Minimum viable workout routine

by RomeoStevens5 min read21st Jun 2012114 comments

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Personal Blog

So you want the longevity benefits of regular exercise but you've hit some snags.  Every routine pretty much makes you miserable.  In addition, because of all the conflicting information out there, you aren't even sure if you're getting the full benefits.  This post is for you.  And don't worry about your current physical circumstances.  It works equally well for the overweight, the underweight, and women (no you will not turn into a gross she hulk the moment you touch a weight.  Those women take steroids and train hard for years)  

A sub-optimal plan you stick to is better than the perfect routine you abandon after the first week.  This routine is not perfect.  This routine is optimized for simplicity and low time/mental effort commitment while still getting excellent results.  It is strongly based on the routines from Beyond Brawn by Stuart McRobert, and some of the principles of Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe both of which have much anecdotal evidence of effectiveness in the training logs of various forums.  If you're looking for published research to back up my claims I have some bad news for you, the literature on resistance training is basically worthless.  A 5 minute perusal of google scholar will show that atrocious methodology such as having "subjects act as their own control" are common, and accepted by the relevant journals.  And that's if you're lucky enough to find studies that aren't about diabetics, or elderly japanese women.  But I'm not going to spend excessive time trying to justify this routine, anyone can do it for a month and see that the results are significant. (I'm open to arguing about it in the comments however.)

 

A note about cardio:  

Cardiovascular capacity (V02 max) has shown a high degree of correlation to all cause mortality.  Why aren't I recommending cardio?  Because the only way to increase V02 max is with high intensity exercise.  Between high intensity weight lifting and high intensity cardio, high intensity weightlifting easily wins for a newbie.  A newbie, especially a significantly out of shape one, will not be capable of a level of cardio exertion that results in a significant adaptation.  This can result in a lot of effort with very little in the way of improvement.  This is soul-destroyingly frustrating.  They can however lift a weight a few times and this will result in an adaptation that allows them to lift more next time.  A few months of a weightlifting routine is going to put any person in a much better position to do longevity affecting cardio if that is their goal.  Cardio is also generally a terrible fat burner for the exact same reason.  

Edit: there seems to be some confusion about this.  The primary problem of exercise is not the optimality of results but instilling the habit of exercising. I believe that cardio is terrible for overcoming this habit forming stage.  

The point of the below program is to get you in the habit of exercising and give you immediate results.  Once you have achieved some basic measure of fitness (~3 month time frame) you can maintain, or use the fact that exercising is now much easier to move on to any program you want. 

 

The nitty gritty:  

You are going to do three exercises 2-3 times per week.  Each session will take ~45 minutes to an hour.  The exercises are

* 3x5 trap bar deadlift

* 3x5 incline bench press

* 3x5 bent over row  (possible substitution for cable rows see below)

What does 3x5 mean?  

3 sets of 5 reps each.  You will assume the correct form, go through the full range of motion for the exercise 5 times, then rest before repeating twice more.  

What weights do I use?  

You will start with the empty bar and add 5lbs every workout for the trap bar deadlift and 5lbs every other workout for the incline bench press and bent over row.  Many are tempted to increase weights faster than this.  You can do what you want but don't come crying when your progress stalls more quickly.  A slow progression that continues for a long time beats a fast increase followed by a time wasting plateau.  

Why these three exercises?  

This routine hits the most muscle mass possible in the smallest number of exercises.  All decent routines include hip extension exercises, pushing exercises, and pulling exercise.  This ensures that you don't create an imbalance that messes up your posture or limits you unnecessarily.  In addition, these exercises require very little in the way of technique coaching, which is really this routine's primary advantage over more popular programs such as starting strength.  It took me 8 months to learn to squat well, but I learned to trap bar deadlift in a single session.  Similarly with the incline press, it carries with it a much smaller chance of injury from poor form than either the bench press or overhead press that are the mainstays of many programs.  

I have no idea what these exercises are, how do I do them?

Here is an article for trap bar deadlift, which is so easy that there aren't really many tutorials online:  

http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/the_trap_bar_deadlift  

The key is a neutral spine.  You take a big breath at the bottom, squeeze everything tight, and stand up pushing through your heels while maintaining the lumbar arch.  Note not to use the raised handles that many trap bars have which reduces the range of motion.

Incline is similarly straightforward:  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dynoKEIcpoU  

note that you DO want to touch your chest at the bottom, but do not bounce the bar off your chest.  The cue that works for most is to imagine touching your shirt but not your chest.

Bent over row can feel a little weird, but it's not too hard to learn:  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=boxbOSGwD4U  

Note that after more real world testing bent over rows seem to cause the most issues of the three lifts.  As the potential for injury is slightly higher with poor form for this exercise than the others I would recommend seated cable rows for those who find they can not perform bent over rows correctly.  I'd additionally strongly recommend that if one is forced to make this substitution they should also do some chinups at the end of each workout.  The goal of this substitution should be as a temporary measure.  One should strive get back to doing bent over rows once physically able to.

Cable row form video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJSVR_63eKM

How do I warmup/cooldown?

the best warmup and cooldown is 5 minutes on the rowing machine:  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0r_ZPXJLtg  

But you can also do an exercise bike or treadmill.  

