Why a Minimalist Approach is the Best Way to Train

For many strength and conditioning professionals, we got into this field because we love to work out and push our bodies to limits we never thought we could. When I first discovered weights, it was, and still is, an addiction. I couldn’t get enough of it and thought if I was resting, sleeping, or basically anything that wasn’t working out, that my opponent was getting better than me. While this mindset taught me discipline and work ethic, it isn’t the ideal way to approach training. In fact, this can hinder performance more than it get can help.

We have all heard of the word “over-training”. Some people will call this a soft approach to babying today’s athletes. Kind of like the “back in my day” sayings you always hear. Many people will say back in my day I did this, this, and this and still saw progress. The thing is, especially with youth, you could do incorrect things in training and still see progress. Unfortunately people use this excuse to mask their insecurities that they could be wrong with what they are prescribing. Before we go into more detail about what I mean by a minimalist approach, let’s first define overtraining. Overtraining is the concept of applying many stressors to the body (i.e. training intensity and volume, relationship issues, academics, work, etc.) and not allowing enough rest and recovery. This is why periodization in programming is so important.

Now I don’t want it to seem like we are looking down on other professionals or parents that don’t follow this with their kids. If I’m completely honest, we were applying some similar concepts of training they are doing now. The great thing about performance training is it is constantly evolving with better approaches to optimize performance for individuals looking to improve. This idea of a minimalist approach was first taught to us by Dr. Michael Yessis who made the 1 X 20 method of training so popular. Others such as Jay Demayo, Jeff Moyer, and Matt Thome have used these methods and have seen great results. Due to our connections with Dr. Bryan Mann, we were able to talk to all of these individuals about this idea and how we could use it for our athletes.

The concept is simple…”What’s the least amount I can do to get the maximum result?” That question, before talking to these giants in our field, would have never crossed my mind, but it made total sense. If I can elicit the same adaptations in one set, why would I do two? Before this the approach was always what’s the most I can throw at this athlete that is safe and effective. After being in the field for a while, I can tell you that about 95% of the people we see are not ready for very complex methods of training. Most are still discovering what training is and how to do it correctly. Others are not that consistent with training. All those factors make us go back and think, why should I do this advanced method when they are not ready for it?Again, the idea we hold our reputation on is optimizing performance. It’s really easy to throw complex methods at people because it’s exciting, but at the end of the day, how can we help them continue to improve? Our goal is to increase sport performance, and I have yet to see a game won on the competitive field/court because of the following reasons:

  • Athlete trained so hard that they threw up
  • Best ladder drill athlete on the team
  • Hold all the records for the powerlifts (bench, squat, deadlift)
  • Hold all the records for the Olympic lifts (clean and jerk, snatch)

And there are many more. There is no doubt in my mind that some of these definitely contribute, but athletes need to train hard but train smart. Our advice is:

  • Get adequate rest (8-10 hours of sleep)
  • Be savages at the simple things (basic weight room movements such as squats, hinges, presses, pulls, and weighted carries; move well but working on proper mechanics of movements such as jumping, cutting, and sprinting)
  • Apply proper periodization strategies (define goals, know what season they are in, know their training age, know what they have done before, etc.)

Take the following analogy into consideration. If someone wants their child to be a math prodigy then they are not going to start showing them calculus at the age of 6. They will, however, teach them basic addition and subtraction to ensure an adequate understanding. This will allow them to develop more of a well-rounded knowledge base.

In conclusion, we believe training should be fun and challenging. However, if you are doing it just to kick someone’s behind, make yourself look good as a coach, build your ego as a parent or athlete and think you’re above fundamentals, then your thinking is WRONG. There’s a reason that the boring, fundamentals stand the test of time and are still used today. It’s because they work!! At the end of the day, do what is best for the INDIVIDUAL. I always remember this coach from one of my mentors “just because you CAN do it doesn’t mean you SHOULD”.