I love this little workout. It takes 20 minutes, works your tail off, and takes a minimum of setup and supplies.
Find a flat, open, space like a soccer, rugby, or football field (or just an open field at your local neighborhood park). Mark the field at each corner with a sports cone. Your field should be 50 meters wide by 100 meters long.
The TLDR is that you’ll set a timer for 20 minutes, then jog the 100 meter length, and sprint the 50 meter width. When the timer expires, you’re done.
There are a couple of ways you can add variety to this workout:
For the first two / three weeks, you may want to set the timer for 10 minutes, and then restart the timer for another 10 minutes. When I come out of my winter hibernation, I’m not in good enough shape to go 20 minutes straight. After the first 10 minute timer expires, I walk for 2 minutes to recover. Then I resume the workout for the final 8 minutes.
Once your body gets used to the workout, swap up and sprint the 100 meter length, and walk the 50 meter width (it’s brutal!)
And once you get acclimated to that workout, add 2 additional cones at the 50 meter mark of the long sides. With this version of the workout, you’ll now have cones marked at 50 meters along each side of the field. Alternate sprinting/jogging each 50 meters. Again, keep it up for 20 minutes.
I literally drive around with my gym bag and a stack of cones in my car so that whenever I want to grab a quick workout, I can stop at the nearest park or field and churn it out for 20 minutes. There are no weights required or special equipment or exercises to keep up with. But I promise this little routine will work you hard for 20 minutes, especially as you progress through the levels of difficulty. Give it a try and let me know how you like it!
Your workout routine should take into account recovery time. This is especially true as you age (since it takes more time to recover). Scroll to “Training for recovery” to see my current workout routine for maximizing recovery.
The Importance of Recovery
Some guys, myself included, go balls to the wall in their workouts. We go all out during the workout, and we try to cram in as many gains as possible during the week. When I was in college I was at the gym twice each day, six days a week (only because the gym was closed on Sunday). I made incredible gains during that time.
The problem with gains made through intense and frequent workouts, however, is that rarely can they be sustained. As muscle or endurance builds up, so does fatigue. Eventually physical and psychological burnout and / or injury show up, and your gains are actually reversed. Like the engine in your car, you can only rev at top speed for a while before the engine blows and you’re forced to pull over to the side of the road while everyone else passes you by. Slow and steady wins the race. Adequate recovery lets you make small incremental gains over time without burnout or injury. I’ve experienced it firsthand.
Three years ago I decided I wanted a starting position on my rugby team. Being 48 at the time, playing with guys less than half my age, this was a big goal. Throughout the summer off-season I trained as heavy as I could, as often as I could. On my off days I sprinted in the 100 degree Memphis heat. We began the fall season with fitness assessments and at the end of the beep test I was one of the last five guys (out of a field of about 25 guys). During the other fitness drills, I killed it. At the bar after practice the young guys were giving me high-fives for my performance.
Unknown to them, I had been experiencing a nagging pain in my crotch. During the fireman carry at practice that night, it had become almost unbearable but I pushed through anyway. Over the next couple of weeks, I started losing speed because the effort of pulling my knee to my pelvis was excruciatingly painful. The day of our first scrimmage I awoke in terrible pain. I finally got up, stretched a bit, took some ibuprofen, and headed to the field. I actually got a starting position (first time ever) and…declined. I didn’t feel I would be effective on the field and thought someone should take my place. My coach pushed me to take the position anyway, and I ended up playing about 60 minutes of the match.
The next morning, I literally could not get out of bed; I had no strength in my abdomen to pick my legs up. The diagnosis was a sports hernia. In my case, it was due to overuse. After several weeks of dry needling, chiropractic work, a stretching regimen, I wasn’t getting better. All the while, I was still going to the gym, still attempting to jog, trying to keep from getting out of starting shape.
