I’m always surprised at how focused the strength workouts are for guys doing traditional weight training as their main fitness thing. “What are you working on today? My left bicep.”
OK, I exaggerate. But old-school “lifting” does often focus on 1-2 things per workout (like chest, legs or back) while assuming you lift 4-5+ times per week.
But what if you’re a 40+ guy trying to balance strength, endurance and flexibility — and a bit of rest/recovery time? In that case, you aren’t well served by old-school strength training patterns.
Yeah, bootcamp-style classes address this need by working all-over strength in single sessions (strength-focused HITT does too). But at $10-20+ per session, each decade of training this way twice a week is a $10-20K+ proposition. I like attending such classes from time to time, for learning and for variety. But I’d rather spend my $10-20K per decade somewhere else, man.
So. With non-strength fitness/wellness needs rightly occupying part of your week, you need to work more body parts in fewer strength-focused days. And you need a long-term-sustainable strength routine you can do on your own, without driving and paying every time.
Put these needs together, brother…and you arrive at a key pillar of OlderBeasthood, regardless of whether you’re coming from a strength-focused, endurance-focused, or limited-fitness starting point. The full-body, at-home strength workout. Granted, you can do this stuff at a “regular” gym, too. But if you’re doing cardio 2-3 times a week, maybe a yoga practice another day, do you actually even need or want a traditional “gym”?
With all this in mind, here’s my take on a practical, adaptable routine you can do at home with relatively little equipment.
First, let’s briefly discuss principles behind this. These help you customize this for yourself and include variety over time, while still meeting the full-body goal. Said another way, they help you become the Architect of your own fitness with a vision for what you’re trying to do.
What we’re working
Of course, we’re looking to work upper body, core and lower body – duh. But we need to plan exercises at a more-specific level to ensure we’re hitting everything.
- Upper body: think about “pushing” and “pulling” exercises in different planes of effort. Push-ups push away from your body…dips push down…and overhead lifts (or certain push-up variations) push up. Pull-ups pull down (to lift you up), “rows” pull back, and other types of lifts pull up.
- Core isn’t just sit-ups. Hit your abdominal muscles in several ways, but also work obliques (sides of your torso), and lower back. Core work isn’t just cosmetic – it’s key to good posture and preventing injuries of various types.
- Lower-body work should cover calves, quads, hamstrings and glutes. These are all critical to durability over time. (BTW, running does a poor job with all-over leg strength, and can contribute to imbalances that cause injury. So lower-body strength work is key for runners, who often habitually ignore it).
How we’re working it
You don’t necessarily need a separate exercise for each thing. In fact, multi-joint, multi-muscle moves – like push-ups, kettlebell swings, and squats – hit multiple body parts at once. They’re closer approximations of things our bodies were designed to do in the days before mankind had to intentionally get “exercise.” So, for time-efficiency and because many believe they’re more effective, these should be a big part of any routine. One-muscle, one-joint things like biceps curls should be a much smaller part.
There are options for how to sequence exercises. You can do an exercise-by-exercise approach, where you do several sets of one thing until you’re done with that one, then move to the next. Or you can go through several “circuits” where you move more rapidly from one exercise to the next, then repeat the sequence one or more times.
In theory, you can get all the strength training you need with pure bodyweight moves. But it’s easier and more fun with a few simple pieces of home strength equipment. A chin-up bar and a kettlebell or two can be your main gear. Adjustable-weight dumbbells, and perhaps a medicine ball, are also good ideas. On the recommended products page, I suggest a pull-up bar and dumbbell set that have worked great for me.
AT-HOME, FULL-BODY STRENGTH ROUTINE
You can do this 1-3x per week, depending on how much strength emphasis you want within your mix. And you can make it harder or easier depending on how you feel, and shorter or longer depending on your schedule that day.
The main thing is, just do something along these lines, dude. To realize your goals for body-and-soul health over the long term, you need it. For some guys (I’m one), it’s easier to head out for a run, or jump on the bike, then it is to belly up to an hour of strength training. But you gotta pay your dues.
Recently, I’ve been doing this twice each week, with three cardio workouts and a challenging yoga practice rounding out a 6x-per-week routine.
I’m doing three circuits of the 12 exercises below. It takes about an hour if I move quickly from one thing to the next (about 30 seconds between sets, and a couple of minutes between each circuit). This is a good idea anyway because it gets the heart rate and metabolism going. By design, this circuit tries to give one body part a rest while working something else, for time efficiency.
Warm up for a few minutes, then…
- Push-ups (one set of near-max, or a few sets of less than that with some technique variety). During one of the circuits, I’ll make these “pike” or “dive bomber” push-ups that involve pushing upward with the shoulders more.
- Goblet squats with a 35-lb kettlebell (see this video). Note for all types of squats and lunges, make sure to apply force through your heels, not toes.
- Pull-ups (one set of near-max, plus hang or swing on the bar for 10-30 seconds after the last rep; here’s more on pull-ups)
- Kettlebell swings (see this video)
- “Towel” rows (one set — here’s an explanation). You can also do these with a single towel passing over your chin-up bar — that’s what I do.
- Lunges (there are lots of different ways to do these, and I sometimes do different varieties for each circuit. Google this to get ideas)
- Dips (I do mine on my deck where two railings come together, but you can use two chair backs if needed)
- Hamstring contractions with an exercise ball (see this)
- Biceps curls with dumbbells (I know, this is out-of-style with all the – smart – emphasis on multi-muscle moves. But I confess to an ego-driven need to keep my biceps semi-decent looking, which is about the best I can manage with my biology)
- Medicine ball wall throws (see this video)
- Calf raises while holding dumbbells (basically, standing on tip-toes and holding, then repeating)
- Burpees (see this video. These are hard, especially at the end of each circuit! A good place to either challenge yourself more, or take it easy, as you feel things that day.)
There’s a lot of core work within the circuit itself. But at the end of the third circuit, as a last thing, I add about five minutes of dedicated core work. I’m still doing a routine that was inspired by P90X’s “Ab Ripper” routine (mine’s a little less intense when following all the stuff above). But you can find multiple sources of a 5-minute core routine, so find one you like.
PUTTING THIS INTO PRACTICE
There’s no one “right way” to assemble a routine like this. So take the above as a starting suggestion, man. I do strongly suggest these guiding philosophies, though (applicable to all fitness things, not just this!).
- Be the Architect of your own fitness and health. Invest a little time to know what you’re trying to do, and why. Then use advice and examples like the ones at OlderBeast within your own long-term game plan.
- Don’t let the “perfect” get in the way of the “good.” Don’t skip a strength workout because you’ve got reduced time. If needed, do fewer circuits. Or fewer exercises (if so, concentrate on the major multi-muscle things: push-ups, pull-ups, squats, kettlebell swings, burpees)
- Experiment, man. Keep trying new stuff and see what sticks.
- When in doubt for strength work, put on some loud Zeppelin, Stones or Who!
“I can hear it callin’ me the way it used to do, I can hear it callin’ me back home.” (Led Zeppelin, Babe I’m Gonna Leave You—click to listen).
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