After the first couple weeks you should also warmup with the empty bar before jumping to your 3x5 work weight on each exercise.  Add additional warmups as the weights get heavier.  

e.g.

1x5 45lbs  

1x5 75bs  

3x5 105lbs  

don't worry excessively about this, it's hard to screw up.  The key is just to prepare yourself, remind yourself of proper form, and get blood flowing.  Don't skip warmups, you're increasing your chance of injury and ensuring that you won't get strong as fast.  

Can I do this once week?  or sporadically?  

You can but you won't see hardly any benefit other than maintenance of your current fitness level.  2 times a week is the bare minimum to disrupt homeostasis to any appreciable degree and 3 is better.  Make no mistake, even 2 times a week on this will get you miles ahead of most people fitness wise.  You should program it like AxxAxxx or AxAxAxx, where A is a workout session and x is a rest day.

Can I sub in X exercise?  

No, the bare minimum nature of this program leaves no room for changes.  Any change necessitates more complicated programming.  If you want to do that just do Starting Strength.  Likewise if you want to add stuff, like ab work.  It isn't necessary.  Edit: cable row substitution for bent row is permissible but only if one finds they absolutely can not maintain good form with barbell rows.  

I didn't complete all my reps this session, what do I do?  

Back off the weights by 10-20% and work your way back up.  Make sure you're eating and sleeping right.  If you keep hitting a wall over and over again it will be time for a more complex routine.  

My gym doesn't have a trap bar.  

Find a gym that does or do a different program.  There is no replacement for the trap bar.  One option that is non-obvious is buying a trap bar for your current gym.  You might be able to negotiate a free month of membership or something but even if that isn't the case the investment is worth it.

What sort of results can I expect?

Most people should expect to be trap bar deadlifting their body weight within 3 months.  This will have several effects.

Strenuous physical activity becomes drastically less taxing.  

Chance of injury during said activity reduced.

V02 max increased.

Bone density and joint health improvements.

Increase in lean body mass.

Improved insulin sensitivity.

Improved blood markers and pressure (increases HDL and lowers LDL)

Decreased chance of back problems.

Improved posture.

Mental benefits:  Most people find the quality of their sleep improved as well as an increase in general energy levels.

 

A note on nutrition:  

80% of body composition is diet.  This won't do much for your body composition if your diet is crappy.  Luckily nutrition is fairly easy, there are only 2 rules to follow:  

*Calories in calories out  

*Eat micronutrient dense foods  

if you follow these rules it's actually surprisingly difficult to mess up.  Most people also find that following the 2nd one makes following the 1st one much easier.  

That's about it, I will answer questions about anything I forgot.  I hope this gets some fence sitters exercising.  

“No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training…what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”
-Socrates


If anyone is going to do this recording your results and sharing them would be much appreciated.

As detailed as you want, but even qualitative results would be useful to have.

 

Habit building:

Speaking of recording your results, logging is helpful for forming habits.  Use this link to join the fitocracy LessWrong group.  

http://ftcy.me/veXNdz

Fitocracy is a social website for tracking your workouts.  Hat tip to jswan for reminding me.

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Thought this might be a good place to dump some excerptions from evernote:

Review: Energetics of Obesity and Weight Control: Does Diet Composition Matter?

Greater average weight losses (2.5 kg over 12 weeks) have been reported for low-carbohydrate diets (25% of energy) diets. Nonetheless, diets high in protein, but either low or modest in carbohydrate, have resulted in greater weight losses than traditional low-fat diets. We speculate that it is the protein, and not carbohydrate, content that is important in promoting short-term weight loss and that this effect is likely due to increased satiety caused by increased dietary protein. It has been suggested that the increased satiety might help persons to be more compliant with a hypocaloric diet and achieve greater weight loss.

...energy deficits realized by a person will be smaller than the energy restriction because the three components of total energy expenditure (thermic effect of food [TEF], resting metabolic rate [RMR], and the energy expended in physical activity) decrease in response to an energy deficit and weight loss. If a person decreases energy intake, the TEF will decrease by an amount roughly equal to about 10% of the de

... (read more)

Review: Diet in the management of weight loss.

Low-calorie diets can lower total body weight by an average of 8% in the short term. These diets are well-tolerated and characterize successful strategies in maintaining significant weight loss over a 5-year period. Very-low-calorie diets produce a more rapid weight loss but should only be used for fewer than 16 weeks because of clinical adverse effects. Diets that are severely restricted in carbohydrates (3%–10% of total energy intake) and do not emphasize a reduction of energy intake may be effective in reducing weight in the short term, but there is no evidence that they are sustainable or innocuous in the long term because their high saturated-fat content may be atherogenic. Fat restriction in a weight-loss regimen is beneficial, but the optimal percentage has yet to be determined.

