The Big Minimalist Training Lie [Part 1]

May 9, 2016 | 12 Comments

minimalist training

Note: This is Part 1 of 2 of my minimalist training article series. 

You can read part 2 here.

Minimalist training is so hot right now.

Like hotter than Alexandra Daddario in True Detective.

Yeah…that hot.

The basic idea behind minimalist training is to train as little as humanly possible in a way that still gets results.

Typically this involves training 2-3x per week, only doing 2-3 exercises, for no more than 30-60 min.

And then there are the guys out there who say you can get ripped in 15 minutes per day with nothing but your bodyweight and a towel.

Sounds pretty awesome, right?

Why should I train 4+ times per week if I can get the same results with 2-3x per week?

And hey, a towel? We all have those. Fuck weights.

But there’s a big fat lie about minimalist workouts that very few people seem to talk about.

The big minimalist training lie – it doesn’t work for everyone

When someone says something like “Oh I’m only training 2-3x per week for 30 minutes and I’m losing fat and building muscle,” I can’t help but shake my head.

But that’s the truth.

A typical minimalist training program might look like this:

Day 1: 

  • Front squat – 3 sets x 5 reps
  • Pull ups – 3 sets x 5 reps

Day 2

  • Lunges – 3 sets x 5 reps per leg
  • Barbell row – 3 sets x 5 reps

Day 3

  • Bench press – 3 sets x 5 reps
  • Standing military press – 3 sets x 5 reps

So a routine like this isn’t necessarily bad…

It works if you’re a:

  • beginner who wants to build muscle
  • beginner who wants to lose fat
  • person who just really wants a way to stay in shape

But that’s about it.

You can get to single digit body fat levels and look decent. If you need someone for comparison sake, you will most likely build a body akin to Ryan Gosling in Crazy Stupid Love.

And if that’s your goal, awesome. I won’t tell you what your ideal body should or shouldn’t be.

But if you want to pack on substantially more muscle and strength and build a body that looks more like a fitness model or superhero, then you need to increase your total amount of volume and/or training frequency.

That’s just how it is.

Especially when training research shows that higher frequency training is best for building muscle, how can you expect to spend the rest of your life doing these 30 minute minimalist routines?

You need to understand fucking context

green eggs and ham
Don’t pretend like this wasn’t your favorite book.

Context is absolute king when it comes to everything in life.

It’s like reading books.

For example, if you read Green Eggs and Ham (one of my favorite books EVER) and you only read the end where “Sam-I-Am” finally tries the green eggs and ham and says “I do so like green eggs and ham. Thank you. Thank you, Sam-I-Am,” then that just makes no damn sense.

You need to start from the beginning and get to know the deep, complex nature of the characters and why motherfucking “Sam-I-Am” didn’t want to eat the green eggs and ham in the first place.

You need context or nothing makes sense or works.

Same with minimalist training….

You can’t just do a minimalist training program like the one above and say that’s the best routine for you.

What are your goals?

If you’re a newbie who has never lifted before, a minimalist training approach is good.

But if you’re an intermediate lifter who has been lifting for 3+ years and wants to gain more muscle, doing a routine like the one above is just stupid. I guarantee it’s not going to work. In this case you would most likely need a higher volume routine where you train 3x per week while implementing different lifting styles or a higher frequency routine (4-5x per week).

Minimalist training is sexy but it’s not a magic bullet

min home

There’s nothing sexier in the world than saying you can get amazing results by only doing a fraction of the amount of work.

That’s exactly why diet pills and supplements sell so well. People believe that if they take a diet pill, they don’t need to do anything else.

They believe all their fat ass problems can be solved with one magic pill but nothing could be further from the truth and when they’ve flushed $200 down the drain on supplements, they finally learn “the hard way” that the only way to get in amazing shape is through hard work and sweat.

I am definitely not saying minimalist training is useless. It definitely works for the groups of people I outlined above but if you constantly want to progress, you need to adjust your training accordingly and that means you need to put in more work.

Minimalist Adaptive Training (MAT) – A contextual approach to minimalist training that works

MAT is a contextual approach to minimalist training that works.

This Bruce Lee quote sums up MAT perfectly:

[x_blockquote cite=”Bruce Lee” type=”center”]Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is uniquely your own.[/x_blockquote]

So what this means is that MAT is built on the “cut out all the useless shit” foundation that traditional minimalist training is built on, but at the same time, dynamically adjust your training as needed as your goals change and you get more advanced.

