Arguably the #1 expert on getting super strong and fit using only bodyweight exercises, Mark Lauren puts it all together for training sessions that take 9 minutes. We talk about his new book, Strong and Lean: 9-minute daily workouts to build your best body—no equipment, anywhere, anytime.
Let's Say Hello
[00:02:43.690] – Allan
[00:02:46.410] – Rachel
Hey, Allan, how are you today?
[00:02:48.230] – Allan
I'm doing okay. Obviously we record this a couple of weeks ahead, so I'm actually in the United States while we're recording this, and I will be on my way when you're listening to this, I will either be back in Bocas or I'll be on my way back to Bocas. So I've been enjoying the oysters. I'm in a part of the country where that's the thing and so I've been eating the heck out of those and I've had a good bit of Brussels sprouts as well.
[00:03:15.410] – Rachel
Oh, good. Put it when you can.
[00:03:18.870] – Allan
Yeah, I'm doing what I can, but it's all good. I'm feeling pretty good. Rested. Time with families, some rest time. It's been good.
[00:03:28.500] – Rachel
Wonderful. That sounds great.
[00:03:30.520] – Allan
How are things up there?
[00:03:32.410] – Rachel
Good. Now that we're back from our big trip, I've got time to catch up on things, and I just realized that it was two years ago, Allan, that I earned my personal training certificate through NASM, and you invited me to be a part of your podcast. So kind of celebrating a two year anniversary, and I'm really excited.
[00:03:50.130] – Allan
Good. Yeah, I saw the picture on Facebook, and so you obviously got that, and you've since gone on to get your runners coaching certification. And I'm sure there's a lot more ahead because, as you said in your post, we have to get our education, and as a result, it means spending the time, spending the money, investing in yourself to make this happen.
[00:04:14.270] – Rachel
It does. NASM has a couple of classes I'm interested in taking, but so does RRCA. They've got a level two class, and there's another running course that I'd like to take, which teaches us about endurance and ultras and those types of things. So pretty excited to get my name on the list to get on these classes.
[00:04:33.410] – Allan
Good. Enjoy that.
[00:04:34.780] – Rachel
[00:04:35.900] – Allan
All right, are you ready to talk to Mark?
[00:04:37.880] – Rachel
[00:04:38.740] – Allan
[00:04:39.970] – Allan
Mark. Welcome to 40+ Fitness.
[00:04:42.630] – Mark
Hey, thanks for having me.
[00:04:44.070] – Allan
So your book is called Strong and Lean: Nine Minute Daily Workouts to Build Your Best Body. No Equipment, Anywhere, Anytime. And I have to say, in going through the workouts and what I know of some of the exercises because I've used them before, and some of them that as I was going through, of course, I got to get on the floor and try a couple of them out. This is a workout that you could start as a beginner, and it's a workout that will serve you even if you were the most advanced athlete. You're going to get a great workout, and it's just nine minutes, so it's really kind of fabulous.
[00:05:21.460] – Mark
Yeah. Thank you for that. Yes. Basically, I'm the author of the book You Are Your Own Gym the Bible of Body Weight Exercises, which published back in 2010 and sold a whole bunch of copies around the world, over a million. But the program in that book, I was just out of the special operations community when I wrote that book, and my understanding sort of a typical person's needs. I was totally not in touch, let's put it that way. And I was training guys to jump out of airplanes and scuba dive, et cetera. That program was I would say it was complex, and it was unnecessarily difficult. So over the next ten years, really, and I think this is always sort of like the learning progression. You figure out what's essential and what's not. Really, this program is a process of me sort of getting rid of all the unnecessary things and sort of distilling everything down to the bare minimum and the absolute essentials that get you the most for the least and making it as simple as possible and then of course, building in progression so you can continue to advance.
[00:06:25.990] – Allan
[00:06:27.130] – Allan
Now, one of the concepts that you got into early in the book which I was kind of fascinated by because it wasn't the way I've ever thought about it but once you got down that train of thought I was like Mark's absolutely right, is locomotion. Can you talk a little bit about locomotion and why that is fitness.
