Build easy strength at home with little or no equipment by following this Dan John inspired minimalist bodyweight workout.
I’ve always attributed my success as a coach by doing two things really well:
- Solving complex problems and;
- Learning from people smarter or more experienced than myself
I’ve been following Dan John’s work for a lot of years. I’ve used his Easy Strength program to help myself and my clients get strong with minimal fuss. For the most part, the original 40 Day program he was given by Pavel Tsatsouline and slight variations he has made of the years like Even Easier Strength has been a solid base program for everyone I train.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Over the last two years however the impact of Covid-19 and various lockdowns has disrupted access to gyms and the equipment required to reap the benefits of Easy Strength.
On the flip side as a fan of Dan John and Easy Strength, it has forced adaptation and innovation in the form of minimalist bodyweight workout style programs that help my clients maintain strength for when the gyms open again. There’s also a few other benefits of the Minimalist Easy Strength program that you might not have thought of:
- It forces you to focus on mobility and other weaknesses we tend to avoid as we reduce movements to single limb/single leg stances
- It can be done when you travel or lose access to equipment at any time
- It adds enough variety and progression that once you are strong enough, you can simply maintain it
Before we begin let me stress the fact that if you want to build strength fast, a barbell is still the superior method. So if you have access to one and you simply want to build strength, use Dan’s Easy Strength program and work your way to victory.
However, if you’re in the boat of having no access to a barbell or you simply want to spice things up, then the minimalist easy strength program might work for you.
The Easy Strength Basics
Before we get stuck into exercise selection let’s review the program basics of Easy Strength or the 40 Day Program. Pavel suggests this:
“For the next forty workouts, pick five lifts. Do them every workout. Never miss a rep. In fact, never even get close to struggling. Go as light as you need to go and don’t go over ten reps for any of the movements in a workout. It’s going to seem easy. When the weights feel light, simply add more weight.”Pavel
There are 5 movements in total. Push, pull, hinge, squat and loaded carry. With the lack of a barbell and only having bodyweight at our disposal i’m suggesting:
Squat – Pistol Squat
Hinge – Nordic Hamstrings
Push – Single Arm Push-up
Pull – Pull-ups (weighted is a great way to advance, once you master bodyweight)
Loaded Carry – Hanging Leg Raise or similar (levers or hollow rocks are a good option depending on ability and equipment)
The Reps & Rest
The rep structures for Easy Strength looked like this:
- 2 x 5
In the original program you followed the one rep structure for every exercise on the day.
If you’re using hamstring slides instead of nordics, aim for 2 sets of 25 following the the higher rep approach Dan used with the kettlebell swings in the original program.
Aim to rest enough between sets to hit the reps every time. This was completed for 5 days per week with two days rest. For beginners or busy individuals, completing this program every other day sees amazing results.
Customise To Your Ability
To accomodate people of different training levels, instead of following the same rep scheme for each exercise, you can choose the reps that work for your level and ability. Just stick to the rule of 10. For example:
Pistol Squat 2×5
Single Arm Push-up – 6×1
Weighted Pull-up – 2×5
Hamstring Slides – 2×25
Hanging Leg Raise 1×10
Once you’ve completed the sets and reps you are done for the day. Keeping in mind the intent is to not fail at a rep, you should be able to choose a more challenging progression or number of reps the next session if you feel ready. If not, just rinse and repeat and let your body guide the progress.
Keeping the minimalist workout theme going you can also choose other exercises if you have the equipment available. Dan John’s original program included kettlebell swings but If you have heavy enough kettlebells you can also add them for the strength component. Exercises can include:
Split Squats – These are a great addition as they can simultaneously target asymmetries and strength. Place one in each hand and off you go. You’ll thank me for this later
Bottoms Up Press – If you only have a smaller kettlebell that you can press, switching to a bottoms up press will give you a bit more longevity at a single weight
Loaded Carry & Turkish Get Ups – For obvious reasons, carrying heavy things works wonders for strength, stability and overall endurance. Walking backwards up a hill with heavy kettlebells will leave you well and truly satisfied.
The Devil Is In The Detail
For the most part, students of Easy Strength typically see PB’s and strength gains by day 20-25. This might well and truly be enough for you in the minimalist bodyweight workout format to see the benefits also. Typically, those who follow this program see no loss and even an improvement in strength in their barbell lifts, improved mobility and better range in their barbell movements once they return to the gym.
The power of this program has always been in the simplicity of it. Stick to the basics, do them aggressively well and you will find your way to easy strength.