The Common Sense Diet

I haven’t gained the COVID 15 but darn close to it. Fortunately I’ve remained consistent with exercise, maybe even increased it, throughout this pandemic and lock-down. So some of my weight gain is muscle, but only some. However, my eating habits have deteriorated. It’s time to address this.

This article outlines a simple yet carefully considered diet and exercise plan that I am following now and am calling the Common Sense Diet. Today is Day 1. The Common Sense Diet incorporates the useful bits of more extreme and difficult approaches, such as intermittent fasting, mindfulness, moderation, Grandma’s wisdom, healthy choices, mental health breaks, consistency and freedom. It avoids deal breakers and buzz killers, such as clock-watching, dogma, weighing, measuring and recording food, guilt, and macro-nutrient or food group vilification. The idea here is to do things that will make sense and not be painful and extreme and weird but will also work and can be adhered to easily and gotten back to quickly when the inevitable slippage occurs.

Over the years I’ve tried a number of eating strategies, including paleo, vegan, keto, lacto-ovo vegetarian, intermittent fasting, carnivore, OMAD, mindful eating, the Mediterranean Diet, and, sadly, SAD (standard American diet). A person who is searching must try things. And instead of finding the One True Solution, I have discovered that little aspects of each one of these approaches, when combined and seasoned with a modicum of rationality, produces the right dish: The Common Sense Diet. It’s common sense to put together each little nugget of wisdom in these sometimes radically different approaches to produce the best and most manageable and understandable diet. Hard core omnivory meets Common Sense.

My experiences with the more radical diets listed above follow a familiar pattern. First, I read of someone’s amazing transformation and get very excited to find out what they did to get there. The likely fudged photographs of the person fuel the excitement. Second, the excitement overshadows common sense and my own knowledge of my preferences, uniqueness, and weaknesses. Often the more radical the approach the more interesting it is for me, for some reason. I jump right in almost immediately and without much planning. I get frustrated and fail very quickly, sometimes even within days, because I did not take into account much of anything that would ensure some success. However, through all this experimentation and repeated “failures”, and even in the face of extremely challenging present circumstances, I have managed to stay consistent with a couple of key behaviors, including sticking mostly with real food, and not eating very often. But during these current painful pandemic times where the realization that this will last a very long time is starting to set in, and although I’ve continued to stick mainly to real foods, I’ve also allowed plenty of unreal foods, and the frequency has gone through the roof. This is probably aided by the fact that I’m spending all day every day with two hungry teenagers and I’m seldom more than 20 feet from the kitchen. This whole thing is something like an accidental dirty bulk. A dirty bulk is where you eat in a caloric surplus in order to build muscle but the foods you choose are not the best. Here are some bulking plans by some famous bulkers that vary in their degree of dirt.

Before the pandemic I had maintained my weight at about 180 lb. (I’m about 5’11”) without much effort following a looser version of what will be described below. I’d like to be lighter than 180 in the long run but haven’t worried much about it until now. During the seven weeks (so far) of this lock-down I have gained 14 lb. When I get above 190 lb. I really feel it, and I’m at 194 now. I am very bloated and congested with allergy symptoms and fatigue. I start to get certain inflammatory markers like increased asthma, achy joints, and some mild arthritis in the fingers. It is high time to address this before it gets out of hand! What I describe below is a tightened up version of what I have been doing for years now (during non-pandemic times) without much effort, and what has helped me to stay at a good weight and fitness and strength level. I strongly suspect with this simple approach I will produce positive results within a week, if not immediately, and that is what I am planning to show here and in the next few posts.

Weight: 194
Girth: 40″ <– that’s compared to a 32″ waist and tells the biggest story about inflammation and troubled digestion and just generally being off track

Out of focus but you can still see the 40

The Plan
1. Two meals a day, no snacks, no seconds, no platters or piling
2. Delay the first meal of the day as long as possible
3. Start or continue progressive strength training
4. Do at least one session per day of jumping rope, running or biking
5. Alcohol only twice a week or less frequently
6. Try to stick with whole foods as close to their source as possible
7. Once a week ignore all this and cut loose

Explanation and Details
Two meals a day, no snacks, no seconds, no platters or piling – This is a bit of intermittent fasting and also mindfulness and portion control wrapped in a Common Sense blanket. Aside from the many benefits of fasting, if I eat frequently I overeat frequently. It’s pretty simple. Once you get used to skipping one meal a day it becomes easy, and then skipping snacks, seconds and huge helpings shortly follows. Jack LaLanne lived to be 96 despite bad genes. He ate two meals a day (and did a lot of other stuff).

Jack LaLanne

When you get used to eating infrequently and only because of true hunger, you start to notice that most people are eating most of the time and it’s just habit. It can be shocking. You understand that you don’t need that much food and it’s so easy to lose sight of the real reason to eat and then to start doing it for pleasure or to satisfy some other need. Furthermore, frequent eating forces the body to occupy itself with digestion and fat storage rather than other things such as fat burning, repair, and taking out the trash. One meal a day (OMAD) is tough, very tough. Two meals a day (TWOMAD?) is not tough once you get used to it. It feels right.

And I suppose it goes without saying that if you’re eating one plate of food per meal, that plate shouldn’t be a garbage can lid or serving platter, and that food shouldn’t be shaped like a mountain.

We’re going to need a bigger plate
My lunch today: two bratwurst, small chicken breast, boiled egg, hash brown potatoes, green beans with olive oil and lemon. Not shown: a small handful of raspberries. A pretty balanced plate and no evidence of piling.

