I experiment a lot with different training protocols. But, I always catch myself coming back to the same workout template: Ultimate Athleticism.
To me, this is the gold standard of training and time management. 90% of the recreational trainees should follow this.
The template looks like this:
Strength Block A (15 minutes)
Upper body push exercise
Lower body pull / hinge exercise
Strength Block B (15 minutes)
Upper body pull exercise
Lower body push / squat exercise
Finisher (5 Minutes)
Squats or KB swing intervals
Accessory bodybuilding “pump” work
Total time: 45 minutes
Let’s take a closer look on how to put this in place and how you can adjust this to your needs.
I have been advocating the push/pull/squat/hinge system for some time now. It is simple and effective.
Choose an exercise for each of the 4 movement categories. You have a myriad of options:
(I’m listing options for bodyweight, kettlebells and barbells. There are of course other tools out there. But I’m sure you get the point.)
Upper Body Push
- One-arm Push-ups
- Bottoms-up Kettlebell Press
- Handstand Push-ups
- Pike Press
- Kettlebell/Barbell Military Press
- Bench Press
Upper Body Pull
- Inverted Rows (w/ rings, suspension trainer, low bars, etc.)
- Kettlebell Bent-over Rows
- Renegade Rows
- Front Levers
- Air Squats
- Kettlebell Goblet Squats
- Barbell Front or Back Squats
- Pistol Squats
- Hover Lunges
- Bulgarian Split Squats
- Deadlift (conventional/sumo/jefferson w/ kettlebell or barbell)
- Single-leg Romanian Deadlifts w/ kettlebell or barbell or bodyweight
- Kettlebell Swings (one-arm or two-arm)
- Back Bridges
These are only a few options I curated in this list. Bear in mind, you can find many variations even within these options.
Take push-ups for example. You could do …
- wide grip
- on parallettes
- w/ rings
- w/ suspension
So whatever the tools are that you have available, I’m certain you can use this template.
To make our lives easier, we concentrate on 3 simple and effective mobility drills:
- Thoracic Bridge
- Pump Stretch (yoga cobra to downward dog)
- Deep Lunge w/ prying
Each workout, include one of these in your warm-up. The other two go into the two strength blocks as active recovery.
What else makes sense in the warm-up? You can move every joint in circles. You can do a few push-ups, air squats or goblet squats and easy rows. You can include a few more mobility drills or yoga moves you’ve picked up somewhere.
The aim is to get everything loose, get the blood flowing and activate your sleepy muscles.
Let me stress this point. You don’t need a degree in biomechanics to put together an effective warm-up.
After 10 minutes, you should be pumped for the main workout. You should sweat a little bit. You should feel a bit more limber.
The last 5 minutes should be short and intense. Your lungs should burn and your heart should pound afterwards. I like squats and kettlebell swings for this.
Why? Once you’ve mastered the basic technique, they are safe even under fatique.
I’m not the biggest fan of burpees or box jumps. Burpees can fuck up your push-up technique. Box jumps stress your joints (it’s the jumping down from the box that’s unnecessary).
I’m also not a fan of ab exercises here. The purpose of the finisher is to give your whole body a cardiovascular hit. Thus, recruiting large muscle groups like your legs and using your core as a whole makes sense. For high intensity intervals, fatiguing the abdominals in isolation doesn’t do a lot. You will not burn off the fat in that area. Squats and swings do that.
Use a free online interval timer like this one, then get to work.
These are my favorite interval setups:
20 seconds work
10 seconds rest
repeat for 8 rounds = 4 minutes total
15 seconds work
15 seconds rest
repeat for 10 rounds = 5 minutes total
Choose a weight and exercise variation you can do well for at least 15 reps. Swings, air squats, goblet squats, barbell front squats (with a light load) and sandbag zercher squats are good options. Don’t do speed reps. Smooth and controlled at a normal pace. The goal is to keep a steady pace throughout the whole 4-5 minutes (hint: this is hard).
