The Definitive Strength Training Routine For Minimalists

As a hardgainer I’ve tested almost every kind of bullshit strength training routine available starting with my first routine straight out of Flex Magazine that had me in the gym 10 hours a week. Almost every routine I tried led to nagging injuries and stiff joints.

As a natural trainee and hardgainer my biggest problem was overtraining. Despite all the broscience on the internet, gaining muscle is simple, all you need is progressive resistance, a caloric surplus, adequate protein and adequate recovery.

It wasn’t until I adopted the routine below that I started to see progress and stopped getting injured. The method I’ve outlined will have you in the gym for no more than 20 minutes a week giving you plenty of time for the important things in life, like meeting girls who want to take your shirt off and admire your progress.

What You Should Expect From This Routine:

  • Gain Muscle
  • Prevent Injuries
  • Minimize time in gym
  • Minimize muscle and joint stiffness throughout the week
  • Consistently break personal lifting records

What You Need To Know About The Workout

  • Workouts are twice a week with each workout lasting about 10 minutes including setup time and stretching
  • You’ll need a journal to measure your results each week
  • Despite all the bullshit broscience out there, the only way to get bigger is muscular hypertrophy through progressive resistance, in layman’s terms: getting stronger
  • This is why you need to push every set to muscular fatigue
  • If you’re not getting stronger you’re not gaining muscle (in almost all cases)
  • Each workout will have one compound upper body and one compound lower body exercise for one set of 8 pushed to failure
  • Your goal in each workout is to complete 1 more rep than you did the week before
  • You’ll need to measure your results in a logbook so you can keep track of your progress or use an online notebook like Google Keep
  • Make sure to do upper body exercises first because after the lower body exercises you will be too tired to break records on your upper body
  • Two exercises might seem too easy for some of you guys but if you try this and feel that way, that means you are not truly pushing to fatigue
  • 1 good set of squats or deadlifts to fatigue requires 100% concentration and every ounce of effort in your body
  • The workout utilizes compound movements targeting all muscle groups
  • These lifts are the most efficient movements available
  • Specialization exercises aren’t necessary unless until you start hitting advanced levels on your lifts


  • Novice trainees should be breaking plateaus every week
  • Intermediate trainees should be breaking plateaus every 2-3 weeks
  • Experienced trainees should be breaking plateaus once a month
  • If you’re not breaking plateaus accordingly you need to either push yourself harder, eat more food, or rest more often

Rep Range

  • When it comes to rep range, 80-85% max load is the ideal combination of recruitment and metabolic fatigue, this will put you in the 5-8 rep range

New Trainees

  • If you’re new to training I would suggest not pushing yourself to fatigue right away, but practice correct form and slowly raising your weight limit for two months until you’ve mastered the technique
  • This is doubly important on squats and deadlifts because bad form on these lifts can seriously damage your spine
  • You’ll need a consistent spotter for the bench press and maybe the squat
  • I’ve listed some substitutions you can use below if a personal trainer is out of your budget, you have injuries, or you won’t have a consistent spotter for your workouts.

The Workout

Day 1

  • Barbell Bench Press – 1 set x 8 reps
  • Barbell Squat – 1 set x 8 reps

Day 2

  • Weighted Chin Ups – 1 set x 8 reps
  • Barbell Deadlift – 1 set x 8 reps


  • Barbell Bench Press – substitute with bench press machine if you don’t have a consistent spotter (I prefer the  seated incline press because its easier on the shoulders)
  • Barbell Squat – substitute with Hammer Strength V Squat Machine if you have problems with your upper cervical spine
  • Weighted Chin Up – Substitute With standard grip pulldowns
  • Barbell Deadlift – substitute with Trap Bar Deadlifts if you have lower back problems

 Cool Down

  • After your workout you should do about 5 minutes of stretching to prevent stiffness
  • Hit the sauna for about 15 minutes and a hot shower for another 15 minutes, intense heat immediately after a workout will do the most for loosening muscles and preventing stiffness the next day
  • Every year you should set goals for the 4 key lifts and write them down in the back of your log book or online notebook
  • Your entire time in the gym should be devoted to achieving those goals

How You Rank

  •  You can find how you rank compared to other natural lifters here

Your Genetic Potential

  • You can find your drug-free genetic potential here
  1. This is a very doable routine. I really thank you for posting this. Some of the exercises I use are different, but I still use the same set and rep scheme here

    Weighted Chin-ups
    Weighted Dips
    Pistol Squats

    Just those three for 2-3 days a week.

    I love your website man. Take care and God bless.

