The Art of the Micro Workout

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Let’s just get this out of the way: I’m not talking about 8-minute abs. Not even a little. Nor am I talking about 7-minute abs; 6-minute abs are just insane–you can’t even get up a good sweat in 6 minutes. No, I’m talking about fitting real workouts into little spaces of time, which has become my way back into fitness over the last two years, and my way back into powerlifting. Micro workouts have become my salvation.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll have read me nostalgizing, whining about, and rationalizing my decision to give up powerlifting six years ago, when my wife was pregnant with our eldest son. I had every intention of returning to the gym once my son was born, not counting on the two solid years of sleepless nights to come. About six months later, our second son appeared, and more terrible sleep ensued.

During that time, I made sporadic forays back into the gym, but never made it beyond a few weeks. Why? Because there were always more priorities than time, and not nearly enough energy to go around. As a result, I put on about 30lbs, and my muscles atrophied away.

In May of 2014, I had had enough. I dragged my old gym shoes out of retirement and started walking. I walked as many lunch hours as I could, until the weather made it so painful that I cut down to only a couple of times a week. My lunch hours were time that belonged only to me; there were no family claims to that time, and getting out of the office and back into nature (be it sunny or snowing), was a wonderful thing. I dropped most of the weight I had gained, but now there was a fire in my belly. So in August 2015, I started biking to and from work, as well.

Fast forward to late August of 2016. I was still biking to and from work, and walking off and on, but there was something missing. Something raw and primal, and admittedly a little narcissistic. I wanted that feeling of power and accomplishment again. I wanted to go back to the gym. I’m a firm believer in “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” and I had already determined that lunch hours were my golden time. With biking at the beginning and end of the day to handle my cardio needs, I headed to the YMCA (conveniently 2 blocks from my office) for my powerlifting fix. Enter the micro workout.

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The trouble with using lunch hours for working out is that they’re short. I need to get back and forth to the gym, change, workout, eat, and change again all in the space of an hour. That’s a pretty fair departure from the leisurely two-hour workouts I had when I first started lifting, and even from the much more focused 60-90 minute workouts I had near the end of my previous powerlifting life. There are not a lot of auxiliary exercises you can fit in what amounts to 30-40 minutes in the gym, even if you really push through your main exercise, so you’ve got to get the best bang for your buck.

For me, that has become a reasonably quick pyramid to around 85% of my max, and then 3 sets of 5. That’s it. That’s my main exercise. Then I get ONE, *maybe* two, auxiliaries, which are generally 3×5 at whatever weight I can handle. I rotate which auxiliary lift I use, to spread the love around my muscle groups. Repeat four days a week (when I can–work and family life does sometimes eat a day), with two leg days and two upper body days. Throw in some supersetting for less-used muscles, if you can.

Does it work? Well, I don’t have any illusions that I’m going to break any powerlifting records with this regime; it’s too little volume to push me toward the elite tiers of lifters. However, for my current goals, it’s doing pretty damned well. In a month and a half of consistent lifting, I’ve moved from about 3x5x295 in the deadlift to 3x5x355. I fully expect to break through that 365 wall in the next month. Squats have gone from 3x5x275 to 3x5x315, and my technique gets smoother and stronger every workout. Bench is still my worst lift, as it has always been, and the one I have generally avoided spending time on, but even it has moved up to 3x5x175, and I hope to move that above 200 by the end of the year.

Best of all, I’m starting to see that 20-something powerlifter again when I look in the mirror, not his tired, irritable, and overweight shadow. I’m a happier, healthier husband and dad with every workout, and I step ever closer to understanding how I can be all the things I am, with all the responsibilities that I carry, and still be myself. Not just an office worker, not just a husband, not just a dad, but someone who can look into the mirror and see a strong, confident man looking back at him.

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