Monday, November 9, 2009


Originally posted on on June 2, 1999

Reprinted with permission of The Dinosaur Files

There is a cult of underachievers in the strength training field that believes in a "minimalist" training philosophy. These minimum mentality advocates are constantly searching for the minimum amount of training possible. They stretch the limits of recovery to the extreme and train as little as possible. They go far beyond recovery and deep into atrophy. Only in strength training do you find such a negative view of self-improvement. If you want to get better at almost anything, do you brag that you only practice for 5 minutes once every two or three weeks, and try to get better by doing even less? If so, you would NEVER improve at anything you were trying to do--including strength training.

Most of the guys who advocate this underworking philosophy look average and untrained. This is understandable considering they spend just a couple of days per month training. Deep down, they hate training and will come up with every excuse in the world to avoid it. They avoid hard work like the plague. It's easy to see how this philosophy sells. There are a lot of lazy suckers out there who love the idea of taking a two or three-week break between workouts. These types believe that less training is the answer for everything. Not getting stronger? Can't get bigger? Don't work harder or lift heavier, just take three weeks off! What a farce! The truth is that less training is only better when compared to too much training, such as the five and six days per week body part routines. Most people do not need less training, they need to work harder and lift heavier! Everyone should be searching for the right amount of training, which is not always less training.

The minimalists claim that they overtrain unless they get anywhere from 10-21 days of recovery (or more) after a very short workout, usually using a slow speed cadence. I guess they don't believe in muscle atrophy. If you want to just make up your own organization and certification program to back your philosophy, you can say whatever you want, but muscular atrophy is a scientific fact. Usually somewhere in the area of 72-96 hours of recovery is enough and rarely up to about 120-144 hours after a brutal (50s day type) workout emphasizing load. This is not just my opinion but also according to Dr. Wayne Westcott. There is a big difference between an extra day or two of rest once in a while, which is helpful, and regularly grossly undertraining. Too much recovery is deconditioning and will lead to muscular atrophy. Period. You will not get an optimum training effect with two or fewer workouts per month. (Or regularly and consistently taking ten or more days off between workouts.)

Most minimalists train slow, which should require even less recovery, not more. It is almost impossible to get sore when training slow because of the light weights being used. That is why slow training is so good for rehab as it is a gentler way to train. You need less recovery training slow because the lighter weights being used cause far less micro-trauma to the muscles. Ask Drew Israel. A few months ago he was "ambushed" by Dr. Ken and his son, Greg Roman-Leistner, a coach with the Carolina Panthers. They put Drew through a regular speed workout with heavier weights. (When on Dr. Ken's turf, you do it his way.) Drew had previously trained slowly for over a year, mainly because of his history of injuries. He was sore for almost a week. I jokingly refer to this episode of Drew's as "How Drew Got His Groove Back!" The truth is that you need even less recovery training slow because of the lighter weights used. It's the load that causes the micro-trauma.

The underachievers who are aiming to do the minimum will get only minimum results. They spend far too much energy worrying about overtraining, even though most of them have probably NEVER really trained hard in their lives and have probably never overtrained. They are always striving to do the least amount of work to stimulate the muscles, instead of just doing the right amount of work to ensure that the muscles have been hit hard (about twice every seven to ten days), I personally think it is destructive to strive to do the minimum amount of work to stimulate the muscles. I believe this theory is the main reason behind the failures of most underachievers.
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