It took a full year of recovery to get me back on the field. No gym work for two months. No running for close to six months. When I finally made it back to the gym, I had to start from scratch; nothing but bar. Also nothing targeting the core until close to eight months, and even then it was touch and go because of pain. All the gains I had made in the 3 summer months of training had been wiped out – and more – because I had over trained.
Training for Recovery
There’s a lot more to recovery besides your workout routine; sleep and nutrition play a huge role. But here’s how I’ve arranged my weekly workouts so that I get as much training time in as possible, but also as much recovery time as well. Notice that I try to alternate activities each day, along with alternating body parts and goals (gym vs. aerobic vs. HIIT, legs vs. upper body vs. total body lifts vs. complimentary lifts, etc.):
Monday – Gym day with an emphasis on legs (mainly deadlift and squat) along with a small amount of chest work (to increase weekly volume).
Tuesday – Aerobic running. Easy jog of 30-40 minutes.
Wednesday – Gym day focusing on upper body (mainly chest/shoulders).
Thursday – 20 minute sprint session. Notice that I’ve had two full days of recovery since my heavy leg day on Monday.
Friday – Gym day focusing on back, with light legs as well (stiff-legged deadlifts or lunges).
Saturday – Game day (during season) or general “fun day” staying active.
Sunday – Rest. Full stop.
Notice that everything gets covered; lots of full-body lifts, aerobic work, also HIIT training. But everything gets adequately rested in between sessions.
Also, during gym sessions each set gets 2.5-3 minutes rest between sets. This is so that each muscle group gets adequate recovery to attack each set with maximum intensity. Most guys will rest a minute or so in between, but this causes you to lose form, increase your risk of injury, and keeps the muscle group from being able to express itself to its fullness.
Diet includes extra zinc and magnesium for recovery, along with extra protein intake, over and above what most non-athletic folks would generally take in. Then sleep. As much sleep as possible (for a glance at my nightly routine, check out this blog post)
Your workout needs will be different from mine. But let me encourage you to step back and examine your workout for built-in recovery. Think about how you feel from Monday to Friday. I’ve had routines where I’d start on Monday full of piss and vinegar, but by Friday dreaded going to the gym. That’s burnout. Or maybe you keep experiencing small injuries: a pulled groin, a painful shoulder, a tight calf-muscle. Often these are signs that your muscles are fatigued. Restructure your workouts so that recovery is built-in. It’ll help you make far more gains over the long-haul.
I alternate between different types of workouts during the year. Some of the year is about building strength (how much I can lift). Some of the year is dedicated to power (how much I can lift as quickly as possible). This winter I’ve chosen to concentrate on hypertrophy (muscle size).
There are at least 3 components to building muscle in the gym:
Volume. Specifically, the number of sets per muscle group per week creates a more dramatic result. However, there seems to be a relationship to more sets/reps throughout the week, rather than blowing your wad all in one day. Repeatedly hitting a muscle group through the week, without exceeding the minimum effective dose, seems to be better.
Muscle fiber recruitment. The more muscle fibers you recruit, the better. This is especially true for building muscle (rather than strength training). Done right, increased volume and training to failure or near failure recruits more muscle fibers. Rest and good form are the keys to muscle fiber recruitment.
Rest. This is hugely important. Often you’ll see guys rep to failure to get that “pump” in the gym, then quickly turn around and do it again. You’ll also see their volume decreases as each set is attempted (remember: increased volume recruits more muscle fibers). What they fail to realize is that the “pump” is actually their body’s response to the trash that’s built up in their muscles during a set. The body floods the area with blood to flush the lactic acid build up. If you don’t give your body enough time to flush the waste products from the muscle, it can’t perform to its maximal potential. To get the biggest bang for your buck, take as much rest time as you need so that you can perform each set to the full rep target. For me, it’s almost always 3 minutes.
My workout achieves four goals for me:
It’s fairly balanced across muscle groups.
It places a high value on leg work. Hip and leg strength are important for me; you may want to place emphasis on a different priority.
