There are a million different ways to approach exercise and the achievement of physical health and fitness. That’s not a bad thing but the sheer plethora of options can make committing to a regular workout routine a bit confusing. I want to let you in on a simple secret that can make your exercise regimen fun, simple and effective no matter what your fitness goals might be and especially if you don’t have a lot of time to get in quality workouts each week. I call it the “3 P’s of Physical Fitness.” The P’s stand for “push, pull and pump.” You see, the body only moves in so many dimensions and applying specific physical motions in specialized workouts allows you to cover a lot ground in a short amount of time with awesome results. If you exercise just three times a week for about twenty minutes apiece this plan of action will get you into peak shape and help you maintain your healthy physique without any guesswork.
Let me first give you an overview of what a multi-plane workout consists of so you have a handle on how the body moves through space and what needs to be done in any given exercise routine to get real results. The human body is quite a magical, mechanical device for movement. We have more dexterity, flexibility and capacity for dynamic, multi-dimensional motion than any other creature. Even still, there are only a few ways we can move through space and these motions define how our bodies are shaped. Let’s cover the basic four kinds of motion… Flexion, extension, rotation and lateral movements. Then we’ll go into the 3 P’s.
Flexion is when the body bends at a joint, decreasing the angle of the bones of a limb and often describes a forward motion, shortening or tightening. Think of a sit-up, knee lift or arm curl and you’ve got the picture. Extension is the opposite motion, when there’s an “unbending” or straightening movement around a joint in a limb (as the knee or elbow) that increases the angle between the bones of the limb at the joint. Extension is often a backward moving action. A back-bend or straightening of the arms or legs would be good examples of extension. Think long and tall. Rotation is just what it sounds like: twisting. A spinal twist, bicycle crunch or woodchopper cable pull would all represent rotational movement. Lastly, lateral movements could be performed with flexion, extension and rotation or any combination of the three but the easiest way to imagine what it’s like to move laterally is to think “sideways.” Often these are reaching, pulling, pushing or turning movements like a side bend, side squat or football passes. I hope that clears up how he body is designed to move. Now we can address a three day, alternating workout that incorporates all four movements in a thorough, comprehensive and empowering methodology.
The 3 P’s… push, pull and pump! This type of workout is so easy to follow and so effective, you’ll wonder why you’ve never heard of it. My answer: because it’s too simple! All you have to do is 20 minutes, non-stop, with each of the three workouts, spaced 48 hours apart and then repeat the cycle over and over to lose weight, get fit and maintain your strength for a lifetime. Sounds like a miracle, right? It’s really not that earth shattering since it works the body the way it’s meant to be conditioned for optimal efficiency and power. This technique also keeps you from overworking any one set of muscles and promotes the proper utilization of your energy storehouses for total body conditioning. It takes about six weeks to start seeing measurable results in strength, endurance, energy output and reduced waistline. We’ll start with day one: PUSH!
The PUSH workout uses mainly extensive motions. You’ll be shortening your muscles briefly and then focusing on lengthening your muscles and joints as you push weight away from you or push your own weight away from the floor. The six main pushing exercises I recommend are leg press, leg extension, bench press, shoulder press, tricep dip and pushup. If you don’t have access to a gym or weight bearing equipment you can use your own body weight for an effective workout. Even without weights or machines you can push yourself past your current limitations into a whole new world of strength and fitness!
A leg press/leg extension can be performed as a body weight squat or wall squat, making sure to push your hips backward as you take a sitting motion and then pushing them forward when you stand. Do twenty to forty in a row. Hold hand weights for even more of a challenge. Squats or leg presses activate your body’s metabolic engines: the quads (thighs) and glutes (buttocks), helping you to build strength and burn fat quickly. For this reason, legwork is a great way to start any workout. The bench press and pushup can be alternated or one can replace the other. I recommend lifting about a third of your body weight to start and increasing over time. Try holding dumbbells while lying on a bench or the floor and lift them up toward the ceiling over the center of your chest. This firms the pectoral muscles for a shapely chest. Or just do pushups! Try different angles like a military pushup with hands at shoulder width apart, then a decline pushup with your feet on a bench or chair, then an incline pushup with your hands up on the bench or chair. Again, twenty to forty will do. Tricep dips can be done on a bench or chair, focusing on the push upward from the floor with hands close to your body (a tight shoulder width apart) and only dropping a few inches for each repetition. Going too low employs the shoulder muscles and can do more harm than good. Shoulder presses should be done with lightweights to start so you can work on form and alignment. I recommend seated shoulder presses for beginners but you can do them standing, too, for even more of a challenge. Do somewhere south of forty reps for all these exercises, one after another in a row, and it should take you about twenty minutes. This will translate into a thorough and powerful push-type routine that you can revisit once each week.
Take a day off between workouts to rest your muscles and then dive into day two. The PULL workout will consist of shortening, tightening and crunching your muscles. Your extensions will be shorter and your contractions will be longer. You’ll be pulling weight towards your body so your joints will be bending inward. The six main pulling exercises you’ll be performing are the pull up/chin up, lat pull down, leg curl, upright/bent-over row, bicep curl and abdominal crunch. Again there are ways to do these moves without much weight and they can be interchanged, using your own body weight for some and external weight for others. These moves will add meat to your muscles and quickly tone and shape your body into a fat burning machine!