Which diets result in safe weight loss, have positive long-term consequences for chronic disease risk factors, and are sustainable in the long term? This question has been only partially answered. Comparing dietary trials is difficult for several reasons: diet compositions vary in the amount and type of carbohydrates and fats, amount of protein, and degr

... (read more)
-1[anonymous]9yI wish I could upvote you so much more than I can.
[-][anonymous]9y 14

My general impression, based on the post and the general tone and content of the author's responses, is that this is yet another attempt at spouting advice without the backing of theory. Main points:

  1. Why should anyone believe this ad-hoc program has a chance of working for them better than, e.g., SS?

  2. Why is improving cardio capacity the only reason to do cardio?

  3. Why subscribe to calories in calories out when it is painfully, obviously wrong?

7OrphanWilde9y3.) It is painfully and obviously wrong. We don't burn food, our metabolic processes are vastly different than the measuring techniques used in the lab. But that doesn't mean that it can't also be right. I put together a spreadsheet because I thought that calories were clearly stupid; I went around online and found formulas for calculating my caloric requirements. I put in my initial weight, and created two columns; one for my measured weight, and one for my predicted weight. And then I tracked everything I ate, over a three month period, as well as my body weight, and (using an electronic scale), my fat percentage. And, much to my surprise, calorie consumption predicted body weight. So, even if the assumptions behind calories have some clear holes in them, they nonetheless (for this sample size of one extremely skeptical individual) have at least -some- predictive value.
-2[anonymous]9yEven if everything you say is true (and, e.g., you weren't recording completely bogus fat percentage numbers, you measured your weight consistently, the internet didn't mislead you on calorie counts, etc. etc.), this gives you extremely weak evidence to expect that other people would benefit from doing the same. Not that this argument hasn't been tried before [http://lesswrong.com/lw/d4/practical_advice_backed_by_deep_theories/].
4OrphanWilde9yIt is weak evidence, bordering on if not outright in anecdotal, which is why I was careful to indicate that the predictive value is limited. And my body fat percentages probably were not precise - it's an electronic scale - but they were at least consistent, which was enough for my accuracy purposes. And yes, I measured my weight consistently; I measured once in the morning when I got up for work, once in the evening while preparing for bed, and averaged these values. I will also add that I follow a relatively well-balanced diet, and wouldn't expect the results to hold as well if, for example, I consumed significantly fewer carbohydrates. I started out an extreme skeptic. But I tested the theory instead of rejecting it. Well, to be completely accurate, I rejected it, and mocked some people who held to calories, and then later decided I should test my hypothesis instead of relying strictly on my intuition on how food works, and was entirely taken aback by the results. As for your link, I'm not arguing for a position I think is a good one; if anything, my bias going into the experiment was expecting it to fail miserable. I'm defending one which I initially opposed, and still think is probably bad, but nonetheless works at least some of the time.
-10denisbider9y
5wedrifid9yI was more concerned that the acceptable advice was based on bogus theory.
2RomeoStevens9y1. It won't work better than SS. It is explicitly not supposed to be an improvement to SS in terms of results. It is an improvement to SS in terms of time/mental commitment. The 5 exercises SS asks you to learn are all difficult and require a willingness to watch videos, read articles, and continuously check your form. The 3 exercises from this routine can be learned ridiculously quickly. People who use it will see a result close to the results from SS. 2. This article is mainly for people who don't like exercise and thus are interested in health benefits with minimal input. If you're interested in cardio for some other reason, great, have fun. 3. If it is painfully and obviously wrong there should be plenty of studies on people who maintain their caloric consumption and activity level but change whatever you think is the true culprit and lose weight. The main reason people think CI:CO is not true is due to errors related to not accounting for BMR and TDEE change.
-1[anonymous]9y1. Already covered by wedrifid elsewhere, and I largely agree with his analysis of your routine. 2. "Health benefits" does not mean the same thing as "reducing mortality", which in turn does not mean the same thing as increasing cardio capacity. You dismissed cardio because of the third, but addressed it to people looking for the first. 3. Who is your audience? Now it seems like it is people who don't like exercise but are also willing to do enough calculation and lifestyle management to make CI:CO even remotely applicable. It seems far more likely to me that a significant proportion will fall into one of the well-documented failure modes associated with such advice, e.g., malnutrition, neuroticism, burnout, and etc.
1RomeoStevens9yI dismiss cardio for the newbie. I believe that cardio completely screws up a newbie's ability to get in the habit of exercise because of the difficulty, both psychological and physical. This was not primarily a nutrition related post. My audience includes people who aren't going to fix their diets, as some exercise with a crappy diet is better than no exercise and a crappy diet.
0taryneast7yThere are two ways to represent the statement "calories in calories out". The first way assumes that if you eat X calories - then you will gain X calories-worth of fat. This is painfully and obviously wrong. One calorie (as measured in the lab) does not equate to one calorie of body fat. There are all sorts of complicated reasons why this is so. The second way is to realise that if I ate no calories, and only expended them - I would have a net loss of fat. If I ate way too many calories,and expended none - I would have a net gain of fat. So... 1 calorie in does not exactly equal 1 calorie of fat gained... but there is still obviously some correlation between intake of calories and the laying-on-of fat. Therefore, if I restricted the intake of calories (ie reduced calories in) while maintaining the calories out... I would at some point expect to see a reduction in the amount of fat on my body. Likewise if I increased the calories going out (while maintaining the calories coming in) I would also see a reduction in my body fat. Therefore "calories in... calories out" DOES work as long as you don't assume that "calories in - calories out == 0" because THAT would be painfully and obviously wrong.

