Nicholson Fitness
  • I have been thinking lately about the concepts of fitness and simplicity.  We know from common wisdom that the simplest course of action is usually the best.  This is especially true in the field of fitness, which often is cluttered with too many options for complicated routines, expensive new equipment, and the hype of the newest fad.  Wouldn’t it be great to cut through the clutter and simplify your workout?  Wouldn’t you be more likely to stick to your routine if you could do it anywhere, anytime, without the need for machines, weights, or any other gear?

    Making your workout simple seems, well, simple.  That is, until you compare different routines in the attempt to figure out which one is the simplest.  The conclusion I have reached is that your body is really the only equipment you need for the most simple of workouts.  OK, I realize that your body is the most complex of all possible workout equipment.  It’s true that using your body as a tool for exercise will require learning proper movements, which may be more complicated than sitting down on a biceps-curl machine and pumping out some reps. It is also true that everyone’s body is different, and individual aches and pains, strengths and weakness must be accounted for.  But once you have mastered some basic movements like push-ups, lunges and squats, you will be able to perform a rigorous exercise routine in your hotel room, back yard or wherever you take the wonderful workout equipment that is your body.

    My term for a workout that uses your body weight as its sole equipment is “basic training.”  Basic training is a whole-body routine designed to build a base of strength, flexibility, power and cardiovascular output for overall fitness, which can be defined as either preparation for a larger goal — like losing a target amount of weight or finishing a specific race — or, more fundamentally, as better overall health.

    When you are establishing a fitness routine, basic training has several advantages over other exercise options.  Cycling can be simple — once you master riding a bike, determine the best clothes to wear and learn to perform mechanical tasks like changing a flat tire.  But I would argue that taking up cycling for fitness might not be the best place to start.  You can’t take your bicycle with you everywhere you go, and the cost of investing in cycling is high if you don’t already own the proper equipment.  The same thing could be said about joining a gym.  I am a cyclist and find it to be a great workout, but if you are just beginning an exercise regime, building strength and general fitness through basic training is an ideal starting point for reaching your goals, even if they are sport-specific — like riding your bicycle to San Francisco.

    A great way to illustrate this point is by thinking about training for a marathon.  Every year thousands of people join groups that will coach them to complete a marathon.  If you look at the groups’ web sites, these training programs boast high race-completion rates — for those who finish the training.  What those figures don’t reflect is the number of people who start the program but are injured, don’t finish the training, and never toe up to the starting line.  Running is a repetitive exercise, and anything you do over and over again can lead to injury if your body is not properly prepared for it.

    I certainly don’t think training for and running a marathon is a bad idea; I have completed more than 20 marathons myself.  In fact, running is a central pillar of basic training.  But improving your strength and cardiovascular capacity, and teaching your muscles to fire in proper sequence through body weight exercises, are the simplest ways to lay the groundwork for an ambition such as completing the 26.2 miles it takes to run a marathon.  Once you have mastered basic training, your body will be more likely to adapt to the rigors of whatever exciting goal you set as the New Year approaches.

    Let me be a little more specific about what I have in mind with basic training.  Besides push-ups and squats, basic training entails short sprints appropriate to your fitness level, sit-ups, planks, and other exercises that train your body to work as a whole.  Other more rigorous components like plyometrics (for speed and power) and burpees (a combination of a squat, push-up and jump) may be integrated once you have worked up to the impact created by these activities.  (Enter “plyometrics” or “burpee” into your search engine for more information).  These types of exercises can be a lot of fun and make you feel like a kid on the playground, especially when you perform them with a group.

    If you are interested in creating a simple workout routine that may be performed without a gym or equipment, in your own back yard or at the park down the street, a workout designed to increase basic fitness for a healthy body or to use as a base for your other goals, give me a shout.  I am always happy to help.

    Jeff Nicholson is a Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach and owner of Nicholson Fitness.  Contact him at with questions or visit his web site at

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