What are Minimalist Workouts?
Minimalism is a word on the move. Like a fresh fad, it’s being sprinkled on top of anything and everything. There’s minimalist art, minimalist lifestyle blogs, minimalist podcasts, and now here we are talking about minimalist workouts.
While I don’t personally consider myself a minimalist or part of that movement, my pursuit of efficiency with the exercise tools I have in my home gym led me down the minimalist path as a curious wanderer. I’ve experimented with different programs, including this minimalist exercise routine that I highly recommend, and I’ve tried all sorts of different training modalities.
So here’s what I’ve learned, and here’s a layman’s stab at a definition, especially as it pertains to exercise.
Fundamentally, minimalism is about reducing excess and maximizing the utility of the essentials.
With exercise, the goal of minimalist workouts is to simplify your equipment and pursue your exercise goal with well-placed energy use. It’s simplicity with your workout materials and simplicity in your workout process. And from a Christian worldview, the goal of minimalist workouts is to steward your body to the glory of God with simpler materials and with a simpler process.
Why the Kettlebell?
As you’ll soon see, the following minimalist workouts all have the kettlebell sprinkled in them. There are other great resistance modalities you can use (barbell, dumbbell, TRX, etc…), and the true minimalist will likely just go for bodyweight workouts.
But from my view (and from years of experience with a home gym), if you want to move beyond bodyweight workouts, the kettlebell is the ultimate minimalist training tool. It’s ultra-versatile, portable, scaleable, efficient, and effective. It’s the home gym that can fit under your bed, and it can simplify your materials and simplify your training process.
Kettlebells are a phenomenal training tool, but they can add up quickly in cost. If you are new to kettlebell training and have questions on buying your first kettlebell, I put together this kettlebell buying guide to help you navigate through some of those initial questions.
10 Minimalist Workouts
Here are 10 minimalist workouts. These workouts are all written to require only the most basic equipment that you need in order to build your own minimalist home gym. Additionally, the equipment needed for these minimalist workouts is likely available in most local gyms.
I used five different methods to write these 10 workouts (two workouts per method) for a total of 10 minimalist workouts. The methods and tips are explained below for each workout pair.
In 20 minutes, do as many rounds as possible of:
In 20 minutes, do as many rounds as possible of:
The AMRAP Method
AMRAP stands for “As Many Rounds As Possible”. With the AMRAP method, you will be completing as many rounds as you can within a defined period of time, which is usually between 20 and 30 minutes.
You can get a full-body workout using the AMRAP method. But the key is proper variable selection. Here are some tips:
- Target 3-5 compound exercises that work different parts of the body.
- Keep your repetition count for each exercise between 1-10 reps.
- Target 15-30 minutes of total AMRAP time.
- Don’t overdo this method. The burn feels great, but months of exclusively doing this method can burn you out in other ways. If you’re exercising 3-5 times a week, target to do 1-2 AMRAP workouts per week.
Do 5 Rounds of:
- 10 One Hand Kettlebell Swings (R)
- 10 Push-Ups
- 10 One Hand Kettlebell Swings (L)
- 10 KB Goblet Squats
- 5 Ab Rolls
Do 5 Rounds of:
The 5×5 Method
5×5 is a popular method with various interpretations and applications. This is one of my favorite methods for minimalist workouts. For the purpose of this article, when I say 5×5 I’m referring to a workout that has 5 rounds with 5 movements.
You can get a great full-body workout using the 5×5 method. Here are some tips:
- Target 3-4 compound exercises that work different parts of the body.
- For the last 1-2 movements, pick a core exercise. My favorite is to do an Ab Roller or Farmer’s Carry for the last one or two movements.
- Keep your repetition count for each exercise between 5-10 reps.
- Rest between rounds, for 30-60 seconds. With this cadence, each round should take you 3-4 minutes.
Do 10 Kettlebell Swings every minute on the minute.
Alternate 10 One Hand Kettlebell Swings every minute to make it harder.
Every 2 minutes do:
The EMOM Method
EMOM stands for “Every Minute On the Minute”. This is an interval training method. With EMOM training, you will be completing a certain number of sets for a certain number of exercises within a defined time interval.
While the EMOM interval is usually 1 minute, you can expand your interval to 2 or even 3 minutes to include more exercises or more repetitions. Here are some tips:
- Pick 1 compound exercise for 1-minute intervals or 2-3 compound exercises for 2 minutes.
- Keep your repetition count for each exercise between 5 and 15 repetitions.
- Target 10 minutes for 1-minute intervals, and 20 minutes for 2-minute intervals.
- After you finish your movements, use the remainder of the interval to rest.
- A 10-minute EMOM workout can be a great finisher to a workout. Add this to the end of your routine.
The Tabata Method
The Tabata is another type of interval training, only with more volume in a shorter amount of time. With a Tabata, you will be doing 8 intervals of 20 seconds of work with 10 seconds of rest, for a total of 4 minutes of work.
Tabatas give you a lot of options. Here are some tips:
- Use a Tabata app. This will help you stay on time with your intervals. I have used this Tabata Timer for years.
- Pick one compound exercise and do an entire Tabata with it. It can be as simple as a Push-Up Tabata, or as brutal as a Burpee Tabata.
- Do 2-3 Tabatas, and have each Tabata target a different muscle group (i.e. Pull-Up Tabata, Push-Up Tabata, then a Body Squat Tabata).
- Instead of doing one exercise for an entire Tabata, select four different exercises and do a Tabata. Since one Tabata is 8 rounds, with four exercises you can repeat each exercise twice in one Tabata.
- Pick on core exercise and do a core Tabata. You can do one or two core Tabatas at the end of your workout.
This is the Simple & Sinister workout, which is a book and program by the same name written by Pavel Tsatsouline (this is an affiliate link, and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualified purchases, but I cannot recommend this book enough!). I did this program last year and hit the Simple Standard, and it was well worth the purchase.
- 30 Burpees
This is also a simple and sinister workout. Start by doing 30 burpees every day (~5x a week) until that feels easy. Then go for 50 burpees per day. I did this a few years back for several months… and got shredded.
The Skills-Focused Method
I saved my favorite method for last. So kudos to you if you’re still following along and still interested in minimalist workouts. This last approach seems so basic, but it completely transformed my training over the last few years. With a skills-focused approach, select just a few compound movements, do those movements almost daily, and strengthen your body’s ability to perform those movements.
Fundamentally, this is what powerlifters do with the barbell; they deadlift, press, and squat. But this selectivity can be done with other modalities. The Kettlebell Get-Up. Pull-ups. Burpees. Here are some tips:
- Pick just a few (1-4) compound exercises.
- In each workout session, focus on improving your body’s ability to perform each movement. Treat your workout session as a practice session as opposed to a workout. That doesn’t mean slack off! It just means that you treat each repetition as an opportunity to perfect your form.
- Use a weight or resistance that’s 60-70% of your one rep max.
- Repeat until strong, increase the load, then do 60-70% of your one rep max.
- DIY Fitness: Your Renovation Project
- A Simple Kettlebell Training Guide
- A Theology of Exercise: Work and Movement
- Modesty: Fitness Culture Has No Clothes
- The One Missing Ingredient from Your Fitness Goals
- The Last Kettlebell Buying Guide You May Ever Need
- My Year of Walking Barefoot
- A Minimalist Exercise Routine That Works
- Threats to the Glory of Young Men
- 3 Nutrition Choices to Win in the Margins
Ready to get started?