Oh, and if you want to eat some junk or a dessert, go ahead. Just make sure it fits on the plate with the rest of your food. This is one of the best things about the Common Sense Diet. There will be junk. We are human and we can have junk from time to time. But as long as it fits onto the plate and thus into the plan (literally), it’s just fine. Oh, and it shouldn’t take over the plate.

The junk is crowding the plate

Delay the first meal of the day as long as possible – This is the essence of intermittent fasting for me and it basically translates to skipping breakfast. Some people skip dinner and have breakfast in the morning but I can’t imagine doing this. Jack LaLanne skipped lunch. Dinner is the main meal for me. But you can do it how you wish. The reason that skipping breakfast works for me is that once I eat, I tend to want to continue. The more frequently you eat, the more frequently you get hungry, but it’s not true hunger or a need for nutrition so much as a desire to eat. Putting this off as long as you can is a good way to stay out of that trap. I like coffee and it can be an appetite suppressant, so when I start to feel hungry for my first meal, I will have a cup of black coffee instead.

There are many different approaches to intermittent fasting that are very popular today. Some examples are 16:8, 5:2, alternate day fasting, OMAD, and the warrior diet. Generally speaking the numbers refer to hours or days. For example, with 16:8, you fast for 16 hours and eat during an 8 hour window. If you finish your last meal at 8:00 PM, for example, you don’t eat again until noon the next day. With 5:2, you eat “normally” five days a week and on the other two, keep your total calories very low, around 500. Some of the other examples have you paying attention to calories. What I don’t like about these approaches is that they inevitably lead to clock watching and counting. I’d prefer keeping the general idea and not concerning myself with the burdensome details. The two meal, one plate per meal guidelines will accomplish the same things without the need for counting and watching the clock. It gives you freedom.

What time is it? Now what time is it?
Dinner: fried rice, an apple and an oatmeal raisin cookie. No piling but some junking.

Start or continue progressive strength training
I’m a calisthenics guy and I work out every day and it’s my favorite part of the health and fitness journey. This is a whole discussion in and of itself, or many discussions, but I will summarize it here by saying that I spent many years free-styling my workouts. Lately I’ve finally come to accept that I need to follow a plan and track progress. Below is a snippet of my current workout and the progress I have made using a Grind-Style Technique. Grind-Style has you doing three sets and when you are ready, you add reps to the latter two sets rather than the first one. Once you have all three sets equal in rep count, you add a rep to the first set and try again. This is progressive strength training, calisthenics-style. My goal for the three exercises shown below was to get to three sets of 20. The exercises here are decline diamond push ups, pull / chin ups, assisted pistol squats. And on the alternate days (not shown) I was doing gymnastics ring dips, body-weight rows, and hover lunges using the same plan.

Do at least one session a day of jumping rope, running or biking
These are the activities outside of calisthenics that I like to do but you can choose anything, as long as it is a good fat burner. You can do standard cardio but just be careful that it doesn’t become chronic cardio. By standard cardio I am referring to things like jogging, stair-master, or elliptical, where your goal is to get your heart rate up to the “fat burning zone” and keep it there for 20 or 30 minutes. Such is not my cup of tea but I know that many people like this kind of exercise. Jumping rope, running (sprinting) and biking (at least the way I do it) are HIIT rather than chronic cardio. High Intensity Interval Training is now believed to be one of the best fat-burning approaches to exercise that you can do, in addition to its efficiency and strength-building value. Although, its fat-burning value may be overstated. That’s why I say pick the one(s) that you like the best.

Alcohol only twice a week or less frequently
It just makes sense. I recently wrote about this extensively here.

Try to stick with whole foods that are as close to their source as possible
Apples are whole foods. Apple juice is not. Another way to think of this is the great-grandmother approach. The source for much of her food was the back yard.

Generally whole foods can be picked from the ground or from a tree and eaten. They may have to be dug up, or they ran around or scurried or swam around or flew around and should be cooked. That’s about the extent of the processing. During your great grandmother’s time, people had gardens and perhaps some livestock, maybe fruit trees. They went fishing and ate the catch. There’s a whole foods extravaganza right there, requiring little more than going outside and picking or catching what you want to eat, and maybe a little cooking. Maybe weapons. Certainly no bleaching, grinding, extracting, extruding, centrifuging, extrapolating, or colorizing. The more processing required and the more fractured the food item is, the less whole it is. Do you think your great grandmother would recognize much of what we are eating nowadays?

Why is the whole food greater than the sum of its parts? In essence, whole foods have a lot more of the good stuff and a lot less of the bad stuff than processed foods, while having the same or fewer overall calories and producing more satiety and stable blood sugar. Furthermore, our genes expect and want whole foods.

You must understand that processed foods are engineered in labs to serve one purpose: to compel the buyer to buy more. They are chemically engineered to appeal to the same parts of our brains that underlie drug addiction, which in my opinion makes them drugs. And there is only enough “real food” in processed foods to allow them to legally be called food, with the help of a team of lawyers and plenty of fine print. This is what we are eating, in large part because we can’t help ourselves. We need to break out of this and start using more Common Sense.

Generally speaking most of us don’t have gardens or livestock in the back yard. Therefore, the best way to keep to a whole foods diet is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store. The perimeter is where you find the produce, the meats and dairy, eggs, and cheese. The closer you get to the interior, the more likely you will encounter processed food. It is non-perishable, conveniently packaged, and often shouting “health benefits” such as “HIGH IN ANTI-OXIDANTS!” The items in the perimeter of the store actually have the health benefits, although these foods are very quiet about it.

Fortunately, as explained in the book A Grain of Salt: The Science and Pseudoscience of What We Eat by Dr. Joe Schwarcz, we can have our cake and eat it to. That is to say, a little junk is ok as long as the good stuff is there too. Just don’t replace real food with junk. According to Schwarcz, “roughly one in five premature deaths can be attributed to diet, with a low intake of healthy foods being a greater contributor than a high intake of unhealthy foods.” Pay close attention to this statement. It explains that the health problems are not so much from eating the bad stuff as from NOT eating the good stuff! We are starving ourselves to death as we get fat. So it doesn’t bother me that I have a cookie on my plate, because I also have a salad, an apple, and some chicken and it’s a normal sized plate and roughly half of my calories for the day.

Once a week ignore all this and cut loose
In order to be the Common Sense Diet it needs to be sustainable. To be sustainable, we need to be able to take a break. That’s what the last guideline is all about. Once a week just forget about all of this and take a breather. Don’t worry about losing ground. You wouldn’t adopt an exercise program that you only do once a week and expect much progress. It might even be a reset. You can call it a “cheat” meal or a “cheat” day if you want, but I don’t really like the implications. The point is, take a time out and enjoy yourself without restrictions.

The point of the Common Sense Diet is to be understandable, manageable and healthy without requiring a lot of tedious work. If a more radical approach such as paleo, keto or veganism appeals to you and you think you can sustain it and have some support, by all means go ahead. Just make sure that you are getting enough healthy foods, and make sure you are being honest with yourself and assessing your progress. I believe that the Common Sense Diet makes this easy.

I will report my progress in the coming days and weeks.

On Drinking Alcohol and What To Do About It

I think we might need to talk about our alcohol consumption. My own alcohol consumption (more on that later) has not changed due to the COVID19 pandemic, but that is not the case for many others, from what I can see. And it does not absolve me at all (again, more later). Alcohol sales are up markedly. Stress drinking is up. At the liquor store, there are people leaving with lots of boxes; I never really used to see this very often before the pandemic.

My liquor store has the aisles closed off and the employees ask you what you want and they will fetch it for you while you stand behind a taped line on the floor. They are doing a LOT of fetching! What’s more, there are shopping carts near the cash registers packed to the gills with bottles of booze. I asked why and the employee told me they are the more popular items so it simplifies the fetching. Lots and lots and lots of Jack Daniels, various bourbons, some scotch. Middle to bottom shelf stuff. And Vodka. Oh, man, the vodka.

And of course, alcohol delivery is booming.

All of the above, please.

Alcohol: Let’s Call It What It Is. But What Is It?

Alcohol is the fourth macro-nutrient. Is alcohol good for you or bad for you? The answer is Yes. Yes is the answer. Or maybe No. Health and fitness circles give alcohol an undeservedly bad rap. Few people are brave enough to speak honestly about it while advocating health and fitness at the same time. In social circles the opposite is true. So, alcohol is synonymous with evil and also with coolness. We must conclude from this that clearly it’s not the substance itself that is bad or good, but rather how it is interpreted and how and why it’s used. Let’s take a look at those things.

This man talks the talk and walks the walk

Everybody Likes a Quitter
The preponderance of books and confessionals and testimonials and bleedingly honest videos about quitting follow a familiar and predictable line.  Started at age 13, blackouts, fights, violence, stealing, property damage, poor judgment with vehicle, arrests, near death experiences, financial loss, unintended parenthood, malfeasance…. Then a wake up one day and never again sort of triumph.  This makes great reading and listening.  I also know it’s rare.  The person who downed a fifth of Jack at age 13 and enjoyed it likely had it in the cards to be on the far end of the spectrum.  This narrative is extreme, and I suppose that’s what sells books and attracts attention.  But I think the majority of people who buy the books and listen to the podcasts aren’t quite so extreme.  Evidence indicates that successful quitting can be a gradual and mindful process done by one’s own devices and can be a successive moderation in behavior rather than a hard stop.  But that would be a boring book.

My favorite book on the subject is Drinking, A Love Story by Caroline Knapp. She was an high achiever and had a serious problem for many years which she was eventually able to solve with AA and much effort and turmoil. It was a very well written book that spoke to me. After I finished I was excited to read more about the author, but I found out that she died of lung cancer not long after the publication of her book. She was a smoker. As much as I loved the book I couldn’t help thinking that she picked the wrong vice to quit and if she’d quit smoking and kept drinking she might still be here today. A damaged person but still here, maybe. What does this say about alcohol, if anything? Confusing.

All Vices are Not Created Equal
My home base here is health and fitness.  If you know nothing on the subject of drinking and tried to research whether alcohol and health and fitness can coexist, you would get an equal number of extreme yeses and extreme nos. Very few maybes.  EVERYONE knows a glass or two of red wine with dinner is a ticket to perfect health and longevity. In fact, moderate drinkers live the longest, but even heavy drinkers live longer than abstainers! Yet chronic alcohol use ravages the body and WILL kill you.  Two glasses of red wine a day is chronic alcohol use.  Is it all in the amount?  The poison is the dose? Is it OK as long as you track it? Can you be accountable? Does it even make sense to talk about calories in the context of drinking? Some can, but I think it’s very difficult.

Cheat days are common in the fitness world, even advocated. Epic cheat days involve Pop-Tarts, Donuts, Whipped Cream, candy and vats of soda. But seldom large quantities of alcohol. Why is that? Which is worse, really? Clearly no jacked bro in his right mind would advocate a cheat day filled with cases of beer and a few shots of Jim Beam. Not that it hasn’t been done. Yet if junk food were equivalent to alcohol, then most Americans would be at about 8+ drinks a day. They serve donuts at AA meetings for goodness sake! Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a big deal. It’s possible that one in three or maybe up to even 46% of Americans have it. Even children have it. Is it somehow better than alcoholic fatty liver disease? Is it the less naughty version of this deadly disease?

So there is no clear message about alcohol and there is a lot of bias and prejudice. And a diet filled with junk can be just as bad for you as a diet filled with beer, but it is somehow given a much bigger pass. I’m trying to sort this out. So what’s my point in writing this? My point is to try and figure out what drinking alcohol is to me and what I should do about it, if anything. And maybe you can figure something out too. At the end of this writing I hope to have an idea.

Sports drink

What Does Drinking Really Look Like?
The commercials and movies make it look really cool of course. They not only make it seem possible to drink and still be jacked and ripped and beautiful, they almost suggest that you MUST drink and drink often to be cool and beautiful.

Some even suggest that drinking and fitness can go hand in hand.

Bicep curls

What do you think?

That’s all muscle

I can tell you this, if you really look closely at the messages we receive from the media and advertising about alcohol, and then look clearly at what is really happening, a giant chasm will appear. I’ve done this. I’ve been at parties while not drinking (seldom) and have taken a look around me as the evening progresses. It’s not the prettiest of pictures. The point being that drinking might actually be the opposite of cool.

How’s My Drinking?

My alcohol consumption is quite consistent and that’s what I’m changing. The pandemic hasn’t made me drink more as it has apparently done to many people, but that really just speaks to how ingrained the little routine is for me. I don’t have any alcohol horror stories. There are no teen aged dalliances, crashed cars, arrests, incidents of violence, gutters, rock bottoms, unintended piercings, amnesic wake-ups, or epic anythings. But I do drink a little something every day and nearly always at the end of the day as a wind down. I like beer or Irish Whiskey. But that perfect little buzz has gotten harder and harder to find. Or maybe the seeker has gotten far less keen in the senses. Or maybe the buzz is harder to find because there’s actually no substance to it? Maybe the emperor has no clothes.

What To Do?
I know two things about what to do, or rather what NOT to do, during this lock-down: 1) don’t start something that is too extreme and 2) don’t (for HEAVEN SAKES) give up trying at all and let the chips fall where they may (because you know where they may fall). This can start the snowball rolling and before you know it, giving up on everything healthy becomes a whole lot easier and then you’re getting an endoscopy for acid reflux and increasing your blood pressure medication. So I say this: try something, but make it small yet meaningful and consistent. Understandable, logical and do-able.

Put a mind to the mindless and decide whether or not it’s worth doing. Here’s a plan: drink only on the weekends. This may be a no-brainer and perhaps obvious to most people, but maybe not to someone who has fallen into a routine. I’ve never been a day drinker or binge-er so I’m not worried about pushing the limits of quantities and what the weekend means. Call the weekend what you want but know that it does not include Thursday or Monday. Beyond that, use honesty and common sense to dictate what you do and don’t do. This seems like a good start at examining behaviors that are ingrained and might not be too healthy.

A Book We Need Right Now: Zen Mind, Strong Body by Al Kavadlo

The COVID19 pandemic and lockdown have been going on for several weeks now and as we continue to endure this, several things have become clear to most of us. First, this will not be over and we will not return to our normal lives for a very long time, if ever. Second, if we’re going to survive this pandemic and this lock-down, we need to get or remain healthy, and one of the best ways to do that is to follow an exercise program. Yet, the gyms are closed and most people do not have equipment. We are now barraged all day by home workout programs and techniques, yet where does one start? Third, and perhaps most importantly, in order to manage the stress and survive these challenging times, we need to practice mental focus and living in the moment. Yet, how do we do this? We have more distractions and more time to be distracted than ever. What should we do? Enter Zen Mind, Strong Body, by Al Kavadlo.

As I think about my own mental and physical health during this lock-down, I am encouraged by the fact that I remain committed to and rewarded by my daily calisthenics workouts, and I am motivated to continue them. I am also frustrated by my inability to be consistent with meditation and my perceived failure to live in the moment and the here and now. My understanding of the importance of meditation during this time seems to be equaled only by my inability to stick with it. In considering these things I was reminded of Zen Mind, Strong Body, which I first read quite some time ago. I was thinking that it might offer some useful and specific information for navigating these challenging times where we need to stay strong and focused and to be consistent with our exercise, strength training and eating habits, and to be able to screen out all the depressing and negative information that seems to be everywhere all the time. So I re-read the book, and it was a very good move.

I gave up the gym about 18 years ago, so the concept of working out at home is a natural one to me. But I think for many people, from those who don’t do any form of strength training at all, to those who rely on weights and machines, the idea of a home workout is foreign and confusing. At the very least it might seem impossible to get a good workout at home. Some may even give up.

I don’t have any of these

But I say that is oh so wrong, and there is no better time than now to do this, and Zen Mind, Strong Body can be the perfect guide to developing the right attitude toward strength training, eating, and living in the moment. As Al said in the book, “Your body reacts to the signals you give it every single day, so stop waiting for things to fall into place and start taking action today.”

At the beginning of the book, Al describes a pivot point that he came to some years ago because of frustration with the mainstream fitness industry and its empire of marketing and false information. At the time he was advised by a friend to start a blog and to make videos, to “be a solution to the problem”. Once he got his head around the concept, he was motivated to develop content in this at-the-time new and burgeoning scene. Al has been a dedicated blogger and Youtuber (in addition to authoring several books and leading exercise seminars and certification programs and being a personal trainer) ever since, and this book represents a collection of 26 of his articles.

