How To Maintain Your Natural Bodybuilding Gains With Ultra-Minimal Effort (1 set a week is all you need)

| by Truth Seeker |

The mind of a natural looking for the secret to unprecedented growth looks like this. Yet the rules of the game couldn’t be any simpler.

The modern world puts a strong emphasis on accumulation and upgrades. The mainstream policy heavily encourages and sometimes even requires people to live by the ask for more rule. What you have is never enough. This is a dominant notion found in every aspect of our lives. Constant comparison and pursuit of better stats is the norm. Somewhat ironically, the same mechanism often holds you back and prevents development.

Stuck in prejudice, envy and the quest for higher numbers, we have created a detached environment in which most if not all of us play the role of expendable economic units leading a soulless material existence filled with a healthy dose of pointlessness.

The same principle rules the world of natural bodybuilding. In the era of the Internet and social media, in particular, images of the perfect physique constantly attack naturals. You see it everywhere – from billboards to movies to your fb feed.

Every second fitness channel on YouTube posts a daily PR or a “look at my new gains” video. Inspired by their idols, the natties put on the armor and start running after the dream.

We con ourselves into thinking that nowadays everything is possible because “we have evolved so much”. Maybe the computer has, but the human physiology hasn’t. It’s still the same.

Once I read a post by Prof. X (the veterans know who he is) in which this clever scholar suggested that the men of the past were actually smaller than us. He attributed this idea to some modern upgrade. Of course, it is not true. Modern and retro naturals are similar in size. No amount of revolutionary protein blends or training programs can ever change that because ultimately size is about bones and hormones.

When an honest natural tries to live a lifestyle of perpetual gains, he fails sooner or later. There’s always a day when the illusion loses its cover, and doubt settles in.

The moment when you fail to satisfy the numbers in a program, which has allegedly given exceptional results to a popular muscle warrior, initiates hesitation and intense questioning.

Let me speed up the process for you.

It’s not gonna happen regardless of the routine you do. It does not matter whether you follow Arnold’s split, Serge Nubret’s routine powered by horse meat or an incarnation of the mythical 5×5. It’s all the same in the end. Naturals look like naturals and swim in stagnation rather than gains after the initial phase.

What can you do about it?

There are three options that come to mind.

A. Do nothing. Just dream, bro.

In this scenario, the lifter continues to “watch TV” and ignores the alerts popping on the screen. This is the most common choice even though many don’t realize it. I know a high number of individuals who live their whole lives like that – with the hope that one day a miracle will happen and everything will fix itself.

Miracles may produce opportunities, but they don’t turn non-musicians into concert piano players.

In other words, personal achievement requires a clear blueprint rather than a hope based method.

B. Lie to yourself 

This option contains traces from the previous one but is different. It offers a plan that technically does not ignore stagnation.

This segment includes lifters who do everything in their power to become big naturally. Those would be the bros who spend the vast majority of their lives in “monk mode” in order to serve the lord of natural anabolism who requires them to eat around the clock, sleep like babies and change their routines according to the latest online tendencies. Unfortunately, all that effort is not rewarded with unprecedented gains.

C. Inject

Some realize the impossibility to grow naturally past a certain point and join the dark forces. Through the use of steroids, those men break the natty plateau and acquire a musculature that they wouldn’t have without the extra hormones. Nonetheless, even those men experience a hard limit later on and face a similar dilemma once again – stay at the same place or inject even more.

D. Maintain 

The final option is to maintain your gains with minimal effort and redirect your effort elsewhere until you regain your training focus.

Protecting conquered lands is easier than gaining control over unknown territory. The work that you have do is so little that many will call you a lazy bro.

So, what do you have to do?

If your goal is to maintain your strength, one work set a week with a somewhat heavy weight lifted for 3-8 reps is the ultra-minimum and works very well.  

Let’s say that you can squat 350lbs for 3 reps. This means that you can probably do 330×5 with relative ease. You can do 330 for 1×5 once a week indefinitely and maintain both – the size of the muscles involved in the squat and your strength. (Your diet will have to reflect that goal too. If you eat too little, you will lose strength and/or size.)

In practice, however, there are always bad days. You may find yourself in a situation when you have to reduce the weight even further to reflect your condition. That’s fine. Just don’t lose too much ground.

If you adopt this type of training, you can reduce your lifting time to a ridiculously low investment such as 1 hour a week. When you consider the fact that most people spend around 50 minutes in one direction on their way to work, the offer seems great.

P.S. You can find training routines following this principle in Training Focus 2

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  1. Jonathan Matthews

    Can you gain strength over time using this same principle of one set per exercise per week?

    1. Truth Seeker Post author

      Yes, but it’s not optimal. More volume will be required eventually.

  2. Jack

    Which is the minimum amount of volume x bodypart request, for reach the genetic limit for natties?

    1. Truth Seeker Post author

      There isn’t a precise formula for that. Don’t overthink it.

      1. Jack

        So, if for example, I can add weight and reps, with only one set to failure, I will reach my potential ?

        Or ONLY if I will do more volume I can progress?

    2. Jeff

      Sets and reps schemes don’t really matter as long as they are progressively overload.
      Its the progression of intensity that matters most.

  3. Lee

    Another great article! This concept really baffles almost all bodybuilders as they have been taught that gains just keep coming year after year for infinity. Even steroid enhanced lifters hit a wall but for naturals it comes much sooner than later.

  4. Jeff

    Well said TruthSeeker.
    The irony is that ‘once a week’ approach has been known since at least 1962 when Hettinger published his research and data in ‘The Physiology of Strength’ which demonstrates this incontrovertibly.

  5. Erick Gómez

    Great post, I have seen some research of Brad schoenfeld and I recall 3 sets per bodypart x 3 times a week can do the job too. You keep it real bro

    1. confused

      What does he mean 1 set a week . Do I need to find 3 to 8 reps set anddo 40 minute session is that what he means . I set let say deadlift.

  6. Joe Brinker

    Great article man please keep the posts coming its nice to have a bunch of new reading material!

  7. Chris

    the sentence ending ” expendable economic units leading a soulless material existence filled with a healthy dose of pointlessness”, – pure gold.

    1. Truth Seeker Post author

      Thank you, Chris.

  8. joe santus

    Bradley Steiner was one of the few voices of training sanity during the 1970s, offering twice-a-week full body workouts that lasted no more than an hour, composed of 2 to 3 sets each of squats, barbell rows or pull-ups, straight-legged deadlifts, overhead presses, bench presses, and barbell curls. He wasn’t an HIT advocate, but simply instructed to train hard on each set.

    Steiner constantly warned average guys against following the alleged training programs common to the magazines available then. Steiner warned that those programs were too high-volume, too high-frequency, meant (if they were actually used at all) for the genetic elite on steroids, and not even what those champions used most of the year anyway.

    To evidence that even the champions didn’t do the mythical 1970s-era fifteen-to-twenty sets per bodypart three times a week year round, he mentioned observing a Mr Universe winner from the early 1970s doing a workout at a city gym while away from home on business. After a brief warm-up, the Mr U did one set of 20 barbell squats, one set of 10 overhead barbell presses, one set of 12 barbell rows, and one set of 12 straightlegged deadlifts. Period. Steiner stated the poundages used in each set were enormous compared to what an average bodybuilder can handle, yes, but — it was a maintenance workout. That Mr U knew what every longtime bodybuilder knows, or should have learned — maintenance requires hard work but less volume than it does to initially build the muscle.

    1. TheFinisher

      Steiner was another con man making money off selling the ‘hardgainer’ rhetoric. Funny how he was one of the ‘few voices’ because everyone else was training correctly by doing more.

      It all sounds good on paper, Like Mentzer’s ridiculous HIT – ‘less is more’ when in reality, it’s not. (ever seen a big HITter?) What sport or endeavour in the world do you do less for more?…..

    1. Truth Seeker Post author

      Yes. More volume will be required for progress eventually.

  9. Chris

    Optimal needs definition.
    Optimal for reaching ones potential {practical}, compared to Optimal after one has { two different things}

  10. Mike

    If I train with a split upper-lower, each 1 time x week (2 total session in the week).. maybe with 3-4 set x bodypart, is possible to reach genetic potential?

