“People can get distracted from what matters most. My approach tends to be focused on getting the most out of the least For example, cook the most delicious meal you can with the fewest ingredients. Or workout the entire body with the fewest basic exercises”.
– Danny Kavadlo
Danny Kavadlo and his brother Al are two of the world’s leading and sought after strength training authorities. They run workshops and write for fitness publications across the planet. They have a global footprint and following.
What’s perhaps particularly interesting about all of this is that the brand of strength training they have become most known for is rooted deeply in the oldest form of training, manipulating their own bodyweight for gains. Their dietary approach is equally old school and doesn’t include any supplements, fancy pills or obsessing on macros. In an age of distracted, the brothers instead like to keep things simple, stripped back, direct and effective.
Essentially, they are fitness minimalists.
The brothers are walking advertisements for the approach they champion. Whipcord lean, muscular with not a hint of superfluous fat in sight, they move with graceful efficiency and possess pound for pound strength that most of us can only dream about. They exude a positive and vibrant energy. Their show is all go.
I have had the great fortune of being trained directly by Danny several times. These training sessions have revealed some lessons that have broader applications for anyone that wishes to get strong and in their best shape. Whether you to are a fan of bodyweight training (like this author) or prefer to pick up iron, practice yoga or pilates or anything else, these messages have carryover.
Simple Strength – 4 ways we can all streamline our approach
1) Less is More
Keep it simple, less is often more in fitness. You don’t need many exercises to hit the whole body hard. Other than the floor and a horizontal bar you don’t really need any other equipment to get a world class workout. And many would argue that even the bar is optional.
There is a tendency for us to overcomplicate and overanalyse our training programmes, to add more and more. The truth is the most direct, and simplest, route can often yield better gains, both in terms of efficiency and results.
In fitness, much like life, less can often be more. Don’t overthink it.
2) Forget Labels, Focus on Movement
Too many of us have a tendency to get caught up in the differences between exercise modalities (i.e. kettlebells, powerlifting, CrossFit). In reality, as long as we challenge the main movement patterns and strive to get better, under the umbrella of a good programme, any and all modalities have the potential to do us good. All of them can make us strong and keep us healthy.
The body is built the way the body is built. We need to train it through the basic movement patterns (push, pull, squat, hinge) on a regular basis. We can do that in a multitude of ways, with or without external resistance.
Gymnasts the world over are proof that you can get spectacularly strong with not much other than the body you were born with.
We need to free our minds and focus on good movement. Less labels, less compartmentalisation. Keep it simple.
3) Less Dogma
Anything anyone does with consistent effort can reap rewards. Forget the fitness dogma, find something you enjoy that you can apply yourself to over the long term and get after it. Many ways can work.
Relatively low volume training can, and does, work wonders for many. But higher volume can also work.
Kettlebells, barbells and bodyweight training all have a proven track record of getting people strong. But there is no rule that says you have to stay purely with one modality. You can mix any combination of them up and reap rewards as well.
Long and slow can get it done, or hard and fast.
One hard set of an exercise or many sets that are more evenly paced.
There are many proven ways we can improve our base of strength and fitness. We get to choose what our particular approach looks like, aligned to our personal goals. That should be empowering news for all of us. We can take charge.
“Getting strong and healthy, both physically and mentally, doesn’t have to be complicated” – Danny Kavadlo
4) Embrace the Process
Perhaps one of the most important lessons I have learned from the Kavadlo message is to embrace the process for its own end.
Something we often forget, in our results focused culture, is that there is much joy to be found in the journey itself. It brings its own rewards.
Too often in life we want to rush ahead. We want to be better, more informed, more polished. What we don’t always want to respect is the process necessary for getting to that point. Our strength and fitness training journeys are a case in point.
The truth is, earning our stripes and getting good at just about anything in life takes time. It takes energy and focus. It takes drive and a lot of effort. It isn’t always pretty but the work involved in getting better is absolutely necessary.
Practice, persistence and patience are often requirements for improving.
We can choose to welcome the grind, seeing it as a necessary point of entry towards our goals. We can decide to embrace and appreciate the journey. Doing so often proves so much more fruitful than fighting it, or worse, avoiding it. The journey is where we spend a part of ourselves. Where we strive towards new highs, where we earn our own prizes.
Lifestyle Nutrition – 4 ways we can simplify our approach to diet
1) Think More about Food, Less About Math & Macros
Focus on eating natural, high quality foods and you can forget the math and the macros most of the time. Getting and staying lean does require commitment, and some degree of planning, but it doesn’t need to be complicated or all consuming.
Unless you are a physique competitor stepping on stage or doing a cover shoot sometime soon, weighing out food is obsessive and oppressive. Even for these people, such regimented eating can only be a short term focus to hit a certain goal. Food is one of life’s ultimate pleasures and what a miserable existence it would be if we could never truly savour it.
For most of us, there are much simpler and more enjoyable ways to get, and stay, lean. Find an approach to food that you can follow for life, not just the short term. Create healthy habits that you can apply for a lifetime.
2) Forget Trends & Memes
The anti-dogma Kavadlo message cuts through everything they talk to, diet is no different.
One look at the brothers lean and defined bodies tells you they are no strangers to a disciplined approach. Not many people walk around in this kind of shape. However, their approach is a lifestyle approach. As a result, the brothers have no problem staying lean year-round.
That said, they are no fans of chasing the latest trends and memes. In spite of their popularity, they refuse to promote supplements, believing good food to be superior to anything synthetic. They’re also not interested in cutting out complete food groups or convincing you their way is the only way.