It includes aerobic as well as high intensity work.
Even though it’s a five day workout, it’s structured so that recovery is built-in.
Personally, I’m loving this. Since I started in November 2018 (It’s January 2019 as I write this) I’ve added 7 pounds of non-Christmas weight to my frame. I’m not experiencing burn out. And although I’m pretty sore after most workout days, the recovery period allows me to hit it hard each time I enter the gym. I’m a fan of this one!
You can download the workout here: Winter 2018 Hypertrophy Workout. If you have any suggestions or comments, feel free to leave them in the comments, below.
I use this blog to track all the funky food, nutrition and workout experiments I’m trying. I’m a firm believer in both consistency and variation in my workouts; consistency meaning it’s hard to get a feel for the success of a given method unless it’s been tried over a long-enough period of time. Variation in that muscle adapts to a given stimulus and so variation must be introduced to keep the muscle growing. So my usual workout routines last from 6-8 weeks, and then I change depending on what I think my strengths/weaknesses are in a given area, or what is going on during a given season (if I’m playing rugby).
Summer 2018 Workout
I’ve integrated the 5×5 workout into my yearly cycles for a couple of years now. Last year I tried the 1×20 workout for a cycle (you can get a copy of that here). At different times I’ve added a small amount of running or treadmill time into my workouts, but only 10-15 minutes at a time. During my 1×20 cycle I also integrated some HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) on days I wasn’t in the gym.
I’m planning on playing rugby in the fall, so over the summer I’ve been training to be prepared for the physical demands of the game. It’s a huge target: increased strength, explosive power, size (hypertrophy) and aerobic capacity.
All over the place, right?
To that end, I’ve combined the best of everything, my “Greatest Hits” so to speak. They’re available in this spreadsheet, “Current_Workout_2018-07-15.xlsx“.
The spreadsheet contains 3 tabs:
Weights – A daily chart of what happens each day. Monday and Friday are “strength” days, using 5×5 as the skeleton for the workouts. Once the big lifts are out of the way, select a few accessory lifts from the “1×20” worksheet to supplement your lifts.
1×20 – Wednesday is a “light” day. Choose a broad spectrum of lifts from the 1×20 sheet for a thorough full-body workout.
Aerobic – HIIT – Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are for aerobic and anaerobic systems. As an athlete in a sport with a heavy demand on my aerobic system, my goal this summer is to build my aerobic capacity. To that end, I’m running or biking two days / week, increasing my time by 5 minutes each week. I’m at almost an hour. It’s incredibly boring, but Amazon Prime and my Kindle Fire makes it doable. Thursdays are for explosive anaerobic work. Sprints are an easy way to get this work in, but often I use a combination of assault bike+weights for interval training. I’ll do 1 minute assault bike, straight into hang-cleans x 10 with as much weight as I can handle, then 1 minute of rest in between sets. Usually 6 or 7 sets kills me. Google “hiit options” or “bodyweight metcons” for more creative stuff you can do easily, at home.
Notes – The first sheet contains some basic notes to get you started.
Finally, make sure you take a day of full recovery. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s easy to over-train. In my schedule, recovery day is Sunday, but you can adjust the schedule however you want. But you must take a day off.
Give this a try. I’m super-pleased with my improvement over the summer. I haven’t gained any weight, which was a goal, but my other numbers have improved, and I don’t have a lot of fatigue, a problem I seem to run into when training heavy (like pure 5×5).
In December I wrapped up a workout block I called the “EMOM Workout” (you can see the details here). In the spirit of experimentation, I’ve started something completely new (for me) a 1 x 20 workout.
1 x 20 Explained
1 x 20 is an established – if not well known – workout methodology made popular by Dr. Michael Yessis.* I heard about it on the Rugby Strength Coach Podcast with Chris McCormack, Director of Athletic Performance at Gardner Webb University in North Carolina. I followed up with the podcast host, Keir Wenham-Flatt about how it might work with my high-school rugby players. He recommended 1 x 20 for them, so I decided it was time to time to do some research!
