Savage Simplicity, the Basics and the 5 must do Exercises

Simple Strength

I get quite a few messages regarding simplicity. I am a huge proponent of keeping things basic. I constantly go on and on about taking these basics and pushing for grace and mastery. The goal is simple strength.

Simple however, does not mean easy.

That’s why I throw around the term “savage simplicity”.

I don’t often put out lists, but hey, here’s one. It’s a list of the exercises that have the most carryover for MMA, BJJ, Grappling, any combat sport, sport or indeed a healthy, full, strong life.

Simple Strength #1 – Squat

The squat really is the king of all exercises. There’s no denying that. It’s easy to get caught up in forums about the perfect squat. It’s even easier to get in an argument with the people who post in there.

Really, it’s simple. Squat deep, squat often and play around with any and all variations. Likewise, don’t get caught up in which piece of equipment is best. Use a barbell, a kettlebell, a pair of kettlebells, a sandbag, a log, a stone, a training partner, it makes no difference. The placement, much like the resistance, also makes no difference in the grand scheme of things. Front squat, back squat, Zercher squat, goblet squat, jump squat, pistol squat…

Spend time squatting. Continually get stronger. Become more flexible and comfortable with the movement pattern. Learn it, do it frequently and strive for grace and mastery.

Simple Strength #2 – Press things overhead

Much like the squat above, the clean and press is something of a mythical unicorn in most weight rooms and gyms.

If you want one exercise that can make a huge difference in your strength, body composition and toughness, besides the squat, pressing things overhead is a must. Again, much like the squat, don’t get too caught up in the equipment used. Clean and press a barbell, again a single or pair of kettlebells, a sandbag, stone, log, frog, dog… Taking any object from the ground to a full lockout overhead is going to get you stronger.

Simple Strength #3 – Climb

When I use the term climbing, I’m not just referring to say rock climbing. It’s rather a generic term for pulling your bodyweight. So, things like pull-ups, chin-ups, navigating monkey bars, a climbing wall, rope climbs, inverted rows, tree climbs…

All of the above begin with the grip, involve the midsection stabilizing and the back muscles pulling away and doing their powerful thing. If you can’t do 10 strict pull-ups from a deadhang on each rep, without kipping (don’t get me started on the CrossFit kipping “pull-ups”), don’t contact me telling me I am wrong about this one.

The strength, endurance, grip strength, hand strength, mid section strength, functional strength and toughness you’ll gain from any climbing work is really second to none. Grapplers especially take note on this one. Pulling strength and a solid grip are two of the most significant qualities in any grappling art. Think about it. Takedowns, hand fighting, arm drags, wrist control, finishing submissions… Get pulling.

Simple Strength #4 – Carry things

This couldn’t be simpler.

Firstly, find something heavy.

Secondly, pick up the something heavy.

Thirdly, walk with the something heavy.

Again, the key is to not get bogged down with the specifics. Carry it chest level, in one hand, on one hip, on the shoulders, above head, in both hands, bear hug it or hold it in the crooks of your elbows… Whatever it is, and however you decide to carry it, I guarantee you’ll end up despising it. 30 seconds will feel like a lifetime. Your grip, arms, shoulders, upper back, midsection, glutes, brain, lungs, heart and soul will hurt. If it doesn’t, then you’re either lying or the thing you’re carrying is too light.

You have countless options for things to carry. You also have countless options for training carries. My two favourites are loading a sandbag up heavy and walking with it as far as you can. Resting, cursing, panting, sweating and dying a little inside. Then re-picking up the bag and carrying it back. Second favourite is a Dan John classic “The Eagle” which, straight from Dan himself is as follows:

“A few years ago, I discovered the simple combo called “The Eagle.” Our school mascot was the Soaring Eagle, so the name was a natural. It combined the simplest of the Loaded Carries, the patterning movement “Farmer Walks,” with the basic grinding Squat, the Double Kettlebell Front Squat. I am going to say “simply” here, but the workload is incredible. Simply, we had the athlete do eight Double Kettlebell Front Squats, then drop the weight to his sides and Farmer Walk for twenty meters, then another eight squats and repeat until you complete eight circuits. That goal is often not met.”

Give either a try. Hate me or Dan, but they will get you bigger, fitter, stronger and tougher.  

Simple Strength #5 – Challenge yourself

OK. so technically not an exercise but rather a principle. I frequently harp on about challenges and toughness, but I really do value it and so do my fighters when the shit hits the proverbial fan.

Toughness isn’t something that’s just going to show up when you need it. Like a muscle it needs frequent training and pushing to grow. Luckily, it’s simple to fit in this toughness training by tacking on a finisher to the end of a workout. You’ll not only get some more volume into your training, but more importantly you’ll be teaching yourself to push on through struggles, to realize that the mind is stronger than the body and to see just how much you’re capable of.

Like I’ve said throughout this article, simplicity is the key. With the challenges, savage simplicity is a must.

Some options:

– Taking a 25lb plate for a 25 minute walk, not letting it touch the ground at any point during

–  Dragging/pushing a sled for 10 straight minutes

– 80lb+ loaded sandbag get-ups for 50 total reps

– Bear crawl the length of a football field and sprint back across it. Repeat.

– Carry a sandbag around a trail

Bonus #6 – Sprint


Sprint hills, sprint flat land, sprint dragging a tire behind you, sprint away from a ravenous pack of dogs.

Sprinting creates strong, fit people. Nuff’ said.

"Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that and we conquer resistance." The above quote is from the incredible book "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield and while he may be directing his thoughts towards creative endeavours – writing, design, music and the like, I think it wholeheartedly embodies an issue people struggle with every day in regards to training, fitness, exercise, health or however you want to phrase it. There is fear and resistance to starting on a healthy journey. Perhaps perpetuated by the fitness industry which at its core seeks to deceive, mislead and beguile all while stealing money from the pockets of the ones looking for help rather than being the inspiration and the guiding hand it needs to be. Fitness need not be elitist. Top end supplements, equipment and gear, while arguably being great are a far cry from a necessity. Take this hill. It has no merit, no name, no manufacturer. It comes with no price tag, yet it has the power to strip fat, build unstoppable lungs, a heart that won't yield and an indomitable mind in even the most elite of athletes. There should be no fear in getting healthy. The resistance here is minimal – find a hill and push yourself to new heights, physically and mentally. #savagesimplicity

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Closing Thoughts

That’s it then.

The list may not be that exciting. There certainly aren’t any one legged Bosu ball flying towel grip rows. If that is an actual exercise, someone please link it to me because I have to see it for myself!

The list is however a blueprint to becoming stronger, tougher and to preface Mark Rippetoe, “harder to kill”. It’ll make you better at your sport. It’ll make you tougher and more resilient in life – The goals of savagely simple strength.

Don’t be fooled by clever marketing. Don’t wait until you can save up for the next greatest tool in the industry. Read the list. Find a coach. Read up on things. Be smart and get to work.

As always, train the body and mind hard. Get physically and mentally tougher.


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