The 1 Lift a Day Program – Staying strong with just one exercise per workout

Lately I’ve run into a problem that, judging from the number of emails I get about it, a lot of riders run into this time of year. While we know that we need to work out, right now the trails are calling and all we want to do is ride our bikes. The time and energy to devote to a full blown strength training program just isn’t there, which means that we need something to help us maintain our strength and fitness while allowing us to get out on the trail every chance we get.

You have to focus on the exercises that will, rep for rep, will deliver the most results.

The solution to this common problem is the 1 Lift a Day Program. I first read about the 1 Lift a Day Program from Dan John, who is one of the brighter minds in the strength coaching profession. Dan is one of the best at “de-mystifying” the science behind getting stronger and creating simple workouts that leave you wondering why you never thought of that before.

With his 1 Lift a Day concept he boils down training to its most basic element – doing only 1 exercise when you train.

While Dan likes to apply this approach for strength building purposes, I really like to use it as an “in-season” workout. I do this by limiting the workouts to 15 minutes or less and, like Dan also suggests, I don’t go anywhere near failure. This approach accomplished two things…

First, it saves a lot of time. Since you are only working out for 15 minutes (or less) it is much easier to fit the workouts into your schedule. Worst case scenario is that you get up 15 minutes earlier or stay up 15 minutes later – either way, if you can’t find 15 minutes to devote to your overall strength and wellbeing, I don’t know what to say.

Second, since you can only do one exercise at each workout you have to choose very wisely. You don’t get to add in exercises just because you liked them or saw them on the internet the day before – you have to focus on the exercises that will, rep for rep, will deliver the most results.

Here are the guidelines I use for this version of the 1 Lift a Day Program…

– Pick out an upper body, lower body and explosive exercise. Here are some of my favorites:

Upper Body: Chin Up/ Pull Up/ Single Arm Floor Press/ Single Arm Shoulder Press/ Handstand Push Ups/ KB Clean & Press

Lower Body: Pistol Squat/ KB Front Squat/ Deadlift/ Single Leg Deadlift/

Explosive: KB Swing (any variation)/ KB Snatch/ Single Arm Push Press/ Close Grip Snatch/ DB Snatch

– Do 24 total reps for the Upper Body and Lower Body exercises. This can be accomplished through any set and rep scheme you like and I suggest varying them up each week. For example, I might do 8X3, 4X6, 6X4 and then 3X8 over the course of 4 weeks.

– Do 50-75 total swings or 15-20 total reps of any other explosive lift. Do no more than 10 swings in any set or 5 reps of another explosive lift. Even these suggestions are rough guidelines as you want to focus on your speed and execution. It is very easy turn “explosive” lifts into “going through the motions” lifts and you want to avoid this pitfall.

– Use a weight that you could easily get 2-3 more reps than your target number. Feel free to adjust up or down as needed throughout the workout to accomplish this intended intensity range. Your goal is to literally walk away feeling a bit better or more energized than when you started.

– Rotate through the 3 exercises you have chosen each time you train. Try to get at least 3 workouts in each week, although 2 is better than nothing. After doing each exercise 4-6 times change the exercises you have chosen or move to a more involved program if you have the time.

– Limit yourself to 15 minutes. Even with all of these guidelines it can be easy to let time slip away from you so set an alarm for 15 minutes and when it goes off you are done with your workout. If you get down early then fine, just try to avoid going much longer as that starts to defeat the purpose of this approach to the program.

Now that you have the guidelines I’ll show you a sample workout:

Upper Body Exercise: Single Arm Clean & Press

Lower Body Exercise: KB Front Squat

Explosive Exercise: Single Arm Kettlebell Snatch

Week 1:                                                                           Sets X Reps

Monday – Upper Body Exercise: Single Arm Clean & Press           3 X 8

Wednesday – Lower Body Exercise: KB Front Squat                    3 X 8

Friday – Explosive Exercise: Single Arm Kettlebell Snatch           5 X 5

Week 2:

Monday – Single Arm Clean & Press                                           4 X 6

Wednesday – KB Front Squat                                                     4 X 6

Friday – Single Arm Kettlebell Snatch                                        6 X 3

Week 3:

Monday – Single Arm Clean & Press                                           6 X 4

Wednesday – KB Front Squat                                                     6 X 4

Friday – Single Arm Kettlebell Snatch                                        3 X 7

Week 4:

Monday – Single Arm Clean & Press                                          8 X 3

Wednesday – KB Front Squat                                                    8 X 3

Friday – Single Arm Kettlebell Snatch                                       6 X 4

After completing Week 4 I would either switch the exercises around and start over at Week 1 or I’d move to something like the Ultimate MTB Workout Program (www.ultimatemtbworkout.com) or MTB DB Combos Program (www.dbcombos.com). Remember that this minimalist approach to training will help you maintain your strength levels but it won’t do much to improve them – you still need to devote some focused times and energy at some point if you hope to significantly improve your strength and conditioning.

Some of you may also notice that there isn’t much for cardio in this workout and that is by design. If you are crunched for time because of all the riding you are doing then your riding is your cardio. Your focus has to be on the other stuff you need, like strength and power.

You may also notice that there isn’t a “warm up” either. You can either do a quick 5 minute mobility drill or, better yet, devote some time each day to mobility work and you won’t need to do a warm up. Since the intensity level of the workout if pretty low, if you have good basic mobility and do some mobility work on a regular basis you can jump right into the workout, otherwise do a little warm up before your workouts.

Next time you find yourself really short on time and don’t think you can get a workout in use this version of the 1 Lift a Day Program. It will help you stay strong and maintain your movement efficiency, combating the weakening effects and postural changes that come with spending hours in on the bike. This means that you won’t have to spend as much time in the off season getting back to where you were in the first place, meaning that you can start actually improving for next season sooner.

-James Wilson-

Social Comments:

WordPress Comments:

  1. leo vaccaro says:

    Its really great to see how much time you dedicate to share with us so many important info about the sport we love. I live in a very small country and find all this info SO usefull couse there is nothing here. And all other web articles are pretty much copy paste of an already vage info. So thanks and keep throwing at us all you can, so we stay motivated and getting better every day.

    Reply • October 22 at 8:55 pm
  2. ED BIRCH says:

    spot on……………I do similar programme3 times per week, and find i can combine 3 excercises; do 3 sets of each; and still finish in under 15 mins
    chin-ups x 10;press-up x 10; and kb squat x 10.[1 set]
    pull-ups x 8; press-up x 10[feet elevated];step-ups x 10 each leg
    chin-ups[wide] x 6,press-ups[higher step for feet]and split-squat x 10 each leg
    as always, a pleasure reading your blogs James

    Reply • October 22 at 10:54 pm
  3. Dalius says:

    Thanks for all your articles, James.
    However, I am a bit skeptic about such workouts. The muscles will not feel much stress after one exercise like simple press or squat. So they won’t grow or strengthen.
    Such a program may be used for one or two weeks when one is on his vacation or so.
    I prefer the version mentioned by Ed Birch. During the 15 minutes (let’s say 3-5 minutes for gradual warm up) you can do about 3-4 sets of 3-4 exercises in circuits more intensively.
    I like your KB conditioning workouts, they are quite short, intense and on the second day I almost always feel little pain in my muscles.

    Reply • October 23 at 12:41 am
  4. Dan says:

    Darius: “I am a bit skeptic about such workouts”

    Me: “Read Dan John’s article on 1 Lift Per Day and the results before you dis it.”

    Reply • February 20 at 1:30 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Agreed. I just borrow from the best and show you guys how to apply it to riding.

      Reply • February 22 at 11:57 am
  5. Daniel John says:

    This is a good adaption, James…my BEST lifting was basically this. It’s odd to look back at the journals and see the loads just clicking up weekly, positive comments daily and massive lifts on the platform.

    For you and your clients, this will be a great system to keep workouts short and the athlete focused on the task.

    Reply • August 22 at 12:12 pm

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James Wilson