Minimalism: Part 1

Posted by Jason Ferruggia

Sometimes it’s tough to let things go. I, for one, used to always have a problem with this. For years I was a collector, a pack rat. I loved to keep stuff. Boxes and boxes of stuff. Most of the stuff had some kind of meaning or memory associated with it. But a lot of it was just… stuff.

Over the last few years I have gotten a lot better at this and have adopted more of a minimalist/ zen-like approach to living. This weekend I decided to step it up a notch and got rid of a huge portion of my material possessions. If you knew how I was ten years ago you would have thought this an impossible task.

Growing up I was a huge fan of sneakers. Loved me some sneakers. A lot of people who grew up listening to hip hop in the 80’s and 90’s seem to have the same addiction. Sneakers were all I wanted in life. I saved all my money for sneakers and that was all I’d ask for at Christmas or my birthday. My brother still jokes about my sneaker collection from years ago and how there were certain pairs that I didn’t even wear; I just kept to have them (like the Bird and Magic Coverse Weapons, “that’s the shoe that lets Magic do what he was born to do”).

Over the last decade I’ve done quite a job of whittling my sneaker collection down. As of this past Friday all that remained of my classic old school collection were my final four pairs of Air Jordan 1’s and one pair of Jordan 3’s (the 1’s, 3’s and 4’s were the only Jordan’s that mattered). I don’t wear them anymore because they are uncomfortable as hell (like a dress shoe disguised as a sneaker). Plus I’m all about smarter, healthier, more functional footwear these days anyway, like Vibram Five Fingers, Sanunks, Nike Free 3.0’s or even some slip on Vans. I used to always think that the day you chose function over fashion in the sneaker store you were getting old. But surely that can’t be the case here… right?

I never thought I’d have the strength to do it but I finally kissed my Jordan collection goodbye this weekend. Along with several boxes of clothes, books, CD’s and all kinds of other stuff that I packaged up and donated or gave away. I definitely took a nostalgic trip down memory lane going through everything but at the end of the day I couldn’t have been happier to see it all go. It was like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.

It’s hard to be truly happy, free, focused and productive with too much clutter and an overabundance of meaningless stuff everywhere you look.

As the saying goes; “The more you own, the more owns you.”

I, for one, couldn’t agree more. With that in mind, the only thing I couldn’t get rid of was a few dozen books. I boxed up most of them but there were certain books I wasn’t ready to let go of just yet. I love books.

When I go to someone’s house for the first time I’m immediately drawn to their book shelf. You can get to know a lot about someone rather quickly by the choice of their reading material… or lack thereof. The most successful people in life usually read a lot of books. That’s why the size of your bank account is directly related to the size of your library.

I’d consider a Kindle if I didn’t love the feeling of holding a book so much. I’m old school in countless ways. That’s just one of them.

My dream situation would be to have all of my material possessions fit in a weekend sized bag. All I really need to be happy in life is an iPod with 10,000 songs on it, a few days worth of t-shirts, pants and shorts, a pair of sneakers and flip flops, a Yankees hat, a laptop and some books. There’s nothing else I really need to be happy. As long as I can read, work and train I’m good to go.

And what do I really need to train efficiently? Not much, to be honest. If you put me on a deserted island with nothing I’d still get a good workout in 3-5 days per week. If somehow I found a way to get the same daily diet on the island I can guarantee you I wouldn’t lose any size, strength or power. Now that I think about it, if I was eating clean while chilling in the island sun every day, my Vitamin D levels would be up, my stress and cortisol levels would be down… hell, I’d be jacked! Maybe that’s my next step. Hmmm…

By the same token, if you stuck me in a room with nothing but a dumbbell rack for a year I would be able to not only maintain all of my size, strength and power but I’d improve it. Give me a single 53 pound kettlebell, a chin and dip stand or pair of TRX straps as my only piece of equipment and I’d be fine too.

While it’s nice to have a Prowler, a glute ham bench, a safety squat bar, bands, chains, medicine balls, tires, a Power Wheel and power racks with one inch hole spacing, the truth is you don’t NEED them. You can get great results with just about anything you have. All you really need is the dedication, desire and the work ethic. The rest is just icing on the cake. It’s a luxury. And if you can’t afford that luxury or don’t have access to it that doesn’t mean your training is worthless.

