The One-Session, One-Exercise, One-Set Strength Plan

This is no fitness-magazine-get-strong-in-10-minutes-a-week deal. This is a brutal workout, if you give it your all. Which I know you will.

There’s no point in doing any kind of strength training program unless you give it everything you have, right? I completely agree. And not just as a coach, but as an athlete, too. I’m an all-or-nothing type of guy, and I always have been. I find it hard to put my name to something unless I am in a position to throw myself at it hard.

If you’re anything like me, holiday season training is a mental struggle for this reason. There’s little chance of sticking to a meaningful, 3-4 times a week training plan. You know you’re going to be dragged around to see the family, who will make the same joke about how their diet and training regime starts after the holidays, and half-heartedly ask you for tips they have no intention of following.

So how do you fit a structured strength training program into the forthcoming weeks? What if you could get all the strength, speed, and power work you need with one single set of one exercise, one day a week? You can. But this is no fitness-magazine-get-strong-in-10-minutes-a-week deal. This is a brutal workout, if you give it your all. Which I already know you will.

Yeah, I thought that would appeal.

When in Doubt, Front Squat

First, choose your exercise. Don’t think about it too much. Don’t get sucked into the one-movement-that-I-would-choose-to-do-for-the-rest-of-my-life-if-I-had-to-pick-one, or whatever that BS quiz is. Just find your base movement.

Whenever I am short of time, inspiration, or both, I’ll always revert back to the front squat. It’s my base movement. One that hits most of the markers. Is it a perfect, full body movement? No. It isn’t. But it is my base movement. The one movement I’ll always do when in a pinch. Here’s why:

  • Front squats don’t suck. Actually, I quite enjoy them.
  • Front squats are relatively self-correcting. If my form is crap, I lose the bar, or at least lose control of it. And so I know to tighten up.
  • The front squat movement pattern carries over to a bunch of other stuff.
  • Front squats have just enough mobility requirement to make sure I have some decent range and don’t turn into a 2 x 4 over the holiday season.
  • My quads grow when I just look at a front squat. So I’m going to get me some holiday gainz.

It doesn’t have to be a front squat. Just choose a movement you’re not going to dread, that you’re going to see some benefit from, and that gives you immediate feedback if you are off form. That is a pretty awesome combo.

Let’s Make A Deal

The problem is, your personality wants you to “do it all.” To do all the exercises, all the weights, all the sessions. Work off all the food. Do all you can do. I get it.

So I’ll make you a deal. I’ll let you do more reps on your one-day-a-week, one-movement, one-set plan IF you are feeling good. It’s an auto-regulatory protocol. This means on days when you are killing it, you’ll be able to do a little more. On days when the weights are killing you, you’ll be able to back off a bit. Either way, you’ll have done what you were meant to do, so you can walk out of the gym with your head held high.

Here’s how it breaks down:

  1. Warm up.
  2. Perform 2 reps at 80-90% of 1RM.
  3. Quickly strip the bar to 60% (ideally, have a training buddy or two do it).
  4. Perform 3 explosive reps at 60%.
  5. Perform slow (3-1-3) tempo reps to failure at 60%.
  6. Quickly strip the bar to 30% (ideally have a training buddy or two do it).
  7. Perform 3 explosive reps at 30%.
  8. Perform slow (3-1-3) tempo reps to failure at 30%.
  9. Perform a static hold at your sticking point at 30%.

If this doesn’t appeal to your all-or-nothing nature, I don’t know what will. It’s hard, hard work. And it’s great for strength, size, and power, as well as strength- and power- endurance. Not bad for one session, one set, and one exercise, huh? (If you want to know more, look up French Contrast Training, or Insider Contrast Training.)

Your Part of the Deal

  1. Show up
  2. Do the work
  3. Go home

On bad days, nothing in the protocol is unmanageable. You should be able to hit 2 reps at 80% on any given day. Same for 3 explosive reps at 60% (and the intention of making them explosive is almost as important as actually being explosive, so don’t worry if you feel sluggish). And so it continues for the rest of the protocol.

On good days, resist the temptation to do more. I say that for two reasons. First, if you feel like doing more after the workout I just prescribed, you’re doing it wrong. And second, the workout itself gives you an opportunity to do more reps to failure and longer static holds. And hell, approaching each and every rep with all you have.

The workout itself gives you an opportunity to do more reps to failure.

This Is Your All

So this year, giving your all is about simply getting shit done. One day, one session, one exercise, one set. That’s all. That’s going to create a positive loop that feeds nicely into your psyche. Turn up and do the work, that’s all you need to do. Don’t worry about the numbers. You got it done? Then you bossed the session. Don’t do anything else. No supplementary work. No additional session that week. Nothing.

I’m serious. You can set yourself the most awesome, four-times-a-week, perfectly periodized program, but it ain’t going to do much for your strength on that scrunched-up piece of paper in your training bag, next to the amino drink and creatine tubs. The second you deviate from your program, your all-or-nothing personality will tell you it’s not worth continuing. And it will all go to pot.

Remember, we picked this path for a reason: to give you something you can throw yourself at hard, but that fits in with life and holidays too. “All” is subjective. Stop thinking about it in terms of all the training you can do, and start thinking in terms of all you need to do. Minimal effective dose.

Oh, and you need to give everything you do your all, all the time. Do that and you will have it all, promise. Now go get it done.

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Photos courtesy of Jorge Huerta Photography.

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