The Pursuit of the Daily Minimum

by Dan Earthquake on February 6, 2018

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Dan Earthquake Al Danny Kavadlo
Coach Wade regularly encourages keeping a training log.

It’s not a new idea to me: I’d had several periods of doing this over the years, but stopped completely in 2008. It was due to one of his articles that I eventually restarted counting in November 2014.

I realized that I needed to establish a value system that could be comparable over several years. Subjective input such as “felt good today” is too ambiguous to be of value to me in the future. There are all sorts of systems depending on the discipline. Cyclists, swimmers and runners often use watts expended, calories burned or distance traveled. Lifters/gym rats may use weight shifted. I decided to record sets completed (my basic set being 5), with pull ups, dips and pistols recorded as 1 per repetition. Intensity of effort could also be recorded but I generally choose not to, it being subjective. For instance on 11th November 2015 I did 131 ring pull-ups, the most I’ve ever done.

Three years of statistics show progress. I’m doing more volume – over twice as much in 2017 as 2015.

Fifteen free squats in a row in January of 2015 made my knees creak. I was doing the deck of cards for sets and dreading the pictures. Two years on and I’m doing assisted pistols with the knees much better. In late 2015 I came across a concept of establishing a daily minimum to aim for. This came from an interesting study by Matt Perryman in his book Squat Everyday – Thoughts on Overtraining and Recovery in Strength Training, which is very well thought out. I’d been overdoing it – I’d thought – as lots of things were aching. What I ended up doing after considering many things and looking at my training logs was to stop doing exhaustive sessions with rest days and transitioned into a daily routine.

In the past, I have practiced a lot of failure training, believing it was doing me good to exhaust myself completely with muscle soreness common for the following days. Injuries over the years from over enthusiasm and foolishness – vanity lifting – took its toll. That sort of training really doesn’t appeal to me anymore. Daily training with basic calisthenics wasn’t too hard to transition into. I’ll admit to getting caught up in chasing the numbers – 505 free squats continuously and 550 incline push ups gave me plenty of time to reflect on my soreness the following days.

Super-high reps have a place in training though, even if it is not always the most efficient way of training; sometimes it’s just too much fun to stop. My problem tempering my enthusiasm is solved by pursuing the daily minimum concept. Last year my total set value was 25,565. Dividing this by 365 days gives a daily average of 70. I have a “bare minimum” of 27 that I do for mobility/pre-hab everyday at both ends of the day. Studying my figures seems to suggest that 47 work sets on top of this is about optimum for me at the moment. That gives me 74 which if followed consistently will top last years total. There were days last year where I felt supercharged and did a few hundred sets. The following days were back to bare minimum and recovery seemed sluggish. The trick on the days of great enthusiasm is to stay fresh enough to be able to do the daily minimum the next day. Not as easy as it sounds.

Dan Earthquake Pull-up
Pursuing the daily minimum is a long term strategy with a lot of flexibility. I embraced the Replek concept that Karl Indreeide identified on this blog on July 21, 2015 – so much so I had to look up what it was called again. At weekends I sometimes swim or row a boat doing just the bare minimum. I count these efforts separately so this brings down the daily average. I adjust daily minimum for the rest of the month accordingly.
Eg: 20th January my total for the month was 1386.
31 days in January gives a total of 2294.
2294 – 1386 = 908
908/11 days remaining = 82.5 daily minimum.
On the 21st I did just 30 sets, then 93 on 22nd. On the 23rd I had a good day and did 174 sets. This meant the average came down to 76.4. I’m trying not to chase the numbers too much – rather I’m using them to smooth out the lumps. As I improve I’ll move the daily minimum upwards – or fill them with more challenging exercises. At the end of each month I look at the numbers and review what I’m doing. Coach Wade’s programming squares are good tools – measure what was done against what was planned – often they’re quite different.

There is nothing I do that is original. I have shelves of exercise books and twice as many that I gave away that didn’t suit my practice. I’ve trained with strongmen, powerlifters, bodybuilders, runners, triathletes, swimmers, martial artists and had the benefit of many good coaches. All of us are composites of the people we admire.

I’m 44 this year. I started doing isometrics when I was 3 – before I knew what they were. Calisthenics drills came at 7 in judo class thanks to Ted Spacey – I still do his wrestlers bridges every night. Pull-ups started at 16. Last year I did my best pull-ups ever! Best of all, it’s still fun and I only do the basics. Odd sessions with Jim L. (who does some of the CC3 drills) and PCC Steve Llewelyn remind me that I’m just scratching the surface of what is possible.

Dan Earthquake And Steve Llewellyn

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Dan Earthquake is involved in event safety and hosts winter swimming training camps for Channel Swimmers. In 2013 the Channel Swimming Association awarded him the trophy for “Greatest Feat of Endurance” for his 21hr 25 minute crossing of the English Channel. For more info, visit http://www.danearthquake.com/

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  • Matt Schifferle

    You’re the man Dan! Your words of experience have reached me at the perfect time as I’ve been contemplating some of these ideas for several weeks now. I’ve been finding myself gravitating toward a similar idea myself and making basic exercises more of a daily activity rather than a semi-frequent occurrence. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

    • Hey Matt.

      I realise down the years that I spend a massive amount of time thinking about exercise as well as doing it. Is it really training we do? Lifestyle maybe? Habitual obsession? The thing is there is always something new to consider – for us – because we’re each improving our knowledge & acquiring new skills.I know from reading your stuff that you’re like me – in for the long term. Even when the age comes of diminishing returns there are things to be achieved. My Granddad, who rarely spoke about exercise was a daily man from when he left the army in 1945 until he had a collapse aged 94 some seven decades later. It kind of woke me up to it, though I’d considered it previously but not seriously. Semi frequent exercise sessions are more convenient in some ways – especially if engaged in business or domestic utility. The trick I’ve found is to harness the odd 5 minutes here & there. It makes a real difference over the day & of course over the years. It’s a mindset though – little & often. Every one is better than none & they all add up to something.

      Thanks,

      Dan

  • aaem

    I like the idea of having a minimum daily. Just to clarify what I read in your article, all your sets are based on 5 reps, correct?

    • Hi Aaem.

      Yes, but there are exceptions. If I do isometrics, I count a ten breath hold as a set which for numerical comparison is equal to 5 reps. If I hold a full 5 minutes of isometrics – which I do often – I put the timer on score 20. This comes from counting breaths in my original sets. I’ve improved since then – 5 minutes is normally about 121 breaths, though it has been as low as 80. Pull ups, dips & pistols I score as one because I find them so much harder. My numerical system has flaws I know, but the flaws are consistent. It also plugs into another scoring system I have on running/rowing/swimming/cycling etc. The point I’d really like to promote though is to make a consistent record that will be useful to you in future. I hope that helps.

      Thanks,

      Dan

  • Bill Ouellette

    if I am understanding, you are counting the sets rather than the reps for your volume? Seems like a lot for a minimum.

    • Hi Bill,

      I’m glad you think so! It’s challenging for me. I’d aspired to 100 per day a while back but couldn’t maintain it past a few days without losing a lot of ground. Yes it’s sets, so 5 reps scores 1. It seems right for me at the moment given the last 12 months of activity.

      Thanks,

      Dan

      • Bill Ouellette

        I would think so trying to maintain 100 daily. I am still impressed. I tried to do 10 pushups every 45 minutes all day( about 12 hours) every day. Forgot how long I was able to do it. You inspired me to try another challenge of a similar stripe.

        • Good for you Bill! I’ve had good results on 75mins intervals for all day efforts. Maybe make the exercise easier (incline push ups) & up the numbers (bigger sets?) or harder (slow it down) for fewer reps. Let me know how it goes.

          Thanks,

          Dan

          • Bill Ouellette

            Good tips, thanks, will let you know how it goes.

  • villafan

    Great concept Dan and one we have discussed together before. When you start to think of strength as skill practise rather than just getting a workout you realise that it’s possible to make gains through small chunks of mindful practice instead of all out balls to the wall style training. Calisthenics is perfect for such a strategy also. Great read!!

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