Calories in calories out is a blatantly absurd over-simplification. Anecdotally, I have lost weight far more easily cutting carbs than I ever did counting calories.

2bentarm9yWell, calories in, calories out is trivially true. As far as I can tell, all it actually says is that the amount of food that you store as muscle mass/fat is the amount of food you store as muscle mass/fat - it's just that it is not easy to measure the "out' part. I agree that it is a ridiculous over-simplification. As Taubes puts it, saying that obesity is about over-eating is about as useful as saying that alcoholism is about over-drinking.
2[anonymous]9yI don't want to argue about what a cause is, but you can become obese for other reasons than over-eating, for example if you develop hypothyroidism [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypothyroidism] you often times become obese even tough you have not increased your food-intake or exercise less than you use to.
0[anonymous]9yAs the laws of thermodynamics, yes; applying it to fitness is intractably hard, and attempts to approximate caloric intake/expenditure for that purpose have all been intractably difficult or laughably bad. That's why it's not something that should be told to people just starting out. They'll inevitably use it incorrectly and get shocked when starvation causes their body's metabolic rate to plummet.
-2RomeoStevens9ycutting carbs made it easier to follow calories in calories out as I mentioned.
3[anonymous]9yThis response completely ignores the fact that "calories in calories out" is hilariously bad.

I know you said you don't want to put in the effort to justify this program, but I'm curious what your evidence is that it works close to as well as Starting Strength. SS was optimized empirically over the course of years and large numbers of people, so just porting over the theory from SS seems unlikely to be enough to get good results. Note I'm not claiming that's what you're doing, just explaining why I'm initially skeptical. I currently am in a position where many newbies ask me for workout recommendations, so I would love to be able to recommend something easier than SS, as long as it actually works.

Note that I think SS (with Power Cleans substituted out) is not actually very difficult, provided you have someone competent around to critique your form. The main disadvantage I see is that many gyms don't have a squat rack, so it's harder to find a good place to do the necessary lifts.

-1RomeoStevens9ythis is based more strongly on a popular Beyond Brawn routine than SS. The rep scheme is SS. The major change is incline bench instead of switching back and forth between flat bench and overhead press. EEG scans of muscle activation is some evidence this is fine (works pecs, anterior delt, and triceps about equally). the reason for the SS rep scheme instead of the original BB one is that the success of SS shows that newbies can handle a bit more volume than he (Stuart) thought. I'm open to arguing about it, I just wasn't going to do the work of providing lots of arguments before anyone asked.

Luckily nutrition is fairly easy, there are only 2 rules to follow

Bullshit. Nutrition is complicated, and has many failure modes. Simple heuristics like this act more as curiosity stoppers than guidelines, and they prevent people from figuring out what's really wrong with their diets.

I have yet to see someone fix the two things listed and not have a hugely dramatic improvement. I also see "it's complicated" as an action stopper quite a bit.

-3MinibearRex9yIn addition to what RomeoStevens said, a lot of the complications come in as sub-rules to the two rules stated. Different sources of calories get used for different things, and there are an awful lot of micronutrients.

I suggest that people go check out the Less Wrong Fitocracy group. Lots of people of all different fitness levels busting ass and making progress in almost every way you can dream up. Experience is everything when it comes to fitness. Pick something that looks doable and give it a few weeks, months, or years.

0RomeoStevens9yWhy did I forget to link this? Thanks, added a link to the topic.

In general this post looks to me like an example of the typical mind (and body) fallacy.

Calories in calories out

Likely true, but instrumentally useless (one cannot reliably count the latter).

2RomeoStevens9yOne can stick to a calorie limit and chart one's body weight, then add or subtract 250 and watch what happens.
-1shminux9yYes, and it might be useful, but this does not directly measure "calories out".
[-][anonymous]9y 5

Cardiovascular capacity (V02 max) has shown a high degree of correlation to all cause mortality.

You mean inverse correlation I presume?

0RomeoStevens9yyes.

What is your opinion on jumping rope? It has several advantages in terms of laziness, and makes me completely exhausted in just a few minutes.

2Brigid9yThere is a reason boxers jump rope. If you can, I would learn to do double unders...and then do a tabata of double unders. That should be a good workout. I would consider regular jumping rope it in the same category doing intervals in running/swimming/biking, so that is how I would treat the workouts (at least, until you can do 5 mins without stopping). So while you are learning to do double unders, I would maybe just do 5-6 sets of regular jumping to a certain number so that the last 3 sets are very challenging. One or two sets won't cut it.
-1RomeoStevens9yit's much better than nothing. It is the best cardio in terms of time efficiency, burning more calories at a given heart rate than other cardio. Unfortunately as said before this means that you'll get tired before you can do enough work to be really useful. You will improve over time, but this progress will likely be frustratingly slow.
0wedrifid9yI would bet against this. I predict that any cardio based on high-intensity fairly-heavy weighted exercise burns more calories at a given heart rate.
  • Calories in calories out

I don't think so (anymore).

