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The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 3 million readers. As featured on: ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, TODAY Show, NPR, Forbes, The Atlantic, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and National Post. They live in Missoula, Montana.

18 Minute Minimalist Exercises

Joshua Fields Millburn - Arms Crossed

True story: I used to be horribly out of shape

A couple years ago, I couldn’t do a single push-up. And I certainly couldn’t do a pull-up. Hell, I didn’t exercise at all. Or, when I did exercise, it was sporadic; it never lasted more than a few days before I gave up. Sound familiar?

Even after losing seventy pounds—which was due mostly to diet—I was in terrible shape. At age twenty-eight, I was doughy and flabby and weak.

But not anymore.

At age thirty, I’m in the best shape of my life. That’s a weird thing to say, I know—but it’s the truth. I’m in good shape because I’ve found ways to enjoy exercising; I’ve found ways to make exercise a daily reward instead of a dreaded, tedious task.

Three reasons exercise is enjoyable now

I do only exercises I enjoy. I don’t enjoy running, so I don’t do it. I attempted it for six months and discovered it wasn’t for me. If you see me running, call the police, because someone is chasing me. Instead, I find other ways to do cardio: I walk; I get on the elliptical machine at the gym; I do bodyweight exercises that incorporate cardio.

Exercise relieves stress. Although I enjoy exercising most in the mornings, I love hitting the gym (or the park) in the evenings if I feel tense or stressed. Exercising at the end of a long, stressful day also gives me time in solitude to reflect on what’s important.

Variety keeps exercise fresh. When I first started exercising, I used to hit the gym three times per week, which was certainly better than not exercising at all. Then, as I got more serious, I started going to the gym daily. This routine became horrifically time consuming, and doing the same thing over and over eventually caused me to plateau. These days I mix it up: I walk every day, and I still hit the gym occasionally, but the thing that has made the biggest, most noticeable difference has been the variety of my daily eighteen-minute bodyweight exercises.

My Eighteen-Minute Exercises

I know, eighteen minutes sounds like an arbitrary number—that’s because it is. When I started these (mostly) bodyweight exercises, I didn’t have a specific window of time in mind. But I timed myself for a week and discovered that almost every time I hit the park for my exercises, I was worn out within eighteen minutes. Thus, these are my eighteen-minute exercises (all of which you can do in your living room, outdoors, or just about anywhere else—even outside during a storm).

I usually alternate between the following exercises. You can of course pepper in your own favorite exercises. And, yes, these exercises are suitable for men and women.

Push-ups. Like I said, two years ago I couldn’t do a single push-up. Eventually, I could do one (after doing modified pushups for a while). After a while, I could do ten and then twenty. Now I can do a hundred or so. I tend to do three to five sets, resulting in about 200–400 push-ups within my eighteen minutes.

Pull-ups. Two years ago I thought I’d never be able to do a pull-up. Eventually, I learned how to do one. Soon I could do two pull-ups and then four. I can do roughly 30 in a row now. I complete three to four sets, resulting in about a hundred pull-ups within my eighteen minutes. I use monkey bars at the park. You can use a pull-up bar at home. My friend Leo Babauta uses tree branches. I used to hate pull-ups, but now it’s my favorite exercise.

Squats. I just started doing bodyweight squats, and I’ve already noticed a huge difference. I’m doing only three or four sets of 20 right now, but I’ll continue to work my way up; I’ll continue to grow.

Shoulder presses. I use two thirty-pound dumbbells for shoulder presses. You can use smaller or larger weights, or any random object with a little weight (e.g., a large bag of rice, a couple gallons of water, etc.). I tend to do three or four sets, resulting in about 50 shoulder presses.

I don’t have a specific routine or plan, I simply take a thirty-second break between sets, bouncing from one exercise to the next. After 18 minutes, I’m spent. And I feel great afterwards. I get that incredible, tired feeling you get after a great workout. What used to be tedious is now exhilarating.

You can work your way up, even if you can’t do a single pull-up or push-up. Everyone has eighteen minutes a day to focus on his or her health, right?

For additional resources and inspiration, my friend Vic Magary has some great material on his website.

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