Minimalist Training For Minimalist Progress


Not A Long-Term Solution

You might have come across at some point the word minimalist. It seems to pop up frequently when people are talking about training programs but not many people actually know what it means. Well, let me put it as simple as possible: minimal. Yes, that is exactly what I mean. If a training program is termed minimalist then it’s basically highlighting a few distinct features: lack of variety, short-term, endless stalls and plateaus and well, just constant disappointing results.

But that’s just it; minimalist here really means minimal size and strength gains. In fact, most of the training programs you have ever used are more likely than not, minimalist. Judging by what I am saying you can probably guess that I am not really digging the whole minimalist program thing. Absolutely correct! For one good reason: they are highly ineffective if you want long-term size and strength success. No matter how good a program sounds, no matter who is backing the program, if its minimalist in nature, you will come to a dead stop in your gains some point. Usually pretty quickly!

What Exactly Is A Minimalist Program?

Most training programs have one thing in common: the same exercise selection. Yes, different programs will tend to make use of different rep ranges, sets, frequency, rest intervals and a different choice of exercises. But, ALL minimalist programs will suffer in their inability to do one thing: regularly vary exercises. Why is this a problem? By not regularly varying your exercises for new similar exercises, you ignore the most fundamental weightlifting principle: the biological law of accommodation. It is a real thing folks! The frustrating thing is, most people in the weightlifting world still fail to recognize that it actually exists. Honestly, it’s not just some concept I have made up to sound cool. Trust me, it’s always there ready to strike and pull your progress down. If you give it a chance, it will take it. With minimalist programs, if you are using the same exercises on a constant basis, the effectiveness of those exercises will gradually decrease over time. In other words, the size and strength gains will just stop? coming.

Minimalist Training 5

  • “A” represents a typical feature of all minimalist programs – lack of exercise variation. The problem with minimalist programs is that they only allow for short-term gains in size and strength.
  • “B” represents a typical feature of non-minimalist programs – exercise variations. This allows for not only short- but also long-term gains in size and strength (due to avoiding the biological law of accommodation).

I have seen it time and time again with weightlifters that use minimalist programs. They go for a short period of time making progress then all of a sudden they stall. Hard! They try everything in their power to get past this point: change reps, sets, frequency, rest intervals, take extended rest periods, and tweak their nutrition and sleep. But guess what? None of this actually helps them. They still hover around this plateau point. Yes, some changes might give them a short boost in weightlifting performance (if they are lucky!). But sooner or later they always come crashing back to this same stubborn plateau point. It seems that no matter what they do with their program, they can’t seem to escape these head banging plateaus. Unfortunately, this is just how it works with a program that is minimalist. It ignores the fundamentals!

Exercise Variety Is The Highlight Of A Non-Minimalist Program

The truth is, if people stopped using minimalist programs then they wouldn’t always need to hop from one program to the next. This is something I see happen in the weightlifting world quite a bit. Someone follows a program and as soon as they plateau, tend to go to another program. Fair enough. But here is the kicker: it is usually still a minimalist program with the exact same problems. Ok, the two minimalist programs might have you approach your training in a slightly different way. But ultimately, they suffer both the same fundamental problems: no variation in exercises! This means they will encounter exactly the same performance setbacks. The reality is things won’t get better for you until you actually start treating the root cause of the problem: lack of exercise variation. Simply hopping from one minimalist program to another is just trying to avoid the inevitable.

The Repeated Bout Effect – Why High Exercise Variety Works

For some of you who might not yet be convinced by all this high-exercise variation stuff, let me briefly introduce you to the repeated bout effect of exercise. This is a pretty neat concept that explains the protective effect that an exercise can have on the muscle (s) being taxed. Essentially, the concept is that a single bout of exercise can protect against muscle damage from subsequent bouts of the same exercise. Simply put, if you use the same exercise over and over again, it becomes less effective at inducing the muscle damage needed to allow for increased adaptations over time (e.g. size and strength). This is why rotating exercises regularly in your training is so important. If you use the same exercises constantly, it just becomes harder to stimulate the muscle to undergo growth.