    Or we really need at keast 2 time x week with more and more volume?

    Thanks man, your work is very usefull for us… natty 🙂

    1. Truth Seeker Post author

      Just start with whatever makes you comfortable and adjust things as you go.

  11. Hans

    Absolutely right!

    I used to train full-body 3x a week, got a decent strength level in all major exercises, and … burned out eventually with some minor injuries here and there. My strength levels were also stagnating.

    During the last 9 months, I just trained once every 7-8 days (alternating two full-body sessions with 2×5+1×10 reps per major exercise; for instance, I benched roughly every two weeks and did dips the other week).

    All my strength levels have gone up (slowly) since then with respect to my previous levels, every training session felt fresh and focussed, I had no pain and injuries anymore, and much more time for the more important things in life.

    BTW, I am 38.

    1. Rob

      Hans, make an example of your training routine?

      1. Hans

        Here it is with current training weights for illustration:

        Read it as 1x5x100 = 1 set with 5 reps with 100kg. For each exercise
        (except ab work) I do 1 to 3 ramping warm up sets (e.g., for the deadlift, I do 1x5x80+1x5x110+1x5x140). Pause is 4min for the low-rep sets and 3min for the high-rep sets. I use neither a weightlifting belt nor straps, just a dip belt for the additional weights when doing pull-ups and dips. I always try to maintain proper form.

        session 1
        front squats 2x5x110+1x10x85; weightlifting style
        deadlift 1x5x195
        press 2x5x80+1x10x60; first rep of each set starts with a clean; shoulder-wide grip (
        pull-ups 2x5x20+1x10x0; neutral, shoulder-wide grip; 1s pause in full-hang before each rep; warm-up is on the lat machine
        dips 2x8x25 shoulders retracted; arms close to body; push-ups for warm up
        planks 3x60sec; 30sec pause between sets

        session 2
        squats 2x5x130+1x10x100; high bar
        bench press 2x5x127.5+1x10x100; shoulder-wide grip (for me this is really just where the knurling begins) ; 1s pause at the bottom; arms close to body for whole rep; no elbow flares
        rows 2x5x112.5+1x10x90; pendlay style (
        triceps extensions 2x10x45; Rippetoe style (
        biceps curls 2x10x40; Rippetoe style (
        crunches 3x20x90; machine

        Currently I switch between session 1 and session 2 every 7-8 days.

        I increase weights (slightly, i.e., at most 2.5%, using microplates if necessary) only when I managed to do the full number of reps in proper form (possibly over multiple sessions) and then try again to achieve full reps for a couple of sessions. I do rarely reduce weights (by increasing weights only carefully in the first place), but I do so when I simply cannot achieve full reps over multiple sessions.

        When I started lifting some years ago (and after doing the typical gym non-sense followed by some self-study),
        I used almost the same program, but with much more volume (initially 5×5, later 3×5+2×10) with three alternating training sessions per week (Mon (session 1), Wed (session 2), Fri (session 1), Mon (session 2), …). I also reduced weights more rigidly (10% after 3 consecutive failures to reach full reps). I still consider a program like that appropriate for a young and inexperienced lifter to become strong quickly. However as one progresses (or becomes older), I highly recommend to reduce volume and training frequency adequately.

        Hope that helps.

        1. Rob

          Hans thanks for the good answer.
          Is something similar to what I do.
          (Upper- lower split with low volume).

          We have a good facebook group about this type of training.. the group is called ‘ABBREVIATED TRAINING’

          We wait for people like you 🙂

  12. jimjohnson

    Once you have trained fir 5 years….no need to train one set and once a week….that’s it. You are at your potential…job done. Maintain and move on.

    Most people are still stuck in the old methods. if once a week is good then 5 times a week is 5x better. Not here

  13. Wilhem G R

    Instead of reducing volume by a lot what do you think about reducing frequency? (like having a 4 day split but only performing 2 sessions a week – a 14-day cycle)

    After nearly a decade of lifting I’m 90-95% maxed out and I’m not willing to devote most of my free time to getting those illusive extra 10%. I just want to keep what I’ve got and have fun (and I have fun by getting a sick pump with 15-20 sets in a sessions, so that’s what I’m asking)

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