0CasioTheSane9y"calories in calories out" still applies on the paleo diet, technically it applies to everything since it's just a restatement of conservation of energy. It's just that effective diets typically reduce hunger, causing an automatic/involuntary reduction in calorie intake. Most likely by restoring the proper function of endocrine systems that are supposed to regulate hunger in response to feedback on fat mass (lipostasis). //edit: before you guys downvote me anymore, please read about how the hypothalamus regulates energy balance and how proper regulation is disrupted in obesity: Clinical review: Regulation of food intake, energy balance, and body fat mass: implications for the pathogenesis and treatment of obesity. Guyenet SJ, Schwartz MW J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Mar ; 97(3): 745-55 [http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/97/3/745]
5RichardKennaway9yThat sort of thing is precisely why conservation of energy does not imply that calorie restriction must be an effective means of weight control. You have to know the causal relationships, not merely the correlations, even when the correlations follow from fundamental physics. Fun anecdote: there was a period in my life, lasting several years, when I ate -- had to eat -- literally twice as much as I do nowadays (and I only use "literally" to mean "literally", never "hyperbolically"). I only weighed about five pounds more. If you want to imagine where it all went, go right ahead. (Yes, there was something seriously wrong. I got better, thank you.)
4CasioTheSane9yYes, but people confuse "counting calories isn't a good strategy for losing weight" with "effective weight loss must occur by some mechanism that doesn't involve changes in calorie intake and expenditure- such as metabolizing different foods at different efficiencies." I'm trying to clear up that confusion- calorie balance is critical to understand what's going on physiologically when people lose weight, however it's not very useful to track numerically when actually trying to lose weight.
3wedrifid9ySure, you can make it a scientific tautology if you like... so long as when you say "calorie" you include every kg of mass absorbed, excreted or otherwise released as 2.2 × 10^16 'calories'. But if you want to talk about the numbers printed on the back of the food packet under "calories" you are talking about something entirely different.
1[anonymous]9yYou know, the first law of thermodynamics was discovered before special relativity. OK, we're not interpreting “calories in calories out” that literally, but there are non-literal interpretations of it which still are very good approximation. If you interpret it to mean “it doesn't matter to anything at all whether you eat 2000 calories of proteins or 2000 calories of sugars” it's false, but if you interpret it to mean “the total number of calories you eat is usually way more important than where or when you get them from in determining how much weight you'll gain or lose, provided you're healthy enough and your diet isn't terribly unbalanced”¹ it is essentially true, and the main idea behind The Hacker's Diet by John Walker. ETA: And I don't think the next order of approximation should involve lumping wholemeal rice and high-fructose corn syrup together as “carbs” and extra-virgin olive oil and hard margarine together as “fats”. 1. Or, more fancily, “If you e.g. eat epsilon more calories per day from fat and epsilon fewer calories per day from carbs, or epsilon fewer calories for breakfast and epsilon more calories for dinner, all other things being equal, the change in your medium-term weight-loss rate divided by epsilon will be quite small.”
2[anonymous]9yI seem to recall a study finding out that people who started out weighing the same and ate the same number of calories while doing the same things did end up still weighing the same, but among them the one who ate more proteins ended up with less body fat. If I find it again I'll post a link to it.
0wedrifid9yFortunately scientific principles don't rely on human awareness to function! I wouldn't disagree with this significantly, but with the same caveat that you mention yourself [http://lesswrong.com/lw/d7h/minimum_viable_workout_routine/6wf6].
1CasioTheSane9yI disagree, when people are losing weight quickly they almost invariably are eating far fewer calories. There's some technical exceptions (such as that different nutrients are absorbed at different efficiencies, etc.) but they're not large enough to make a huge difference in practice. A lot of people think low carb or other weight loss diets work simply by preventing fat cells from uptaking glucose, in a low insulin environment. This is wrong, people losing weight on low carb diets are eating much less calories than they used to: if you were to force feed your old high calorie intake as fat instead if carbs, you wouldn't lose weight. You can argue about the biochemical mechanism by which hunger is reduced but the reduced calorie intake is obvious and significant. For the most part, calories printed on the back of a box are a good approximation of how much energy your body will actually absorb from them. It's not something "entirely different." Diets work mostly by reducing hunger, not by decreasing metabolic efficiency or energy absorption from food (see the link I added to my original post). The obesity epidemic has been accompanied by a massive increase in calorie intake... however before the obesity epidemic people weren't counting calories- they were just satisfied with less calories because their hunger was being regulated properly.
0wedrifid9yThen in as much as you yourself tried to make the claim a scientific tautology, a restatement of conservation of energy, you are plainly and trivially wrong. Physics conserves energy as one of its fundamental properties. It so happens that humans are also good at conserving energy - and even reasonably good at treating our three main macronutrient sources as fungible - at least with respect to their use for energy production. That's the rather impressive product of billions of years of evolution. But saying that humans are able to do this because "technically it applies to everything since it's just a restatement of conservation of energy" is a ridiculous equivocation.
1CasioTheSane9yI never said or implied that humans can interchange nutrients from one form to another because of conservation of energy, there's plenty of examples of chemical energy that the human body can't do anything with. That isn't related in any way to the point I am trying to make. I don't think I communicated clearly what I was trying to say, so I'll restate it: You are right that merely considering estimated calorie intake, and estimated calorie expenditure is a drastically over-simplified model of what's going on that fails to account for many things. However, it's accurate enough to meaningfully model weight loss in humans. When someone switches to a paleo diet and is losing 2lb/week (as happened to me for a solid 6 months when I did), it's not because they're using lots of energy by some mechanism not accounted for in the over-simplified calories in/calories out model. If you estimate food intake, you will find that a person losing 2lb/week on a paleo diet is in fact eating roughly 7000kcals a week less food than they used to. The paleo diet doesn't cause some metabolic condition under which the estimated calories in/calories out model is drastically inaccurate: it primarily causes overweight people to eat much less food.

