No Time to Train: Minimalist Training for Busy Lives

Business Professionals heading to the gym


In today’s fast-paced world, finding time for exercise can be a daunting task, especially when faced with the demands of work, family, and other commitments. For many, the idea of spending hours in the gym engaging in structured resistance training seems impractical and out of reach. But what if I told you that achieving significant strength and muscle gains could be possible with a minimalist approach to training? Imagine being able to reap the benefits of resistance training without sacrificing precious time from your busy schedule.

Multiple studies have shown that even doing RT for 30 to 60 minutes per week can significantly impact health. This means that even if you’re not spending hours in the gym lifting weights, incorporating a small amount of RT into your routine can still be incredibly beneficial. This is where minimalist training comes into play, offering a streamlined and time-efficient solution for individuals who seek the benefits of strength training but are constrained by time limitations.

Let’s explore how minimalist training can revolutionize your fitness journey and help you achieve your goals, even with a hectic lifestyle.

What is Minimalist Training?

Minimalist training emphasizes maximum efficiency in muscle building using the least amount of time and effort. Simply put, it involves getting the maximum output with the minimum input. This approach is best for those short on time or without access to a gym. It uses basic moves to work out multiple muscles simultaneously, requiring minimal gear. 

Benefits of Minimalist Training

  • Perfect for individuals with a time crunch 
  • Requires less equipment
  • Better recovery
  • More time for other work during the off days
  • Help build muscle and lose body fat

Key Characteristics of Minimalistic Training

#1 Warm-up

    There are two main types of warm-ups: a general one and a specific one. The general warm-up helps raise your body temperature. It might include light exercises like biking, walking on a treadmill, etc. The specific warm-up is more targeted, focusing on the muscles you’ll use in your main workout.

    For example, doing hip mobility drills when you have a leg workout or shoulder mobility drills when you have an upper body workout. While some studies suggest combining both types can improve performance, others show that a specific warm-up alone may be enough, especially for short, intense activities like lifting weights. Whether warm-ups help prevent injuries is unclear, but they may enhance strength and power. Overall, including a specific warm-up for each exercise is a good idea, especially when time is limited or you’re lifting heavy weights.

    #2 Type of Resistance Training

    Research shows that multi-joint exercises like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses can help you build muscle strength and power more efficiently than single-joint exercises like leg extensions, biceps curls, and triceps extensions. It is because when you do multiple joint exercises, multiple muscles work simultaneously rather than just one muscle group during single joint exercises. This also means multiple-joint exercises are more time-efficient than single-joint exercises.

    For example, by performing squats, you can train your glutes and quads simultaneously rather than performing leg extensions for the quads and hip thrusters for the glutes. Multi-joint exercises are also suitable for older adults and endurance athletes. They can help improve endurance performance and overall physical function. 

    Likewise, choosing bilateral exercises that work on both sides simultaneously would save more time than unilateral exercises. For example, one can opt for a double-arm bent-over row instead of a single-arm DB row. 

    #3 Training Frequency 

    Many people find it hard to start exercising due to busy schedules, thinking they need to work out every day and for at least an hour to see benefits. However, it is not the frequency of the training (number of times you train) but the amount of training you do each week (total number of sets per muscle group). This is useful because it means you can pick a workout program that fits your lifestyle.

    For example, some people who can train several times a week can divide the total sets and have shorter workouts several times a week. In contrast, those who can train only once a week can do the total sets in single or two sessions. 

    With regard to the minimum number of sessions per week, multiple studies have found that starting a resistance training program with just one weekly session for sedentary or less active individuals interested in minimal effort can significantly increase muscle strength.

    These benefits can become noticeable over 8–12 weeks, so beginners don’t need to commit to daily workouts immediately. Even minimal training can yield noticeable results, making it easier to begin a fitness journey with manageable, once-a-week sessions.

    Improvements from once-a-week resistance training (RT) sessions could extend beyond 8–12 weeks, although research on this for periods longer than 12 weeks is scarce. If the progress stalls after 12 weeks, increasing the frequency of RT sessions could be a good idea.

    #4 Total number of sets

    With regard to the volume of training, studies have compared the effects of training multiple sets versus single-set training. The findings suggest that three sets can offer better outcomes than a single set among beginners. However, incorporating more sets in resistance training requires additional time for both the exercises and rest periods, making workouts longer. Yet, the quest for the minimal effective dose—that sweet spot yielding maximum results with minimal input—reveals that while three sets may offer enhanced benefits, significant gains can also be achieved with just a single set.

    This approach proves efficient for beginners or, those pressed for time, efficient for beginners or those short on time. It allows for less work and quicker sessions, making it a practical starting point while securing substantial fitness improvements in the first few months of training. 

    #5 Repetitions

    The advice commonly found in studies is that people new to exercising should aim to do sets of 8 to 12 or 8 to 15 repetitions. The repetition depends on how heavy the weight is and how tired your muscles get. When your muscles can’t move the weight through the full range of motion anymore, it’s called reaching repetition failure. There’s still debate on the best number of repetitions for optimal results.

    While some say going to failure is important, others suggest similar benefits with few repetitions away from failure. We also need to address that completing repetitions until reaching failure leads to much higher levels of perceived effort, which might not be enjoyable or motivating for individuals who aren’t highly driven to exercise. Therefore, doing 6 to 15 repetitions without pushing to failure or using advanced techniques might suit most people.

    #6 Training intensity

    Recent studies suggest you don’t always need to push yourself to the limit during resistance training (RT) to see good results. Research shows that using lighter weights, around 60% of the maximum you can lift (1RM), can still be very effective, especially for people new to exercise.

    Research also shows that lifting heavier weights (80% 1RM) may produce greater neural adaptations, but similar muscle growth occurs with both heavy and lighter loads if trained until volitional failure. These findings suggest that lower intensity RT programs can still result in meaningful training improvements, particularly for individuals who may be less enthusiastic about resistance training.

    Conclusions and Recommendations

    In conclusion, the minimalist training approach offers a promising solution for busy individuals who procrastinate initiating their fitness journey. By streamlining exercise routines to focus on essential movements and optimizing training parameters for efficiency, minimalist training accommodates the hectic schedules of busy individuals.

    Its simplicity and effectiveness make it an accessible entry point for those hesitant to begin their fitness journey. With the potential to yield significant improvements in muscle strength and overall health within a relatively short time frame, minimalist training is a compelling option for overcoming procrastination and initiating a sustainable path toward fitness and well-being.

    Following are the recommendations laid out from the recent research findings:

    1. Restrict the warm-up to exercise-specific warm-ups.
    2. Multi-joint and bilateral exercises are more time-efficient than single-joint exercises and unilateral exercises.
    3. Resistance training once a week can significantly change the strength levels of untrained individuals, at least for the first 12 weeks.  
    4. Significant strength gains can be achieved via a single set of exercises among untrained individuals.
    5. Doing 6 to 15 repetitions without pushing to failure can produce significant results among novice exercisers.
    6. Using lighter weights, such as 60% 1RM, can still be very effective among beginners.


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