Too many people get down about having to train in a crappy public gym. Believe me, I can empathize. I’ve stocked Renegade with everything I want and have an ideal training situation. For me, training at a public gym is even harder, because I’m used to training in my own place. That’s why a lot of times when I travel I opt for a Jungle Gym XT/ bodyweight workout instead of subjecting myself to that environment.

Walking into a public gym is akin to walking into a room with year’s worth of clothes, books, and Air Jordan’s. It’s overwhelming. So many machines and treadmills and supplements for sale and people everywhere. The sound of the stair climbers and TV’s is enough to drive you insane. I’m getting a knot in my stomach just thinking about it. To me it’s like standing in the middle of Times Square. And there’s nowhere I hate more than Times Square.

I know it’s even harder to deal with when you see video clips on YouTube of cool training facilities with all the dream equipment you’d kill to train with. But if it’s your only option you have to make do until your situation changes. In the meantime start saving your money so you can get out.

I get a lot of emails from people who say they’ll never be able to get results because they only have a bar and a 300 pound weight set in the basement. Or their squat sucks because they don’t have a 45 degree back raise and a reverse hyper. These are just excuses.

Some of the strongest guys in the world train in their garage or basement with minimal equipment.And no excuses.

If you hate your public gym so much start saving enough money to get a set of dumbbells in your basement. That’s a fine start. Or an Olympic weight set. Either option would be great. Personally, I’d love to a see a mass exodus of public gyms with people moving into real training facilities or starting their own garage gyms. If training is important to you I’m sure you can drive 30-45 minutes to get to a real, warehouse style training center instead of sticking with Bally’s just because it’s across the street. Over the years I’ve had numerous clients drive upwards of an hour to come train with us 3-4 times per week.

And like I said, if that’s not an option then take the power in your own hands and start a garage gym on your own or with some buddies.

When doing so keep the “minimalist” tone of this post in mind. You don’t need a ton of equipment to make great progress.

If I was starting a garage gym on a budget right now I’d probably start with some kind of rings or straps and a chin up bar, first and foremost, followed by a dumbbell set. Bodyweight and dumbbell exercises are always my first choice over barbells so that’s where I’d start. The only two barbell exercises I consider essential are squats and deadlifts. Everything else can be done (safer and more effectively in my opinion) with bodyweight, dumbbells or kettlebells.

Now that I think about it, squats, deads, military presses, shrugs, glute bridges and hip thrusts are really the only barbell exercises that I regularly use in programming these days. The first two are pretty big ones, though. That’s why, if size and strength was your main goal, I would add the barbell set to the garage gym next.

Instead of a full rack I’d save the money and get adjustable squat stands. You can do your squats and presses off those.

Deadlift from the floor or stack up some mats or boxes to do partial range pulls.

I’m not a big fan of bench pressing and think the military press should be the upper body barbell lift of choice. For that reason I wouldn’t get a bench just yet if money didn’t allow. Stick with pushup variations, dumbbell and barbell military presses along with dumbbell and barbell floor presses. The bench can come later on down the line and is far from a necessity.

Another exercise that easily trumps the bench press is the parallel bar dip. You can buy a relatively cheap pair of wall mounted dip bars or even have someone make you some.

I’d want some weighted vests next to load your bodyweight exercises more efficiently.

After that I’d order some kettlebells. For most guys a good starter set would consist of a 35, 44 and 53 pound bell. Like Frank Rizzo said, that’s “pounds baby, pounds!” Not kilograms or poods (whatever that means).

And that’s all you need, right there…

•    Dumbbells
•    Straps or rings
•    Chin up bar
•    Barbell and plates
•    Squat stands
•    Dip bars
•    Weighted vests
•    Kettlebells

There is very little that you can’t do with that list of equipment right there. As long as you have somewhere to sprint all of your training needs are covered- traps, shoulders, chest, back, bi’s, tri’s, abs, legs, pushing, pulling, power, strength, speed, conditioning, etc.

That small list of equipment would easily fit in a one car garage or tiny room in the basement. It won’t cost you that much either. If funds are an issue, get a couple friends to chip in for equipment with you.

Start small and build up as you go. Always think “minimalist,” though. More isn’t necessarily better. Sometimes it’s just more.


Please leave your comments below and stay tuned for Part II…