Go Back to School on the Basics

As we get more experienced, sometimes we lose sight of mastering the simple things in our quest for complexity.

Source: Bev Childress

Source: Bev Childress

As we gain more experience within our fitness practice, we often are drawn to complexity. We begin to believe training can’t be effective unless we’re using some fancy method or the latest fitness technology. We sub out old flexibility standbys for complex, pretzel-like poses and heavy doses of smashing our tight muscles. We elect to eliminate gluten and only eat starchy vegetables on days of extreme activity, and only within three hours of exercise.

Complexity and discipline certainly have their place. There has been a lot of progress in the fitness industry, and we all benefit from the creativity and strides of those on the cutting edge. Having said that, sometimes we lose something in the complexity. Sometimes the best bet is to just get really good at executing the simplest things.

With school back in session and the pace of life accelerating, now is probably a great time to reconnect with fitness and health at its most elemental level. Sometimes our biggest breakthroughs come when we strip away all the fluff and get back to basics.

Warm Up

Do it. Lighter, slower variations of the same lifts mentioned above. Add side planks, bird dogs, and lots of rows. As you age, you must do this longer.

Get Strong

Perfect many variations of the squat, hip hinge, and push. Lift them at heavy weights for five or fewer reps with 2-5 minutes recovery between sets. Start with three or more sets of 10-15 kettlebell swings. End with three sets of heavy loaded carries. If you can, sprint hills once or twice a week. If you can’t sprint hills, do a single leg squat movement instead as your squat variation once a week. If you are bad at these movements, spend a month or two learning and perfecting.


It’s just having a plan. Write your plans in pencil, not pen. Autoregulate if you feel way up or down. When you can execute more reps, at the same rep speed and quality, add resistance.

Train for Fat Loss

Pick four bodyweight movements and circuit each of them for 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest. Start with four rounds. Add rounds, time of work, or do a couple different circuits as this gets easier. For exercise selection pick a dynamic movement, an upper, a lower, and a core. Examples include the jump lunge, renegade row, air squat, plank, or weighted plank. Don’t monitor calories.

Get Mobile

Sit less. Add fuller ranges of motion into your daily routine. Stretch what is tight on a steady, consistent basis. Breathe.

Eat for Health

Eat foods that could have been available to you 10,000 years ago. Shop on the periphery of the grocery store for the most part. Half of what you eat should probably come from plants. Eat quality protein like fish, eggs, and chicken. Add some whole grains, oats, nuts, etc. if you handle them well. Try not to drink calories. Don’t be overly obsessive. Break these rules from time to time. It’s all easier with a little planning, a little social support, and a light-hearted attitude that knows this is a lifestyle, and not a diet.


Sleep eight hours whenever possible. Take rest days where you stretch more. Meditation helps everything.

There is certainly a risk of oversimplifying. A depth of understanding and comprehension of nuance are essential for combating lethargy, complacency, and dogma. However, for many busy people with type-A personalities, these ills are not a concern.

Even the most complex ideas are born from expertise only possible through mastery of the simple. We must return to the basics from time to time. Maybe they’ll remind you of what really works best. Maybe they’ll keep your practice from becoming overwhelming. Regardless, there is a reason they are the basics and those reasons are worth exploring.