It’s a very simple but powerful concept.

And it’s a big part of the non-fitness lifestyle.

I will go into much more detail about MAT and how to apply it to your own workouts in Part 2 of this article.

So stay tuned 🙂

If you have any questions about minimalist training, be sure to leave them below.

12 Comments - Leave Your Thoughts

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  1. Hi Keith,

    I’m a 6′ 1” male and I weigh about 230 pounds now. I used to weigh 250 and so I’m down 20 pounds or so.
    I still want to lose some more weight, but my question is what weight/fat percentage should I diet down to before I start trying to put on muscle?

    I liked the Henry Cavill plan and I know it said modify it to lose weight, which I have been doing but I want to know when is a good weight to start putting on muscle before going back to losing weight later.

    I know I don’t have the patience for the lean bulking so I want to lose weight/fat and then bulk up to a point and then shed the fat as much as possible.


  2. Dave Asprey claimed some stuff like this. Absurd claims. Ironically I claim fitness minimalist by virtue of training tools, pageantry and tools. Less is more sometimes. Need very few to build and grow work capacity. Great article…

      1. LOL–how do really feel about Dave Asprey??? Great article, just came across it and expected a bashfest on mimalist training, was happy to read how you caveated that minimalist training does work for a niche group of people (which I feel I fall in as a new lifter that is 47 with less than a year’s experience). I’ve gotten good results using the same three lifts (squat, bench & pullups) twice a week followed by kettlebell metcon. More than that, tendinitis in elbow, shoulder and knee flares up. Anyway, liked your article and browsing through your other articles, nice website!

  3. I love the tone of this article. Your turn-of-phrase is hilarious.

    I’m the asshole you’re talking about. I have a stupid fast metabolism and started doing situps and pushups when I woke up just so I’d feel more awake when I ride my bike to work. and then, bam, I’m in fucking excellent shape somehow. I figured I’d start an after work training schedule with really basic cardio/freeweight exercises. Just for fun. to see where it goes. Casual-like.

    Now look at me, I’m reading websites about how to get past a pleateau that use Green Eggs and Ham as an allegory for physical fitness.

    everyone enjoys different stuff. if you don’t want fitness to be a hobby, then just do what makes you feel healthy, eh?

  4. Marty Gallagher (and MANY others) would beg to differ. Best routine for pure strength i ever did was tailored after world powerlifting champion Mark Chaillet (who could smoke all your lifts drunk on his worst day) working up to a max single on Squats and Bench Press on Monday and a max single in the Deadlift on thursday AND THAT’S ALL HE DID. My routine defies modern convention and yet I’d put my lifts against yours and anyone elses reading this any day of the week and twice on sunday. I lift one day per week, saturday night, and I alternate two workouts as follows. Workout 1 is Squats and Bench Press, warming up with 2 or three reps per set until i hit a max single, rest 5 minutes then add 2.5lbs and do another single, rest 5 minutes then add 2.5 more lbs and do a final single. I do this for Squat then Bench Press. Workout 2 on the next saturday night is Deadlift and Bench press, same as described for workout 1. THAT’S IT. Sounds crazy but it F’ing works. If i can get all three singles for a lift i add 2.5lbs to the exercise’s first single weight the next time i do it. Real simple. If you’re spinning your lifter wheels and looking for strength gains then STOP IT with all the 3+ times per week volume bullcrap because that only works for novices learning the lifts. If you’re a beginner then do a standard 5×5 program for 6 months to learn perfect form on the Big 3 and then switch to my routine and watch your strength gains bust through the roof. And don’t be stupid and add anything or any other exercises. Just do my program as written and nothing else. PERIOD.

  5. Yeah, Allen G. is right. Roger Estep in his column in Powerlifting USA suggested 2 day per week routines to almost everyone. And, 1 of those 2 days was a LIGHT day. Ken Leistner suggested a 2 day per week routine with Squat and Bench one day, Deadlift the other and that was it. I never got my bench over 400 or my deadlift over 600(as a 198 lb-er) until trained the lifts 1 time per week or less with not much else. I think the current bro-mance with volume and frequency is keeping people weak and small(unless they’re on the ‘roid wagon). Oh, but you’ll have abs. And you’ll be “fit”(whatever that really means). Hooray!

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