The pull up/chin up is a staple of shoulder and back muscle building. Many people shy away from these exercises because they seem too difficult, but there are simple ways to modify them so anyone can do them safely. If you don’t have access to a pull up bar consider getting one that locks into any doorframe at your local sporting goods or warehouse shopping center. You can put a chair under your feet until you gain enough strength to bear your own body weight. Or use the “Gravitron” assisted pull up machine at your gym. You can calibrate a percentage of your body weight to lift and add more weight over time. Try three sets of five reps to start and move to three sets of ten reps as you get stronger. The lat pull down can be exchanged for your pull up or act as an introduction to building those long back muscles. Always pull the bar to your chest, never to the back of your neck as this can cause injury. The leg curl can be done to relieve the use of your upper body muscles and is most easily performed while seated or lying down on a bench. Cable weight bearing machines at the gym make the process simpler but you can do in-place or walking lunges to simulate the leg curl exercise. This helps build strength in the back of your legs, especially your hamstrings. A dead-lift, holding a barbell at hip height and bending forward from the hips until your back is swayed and your arms parallel your legs perpendicular to the floor can also build the hamstrings and act as effective pulling exercise for the arms, legs and back. Biceps curls can be done at different angles, like “hammer” curls with the knuckles facing in toward each other in front of your body or turning the elbows outward, away from the body’s center line until you feel different parts of your upper arm contracting. Abdominal crunches, leg lifts, hip pumps and bridges can be combined to use the muscles of the abdomen, glutes and hips to pull your upper and lower body away from the floor for a sleek, toned, trim waist. Do these pulling exercises for twenty to forty reps each, non-stop, back-to-back, just once a week and you’ll start pulling more strength into your life!
Day three: The PUMP part of your workout is about doing short bursts of cardiovascular training to get your heart pumping and supercharging your metabolism. Walking, jogging, running, sprinting, biking, jumping, lunging, squatting, kicking, rock climbing, stair climbing, crawling, throwing, jumping/squatting jacks, balancing and “burpie-ing” are exercises that can be done in short intervals to cause a sudden cardiovascular adaptation in twenty minutes or less with a profound after-burn effect on your metabolism. This can be combined with weight bearing for even more remarkable results. Simply holding hand weights while you exercise can initiate a profound “cardio-resistance” effect, as your muscles and heart work harder to accomplish more in less time. The key to the pumping exercise bout is intensity: you must get your heart rate up quickly and sweat rapidly. It’s only for twenty minutes so squeeze out your best effort and put all of your energy into this heart-pumping workout just once a week! You can increase the pump part of your weekly regimen to three or four times a week after you nail the first six weeks of the push-pull-pump alternating method. A lot of the pump workout will revolve around using the big muscles of your legs to increase your metabolic rate so your body eats fat for energy. Here’s an example intermediate push-pull-pump workout to get you started on your six-week training… Let go of the weights at first if their too fatiguing. You want to keep going for twenty minutes with only brief 30-second rests between exercises in each workout so manage your energy wisely…
DAY 1: PUSH
20-40 weighted squats in a row, rest for 30 seconds… 20-40 pushups/bench press, rest for 30 seconds… 20-40 weighted shoulder presses in a row, rest… 20-40 bench/chair tricep dips, rest… 20-40 second planks, rest… 20-40 hips thrusts (seat-lifts or bridges)… Repeat! 20 minutes worth!
Day 2: PULL
20-40 weighted lunges, rest… 20-40 weighted dead-lifts, rest… 20-40 pull-ups/chin-ups or lat-pull down, rest… 20-40 weighted upright rows, rest… 20-40 bicep curls, rest… 20-40 decline bench sit-ups/crunches, rest… Repeat… 20 minutes!
Day 3: PUMP
90-second stair climber or incline lunges… 90-second weighted jogging in-place, 90-seconds of jumping rope… repeat for 90 seconds each until 20 minutes has past. Throw in burpies, side lunges, planks, up/down-dogs, knee lifts, box step or box jump to mix it up.
Combo/Free Day: MORE PROGRESS… one more “P!”
When you don’t have time to finish your bout and need a make-up workout or you need another way to approach a thorough strength-cardio combo workout for quicker results, try the following 10-15 minute progressive pump workout
Quick stretch, with weights in each hand or holding a barbell do 40 squats… 40 in-place lunges… 40 deadlifts… 40 bent over rows… 40 pushups… 40 pullups/chin-ups… 40 dips… 40 second walking plank… 40 seconds Superman stretch on the belly! No rests (or very brief rests)… this should take you about 20 minutes and you’ll be sweating bullets by the end. Stretch again and go for a brief walk to cool down if you have time.
Guaranteed post-workout effect: hours of metabolic burn and muscular adaptation and growth. Plus it has a built in cardio-resistance element because you don’t stop, making the heart stronger while building overall strength. Also working larger muscles first and smaller ones later helps you conserve energy for a more energy conscious and effective workout.
So keep it simple when you want a complete workout… either combine cardio and resistance or break up your muscle groups and movement dimensions by zeroing in on the push-pull-pump method. Best of luck and please let me know how this technique worked for you!
Be the force of change… be your best… be dedicated… be well!