Low Effort Workouts: The Immense Value of Easy, Simple, and Fun Training

By on December 3, 2021

For training to be effective, it also needs to be adaptable. There will be times when life gets on top of you, when you feel beat up, or when your pipes burst and flood your entire downstairs for FIVE WEEKS.

(That one’s still a little raw…)

The point is that, with the best will in the world, there will be days when you don’t feel like pressing 150kg. Or sprinting. Or doing high-volume calisthenics. Times where you can’t get to the gym. Or when your motivation has simply gone AWOL.

Incidental training

And that’s fine. In fact, knowing when to take it a little easier is absolutely key to your long-term success.

The secret is that you don’t have to avoid training entirely. This is where we tend to go wrong: we think of training as binary. Either you train, or you don’t train. The truth is that there is plenty of grey area in between.

Something is better than nothing. And if you understand this, you’ll find you actually feel better than you would have had you simply crashed out in-front of the TV. Not only that, but you’ll progress more quickly without long periods of being absent from your workouts.

Low Effort Training Ideas

To this end, I’ve written myself a list of training options for when I just can’t. I can do one of these things, or several, depending on how the mood takes me.

The aim is to make sure I’m still doing somekind of training, while simultaneously working on some things that often get overlooked otherwise. Who has time to train their anterior tibialis normally? This turns that low motivation into a win!

See also: Doing Other Stuff While Working Out is Okay!

The best part is that, often, a little workout like this actually serves to raise energy such that I feel primed to do something more intense. Even if it doesn’t, though, I know I’m still making progress.

To make it onto the list, exercises for my “Superlight” training need to meet at least one (or, ideally, more than one) of the following criteria:

  • Require minimal set-up and equipment
  • Be fairly slow
  • Not cause any discomfort
  • Not create excess sweat, or require me to change what I’m wearing
  • Be extremely low injury-risk
  • Lend themselves to watching TV or engaging in other tasks
  • Be fun (ideally)

Your list may be different from mine – it probably should be. Hopefully, though, this will give you a few ideas for things you can train lazily.

Here’s how that training looks.

The Superlight Program

Band Concentration Curls: For this, I just take a flat band, stand on it, and perform concentration curls. Using bands is gentle on the joints, it doesn’t require any heavy equipment (just keep a resistance band in your pocket!), and it can easily be done in front of the TV. The best part is that you can actually get a surprising amount of burn from a big set of band curls. As such, you will still feel as though this training is “doing something.”

The only off-putting aspect of this move, is that it hurts the hands (the band digs into them). Gloves solve this, but so too does putting a wrist band or even a piece of cloth around the band where you’ll be holding it. Slippers prevent it from digging into the feet, likewise.

Handstand Practice: This isn’t for everyone by any means. But I LOVE hand balancing. To the point that it doesn’t feel like training at all. It’s also good because it is low effort. Because hand balancing is more about skill than brute strength, you won’t find that it results in much DOMS or other discomfort.

So, on days when I’m not really interested in training, I can usually still bring myself to do a little hand balancing. If this doesn’t appeal to you, perhaps there’s an equivalent skill you can work on (I also like practicing juggling on these days).

Quadrupedal movement bodyweight training
Foot hand crawl

Bear Crawl: On days when I’m feeling charged up, I’ll gladly do some lizard crawls and get a serious chest pump in the process. When I’m feeling less enthusiastic, the bear crawl (foot-hand crawl) is a more appropriate option. This doesn’t involve a great deal of strength, and it doesn’t require a lot of concentration. You can listen to a podcast at the same time. Although, you might find it’s quite taxing in terms of strength endurance after not long.

I find putting on some cool music and doing laps around my downstairs rooms makes for a fun workout I don’t mind doing.

Wrist Curls: Wrist curls require light weight and can be done in-front of the TV. They’re great for fortifying the wrists and elbows against future injury.

Resting Squat: The resting squat position is a natural pose that we would have used a lot before we had chairs to sit in. Many cultures still do! This position is also extremely good for hip and ankle mobility and is highly recommended by movement gurus like Ido Portal. Again, it can easily be performed while watching TV, reading a book, or doing anything else.

Pike Pulses: This is a difficult move that is nevertheless fast and low-effort. To perform a pike pulse, you sit on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you, and hands on the floor on either side. Move the hands as far down the legs as you can. Now, keeping your legs straight, raise them up as high as you can and lower. This trains your core while also developing “compressive strength.” In other words, it improves your mobility for moves like the pancake stretch and press handstand.

Reverse Plank With Leg Raise

Reverse Plank: The reverse plank is a great move that focusses on strengthening the back and building anti-flexion strength. It’s an easy position to hold (at least to begin with) and can be done while watching TV.

Easy Mobility Work: Pretty much any mobility work can be done easily on the floor with some chill music playing. I’m not talking about high-level yoga moves, just gentle stretches that keep you limber.

Beat Saber: Don’t feel in the mood for cardio? Still want to burn at least a few calories? Then play a little Beat Saber. This is a fun form of training that is low-intensity but certainly better than sitting on the couch watching TV.

VR training, in general, is a great option. It’s fun and really doesn’t “feel” like working out. I’m also a fan of the training drills in Knockout League.

See also: Focus Mitts in VR is an Awesome Workout

Farmers’ Walks: It’s not that farmers’ walks are easy, as such. Rather, it’s the simplicity that makes them more palatable when you’re feeling low on motivation. Just grab a kettlebell and go for a walk around your house, or around the block.

Weirdly, I’m actually okay with large sets of single exercises for the same reason. I can be low on motivation and still bash out 100 push ups for three sets, or a long sequence of Gamma casts with my clubbell.

Skipping: I actually find skipping to be similarly useful when I’m low on motivation. It doesn’t feel that taxing at the start of the workout, and it’s quite fun because it involves a cognitive element (watching the rope and timing the jumps). This means you can trick yourself into starting and, before you know it, you’re having a great workout!

I’d put hitting a heavy bag into this category, if it didn’t mean going out into the cold and getting my punch bag out the shed…

Juggling: You guys know that I consider hand-eye coordination and brain training to be aspects of “fitness” in just the same way we consider strength and endurance to be. Juggling trains these things and is much more fun than dual n-back training.

Juggling

Balance Board: I could play on my balance board all day and not get bored! There’s a pun there, but I’m better than that. It doesn’t feel like training, but it’s good for improving balance and ankle strength (even if only to a small degree, more on this in future).

Closing Comments

So, these are just suggestions and in no-way represent a comprehensive list. As I say, your low-effort training might look very different from mine!

But the main takeaway is that you shouldn’t consider anything less than a “full workout” to be pointless. If you’ve been in the office all day, then coming home and sitting on the sofa will only compound the damage. Just moving a little bit is actually huge and it can add up to a lot more calories burned and far better motor control/mobility over the long term.

You shouldn’t consider anything less than a “full workout” to be pointless.

It’s also about learning what your barriers are when you’re low on motivation. I struggle with anything that involves complex set-up, or a lot of focus and attention. That’s why having equipment in every room, ready-to-go, is massive for me.

It’s not about being lazy. It’s about being adaptable and not treating movement in general as this awful thing you have to do for an hour. It can be fun, chill, and straightforward. There are no rules, and you can do it whenever and however you like.  

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

One Comment

  1. DonMars says:

    Loving the contact!
    I just set up an account on your site. I’m contending with “Frozen Shoulder”, which I’ve only recently learned even existed. I’m diabetic and have very little muscle mass to show for it. I’m working on gaining control over my A1C and the like—and would much rather control it via exercise and diet.
    I’ve got to become more mobile before approaching a “workout plan”.
    Allow me to qualify that I realize you aren’t a doctor and I know you have no illusion about replacing sound, medical advice. With that said, do you have a workout with, say, resistance bands that would increase mobility and develop a sound foundation of strength that would segue into some strength training with weights and full range-of-motion calisthenics?
    Thank you for reading this long comment (question)—and keep the content coming!

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