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- What Is Minimalist Fitness?
The unkempt among us know that the fitness industry is an unpredictable beast. It is, in my opinion, best described as a mythical creature found in far-fetched fantasy novels and games: a shapeshifter. It’s a field that regularly hops, jumps, and often leaps, from one obsession to the next. Some years this obsession is a specific type of training, like HIIT (high-intensity interval training), while other years it’s more tangible, like a piece of equipment. You never really know what to expect, other than change.
It’s almost impossible to keep up with. Whether on purpose or by accident, it’s like the industry is set up to see you fail. There’s little time to learn with frequent change and that can make achieving your goals a difficult endeavor. Well, more difficult than it needs to be, at least.
Occasionally, however, one trend dominates for an abnormally long period of time. It’s not surprising that, in a world full of overworked professionals and endlessly busy parents, one such trend is that of minimalist fitness. I want to take advantage of this lull in change to give you a better understanding of this type of training, how it can benefit you, and how to make it happen.
What Is Minimalist Fitness?
At its roots, minimalist fitness is all about knocking out great, effective workouts in a reasonable amount of time without all the bells and whistles that litter most gyms. I think, more than anything, it’s a mindset. You have to embrace the idea that less really is more, and that fitness is most definitely not one-dimensional. There are many ways to accomplish any given goal.
Alright, with that out of the way, let’s break it down piece by piece. Great, effective workouts get you to your goals in a timely manner. They’re well-rounded and easily adjusted to experience level. They take a multifaceted approach to fitness. As for a reasonable amount of time, that’s about as subjective as it gets. In the interest of avoiding an argument, let’s call this 30 minutes. Everyone can find an extra 30 minutes in the day, right? Without all the bells and whistles refers to the ability to make progress without access to a fully equipped gym. You don’t anything complicated.
There you have it – minimalist fitness in its most basic form. Is it over-hyped? Probably. But at the same time, there are compelling reasons for the hype.
Why Bother With It?
In truth, minimalist fitness isn’t all that different than regular fitness, and it offers many of the same benefits. If you’re training smart, you’re going to make good progress whether you’re in the gym with a barbell or out in the park on a pull-up bar. However, there are a few distinct advantages.
First, minimalist fitness training usually forces you into working at a high intensity. Depending on the equipment you’re using, you may not be able to create a high enough resistance to get a good workout. To balance this out, you’ll likely move towards faster movement and shorter rest. From a conditioning perspective, this is great.
Second, this type of training has the potential to spark your imagination. It’s not as cut and dry as lifting in the gym can be. You won’t have access to the exact same movements that you do in the gym, so you’re quickly pushed towards thinking outside of the box. I shouldn’t have to tell you that this could carry over to other areas of your life, and that imagination is a great skill to have.
Finally, minimalist training fosters a sense of freedom that’s difficult to recreate in the typical gym environment. It encourages you to keep an open mind, and more importantly, to get outside and enjoy the fresh air.
It’s obvious that I’m a big believer in minimalist fitness, but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not for everyone. It’s perfect for improving general fitness, conditioning, and overall movement quality. Unfortunately, there are two primary goal areas that don’t mesh well with this type of training: strength and size.
If you want to build big-time strength, you need access to a full gym setup. That’s all there is to it. You need to be able to do heavy squats, presses and deadlifts, at the bare minimum. Some people might be able to squeak by with kettlebells or a really heavy sandbag, but I wouldn’t count on it. It’s just too difficult to hit a big enough resistance to drive serious strength gains.
Though this next point is less of a concern than the first, it still deserves a mention. It’s true that you don’t necessarily need big weights to get bigger, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have them. Similar to training for strength, you’re eventually going to hit a wall that will require more resistance than you can create. You’re going to need more equipment – a barbell, at the minimum – to break through.
I’d also like to a second to hammer home the fact that you can build strength and size with minimalist fitness equipment. It’s not an optimal setup, but it’s doable. As long as you’re okay with not being a competitive powerlifter or bodybuilder, then you’re in the right place.
What Defines The Best Minimalist Equipment?
It’s unlikely that people who love – and work in – fitness will ever actually agree on a lasting definition for anything. It’s just not going to happen. So, considering this, you’re going to have to cut me some slack here. And, of course, you’re going to have to roll with my opinion on the matter. I don’t claim to be an all-knowing guru on the subject, but I do have nearly a decade of personal training experience under my belt and I’m passionately dedicated to the idea of training with minimal equipment. I regularly haul equipment to and from sessions with clients in their homes or outdoors. Over time, I’ve developed a few big requirements for a new purchase.
If I had to break it down into three terms that I feel define great minimalist equipment, they would be: portability; fuss-factor; and effectiveness. Each of these aspects considers a key advantage of minimalist fitness training – your time – but that’s only one piece of the puzzle.
Portability refers to the ease of transport. Can you throw it in your backpack and not worry about it? Is it fragile? Do you dread the idea of moving it around? These are good questions to ask.
Fuss-factor considers the amount of hassle it takes to set up and use the equipment. Think about the hassle of loading three or four plates a side on a barbell in the gym. We’re looking for the opposite of that.
