Minimalist Workout: Simple, Effective, Done

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Minimalism" by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Want a simple Minimalist exercise routine? You’ll find it here. Learn minimalist workouts and how to keep your health.

The Minimalist Exercise Mindset

Everyone knows being a couch potato is bad for your health, but you don’t have to go to the other extreme to be healthy — for instance, running five miles or going to the gym every day. The goal isn’t to look like a bodybuilder but to be healthy and fit, and feel good. 

The primary goal of exercise isn’t to lose weight either. It’s steady improvement. The key measures are:

  • Are you constantly improving your fitness?
  • Are you happy with your progress? 

You can lose weight and still not be happy with your physical fitness. For example, although Joshua lost over 80 pounds he was flabby and weak. Over two years he developed simple daily habits that improved his physical fitness.

Minimalist Exercise Habits

Developing daily exercise habits is part of attaining a healthier lifestyle, just like developing new daily food habits.

People typically try running, lifting weights, swimming, or team sports. They all improve physical fitness, and all are better than not exercising. But they may not work for everyone.

Joshua came up with something that works better for him: three principles and four daily exercises.

Joshua’s Minimalist Exercise Principles

  • Enjoy exercise: Choose exercises you enjoy because you’re more likely to do them consistently if you like them. Joshua walks, does elliptical machine training, and body exercises incorporating cardio.
  • Exercise to relieve stress: Use exercise as your primary means to reduce stress. Exercising at the end of a stressful day gives you time and solitude to reflect on what’s important.
  •  Keep exercise fresh with variety: Doing the same exercises all the time eventually causes you to plateau. Mix it up.

Joshua’s 18-Minute Minimalist Exercise Routine

Alternate among the following:

  • Push-ups: Joshua started off slowly, barely able to do one, but now does three to five sets a day, or about 300.
  • Pull-ups: After slowly building strength, he does three to five sets a day, or 40-60 pull-ups.
  • Squats: He does three or four sets of bodyweight squats, or 20-30.

You can work your way up, even if you can’t do a single pull-up or push-up. And 18 minutes a day for a minimalist workout routine is a small amount of time to focus on your health.

The Importance of Sleep

People often skip sleep to accomplish or complete something. But to be healthy, you need adequate rest. The amount of sleep needed varies by individual but many studies recommend eight to 10 hours a night. Make sure you’re getting the amount you need, or you’ll lack energy and focus.

The Musts of Minimalist Health

Adopting a healthier lifestyle for the long term requires motivation. You acquire this by turning your “should dos” into “must dos” — because once you decide you must do something, you will.

Here’s how it works. When you want to change a habit (diet, exercise, or something else), you need to give yourself a rationale or leverage that makes the change urgent and essential. 

Leverage comes from wanting to avoid a negative outcome, or wanting the rewards. For example, you might tell yourself that the negative effects of not improving your physical fitness would be greater than the short term pain of exercising. Psychologically, changing your habit then becomes a must.

On their website Joshua and Ryan recommend creating must lists for various areas of your life — for instance create a list of things on which you have procrastinated; then turn those shoulds into musts.

Here are some important health musts:

  • Maintain a healthy diet.
  • Exercise regularly (and continue improving).
  • Don’t do things that harm your body.
  • Treat your body as your most important asset.
Minimalist Workout: Simple, Effective, Done

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  • What Minimalism is, in complete detail
  • How to simplify your life and get rid of things you don't need
  • What's holding you back from your ideal career passion
  • How to take care of your body and health, the simple way

Allen Cheng

Allen Cheng is the founder of Shortform. He has a passion for non-fiction books (having read 200+ and counting) and is on a mission to make the world's best ideas more accessible to everyone. He reads broadly, covering a wide range of subjects including finance, management, health, and society. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and attended medical training at the MD/PhD program at Harvard and MIT. Before Shortform, he co-founded PrepScholar, an online education company.

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