When it comes to training, I’m a minimalist.

I don’t “attack the bi’s from different angles”. I do chins with an extra 100 lbs around my waist.

I don’t spend any time “working the core”. I never do ab work. I squat and do triple body weight deadlifts.

I don’t “feel the burn”. I give every set a 100% and only concern myself with adding an extra rep, or another 5 lbs, on the bar.

And most importantly, I don’t go to the gym to have a nice and cozy time.

Sometimes people ask me things in between sets.

Nice arms, man. How do you get that veiny look – do you go for the pump to really bring those cuts out? And what’s the lowdown on preacher curls with a straight bar vs the EZ-bar?

I don’t curl

Yeah right, c’mon…

I then give them The Look. The Look let’s them know I am dead serious and that the conversation is over.*

I think it was Iron Addict that once said

The people that should not be touching a high volume/high frequency routine are usually the first people to do them

That was true for me back in the days, wasting my time in the gym 5-6 times a week. While I did gain a bit the first few months, I certainly didn’t get the same results as most of my buddies I trained with at the time.

Now, I am competitive by nature. I couldn’t stand watching my friends outlift me. I figured if I can’t beat them in the genetics department, I have to beat them on smarts. I needed to find a superior training routine or suffer humiliation every time I went training with them.

I started looking around online, and was lucky enough to come across a site called Cyberpump. Here, I found a very different perspective on weight training. Articles by Ken Leistner, Arthur Jones and others, talking about high intensity training and how people screw up by trying to emulate the genetic elite.

A minimalist approach, very different from what I had been doing up until then. I had my doubts of course, but I figured I didn’t have have much to lose. And boy, did my gains take off.

Now, if I remember correctly, this is how my training routine looked back then.

A (day 1)

  • Bench press
  • 1 set to failure
  • Immediately followed by pushups to failure
  • Followed by another set of bench (with a lot less weight)
  • Immediately followed by pushups to failure
  • and repeated one more round.
  • 10 mins rest
  • Chins for 2-3 sets to failure

B (day 4)

  • Breathing Squats (20 reps)
  • Leg extensions, 1 set to failure

C (day 7)

  • Deadlifts (started at 20 reps here, added weight and decreased reps until I was working in the 3-5 rep range after several months).
  • 10 min rest
  • Pullups for 2-3 sets to failure

And then days 8-10 were spent resting. And eating.

How much did I gain on such a routine? I remember that quite well. I started benching 135 for a few reps, ended up with 225 lbs after a few months. Squats went from about 200 lbs for 8-10 reps to 300 x 15-17 and deads from 175 x 6 to 380 x 3. Weights jumping op 5-10 lbs each session and often with a few extra reps to boot. It was amazing; like newbie gains multiplied by ten.

Was it a walk in the park and do I think everyone should be doing HIT from now on? No. The intensity used for each set was ridiculous. The sessions were painful and I dreaded them every single time. Was it productive? Yes, it was time extremely well spent. Since the training frequency was low, I made sure every session counted. It wasn’t long before I outlifted my friends who were still in the gym 5-6x per week.

Since then, I’ve always taken a minimalist approach to training. Though I’ve added some lifts to my arsenal, my training routine is still quite spartan by any conventional standard; however, the few lifts I train, I give a 100%.

My point in writing this isn’t to say that high intensity training is superior to any other form of sensible training ideology. There are other training approaches out there that I agree with; Starting Strength, 5×5, DC, RPT, and so forth. All of these put focus on principles that really makes the difference (hint: it’s not about swiss balls or working different angles). HIT just happened to be the turning point for me, and has influended my view on training ever since.

The take away message here is twofold.

Part of it is a homage to abbreviated training routines, which I feel deserve more attention. You can go a long way just focusing on pressing, squatting, deadlifting and chinning. Throw in some calf and ab work if it makes you feel better.

Another part of it is encouraging change. If your training routine isn’t working for you, ditch it and maybe start at the other end of the spectrum of whatever the hell you were doing before. You have nothing to lose.

*Ok, I made that up. I don’t really give people The Look. The rest of it is true though.