Click above to access Al’s Youtube channel

I’ve been familiar with Al’s work for about 10 years now, and I can tell you that during that time about the only thing that has changed about him is his facial hair configuration. (Which actually changes fairly often.) He has been totally consistent in his message, his instruction, the example he sets, his physique and his attitude. There has never been anything like “Al goes keto!” or “Al has decided to go back to weightlifting” or “Al Kavadlo did 100 push ups a day for 30 days and here’s what happened.” This is why a collection of 26 different articles written over the span of years can fit together perfectly into a single book. This speaks volumes.

What I like best about Zen Mind, Strong Body is not that it is a manual for exercising and programming workouts and focusing the mind. It’s not. There are no prescriptions here, no formulas or algorithms or diet programs. There is no instruction on how to meditate or advice on how many minutes a day to do it. Rather, this entire book is one Zen strong-man body of work. I realized in re-reading the book that I need NOT feel conflicted or ashamed that I’ve been consistent in exercise but not at meditation. Rather, I realized, maybe exercise and meditation can actually be the same thing! What an exhilarating and satisfying thought. Maybe my exercise program IS my meditation. They are different things and yet they are the same thing. A Zen mind is a strong body and and a zen body is a strong mind. Like Al says in the book “when you are completely focused on your training, the division between body and mind breaks down and everything else seems to fall away.” This is just what we need in these uncertain times.


One of the things I really like about the work of Al Kavadlo and his brother Danny, is that they are BS busters. The fitness industry is loaded with BS and dogma. BS makes the fitness industry a lot of money, just like sick people who need medication make the health care system a lot of money. So we should just pony up and take our pills, right? Wrong! Al and Danny will have none of this. One area of dogma very common to the fitness industry is that you will not make any progress unless you have specific goals and you chart your progress towards those goals. You must keep an exercise journal and write down every thing you do (and eat) every day. There is no point to any of this without a goal, so the dogma barks. I need to fit into this swimsuit by May. There is no other reason to work out. And fitting into this swimsuit is all that is important and I will only do exercises relevant to this goal and will quit when I fit into the swimsuit. Right? Probably not. Here’s what Al says: “The goals themselves aren’t really important, but working towards something specific might help you stay focused. After all, goals are just a fantasy; the training that you do today is real… the journey matters more than the destination.” Maybe the journey IS the destination. Hm….

Muscle Mass

Interestingly, Al Kavadlo says mighty and powerful things while remaining humble and happy and, frankly, pretty small. As in, not big. This is not an accident and it speaks directly to me. Similar to Al, I got interested in building muscle as a scrawny teenager who wanted to get better at sports and defend myself. So I got my first weight set made of plastic and sand and started reading Muscle and Fitness. And naturally I started doing the workouts advocated by Arnold, Frank and Lou. Never mind that I didn’t know what I was doing and didn’t realize that these workouts require pharmaceutical support. The point became clear very quickly: You must get as big as possible. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the whole point to bodybuilding is to isolate parts of the body and make them as big as possible. Function be damned. Bigness is IT. I understand only now that bigness really wasn’t what I wanted, but that concept was lost in the details of the workouts and thinking about bicep peaks and deltoid mass (produced by “hitting” the deltoids from all angles, of course). When I finally found calisthenics at the age of 45 I finally began to understand that the body works as a whole and isolation works against this, and most important, bigness is not only not important, it’s also not attractive and not useful. Fortunately for me this idea exists only as a dialog or argument inside my own head. But Al has an audience, and has to face criticism on a regular basis that he “does really cool and awesome things but isn’t jacked enough” (I paraphrase). But if you understand Al, you know that non-bigness is partly the point. Getting strong but not huuuuge while staying focused and mindful is like, as you will see in a moment, getting lean without dieting. Hm….

No hormones or chemicals. Really.


On diet, Al says the following. (Get your pens and paper so you can write down every detail here. This is the diet you will want to follow to get lean, so pay attention): “Personally, I follow a very simple diet: I eat when I am hungry and stop when I am full. I avoid mindless snacking and stay away from processed food.” Oh man. Oh man. I. Love. This. No powders? No supplements? No counting? No compressed eating window? No macro-nutrient group avoidance? No weighing my food? No tracking? No way! Further, “People love to ask me how many grams of protein I consume each day or how I time my carbohydrate intake, but the truth is I don’t concern myself with such trivialities.” That said, Al does recommend all things in moderation, defends the almighty peanut, and does provide a list of approved foods. They are, in order of importance, vegetables, fruit, roots, seeds, nuts, nut-butters, grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and other poultry, fish, pork, lamb, eggs, olive oil, dairy, teas, coffee and red wine. Please stop to contemplate for a moment that maybe all this attention to the details and body parts and objectified components of what we eat and when (that the “wellness” empire is built upon) are totally unnecessary. Maybe things like pandemics and other semi-apocalyptic events help to show us that what we’ve been obsessed with when we weren’t under constant threat might have been, well, a waste of time and resources. Maybe it’s time to focus on what’s truly important.

Getting Lean

Al says the best way to get lean is simply to “eat foods that are as close to their original state as possible”. Again, think long and hard about this small yet powerful statement. There is nothing here about amounts or timing or nutrient ratios or weighing or counting. Yet, this is his advice on getting lean. Just eating the right foods and nothing much else can get us lean. How can this be? Because the point is if you eat natural whole foods, your body will receive the nutrition that it needs and will not be compelled to eat more or overeat or eat in response to things other that nutritional need and true hunger. Your body will naturally regulate its own weight and composition. Eating the right foods, only enough, in response to true hunger renders “dieting” totally unnecessary. This could not be a more profound BS-busting statement. All you need to know about diet can be written on the back of a business card.

