If you are a powerlifter, a competitive Olympic lifter or a CrossFit Games competitor, you have my permission to stop reading. But, if you are like all the rest us- you know, folks who want to be strong, trim down, and keep your engine tuned- this is for you.


I work in a 2700 sq ft college weight room. Underneath my facility is another 2700 sq ft filled with cardio and additional weight equipment. I have access to some of the nicest fitness equipment money can buy. And if I'm going to be truthful, the idea of working out here gives me the jawls (that watering in the mouth right before you puke). I would rather have my eyes scratched out than lift here.


It's not the facility; it's the environment. It would take a miracle for me to get more than five minutes strung together without someone needing me for something. My training is sacred to me, so there's no way I'm doing it in a place with all that distraction. And I’m here so much that doing one more thing in this facility would likely be the tipping point into insanity. It's like if you went to work at your favorite pizza place. It's not going to be your favorite for long.


Breaking Muscle Shop

kettlebell outside

I could stay at work and use a million-dollar facility or I could come home and get the job done with this. [Photo credit: Pixabay]


The Chris Holder Garage Jam

In the old days, I used to have very specific rules like “If my glasses are off, if I’m wearing Oly shoes, or if I’m on the elliptical - DON’T SPEAK TO ME!” But I've learned it's better to just save my training for when I get home. I have a cool space in my garage that I have built out, but I hardly use it. Since time is money these days, I need to be able to go outside, and in 30 minutes, be completely spent.


Think about the time you spend in the gym, and be honest with yourself. How much of that time is truly filled with hard work? I know back in the day, I would burn 90 minutes or so in the gym, but I was only really training for about 10 minutes. The rest of the time was dead time doing… whatever.


My garage session requires five things to crucify myself and have one hell of a workout: two kettlebells (one light, one heavy), an old-school ab roller, a mat for my sweaty knees, and a Bluetooth speaker. That’s it.


An average session will look like this:


  1. First, I will use the light bell for things like goblet squats, Cossack squats, and halos to get my body warm and address the mobility and unlocking I need from a day of being on my feet (or a day of sitting on my ass).
  2. Then it's swings. I'll do 10x10 of heavy swings, or 10x15 with something lighter, or 20x10 of a midrange weight to get a deep sweat and to breathe hard for 20 minutes or more. I do a short tempo walk between sets, then back to the bell. The timing works out to about a 1:4 work/rest ratio and it keeps the heart thumping.

    Here’s the thing with the swings: They have to be all-out, balls-to-the-wall, full-tension swings. Nothing soft, no pacing because of volume, just max effort.

  3. Once the swings are done, it’s on to pressing. My pressing volume is dictated by the bell I swung. If I’m doing sets of heavier swings for 10x10, I will do a pressing ladder of 3x 3-2-1. If it’s more of the midrange bell for the 10x15 swings, I will do a 3x 5-4-3-2-1 ladder. And if we are going more for duration with the 20x10 swings, I will do 10x5 each side.

    Here's the skinny on the ladders: In a 3-2-1, for example, I clean my bell into the rack, press it 3 times with my left, swing and switch, and then press it 3 times with my right. Then I park it for about 30 seconds before I’m up again for 2’s, then singles. That's one round, and then the process repeats from the top.

  4.  Then another short walk to regroup and I hit the deck for some pushups. Seriously folks, do as many in however many sets you like. I do sets of 10 until I want to stop, with a 1:1 work/rest ratio. I'll get to about 5 rounds before I start missing reps, and once I do, pushups are done.
  5. Because I have a wrecked lower back, I have to stay on my abdominal strength. For me, that means ab rollouts and kettlebell windmills. Don’t be deceived; that $12 ab roller can mess you up if you aren’t respecting it. If you are just starting out, 3x3 is enough to keep you sore for a week. Once your midsection gets stronger, you can quickly start stacking reps. But you have to keep your form locked down. From 3x3 to 3x30 (and everywhere in between), if you stay strict, rollouts can armor you like nothing else.
  6. I finish with windmills. They are a great way to get my hips open and introduce some subtle rotation in my program. I use the lighter bell for 3x3 or 3x5 each side. I let fatigue gauge how many reps I’m going to do. I keep my entire weight on my loaded side leg, knee locked out, and my pace is painfully slow.


On alternate days I might do single arm swings instead of double, or do kettlebell front squats instead of presses. Or I will sub hardstyle kettlebell rows for the pushups. You can plug in whatever you need to accommodate that day.


Simple Works Just Fine

People complicate strength training for complication’s sake. You don’t have to have a million dollar facility and an elaborate program to get strong and fit. It doesn’t take hours of gym time, tons of money in personal training and 19 certifications to get it right. A couple of bells, your favorite DMB album, and half an hour will do the trick.


This article was originally published on Breaking Muscle US.


Want to go even more minimal? Here's how to get the job done using your body weight:

Train at Home on a Time Crunch