[00:06:47.830] – Mark
Right? So there's a couple of ways to describe it and the first way is when we work out what we're trying to achieve is the best possible overall gains. We're trying to get the best gains in overall performance. Right? And one of the problems with exercise a lot of times and I realized this long ago, especially as a special ops guy, etc. is that exercise, whatever it is that you do, you only get good at that thing. Like maybe you're lifting weights and you're getting stronger in the gym but in a lot of other ways you're getting less athletic. That tends to be a problem with a lot of different things. So I was really trying to figure out what is it that we actually need so that we can specifically focus on it and get the most benefit out of our training, out of our energy. And what I finally realized is the common denominator for all activities is locomotion. And then I think a really good example of the importance of locomotion can be seen in how infants and children learn to move. Right? It's all about locomotion. They begin in a backline position and then they begin to base.
[00:07:55.890] – Mark
The first thing they really learn is to stabilize their head which is spinal stabilization. Once they can stabilize their head they start doing arm and leg movements, right? So basically hip and joint movements start to develop and that's the simplest form of locomotion. That's basically single joint locomotion. So when I move my arm from one point to another point that's a form of locomotion. It's simple though, right? And then we start to combine those different hip and shoulder movements until eventually what do we have? We have a weight shift to one side or the other and that's the first example of rolling. Basically, now you have locomotion that involves your tire body moving and then let's say eventually you get to a frontline position and just some random combinations. You eventually learn to build up to a crawling position and now you have again a slightly more complex locomotion where you then learn to crawl, you then learn to build up. You learn to basically weight shift and take your first step so that you end up in a single kneeling position and then you eventually build up to a standing position. So the things that the athletic ability that we develop first in life is basically spinal stabilization, single joint movements, and then we learn the developmental movements, which is how to transition between lying, kneeling and standing positions.
[00:09:18.040] – Mark
And that's really where the foundation of athletic ability is developed. You need spinal stabilization and you have basically control of weight shifting. So then when you learn to walk or run or sprint, you have rhythmic side to side weight shifting through coordinated hip and shoulder movement and a little bit of rotation around the spine. And that's something that you use everywhere. Think about it. Like when you throw a punch or if you throw a ball, you have a lateral weight shift with coordinated hip and shoulder movement and rotation around the spine. And the examples of that are endless. So really, like if I'm trying to get you the best possible results in overall improvements of performance with the least amount of energy, it makes sense for me to design my exercise programs so that you improve the skills needed for locomotion.
[00:10:09.010] – Allan
Okay. Now a lot of us, when we think about exercise, it's typically going to be we're going to be doing weights of some sort in the weight room, in the gym maybe, or at home, or we're going to be running. Those are the kind of the two primary paradigms. When you say exercise, that's where most people's heads go. Why is that not the best way for us to approach this?
[00:10:31.450] – Mark
I think you can run and I think you can lift weights. I actually do both of those things. I think that you just have to have an understanding that you should do those things in a way so that you get the best possible overall results and you don't become too specialized. Right? So for example, there's a lot of guys at the gym with really big muscular bodies and they're really strong in the gym. But to be totally honest, if you were to take them on a long hike or for a short swim, they wouldn't make it, right? I think when it comes to truly fitness, which I define as preparedness, being fit just needs to be prepared. You're ready. And I would say fitness is about general preparedness. So when you do those things, you want to do them in a way so that you don't become worse at the thing that you need most, which is locomotion. So if you were to lift weights, combining it maybe with a little bit of running and walking especially would not be a bad idea. So really, I think you can do those things. They're not bad, and if you enjoy them, I tell people absolutely continue doing them.
[00:11:37.480] – Mark
But I think what we really need is we need an understanding of the fundamental athletic skills that you have to maintain in order to have a long, healthy, strong life. I think longevity depends largely on the strength of our foundation, which is made up of those fundamentals that I've mentioned. So you have to systematically train. You have to basically train your posture. And what does good posture means? It means basically being able to maintain a neutral spine, basically a long spine that's in the middle. You want to maintain all your joint functions, especially for your hips, spine, and shoulders. Right. You want to learn to move your arms and legs around a neutral spine and to be able to control weight shifting. And as long as you systematically develop those fundamentals, then really that lays really solve the foundation for you to do anything else, such as running, such as weight lifting. And that's what my nine minute programs do, so they're a great compliment in addition to being a standalone program.