Cheat Days

In the fitness space cheat days are quite common. Epic cheat days are the stuff of legend. The script goes like this: You adhere strictly to your diet and workout routine so you can get ripped and jacked. You weigh and measure everything that goes into your mouth so you can be sure to “fit your macros”, which have been calculated for you by an app or web site. Your “macros” fit you perfectly and are the precise grams of fat, carbohydrate and protein that you need for your age, sex, exercise habits, body size and goals. If what you eat “fits your macros” (IIFYM, or “If It Fits Your Macros”) as nicely as it fits into your mouth, you are good to go. This is hard work and requires dedication and concentration and above all, WILL POWER. You must not be weak and you must not crumble. Except for one time per week. You can be weak and crumble one time per week. It’s called a “cheat meal”. During the cheat meal anything goes. Into your mouth, that is. Captain Krunch, Ho Ho’s, Ring Dings, Ding Dongs, Fling Flings, cheez whiz, gee whiz, super-sized all of the above, Big Gulps, and a bucket of Skittles. Some bros are so epic that they make cheat meals into Cheat Days. Cheat Daze I tell you! The goal here is to get to 20,000 calories or more without necessarily having to go to the hospital. Does this sound like a good idea? Should marriages have cheat days? Probably not. And yet, we are all human and while we want to be lean and healthy, hot dogs taste good dog gone it! So why not recognize that we are human and be human and have a donut every now and then but not make it epic and not call attention to it and not attach it to the concept of weakness or try to work off its calories or regard it as a small failure of will power. It just is, and if it just is but just isn’t often, it IS, well, just fine. Thanks Al.

Please prepare a space in the emergency room


Another dogma in the strength training and gettin’ ripped space is that you “do cardio”. What does that mean? It used to be called aerobics and it’s often done on a treadmill or StairMaster or some other 900 lb $2000 piece of equipment that will end up as a clothes drying rack. And if you have really arrived, you do your cardio on a machine that sits in your bedroom and has an internet connection and one or more holograms of people shouting encouragement at you to pedal that bike nowhere while you pretend to be in a class with other them. But again, aside from energy and financial expenditure and clique-ism, what is the point? The point is to do steady state exercise that gets your heart rate up to a certain point (hence the term “cardio”), which supposedly means that you are in the “fat burning zone”. Most people like to get their cardio “out of the way” by doing it first thing in the morning. Is more cardio better? But check this out. Al Kavadlo does not do cardio and never will. He also ran a marathon and did a triathlon and speaks fondly of both things in Zen Mind, Strong Body. How is this possible? It’s all in how you look at and what your intentions are. In addition to being strong, people need to be in condition, able to sustain a strenuous activity for a period of time beyond a minute or two. What’s more, people need to be able to run. When my son was little he was known for making interesting and humorous observations. One of them was “old people never run!” He was simply making an observation that struck him as strange. Yet, it’s pregnant with meaning.

In many ways running and swimming are the ultimate body-weight exercises. They are natural, they can save your life, and if practiced regularly, can help you be very healthy. Sure, these activities can burn fat, but that’s not really the point. The point is, in a Zen mind and body, running is a good thing and helps contribute to the overall picture of good health and a focused mind.

Someone will need to feed this hamster soon

Mastering This Moment

Zen Mind, Strong Body has all we need to master this moment and survive this time. You can buy colorful padded dumbbells if you like, but all you really need is a little floor space, a desire to master your own body weight, and a focused mind. This fantastic book will help you with these.

A Simple Grind-Style Progressive Calisthenics Routine that Employs Micro-Workouts

Now that I have a lot of extra time in the day and many fewer distractions than usual such as getting up at 5:00 AM to prepare for the day, hour-long commutes, and driving and picking up the kids to/from their many activities that are currently on hold, I have managed to calm my wandering mind enough to really focus on a program and monitor my progress. This is as opposed to freestyling everything and consequently half-assing most things. I have been working on a Grind-Style calisthenics routine that incorporates my own flair into the mix. “My own flair” would be working the same muscle groups every day (gasp!) and doing micro-workouts. In Grind-Style calisthenics, among other things, you pick a simple routine and keep it consistent and then make progress by adding a rep or two in the final set rather than at the beginning. Then you try to bring the final sets up to the first one in terms of rep counts and then in the next workout, increase the reps in the first set and start the thing over again. So, for example, with push-ups, if you did 12, 10, 8 in one workout, the next workout you would shoot for 12, 10, 9. Once you nailed three twelves, you would bump the first set up to 13 or more. This is very smart because it prevents you from spending yourself on the first set and forces you to make progress in the gritty, gut-busting section of your workout. But in tiny little increments.

I’ve been doing this Grind-Style workout plan with push ups, pull/chin ups, hover lunges, ring dips, full body-weight ring rows, and assisted pistol squats. For my own special flair, I’m working each muscle group each day (because dangit, you should be able to do that!) and generally doing these as micro-workouts. So I may do the push stuff in one session and the pull in another session later in the day and so on. Each session takes about 5-8 minutes. I’m not a fan of timing things but I do try to keep the rest between sets consistent by waiting until my breathing rate returns to near normal before attempting a new set. This is likely about 30-60 seconds. I chose three sets for each exercise as a starting point because I knew I could handle it from outset. If I had chosen more sets I would likely burn out on volume before making much progress. I chose the exercises below because they are difficult enough for me that I can’t usually get more than 12 – 15 reps a set, and in some cases significantly fewer. Already, just a few days into this, I’ve surprised myself. (Each exercise below links to a video showing how to do it.)

