Make Time for Strength: Embrace the “Mini Session”

Each OlderBeast fitness goal—endurance, strength, flexibility and balance—poses challenges to 40+ guys seeking lifelong fitness. How to get and stay inspired? Where to find precious time, and how to best use it?

One additional challenge exists between two goals: a battle for time and energy between “endurance” and “strength.” Most guys have an instinctive affinity for one…and so the other risks under-emphasis.

For guys who gravitate to endurance/cardio—or guys emphasizing it for weight management—here’s a practical way to also work on strength during your week: add 1-2 “mini strength sessions.”

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Each OlderBeast fitness goal—endurance, strength, flexibility and balance—poses challenges to 40+ guys seeking lifelong fitness. How to get and stay inspired? Where to find precious time, and how to best use it?

One additional challenge exists between two goals: a battle for time and energy between “endurance” and “strength.” Most guys have an instinctive affinity for one…and so the other risks under-emphasis.

For guys who gravitate to endurance/cardio—or guys emphasizing it for weight management—here’s a practical way to also work on strength during your week: add 1-2 “mini strength sessions.”

You think “mini strength” sounds like an oxymoron? I’m talking about the time required, not the effort!

But Wait: Are Add-on Strength Sessions Really Needed?

Before going further, let’s discuss two reasonable objections to what I’ve said so far. This is always a good skill to practice for a happily-married man…

1. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) proponents correctly point out you get cardio and strength benefits in one single routine.

These are great workouts, no doubt. But if you like running or cycling (or just using a cardio machine and watching Netflix), you benefit by adding some quick strength work to these mainly-endurance activities.

2. Some people say one all-over, intense strength session per week is enough.

They may be right, and “enough” is partially subjective of course. I think if you want more than “bare minimum,” brother, you’ll want another day or two with some kind of strength component.

The Mini Strength Session: How It Works

As a long-time “cardio first” guy, I’ve experimented on myself and seen good results with this formula:

⇒ Do a dedicated, all-over strength day once per week—i.e., no cardio other than what you get from the strength exercises themselves (which should still be some, if you’re moving briskly and working hard).

The “mini session” idea is an add-on to this, dude, not a substitute!

⇒ 1-2 other times per week, on a cardio day, reduce cardio time by 15-20 minutes (just so long as it’s still 30 minutes, minimum). Then use that time for a 15 or 20-minute mini strength session.

Example (20 minutes, twice a week).

Do five cycles of a four-exercise circuit covering different muscle groups.

Each set, plus the short rest after it, fits into one minute. So five cycles x four exercises per cycle x one minute per exercise = 20 minutes. This is really a form of HIIT, after all…just a short burst of it you tack onto the back end of a cardio workout.

Variation A could be push-ups, core, biceps curls, light squats (with just body weight or dumbbells if you have them).

Variation B: same approach, but with pull-ups, core, triceps work, and some other leg/butt strength variation, maybe lunges.

Alternative.

Or sometimes, instead of this “multiple rapid cycles” approach, you can use the same 15 or 20 minutes, but shake things up with a dedicated 4- or 5-minute period doing just each exercise type.

See how many push-ups you can do in five minutes. I may be calling this “mini,” but this is a tough one, man, for any man!

Fitting Mini Strength Sessions into Your Week.

If you’re on a 4-day-per-week workout program, you may want to just have one of these mini sessions instead of two. If so, I’d focus less on “arm” stuff and have push-ups and pull-ups both be in that session. These are “compound” exercises that work multiple major muscles at one time.

Whether it’s one mini session or two, for ideas on how this concept might fit into an overall weekly plan, check out this OlderBeast post.

Final Thoughts: On “Cardio Reduction Paranoia” and “Pull-up Anxiety.”

For those of you with Cardio Reduction Paranoia like I sometimes have…reducing some cardio sessions to sub in mini strength has not affected my weight at all. If anything, I’m eating a bit more to maintain weight (and to make sure I’m taking in adequate fuel for muscle strength development).

It hasn’t changed my resting heart rate or ability to do longer cardio sessions, either.

Strength-first guys are right when they say strength work really burns calories, raises metabolism and offers cardio benefits!

On the subject of pull-ups, I realize I cavalierly mention pull-ups here and other places around OlderBeast. But I want to acknowledge that pull-ups are hard—I’m not pretending otherwise. I recently tweaked a shoulder muscle and was off the pull-ups routine for a while…and really felt pretty pitiful when I started again.

You won’t be able to do many if you’re just starting, but you will make progress. This is one of the things that keeps the “beast” in OlderBeast. If you need a home pull-up bar, here’s a good one.

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The idea of the mini strength session is just one example of a key OlderBeast theme: addressing weak areas.

Back in our 20s and 30s, this was less of a worry. But now…that which doesn’t get worked will get weaker. It is what it is.

Onward.

“Goodnight, now it’s time to go home. And he makes it fast with one more thing.” (Dire Straits, Sultans of Swing – click to listen)

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A lot of research shows great benefits can come from shorter workouts (~25-35 minutes total) with alternating periods of high intensity and recovery. So should we stop doing “traditional” runs, bike rides, swims and other cardio sessions, and just do high-intensity interval training (HITT)?

Based on my own experience, a review of what experts are saying, and some simple logic about “why we exercise,” I think the answer is to seek the best of both worlds here.

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3 Comments
  1. […] do combo workouts where you get 30 minutes of cardio and then a 15- or 20-minute “mini-strength” session with multi-muscle exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and core […]

  2. […] miles? You’re better off stopping after five and using the extra 20-30 minutes to stretch and do a little strength work. Default tendency to run as today’s workout? You’re often better off doing a different […]

  3. […] recent post (mini sessions) discussed intense, ~5-minute cycles of an individual strength move (like push-ups), put together […]

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