[00:12:41.430] – Allan
Okay, now what do you think about machines then?
[00:12:44.530] – Mark
The problem with machines is really I talk, for example, about posture and weight shifting, right? Like weight shifting really is balance, but it's balance in motion, which is what we need. The problem with machines is, sure, you're training different joint functions, but a lot of times you're only training joint functions on the sagittal plane, which is basically forward, back, up and down movements. You don't have lateral movement, you don't have rotation, you don't have circumduction, which is making circles, and you have absolutely no need for balance or the ability to maintain a neutral spine while you're performing these functions. If you become really strong on these machines, but you're unable to maintain a neutral spine or good posture while you're exerting force, you're going to be more prone to injury, and your performance just will not be optimal, especially if you have poor posture in conjunction with the inability to control weight shift and basically poor balance and coordination. So there's a lot more to strength than just being able to exert force. There's fundamental athletic skills that we have to learn, and machines won't do that for you.
[00:13:51.740] – Allan
Yeah, and as you said earlier, if you practice something, you get good at it. So we get good at lifting on that particular machine that doesn't necessarily relate to real world strength.
[00:14:01.700] – Mark
I mean, that's exactly it. Adaptation tends to be pretty specific. That's why we have to be very clear about what it is that we're trying to develop.
[00:14:08.350] – Allan
Okay, now you've talked a little bit about posture, but let's dive in a little bit deeper. You sort of defined it, but let's redefine posture. And why is that so important to functional movement?
[00:14:20.490] – Mark
Okay, so first of all, posture mainly refers typically, it refers mainly to the alignment of your spine, right? And the spine is really that's your nervous system. I mean, it's not your actual nervous system. It's a part of your skeletal system that on which your nervous system depends. Right, so we have to protect our nervous system. Posture is the alignment of the spine and the place where so here's a good question. We talked about posture. We said that it's the alignment of the spine. And we often talk about good posture. And a lot of times we know that good posture tends to be when you're straight, right? Or your spine is relatively straight, it's neutral, meaning that it's in the middle. So why is the middle the right place for you to be? Right? That's the question. And the reason is that when you're not an flexion, you're not an extension, you're in the middle. That's where your safest. Because think about it, when you're at an extreme range of motion, like take any of your joints, if you're at an extreme end range of a joint's function, that's where you're most likely to get injured, right?
[00:15:33.510] – Mark
If you're in the middle, that's where you're safest because that's where you have the most room for error in the middle. It's a little bit like if you are standing way up on a little platform up in the air, where do you want to be standing on that little tiny platform? You want to be in the middle, right? So all these joints, you want them stacked on top of each other and neutrally aligned, meaning in the middle. So one, it's the safest. Two also is that the transfer of energy is going to be best when everything is neutrally aligned in the middle. When you have a long, straight, neutral spine, which you see typically for most sports, athletes do really well. They're doing that because it's safe and the transfer of energy is easiest like that. So it's about efficiency and safety, really.
[00:16:25.220] – Allan
Okay. Now, in the book you went into a little bit about motivation. Can you talk about your opinion about motivation? Because I think a lot of people get into working out and they just really struggle to keep after it when anything gets in their way and kind of bust their bubble. Can you talk about motivation?
[00:16:43.820] – Mark
Yes, motivation is so I don't get into cheerleading. And I think really the best way to motivate people is the way our behavior develops. It's about cost versus benefit. And when there's a behavior that is low cost, meaning low energy or low energy and low time, and the benefit of the reward is high in comparison to the cost, then that behavior tends to get repeated, right? And the reverse of that is also true. So if you have a high cost, certain behavior requires a lot of energy and a lot of time, and then there's a small reward, then the chance of that behavior continuing goes way, way down. And that's just simply understanding how we function as humans. And it makes a lot of sense. So I think one of the biggest problems in fitness is actually doing too much. And doing too much causes you to do too little, if that makes sense. Because in the beginning, in order for you to adapt and get results, you actually need very, very little because it's a new form of stimulus. So usually what we do is we go to the gym, we drive 20, 30 minutes.
[00:18:05.060] – Mark
Then you're using a bunch of machines doing strength training for, let's say, 30, 40 minutes. Then maybe you're doing some cardio and then you're driving home, let's call it an hour and a half, even if it's just an hour. So the cost there in time is pretty significant, especially if you're doing it three to five times a week. The cost of energy is super high. Right. And it's much more than you need. So there's a really high cost and time and energy. Then you're probably super sore for the next five days. We've all experienced that we did too much. Probably ten minutes would have been totally fine. So now the behavior was high cost, you're getting punished for it. And the results are not really they don't justify the cost. So the behavior tends to stop. That's a big part of the design of these nine minute exercise programs, actually, in the beginning of these nine minute so Strong and Lean comes with four six week cycles. And the nine minute workouts in the beginning, they start easy, actually. And you'll be surprised that in the beginning, you actually need very little to make good progress.
[00:19:13.310] – Mark
And doing more doesn't accelerate your progress. It just makes it less likely that you're going to stay consistent. So, again, the way this exercise program is designed is with an understanding of how we adapt and how we function.
[00:19:27.190] – Allan
Yeah. So let's dive in a little bit more into the program because a lot of aspects of it, one being nine minutes, I think that's something that just about anybody can free up nine minutes. Well, a little bit longer with a warm up and a cool down. But in general, we're talking less than a total of probably 15 minutes to be ready to get this done. And we're doing it like three times a week. Two or three times a week. Right. Can you just talk about the program and how it's put together and how people would progress through it?
[00:19:56.370] – Mark
Sure. So, like I said, the book has four six week cycles. In the first cycle, you're training just three times a week, monday, Wednesday, Friday. And the workouts require nothing but floor space. You're doing each 9 minute workout consists of three exercises that are repeated for three rounds. So basically, each exercise is allocated 1 minute. So you're doing three exercises for 1 minute each, which is three minutes, and then you're doing three rounds of that, which is nine minutes. But doing an exercise for a minute straight, like, let's take an example that everybody's familiar with. Like, to do a straight minute of pushups is actually very difficult. Right? So you could actually probably take some easy variation of the push up and then just do 40 seconds of it, rest 20 seconds, then do the next exercise for 40 seconds, rest 20 seconds, and so on. Right? And that's how the program structured, where there's a work interval and a rest interval and then it goes on to the next exercise. And as the weeks progress, the work duration increases and the rest intervals decrease. And those changes in intervals make a big difference. The first exercise is always a floor exercise designed to improve your posture, which will work your upper back, your core or your hips.
[00:21:21.320] – Mark
The second exercise is a mobility exercise. And then the third exercise is a standing exercise that improves your ability, basically standing movements that's going to be more your legs, your spinal erectors to work, weight shifting. As the cycles progress, you go from three times a week to four times a week and eventually five times a week. So the overall training volume increases. And additionally, starting in cycle three, we have nine minute circuits specifically designed for strength training. So they're a little less mobility based and more focused on strength. And those have a pushing exercise, a pulling exercise and a leg exercise where you have the option to also hold a weight and those get really tough. All these programs have progressions built into them and systematically cover all the fundamental athletic skills that you need to perform optimally and to develop a good strong body.
[00:22:21.500] – Allan
And what I like is after the first workout, the first workout, of course you have to introduce a whole bunch of exercises, but after that you really only roll in one kind of new thing at a time. So they're learning something new, they're doing something a little different. So there's some variety in there. But it's not overwhelming that there's 300 exercises that you're going to do all given to you and you're just trying to figure them out as you're doing them, you'll learn them, you'll get better at this stuff and then they start progressing. And I like how a lot of these are set up to progress. And then I guess the premise would be you go through the four six week cycles and then you can just go back and repeat week three, week four, and you can just make that a cycle that's going to give you some periodization and it's just going to allow you to continue to progress.
[00:23:09.730] – Mark
Right, exactly. So, yeah, just trying to make everything as simple and easy as possible, honestly, to get people the best possible results with the least amount of time and effort. So after the first workout, I never introduced more than one new exercise. But each new workout you'll get one tip on how to perform one of the exercises better. So there's gradual learning and introduction of new exercises. And at the end, if you complete all four six week cycles, then at the end of that book, we say that you can continue to repeat cycles three and four indefinitely. I have a subscription platform, mark lauren on Demand, which is a suite of apps for iOS, Android, Roku, et cetera. And there I actually have five cycles, and the training can continue there as well.
[00:23:53.780] – Allan
[00:23:55.750] – Allan
Like I said, it's really good. And the thing about it is the book has good demonstration pictures to show you the movements, and you're performing them as the guy. A lot of pictures. A lot of pictures there. And the descriptions of the movements are really good. One of the things that I kind of pride myself with is some of my clients are blind. And coaching a blind client that can't look at a picture, look at a video and describing the exercise, that's not an easy talent. But it's something you also seem to have with the way that you describe each of the movements in the book. So kudos for that.
[00:24:32.680] – Mark
Thank you. I really appreciate that.
[00:24:34.370] – Allan
Mark, I define wellness as being the healthiest, fittest, and happiest you can be. What are three strategies or tactics to get and stay well?
[00:24:42.490] – Mark
To stay well? So me being a fitness guy, I try to really clearly define everything. And I already said that I think fitness, it's about preparedness, it's about general preparedness. And I think general preparedness is really about the fundamentals. If you think about fitness as a whole, you could break it down into usually you hear three parts. You hear about food, nutrition, movement, and recovery, right? Those are the fundamentals of life. Like, if you don't have those, you will not survive. So I really think fitness is about doing those things really well. I think fitness is about doing the basic, most common things really well and continuing to learn how to do them better. And I think a big part of wellness and fitness is valuing and caring about the right things. And I think a lot of times, especially by marketing and our culture, were sort of seduced by shiny, complex things. But the real value, the things that really make us healthy and happy and fit and prepared are the basic, common, day to day things. And so my expertise is in the movement part of fitness. And again, there I think it's about the basics.
[00:25:54.850] – Mark
It's about basically those fundamental athletic skills that you learned earliest in life. I think it's my job to refine them, to clearly define what those things are so that we can improve them, refine them, and maintain them. Because think about it, what is it that you lose later in life? You start to lose your posture. Joint functions go away, and then our ability to control weight shifting goes away, and we start to fall, and we become insecure about getting up and down off the ground, like you're no longer able to get down and get up off the ground so easily. Right? So my fitness program, largely on the movement part of fitness and well being, is really about maintaining those basic fundamental skills that are always being used so you can move well into old age. And then if you want a strong, beautiful body that you have the joint alignment needed to basically be able to take the stress to build muscle and to burn all those calories. So, simply put out, I think it's about valuing fundamentals.
[00:26:55.810] – Allan
Thank you. So, Mark, if someone wanted to learn more about you and the programs and the book Strong and Lean, where would you like for me to send them?
[00:27:04.690] – Mark
marklauren.com has obviously all my information. I have instagram marklaurentraining. My book is available at any major bookseller and also Amazon.com. Yeah, I think it's the main places. marklauren.com, I have Facebook, Instagram, and I actually just started TikTok page a few days ago.
[00:27:27.050] – Mark
You got to do what you got to do.
[00:27:28.800] – Allan
You got to do what you got to do. Mark, thank you so much for being a part of 40+ Fitness.
[00:27:31.990] – Mark
Hey, I really appreciate you having me on here.
[00:27:43.170] – Allan
Welcome back, Ras.
[00:27:44.670] – Rachel
Hey, Allan. This is yet another book I need to add to my bookshelf. I love nine minutes.
[00:27:51.710] – Allan
Yes, he is one of the fittest people I've seen in a long, long time. And he demonstrates all of the exercises in the book. And part of what I know is when you have a photographer taking pictures and you're doing it, you end up doing multiple, multiple reps. So you're doing the reps and you perhaps trying to hold yourself in some of the positions for the pictures so that you get a good image of the bottom position or the top position. So I know some of the work he did to just even do this book was just fantastic. So very fit guy. And body weight.
[00:28:31.020] – Rachel
That's great. And I love body weight. I know that it gets a bad rap and a lot of fitness circles, but body weight movements are so important. And I can tell you that they've helped me a ton with staying healthy and strong for running. So I can't say enough good things about it.
[00:28:47.080] – Allan
Yeah, I like moving heavy weights. But he's right when he starts talking about locomotion being one of the core components, strength and control, locomotion. And so the exercises he has in the book are not necessarily they're not power movements and they obviously don't require any equipment. But I can just tell you, you can get really strong. And the exercises he has in there are varied. So the first time he's adding a whole bunch of exercises and then it's like each training after that, he's just adding one new exercise. So you're not having to learn a whole bunch of exercises. What happens is through the course of doing the training, you're incorporating different movements. And so this is a cycle thing, basically a periodized process. And at the end, you'll have a very balanced program for full body strength and control. And you'll be locomotive. I mean, you'll be able to do a lot of things you can't do.
[00:29:53.360] – Rachel
Now, what I love about it is that one, it's simple. It's simple and it doesn't take that much time, but it delivers a big bang for the buck. And I think that's what we need in our lives, especially all of us that are really busy with other jobs and child responsibilities and school and work and all the things. I mean, nine minutes, or like you said, 15 with a warm up and a cool down. 15 minutes, that's not that hard to squeeze that into a day and get a big bang for the buck.
[00:30:22.150] – Allan
Yeah, if you can't squeeze 15 minutes, then you're not committed to this. This is just not going to happen. 15 minutes is nothing. Three times a week, that's 45 total minutes. You spend more time than that on the toilet.
[00:30:42.430] – Rachel
Social media and binge watching our favorite TV shows and whatever. Yeah, we could definitely.
[00:30:51.070] – Allan
This is a good way if you do feel that you're just so time strapped. And like, I can't work out because I'm 06:00 until 11:00 every single day. And I'm like, no, probably not every single day, but you can get in 15 minutes.
[00:31:05.590] – Rachel
And the other thing, too, it doesn't sound like he requires a lot of weights or bands or any equipment. So this is also something that can go with you. You're traveling right now. I was traveling a little while ago when we're not home or can't get to the gym or like up here in Michigan. I'll be snowed in pretty soon this winter and can't go anywhere. It would be great just to have some simple, quick body weight movements and it's enough to keep it going.
[00:31:31.300] – Allan
Yeah. And the investment in this book is a lot cheaper than buying yourself weight equipment and a stationary bike and all the other stuff that you would have. And because of the nature of what he's doing, it's not so hyper specialized like he was talking about, where you're just building strength in a range. So I have strong legs from doing squats and I have strong chest from doing presses. That's great. But some of the exercises he has are going at angles that you would never be able to accomplish on a bench. You're pulling and pushing in very different ways. So it's a lot more balanced than I think a lot of people can do if they're just going and doing the exercise. Particularly if you like the machines and you're spending all of your time on the machines.
[00:32:17.830] – Rachel
Well, it's interesting you mentioned that, too, because right after I listen to this podcast, I had to run up and buy some softener salts for a water softener in our house. The bags are 40 lbs. It's an awkward carry. So I'm doing the farmer's carry, trying to get them from my garage down to the basement. But you need that stability. You need that foundation of a strong posture, a strong back strong abs in order for my arms to dangle 40 pound bags of softener salt and not fall over, fall down the stairs. So it was just really timely that having that foundation of strength is a great place to start.
[00:32:55.790] – Allan
Yeah. Like I said, he's super fit. So don't think you're beyond what he's doing in this book, because I can tell you, you're not. Professional athletes would struggle with some of these movements at first until they learned them and got good at them and built the strength to hold themselves and have the right posture and do the things they needed to do. And so none of this is going to be easy. If you're doing it right, it's all going to challenge you and it's going to make you stronger and better.
[00:33:24.740] – Rachel
I love that. That sounds really exciting. This is in my Amazon box already.
[00:33:30.010] – Allan
Good. All right, well, Rachel, I'll talk to you next week.
[00:33:34.000] – Rachel
Great. Take care, Allan.
[00:33:35.550] – Allan
[00:33:36.420] – Rachel
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