Exercise Grouping 1

Feet elevated diamond push ups: Sunday 4/5/20 – 14, 12, 11 Tuesday 4/7/20 – 14, 12, 15 ** , Thursday 4/9/20 – 15, 15, 15 ** (note: my feet are elevated about 2 feet, or on the 2nd step of the stairs)

Pull/Chin Ups: Sunday 4/5/20 – 12, 10, 9 Tuesday 4/7/20 – 12, 12, 14 ** Thursday 4/9/20 – 13, 13, 13 ** (I usually do either neutral grip pull ups or chin ups as regular grip pull-ups give me a sore elbow)

Hover lunge: Sunday 4/5/20 – 12, 12, 12 Tuesday 4/7/20 – 14, 13, 14 ** (usually I have my hands resting on a chair or wall so balance is not the main challenge in this exercise)

Exercise Grouping 2

Ring dips: Monday 4/6/20 – 14, 15, 12 Wednesday 4/8/20 – 14, 14, 14 ** Friday 4/10/20 – 15, 15, 16 **

Full body-weight ring rows: Monday 4/6/20 – 5, 5, 4 Wednesday 4/8/20 – 5, 5, 5 ** (this is a very difficult exercise for me and relatively new in my repertoire, but I like it because I see it as the pull analog to the dip)

Assisted pistol squat: Monday 4/6/20 – 7, 8, 7 Wednesday 4/8/20 – 8, 8, 8 **

In the 2nd completion of the first day’s workout and the 2nd completion of the second day’s workout I was able to increase the reps significantly. This tells me two important truths that Grind-Style calisthenics seizes upon as justification for its existence: 1) you can and should make progress in small measurable steps in the more challenging portion of your workouts, and 2) you likely can do more than you think you can. Much more.

We’ll see how this goes. The challenge now is to stick with the plan. Looking ahead, I anticipate that progress will certainly stall at some point, at which time I think it would be useful to add some rest between repeats.

I have two exercise groupings here and I chose those after careful consideration. I really want to distill this workout down to its most potent and effective components. So you don’t see any exercises where the rep ranges would be high, such as body-weight squats or standard push ups, where I generally do 30 – 50 per set. I want the difficult exercises only, so the attainable reps per set are fairly low, but not too low. The full body weight row is a challenging one for me because I have not practiced it consistently. But I expect the reps to increase there rather quickly. You could choose more exercises if you wish, but if you do, I recommend that you group them together and maybe add a third day.

If you want to try this and you are fairly new to body-weight training, I recommend choosing three exercises in total, one from push, one from pull and one type of squat. Choose a variation (such as hand and foot position) that allows you to get at least 6 or 7 reps and up to 15 in a single set using good form. If you choose standard push ups and can do 10 with good form for example, I recommend starting with 8 on the first set and then see what you can get on sets 2 and 3 with consistent rest times between sets and go from there using the Grind Style technique described above.

Here are all the videos in order:

** = way to go, champ!

Book Review: Calisthenics for Beginners by Matt Schifferle

I was very excited to get an advance copy of this book because I have been looking for a book such as this to recommend to my clients and to use when teaching classes on beginning calisthenics. I’ve also been familiar with the author’s work for some time now and have always been very impressed with it. Matt Schifferle is the founder of the Red Delta Project and author of many intelligent and sensible books and videos on exercise, fitness and nutrition. I have also read and loved his book Grind Style Calisthenics and have benefited greatly from his Youtube videos and podcasts. Matt is also a Progressive Calisthenics Team Leader for Dragon Door.

Calisthenics for Beginners is Matt’s best work yet, and that is saying a lot. One of the many reasons is that the book is appropriate for the absolute beginner, the intermediate level practitioner, and even the advanced athlete. This book could accompany you through your entire calisthenics journey.

Calisthenics for Beginners includes a very sensible preparatory section called “Getting Started”, which defines calisthenics and justifies its use, describes the relevant muscle groups to be developed, and advises the reader on how to prepare for the programs to follow. I especially liked the material on safety and preparation, gear and equipment (which is delightfully minimal for the calisthenics athlete), and how to monitor your progress. But best of all in this section is Matt’s treatment of diet and nutrition. I usually have to brace myself when this topic comes up no matter the context. It’s such a loaded, political and frustrating mix of opinion, dogma, bias and religion. How many times have you encountered extreme dietary advice such as “you must go vegan” or “you must go keto” from people whom you respect in the fitness space? Not so here. Matt gives no specific rules on what you must and must not eat, nor how often and how much. Rather, he gives you a brief but comprehensive set of guidelines on eating right and general nutrition, such as preparing your own food, watching liquid calories, embracing plants and protein, and controlling your “red light foods” (that are unhealthy and difficult to avoid.)

What follows the introduction are step-by-step, progressive exercise programs that employ all of the basic movement patterns that Matt describes: core, hip-driven, knee-driven, push/pull and heart-rate boosting. Level I is “Start Strong”, Level II is “Go Deeper”, and Level III is “Power Up”. And each of these three sections is color-coded on the edge of the page so you can easily turn to them. A very nice touch indeed. Matt then includes a section on flexibility and restoration, followed by exercise programming advice, helpful information about understanding progress and mindset, and sample workout logs. I’m telling you, this book really is all you need.