In very simple terms, 1 x 20 describes a workout program where you perform 1 set of 20 repetitions of as many as 15-20 exercises that cover all the major muscle and joint groups. You perform the exercises with strict form, with weight that allows you to hit those last few reps with strict form, but difficulty nonetheless. Increase weight as the load becomes easier, if not daily. Workout as often as your body allows (I’ve seen some S & C coaches recommend 2-3 times/wk, and others as much as 5 times/week).
As you progress – which can take years – the program becomes what I would consider a more traditional strength workout: lower reps, higher weight, fewer sets.
Benefits of 1×20
Time. A couple of benefits touted by Yessis and others include the time it takes to complete a workout: fairly quick, since it’s pretty simple. Personally, I’m usually out of the gym between 45 to 60 minutes (my 3x/wk workout contains about 19 sets). Even at an hour, the 1×20 is a much more efficient use of gym time than other workouts I’ve used. Some 1×20 schemes I’ve seen include between 12-15 sets, and clock in at about 30 minutes. (Note: I often increase my recovery time between sets, which, in turn, increases my overall workout time. By moving quickly from set-to-set, you can decrease your gym time).
Connective Tissue. It’s also easier on your joints and ligaments than traditional strength workouts. Ligaments and connective tissue, because they don’t have access to a large blood flow (like muscle tissue) don’t adapt as quickly under stress. Often injury happens when you progress too quickly in weight before your connective tissue has a chance to adapt. 1×20 limits the stress placed on your connective tissue in any one movement. I can tell you from personal experience that this has been a huge benefit to me. I’ve worked with some fairly heavy loads in workouts like 5×5 (300+ lb deadlifts, 250+ lb bench press, 250 lb+ squats), and my knees, hips, back and shoulders seemed to be in a constant state of ache. Since switching to the 1×20, I’m often amazed at how pain-free I am walking up stairs, running, or jumping in every day activities.
Gainz. Although the increments are generally small, even as an experienced lifter, I have seen slow but tangible gains. There’s nothing wrong with small and incremental; if you’re looking at your health from a long-term perspective, small and incremental gains in strength, athleticism, and connective tissue health add up to big gains over time. And if you aren’t backing off because of injury or time constraints, those increases will snowball.
Drawbacks of 1×20
Effectiveness. The 1×20 system is geared toward young and inexperienced athletes. If you’re already an experienced lifter who finds gains hard to come by, 1×20 probably isn’t for you.
Pump. This may sound odd, but hear me out. I love the “pump” and soreness I get the day after a good workout. It makes me feel like I’ve done something big (although whether you’re sore the day after a workout doesn’t correlate to whether it was any more effective than a workout that doesn’t make you sore). One thing I like about 1×20 is that I’m not terribly sore after a workout, which makes it easier for me to go back to the gym the next day. But I don’t have the “pump”. My youngest son has struggled with 1×20 because he isn’t sore after a workout. He feels like it isn’t working for him, even though his numbers are consistently increasing.
Pride. Starting the 1×20 is embarrassing, or at least it was for me. Since I’ve been working at a rate of 5-8 reps for so long, hitting those last five reps between 15 and 20 was incredibly difficult when I first started. I had to drop my weight down to teeny-tiny dumbbells in many cases. I went from being a fairly remarkable gym personality to being less than average. Granted, after 8 weeks, my numbers in most sets have increased dramatically. But it takes several weeks for your body to adapt. Swallow your pride for the sake of the long-term view.
Who is 1×20 For?