If you are not having fun, there is little chance of long-term success. Personally, I hate workouts, and any kind of weight lifting bores me out of my skull. Instead I go play ping-pong, or badminton, or beach volleyball (when in season) instead. The downside is that you need a partner or a team, and your workout is not overly scientific, the upside is that the time passes quickly as you socialize as well as exercise. Which leads me to the most important upside: looking forward to doing it again, instead of dreading it. YMMV.

9wedrifid9yPing-pong and volleyball basically don't count as exercise, they are just recreation. (Unless you are performing at an unrealistically high level of competition which for most intents and purposes is a completely different activity.) Badminton does count assuming you are trying. That is, not walking around tapping the little thingie at each other but actually pushing as hard as you can to make each shot.
5Adele_L9yRockclimbing might be another good and fun option, and can be done by yourself to some extent (bouldering, or borrowing gym staff). For me, it has an added bonus since lots of mathematicians socialize by rockclimbing together.
2mej109yWeight lifting bored me out of my skull until I started doing a linear progression weight lifting program. Going up in weight every time I lift not only tests my mental fortitude (which is where the main fun comes from for me), but also provides great (unexpectedly great for me) motivation. Also, I think the technique in Attention control is critical for... [http://lesswrong.com/lw/blr/attention_control_is_critical_for/] could help with increasing the amount of enjoyment. Or at least lessening the friction.
2RomeoStevens9ysporadic light exercise will not cause the type of longevity promoting adaptation many are after.
0JoshuaZ9yDo you have a citation for this? My impression is that the level of exercise needed to get benefits quickly hits diminishing marginal returns as soon as one has some regular form of exercise, but I haven't looked at the literature on this subject in any detail, but articles like this [http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/15/how-1-minute-intervals-can-improve-our-health/] suggest that the amount needed is not very high.
4RomeoStevens9y" This modified routine involved one minute of strenuous effort, at about 90 percent of a person’s maximum heart rate (which most of us can estimate, very roughly, by subtracting our age from 220), followed by one minute of easy recovery. The effort and recovery are repeated 10 times, for a total of 20 minutes." is not light exercise. Have you done a HIIT routine similar to the one listed? It's brutal.
2katydee9yHIIT is the opposite of light exercise. While the time involved may be low, the effort involved is extremely, extremely high.
-1Eneasz9yWatch Daily Show & Colbert while you work out. Don't let yourself watch those shows EXCEPT for when you are working out. Solved the problem for me. (substitute your favorite 50-min chunk of light TV to taste)

I'm at the gym daily, for a bit over an hour; and in addition, doing some running (training for a marathon).

The one effective way I have found to combat boredom is audiobooks. The amount of 'reading' I get done like this quite amazing. Of course, it's not useful for technical texts, but pop-sci or most fiction can be enjoyed really well this way.

To fight procastination (spelled 'akrasia' here I think), I use good-old discipline/guilt -- I have tought myself to feel bad when not training, and having concrete goals (e.g. a marathon in August) really help as well. Every drop of sweat today will reduce the suffering on marathon day...

Thanks for sharing this - from my understanding of exercise response it seems like an excellent program for building fairly significant improvements in strength, muscle mass and thereby weight loss. I'll endorse almost any program that advocates:

  • Several multiple muscle group exercises distributed such that most key muscle groups get to play in at least one of them.
  • Keeps the sets moderate (3 is about perfect) and reps moderate to low.
  • Does not include an excessive number of exercises (ie. No overtraining specific musclegroups by doing 5 different bicep e
... (read more)
2Viliam_Bur9yWhat is your opinion about 5BX [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5BX]? (Some people say the sit-ups are dangerous, but they could be replaced with something else, keeping the basic idea of this exercise -- 11 minutes daily, no tools necessary, gradually increasing difficulty.)
0wedrifid9yI'd recommend Romeo's program over that. Save the 5BX for when your military commander literally orders you to follow it. I guess it could be worse if you have no equipment at all.
0RomeoStevens9yI would argue that 2 days a week of full body work IS the minimum viable to gain longevity benefits. Anything less than that does not reliably produce an adaptation. People can do all the cardio and ignoring of calories they like, I wish them luck in their fitness goals :p
2wedrifid9yIf this was supposed to be minimum for longevity rather for general well-being my disagreement is even stronger. The high intensity work would be far superior for that particular purpose.
0bcoburn9yDo you have a specific recommendation for what the minimum for longevity actually is? Comes pretty close, but still leaves a little room for guesswork.
0Douglas_Knight9yHave you actually tried doing something like this once per week?
0RomeoStevens9yNo, my assertion is based on the results of other people on 1 day a week programs.

