Powerlifter, bodybuilder, and YouTuber Jeff Nippard is known for his science-based training approach. While most of us wish to have excellent fitness levels and lead a healthy life, it is difficult to commit to arduous-looking training routines that are difficult to balance with work, family, and other commitments. This is where a minimalist approach to training can come in handy.
In general, minimalism is a trend wherein a subject is reduced to only the necessary elements. The subject can be art, architecture, lifestyle, as well as physical training and exercise. Broadly, minimalism in training refers to reduced overall training volume but making each rep and every minute spent training count. But how can a trend like this be effective for achieving fitness goals? After all, results are directly proportional to the amount of time and effort we commit to a craft. Well, let’s explore this subject with Nippard.
Jeff Nippard analyses the minimalist training method
The video starts with a question that an overwhelming majority of people can relate to — What is the least amount of time you can spend in the gym and still make gains?
Nippard admitted that most fitness experts promote a maximalist approach that involves training as long as possible for making progress.
“But maximalism is not always the best. In fact, I would say that minimalism is probably better suited for more people even if it gets less attention. That’s because most people see fitness and bodybuilding as a part of their life and not their whole life,” Nippard added.
Nippard explained that a minimalist approach can therefore be an easier starting point for the majority of people. To better understand this phenomenon, Nippard gave an example of his brother, who does not enjoy going to the gym but wanted to build strength and get rid of hip pain.
Nippard prescribed him a simple training plan requiring 20 minutes of work every week. A combination of one push, one pull, and one lower body exercise, this training plan included:
- Push-up or Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Dumbbell Rows or Chin-up: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Goblet Squat or Lunge: 3 sets of 10 reps
Following this routine helped Nippard’s brother achieve the desired results.
While this example shows how minimalist training can help the uninitiated, does it have a practical application for the advanced-level guys? According to Nippard, those with a maximalist training approach can benefit from taking the minimalism route if they cannot maintain their training routine due to work, family, social commitments, or traveling.
Jeff Nippard shares science-backed data on the impact of minimalist training on strength, health, and muscle mass
Referring to a 2017 meta-analysis, Nippard explained that 81 percent of the strength gains were the result of just one to four sets of an exercise per week.
“For strength, it is pretty simple. Just one heavy set done one to three times per week will be enough to induce significant strength for most people.”
To apply this principle, Nippard shared a sample training plan to increase the squat max time-efficiently.
- Monday: 1 heavy working set of 1 to 3 reps
- Thursday: 1 heavy working set of 1 to 3 reps
“If you have time, you can add one to two back-off sets with lighter weights which research has shown can boost strength a little bit further.”
But does it take a lot of time to see a measurable difference in strength? Apparently not. The fitness expert concluded that exposure to heavier loads is the most important criterion for strength gain.
“So for strength, you can get away with doing very little total lifting as long as when you do lift, it is reasonably heavy — ideally coming in the 1 to 5 reps zone,” Nippard added.
While speaking about the impact of the minimalist training approach on overall health, Nippard referenced a 2022 Systematic Review that pooled data from 16 studies related to different health indicators. According to this review:
“Just 30 to 60 minutes of lifting per week was enough for ‘Maximum Risk Reduction’.”
Minimalist training for muscle hypertrophy
Adding muscle mass is a bit more complicated than building strength and overall health with minimalist training.
“Unlike strength and health, there is a much clearer positive relationship between training volume and muscle hypertrophy,” Nippard stated.
According to most fitness experts, doing 10 sets per body part per week is a good average for most people to gain muscle.
“Most coaches will recommend splitting those sets up across at least two workouts per body part. For example, you could do five sets for your quads on Tuesday and five sets for your quads on Friday. But regardless, the blanket recommendation is 10 sets per muscle per week,” Jeff Nippard said.
Assuming that the weekly average of 10 sets per body part will give you 100 percent results in muscle gain, some people may conclude that reducing volume will significantly reduce muscle hypertrophy. Well, not quite so. According to Nippard, even doing 1 to 4 sets per week can still give you 64 percent of the maximum possible gains.
If you increase the volume a little more and do 5-9 sets per week, it can give up to 84 percent of the maximum possible gains. So, not a bad place to start by any means.
“It’s actually better than that for a minimalist because there are a number of strategies that we can use to get even more hypertrophic bang for a buck out of the limited sets that we do. This can close the gap even further and get us ever closer to the optimal while doing less,” Nippard said.
Minimalist training has helped elite bodybuilders gain or maintain muscle mass
To explain the potency of a minimalist training routine with an example, Nippard shared the chest training routine of bodybuilding legend Dorian Yates. The five-time Mr. Olympia champion trained his chest only once every week and performed only one set of each exercise to failure.
“For him, it meant a weekly chest volume of four sets per week. He built a chest like that off just four sets,” Nippard added.
Yates self-admittedly had performance-enhancing substances for assistance. However, Nippard stated that other elite natural bodybuilders have also reaped the benefits of minimalist training.
Jeff Nippard shares the best minimalist training practices
Now that we know what minimalist training is and its effectiveness, let’s see what Nippard said about ways to get the most out of minimalist training. According to Nippard, the following are the four best training practices for a minimalist approach:
Push yourself harder
What we save in terms of time and volume has to be compensated with increased intensity.
“You can’t have it both ways. If you’re going to do a lower quantity of work, you need to ensure that the work is of high quality. This means our need to execute each and every set as close to perfect as possible,” Nippard said.
To achieve this, Nippard advised taking each set to failure or at least one to two reps before failure.
Nippard referenced Dr. Brad Schoenfeld’s book on muscle hypertrophy and suggested:
“Dropsets can be used to increase muscle volume without substantially increasing session duration to make workouts more efficient.”
So incorporating dropsets and doing reps beyond failure can actually help bring about muscle hypertrophy.
Use ‘sensible’ supersets
Supersets are an excellent way to reduce the overall workout time and increase the aerobic intensity of the workout. Nippard dug out a 2020 study. It shows that the same muscle group super-sets can actually have a negative impact on performance. Instead, if supersets are used to work two different muscle groups, they can be extremely effective.
“So, it would be smarter [if you] superset the bench press with dumbbell rows, for example, since your pecs will be resting while your back is working and your back will be resting while your chest is working.”
Cutting down training time
Reducing the rest periods between sets and exercises and quick warm-ups are other less-talked-about factors in cutting down training time for minimalists. Nippard stated that using machines instead of free weights can also help save time as the machines typically require less number of warm-up sets.
To conclude, if applied correctly, a minimalist approach could be the best way of training for most individuals. Like Nippard explained, fitness is a part of life and not the whole life for most of us, and being able to include it in our lives without sacrificing other commitments is without a doubt a good bargain.
You can watch the full video below, courtesy of Jeff Nippard’s YouTube channel: