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Minimalist strength and muscle building program 


In the fast-paced world we live in, finding time for a comprehensive strength and conditioning program can be challenging. However, excuses aside, there are strategies and methods that can allow individuals with busy schedules to effectively improve their strength and muscle mass. In this article, we will explore how to develop a time-efficient training program that helps achieve these goals without compromising on quality.

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The Time Constraint

In the 6th episode of the “Own Your Spine” podcast, Dr. Notley, a Winnipeg chiropractor and athletic therapist, delves into the challenge of creating a strength and conditioning regimen for individuals with limited time. He emphasizes the importance of debunking the common excuse of not having enough time, highlighting that many people can indeed find time for exercise amid their daily routines.

Creating a Time-Efficient Program

Dr. Notley’s aim is to design a program that caters to those who need to improve strength and muscle mass but cannot dedicate extensive time to workouts. He draws from his past experience with short five-minute workouts that gradually built his exercise capacity and stamina.

The FITT Principle for Efficient Training

When developing a time-efficient program for strength and muscle building, it’s essential to consider the FITT principle:

FrequencyHow often to exercise
IntensityHow hard to exercise
TimeThe duration of the workout
TypeThe type of exercises to perform

Adjusting Frequency for Minimalist Training

The general consensus for strength and hypertrophy programs is to work out two to four times a week. However, research suggests that even training once a week can yield improvements if the total volume of sets and repetitions is maintained. This minimalist approach could be suitable for beginners or those with limited time.

Finding the Right Intensity and Volume

For effective strength development, the intensity of the workout matters. For hypertrophy, work with 60% to 80% of your 1 repetition maximum. The research shows that performing 2-4 sets with 3-12 repetitions per set, resting for 1-5 minutes between sets can build muscle and strength. If we are looking at minimizing time in the gym we will want to minimize our rest periods. Consider a minimum of 1 minute but you will find that you will fatigue faster on subsequent sets.

Types of exercises

Multi-Joint Exercises

Dr. Notley advocates for multi-joint exercises, as they are more effective in building strength and functional ability. Exercises like squats, deadlifts, push-ups, and pull-ups engage multiple muscle groups and joints, mirroring real-life movements.

Free Weights vs. Machines

Both free weights and machines have their advantages. While free weights provide more natural movement and stability challenges, machines can offer safety and simplicity. For maximal strength, free weights may be superior, but machines can be more accessible for beginners or those without access to a variety of weights.

Bilateral vs. Unilateral Movements

Bilateral exercises involve both sides of the body simultaneously, while unilateral exercises focus on one side at a time. Both have their benefits. Bilateral training may be more time-efficient, but unilateral exercises can enhance core and joint stability.

Time-Saving Methods

To save time during workouts, consider techniques like supersets, where you perform two exercises back-to-back without rest, or rest-pause sets, where you rest briefly between reps. These methods can help achieve volume and intensity goals without extending the duration of the workout.

The Role of Warm-Ups and Stretching


Warm-ups are essential to prepare the body for exercise. While general warm-ups may not significantly impact strength training, specific warm-ups tailored to the activity can improve performance and reduce the risk of injury.

Stretching Considerations

Research suggests that prolonged stretching before lifting can lead to decreased strength, especially in heavy lifts. Dynamic stretching, which involves moving the joints and muscles through a full range of motion, is a better option for improving flexibility without compromising strength.


Creating a time-efficient strength and muscle-building program requires strategic planning and tailoring to individual goals and circumstances. 

To save time consider performing a minimum of 4 sets a week for 6 to 15 repetitions, with 1 minute rest between sets.  Perform multi-joint movements using weights, body weight, bands, or machines.  

By optimizing workout frequency, intensity, volume, exercise selection, and employing time-saving strategies, it’s possible to achieve significant improvements in strength and muscle mass within a limited time frame. Remember, consistency is key, and finding a routine that works for you is essential for long-term success.

Originally posted on March 18, 2024 @ 10:32 am