I like this post, since it is pretty useful content, and, based on my limited knowledge, seems reasonable. However, there are many nearby recommendations in this space that would probably not be as reasonable, and many people would be unable to judge. I think it would be good to have some community norm around "recommendation" posts like this that filters for reasonable advice. I'm not entirely sure what the best thing to do is, but one idea would be to ask such posts to make concrete predictions, and have people follow up with their reports late... (read more)

1Brigid9yFrom my experience as a female lifter who trains with other females, females do not need to progress more slowly to get long term gains. 5 lb increases per week on a deadlift and every other week on the other exercises is very, very reasonable (possibly too reasonable) in non-skill based moves like these. Even females should be able to experience a few months of lifting heavier each time if they follow the weight increase guidelines here. However, smaller females (less than 110lbs) or those who have never really worked out might need to start with a lighter bar for rows and the incline bench press. Most gyms have mini-bars with weights permanently attached to the end, usually ranging from 10-80 lbs (how heavy they are should be listed on the side), so look around for those if you don't think you can bench 45 lbs or you don't have a spotter. While I have never done a trap bar deadlift, I am going to assume its similar to a regular deadlift in terms of weight, but with less pressure on the back. So I would say that deadlifting just the bar (trap or not) shouldn't be a problem even for smaller women.
1RomeoStevens9yMy prediction is that non-very overweight people should make it to bodyweight trap bar deadlifts with maybe 1 or 2 stalls on the way before hitting a wall. Young underweight males who start eating more calories will make it significantly farther. Bodyweight is around where people start to stall on squats in SS when they don't have their diet on track. Most people can lift a little more with the trap bar than in squats. Upper body is a bit harder to judge, some people struggle quite a bit, others make fairly steady progress (including some women).

Minimum viable workout routine

Kettlebell swings tabata. 4 minutes. Every second day. Will raise V02 max at a rate acceptably close to as fast as possible and give a strength adaption that is fairly general. Fat burning is increased both from the metabolic effect from the high intensity work and the increase in muscle mass.

This is minimal in terms of time, the complexity of the routine and materials needed. For the 4 minutes in question it is not minimal. It is more brutally intense than most things you can do short of physical combat.

0RomeoStevens9ykettlebell swings are an exercise most people seem to do with poor form. Spinal flexion under load is BAD JUJU. It is possible to do them correctly but I almost never see it.
0wedrifid9ySpinal flexion? Bending forward? People do that with kettlebell swings? I focus my attention on avoiding the opposite tendency (extension). All else being equal I expect kettlebell swings to be good for the back (building the neglected supporting muscles so that other activities do not damage it) rather than bad.
0RomeoStevens9yany movement away from neutral spine under load. another reason I don't recommend kettlebell swings is the same reason I don't recommend skip rope to newbies, the intensity is too high. They run out of gas before they can get a significant workout.
3wedrifid9yI seem to disagree with your advice. It is approximately backwards. Running out of gas is kind of the point. High intensity is the point. Beginners should increase the rest time between high intensity excersions (for example 20 seconds on, 30 seconds off instead of 20 seconds on 10 seconds off). Doing just weights is a massive copout. Especially for beginners whose lack of neuromuscular adaptation ensure that they can't even perform at their full intensity at raw weight lifting when trying to.
0RomeoStevens9ymy experience is that people get burned out on cardio intense enough to cause significant improvement but the same is not true of weightlifting.
0wedrifid9yBeginners for most part physically can't get burned enough to cause significant cardiovascular adaptation when weightlifting. This is why your workout proposal is quite good as far as a selection of exercises for muscle growth goes but the justification that it is somehow better in the cardio section is a little too eager. I love weights, these days I do more weight training than running despite the fact that I'm training for a marathon. But choosing weights over high intensity cardio is a tradeoff, not a free-lunch improvement across the board. More muscle growth, more fat burning, much more cosmetic improvement, less cardiovascular improvements (including less VO2 Max). This applies to beginners at least as much as others.
1RomeoStevens9yit's a temporary tradeoff. Trying to do both at the same time would be even more insane for a newbie. I think weight training first is both easier and will make the transition to cardio after a couple months much easier if a person chooses to do that.
5wedrifid9yI would make the same recommendation and add that cosmetic changes, the 'toughness feeling' and the comments from others will be a much more powerful reinforcement [http://lesswrong.com/lw/cu2/the_power_of_reinforcement/]. The beginners also get much, much more perception of improvement in the initial stages of weight training than with cardio. Nearly all of the improvements are neuromuscluar as the nerves stop sending signals to the muscles that are utterly incompetent but even so ability to lift weights improves dramatically. You can't do the same thing with cardio; "Lungs! Absorb more oxygen and heart pump and stuff. Capillaries, grow!" is harder than "Opposing muscle groups, don't fire at the same time, dumbasses!"
0wedrifid9yYou recommend the rowing machine? When you consider kettlebell swings bad? This is bizarre and totally backwards.
0RomeoStevens9yI would be completely flabergasted if the rowing machine exerted anywhere near the force on the spine that kettlebell swings do. Rowing machine is low weight low intensity.
1wedrifid9yI'll take from this that my kettlebell form must be awesome. I get much less "Warning! Unhealthy back strain may be occurring" from my body from the swings.
0RomeoStevens9yagreed, biomechanics are surprisingly variable. Learning what good and bad stress feels like is one of the primary tasks for a newbie.
1wedrifid9yI've always been paranoid in this regard - perhaps erring on the side of holding myself back rather than maximising growth. Even in response to strong social pressure by my gym buddies it goes like: "Push through it! Don't be a pussy. One more set!" "No, that twinge of pain isn't muscular fatigue, it's in the shoulder somewhere. Mostly harmless right now but it means I stop, now. Next week I'll train the relevant supporting muscles some more." "Nah, you're being soft. Go! Be a man." "Not this time, ." This is in stark contrast to my response to actual muscle or cardiovascular fatigue, which I'll push through mercilessly and encourage my gym buddies to push me through even harder.

