Most of the time less is more-in many aspects of life. This can be especially true in training. Doing more for the sake of doing more is often times at best useless and at worst harmful. I agree with this, but I like to think about things instead of just jumping on the bandwagon and regurgitating what is en vogue or fashionable to repeat...and right now it's fashionable to say 'less is more" for everyone. (I even contributed to a great one of those with the Whole9, but the experts and I picked things like tgu, crawling, power clean and jerk, pull-ups, front squat-so we snuck in exercises which are multi faceted, and include many exercises in one really).
My ‘beef’ with the overwhelming number of recommendations to ‘do less’ stem from 3 main things: fun/interest, the 80/20 rule, and the sources of the initial observation that ‘less is more’.
1. Fun/interest. You could write the perfect program that gets you big, strong and ripped, a program that only has 2 days a week, with 3 exercises ….. and it’ll be boring as shit. Some people will counter with “is success boring? Is being ripped boring?” and I answer with “yes”. I like training. I like trying new stuff-it’s fun. I’m not getting paid to compete in anything-so why would I sacrifice my enjoyment for a marginally more effective program-which is so basic that it’s boring. That perfect program from above may be cool for about 2 months, and then I wouldn’t be able to do it anymore. Call it fitness ADD or fuckarounditis, I call it fun. If you enjoy training, then make the focus of your workouts and exercise selection those 5 exercises, and then liberally sprinkle in things you want to do. For instance-if you play rec basketball and want to get bigger and stronger, there are people who would argue that playing ball is counterproductive to your goals…and those people might be right from the very narrowly focused view of being big and ripped-but those people also suck and are boring. If your only goal is to be big and ripped, I also would like to encourage you to find some more fun in life!
2. The 80/20 rule. 80% is a B-. Those 20% that people ignore, take you from ‘ok’ to ‘good’. They are not unimportant. That’s why while the big bilateral lifts of pull-up, DL, Squat, Press may be enough to satisfy basic movement patterns and support good body comp and strength in those lifts. But those 4 movements AREN’T enough to support more complicated tasks and athletics….which brings me to the next point.
3. Where did the initial ‘less is more’ observations come from? They came from high level athletics, namely pros and collegiate strength coaches. They noticed they got better success with their athletes when they did ‘less’ in the weight room. And this makes sense, because the athletes are already getting tons of volume and variety of training with single leg, ballistics, agility, and reactivity being integrated in their sporting practice. Now, ask yourself this: are you a high level athlete with matches/games and multiple practices a week where you are training ‘athletically’? If so, then you should minimize the amount of exercises and volume you add in each week…but if you are like 99.9% of the population, then you are missing the (at least) 20% of training which makes you more rounded, more able, and more athletic. We need to stop recommending to people to do what works for high level athletes…because people aren’t high level athletes!
So there are 2 populations that should ‘do less’: beginners, and advanced*. Check out my incredibly complex graphical representation of this complex relationship and idea…
*and injured people…they should do less and get healthy.
I just read a quote from Eric Cressey regarding volume: “I’m always surprised at how much volume it takes to attain a level of fitness, but how little volume it takes to maintain that level of fitness.”
I think that most people are better off with more variety, simply because they move poorly to begin with. If you add strength to just a select few exercises, while moving poorly in every other aspect-you are asking for trouble. Quoting Gray Cook “Don’t put fitness on top of dysfunction.”
The main point is this: enjoy your training, train to Be Able, to Be Athletic….and once you’ve done that you can train to be Bad Ass. If your training is hindering your achievement of goals, then it’s not appropriate…but if your goals are to enjoy your training, while getting better…then do that, don’t let people make you think you are doing ‘too much’-because they are prescribing exercise for someone else. The best form of training for you is that which you enjoy-because if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it.
I’d love to see some discussion about this pop up in the comments below, whether you agree, disagree, or
If you’re in San Diego..email me email@example.com and I’ll help you to achieve your goals through enjoyable and effective training, if you aren’t in San Diego I’d still love to help you out through my online coaching services.
Awesome article Clifton.
I started crossfit classes a year and a half ago and went with the less is more mantra that seemed to be the way to go. I went twice per week and added a little supplemental lifting or running depending upon what we had done that week in class. My box has a good Westside strength program. Going only twice per week to start was ok because I was starting from a pretty soft spot in my fitness. But as time went on, I missed out on the logic and design of my coach’s program.
But what’s more, I missed out on the “fun” aspect. You put your finger on that one. See, I don’t really have a sport outside of fitness. I was never great at basketball, volleyball, etc. So I took up running with moderate success. But I missed out on having more well rounded and exciting fitness goals, and my interest waxed and waned. Enter crossfit, and everything changed.
But 2x per week wasnt enough. I itched for the social and competitive aspects on my off days. So now I go 4x per week and add a day or two of running. Could i get by with less and achieve more or less the same results? Sure. Could i lift weights in my well-equipped gym and add a little running and save myself the 45 minutes of driving each time I go to my box? Yes. But I tried that over and over and never would it hold my interest more than a few months. I’ve been going to my gym a solid 1.5+ years and am more excited than ever and in better shape than at any other point in my life.
Getting and staying fit is so much more than studying muscle growth in a lab. The brain is a big, big part of the equation.
Really good points here. I especially liked this:
“We need to stop recommending to people to do what works for high level athletes…”
We tend to attach a LOT of weight to empirical evidence (which is probably a good thing, on the whole) but discount the differing contexts that make certain types of training work for certain people. Somebody whose job includes playing professional sports has a completely different context for training than somebody whose job consists of sitting in a chair all day.
The same is often the case for diets that work for some people and not for others (where “work” could refer to any number of specific goals).
80/20 is great for cutting back to the essentials once you’ve reached a reasonable level of success in something. However, it’s a terrible strategy for making progress toward a new goal or making rapid improvements in performance.
Thanks for the perspective.
I grew up hearing the phrase “less is more” exclusively in the context, less weight performed with proper form will have greater results. So many people go into training trying to maximize the weight and sacrifice form in the process which compromises the workout. Hence the 80/20 rule. at least 80% form and 20% will.
80% of me is down in the garage inspired to workout! 20% of me is reading the rest of your great new website//Daddio