At the outset of the book, Matt rightly advises that you read the whole thing from start to finish before you begin to follow the program or judge your own abilities or the effectiveness of the exercises. I followed this advice and it was the right way to go. I got a feel for Matt’s unique approach and quickly could see that this was not just another book on beginning calisthenics with the same old exercises and programs that I see over and over these days. The ideas are fresh, the writing is clever and straightforward and utterly lacking in B.S. and the programming is unique and thorough without being intimidating.

One thing that pleasantly surprised me about Calisthenics for Beginners was the choice of exercises. Most beginning calisthenics stick with some sort of basic exercise set such as planks, push ups, pull ups and squats. These are essential but you are missing quite a bit if you stick with just them and their variants. Instead, Matt cleverly includes things like bridging, wall hand stands, and towel hangs for grip strength. Even better, the program includes cross-punching, marching in place, and the almighty squat thrust! These are exercises that my grandfather (if he were still with us) would know and greatly approve of. I love it!

In reading this excellent book I realized a few important things: there are definite gaps in my own programming that I need to fill, I’m really closer to the beginning of my own calisthenics journey than the end, and I have a new go-to resource for my students, clients and myself. Calisthenics for Beginners is a must-read.

Mechanical Drop Set Pull Micro-Workout

In weightlifting, drop sets have you starting with a certain weight and performing as many reps of the exercise as you can, and then dropping the weight a bit to continue the lift and so on. With body-weight calisthenics, we decrease the resistance by changing something in the mechanics of the movement, such as the foot position or the angle of the body in relation to the ground. Here is an example for a pull micro-workout, starting with pull-ups. Once I get near my limit, I move the feet to the ground and keep going. When that gets almost impossible, I change my angle slowly towards vertical (or standing straight up) and keep going. I like to keep the total reps for these sets in the 20s.

Introducing the X+1: The Micro-Workout Mini Measuring Stick

I’ve been talking a lot lately about volume and intensity within the context of using micro-workouts to build muscle. At the heart of this is a dissatisfaction with muscle building dogma. Conventional wisdom can be wise or merely conventional. But, sometimes things are done certain ways because that’s what works. Boring, but true. It might come down to personality traits. Conventional wisdom dictates heavy volume, long workouts, and lots of rest. That has been done many many times and has worked for lots of people. So someone at the beginning of their journey might say “that is what has worked, that’s what most people do, I’ll do that. Now tell me how many sets and how many reps and how much weight and how many minutes and how many days per week. And I’ll get started.” These are the same people who like to follow recipes when cooking.

Clearly I’m not in this group and that’s why we’re here. So the next thing to do is to figure out just WHAT thing or things need to be accounted for in order to make progress under the new conventional-wisdom bashing order. It can’t be a free-for-all. If I do whatever I feel like for my micro-workout, I’ll surely err on the side of too little or too easy. And too little and too easy mean no progress. But, as I’ve said many times before, I also hate counting and following scripts and writing much down. But in my volume-filled past I can see that many many not-too-difficult sets throughout the day, while useful, are not optimal for building muscle. If so, I’d be a lot more done than I am. And the other side of it, the 5MD for example, requires too much intensity to be done as often as I would like. Could the answer lie within the individual set and just how it feels? Uh…. YEAH!

Did you ever notice that you can always do more than you think you can? In my volume days I know how the sets felt, and I would stop before it got too painful. Gotta get more reps in later, can’t take it too far here. What I’m proposing now is this: don’t stop quite yet. Soon, but not quite yet. Don’t worry about later, worry about now. With the 5MD, you CAN’T worry about later. There is no later. Until the next day. Or two. With the present idea (to be named below), just take it a little farther than you would if you were worried about later volume.

So here’s what I’m saying. The volume is not the most important thing in building muscle. The rep range per se is not the most important thing in building muscle. What’s important is that the individual set is X+1. Now, what does this really mean?

Do sets all day, yes, but make them X+1. Nobody wants to be the guy on the stationary bike scrolling his phone with one hand and doing partial curls with the little pink dumbbell in the other. If we imagine an intensity continuum for a set of push ups, then 1 would be the easiest (if you can do 1) and your absolute max would be the hardest. By absolute max, I mean that last rep is slow and you are barely making it and struggling and shaking and red in the face and your form has broken down. You cannot really do multiple sets throughout the day at this intensity. If that number is 38 for you, then sets of 20 would be tempting. I am saying make it sets of more than 20. X+1 means get to the point in the set where you START to break down, and then do 1 more. The rep slows by necessity, you shake a bit, it burns. But you could still do a few more if you had to. But don’t. This is X+1. Note that “X” is the undefined term here. “X” is where you feel that feeling like I’m about done here. Then do 1 more.

Here’s a pretty good example for Bulgarian Split Squats. Usually when I do these I quit after the 10th or so.

Here’s an example with back yard pull ups. Normally I would take this out to 12 reps or so here but the grip was such that 10 was enough. The point with X+1 is to go just past the point when you are ready to quit.

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.

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

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

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

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


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


(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.

Discussing Micro-Workouts on the Red Delta Project Podcast

I was a guest recently on Matt Shifferle’s Red Delta Project Podcast, to discuss micro-workouts, calisthenics progress, and strength training every day. I’ve been familiar with Matt’s work for some time and if you aren’t, check out his videos on Youtube. They are concise, well delivered, and full of excellent information. Matt found me through my blog post on micro-workouts, which is worth a read if you need any background information.

My goal with this exploration is to determine whether or not I can build muscle and strength and improve health through small workouts spread throughout the day rather than one big gym-based exhausting workout. This is in part to make working out more attractive and less daunting to the working professional who’s pressed for time.

The podcast is here: