Strength Lab: Enter the Matrix

I am not a personal trainer (certified or otherwise) and I have no professional fitness training. Consult a doctor before engaging in an exercise program and follow my actions at your own risk.

I had a chance to think about Strength Training lately.  I haven’t had a chance to do it, but for the purposes of this post (and not beyond that), it’s the thought that counts.  With my fitness ADD, I’d like to try something new; no problem… people post workout routines every day, I’m sure I could find something cool; in fact I do every day, sometimes I pin them to my Pinterest Board.
I would, however, like to exercise my own creativity and knowledge and try to make something original that suits me, my needs and goals.

Here are some important considerations:

  • No machines.  I have lots of fitness equipment at home, where I’d like to be able to do this workout and I prefer exercises that promote functional movement.
  • Speaking of functional movement, strength training for me needs to incorporate elements that will improve core stability as well as balance, which get neglected a little in a triathlete’s other 3 disciplines.
  • I’m primarily an endurance athlete, I’m not looking to bulk up or achieve any explicit strength goals, I just want to reap benefits like lean body mass (and the enhanced calorie burn that results) and injury proofing.  In other words, hopefully I get more power and better muscular endurance in my swim/bike/run – I don’t care how much I can lift.
  • I have injuries that I don’t want to aggravate.

Doing functional movements tends to mean exercises that recruit multiple muscle groups at the same time rather than complete isolation.  A push-up works your chest, but also your shoulders and triceps.  So do most exercises that resemble a “Pushing” motion, and following that logic, I could divide my exercises by muscle groups as:

  1. Chest – a.k.a Push, includes shoulders and triceps
  2. Back – a.k.a Pull, includes biceps and trapezius
  3. Legs

I figure these would cover 95% of the exercises I would like to do.  In terms of goals/benefits to be achieved by strength training:

  1. Power/Strength.  The raw force I can instantaneously generate… fast twitch muscles. Hopefully I increase the bang for my buck I get out of each stroke, pedal revolution, or stride.
  2. Core/Balance.  Being able to do load bearing/resistance using my (mostly) own body for support means being able to recruit more from my core while I’m swimming/biking/running.
  3. Endurance.  Being able to hold a pose, or do lots of reps for a long time.  Lighter load, more reps.

Now take the red pill with me… and step into… THE MATRIX (workout)!

Matrix: 1.) a rectangular array of numbers, symbols or expressions
2.) a mold for casting letters

If I arrange the muscle groups as columns and the strength types as rows, I get a Matrix, with different exercises to fill in according to how they fit the criteria of the rows and columns.  Let’s take a look with what I came up with so far:

Already some questions/challenges: There seems to be a bit of overlap between Core/Balance and Endurance – some of the exercises could easily trade rows.  Furthermore, What order should I do them in?  I figured I shouldn’t start with the heaviest and allow myself to get a little more warmed up, so I didn’t put Power in the first row.  I also don’t really like the idea of two upper body exercises back-to-back.  Even though push-pull complement each other, I think some of the secondary muscles might object to the abuse.  I’m looking at you, shoulders.  So I think I’ll do them left to right, top to bottom, same as you’re probably reading the table.. I mean, matrix.  Finally, how many reps and how much weight (for non-bodyweight exercises)?  That’s where the experimentation starts… To the lab!

Plan A was to get up early and run through these in my basement; the kids have been sleeping a little better, so I thought a 5AM or so wake-up was feasible.  Well, I forgot to set the alarm and ended up having to soothe the Lightning Kid at 5 and 5:30 anyway.  

At the office gym,I don’t have time for full lunchtime workouts on Thursdays, but I figured I could manage once through before having to eat and go to a meeting.  Here’s how it worked out.

Chest/Push Legs Back/Pull
Core/Balance Bosu Pushups
20 reps
Single Leg Squats with Toe Touch
10 reps per leg
Single-Leg Bent-Over Rear Shoulder Flys
10 reps per leg with 12lb dumbbells
Power/Strength Bench Press
12 reps 30lb dumbbells
10 reps with 30lb dumbbells on shoulders
1 full pull-up, 8 reps of negative phase*
Endurance Pushups
For 1 minute (36 reps)
Wall Sit with Medicine Ball Squeeze
For 1 minute
Band Rows
For 1 minute


  • I warmed up with 3 minutes on a rowing machine.  As I mentioned, I was pressed for time.
  • I could probably go a little heavier on the bench press.
  • I knew I couldn’t do pull-ups well (or at all, really), but I’m going to have to get inventive with cheats/workarounds.  For the negative phase reps, I used a step to jump up to the top of the movement (with my chin at the bar) and lowered down slowly.  Even then, the latter reps were a little weak.  I could use a machine assist in the gym, or maybe resistance bands at home.  This will need some work.
  • The band rows were done with an extra cross-over compared to the pic in the link, i.e. my right foot was anchoring the end being pulled by my left hand and vice versa.  It seemed a little easy at first, but by the time a minute was closing out, I could feel some burn deep in my rhomboids and rear deltoids.  I think I’ll keep this one in the mix, though I need to be careful with consistency if the band I use (or my foot positioning) changes.

Not including the warm-up, getting through the circuit took me 14-15 minutes with the only rest between stations being the time it took to get setup with the right equipment. Not a long workout, but I want this thing to be scaleable; if I want a longer workout, I can work my way through the matrix/table again.  I’ll be looking for different exercises to drop into the various slots, either from workout to workout or even within the workout (from circuit to circuit).  Any suggestions for  that meet the Core/Balance | Power/Strength | Endurance vs. Chest/Push | Legs | Back/Pull intersection criteria? REMEMBER: NO MACHINES! You know what the machines did in the Matrix…

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