  2. Hey Alex, that pic of me is from the strength training routine. The strength training ranking article just shows you where you are progress-wise by comparing how much you can lift to other lifters.

  3. Firstly, why only 1 rep? As a complete newbie, every other guide online always has 3 sets of 8 reps, and usually 4-8 different exercises. So just so I’m clear on this, There are 16 reps in total over both tasks for the ‘day 1’ routine, then the next day I do the ‘day 2’ routine, then a day of rest, repeat this indefinitely? seems a little too easy compared to things like the beginner routine in /r/fitness on reddit.

  4. Hey Jayckob, its not one rep its one set and yes 16 reps total each day. Except take a few days to recover between each routine. I promise you though, if you push deadlifts to true failure it is the opposite of easy. Those other routines make it easier to get injured. There is no point of doing 3 sets of one exercise, the only way to get stronger is to lift more and your strongest set will always be your first one.

  5. Minimalist training is the way to go as a natty lifter. Beyond the fundamentals you are just wasting your time for highly diminishing returns. The differences you see in results is not down to different rep schemes, or rest times, splits or whatever the fuck, but whether you are Low Test vs. High Test vs. Injected Test, and so on. Ultimately it is up to you to accept the limits of your natty existence and realistically make the most it, or turn to the dark side.

    Btw what were your maxes in the 4 lifts at the time of that photo? You seem to be blessed in terms of the “aesthetic” bb’ing look: small ecto joints but wide clavicles and good delt development. Personally I use only the lifts you listed but I swap out chinups for bent over rows. Though I do add two isolation movements: neck and abs.

  6. Very well said AJ. Yep I’m definitely an ectomorph was 120 lbs. in high school at the same height. My delts, back width and quads are my strongest areas. Biceps not so much. As you said a lot of it comes down to genetics.

    As of that picture I had substituted a few exercises to ease up on my shoulder and back. This was a while ago but here are my approximate 1 rep maxes.

    Weighted Dips: 124 lbs. around waist
    V Squat Machine: 400 lbs.
    Weighted Chinups: 60 lbs. around waist
    Seated Row Machine: 290 lbs.

  7. That comment about being an ectomorph is interesting. I am one too but I am 6’2. Does this affect the maximum you can go/the speed at which you get to your max? I’m guessing it’s harder to build muscle definition for ectomorphs?

  8. It mostly affects the speed you can build muscle as well as your joints. Ectomorphs like me have small joints not meant for bearing heavy loads, that means its much easier for me to get injures. Ectomorphs and hardgainers need to be in the gym less then everyone else to let the muscles and joints recover. Even if you’re genetics are shit you can still build 35 lbs naturally on the low end. If your genetics are amazing its closer to 50 lbs.

  9. Do you think it has an effect on the quality of girls you can get on Tinder? That thing is very picture-based. I mean an ectomorph compared to someone who has the muscles of, say, the Terminator? Or do girls not really notice the difference?

  10. Absolutely, girls are much more superficial than men, especially online. With that said even if you only have 20 lbs. Of lean muscle it’s a big edge online.

    In your case being 6’2 is a big advantage, in general the taller you are the less muscle you need. 2 solid years of training will make a major difference. Even 6 months will be noticeable I’d you’re a rookie trainee.

  11. Yes, I hear that all the time about height but I doubt how true it is for Tinder. Remember, you can’t see height in pictures (at least not the ones needed for Tinder), but you can easily make the difference between an ectomorph (even one who works out) and a Tyler Durden.

  12. That is true but in my book I tell guys to list it in your profile when you’re over 6 feet. IMO being 6’2 gets you two points of sexual market value. Also almost every girl will ask you your height as an objection, in my book I believe 5 out of 10 girls asked me how tall I was.

  13. hi, great site. you’re saying one should be increasing the reps, breaking plateaus. but what about the weight? if you get used to a certain weight, then you can increase the reps, but that’s not very efficient. or you always increase the weight to a level where you can do 8 reps but not more?

  14. Thank you. Once you hit eight reps and can do no more then increase the weight in your session the next week by about 5-10%. That means the next week you should be maxing out at about 6 reps. Ideally the week after that you can max out at 7 reps at the same weight. That is if your new to training, if you’re intermediate to advanced your gains will be much slower. Make sense?

  15. Thank you man. I definitely do a big warm up and I stretch between sets. I do forward bends, shoulder dislocations, hamstring stretches. Basically to loosen up my problem areas which are a tight upper back and tight hamstrings.

  16. Thanks Will. As I understand you do not do “classical” warm up sets such as using 70% of your working weight? Is this for time efficiency or do you want to avoid losing power for the one crucial set?

