Saturday, July 9, 2022

Abbreviated, Not Minimalist Training - By RJ Hicks, MS, CSCS

There are many lifters that are confusing an abbreviated training philosophy with a minimalist training approach. This group of lifters look to do the minimal amount of work in a training session and take long layoffs between workouts in fear of over training. Many of them refuse to do any additional exercise outside of their lifting, as it is dangerous and will cause them to lose strength. No workout they do seems to take longer than 20 minutes. 

Most of the lifters who fall into this category are over sensitive to injury and over training. They often have an average build and look lean, but in dress clothes you could never tell they were lifters. They love to read and talk about training, but hate to do it themselves. For some lifters, they use it as a weak excuse to not work hard. These lifters will tell you they respond best to a low volume. Then with the next breath claim that they have reached their genetic potential after two years of training. Many of these lifters haven’t been training long enough to know this and have most likely made it up in their mind.

This minimalist philosophy stems from the believe of performing the least amount of work possible to stimulate muscular growth.  Many lifters love this approach, but then are confused as to why they are not bigger and stronger several months down the road. They do not want to dedicate the time and effort it takes to train the whole body hard and progressively. Many of them have never overtrained before, but find it easier to explain their lack of results. They fail to realize that performing the bare minimum amount of lifting, cardiovascular training and eating will only bring them minimal results.

Too many lifters confuse high training volume and high training frequency. Training volume is the amount of exercise you perform while you are at the gym for a given workout. Frequency is the number of times you go to the gym. Most lifters are going to the gym too many times rather than performing too much volume during their workout. The body needs less visits to the gym not shorter workouts. An hour-long workout is an abbreviated workout if you are training your whole body. You are not going to over train by doing more than one set per muscle group. More than likely, you will actually obtain better results.  

Read any of the muscular hypertrophy research by Dr. Brad Scheinfeld. His studies suggest up to 10 sets per muscle group per week is required to maximize muscular size and strength in most lifters. Many of the basic compound exercise have a great deal of muscle overlap, but performing only four or five total sets in a routine is far from optimizing your potential. It can really benefit you to perform a second work set on many of the basic exercise or include a few additional exercises for a more rounded workout. This will put you closer to Dr. Scheinfeld’s research and is a far cry from what drug infested bodybuilding champions try to promote.

Minimalist training is the result of taking abbreviated training to the extreme. There is a big difference between having an extra day of rest and taking a whole week off between workouts. Once a week is not enough training to maximize the potential of most people. Certain exercises such as the deadlift are best trained once every seven to ten days, but a majority of the other basic exercises will benefit from a slightly higher volume of exposure.  Too much time off in the weight room will lead to deconditioned muscles and eventually atrophy. Especially if you are training with such a low training volume. If you hate lifting and only have time once a week, then once a week is better than not training at all. But if you are serious about maximizing your potential then you will find a way to train the whole body twice every seven to ten days most of the time.  

Many minimalists avoid all extra training outside of their once weekly workout to include any cardiovascular exercise. They like to pretend it is redundant and unnecessary for the body to preform any additional anaerobic or aerobic work. One workout a week with short rest intervals and a high level of effort may be enough to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, but it is not enough to maximize the health benefits of being active and your cardiovascular ability.  Two to three cardiovascular workouts should be completed to help you recover better during workouts, burn more calories and improve your endurance outside of the gym.  The current literature on concurrent training (performing both weight training and cardiovascular exercise) shows that a moderate amount of cardiovascular training has no significant negative affect on strength training. As long is cardiovascular training is not over done your weight training workouts will not be affected at all. 

This same group of minimalists often times push long fasting windows, usually eating only one meal a day, hardly ever eating any carbohydrates. Diet recommendations should always come from a registered dietitian, but I can tell you eating one meal a day is not going to maximize your muscular growth. Registered dietitians may recommend a heavy protein feeding once a day to a client who is pre-diabetic or attempting to lose weight by reducing blood sugar levels and caloric intake. Not to someone who is looking to build muscular size and strength. Fueling your body with enough proper nutrition is just as important as your training, you cannot skim on either! 

If you want to be a closet lifter where nobody can tell you lifts weights, then train once a week in a minimalist fashion. You will still capitalize on the numerous health benefits and slowly continue to improve your strength if you remain progressive with your training. If you want to maximize your muscular and strength potential then you will need to train and eat more than just the bare minimum. Stop looking at how little you can do in the weight room and start looking at the optimal amount of work for the greatest results!


Does modern bodybuilding make you sick? You should write for Natural Strength! I always need good articles about drug-free weight training. It only has to be at least a page and nothing fancy. Just write it strong and truthful with passion! Send your articles directly to me: bobwhelan@naturalstrength.com
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