Vail Daily column: Minimum effective dose can apply to fitness |

Vail Daily column: Minimum effective dose can apply to fitness

Ryan Richards
Make it Count

The minimum effective dose is a driving philosophy behind my core beliefs as a fitness professional. An aspirin per day has health benefits including reducing the likelihood of a subsequent heart attack for previous sufferers. But what if you ingested an entire bottle in a sitting? Cramps, vomiting, liver damage, cerebral edema, seizures and possible death. The optimal exercise dosage for exceptional results is a milder cocktail than you have been led to believe.

For the past several weeks, I have been discussing creative ways to structure your training depending on your sports endeavors. However, the discussion has focused exclusively on athletic performance. Today, quadrant three from the book “Easy Strength” by Dan John and Pavel Tsatsouline is the point of consideration that highlights practicality for most adults, regardless of athletic desires.

Quadrant three is for individuals who need, or desire a few fitness qualities, developed at a low to moderate level of relative maximum. For clarity, fitness qualities are physical or psychological adaptations that can be measured, including but not limited to strength, speed, power, endurance, flexibility and aerobic capacity.


Quadrant three is frustrating for me — it’s what the mainstream fitness industry should be — but we are so far from glory here. The current state of affairs includes the desire for instant results, 90-day challenges, pills, fancy-high-intensity-trends and the expectation that nothing can be gained without pain. These lies throughout the history of the iron game couldn’t be further from reality.

Do you know what you really need? Not much.

A commitment toward consistency trumps intensity, fancy programs and silly exercises every time. Delete low-return exercises, reduce the days in the gym and aim for simplicity here. Most trainees need to stretch what’s tight and strengthen what’s weak. Pace through a brisk walk three days per week and you would be quite capable for most applications. For specific qualities, I recommend focusing on strength, muscle size maintenance, flexibility and basic aerobic fitness.

For what it’s worth, I use this philosophy for my own fitness development. I don’t necessarily compete in sports anymore, but I love to hunt, ski and wrestle around with my son.

Here’s my minimum effective dose: I lift two to three days per week for about 20 minutes a session. I rarely perform anything more than a few basic barbell exercises; I play around with a few heavy kettlebells; perform pull-ups and pushups; push a heavy sled and I walk around the neighborhood. I rinse and repeat year after year, and the results are adequate. I stay out of the hospital, and my body is never the limiting factor in my life.


Here are a few templates I’ve designed that have served me well over the years:

As many rounds in 20 minutes as possible:

• Four pull-ups; four kettlebell swings; four push-ups; four goblet squats.

• Ten repetitions with a lower and upper body basic barbell lift, five days per week; no more than five total repetitions in a row (2×5, 5×2, 10×1, 3×3, 5,3,2, etc.). Start with a light weight and add 5 pounds to the bar every day. When you can no longer perform ten good repetitions, start over again at 5 pounds heavier than your previous starting point.

• Deadlift and overhead press work well together.

• Back squat and bench press are great companions.

• Pick two exercises that can be executed for an extended period of time. Put on a music playlist. When the song changes, switch exercises. Perform the exercise non-stop until the song changes, and continue switching back and forth between the two exercises for 30 minutes.

• Kettlebell get-up and jump rope.

• Body weight squats and planks.

Remember, just because something is simple, doesn’t mean it’s easy. Have a great week.

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion.

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