Those who have read this site for a while (thanks, by the way!) know that I’ve taken a lot of training from Steve Maxwell and have been heavily influenced by him.

Hey—take a look around. How many people do you see in their 60s who are in as good of shape as Steve Maxwell? Not to mention how he lives his life—traveling around teaching? That’s pretty cool.

Anyway, on Thanksgiving he sent out an email talking about training volume and frequency. There is a lot to consider in this subject, but Steve breaks it down really well. It’s as though he’s been doing this for 40+ years. Oh, wait. He has.

Distinction between optimal and effective

Are you a high caliber athlete? Then I hope you’re not reading this site—at least not for the training info. The difference between optimal and effective is great. Most people just need effective, which is relatively easy to attain.

Effective is best summarized by this quote from his email: “As long as you train consistently and with a high level of effort very little exercise is required for good results.” The minimum effective frequency is very low.

Two full body workouts twice weekly is a good starting point, assuming your level of effort is high.

This summarizes it right here. Steve goes into a lot more detail but I’m going to put it in my own language. Look around. How many people do you see who are weak and overweight? Or skinny and weak? Or just plain out of shape? It’s a high percentage. We’re talking two days per week here that when combined with a sensible diet can turn that all around. That’s pretty incredible.

Level of effort

Steve is super insightful here. I remember when he told me that the phase of the moon can impact your training. Imagine being that in tune with yourself that you can feel that? Holy shit. Anyway, I do disagree with Steve on level of effort—or—perhaps I miscalculate my effort or get in my own head too much. I can’t exercise as hard as Steve. Not sure if it is my wiring, my diet, or my past transgressions in terms of too much drinking and terrible eating. Whatever it is, I still get good results without excessive effort—certainly not effort that I think would be unpalatable to most people.

In fact, I think most people would be slightly embarrassed upon figuring out how easy it is to attain a relatively high degree of fitness and strength. The key for me is concentration. The concentration should be within the body, total awareness of every little movement, preventing yourself from cheating, and keeping your form in line. A meditation of sorts.

Maybe that’s my interpretation of effort. If I push too hard in a workout, I don’t recover well.

Your own unique situation

Full time job, married, grad school, two kids—2 and 4. I ain’t 20 no more, either. I have responsibilities and some young kids. I’m middle class too, so it’s not like I have a live-in nanny or whatever to take care of the kids. For an example, the kids have been sick and last night I was up five separate times. WTF? You think my recovery is going to be optimal?

You can dial your parameters up or down, but only if you have a basic framework to work within. That’s why I like the 2 days per week with big exercise framework. When I’m up that many times, I won’t have full recovery. So it’s easy for me to dial things back.

The thing is, exercise is a science. We are similar enough that we can dispense general information that is nearly universally applicable. You learn yourself a little bit more and you can take that information and tweak it further, to suit your own needs.

For a starting point, you can check out the 5×5 Solution for Health and Strength – where I distill this stuff in an info-packed ebook. I put this ebook together as something you can get, print out, and reference to put into practice this simple, straightforward way to be kick-ass strong—without wasted motion and effort.

And do go over and check out Steve Maxwell’s site—and subscribe to his newsletter. Lots of good info.

Related links

What I’ve learned from Steve Maxwell
Baby don’t need no kettlebell