Here’s the deal: I’ve been working in the fitness industry for the past two decades. I’m not saying that to brag, but rather to highlight the fact that—from bodybuilding splits to powerlifting to all different forms of stretching, electrical muscle stimulation, yoga with goats, yoga with babies, holotropic breathwork, carrying logs, rocks and kegs around the backyard and beyond—I’ve seen plenty of workouts come and go.
For most gym junkies and fitness enthusiasts, some of these workout modalities work pretty well and, well, some simply don’t. But when it comes to workouts and workout modalities that fly under the radar and that I think more people should have as tools in their workout toolbox, I’d like to fill you in on five different forms of workouts—workouts that some people might call “woo-woo,” but that really get me a lot of bang for my buck and that I also include in the protocols of many of the athletes I coach and clients I train.
Why do I like to experiment with different workout protocols so much? The answer is simple: when it comes to throwing a metabolic curveball at your body, the best workout is often the one that you’re not currently doing. In exercise physiology, this is called the “SAID” principle, and it refers to “Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands,” or the fact that your body gets efficient at movement patterns you frequently expose it to. The workouts in this article expose your lungs, your legs, and your mind to novel forms of stimuli. In doing so, they force your body to burn more calories and to get more fit by doing things it’s not used to doing.
So in no particular order of importance here are my five latest unconventional workouts that every fitness enthusiast should have in their fitness toolbox.
5 Unconventional Workouts Every Fitness Enthusiast Should Add To Their Repertoire.
1. Treadmill Pack Hikes
I like this workout because it is mentally simple but deceptively difficult. (There’s a reason the Armed Forces “ruck” so much with heavy packs for long distances, and I first began doing protocols like this when training for SEALFit Kokoro.)
Check out the following articles for more on this intense training camp modeled after the US Navy SEAL Hell Week:
Here’s how it works:
Find whichever treadmill at the gym or at your home that will go to the highest possible incline. A stair mill is the next best choice. Next, put on a backpack and put a sandbag (you can pick one up on Amazon, or learn how to make your own here), a dumbbell, a kettlebell, or any other heavy object in the backpack.
Alternatively, you can hold a sandbag on your shoulder, clutch a kettlebell to your chest, hold dumbbells at your side, wear a weighted vest, etc. You get the idea. (For women, I recommend 20 to 30 pounds for a starting weight, and for men, I recommend 40 to 60 pounds for a starting weight.)
Things get pretty simple from here: simply start walking and walk as hard and as fast at a steep incline as possible for 15 to 30 minutes. That’s it.
You will be amazed at how deceptively difficult this is and at how quickly your body becomes capable at covering steep distances faster from this stimulus. This workout can be even more difficult than running, but without the type of biomechanical discomfort, jostling and impact that running can sometimes create. For added difficulty, wear a TrainingMask or try to breathe through your nose only during the entire routine.
2. Kundalini Yoga
At the risk of making any yogi that is reading this article absolutely cringe, I would roughly define kundalini yoga as a form of yoga that involves intense breathwork, plenty of fast movements (which can be explosive and powerful too), meditation with your eyes closed , and a big focus on MOVING energy up and down your spine.
I’m now using a touch of kundalini yoga for everything from recharging my body at the beginning or at the end of the day, warming up prior to the starting line of a race or competition, and doing full-blown 30-90 minute yoga routines (often in a hot sauna). I really dig this particular form of yoga because it opens up the lungs, burns a bunch of calories, gets plenty of blood flowing, and frankly, makes your body and brain feel extremely awake and alive upon finishing. Here’s a link to a podcast that I recorded that goes into the nitty-gritty details. Ultimately, if you haven’t yet tried this form of yoga, you definitely need to add it to your fitness repertoire. It’s incredibly challenging.
A couple of years ago, I read a book called “Neuro-Mass” by author Jon Bruney. The relatively simple routine outlined in the book has absolutely blown my mind.
It basically goes like this:
Start with what is called a “grind,” which is basically a super slow set. (For example, if you are doing this type of neuromuscular training for your legs, you could do a super slow lunge with one leg forward and the other leg (the back leg) elevated on a step.)