The good thing for you is, the negative effects of the repeated bout effect are specific to the exercise being used. If you change the exercise, the negative effect is gone. Pretty good, right? So for instance, if you have been doing a back squat for 6 weeks straight and you are finding it harder to make progress, maybe its time to change things up. What you could do is replace the normal back squat with a front squat, or, if you want to get adventurous, a back squat with power bands.

Minamilist training 1            Minimalist 2.png

  • A-D show a typical 8 week period if the same exercise is used over again. The stimulus (the effectiveness of the back squat in causing muscle adaptation) becomes less over the 8 week period (due to the repeated bout effect). This is why minimalist programs never work over the long-term.
  • As the stimulus becomes smaller, the positive effect that the back squat will have on inducing muscle size and strength will decrease.

Ok, some of you might be thinking: there really isn’t much difference between a back squat, front squat and a back squat with bands. They are still all squat movements. How could this possibly work? True! They all target similar muscle groups, but the movement patterns are all slightly different and they all introduce unique demands on your body. In the front squat, the assumed body position puts more pressure on your quads. Also, your body’s core and back has to work harder to keep your torso more upright. You don’t want to topple forward!

This can take more work than in the normal back squat. Consider the back squat with bands. Yes! Exactly the same movement as the normal back squat, but now your body has to work against the force of the bands and adjust to accommodate those in the movement. Although the demands are slightly different, the benefits you get from each squat movement are all transferable to each other. By rotating between all three, you will progress in all three. The added advantage is that you now avoid the negative effects of the repeated bout effect and thus, the biological law of accommodation. This will allow you to see endless progress in all three squat exercises and thus overall progress in the long-term in your size and strength gains.

Minamilist Training 3.png          Minamilist Training 4.png

  • A-D represents what happens when exercise variation is introduced into a non-minimalist program. As you can see, by rotating exercises, the effectiveness of the adaptive stimulus on muscle size and strength remains large over the 8 week period. There is no repeated bout effect and thus no biological law of accommodation.
  • Even though you are rotating between different squat exercises, the stimulus is still effective throughout the 8-week period. This is because the positive benefits of all squat movements are transferrable to each other.


Non-Minimalist Training Is The New Cool

Unless you are a novice (new to weightlifting), then you need to get on a non-minimalist program ASAP. I can’t stress that enough. Every good weightlifting coach should tell you the same thing. If you want to keep making optimal size and strength gains and not be saddled with constant disappointment and frustration, then a non-minimalist program is the cure. Literally, it’s your holy grail! The very definition of a long-term non-minimalist program means that you never have to program hop again.

If you have any questions about the article or would like to discuss further some of the topics mentioned, then please feel free to leave comments down below!



4 thoughts on “Minimalist Training For Minimalist Progress

  1. For me, minimalist means the minimum I need to do in order to achieve my goal. Not everyone’s goal is to gain size and strength. For some team sport athletes, maintenance is the goal, because the weight room is just one aspect of their training.

    For myself, I would consider myself on a “minimalist” program. Just barely enough to maintain strength. Perhaps just slightly not enough, but it will get me to the end of the season and then I can re-set my goals. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have variety. It just means that I have other components of my training that I am focusing on and that could mean reducing volume, intensity, and maybe even variety. I do think there is a place for that kind of training, and probably more important to highlight… that there are many athletes in the weight room whose sport and/or situation calls for that kind of program. Minimalist is stil better than not lifting at all, right? Progres is also measured mostly in relation to objectives, so it’s hard to qualify progess on a wide scale without taking into account goals and objectives…

    (Not trying to argue, just sharing my thoughts/experience!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Minimalist it fine if you want to maintain. Although if your goal is to make progress in size and strength then I wouldn’t recommend it for the long-term. But even for athletes and those looking to really develop power, speed and strength, a minimalist program would be sub-optimal to allow them to develop these goals.


      1. I guess what I am trying to say is that minimalist could be for ant goal, whether is to maintain or build. What is the minimum you would need to do to gain x pounds or reach x goal. Whatever that goal is, whether it is maintenance or gaining. That’s what I see a minimalist program as. Necessarily linked to a goal. The minimum needed to attain that goal.


      2. What I mean is … minimalist = minimum necessary to atain goals, which could include gaining size and strength. The requirement being that it allows goals to be attained, no matter what they are. But won’t surpass your objectives. But I get what you are saying. You get what you put in…


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