I began this circuit because it was recommended for young and inexperienced athletes/lifters. I’m a high-school rugby coach, and many of my athletes have little to no gym experience. I wanted to be able to recommend a regimen for them that would allow them to make substantial gains, but not beat them up; rugby is hard enough, I don’t need my kids getting beat up in the gym. Before I made a recommendation to my kids, I wanted to try it for myself. That being said, even though I’m not a “young and inexperienced athlete”, I’ve still seen substantial strength and endurance gains over the past 8 weeks. I’ll most likely continue for another 6 weeks or so to see if I hit a limit.
If you’re an experienced lifter and find yourself over-trained or recovering from injury, I’d recommend 1×20 to get you back into training.
If you’re an in-season athlete and insist on lifting during season, 1×20 is a good way to train without overdoing it.
As a 51 year-old, I’d say 1×20 is great for older lifters who want to stay in shape, but aren’t trying to compete in any kind of master’s level power-lifting competition. It’s easy on your joints and easy to recover from.
I like 1×20. It’ll probably work its way into my training cycle once/twice a year or so. I’ve had a good response to it, and so have many S&C (strength and conditioning) coaches, especially in high-school / college athletes. If it helps, here is my own, personal 1×20 routine (1×20-Workout.xlsx) (updated12/10/2018). Use it at your own risk or for your own benefit. Let me know how it works for you!
Back in September I started a workout block that was built on an upper-body / lower-body EMOM split (you can see the full workout here). The base of the workout was 3 reps of fairly heavy deadlifts, every minute, on the minute, for 10 minutes. After four minutes of rest, I then launched into 10 more minutes of heavy bench presses, 3-5 reps. I did this routine twice a week, Monday and Friday. Around this were several auxiliary movements, depending on the day. Tuesday / Thursday were aerobic or sprint days, Wednesday was a general pickup day to hit missing muscle groups, with Saturday and Sunday allotted for rest and recovery.
I’m always trying to mix up my workout routines. Your body gets in a rut when you perform the same workout day after day, week after week. Your body doesn’t need to adapt to the stress once the “routine” sets in, so mixing it up every couple of months keeps your body guessing.
I also have many different goals for my body, and different workouts target those different goals. Some workout blocks are for strength. Some are for hypertrophy (muscle size). Some are for flexibility. Some for stamina. I try to design workouts that will address my goals.
The EMOM workout was designed primarily for stamina and strength. Moving quickly, repeatedly, through a series of fairly heavy lifts elevated my heart rate and challenged me to recover in time to attack the next set each minute. Moving up in weight every week or two ensured that my body was challenged to adapt to new loads in both strength and endurance / recovery.
What Were The Results?
I kept this routine up for 8 weeks.
At the beginning of the cycle, I was energized. I felt great at the end of each workout. I’m defining “great” here as winded, tired, and “pumped”. My numbers were increasing, and in addition to my goals of strength and endurance, I could tell I was gaining some size, especially across my chest, hips and thighs.
My the end of the first month, however, I was slowing down. I wasn’t terribly motivated to get to the gym. My body was so very fatigued. Obviously I had blown my central nervous system. I dropped my Wednesday workout and used it for recovery, which helped, but there were days where I could only make it through the core workout with no auxiliary work. Increases in weight on the bar was harder to come by. By the end of 8 weeks I was done: tired, restless, fatigued. I took a full week off of lifting (but not running) to recover at the end of the cycle.
So it was a failure, right? Wrong.
How To Use This Workout
The EMOM block has earned a spot in my workout rotation. I know that it’s a block that works as a short-term program. In fact, for variation, I threw it into my workout last week. I walked away feeling absolutely invigorated (but was sore for four days).
Most likely I’ll throw this workout into my rotation at the end of a couple of other cycles, with these changes:
A maximum of 4 weeks in the block
Wednesdays off for recovery
A possible variation that doesn’t include an increase in weight through the cycle
An occasional EMOM workout in the midst of other less demanding workout cycles.
I encourage you to give it a try for a couple of weeks with the tweaks listed above. See how it works for you, then add your observations, below.