They are interested in results. They are interested in an approach they (and their clients) can apply themselves to over the long haul, a lifestyle approach.
That’s a message all of us should be hearing. Many ways can work, we need to find a way that works best for us. That needs to be an approach that integrates into our day to day lives, to stand any chance of sticking.
3) Focus on the Source
Get food closer to its natural state and source. This means seeking whole fruits and veggies that are in season, sourcing meat and fish as locally as you can find.
This approach will be good for the environment and good for you. It can even be good for the pocket if you develop a relationship with local producers that get to know your needs well.
4) Less Sugar and Processed Food
From an evolutionary perspective our bodies crave foods rich in fat and sugar. These foods would have been scarce in our past. We needed to make the most of them when we could get them. It was often feast and then fast, not knowing when and where our next meal would come from. Our bodies and tastes adapted accordingly.
Fast forward to now and many of us have food available all day, every day. Much of it packaged, processed, sweetened and with all sorts of nasty trans-fats added. Whilst these artificial additives make the foodstuffs evermore enticing to eat, none of this is good for our wasitlines. No wonder so many of us struggle with our weight and health in this always available environment.
We need to approach this modern availability of food with caution and a healthy degree of discipline. Focus mostly on natural foods that come from the earth or can be picked from a tree, not those that come from a box.
Minimalist Strength Training for the Time Poor (quick and efficient full body workout options)
Many of us have become time poor as the commitments and interruptions in our days expand. Our fitness and physiques can suffer, one missed workout becomes many as we convince ourselves we just don’t have time to work out.
Danny Kavadlo will not let you off the hook so easily. Firstly he believes that you make time to be strong. Secondly, he doesn’t believe you need to commit much time to become strong. What you do need is to be willing to put forth plenty of effort.
Below are some iterations of quick and effective strength workouts for the time poor (or time rich that want to maximise their training time). The workouts can be done pretty much anywhere, with little more than something to hang from. These examples take away all excuses of not having equipment available, your body is the gym!
Squatting is wired into our DNA. Watch toddlers move around, they often move into the squat position. Modern living means we spend a lot less time in this fundamental pattern than we probably should so make sure you incorporate regular squatting into your day.
2) Push Up
Start from where you are now. Maybe pushing up against the wall, then progress to your knees on the floor, then move to full push ups.
3) Hanging from a bar
Hang on for as long as you can and build up the time you can hang gradually.
**Warm up then repeat each exercise for 2-4 sets/cycles
For the More Advanced:
As we get more advanced, training with bodyweight becomes more about adapting the leverage of the basic patterns to find more challenging movements for where we are in our journey. Examples would be:
1) 1 Legged Squat (progressing to freestanding single leg squats)
2) Push Up (narrow grip moving onto one armed)
3) Chin/Pull Up (mixed grips and eventually progressing to one armed for the very strong)
Using full body tension techniques on each of these exercises will ensure we hit every single part of our body.
**Warm up then repeat each exercise for 3 – 5 sets/cycles
Bonus: What a Day of Simple Eating Can Look Like
No supplements, no rigidity, no complicated macros or calorie counting – here’s a direct example of a day of eating from Danny Kavadlo. This style of eating keeps Danny in photo ready shape year-round. He also takes part in several fasts throughout the year, to support both spiritual and physical wellness.
6am – Coffee with whole milk
2pm – Salad consisting of spinach, lettuce, beets, corn, chicken, beans
4pm – Smoothie consisting of skim milk, peanut butter, almond butter, bananas, strawberries & blueberries
7:30pm – Sirloin steak, broccoli, black beans, red wine
- water throughout the day
- raw fruit and vegetables throughout the day if needed
- This is just a sample. Diet varies greatly day-to-day depending on time of year, physical exertion, and other factors.
3 ways to get more activity into your days
Formal exercise and diet are just parts of a wider equation. We must also commit to keeping our bodies moving. Too much time idle, or sat passively in front of screens, will cancel out all the good work we may have done in the gym. Here are three such ways we can grease our movement wheels.
1) Stand up More Often
Get a standing desk at work or at least build regular movement into the day by getting up more often. Add mobility flows throughout the day and to time spent in front of the TV. Spend less time in front of a screen in general.
2) Commute by Foot or by Bicycle
Leave the car at home more often, use what nature gave you.
3) Stand during your workouts (including rest periods)
Too many people make the time to go the gym and then spend half their workout sitting down. Stay on your feet and get more out of your time.
Simple, Not Easy
The core messages in this article are essentially very simple, that’s the point. Most of us should not be overthinking this stuff. However, simple isn’t to be confused with easy. There is a discipline involved. There is work and effort to be embraced. There are habits to be built. Prizes and achievements that must be earned.
Personal growth takes effort. It isn’t always a smooth path. To get strong, lean, fit and healthy (whatever that means for us) will take an ongoing commitment.
When things get tough, and we feel like the changes we are implementing are just not moving us along as quickly as we would like, we have to remind ourselves of our why. We have to stay committed to a bigger picture. We have to dig in and apply ourselves.
Embrace your own version of fitness minimalism, strip back to what matters most. Simplify your approach and watch your results hit new highs.
This article is adapted from several direct conversations with Danny Kavadlo and influenced by the collective work of the Kavadlo brothers.
All photos are supplied with permission from Danny Kavadlo.
Danny Kavadlo is a New York City based trainer, writer, presenter and bodyweight training specialist. He works with people around the world to improve their strength, health and vitality. His latest book, Next Level Strength (co-authored with his brother Al) is available here.
For some wider ranging questions on simplicity and minimalism as it applies to our lifestyles, the chat with Danny continues here