Minimal Training: Less Work, Similar Results

We aren’t always able to devote as much time as we’d like to training. Sometimes we’re just too busy, sometimes we’re on holidays, and sometimes we’re just not motivated. Time can also be a major barrier that prevents people from starting exercise in the first place. A lot of newcomers are under the impression that they need to spend hours upon hours in the gym each week. This either puts them off even trying, or can lead to burnout after a few weeks. Fortunately, there’s a concept that we like to call minimal training that can help solve both of these problems.

Minimal training is the least amount of resistance exercise you can do whilst still making meaningful gains in health, strength, and muscle size. The amount of training required will differ depending on your goal, so we’ll talk about them one at a time.

How little training do you need?

To improve health, the World Health Organisation recommends a minimum of 2 resistance training sessions per week.1 Further evidence on the topic indicates that reductions in all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality are maximised with 60 minutes of resistance training per week.2

For strength, studies have shown that experienced lifters can get meaningfully stronger with 1-4 weekly sets per exercise.3 Given that training experience is generally associated with slower rates of strength gain, the minimum dose is likely even lower for beginners.

To build muscle, it seems as though a minimum of 4 weekly sets per muscle group is sufficient.4 These sets need to be high effort, either at or close to muscular failure. There is also some evidence to suggest that older adults (60+) require higher weekly training volume to maintain their gains.5

Putting this all together, we can see that it’s possible to make meaningful gains in health, strength and muscle size with relatively little time spent in the gym each week.

How to use minimal training

How you take advantage of minimal training will depend on your goals and the time you have available to spend in the gym.

One thing that we know about resistance training is that doing more weekly volume (sets and reps) generally leads to greater increases in strength and muscle. If you’ve got the time and want to maximise these outcomes, we’d recommend doing more than minimal training. The same goes for health. If you want to get the best results possible, we’d recommend doing as much training as you can reasonably manage.

The studies looking at minimal training only looked at outcomes over 6-12 weeks.6 It may be possible to continue making similar gains over a longer timespan, but we don’t yet have the evidence to support that. With that in mind, you may reach a point where you stop seeing results with minimal training. When that happens, we would recommend slowly adding more volume as necessary.

So then who would we actually recommend minimal training for? The first group would be those for whom time spent in the gym is a barrier to exercising at all. Even if it’s not optimal, the difference in outcomes between minimal training and no training is incredibly significant. The second group would be people who are temporarily unable to train as much as they normal would. This could be due to scheduling, stress, lack of motivation, or holidays. In these scenarios, we’d recommend doing minimal training as long as you need to, but to start returning to your regular training dose as soon as you can.

Minimal training doesn’t mean minimal results

As we’ve seen, it’s possible to continue making meaningful gains in strength, muscle, and health with a minimal amount of training. We recommend this approach for people who lack time or are put off by spending ages in the gym. However, this isn’t a permanent solution, and more training volume may be required after some time to continue seeing results.

If you’ve still got questions about minimal training, get in touch with us to see how one of our excellent personal trainers can help you out!

References

  1. World Health Organisation Physical Activity Guidelines ↩︎
  2. Resistance Training and Mortality Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis ↩︎
  3. The Minimum Effective Training Dose Required to Increase 1RM Strength in Resistance-Trained Men: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis/; The Minimum Effective Training Dose Required for 1RM Strength in Powerlifters ↩︎
  4. No Time to Lift? Designing Time-Efficient Training Programs for Strength and Hypertrophy: A Narrative Review ↩︎
  5. Exercise dosing to retain resistance training adaptations in young and older adults ↩︎
  6. The Minimum Effective Training Dose Required to Increase 1RM Strength in Resistance-Trained Men: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis/; The Minimum Effective Training Dose Required for 1RM Strength in Powerlifters ↩︎

Top Strategies To Boost Your Success with Habit Stacking

Five Reasons You Need A Personal Trainer

In the quest for a healthier lifestyle, putting as many health-promoting behaviours on autopilot as possible will reduce decision fatigue and boost adherence. To this end, habit stacking can really boost your chance of success and consistency. With habit stacking you will find yourself better navigating around the obstacles of incorporating new habits into your daily routine. 

We have all the best intentions of making these health-promoting behaviours in our day consistent. Doing so ensures we are kicking off the year on the right foot. However, our busy lives and schedules can make implementing new healthier habits feel quite tedious.

So, how do some people stay so consistent and continuously implement their new healthy habits?

This is where the art of habit stacking can come in. It’s a powerful strategy that involves piggybacking new behaviours onto already existing ones. Overall, this approach not only streamlines your efforts but also helps promote a seamless integration of positive habits into your daily life. 

The Ripple Effect of Success

Firstly, the beauty of habit stacking lies in its ripple effect. As you successfully integrate one habit into your routine, the sense of accomplishment and positive reinforcement spills over into other aspects of your life. 

Small victories breed confidence, creating a momentum that propels you toward more ambitious health and fitness goals. Therefore, habits are going to be the backbone of consistency as they have seamlessly merged with your routine. They will continue to be present after the motivation and interest dissipates. 

Rewiring Our Routine with Habits

In a weight loss study conducted over eight weeks, habit stacking was put to the test. Participants were split into either a habit focused with diet and activity behaviours or dietary intervention alone. As a result, the habit focused group had lost 2kg compared to 0.4kg in the diet alone group.

In addition, at the end of a 32-week follow-up, researchers found that the participants in the habit focused group had developed these behaviours for the long term. Some had even stated that they felt ‘quite strange’ if they did not do them. 

To sum up the research findings above, habits help you pave the way for living a sustainable healthy lifestyle. It becomes second nature in your routine. This reduces the cognitive load required when trying to make health-promoting decisions.

Habit Stacking In Practice

Here is an example of how I used the method of habit stacking in my client, Brooke’s routine.  One of Brooke’s intentions was to increase her daily movement. To begin, we investigated what her daily routine looked like. 

Each day she was commuting on the train into work. As a result, we established that she could get off the train a stop earlier to get a 10-minute walk in on her way to work.

How we habit stacked on that daily action was by incorporating movement around this already existing routine that she did. Each day an extra 20 minutes of walking was being done without it having to be an allocated walk in the day. 

Secondly, we focused on increasing her daily water intake. We looked at here we could piggyback this off an already existing daily action. For instance, she found she was having about 5 cups of tea and coffee. Each time she had a cup of tea or coffee, she consumed a glass of water. In short, she very quickly increased her water intake without having to think spontaneously about it during her day.

Keeping Habit Stacking Easy

In conclusion, habit stacking is a game-changer for those seeking sustainable health and fitness improvements. Through strategically linking new habits to existing routines, you not only simplify the process but also create a balanced alliance between various aspects of your life. Whether it’s incorporating physical activity, optimising nutrition, or embracing mindfulness, habit stacking empowers you to build a foundation for lasting well-being, one small change at a time. If you’re looking to create new healthy habits in your life and aren’t sure where to start, you can contact us here.

References:

  1. Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice