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I am looking for a very abbreviated (3-4 sets per week, to failure) core workout routine. I have access to free weights and not much else. I can deadlift (within reason - see background) and I don't have a squat rack. I like "push yourself, go one more inch" type of workouts because of my personality. Any ideas?

Background: 44 years old male, white collar worker, high stress job/short on time. I have a pile of weights in the corner of my house and I lift them for one set in the morning and one set in the evening, both to failure. I also have two high energy dogs, I walk/bike/jog slowly with them for about 1.5 hours per day (less than an hour a day of activity my German Shepherd gets aggressive). I hike occasionally.

  • In fitness, "core" workout usually means a workout for your abdominals. But from your description seems like that's not what you mean. Can you clarify? – Dan Mar 9 at 14:08
  • I mean a workout for the kind of muscles you use to move the whole upper torso relative to the hips (bend over and lift when wrestling, turn into the punch when boxing etc). Abs are definitely included, I am not sure what else is included. I would count the lower back too, it does the same jobs as the abs except in the opposite direction (bending forward vs bending backward). I am looking for real life strength/endurance not bodybuilding. – Censored to protect the guilty Mar 9 at 14:17
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    It sounds like you'd be interested in CrossFit (functional, timed, stress-relief, push yourself). – C. Lange Mar 9 at 15:10
  • I am not interested in Crossfit because I have my dogs :-) Between sweating in a gym and running with my dogs in a park one is distinctly more fun for me. – Censored to protect the guilty Mar 9 at 16:58
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    reading through your question and comments I still can't get a grip of your goals, your means, or your current abilities. It makes the question difficult to answer – Dan Mar 9 at 19:56
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If you're looking to do 3-4 sets per week of one exercise then I think you'd be better off just playing more intensely with your dogs. That's way too low of a volume to even matter. Maybe get a weighted vest when you take your dogs on a jog and you can kill two birds with one stone?

I would suggest aiming for 10 sets per muscle group per week. The types of exercises I would focus on are called compound exercises (think deadlifts, squats, cleans, pushups, pullups). They work out multiple muscle groups and give you the most bang for your buck. Deadlifts are probably one of the best 'core' workouts and would improve your posture and back strength. As long as you're properly warming up, using good form, and not ego lifting they're safe. Compound exercises can be done with barbells, dumbells, or bodyweight and that depends on your goals. For wellness, I think your body weight is fine to start with. I would add in weight for bigger lifts (deadlift, cleans, squats) once you're accustomed.

The reason I mentioned CrossFit is that the workouts are typically timed, use many compound movements, encourage "functional training", and they're hard; the whole community has that push yourself one more inch vibe. For example, the CrossFit workout "Cindy" is:

AMRAP in 20 minutes
- 5 Pull-ups
- 10 Push-ups
- 15 Air squats

No matter what, this workout will take you 20 minutes. That's great if you're pressed for time; which it sounds like you are. You can then score yourself based on the sets completed: 11-12 (Beginner), 13-17 (Int.), 19-22 (Adv.), 24+ (Elite). This workout requires no gym, no weights, and you can do it at home with your dogs (or even in a park).

If that's too easy, the workouts can scale up ridiculously. Here's a good one called "The Chief" which, again, would only take 20 minutes:

AMRAP in 3 minutes
- 3 Power Cleans (135/95 lb)
- 6 Push-Ups
- 9 Air Squats
Then Rest 1 minute
Repeat 5 times
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I think doing one set of the plank in the morning and one set of slow and light dumbell deadlifts in the evening (almost) every day may be a possible minimum solution for the core muscles.

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