    I am a bit afraid that not all muscles might be warmed up enough when I just do some stretching before.

  17. Thas it exactly, I find even 80% exertion as a warm up set means I’m not breaking a record that day. But I do at least fifteen minutues of stretching before and in between sets.

  18. ok. Final question: As it is all about this one crucial set the time of the day also plays an important role for maximum power.

    Do you advise against going in the morning? I am used to go to the gym right after getting up without breakfast. Naturally I have less power in the morning than later the day.

  19. Love the simplicity of this workout, finally able to convince myself to hit the gym. Just one question, what do you do for working out abs? Or is that primarily from Yoga?


  20. Terrific website Will, I discovered your page at just the right time in my life but that’s another story so in short thanks for all you do.

    Would adding planks to this weekly routine (1 rep to failure once/twice a week, precisely) make any difference? I know abs are made in the kitchen but I want to have a strong core to help keep my lanky 6’4″ frame straight.

  21. Thanks Corey, nope planks won’t help put on any meaningful muscle but their great for joint/tendon strength and overall health. If you’re looking for a strong core I would suggest yoga, its also great for restoring muscles from training, check out my articles on it.

  22. Will, I’m a little confused about the schedule. Is it two days in a row? Or spaced out evenly over the week, ie every three days. Thanks mate.

  23. Not sure if the notification failed for the above comment or if it was a dumb question, but in any case, I’ll try again.

    I’m a little confused about the schedule. Is it two days in a row? Or spaced out evenly over the week, ie every three days. Thanks mate.I’m a little confused about the schedule. Is it two days in a row? Or spaced out evenly over the week, ie every three days. Thanks mate.

  24. “I prefer the seated incline press”

    so you do this with dumbbells then instead of the benchpress with a barbell?

  25. i don’t have a good feeling about Barbell Squats, i feel putting that huge weight on my spine directly cannot be good. how about squats with holding two dumbbells simply on the sides (or as in the goblet squat), did you try that?

  26. Yes I don’t do barbel squats either, I do the hammer strength v squat machine as outlined in the subsitutions. You can also do the leg press, I’ve actually grown more using the leg press and v squat machine then I ever have on pure squats. You can do dumbell squats but that tnes to be more of a back exercise similar to trap bar deadlifts. You also won’t be able to do more then 200 pounds because most gyms max out around 100 lbs. dumbells.

  27. don’t you think one could get to the same efficiency (in terms of building muscle) with just body-weight exercises? Sure, (eg.) simple pushups are easy, but then you can try doing one-arm pushups (in gradual steps, as in convict conditioning). then you can save a lot of time and money going to the gym. have you tried this? my gym is not that close (i have to walk 10 mins, then 15 mins by bus), so i’m thinking about quitting the membership and just doing stuff at home. have you tried working out at home only?

  28. Its possible but I feel like the gym has better specialized equipment, I don’t see many guys who got big from bodyweight but there are a few good books out there like convict training. To me $40 a month and 30 minutes travel time is minor for the benefits.

  29. Thanks for all the info/advice you give us.

    I just tried this routine, and i realised there was no warm up. I find that this can be a ticket to snap-city for beginner and pro’s.

    What i did was the exact same exercices but do 4 sets each.
    First set do at 25%, second do at 75%, and third and fourth do at 100%.
    This might take a little longer but if you are already in the gym why not do 20 minutes extra and destroy these muscles completely. That way you get strength and results faster.

    I have been going to the gym for 5 years now and i can assure you that getting an incredible body is a very good investment for girls, confidence, health, etc..

  30. Thanks Thomas, ya I’m not a fan of the warmup set as it will decrease my max, but a warm up is very important, I do 15 minutes of stretching before and stretch between exercises as well. With that said, do whatever works for you.

  31. You have mentioned that you include a slow pushups and squats regimen in your exercise routine. Please elaborate. Thanks.

  32. Hi Will,
    Thanks for the workout, working out twice a week on two excercices seem great!! My plan is to give the RDL routine a try, so would welcome any further recommendations. Considering that I have a lower back issues here is an alternative (substitute) approach to the RDL:
    Day 1
    Bench press machine
    Leg press machine (maybe gobel squat but not sure about the weight rep range)
    Day 2
    Lat pull down machine
    Cable rows machine (maybe kettlebell swing not sure about weight rep range)

    Would you add any other excercices or these ones are sufficient for good gains, what should I expect? Any thoughts? I am aware you are doing yoga and stretch in but how many times do you workout per week?
    Many thanks in advance ;) :)

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