my 5 favorite workouts

my 5 favorite workouts

Let's keep a couple points in mind when talking about workouts:

A) Weight Loss - working out will help with weight loss, but your success depends on your diet more than your workout, and by a large margin! For 99% of the population (those who aren't professional athletes or first responders), a calorie is a calorie, and it's all about eating fewer calories than your burn.

B) Workouts can vary greatly in their intensity and duration - so much so that the same set of exercises can be easy in one scenario and impossible in another. Jog 3 miles at a leisurely pace, and you'll have jogged 3 miles. Run 3 miles at a 6:30/mile pace, and you'll probably collapse in a heap before the end of mile 1. Perform 3 miles' worth of 100-yard Sprint Intervals, and you'll find you've worked muscles you didn't even know you had!

So, with those caveats out of the way, here are my 5 favorite workouts:

1.) Kettlebell

  • very portable, takes little space - easy to do a KB workout anywhere, anytime
  • full-body workout - most of the KB exercises work multiple muscle groups, so a routine of 3-4 exercises will hit your entire body.
  • gain lots of strength, lots of definition, and a little size. KBs might not be your primary tool for body building or bulking up, but they're great for just about everything else.
  • workouts (and KB weight) can be modified to focus on strength, cardio-endurance, or a balance between the two.
  • 10 minutes is enough for a good workout. 15-20 minutes is exhausting. a 30-minute kettlebell routine is downright hard!
  • here is a really simple routine I did a few months ago where I incorporated a kettlebell.
  • low-stress workout - using good form and letting gravity help swing the kettlebell allow this workout to keep stress off my joints, ligaments, tendons, etc.
  • the downside - at approximately $2 per pound, they aren't cheap. Although you only need one, many people end up buying one a little lighter to start with, and then wanting a heavier one later. Or they'll want a 2nd KB to do some 2-KB exercises..

2.) Swimming

  • there's something meditative about swimming. It's just me and the water - even if I swim with a friend-partner, it's still just me and the water. And when I get a good rhythm going, there isn't another exercise out there that feels as refreshing to my mind, body and soul.
  • full-body workout, with the ability to change stroke, styles, and intensity depending on what I want to accomplish.
  • low-impact workout.
  • develops my lungs like nothing else.
  • intervals work great in the pool!
  • the downside - swimming takes a bigger resource commitment than just about anything else I do. I don't have a pool at my house, so I need to drive to the gym. (I have to pay my gym membership first.) Sometimes I can swim right away; other times I need to wait for a lane to open up. Once I'm swimming, since I've already committed a block of time to working out, I'm less likely to do a short, 12-minute session. (that's good and bad - longer workouts are better, right?) Then, when I'm finished, I need to shower, change, and get back to work. And finally, once I get home, I need to deal with my stuff - equipment, damp clothes and towel, etc. All in, it's probably a 90-minute commitment.

3.) Cross-Fit / Fit-20

  • the fastest way to burn the most calories, period.
  • can be done just about anywhere, with little or no equipment required.
  • can mix and match exercises depending on my mood or a specific body area I want to target.
  • the most mentally challenging workout I do. When working out at a high intensity, my mind and body will scream, begging me to quit about half-way through. Taming that beast is hugely rewarding.
  • can vary the challenge, even with the exact same routine. "how many sets can I do in 15 minutes?" "how fast can I do 75 of each?" "how fast can I do a ladder of 10-1?"
  • I see more muscle gain (size) with these than with any other workouts I do, which makes these great exercises for the spring - heading into the pool/beach season!
  • the downside - motivation. These workouts are physically and mentally challenging. It's not a problem when I'm after a specific goal, such as losing weight or gaining size/shape. But when I'm in pure maintenance mode, it's hard to get psyched up for these guys week after week.

4.) Versaclimber

  • if you're going to buy one piece of equipment for your home gym, make it a Versaclimber. My wife & I bought one in 2006, and we've been using it every week since then.
  • I know I'm working out. 2 minutes in I get that gut-check feeling - here we go. At the 6-minute mark I break a sweat, big time.
  • works my upper and lower body.
  • can vary the workout by changing my grip, stride length, body position, and pace.
  • small footprint - it only needs about 3 feet by 3 feet, which means I can put it just about anywhere in the house (or patio, yard, garage, etc.)
  • the downside(s) - cost (it's not cheap), mobility (it's not easy to move), and location-specific (you can only do a versaclimber workout where you have a versaclimber!)

5.) Running

  • as portable as anything - just go.
  • least expensive exercise known to man. (expensive shoes not required.)
  • can adjust time, distance, pace, intervals, sprinting.. based on time available and workout goals.
  • can use a known route or make up a new route on the fly.
  • hills and off-road trails add variety and different challenges.
  • some of my best and most creative thinking has happened while running. Anytime I get into a good groove - fast enough to make me work but not so fast that I exhaust myself quickly, where I can just Go for 30 minutes or so.. my mind gets to a place that's difficult to find anywhere else.
  • impact-wise - running doesn't take a lot of recovery time (extra-long and extra-fast runs not withstanding), so I could run moderately every day. Maybe it's related to my form, but I don't get sore or injured from running. If you do get sore/injured, I would look into working on your running form.
  • the downside - running isn't the best exercise for maximizing "calories burned per minute of exercise", nor is it going to shape / sculpt / build your body as well as the other exercises.

Honorable Mention - Shadow Boxing / Kick Boxing.

  • Ultra high-intensity!
  • another one of those where you'll be sore in places you didn't even know you had muscles.
  • can be really fun with a partner or group.

Not On the List

  • Cycling / Spinning. Uuugh. Boring. Takes too long to get a good workout. Focuses primarily on legs / calves and almost nothing on upper body. Try being 10 miles from anywhere and getting a flat tire..
  • Yoga. Sorry to you yogis out there - I find it slow and boring. (and I'm not very stretchy.)
  • Competitive Sports. I hate to admit it, guys, but your body doesn't work the same once you get to your 40's. Competitive attitude - check. Will to win - check. Ability to cut, bang, accelerate, jump, and recover - gone. I'll still goof around with the kids and the other parents, but as for playing full speed; this is an injury waiting to happen!
  • Weight Lifting. My days of spending over an hour in the gym, chest & tri one day, back & bi the next, legs the day after that - those days are long past. I've lost the desire for those results over the years, and I've increased my strength and results by doing cross-fit instead.
  • Anything else that's either expensive, complicated, cold-weather related, or extreme. 

That's my list. I wish I had more time to spend becoming an expert in all of them, but I'll have to settle for staying in pretty good shape instead.

What's on your list?

-Chris Butterworth