Keeping It Simple

Keeping It Simple

I lifted my first weights over 40 years ago.  Over that time, the magazines and books I’ve read on the subject of bodybuilding and strength training would fill a formidable library.  I’ve learned a lot of lessons.  The most powerful training principle I’ve embraced through it all – simplicity.

Keeping it Simple

Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) is a design strategy found today in engineering, software design, military strategy, and many other ways. Edsger Wybe Dijkstra, a Dutch systems scientist, programmer, software engineer,  and science essayist, summarized both the value of simplicity and the challenge of implementing it:

“Simplicity is a great virtue but it requires hard work to achieve it and education to appreciate it.  And to make matters worse: complexity sells better.”

Keeping it simple, or KISS, has powerful applications for training in exercise selection and execution.  It’s only by keeping it simple that you’ll be able to keep training year after year.  I focus on three things; (1) simple exercises, (2) simply strict form, and (3) simple routines.

Simple Proven Exercises

Keeping it simple tells us to focus on proven exercises for building power and creating a  training program that will stand the test of time.   While the bench press, squat and dead lift come immediately to mind, there are plenty of excellent foundational movements which can be used for any and all body parts.  These basic movements all involve linear movements targeting plainly muscle groups.

One of the books I’ve benefited greatly from is Bill Phillips’ Body for Life: 12 Weeks to Mental and Physical Strength.  Phillips’ program discussed in the book has been at the foundation of millions of personal transformations, and its beauty and power is in the simplicity.  His book discusses two weight training routines, one for upper body and one for lower body.  Each routine consists of no more than five proven barbell and dumbbell exercises.

Simply Strict Form

Keeping it simple means focus on strict form.  Proven exercises also come with a wealth of weight training education, experience, and resources.  One of my long-time favorite books is Delavier’s Strength Training Anatomy.  This book, which has over 1 million copies sold, contains exercises for every body part with over 600 full-color illustrations clearly demonstrating each movement and the body parts involved with each.

Most success in weight lifting can be traced to consistent application of good form, while most mishaps, injuries, fatigue and failure can be somehow tied to improper form.  I go back to Delavier’s book every time I think my form needs a check up, and find something new to focus on each and every time.

Simple Routines

Weight training was founded on simple full-body workouts.  Most professional trainers, bodybuilders, and strength athletes will recommend a full-body workout for those just starting out.  Arnold Schwarzenegger, who won the highest bodybuilding prize of Mr. Olympia eight times, started his weightlifting with a routine he calls “The Golden Six“.

Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell squat 4 10
Barbell bench press 3 10
Chin ups 3 Max
Behind the neck press 4 10
Barbell curl 3 10
Bent knee sit up 3-4 Max

Full-body workouts are like an anchor to a ship.  Just like a boat puts out an anchor in rough water, strength trainers and bodybuilders often revert back to their favorite full-body workout when life demands.  This might be the case of recovery from illness or injury, or it might just be that life schedules temporarily prohibit enough time for a split routine.

I’ve always liked a full-body workout using dumbbells, mostly because they offer the most protection for, and development of, the joints.  Additional full-body workouts of the legends can be found on-line.

As training goals go beyond building strength and venture into more focused areas such as individual body parts or weight loss, it may be necessary to look at a split routine.  Split routines are typically divided into body parts.  Bill Phillips program includes a routine with separate workouts for upper body and lower body, with at least one day off in between workouts, and at least two consecutive days of rest in a week.  As training develops, goals may dictate further need for splits and variations.  Those interested should check out Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding.