Simplicity in Physical Fitness

Bottom Line Up Front: I was reading an article by Dan John yesterday and found it so useful for such a short article. Through his influence, I have come to many of the same conclusions for my training: there is something great about simplicity in physical fitness.

Simplicity In Physical Fitness

Article Summary

You can read the article here and then come back if you want. I will summarize it below for those who don’t.

Dan talks about how when he was teaching English to non-native speakers, he eventually found it was necessary to get the basics down – in one page, easily understood, easily applied.

He then translates this to training, sleep, and nutrition. To get seriously minimalist here, I can further distill Dan’s post down into the major points (the “Cheat Sheet”) as he calls it:

  • Do the fundamental movements: Push, Pull, Hinge, Squat, and Loaded Carry.
  • Do low end cardio like walking. Add a pack or weight vest for more effects. Dogs are your buddy.
  • Sprint occasionally, up a hill if you can.
  • Sleep 8-9 hours per night.
  • Eat protein (meat) & vegetables; drink clear water (I take that to mean water without sugar added or artificial sweeteners).


I used to get excited about programming complex training programs or quantifying everything I ate or every step I took. I realized about a year ago this complexity was not only unnecessary but counterproductive.

I was reminded of how complicated some training has become when I recently visited a CrossFit gym. The workouts were so complex that I couldn’t remember them. I had 3-5 years more experience in CrossFit than any of the coaches probably, and most of the members were novices. But that is what CrossFit has become at many small boxes. The early days and even the main site workouts are still not too complicated, but follow a top CF athlete or any local box and it will appear they are trying to dazzle you by the workout structure. The older and more experienced I get, the less valuable I think this is.

Here are some indicators your physical fitness life is too complex (and you should simplify it):

  • You are obsessed with every step that your pedometer records. I cared about this a lot for about a year, but once walking, standing desks, and general activity (not exercise) became part of my lifestyle, it wasn’t important. Use a pedometer to get an idea where you are, but try to abandon it as soon as possible.
  • You can’t explain what you eat easily to others. My diet is “I eat real food, focus on meat and vegetables, and limit carbs early in the day.” Just like counting steps, I don’t need super specifics to eat, look, and perform how I want. Again, I did have to initially though. For a time you may need to get nerdy, but don’t continue forever. It’s not worth it.
  • You can’t summarize your training program/your workouts must be written down to refer to during the workout itself because it’s so complicated. You should have a structure to your program and goals for yourself, but the benefits come from hard work not complex workouts that confuse everyone.


QUESTION: Have you taken any steps to simplify your life for the better? Post thoughts to comments.

References & Further Reading

Here are some supporting MISSION: Capable articles I have written that echo these sentiments, which were largely influenced by Dan, Pavel Tsatsouline, and the book Essentialism:


  1. Hello,
    Good things to read about on Monday morning. I have read both Essentialism and Dan Johns book Before we Go. Great points in both books on keeping things simple. I agree with your point on the pedometer. I had to see how many steps I could get or calories I could burn. Almost “addicted” to its functions. Now I only wear it to work.

    Keep up the good work Zap……

    Best Regards,

    • Tod, I am always glad to find fellow Essentialism and Dan John fans. Thanks for the comment and feedback!

  2. Another argument for keeping it simple and not tracking every single rep, is the energy required to track. Any benefit I might get from all that data is outweighed by the effort, at least to me. Also would probably have me lose sense of the big picture.

    Btw on 16:8 diet, I like it overall and actually feels like better performance is possible. But I do struggle with finding the time to actually eat some days between kids, family, work and my workouts, thus risk not getting enough calories/nutrients.

    • Marcus, I am with you on the reps tracking. The only thing I write down these days for an entire week of training is the max weight I use on a strength set so I can meet or exceed it the next time. And this is on a white board, not in a journal. It gets erased every week. I have very detailed logs of every set and rep, with rest time in between sets from the 90s! Unless you are competing and it matters, I am not worried about archiving every detail of my training any longer.

      With regard to your 16/8 comment, it is a great position to be in when you have an issue getting in enough calories/nutrients! I don’t even know what that feels like, but I’d much rather have this problem than the reverse though. I can think of about 5000 ways to maximize calories in that window. If you care, email me. Happy to help.

      Really appreciate the comment!


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