Dan John's Minimalist Approach to Functional Fitness

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Overview: Each of these workouts is based upon the premise that there are a few movements that are foundational to normal human existence. These workouts are designed for people looking for “minimalist style” full body workouts that train large movements as opposed to individual muscle groups. Minimalist training utilizes one exercise from each of the foundational movements per workout.

Movements: The exercises utilized in these workouts are based around the following movements: (1) Upper body push, (2) Upper body pull, (3) Squat, (4) Hinge, (5) Carry, and (6) Plank. (per Dan John’s Five Basic Human Movements)

Variability: In any training protocol, you can alter the following variables to achieve a specified goal: (1) Intensity, (2) Repetition, (3) Density, and (4) Tempo. Intensity is varied by increasing or decreasing weight. Repetition is varied by increasing or decreasing the number of repetitions per set or increasing or decreasing the number of sets per exercise. Density is varied by increasing or decreasing the amount of work done in a specified time. Traditionally, this is done by increasing or decreasing rest time between bouts of exercise. Finally, tempo is varied by completing each repetition of the exercise at a predetermined pace. For example, you could take three seconds to lower yourself into the bottom of a squat before going up at a normal pace. These workouts can be altered by changing any of the above variables.

Scalability: Any exercise can easily be scaled by altering the weight used. For example, the good morning exercise with a barbell can be scaled by using a PVC pipe instead. The most basic (simplest – not “easy”) exercises are the standard push-up, inverted row, body weight squat, PVC pipe good morning, farmer’s walk, and front plank. These exercises are a good starting point for anyone wishing to start a functional fitness program.

Programming: The exercises listed in the chart below are a good starting point for anyone wishing to start a functional fitness program. An easy start to creating a workout program would be to pick one exercise from each category and complete them in a circuit format. Several examples are listed below the chart. You could easily create a sustainable program by doing the same block of exercises 2-3 times per week for four weeks before switching exercises. You could also alternate between two different blocks of exercises, completing the same block of exercises every other workout. For example, if you only did resistance training on shift, you could do Sample Block #1 on Monday, Sample Block #3 on Thursday, Sample Block #1 on Sunday, and so forth.

Warm up: It is recommended that you perform a simple warm-up before starting any workout routine. A warm-up is designed to increase your heart-rate and prepare your body for work without being overly taxing. A sample warm-up could be: (1) Row 400 meters (2) Foam roll upper back and quads/hips (3) Dead hang on pull up bar x 15 seconds (4) 5 rounds: Body weight squats x 5, Push ups x 5, Jumping Jacks x 5, Band pull-aparts x 5.




Upper body push

Upper body pull





Push up (incline, decline, on parallel bars)

Inverted row

Body weight squat

Good morning with PVC pipe (or barbell)

Farmer’s walk x 2 kettlebells or dumbbells

Front plank


Ring rows

Goblet squat

Romanian deadlift (both legs or single leg)

Double kettlebell front rack carry

Left and right sided plank

Shoulder press (barbell or dumbbell)

Pull ups

Reverse lunge

Straight leg deadlift (both legs or single leg)

Suitcase carry with one kettlebell or dumbbell

Bird dog hold

Bench press (flat or incline; dumbbell or barbell)

Bent over row (barbell or dumbbell)

Rear foot elevated split squat

Kettlebell swing (two arms or single arm)

Waiter’s carry (single KB/DB overhead)

Glute bridge

Landmine shoulder press (1-arm)

Cable face pulls

Overhead squat


Double waiter’s carry (double KB/DB overhead)

Dynamic bird dog


Sample Workout 1

Sample Workout 2

Sample Workout 3

Sample Workout 4

Sample Workout 5