Minimalism in the Gym

Minimalism is one of the fastest growing concepts in fitness. Although the concept has been around a long time, Tim Ferris made it a buzzword with his book “The Four Hour Body.” Like poison, good training is all in the dose. A little poison might actually cure you for one thing, but a little too much will cure all your problems for good.


We see minimalism in shoes (minimalist shoes have little support, no heel, and tend to allow you to know where the rocks and pebbles are on the ground) and minimalism in diet. I think the popularity of Paleodieting comes, in part, from the simplicity of stating: “I only eat foods that were available 10,000 years ago.” My mastodon was excellent today, by the way.


In training, it’s hard to hold to minimalism. I use a simple method in the weightroom. In lifting, the tradition has been simple: about 15-25 reps is generally the universal number for a strength, power and hypertrophy workout. The classic programs hit these numbers.


Reg Park, the great bodybuilding who inspired Arnold, used five by five in everything. The early researcher found that three sets of eight (and variations) were just about perfect for gaining size. Generally, you find programs that live around these numbers; the total reps are between 15-25.


The problem with any rep scheme is getting the sets to line up perfectly. Some lifters simply can’t count on getting exactly eight reps or five reps with a load. Sometimes three sets of eight finds the first set too easy and perhaps the middle set too hard.


To counter this, I recommend the Goldilock’s method. Concerning the load is it too heavy, too light or just right? The method is simple: pick a load and do 25 reps with it. This exercise can be anything from presses to squats to rows, but do a total of 25 reps. Then, there is just one question: how many sets did it take to get there?


If it took one or two sets, for example a set of 18 and a set of 7, the load was too light. If it takes eight sets, then the load is too heavy. Generally, if the total number of sets is three to five or six, the load is just right.


If six or seven sets are needed to get to 25, this might be a judgment call. If you tend to handle this load usually, you might be burning the candle at both ends or maybe need to back off a few days.


The reps might look like this:

7, 6, 7, 5. For many of us, our reps naturally wave up and down. I would ask you to never miss reps nor have some helpful spotter make your bench press his deadlift workout. Get clean reps.


Try something like this:

Military Press

Pull Up (or appropriate machine)

Bench Press



Trap Bar Deadlift


Try this three days a week for three weeks and let the sets dictate the load. If you see your total sets dropping, add more load next time. If you really have to do a lot of sets (25 sets of one would be probably an issue), reduce the load the next workout in this movement.


Increasing load leads to not only greater strength but also improvements in hypertrophy, your lean body mass. And, that makes you look good.

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