No Distractions: The Occam’s Razor Training Plan

“How are you feeling?” one Russian asks another.

“Worse than I used to—but better than I will be.”

That about describes the state of strength today. Recently I had a conversation with a well-known bodybuilder. Not typical of his breed, he trains like a powerlifter. He shook his head and said, “These kids have never experienced the deep soreness you get right in the middle of your workout—when you squat or deadlift heavy.” Then he told me, “You should have seen this gym in the 1990s. Guys were strong.”

You Have One Goal—Get Strong

A leading cause of the weakness epidemic is what Rif derisively calls “random acts of variety.” The fitness establishment is hollering at you to work your rotator cuffs, mobilize your ankles, and not forget the tibialis anterior. Are you kidding me? By the time you are done foam rolling your IT band, an hour is up and it is time to go home. What is your malfunction, son (or daughter)? You are majoring in minors.

Occam's Razor Training Plan

If you learn to “pack” your shoulders, any overhead kettlebell lift will strengthen your rotator cuffs. Sitting on your shins in a posture the Japaneze call seiza (feet plantar-flexed, then dorsi-flexed) after your training will mobilize your ankles, and so on. This stuff just does not deserve to take up valuable training time. When you come to the gym, you have only one goal—get strong. The rest is distraction.

Occam’s Razor: I Dare You to Follow this Plan

In this educated age everyone is familiar with Pareto’s Law. The essence of the law is, 80% of all results come from 20% of the efforts—and the ratio can be even more skewed, e.g. 95/5. If most strength gains will come from a few time-tested exercises, why, why waste your time and energy on sumo stance alternating dumbbell curls?

In The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss had a great idea—start a “not-to-do list.” I have some suggestions for yours:

  1. Any exercise or piece of equipment that elite strength athletes do not use. (Can you imagine Shannon Hartnett with a Thigh Master or Ed Coan on a Perfect Push-up?)
  2. Anything done by people wearing gym gloves.
  3. Any corrective work that has not been prescribed to you by a professional.
  4. Any exercise with a vague goal like “making you functional.”

For the next six weeks I dare you to do only four exercises: kettlebell swings, Zercher squats, handstand push-ups, and weighted pull-ups.

On Mondays and Thursdays, loosen up with a couple of minutes of kettlebell get-ups, then ladder wall-supported handstand push-ups and weighted pull-ups for 45 minutes. Go back and forth between the two exercises. Ladder options: (1, 2, 3), (1, 2, 3, 4), (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), (2, 3, 5).

Use the overhand thumbless grip in your pull-ups on Mondays and the parallel grip on Thursdays. Note: If you cannot do handstand push-ups, do double kettlebell presses. If you are not strong enough to do pull-ups, get a partner to assist you by pushing up on your mid-back. Machine assist is not an option.

On Tuesdays, loosen up with a couple of sets of prying goblet squats, then work up to a moderately heavy triple in the Zercher squat. For instance, 135×5, 185×3, 225×3, 245×3. Aim to increase the top set for the next six weeks. Then swing a heavy kettlebell or pair of kettlebells (about 50% bodyweight) for 10 sets of 5 of Rif’s “dead swings.”

Occam's Razor Training Plan

On Fridays, work up to a top set of five Zerchers, e.g. 135×5, 185×3, 225×5. Aim to increase the top set for the next six weeks. Then 10×10 maximally explosive swings with a kettlebell around 30% of your bodyweight.

Hang on a pull-up bar, then go home and eat. Do some light stretching at night.

In the 14th century, William of Occam of Occam’s Razor fame gave us the best training advice: “It is vain to do with more what can be done with less.”

Pavel Tsatsouline
Pavel Tsatsouline is the CEO of StrongFirst, Inc.

40 thoughts on “No Distractions: The Occam’s Razor Training Plan

  • Awesome program, I too have always found that the simplest programs are the best.

    Just one quick question about the kettlebell swings: one arm swings or two arm swings?

  • Great post, thank you. With the weighted pull ups, is the goal to increase the weight progressively or to just pick one and do all pull up sets with the same?

    • Andrei –
      I’m not sure, but I’ve been using the same weight on the pull-up’s ala the ETK ladders and just increasing the rep’s & rungs during the 45min block. I figured that I’d run the entire 6 weeks this way then back off, increase the weight (and range of motion on the HSPU), and go again.
      I’ve just finished week 3 and so far this has been working very well for me. My hunch is that if you start off too light and are getting >75 reps in the 45min that you can always increase the weight.
      Hope that this helps,

  • Great program Chief!
    I will start it after I recovered from the CTS surgery which is going to be done in 21st of January .

    • Amen, Rob!!! Nothing like children to keep your training along the sharpest of Occam’s razors…and nothing like having your five year old son ask you “Are you gonna do the ‘BEAST’ today daddy?” to get the motivational juices flowing!

  • I’m intrigued by the No Distractions workout but am looking for more ways to scale it back a bit. I don’t have the double kettlebells to press or a partner to assist with pullups for instance.

    Is there any reason not to start with chinups and partial HSPUs and then move to rows and pike pushups when you must? Also, in the absence of a 50% bodyweight kettlebell or being familiar with dead swings, is there a way to work around that?


  • I am a recent convert to the Zercher squat (thanks to your “best squat” article) and am working on increasing my reps on handstand push ups with a view to starting this program in January. Could you please explain why regular push ups or training for pecs has been excluded ? Thanks RT

    • Richard, in a couple of weeks I will post the “best press” blog.

      Meanwhile, you cannot keep your pecs out of HSPs.

  • Genius!! Why do most of us make this stuff so complicated?!

    Really liking the look of the new site and posts so far Pavel and looking forward to your views on the best ‘pulls’ and ‘pushes’.

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