Effectiveness means that it can get you to your goals. It features bang-for-your-buck exercises that can be regressed and progressed and that help move you in the direction of success.
The 5 Best Pieces Of Minimalist Fitness Equipment
Okay, we’ve spent quite a bit of time touching on a few key points of minimalist fitness. If you’re still reading, you must be into it, and you’re probably curious about what equipment you should start with. Well, you’re in luck. That’s where we are now.
The following five pieces of equipment aren’t listed in any particular order. In a perfect world, you would run out and pick up all of them, but I know that won’t be the case. Rest assured that any single piece of equipment listed below can be used to create a killer workout.
Suspension Trainer: TRX Home Gym
Suspension trainers generally attach to a sturdy anchor point, like a tree or door, and allow you to hang on them to do exercise. They use both your bodyweight and body angle to create variable resistance. It can be a little nerve-wracking at first, but you’ll learn to trust it in time.
If you’re going to grab one of these (you should), let it be the TRX Home Gym. It’s the in-between TRX model – not as minimal as the TRX Go and not as robust as the TRX Pro. In addition to the standard suspension anchor and carry bag, it also comes with the door anchor. This little trinket lets you attach the TRX to any door, so no searching for the perfect hanging spot.
Get started with the TRX Home Gym by creating a quick and balanced circuit. Do a chest press, squat jump, row, and hip press for 30 seconds each. Take a 60-90 second rest when you’re done, then repeat two more times. To adjust the difficulty, just walk your feet towards the anchor point (harder) or away from it (easier).
Sandbag: Ultimate Sandbag
Admittedly, this isn’t the most portable piece of equipment in the list, and it’s not quite as minimal as the others. But remember, it’s not all about portability. The sandbag is here because it’s too effective to leave behind, and there’s one big reason for that. Sandbags are inherently unstable. The weight shifts constantly as you move, adding a unique dynamic element that’s tough to mimic with other equipment.
The Ultimate Sandbag is easily the most feature-heavy sandbag available. Every bag is equipped with several handles – as many as four sets on the bigger bags – and allows for easy weight adjustment. Perhaps most importantly, you can choose from multiple loading levels. I’d recommend starting with the Core (5-20 pounds) or the Power (20-40 pounds) models.
Keep in mind that the sandbag isn’t quite as easy to pick up (no pun intended) as other minimalist fitness equipment. It’s more technical and has the potential to feature greater resistance. If you’ve never used a sandbag before, the power clean and the sumo deadlift are two effective movements that shouldn’t take long to learn.
First things first: these are known as sliders. When placed on your hands or feet, they let you slide across a surface. You can use them to all of the big muscle groups, and they’re great for cranking up your heart rate.
While you can use a towel, socks, or furniture sliders to accomplish the same goal, I still have to recommend Valslides. They’re designed specifically with exercise in mind, meaning that won’t have to worry about durability, slippage, or any other issues. Valslides are super portable, and most importantly, don’t require carpet to function.
One of the best starter slider exercises is the slider mountain climber. It’s great for all ability levels, builds muscle and endurance in your lower body, and get your heart beating hard. Or, if you’re more interested in a core exercise, you can try slider pikes.
Resistance Bands: EliteFTS Resistance Bands
Resistance bands are made with a tough but elastic rubber that provides a unique combination of durability and stretch. They’re small, easily attachable to a variety of objects, and allow for total body training.
One brand of band isn’t all that different from any other, but I’ve always been a fan of the EliteFTS bands. They feature six widths (resistance levels) ranging from ¼-inch all the way up to 2.5 inches, making them equally friendly to beginners and pros alike. These bands are aimed at powerlifters, but don’t let that scare you away. They work well for all populations.
You can use resistance bands for any type of exercise, but they’re perfect for training the core muscles that create or prevent rotation. Although rotation is used frequently in daily life, it’s not often trained. Change this by hitting a few sets of low-high twists and anti-rotation presses.
Jump Rope: Fitness Factor Adjustable Jump Rope
It’s old-school, I know. You’re probably conjuring up images of Rocky Balboa enduring hour after hour of relentlessly difficult training. And if we’re being honest, that’s not far from the truth. The jump rope is a brutal and unforgiving piece of gear. It’s also one that you need in your equipment arsenal.
Your best bet – especially if you’re a beginner – is a basic jump rope like this one from Fitness Factor. Unless you’re a pro at skipping rope, you need one that’s adjustable. Fitness Factor covers that. On top of that, it’s light, comes with a handy carrying bag, and features comfortably padded grips.
To start out, work on mastering the basic two foot skip. It might take some time, but daily practice goes a long way. From there, you can progress to alternating skips and single foot skips. Finally, as an end goal, you can work up to double unders. These are, without a doubt, one of the most effective exercises you can do with a jump rope. Learn how to do all of these here.
Before anyone cries foul, I do want to point out that this isn’t an exhaustive list. There’s a lot of great fitness equipment available that wasn’t mentioned. Two that immediately come to mind? Kettlebells and battle ropes. I feel bad about leaving them out, but at the same time, I feel good about giving you the best chance of succeeding. That’s the whole point of this list, after all.
Do you have a favorite piece of minimalist equipment? Maybe two or three? Tell us in the comments below!