If you want to get stronger, you should do one thing above all else
Mark Lauren represents the philosophy that even short workouts with supposedly simple exercises can ensure good fitness.
If you’re into bodyweight training, you can’t miss Mark Lauren. The fitness expert and best-selling author has developed a new training concept called “Fit in 9 Minutes” that is designed to make beginners and advanced exercisers stronger in a short amount of time. FITBOOK interviewed Lauren about it.
Mark Lauren is known to most fitness enthusiasts in Germany since his bestseller “You Are Your Own Gym“. The book sold more than a million copies worldwide. His motto: To be really fit, you don’t need an expensive gym or equipment, just your own body. Mark Lauren lived in Germany in his childhood, then moved to the USA with his mother and now lives in Thailand. As a trainer for the U.S. military, the now 45-year-old prepared hundreds of soldiers for their missions with elite units. With his latest book, “Strong and Lean,” Mark Lauren focuses on efficiency in strength training, which should enable fitness athletes at every level to make better progress. In this interview, he explains what’s involved, how he trains himself, and what makes an attractive body for him.
In this article
Balance between mobility and stability is important
FITBOOK: When was the last workout you did that involved machines?
Mark Lauren: “I never use machines. But I have nothing against training with weights. If you use a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, or a sled to push or pull weight back and forth, for example, you can build good athletic skills – if you do it right and keep the balance between mobility and stability. You have to be mindful of the ‘point of diminishing return’ – the point where even more strength and even thicker muscles won’t do you any good.”
What does your personal training look like?
Lauren: “It consists of about 80 percent bodyweight training, which means exercises with your own body weight. That’s my foundation. Plus sometimes boxing or Thai boxing, apnea diving, workouts with kettlebells or barbells.”
And how do you structure your workouts?
Lauren: “I usually do more intense sessions on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays more mobility and active recovery. Sundays are off. The individual sessions are never longer than an hour, usually between 30 and 45 minutes.”
The biggest mistake in fitness training
That’s significantly longer than the workouts in your new workout program, Strong and Lean….
Lauren: “Yeah, here’s the thing: The more advanced someone is, the more they have to invest to keep progressing. For those who are just starting their fitness journey, much lower volumes are enough. The workouts in my program last 9 minutes, with warm-up and cool-down about 15 to 20 minutes. That’s quite enough in the beginning. In my opinion, it’s the biggest mistake the fitness industry makes to do too much too soon! It eats up all kinds of time and energy, and you might even have a painful week – but no more progress than if you’d just done enough instead of too much.”
And that’s not very motivating….
Lauren: “Absolutely. The most important thing about working out is consistency. If the cost and benefits aren’t in good proportion, many drop out. With ‘Strong and Lean,’ beginner and intermediate fitness athletes can achieve their goals – with as little energy and time investment as possible. It’s all about efficiency.”
The importance of efficiency in workouts
Can more experienced athletes benefit from “Strong and Lean”?
Lauren: “Yes. These are simple, fundamental movements. And those have the most value to me. If you want to be efficient, you have to improve fundamental athletic skills. These are always used – joint functions, posture, weight transfer… If you improve these, you improve your performance with a small investment of time. No matter what level.”
What do these fundamental exercises look like?
Lauren: “Each of my 9-minute workouts includes one exercise from each of three categories: First, a prone position exercise to improve posture, meaning we work on abdominal, glutes, back and shoulder muscles. Next to that, a mobility exercise and an exercise where you change from a kneeling position to a standing position to work on weight shifting. Thus, one has a lot covered. Each exercise is completed three times, for a total of nine minutes.”
If fundamental skills are lacking, strength is useless
For someone who goes to the gym several times a week and lifts heavy weights, for example, to get big, strong muscles, this sounds like nothing.
Lauren: “We’re too focused on muscle and strength. But what is strength, really? For example, if you bench press, but you lack the ability to shift the weight and you don’t have the coordination to do the hip and shoulder extension at the right time, then all that strength is useless. I think there’s a lack of understanding of that in the fitness industry and the general public.”
What does strength mean to you?
Lauren: “Power is efficiency. To be efficient, we have to be able to put ourselves in the right position. That’s the only way we can absorb force efficiently. A good athlete is always in the right position so they don’t waste energy. And strength, to me, is the ability to maintain the right position – even when a force is working against you. You don’t learn that in the gym on machines, those are useless movements.”
