How I Got Strong as SH** on a MINIMALIST Program

My teenage years were defined by exceptionally long workouts. Everything was new to me; I was still experimenting with different movements, different splits and different methods of progressing. Every tip I pulled out of a Muscle and Fitness, I would have to apply somewhere and if it wasn’t towards the squats at the beginning of the workout, it was going to be towards the leg extensions, leg presses, split squats, lunges or hack squats at the end of the workout.

The time spent in the gym early on and all of the variety that went into my training was certainly valuable. In addition to learning how everything in the gym worked, I acclimated to really long, grueling workouts. I grew like a weed and was certainly more well-rounded in my development than if I spent those years on the same few barbell lifts.

But by the time I was out of high school I knew that I needed some direction with my training. It was a no-brainer, of course: I was going to train to be strong. I began searching more aggressively for methods of training that were strength specific and, despite all of the different ways of getting strong that were written about, there was one clear pattern: more weight with more effort for less reps and less total work.

The early venturing into strength specific training had me cut  away the fat of endless sets with machines and isolation movements and focus just on the big movements. Singles, doubles and triples were the entire focus of my training and every time, I went as hard as I could. I was early enough in my development that it didn’t matter so much that I had no idea what a deload was and I didn’t really have a plan for what would happen when things just stopped moving forward. For the better part of two years I was able to continue growing at a steady rate by going into the gym  and going as hard as possible on a couple of sets. 

My training regiment looked something like this:

Overhead press, doing a lot of singles up to a top single. Then I would drop the weight for an all-out set of 10 to 15 reps. Squats, same protocol. Bench press,  maybe sometimes but probably not. 

Go home, drink a quart of chocolate milk and take down a carne asada burrito. Come back a few days later and repeat with deadlifts and rows.

This was probably the most simplistic my training has ever been and it was one of my most productive years of growth. At a time when I avoided GNC because I thought it was a threat to my ‘natty’ status, I ended up with a 365 push jerk for a double and a 625 deadlift. I give a lot of s*** to the high intensity cult that has a lot of misguided ideas about what is required to grow but I can’t deny that simple high intensity approaches are viable for both size and strength.

There are some things worth pointing out here.  One, is that the years spent doing a bunch of high volume, bodybuilding style work was certainly a factor in how well this work went off. I don’t know that I would have  grown as quick in this style or if I would have been able to run it as long if it wasn’t on the back end of all of those years of varied volume. This is the dimension of time that people don’t like to consider when they’re talking about “optimal” training protocols: how well you do with your program NOW is in no small part influenced by what you were doing BEFORE. That’s phase potentiation and it’s a basic principle of periodization programs.

The second thing is that I was eating a metric shit-ton of calories.  That’s not to say that you need to be on the Pop-Tarts and Mountain Dew diet, like I was when Glen Ross was my primary influence. But if you want to get stronger, I wouldn’t be too confident in your ability to get a lot of mileage out of a little bit of work without the foundation of a caloric surplus. 

Anyways, I’m a fan of minimalist approaches in that they can redirect attention away from distractions and force you to focus on the important stuff. When life makes it hard to do the amount of work you want to do, it’s comforting to know that you can grow by sticking to the minimum amount of work you need to do.

Here’s something comparable to that program, but with some updates.:

For more programming wizardry and a TON of example programs, check out Base Strength and Peak Strength at

I’m extremely proud of how these books have done; all are sitting at a 4.8 or higher on

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