As an alternative, you can finish with what I call “pump work”. Choose one specific bodypart (shoulders or glutes or abs or –god forbid — biceps). Pick an isolation exercise:
- Glutes: Frog Pumps
- Abs: Hollow Body Hold
- Hamstrings: SHELCs
- Biceps: Thick bar curls
- Shoulders: Band-resisted cross lateral raises or face pulls
Do these for high reps (15-30). You can push yourself and go to failure, because you are not handling any serious weight. You can use bodybuilding methods like drop sets or rest-pause sets. Everything to get a skin-ripping pump is valid.
For the majority of the workout we focus on building strength and movement quality. In the last 5 minutes, I’ll allow you to let free your inner bro.
In the template above, I organized each part of the training session in time blocks. I want you to set a countdown timer for each block with the corresponding minutes.
Try to fit as much movement into each block as you can. The goal is to keep moving. No fiddling with your phone. No chit-chatting. No useless sitting around.
For the strength blocks, do one set for each of the two movements. Your rest is a few repetitions with the mobility drills. After a few seconds of shaking everything out, repeat. Repeat for 15 minutes straight.
I like to pick a specific number of reps to aim for for each movement. Usually, that’s 80% of my max. For example, if I can do 10 clean pull-ups, I try to hit 8 reps each round. In the last few rounds of a block, that doesn’t always happen. This is fine and expected.
If you need to catch your breath, do so. But there should be a sense of urgency. Try to fit in as many rounds as you can with control and good form.
The super-sets are curated such that we are always pairing an upper body exercise with a lower body exercise. That way, one muscle group rests while the other one is at work.
By adding mobility work, we extend the resting time for our muscles, but keep the heart rate up. We also do something useful in that time: Improving mobility.
My tip: For each movement group, pick one “hard” exercise and one “easy” exercise. “Hard” means you can do about 6-10 reps with good form. “Easy” means 15-20 reps or more.
Stick with the hard exercises for about 6 weeks. You can change up the easy ones every workout to your desire. Variety and higher reps make your joints happy and help your muscles grow.
You can now organize your workouts like this:
Strength Block A: Easy Push + Hard Hinge
Strength Block B: Hard Pull + Easy Squat
Strength Block A: Hard Push + Easy Hinge
Strength Block B: Easy Pull + Hard Squat
You can work out 3-4 times a week and alternate both workouts.
Here is an example on how this could look like:
A2. Heavy KB Swings (half your bodyweight is heavy)
B1. Weighted Pull-ups
B2. Goblet Squats
A1. Handstand Push-ups
A2. Single-leg Deadlifts w/ medium KB
B1. Inverted Rows
B2. Hover Lunges
With 3 times a week, you have a bi-weekly schedule:
|1||Workout 1||Workout 2||Workout 1|
|2||Workout 2||Workout 1||Workout 2|
With 4 workouts per week, all your weeks look the same:
|Workout 1||Workout 2||Workout 1||Workout 2|
Everyone is different. If you like shorter, but more frequent workouts, split the workouts in half:
Strength Block A
Strength Block B
Alternate between workout 1 and 2. Also alternate the easy+hard combos. Do workout 3 once or twice a week. This way, you can train almost daily.
This is my preferred mode currently. It allows for a good amount of flexibility. If something comes up (e.g. social commitments), I covered all my bases.
I can also squeeze in the 25 minutes right after work. After that, I still have plenty of time left to go out and have fun at night (sometimes, that just means watching Netflix 😉 ).
I have to admit that I stole this template from Max Shank. His book and training guide Ultimate Athleticism completely changed my perspective on training.
If you read one book about strength training, make it this one. You will get a deep dive into the most effective exercises for each movement category. You will be equipped with the exact amount of knowledge to whip up your own workout routine.
The best thing about the Ultimate Athleticism protocol: It’s designed for real life. We don’t train for arbitrary goals that only apply to the gym. You will be able to translate your strength into everyday movement.