Next, you progress into some kind of a powerful, explosive movement. (For example, using the leg training analogy above, you could do lunge jumps.)
Then, you finish with an isometric hold that builds up a ton of lactic acid to “finish off” the muscle group to exhaustion. (For this, you could use something like an isometric lunge hold.)
And that’s it. You can do these type of workouts with kettlebells, dumbbells, bodyweight—you name it—and I’m now, because of how much I’m traveling, doing these type of workouts as often as three times a week in a hotel room or park with bodyweight only. The workouts are, like these others, somewhat unconventional, but I highly recommend.
4. Body Weight Ladder
Like many of the other workouts in this article, this routine has a very low barrier to entry. It “tricks” you into doing a long, stamina-building workout by starting off a little bit easy.
Here’s how it goes:
Do 5 jumping jacks or any other bodyweight explosive movement (Burpees, lunge jumps, hops, jump rope, etc.)
Do 5 push-ups or any other bodyweight upper body movement (pull-ups, planks, etc.)
Do 5 bodyweight squats or any other bodyweight lower body movement (lunges, lateral lunges, etc.)
Do 10 jumping jacks.
Do 10 push ups.
Do 10 bodyweight squats.
Working up by multiples of five (or ten if you have less time to spare), and try to get all the way up to thirty to fifty repetitions of each. That’s it.
When I’m tired at the end of the day or don’t seem to have much cognitive willpower at the beginning of the day, this is a workout that gets me going, gets the blood flowing, and “tricks” my body into jumping into a very effective full-body workout routine. Now here’s the bonus kicker: time yourself for this routine. Next, the entire time you must wear a heart rate monitor, and anytime your heart rate goes higher than your maximum heart rate (220-age) minus twenty beats, you must stop until your heart rate goes back below that number. This forces you to move efficiently and to learn how to recover extremely quickly. Want an extra twist? Wear blood flow restriction bands on your arms and legs for the entire routine.
5. Hypoxic Swimming
Okay, let’s begin this next workout description with a disclaimer: anytime you’re holding your breath near water, swimming underwater, exerting yourself in water, or doing anything else that involves exercise and water, you need to be careful. There is indeed such a risky, life-threatening thing as shallow water blackout, and I talk about it in great detail here.
That being said, if you’re an extremely experienced swimmer and/or have a good swim buddy to swim with, there are some really physiologically beneficial things you can do in water without necessarily having to just swim laps back and forth in a pool while staring at the black line at the bottom of the water.
For example, one workout that I will do is I will get into a squat position at the bottom of the pool and then perform an explosive jump squat up and out the surface of the pool as high as I can go while clapping my hands above my head. I’ll perform 10 to 15 repetitions of this explosive movement.
Next, I’ll move into “eggbeater style” kicking in which I’m keeping my hands above my head and exhausting my legs for 30-60 seconds.
I’ll then finish this round by swimming as far as I can, and (this is completely optional) holding my breath while swimming in an all-out sprint or swimming underwater.
Just attempt 3 to 5 rounds of this and you’ll be absolutely blown away by the cardiovascular training stimulus – a stimulus with very low impact.
Is each of these workouts a bit unconventional? A bit woo-woo? Fly under the radar? Absolutely.
But if you’re looking for a way to shock your body into a metabolic stimulus or new muscle growth or fat loss response, or you’re trying to break through a fitness plateau for your next competition, pulling out some of the lesser-known , less popular workouts can be just the thing to get the job done.
Want one more “woo-woo” piece of goodness?
Meditate. If you haven’t tried meditation yet, my company Kion put together this handy dandy guide, “Meditation Demystified.” If you’re interested in starting a meditation practice or taking yours to the next level, then this is right up your alley. This comprehensive, 40+ page eBook teaches you how to make meditation practical, the most effective meditation techniques, as well as how to customize your own practice.
Leave your questions, comments, feedback, and workouts of your own below. I can’t wait to see what you’ve got!