I cycle through workouts every 6 weeks or so. They often change based on what my goals are, especially related to the rugby season.
At the beginning of the off season, I concentrate on putting on muscle (hypertrophy). These workouts are generally medium-high reps (8-12) over 4 sets or so, with medium weight.
Following 6 weeks of hypertrophy training, leading up to the start of the next season, I begin strength training. For strength training I essentially follow the 5×5 method (details here), modified slightly for my needs. In between gym days I’m typically running one day for distance, and one day sprinting.
During season I try not to gain muscle or strength since rugby generally beats you up pretty bad, and expecting your body to make gains while repairing damage is just plain cruel and inhuman punishment. At my age it just can’t be done.
As this season began, I started looking for a workout to help me sustain gains made over the summer, without wiping out my recovery or my central nervous system (CNS). It also had to take into account a couple of small injuries I’ve been nursing for a while now. I tweaked my back over the summer in such a way that squats have been pretty painful. For the time being, they’re out. In addition, I have a perpetual shoulder issue that’s built up over a lifetime of poor bench press technique, and now the pounding of rugby shoulder tackles. In fact, I’ve been at the chiropractor this week for dry needling because I couldn’t raise my arm after a particularly brutal tackling session last week.
The EMOM Workout
Now that the back story and rationale is in place, here’s the workout. Note the details, following.
3 reps EMOM x 10 minutes
Incline DB Press
5 reps EMOM x 10 minutes
Decline DB Press
3 reps EMOM x 10 minutes
Decline DB Press
5 reps EMOM x 10 minutes
If you don’t know, EMOM means “Every Minute On the Minute”. I set a countdown timer on my phone for 10 minutes, and at the top of each minute I perform the reps for that set. Your rest period is whatever’s left over in that minute.
*(core) – I do different core exercises, depending on how I feel. I may do situps / crunches, planks, leg lifts, whatever. As long as I’m doing something.
** (shoulders) – Same here. I often swap between barbell overhead press, dumbbell overhead press, or upright rows.
*** (back) – I generally swap between either heavy dumbbell bent-over rows, or pull-ups. I’d do barbell bent-over rows, but, again, right now my back just won’t tolerate it.
Friday’s workout is shown as a stripped-down version of Monday’s, but that isn’t necessarily true. I have 3 options for Friday:
Most likely my CNS is blown after a week of gym time and rugby practice, so less is more for recovery’s sake. In this case, I’ll do the stripped-down workout.
However, if I feel good, I may just repeat Monday’s workout, only swapping the bench press from incline to decline.
I won’t work out at all on Friday if I have a game on Saturday. In that case, Friday is strictly a rest, recovery, and fuel day.
Recommended weight for each exercise isn’t listed. That’s up to you. You should be able to do the recommended sets/reps with strict form. You should be tired at the end of each movement. But I don’t advocate killing yourself, or even going to failure with each set. However, once you’re comfortable at a given weight, it’s time to increase. I try to increase my weight in a movement 5 lbs / week.
Finally, I use dumbbell bench press work rather than barbell because of my injured shoulder. The position your hands are forced into using a barbell is not terribly natural, and can cause shoulder problems at the bottom of the lift. Dumbbells allow me to turn my hand position ever-so-slightly at the bottom, allowing me to get the same pump, without the discomfort. It’s a bit of a blow to the ego not to be able to do a big barbell bench press any more, but it’s stupid to keep reinjuring myself for my ego’s sake. Kudos to Anthony Balduzzi over at the Fit Father Project for convincing me to make the switch.
I’ve chosen to share this with you because I’ve been so amazed at the results it’s given me in such a short time. After about 3 weeks I can tell a difference in how I look and how I feel. My weight on the bar goes up each week, I look forward to getting in the gym and I can see the difference in the mirror. My three goals for a workout are: get strong, feel good, look good naked. This one takes me closer in each category. Give it a try and see how it works for you.