Joel Snape is a journalist and author and currently Editor-At-Large at the UK edition of Men’s Fitness magazine. He also runs a blog – called Live Hard – at livehard.co.uk. He is based in London.
You already know the maths. There are 168 hours in a week: you spend anywhere between about four and six (maybe twelve if you’re Arnold) in the gym. The rest, you’re constantly reminded, are for the Other Stuff: eating right, sleeping properly, prepping your supplements, maybe having a massage or doing some mobility. Go hard, then go home, goes the usual message – and remember to leave it all on the gym floor.
Except…what if you could get better results by making training into an everyday habit, not a three-times-a-week assault? And no, not by occasionally doing a bit of gardening or doing the seven-minute abs app in front of the TV, but by actually introducing constructive, semi-planned exercising into your day in a flexible way. It’s worked for men since long before Arthur Jones tried to turn exercise into a thrice-weekly grind – and, depending on your goals, it might be the best thing you’ve ever done.
Entry-level stuff first. You’ve almost certainly heard of Greasing The Groove: Pavel Tsatsouline’s name for training your intra-muscular coordination by doing a few sets of a given move – stopping short of failure – throughout your day. The theory: strength is a skill, and by improving your neurological pathways you’ll improve your pressing, pull-ups or grip strength with very little effort. Pavel, of course, is mainly concerned with strength, but there’s anecdotal evidence that GTG-style training works just fine for building muscular endurance.
One of the fastest ways I’ve ever increased my pull-ups, for instance, is following Chad Waterbury’s twice-a-day protocol: a max set in the morning, another in the evening, a rest day and then the same again. It’s not a plan well suited to the gym (who’s going to drop in for ten minutes, twice a day?) but it got me from 15 to 21 in about two weeks of savagery.
Want size? Tom Hardy’s longtime trainer, Patrick ‘P-Nut’ Monroe, uses a similar system to Pavel’s (he calls it ‘muscle signalling’) with a bit of added time under tension – basically, handfuls of press-ups wherever possible, alongside the odd rep that takes 30 to 60 seconds. Rob MacDonald, general manager of Gym Jones, does something similar via his ‘grid’ system: scribbling out a 10 x 10 grid on a bit of paper, then doing at least three press-ups per ‘square’ over the course of a day. Neither Hardy or MacDonald is going to win the Mr Olympia any time soon: but then again, neither’s exactly small.
But there’s a final wrinkle to all this that makes everyday training an unassailable best option. Sooner or later, the best intentions about the gym crumble under the pressure of life – even if you’re emphatically not just in it for a 12-week transformation, work or family commitments, illness or injury are bound to get in the way eventually. On the flipside, all the most up-to-date research suggests that habits are more effective than willpower in getting things done.
So when – not if – life punches you in the face, the fact that you’ve already built the habit of doing more work, not less, in your ‘downtime’ is what’s going to get you through. If you can still fit in 200 press-ups and a few sets of pull-ups on your hardest day – and you can – you’ll always be in shape. Gym membership: helpful, but not required.