole is one thing mainly: volume. Lots of sets and lots of reps. And although the score-keeping is haphazard, lots of days in a row. Fortunately in July of 2015 I started keeping better notes in the form of a blog. I say “fortunately” because the posts are date stamped so I really do know when I wrote them, and also because it was a blog and thus available on the internet, I wrote them knowing that someone other than me could read them. Likely not, but could. So I included more detail. I have copied some excerpts below.

9/29/2015
Pull Up 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 5 8
Ring Dip 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 5 8
Pistol squat 8 7 6 5 5 5 4 4 4 4
Diamond push up 25 24 23 22 21 20 19 18

9/28/2015
Pull up 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 5 5 5=83
Dip 15 14 13 12 11 10 10 10 10 8 8=121
Pistol Squat 6 5 4 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3=39
Diamond 25 24 23 22 21 20 19 12 12 12 12=202

9/27/15
Pull up. 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 5 5=78
Dip. 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 8 8=108
Squat. 25 24 23 22 21 20 18 15 15 15=198
Diamond. 25 20 19 17 17 16 15 10 10 10=159

9/26/15
Pull up. 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 5 5 =80
Dip. 18 17 16 15 14 12 11 10 10 10= 143
Squat. 25 24 23 22 21 20 19 18 15 15=202
Diamond. 25 24 20 19 18 15 15 12 12 10=169

Russian Push-Ups:

1.   1
2.   1 1
3.   1 1 1
4.   1 1 1 1
5.   1 1 1 1 1
6.   1 1 1 1 1 1
7.   1 1 1 1 1 1 1
8.   1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
9.   1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
10. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
11. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
12. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
13. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
14. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
15. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
16. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
17. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
18. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
19. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
20. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
21. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
22. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
23. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

That’s 55 more reps than my last effort

Squats


1.   1
2.   1 1
3.   1 1 1
4.   1 1 1 1
5.   1 1 1 1 1
6.   1 1 1 1 1 1
7.   1 1 1 1 1 1 1
8.   1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
9.   1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
10. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
11. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
12. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
13. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
14. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
15. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
16. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
17. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
18. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
19. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
20. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
21. 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

975 Reps

Today I wanted to see if I could do 500 reps each for pushups, rows and squats.  That’s really a lot when you start to think about it.  I shot for sets of 25 of each with less than strict form.  I ended up with 325 reps for each exercise.  That’s 975 total reps.  Volume.

Pushup: 30, 25, 20, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25
Squat: 20, 25, 30, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25
Row: 25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25

These are all taken directly from the blog and were recorded in 2015 and 2016. Again, the point being, VOLUME! I was going for lots of reps every day and you can’t do that many reps if you are pushing it to at or near failure in your sets. Those that look like giant triangles of 1’s are days where I followed the technique of starting with one rep of a particular exercise and then adding a rep each set until failure. This is a great workout.

Thousand Rep Days (Are Few and Far Between)

This all about volume. At my peak, and this happened twice, I had thousand rep days. Those are 40 squats, 30 push ups, 20 dips and 10 pull-ups done ten times a day. In 2017 I had this post:

Ten rounds of the following:

40 squats
30 push ups
20 dips
10 pull ups


100 reps
x
10
—-

1000

(I didn’t make it.  I will try this again.)

This was an attempt to get back to 1000 reps and I didn’t make it. The very next post was called “ignore the numbers, back to form”. See, these high rep days, for me, unavoidably become about chasing numbers. When this happens, it becomes grueling and unpleasant and form breaks down quickly. This is when I started thinking more about form and mindfulness and the moment. Additionally, I started thinking about intensity. I’d conquered volume; what’s next? Maybe I could get as good, or better results, in MUCH less time if I played it the right way.

Intensity: Enter the 5MD

I began to see a lot videos in my feed of street workout athletes completing large amounts of reps in short amounts of time. One that is very popular is the five minute drill, or the 5MD. That’s 100 push ups and 50 pull ups in 5 minutes. As a rep monster I thought this seemed pretty easy so I gave it a try. NOT EASY. Not even a little. It took me over eight minutes.

I was amazed at how experienced I am at these two exercises and yet how utterly difficult this simple challenge was for me. How quickly my form broke down and how quickly a set of 4 push ups became almost impossible. You see, this kind of effort is about quickly reaching failure and then revisiting that failure many, many times over the course of a few minutes. The very opposite of what I had been doing for the 10 years prior, where I had made a special point many times throughout the day of completing sets WITHOUT reaching failure or really even approaching it.

And I was also pumped. Literally. I had such a pump from this effort that I became very interested in trying it again. Or something like it. You see, the other thing I quickly discovered was that I was so torched from this 5(8)MD that I couldn’t do either of those two exercises again the next day. Or the following.

The Five Minute Workouts

There’s a good reason why Zef Zakaveli calls it the Five Minute Drill. Drills are done daily if you’re in the military. Zef also speaks of “on demand” calisthenics achievements. In this video, he gets out of the car and walks over to the pull up bar and does 40 reps in one set. That idea is what is at the heart of what I think is most important about micro-workouts – the ability to knock off a good set at just about any time. This can’t be done if you exhaust the muscles in one large, long body-part split workout. As I’ve said before, from and evolutionary perspective, this strength readiness idea makes a lot of sense. I can’t avoid scurrying up a tree to avoid a saber-tooth (forgive me if I got my timeline wrong; not sure if humans and saber-tooth coexisted) because I did too many tree-scurries yesterday.

But my eight minute long 5MD exhausted me. I decided therefore to create a smaller version, which is simply to do one of the two exercises in a five minute period and try to reach the rep goal. That would be 100 push ups, 50 pull ups, 50 dips, 100 squats, 100 rows, etc. For starters I’m doing one from push, one from pull and one from squat per day. You can do a lot with this idea. You can also play with the time. For example, if five minutes leaves you too exhausted to repeat it the next day, try 3 minutes. Another thought is to change how you approach the goal. That is, do one large set to almost failure and then chip away at the remaining reps a few at a time, or maybe do multiple highly manageable sets (of, say, 10 for push ups for example) with little rest between?

This is what I’m working on now. Progress has been good so far. Here’s a little snapshot:

I want to see if I can do it every day and make progress and then add exercises. For example, after five minutes of push ups, do a dips workout. Again, the goal is to find a muscle and strength building formula that can be done in micro-workout fashion. I’ll get back to you.

Published by FormIsEverything

Primal health and fitness coach http://www.formiseverything.com

5 thoughts on “The Micro-Workout Un-Chronicles, Volume 1: Inching Along the Continuum from Volume to Intensity

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