My Minimalist Fitness Routine (Why Less Is More)

My minimalist fitness routine

Now that I am over 40, my days of heavy deadlifting and squatting are behind me; my knees and back can't handle it anymore I am afraid! But getting a good workout does not have to mean lifting stupid amounts of weight or spending two hours in the gym. With my busy life, if I am spending more than an hour in the gym, then I feel I am doing something wrong. It just isn't needed.

I follow a 3-day workout schedule: push-pull-legs. I use a mix of compound free weights and some machines for extra-volume work. Now do you have to do compound free weights? No, but it is beneficial. But you can also get a good workout by just using machines. The machines at the gym get a bad rep because they don't work on stabilising muscles anywhere near what free weights do; however, the truth is, if you just want to get a good workout in and try to look better, machines are fine! In fact, machines target and isolate the specified muscle better than compound movements!

My Minimalist Fitness Routine:

Over the years, I have probably done every type of routine possible, but these days I follow a push-pull-legs routine. Most people would recommend working out your muscles twice a week, which is fair advice, and studies back that up, but there have also been studies that show that in older lifters, once a week matches twice a week. 

Now, 'older' is probably older than what I am; however, it works for me, but your mileage may vary. If you're younger and have more time, then just do the push-pull legs twice a week each, but once a week is enough for me to see results.

My rep schemes are generally 5-8 reps on main compounds and 8-12 reps on secondary exercises for 3–4 sets. When I can do all the sets and reps and feel like I have some left over, I move up in weight. Even if it just means doing the first set with the next weight, that is what I will do until I can progress to finishing all the sets. Rinse and repeat.

Each workout has 5 exercises, no need to do any more. And I also use dumbbells over barbells for two reasons:

1 - The barbell racks are really busy at my gym and I cannot be bothered to wait around.

2 - I am more interested in the benefits of using dumbbells over a barbell these days.

Also remember to warm up properly. I throw in some light lateral raises and face pulls as part of my warm up routine.

Push Day:

Dumbbell Bench Press:

Always start with your main compound movement, and for me on push day it is dumbbell bench press. I mix flat and incline and work upto 5 reps for a few sets before doing some lighter sets for volume. 

Incline Hex Press:

I love this exercise, it works the inner chest a bit but the main activation will come from your triceps, and doing it on an incline will work the upper part of your chest secondary. It's a fantastic exercise not enough people do. But remember, it is a triceps builder, not a chest builder.


Dips have always been a staple in my routine, I love them, but the older I get the more I feel I have to be careful as they can put strain on your shoulders. Try and not go too deep and learn proper form and you'll be fine. I used to do weighted dips, and sometimes still do, but mainly stick to bodyweight and do paused reps.

Overhead Dumbbell Press:

I do these standing for more core activation, and don't go overly heavy as the shoulders get worked out in the previous exercises, so I tend to do lower weight and higher volume with this exercise. Sometimes I use the shoulder press machine as well.

Kettlebell Swings:

Kettlebell swings, in my view it is the best 'cardio' exercise you can do. It works so many muscles and doesn't have be done for more then 15-20 minutes to get a really good sweat on with a range of benefits.

Neutral grip pull ups on pull day

Pull Day:

Neutral Grip Pull Ups:

One of my all time favourite exercises. You can use any grip but I have always preferred neutral grip personally. 

Dumbbell Rows:

Sometimes I use the seated cable rows machine but for more all round activation the row is a beast of an exercise.

One Armed Lat Pulldown:

Doing the lat pulldown one armed is an amazing  lat builder. I feel so much more a stretch where I should. Remember to pull with your elbows!

Incline Curls:

You can pretty much do any bicep curl really, but I have always preferred the incline curl with my arms a little bit wide.

Kettlebell Swings:

As above!

You may also like to read a little guide to minimalist strength training.

Goblet squat minimalist leg exercise

Leg Day:

Goblet Squats:

Over the past few years I have moved from traditional squats to double handed goblet squats (Holding two dumbells/kettlebells). Not only is it an excellent leg exercise, but it is one of the best core exercises you can do.

Romanian Deadlift:

A variation of the more traditional deadlift, that uses lighter loads, and is a must do exercise in my opinion.


I hate doing this exercise! But it's a must do.

Leg Press:

I love the leg press machine. I use two foot placement variations in my workout. Wide and high placement for hamstrings. Low and narrow for quads. I go higher volume here to really finish the muscles off after the above two exercises.

Standing Calf Raise:

And to finish off leg day, I do standing calf raises.

And as always, remember to watch some Youtube videos of the exercises to learn correct form.

Well, that is my routine! In and out within the hour with all major muscle groups worked . No need for more. Be sure to check out some fitness challenges that require no equipment and some Core Exercises.

Alternatively, try a minimalist kettlebell workout.