Minimal Fitness… Is It Right For You?

This article is going to talk about a very unique concept called “minimal fitness”.  Minimal fitness is one of my philosophies about exercise and happens to be the most optimal way to exercise for the majority of people, with some obvious exceptions.

First, lets define the term:  “Minimal Fitness” means doing the least you can to achieve the greatest results.  If this was financial we’d call it “value”.

Every output or action on your part has a corresponding “return”.  For example, a dollar invested might have a $1.05 return.  A two-hour investment in watching a movie might have a return of good entertainment and boredom relief.   But we can’t run too far with examples before we must face the fact of another law at work:  the law of “diminishing marginal returns”.  Roughly translated, this means that for every action or effort, there is going to come a point where additional effort is going to have lesser gains.  Eventually it could mean zero gains.  It could also become “negative gains”, or going backwards, particularly as it relates to your fitness goals.

Lets look at how this relates to your own workout program:

Taking just one exercise as an example:  if you were to do a set of bench presses (doing as many reps as you can do), that first set is going to have a result of 80, for example.  If you do another set, it would have a cumulative result of 90.  A third set might yield a total overall result of 95, and a fourth set might bring you to 97-100.   Additional sets might not bring you any further yield, and could even be counter productive.

This means when you hit the gym, the majority of your benefits come from that first set of each exercise.  Additional sets of each exercise do give you additional results, but not nearly as much as that first set did.   Lets say that you and your twin brother decided to begin an exercise program at the same time.  You decide to follow the path of “minimal fitness” and you spend 15 minutes in the gym.  Your brother wants to follow what everyone else is doing and he spends the typical hour in the gym, doing 3-5 sets of everything.   You attained 80% of the results in your 15 minutes, yet your brother, who spent 4 times as much time and effort, was only able to achieve an extra 20% for all his trouble.

The same could be said for most exercise programs.  You don’t have to devote tons of time and energy to achieve the results that will make you most happy.  Your workout routine of 3-4 days per week will give you 80% of the results of someone who wants to workout 6 days per week.   Your 15 minute run will give you 80% of the results of someone who wants to run 10 miles.

Its not all about time and energy though, sometimes the solution is about a complete change in exercise modality or regimen.   For example, your basketball game in the park may give you 80% of the fitness you could otherwise get by engaging in an exercise routine (like a bootcamp, for example) that you absolutely hate and dread going to.   So many fitness programs these days are all marketed by the same ploy:  “this is really hard and its going to get you in maximum shape really fast!”   Many of the claims are true, but what they don’t tell you is just how much you’re going to HATE doing it!

When you exercise doing something you hate, you’ve done a disservice to your long-range fitness goals.  While you may get in great shape fast, you will probably lose this great shape and return to being a very inconsistent exerciser within the first several months.   It is simply too hard to force yourself to keep doing something you don’t like.  If the exercise is too hard, you will likely suffer an injury, sickness, or central nervous system burnout.  This is commonly called “overtraining” and its symptoms are a decreased motivation to workout, a slowdown in workout gains, sickness, elevated pulse or blood pressure, and other ailments.  It is no fun.   But because you “just had to have” those extra 20% gains and weren’t satisfied with “good enough”, your unbridled enthusiasm got the best of you and your long-term fitness plan is wrecked.

Remember, fitness must be kept as a lifestyle.  There is nothing more important than consistency/longevity when it comes to the positive benefits of exercise on your health and overall life.  Is what you’re doing now something you like well enough to keep it up indefinitely?  If its not, your goal should be to find something you DO like.   If you’re not able to, and must do exercise that you’re not very fond of, then do the least amount required to keep you fit, strong, healthy, and agile.   I always recommend non-exercisers start with making themselves a goal of trying to do 15 minutes of exercise per day, regardless of what form that may take.  One day it may simply be stretching.  Another day it could be a home workout plan that you have.  It could be going outside and shooting hoops, or passing the football, or taking a bike ride, or playing on the jungle gym.  One day it could be a brisk walk, or run.   The important thing is to do SOMETHING.   Something is SO much better than nothing, even if your “something” isn’t the most optimal way to get in shape.

When it comes to fitness, unless you’re one of the few who REALLY loves it and loves running, and doing bootcamp exercises, and hitting the gym, etc., then cut yourself some slack and find something that you can live with and stick with.  So many of the best benefits of exercise come from that first 15-30 minutes, and it doesn’t have to be excruciating.

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