This is what it takes to look good naked, even in old age
Many people expect this type of strength training to have mainly visual effects…
Lauren: “But the basis is much more important. Everything is built on that. The stronger the foundation, the higher you can build on it. I also want muscles and I also want to look good. But I also want to be able to move well. I hate it when I get stiff from too much weight training. I’m 45 and was in the U.S. Army Special Forces for 15 years, jumped out of an airplane 250 times – with 70 kilograms of extra weight on my body. Those were very hard strains. The reason I can still train so much is because I’m always working on my foundation. For example, if you’re a guy and you want to train your biceps and other parts of your body so you look good naked, and you want to do that when you’re 40, 50 or older, you have to work on the foundation.”
How exactly have you adjusted your workouts as you’ve gotten older?
Lauren: “My body was hurting almost every day even at age 35. Part of that was because we used to have a very different mentality when it came to training. In special forces at the time, I broke a record in apnea diving that I still hold. In such attempts, it was clear to everyone in advance that I would not surface conscious, but would go beyond my limits until I lost control. So I dove until I passed out. The first question when I woke up on the edge of the pool was, ‘Did I make it?’ It was all extreme. And I trained like that for a long time. Then at 35 I thought, ‘I don’t know how long I can go on like this.’ Training hard didn’t do much for my athletic ability – on the contrary. The solution to pain and immobility was training the fundamental stuff. So no matter what age: focus on the basics!”
Build up strength, lose weight - can you do it AT THE SAME TIME?
Unfortunately, many fitness athletes seem to miss out on this…
Lauren: “Absolutely. In our culture, we celebrate complex things. ‘Wow, he’s doing a backflip!’ or ‘Wow, a handstand!’ And then people train those things. But the importance of a perfect gait, good posture while standing, or the ability to relax get very little appreciation.”
What do you consider “the best body”?
Lauren: “I think people find ability attractive. It could be someone who can play an instrument, sing well, or dance. Or a brilliant scientist. All of that is attractive. With a trained body, we recognize athletic ability and find that attractive. So which athletes seem the most attractive? In my eyes, it’s sprinters, footballers and rugby players. What they all have in common: They excel at locomotion and have strong fundamental skills.”
For many, a defined, lean body is considered an ideal of beauty. Building strength and losing weight – is that possible at the same time?
Lauren: “For beginners, it’s actually very likely that they will build strength and lose weight at the same time through training. The more advanced you are, the more difficult that becomes. You usually have to focus on one of the two then. If I’m in a phase where I want to build muscle, I also have to eat more calories and I also build up some body fat. I have to live with that. For example, I then eat a lot on 6 days of the week and then take water only on the 7th day when I have a break. That works for me.”
Tips on regeneration and sleep
What do you do for recovery?
Lauren: “How you program periods of stress and recovery becomes more important the more advanced you are and also the older you get. As I mentioned earlier, I do more intense sessions three days a week and active recovery three times. For me, that means doing a program that I again use with beginners to build their fundamental skills. And every fourth week, for example, I don’t do any intense strength training at all.”
What’s your take on fascia rollers or massage for recovery?
Lauren: “I live in Thailand now. So I go for Thai massage after almost every intense session. It’s brilliant and very affordable in this country. If you can’t afford it regularly, foam rollers or fascia balls are a good alternative to loosen up the muscles.”
Do you pay attention to anything in particular when it comes to sleep?
Lauren: “A good sleep rhythm is important to be efficient. However, I don’t go to bed very early, around midnight, and don’t get up until around 8 am. But that’s mainly because I live in Thailand, and the team I work with is based in Germany and Florida. So I usually have meetings late in the evening. But I sleep a lot and sleep well.”
Do you use any trackers that monitor your sleep?
Lauren: “No, not at all. I think that’s okay if people do that. But I don’t want to sleep with a watch. That’s my job, I don’t need a device. I’m the ‘no devices type’.” (laughs)
If you want to get stronger, you should carry heavy things
Hand on heart: what 3 things – devices, training equipment – do you incorporate into your workouts at least once in a while?
Lauren: “I don’t go without anything. If I enjoy something and something is useful, I use it. If I had to choose 3 things, they would be a floor surface…”
…that doesn’t count!
Lauren: “Okay, so then a pull-up bar. And suspension straps, like TRX, you can do different exercises that make sense. And kettlebells. Just because I think I build the most strength by just carrying stuff around like a farmer in addition to my bodyweight workout. I live on a big hill. I regularly haul a 20-gallon water can up and down there. Others would take a car, but I carry it. I’ve also seen this among my students in the Special Forces: The guys who lived at home on a farm and were used to working hard and carrying stuff back and forth were the strongest. So if you want to be strong, haul heavy things around!”