Despite not being an acknowledged fitness expert, five years of researching health and nutrition, reading widely, cultivating an open mind and, most importantly, trying out new stuff in my own fitness regime, has given me a wealth of workout knowledge worth sharing. And despite being keen, my best discovery is that a great workout doesn't have to be hard work.
When it comes to exercise, I'm quite lazy. I don't want to spend hours at the gym. Actually I don't even want to go to a gym in the first place. Nor do I want to buy tons of expensive exercise equipment or hire a personal trainer (I'm cheap too and I don't have the space).
Despite all this, I do want to be healthy, strong and lean. And, after a few years trying a bunch of stupid stuff that didn't really help me achieve any of these things, I think I've worked out a better way. Of course, I still have a long, long way to go yet - but I think there could be something for everybody in what I've learnt.
But let's make a distinction. When i say 'lazy', I mean it in terms of the time I want to spend 'exercising'. So exercise time: as short as I can get away with. But for exercise intensity: I want as much as I can squeeze into that short time.
So my perfect workout is one where there's minimal time and maximal effort involved to achieve ultimate results. Here's that workout...
The three exercises...
Squats: (the "King of exercises"), Deadlifts and Weighted pull ups. Pull-ups don't require a barbell, but do require something sturdy to grab on to. And as a bodyweight exercise, there's less risk of dropping an iron on yourself. Ain't that an awesome way to motivate yourself?
A fourth, optional exercise I'd add if possible are Benchpresses: They hit less muscular groups than the other barbell exercises, but a basic bench is cheap and easy to get, and it takes up very little space.
Barbell and plates for deadlifts and squats. A hard floor to support your posture, one you wouldn't mind dropping heavy iron onto.
For pull ups, you need a pull-up bar, and possibly a weighted vest or weight belt (optional).
Squat rack, power cage - for those with the space and money. Extremely useful.
For benchpresses, a you'll need an incline weight bench, though many full-sized power cages can be used for bench pressing as well.
Why these exercises?
Compound movements - The exercises hit a whole load of muscle groups at once. Also, unlike isolation exercises, your muscles are all working together, which is how they're meant to be used. I've found it's easier to build functional strength - strength you can use in your daily activities, this way.
Posterior chain - Squats and deadlifts done right are good for your core strength, balance and your posture in the long run.
High intensity, short time investment - You can be done in half an hour or less, and you don't have to do much more than change the weight on the bar.
Cheap and quick - No gym fees, no travel time. Total setup cost for me was around £50 (by buying barbell plates secondhand from Gumtree).
When/How to train
When the weather permits, I train in my garden, outside in the glorious sun. May as well get a little vitamin D when possible! When weather doesn't permit, I train indoors, which is not as fun.
I tend to train until failure and I aim for some level of muscle soreness for the next one or two days. I try to combine this routine once or twice a week with reasonable eating habits and lots of good sleep (well, I do my best!).
This setup can work for anyone with just a little space to spare. A garage with some space and a hard floor is an ideal spot.
Get a fitness professional to check your form before you start a regime with barbell exercises. Proper form is essential for all these exercises - good form: good results, no injuries.
Use multiple barbells. A heavier one for deadlifts, and a lighter one for squats and benchpresses. Saves time on switching plates on the bar.
Keep a training log of your weights and repetitions for each exercise. It's a great way to track your progress. I use a beat up looking notebook and a biro.
A little disclaimer: There are always risks to lifting heavy things, if this is something that is new to you, I'd recommend you first consult with your doctor and also with a fitness expert/personal trainer who can make sure you've got the right action.