The Minimalist Guide to Weight Lifting (Do More With Less)

Brad Borland
Written By: Brad Borland
February 15th, 2016
Updated: June 13th, 2020
Categories: Articles Training
44.2K Reads
The Minimalist Guide to Weight Lifting
When it comes to muscle, bigger is better. But what about your training? Learn how to do more with less with this minimalist guide to weight lifting.

Are you stuck in the weeds? Have you adjusted, torqued, redesigned, and added to your current training program enough to rival the longevity of the Fast & Furious franchise?

Does it feel like the more you tinker, the more frustrated you become with your lack of results?

Some days you may feel like scrapping the whole thing, taking a break, and starting over as if you’re a newbie. Well, you might be onto something.

Remember the beginner years when your training was simple, you got stronger, and easily built muscle? Sure, as you gain more experience and mileage in the gym, your rate of muscle growth slows. It’s the nature of the gym beast. But there’s still something to be said about simplicity.

Why You Need To Become a Minimalist

The term minimalist has been trending lately. A growing number of individuals are craving not only something new, but also something that will produce results. The minimalism movement brings a much needed relief from our complicated world. And why couldn’t your training be subject to the same mindset?

When you started lifting you kept it simple – I hope. You didn’t perform every single-arm cable handle exercise in hopes of getting big and strong. No. You stuck to the basics: bench presses, squats, rows, shoulder presses, and leg presses. You did the big, brutal exercises that packed on the beef quickly and efficiently.

Plus, minimalist training benefits you in so many other ways. Not only will it put your mind at ease, it will also save time, effort, and get you results, faster.

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Principles of Effective Minimalist Training

Before we get into minimalist training, let’s lay down some ground rules. There are a few ideas to live by when you want to get the most out of less.

1. Go Compound

Compound lifts use more than one joint. Exercises such as bench presses, rows, deadlifts, and squats use the most muscle. By using more muscle, compound lifts lead to greater fat burning.

2. Cut Isolation

A few single-joint moves are okay, but a program full of these types of exercises is neither efficient nor effective. Your list should be short: Barbell curls, lying triceps extensions, and calf raises should be about it.

3. Focus on Progression

The key to building muscle is progression. Your goal is to increase weight lifted or reps performed. Once you are able to perform reps close to the upper threshold of your determined range, you can add weight to start the process over again.

Related: Dismissing Progression - It's More Than Just Adding Weight

4. Check your Form

The practice of lifting big isn’t a green light to loosen up your form. Always adhere to proper form. This isn’t just for safety’s sake but also to get as much out of each rep as possible.

5. Moderate your Reps

Your goal is to build muscle and strength. With that said you will need to rely mostly on a moderate rep range. Shooting for singles, doubles, and triples should be reserved for power lifters and other strength-focused athletes. To reach your goals, stick to 6 to 12 rep sets. That’s the sweet spot for maximum muscle growth.

Can Minimalist Training Yield Major Results?

In a word: Yes. The simpler you keep your training, the easier and less stressful it will be to progress. Packing a ton of isolation lifts into your program will only cause confusion regarding what works and what doesn’t. Keeping the number of your lifts low will make it easier to keep track of progress.

The Minimalist Guide to Weight Lifting: All you need is a barbell

Some of the most successful muscle-building programs are more than likely simple and easy to follow. This isn’t rocket science. To increase muscle mass you need to lift big, not dissect every nuance of your program.

The Minimalist's List of Exercises

Here a few of the big hitters when it comes to making your list of exercises for this minimalist weightlifting plan. These are just the foundational moves which can have many variations that may include inclined angles, dumbbells, kettlebells and unilateral versions.

Rules of the Program

  1. Perform the program three times per week (each day once per week) preferably on non-consecutive days such as Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You can always replace one of the days for a weekend day if needed.
  2. Be sure to adhere to the warm-ups as they will prepare your joints for the heavier work to come and raise body temperature to get you ready for the entire workout.
  3. Pay strict attention to the rest periods. Too much rest wastes precious gym time.
  4. Always, always use proper form. Too much heaving and swaying will only risk injury and cheat you out of progressing.
  5. Feel free to perform any cardio of choice on off days.
  6. If you want to train more frequently, simply keep rotating days of training and off days.
  7. You can replace exercises with their proper substitutes. For example, you could replace barbell bench presses with incline bench barbell presses or use dumbbells instead.
  8. Run this program for 6 weeks. Once you complete the six weeks, take a few days to a week off before starting over.

The Minimalist Weight Lifting Program

Day 1
Exercise Warm-Up Sets x Reps Work Sets x Reps Rest (in sec)
1. Flat Bench Barbell Press 2x12 4-5 x 6-12 60
2. Medium Grip Pull Up 2x12 (pulldowns) 30-50 total reps 60
3. Barbell Back Squat 2x12 4-5 x 6-12 90
4. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 1x12 4x8-10 60
5a. Floor Crunch -- 3x15-20 --
5b. Hanging Leg Raise -- 3x15-20 --
Day 2
Exercise Warm-Up Sets x Reps Work Sets x Reps Rest (in sec)
1. Standing Barbell Shoulder Press 2x12 4x6-12 60
2. Barbell Deadlift 2x12 4-5 x 6-8 90
3. Parallel Bar Dip or Close Grip Bench Press 1x12 4x6-12 60
4. Barbell or Dumbbell Curl 1x12 4x6-12 60
5. Standing or Seated Cal Raise 1x12 4x6-12 30
Day 3
Exercise Warm-Up Sets x Reps Work Sets x Reps Rest (in sec)
1. Incline Bench Barbell or DB Press 2x12 4-5 x 6-12 60
2. Barbell or T-Bar Row 2x12 4-5 x 6-12 60
3. Front Squat or Leg Press 2x12 4-5 x 10-12 90
4. Reverse Lunge or Lying Leg Curl 1x12 4x10-12 60
5a. Incline Sit Up -- 3x15-20 --
5b. Lying Leg Raise -- 3x15-20 --

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Posted on: Mon, 12/09/2019 - 21:28

Can this workout be done on consecutive days such as Friday, Saturday and Sunday ? My work allows me to train like that only. Will i still get all the benefits by working out like that ?

Posted on: Sun, 02/21/2016 - 14:09

Hey Brad this almost similar to a full body workout. So my question to you is what do you think of full body workouts and if you are a fan of them do you have a full body routine you can share . Thanks

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Posted on: Mon, 02/22/2016 - 22:45

I like them at times when I am coming back from a lay off. But, I'm still a fan of some type of split though.

Posted on: Thu, 02/18/2016 - 15:47

I wouldn't consider myself a novice nor an advanced weight trainer. How do I know how much weight to start out with when starting this program?

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Posted on: Thu, 02/18/2016 - 16:49

Whatever weight allows you to hit the prescribed number of sets and reps with moderate difficulty while still staying in control of the weights.

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Posted on: Mon, 02/15/2016 - 21:49

Are you a minimalist when it comes to training?

Posted on: Tue, 02/16/2016 - 03:34

Hi Brad. What excercise can i sub for standing shoulder press?
Is it possible to sub it with combo side lateral rises and face-pulls?

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Posted on: Tue, 02/16/2016 - 09:32

Hi Serg. Yes, if you feel like that combo works for you then go for it.