Minimalist Training

I received many questions last week from young guys who wanted to know how they should be training to achieve their fitness goals. Mostly they had a lot of questions on programs, diets, methods, and so on, and used a lot of fancy words or phrases that I was largely unfamiliar with. 

Here is my answer to all of you in regards to what style of training or programming or eating I think is best:


It’s so easy to get pulled in by new gimmicks, training fads, diets, and so on.

Every time you turn around, people are repositioning old methods as new “systems.”

Example: TUT or “Time Under Tension” training used to just be called slow, controlled reps.
Intermittent fasting used to just be called “not eating all the time.”

Butterfly pull-ups used to be called “having a seizure.”

Paleo, gluten-free, keto, whatever.

All are probably fine and have their place (don’t get too triggered here, keto guys!) just don’t get caught up in the hype.

Keep it simple, stupid.

Unless you are training specifically for competitive bodybuilding, the following rules hold true, eternally:

Use barbells for sure, dumbbells and kettlebells if you want, machines sparingly or not at all.

If you are spending more time with chains and bands and gadgets than you are under the bar, putting in smooth, quality repetitions with an intelligently (but simply) programmed regimen, it may be time to ask yourself the important question- what am I training for?

This is a completely reasonable question and usually has a simple answer, if folks are being honest. It will usually be one of four, or a combination thereof, with some emphasis on one or the other:

I am training to be stronger.

I am training to be healthier.

I am training to look good. This also holds true for those who want to look more intimidating, or a harder target, or whatever. Training for aesthetic is not “unmanly.” All animals posture, especially aggressive ones, and anyone who says they don’t train with a certain amount of this as their reasoning is probably a liar.

I am training because I enjoy it.

The last should always hold true, but so often, people start to get caught up in ways that they think they *should* train, or what some “movement coach” is telling them, rather than the ways they actually want to train. Then, training becomes some kind of chore in which technical movements are performed for their own sake, and the sheer pleasure and raw, furious joy that should accompany moving heavy weight is lost in a shuffle of numbers, equations, and boring details.

Push weight, not pencils.

If you are lifting to get stronger, to make progress, to maintain discipline, and to grow thick, gnarly muscles- stay minimal in your approach, and maximal in your effort and discipline and consistency.

Squat, press, deadlift and row. If I could only do four things in the gym forever, these would be it for me, and during my 8 months on the west coast, this is basically all I did (especially if you count weighted chins as a kind of vertical row).

I ate for strength, which means I ate big meals, usually 4 or so a day, that were pretty high in protein and fat, and tried to keep my carbohydrates for after my meal, so I wouldn’t eat as many. If I started getting a little fat, I would eat one less meal a day and do a little more moving around. Walking, pushing or pulling a sled, working the heavy bag, whatever.

My numbers were not phenomenal, but I was pretty strong, with a 415 squat, 505 deadlift, 365 bench and 205 overhead at between 185 and 190 pounds bodyweight most days.

My body fat was never so high that I couldn’t see shoulder and arm vascularity and at least the top set of abs, which is, I think, a reasonable level to maintain even if you are “permabulking,” which I find is usually just something fat guys with no discipline and poverty lifts call “eating like a human garbage can because I can’t stop myself.”

A lot of guys get so worried about the details that they lose the essence of the Riddle of Steel.

Train hard. Lift heavy. Eat well and often. Get good sleep. Be consistent.

If you are training solely to build muscle and get strong, these are your watchwords.

Don’t make it harder than it already is, and remember: 

Strength is the least egalitarian thing there is. It’s something that you don’t deserve to have, and cannot have, unless you do.

You have to put in the time and work for it, and it demands sacrifices.

No one can have it handed to them, which is why we find it so beautiful, so worthwhile, and so brutally honest.



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