The what, why, and how, behind minimalist strength training.
By Coach Hunter Bennett
Strength training is an essential aspect of any fitness regimen.
Building muscle and strength improves athletic performance, prevents injury, and increases health and wellbeing. However, too many people fail to start because they don’t think they have enough time to see results.
But most people can make serious progress on a surprisingly small amount of training.
Enter minimalist strength training.
What is minimalist strength training?
Minimalist strength training is a style of training that focuses a few key exercises that target multiple muscle groups, maximising training efficiency.
These exercises often use minimal equipment and are pushed relatively hard to ensure progress is made with minimal time commitment.
Minimalist strength training benefits
What are the benefits of minimalist strength training?
1. Saves time
Minimalist strength training is quick and efficient.
By focusing on compound exercises, you can target multiple muscle groups in a shorter amount of time. This makes it perfect for those with busy schedules or don’t to commit to long, complicated workouts.
2. Simplifies the process
Minimalist strength training prioritises simple progression above all else. Add load, or add reps, then rinse and repeat.
With less variables to stress about, the process is easier.
3. Increases intensity
By focusing on a less exercises, you can increase the intensity of your workouts. This can lead to more effective training because you spend less time doing “junk volume”.
4. Uses less equipment
Minimalist strength training focuses on exercises that use a select few pieces of equipment. This makes them easier to perform, so you can get in and out of the gym faster.
It also means they offer a way to make progress even if you don’t have access to a fancy gym.
5. Improved recovery
A big positive associated with minimalist strength training is improved recovery time.
In short, because you train less, you allow yourself more time to recovery between workouts. This will not only have you feeling better, but may also increase progress by ensuring you have adequate time to adapt.
How to design a Minimalist Strength Program
There are a few steps you can take to build a minimalist strength training program from the ground up.
1. Choose your goals (and your rep ranges)
Broadly speaking, strength training can be implemented with three primary goals in mind: power, strength, and hypertrophy (i.e., muscle growth).
Power requires low loads being moved explosively for low (3-5) reps. This is almost exclusively used for those looking to improve athletic performance of some kind.
Strength requires moving heavy loads for low (3-5) reps. If you want to lift some heavy weights, you need to spend some of your time here.
Hypertrophy requires moving moderately heavy loads for moderate (8-12) reps. If you want to get as big as possible this is a must – but as there is a strong link between muscle size and strength, you need to be spending some time here if your goal is to get stronger as well.
2. Select your exercises
Exercises in a minimalist strength training program need to use minimal equipment, use multiple muscle groups, and either allow you to use heavy loads OR encourage a large range of motion.
Breaking this down further, exercises focusing on strength should use multiple muscle groups and allow you to lift the most amount of load. Exercises focusing on muscle growth should use multiple muscle groups and use a large range of motion.
3. Choose your training frequency
Training frequency is going to be dictated by your availability and the amount of time you want to dedicate to training.
It is possible to make progress on as little as two sessions per week. But these sessions are likely to go for about an hour. Conversely, if you would rather do 3-4 shorter session (~40 minutes), that could also be a viable option.
4. Organise your training split
Once you know how many days per week you want to train, you need to establish how your exercises will be organised across the week.
As a general recommendation, I would suggest people training 2-3 times per week to use a full body split, while those training 4 times go for an upper lower split.
5. Give it a go
And lastly, it is time to give it a go. Try it out for a few weeks and then make any necessary changes.
Minimalist Strength Training Program Example
Taking the above into consideration, I wanted to provide a simple example of a minimalist strength training program that consists of three sessions per week.
This program aims to improve strength in the big three (squat, bench press, and deadlift), while also promoting muscle growth (i.e., a powerbuilding program). It provides a good example of how you can structure your training in a time efficient and effective manner.
|1. Back squat||3 sets of 5 reps (2-3 reps in the tank)|
|2. Bench press||3 sets of 3 reps (2-3 reps in the tank)|
|3. Lunges||2 sets of 8-12 (to failure)|
|4. Chin Ups||2 sets of maximum reps (to failure)|
|1. Deadlift||3 sets of 3 reps (2-3 reps in the tank)|
|2. Close Grip Bench press||3 sets of 8 reps (1-2 reps in the tank)|
|3. Bent Over Barbell Row||2 sets of 8-12 (to failure)|
|4. Shoulder Press||2 sets of 8-12 (to failure)|
|1. Back Squat||3 sets of 3 reps (2-3 reps in the tank)|
|2. Pause Bench press||3 sets of 5 reps (3-4 reps in the tank)|
|3. Romanian Deadlift||2 sets of 8-12 (to failure)|
|4. Pull Ups||2 sets of 8-12 (to failure)|
In this example load is prioritised for the squat, bench, and deadlift, which is integral for strength development. Other exercises are pushed to failure and implemented with moderate rep ranges to maximise the muscle growth potential of each set.
On paper this may not look like a lot, but it is more than enough for most people to make some decent progress in minimal time – especially if they really push themselves.
Short on time? Give it a go and let us know what you think.