“Less is more” applies to a lot of things: rich desserts, social drinking, our friends, etc.
And believe it or not, less is more when it comes to weight training too.
Don’t get me wrong; bodybuilders have to spend hours in the gym performing tons of different weighted exercises. But if you’re just trying to put on a little muscle and get healthy, their technique probably isn’t for you.
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When weight training involves too much
For the very first “client” I had – I put client in quotes because he was more my guinea pig – I implemented the “proper” NASM personal training session plan, which consisted almost entirely of functional movements and weight training. The whole regimen was supposed to take about an hour, and he performed it 3x per week.
His weight training routine was then supplemented by a few other sessions of cardio a week.
And I’ll be honest: it absolutely worked. He lost 1 lb per week following my plan, without even making any dietary changes.
But life gets in the way of most things, and with such a time-consuming weight training routine it was simply unsustainable. After three weeks, the schedule was interrupted, and he didn’t resume it.
The crazy thing is that if I had just looked at my own exercise plan, I probably could have found something that worked better for him. Because I perform weight training exercises regularly, but for not nearly for as long as he was.
My weight training routine
My main focus has always been cardio. Born into a family of runners, I started running consistently in the 6th grade.
As I learned about the different modes of exercise and the benefits of weight training, I began to branch out. But at the end of the day, I love how cardio makes me feel. There’s something about sprinting all out on a treadmill or ramping up the elliptical resistance until you’re completely out of breath that is so freeing. That’s part of why I love working out after work – such good stress relief!
Anywho, usually after I complete my cardio for the day, I’ll work in about 3-5 strength training exercises. What I do depends on my goals and what I did yesterday. If no strength training yesterday, anything is up for grabs. But if I performed bicep curls, tricep extensions, and bent-over rows yesterday, it’s time for some scaptions, weighted lunges, and Romanian deadlifts.
Side note: my ab routine is usually separate from this. As mentioned in my 10 minute ab routine post, I usually stick to ab workouts 3x per week on nonconsecutive days.
To be entirely real, I don’t have a set schedule for my weight training exercises. I switch them up depending on my priorities, time, the equipment available (if there’s a lot of people in the gym), and how I’m feeling. And I aim for weight training 3-4x per week, making sure to not perform the same type of exercise on back-to-back days.
It’s important to give your muscles time to rest and recover!
The other thing I do is try to throw in new exercises/exercise variations to keep my body guessing. If you perform the same exercises all the time your body will not be challenged and will not change.
This was one of the fundamental things I learned from my personal training courses, specifically called the overload principle: if you want to create a physiological change, you need to apply an exercise stimulus to the body that is greater than the body is used to.
Why less is more
Since I only perform a handful of weight training exercises on a given day, it’s much more likely I’ll actually make the time to do them.
Waking up at 5 AM and working at least an 8 hour work day, I’ve been up and moving for almost 12 hours by the time I enter the gym. To then have planned hours of cardio and weight training? It wouldn’t happen. Either I wouldn’t go to the gym at all, or I would have to choose one form of exercise – probably cardio – and neglect the other completely.
As you can see, less is clearly more here.
So how should you implement this into your daily life?
Unless you already have a program that’s working for you or have hours upon hours to devote to your workouts, I’d highly recommend you perform only 3-5 weight exercises anywhere between 3-5x per week. Not only will this be more sustainable for you, it will still produce results.
By doing this, I’ve built up my scrawny child-like arms to the point that I don’t feel embarrassed jokingly flexing my bicep around friends anymore. Now it’s like, “Cedar, what the heck? When did you actually get some muscle there??”
My abdominal muscles have also become a lot more defined. By committing to ab workouts for 10 minutes 3x per week and by concentrating on contracting your core during weight exercises, you can convince your stubborn ab muscles to finally show up.
The point is that you truly do feel and see results from “only” doing weight training this much. It’s something I wish I’d known for my very first “client”, as well as for myself.
So if you’re looking to begin integrating a weight training routine into your life (which you should – it’s so good for you!), keep this in mind. It may just be the perfect technique for you!
Since first writing this post, I’ve also devised a week-long workout plan for busy people. Each workout is no longer than 25 minutes, so it’s another great way to incorporate strength training AND cardio together. Check it out!