Minimalist Training: Is Lower Dosage or Intensity Resistance Training Effective to Improve Physical Fitness? A Narrative Review

Sports Med. 2024 Feb;54(2):289-302. doi: 10.1007/s40279-023-01949-3. Epub 2023 Nov 4.


Background: Findings from original research, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses have demonstrated the effectiveness of resistance training (RT) on markers of performance and health. However, the literature is inconsistent with regards to the dosage effects (frequency, intensity, time, type) of RT to maximize training-induced improvements. This is most likely due to moderating factors such as age, sex, and training status. Moreover, individuals with limited time to exercise or who lack motivation to perform RT are interested in the least amount of RT to improve physical fitness.

Objectives: The objective of this review was to investigate and identify lower than typically recommended RT dosages (i.e., shorter durations, lower volumes, and intensity activities) that can improve fitness components such as muscle strength and endurance for sedentary individuals or beginners not meeting the minimal recommendation of exercise.

Methods: Due to the broad research question involving different RT types, cohorts, and outcome measures (i.e., high heterogeneity), a narrative review was selected instead of a systematic meta-analysis approach.

Results: It seems that one weekly RT session is sufficient to induce strength gains in RT beginners with < 3 sets and loads below 50% of one-repetition maximum (1RM). With regards to the number of repetitions, the literature is controversial and some authors report that repetition to failure is key to achieve optimal adaptations, while other authors report similar adaptations with fewer repetitions. Additionally, higher intensity or heavier loads tend to provide superior results. With regards to the RT type, multi-joint exercises induce similar or even larger effects than single-joint exercises.

Conclusion: The least amount of RT that can be performed to improve physical fitness for beginners for at least the first 12 weeks is one weekly session at intensities below 50% 1RM, with < 3 sets per multi-joint exercise.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise / physiology
  • Humans
  • Muscle Strength / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Physical Fitness
  • Resistance Training* / methods
  • Time Factors