How Little Can You Train - And Still Progress?

Dr Darden,

A question about how little is required? What is your opinion on this? Anyone else with interesting experiences?

I guess Arthur Jones started this transition, later taken to (and perhaps over) the limit by Mike Mentzer - where intensity were to compensate for less frequency and volume. More recently, Dr Darden’s 30-10-30 program was introduced here, once weekly it provided results to show in a small study (presented in an article here on Tnation).

The question is not that easy to answer, taking into account the balance in between frequency, volume and intensity. There seems to be a fine line where you simply can’t compensate for lack of frequency. Perhaps in respect of the “anabolic window” - where growth stimulus is kept operational post-workout for a certain amount of time. Maybe even the level of daily activities in general - or lack thereof - is of importance? Obviously stress, diet and supplementation by for instance creatine can affect the muscle sparing abilities (not forgetting PEDs).

Me, I have been on a Darden individualized routine alternated with periodizations of Fortitude Training and Brian Johnston routines - full-body, twice weekly for the past 3 years. I believe I still make progress, experimenting with a little bit more volume or intensity here and there. The odd thing is that this actually works for me. I didn’t make any better progress during my high volume, high frequency years back when I was much younger.

So, how little can you train - and still progress?

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I think this depends greatly on where you’re starting point is. If a total gym newbie is asking it - 2x a month would be a 200% increase. But if you’re already quite muscularly develped…

Anyways, I’ll exit the conversation - just dropping my 2 pennies in here.

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That is something you can only find out for yourself. Trial and error.

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Almost a century ago, minimal routines of 2x/week and a handful of exercises were the norm. Mark Berry, J.C. Hise, Peary Rader, where are you now? Then along came Weider, and drugs! The power of propaganda and misinformation!

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Well…you can’t start with zero and make progress, therefore, you start with 1 and go from there

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This is a big misconception that the old school guys did these minimalist routines. By the statements of their own routines the original champions like Steve Reeves, Clancy Ross, and Reg Park they did a lot more volume than you want to say they did.

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I never mentioned these names!

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My answer is that the majority of lifters past the absolute beginner stage need at least two total body lifting sessions per week and the volume of those sessions needs to be fairly significant to progress. I would say this is a bare minimum to make some progress. For lifters who are well trained, more frequency and volume will be needed to continue to progress. And I think if a lifter is trying to develop specific lifts (like a powerlifter), frequency is even more important for the skill acquisition/perfection component.

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Something I’m continually experimenting with in order to find the minimum effective dose, and as yet, I don’t have a definitive answer.

In all honesty, I think the answer is very little. Very, very little.

Truthfully, I believe most people mystify weight training to make it seem like it’s necessary to do far more than you have to for various reasons, which often includes rationalising their feelings and sensations around training, because in truth many will simply enjoy the routine that comes with going to the gym for two hours a day, five days a week, while some might just enjoy the internal sensations from the repetitions, as if it’s soothing or therapeutic. That’s fine. It doesn’t mean it’s actually necessary for muscle growth or even productive to do so.

One of the reasons I related to Mentzer so much was that he was one of the few figures I’ve seen who has a similar outlook to myself in that training is more of a means to an end in order to accomplish a very specific goal, to be done in a time efficient manner, rather than something done for the sake of enjoyment, whether people admit to it or not. Ultimately, there are plenty of other important things in life to be getting on with rather than spending needless hours hanging around the weight room.

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