Go Back to Fitness Basics in 2021

How yoga benefits military members
Soldiers with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, conduct yoga during one of the weekly classes offered by Joined Forces Yoga. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Sierra A. Fown, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Public Affairs)

Our experiences in 2020 taught us that we actually can do more with less in fitness training. With gyms and pools closed or at limited capacity, many people have gone back to the basics, staying fit even after the loss of a full gym with its unlimited equipment.

Before 2020, the most common excuse for staying sedentary was that we did not have time to train regularly. Well, that changed, too. The combination of going back to the basics and finding more time to exercise helped many of us create habits last year that will be easy to keep, even when our schedules return to normal.

For those who may have fallen off the wagon or failed to get started during this time of quarantines, shutdowns and social isolation, here are some ideas to start a fitness regimen with little or no equipment.

Yoga-Based Stretching

I have added yoga to my normal training cycles. I do 10 yoga poses a day, even if it's only for one minute in each pose. If you do a Google search for "10 yoga poses to do every day," you will find several variations of the recommended poses. All are great for you to mix and match, but my personal goal was to master 10 poses in 2021 by simply placing them at the end of my workout.

Here are the 10 poses I started with on YogaRove.com, a site where you can get charts to make the exercises flow a little easier. Ten poses in 10 minutes is a great way to introduce a stretching routine into your life, whether you are a beginner or advanced athlete who needs more flexibility.


Recently, I heard a doctor say that sitting is the new smoking. Get up and move even if only for a few minutes, but do it a few times an hour. There were countless success stories shared in 2020, and all people did was start walking more often. Many added a 10-minute walk before or after every meal, in addition to walking the dog or exercise time.

The result was another few hundred calories burned and fewer calories consumed during shorter mealtimes. That equals a weight loss of 1-2 pounds a week. A small tweak in calories consumed and calories burned has a huge effect on your total caloric deficit at the end of the week.

See related article on the 1,000 calories that can save us or kill us. If you want to make walking more challenging, add a weight vest or backpack; this will burn more calories as well.


You do not need weights for resistance training. The classic military-style PT workouts prove that, even though it does help to have supplemental equipment such as a pull-up bar and a sandbag. If you are strong and want to make calisthenics a little harder, add a weight vest or a TRX. The TRX is a versatile piece of equipment and highly recommended for a home gym. You also can use it to make calisthenics easier.

Here are some classic ideas for calisthenics workouts:

PT pyramid: Take an exercise and build on it in each consecutive set until you have accumulated sufficient repetitions for your level of fitness.

For instance: 1 push-up, 1 squat, walk 100 meters; 2 push-ups, 2 squats, walk 100 meters; 3 push-ups, 3 squats, walk 100 meters. … Keep going until you feel you have had enough, then try to repeat in reverse order. If you go up to level 10 and back down to 1, that accumulates 100 push-ups, 100 squats and 1,900 meters of walking or jogging.

Super set: These types of workouts are similar to the pyramid and circuits, but you pick a steady repetition and do the exercises in a circuit fashion. For instance:

Repeat 5 times

Push-ups: 10

Squats: 10

Walk 200 meters

If you can handle more sets of this circuit, try 10 sets and you will accumulate the same repetitions and distances as the PT pyramid above in fewer sets.

Max rep sets: This is a tough one and can challenge even the more advanced levels of exercisers. Consider the Murph workout, which is 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups and 300 squats done in as few sets as possible. Another way to do this type of routine is to cut the goal repetitions in half but still try to push yourself each set until you reach those goals in as few sets as possible. If you start today with this type of workout a few times a week, you may be able to do the full Memorial Day Murph this year.

Circuits: Pick a few exercises, mixed with a short and fast cardio option. Repeat as many rounds as you prefer in a given time period. These workouts keep you moving, and if arranged properly, you can get an active rest and recovery by working another muscle group. You also can use walking as an active rest between resistance training exercises.

When in doubt, consider the classic mobility and cardio day workout. Whether added to the week as a recovery day or done daily as the choice of activity, this workout was life-changing for me when I started it in my 40s, and I've continued it into my 50s.

Here is all you need to do:

Repeat 5 times

Cardio: 5 minutes (your choice of cardio but non-impact or walking is recommended)

Stretch, foam roll or massage tool: 5 minutes

Work a section of your body, especially any aching muscles or joints, with easy cardio to warm up the body, and easy stretching or massage to help loosen up tight areas during each cycle.

Back to the Basics in 2021 works if you do, too.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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