Details of good vs. bad physical stress is probably worth a post.

3wedrifid9y"Sore muscles good, sore anything else bad". But then there are all the exceptions to both, bah.
1NancyLebovitz9yHow can you tell whether or not you're heading for trouble during a session?
4RomeoStevens9yit's hard to describe verbally but fairly easy to distinguish as a physical sensation. Injury is a sharp pain, soreness is sort of a dull burning. One should immediately stop from any sharp pain, even if it seems mild, because it will be worse the next day.
1Douglas_Knight9yDon't worry about the exceptions, worry about elaborating that slogan. How can you tell whether the feeling is in a muscle? What does "sore" mean? pain the next day?

I think this was accidentally posted unfinished.

0RomeoStevens9yblarg, save and continue posts it? whatever, its done now.
0wedrifid9yThat explains a lot. I was trying to find the actual workout recommendation - apart from "weights not cardio".

I've recently been thinking about making a home gym. Would a barbell, bench, exercise mats, Starting Strength book, and rowing machine be appropriate for a 'good enough' setup? Or is this the type of stuff you can only do in a real gym?

1Brigid9yI think that is a great setup for a home gym. If you can afford it, I would also throw a kettlebell or some "under the door" pullup bars in there. Or, on a separate note, a foam roller to help with muscle tightness and flexibility. I think its the best piece of athletic equipment I have ever bought. These are amazing and well worth it.
1RomeoStevens9yyou're going to want a separate bench and rack so you can remove the bench and use the rack for squats. I'd get one with safety bars. a rowing machine isn't totally necessary, but they are awesome. One of the top reviewed items on all of amazon is a rowing machine.

I agree that compound lifts should form the bulk of your training, but I think most people will eventually need some isolation exercises too. If one muscle needed in the lift is less developed, people naturally compensate with other muscles, letting the weak muscle stay weak and the others grow until it becomes impossible to maintain good form.

My back squat and deadlift both stalled because of weak abs. They did not resume improving until I started doing ab wheel rollouts and various types of planks. Likewise, my bench was bottlenecked by relatively weak t... (read more)

1RomeoStevens9yThis for 3 months followed by maintenance isn't really going to get people so strong that these become a major issue. Bent rows hit the biceps.

This is probably the best all round training article on LW.

Still, I wonder if most people here would/could do even this. Perhaps a video tutorial that explains how to build a tire weight sled and shows someone dragging it would be more accessible. Sled dragging is basically walking on steroids, and as it seems the typical LWer has almost no athletic or movement base whatsoever, walking is a good place to start.

Perhaps even EY could improve his physical health and work capacity with sled dragging, despite his absolutely absurd claim that he is unable to ada... (read more)

80% of body composition is diet.

Counter-claim: 80% of body composition is genetics. (Potentially unfortunate obstacle to be overcome, not an excuse.)

1[anonymous]9yIt seems unlikely to me, unless my genes changed a lot over the past couple of years.
0shminux9yOr maybe a certain part of your genetics kicks in at a certain age.
0[anonymous]9yWhich is about half a decade after the usual end of puberty (according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puberty#Differences_between_male_and_female_puberty [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puberty#Differences_between_male_and_female_puberty] at least) and “happens” to coincide with the age at which I became serious about exercising daily and not eating too much. (Plus, nothing similar happened to any of my recent ancestors AFAIK.)
0gwern6yGenetics can affect any stage of life, and the steady pressure of existing genetics can have effects at a different time. If your informal argument was right, heritability of traits would never increase after puberty; for some things like intelligence, it does increase steadily over a lifetime.
0RomeoStevens9ya psychological inability to stick to a calorie limit probably isn't genetics in the sense you meant.
2wedrifid9yI wouldn't necessarily limit these percentages to adding up to 100%. My genetic predisposition to cheat (against limitations but not rules I endorse) has to count for something and helps with body composition much more than nearly anything can. In fact the primary aspect of extreme success in any endeavor that seems to be heavily genetically influenced is that of extreme motivation. The above said, I really do claim that for the same amount of differentiation from the mean in terms of genetic privilege or differentiation from the mean in control of calories it is the genetics that is the stronger factor.