A Lesson On Minimalism From The Film Drive

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Drive is one of my favorite films! The beautiful cinematography, well placed retro music, and Ryan Gosling’s amazing yet understated performance. The whole movie came together perfectly. I felt like I was being taken on a ride through Los Angeles, moonlighting with Gosling.

The realism and minimalistic nature of the film are all reasons for why it resonated so deeply with me. Ironically, the first time I watched Drive I left the theatre in complete and utter disappointment. It wasn’t until I watched it a second time that all of the reasons for disliking it, became reasons for loving it.

Minimalist Training

Now you might be wondering why the heck I am talking about the film Drive. Well the connection I am trying to underline is the emphasis on minimalism. From sheer simplicity; each line, each picture, each scene and each moment became infinitely more powerful. The same way the movie Drive was constructed and carried out is how I approach developing my physique.

If you take a look at many of the articles and workout routines contained here, on kinobody, you may have noticed a minimal number of workouts, exercises, sets and reps. More often than not, my routines fit the premise of 3 strength workouts per week with 4-6 exercises per session of 2-3 work sets.

Granted, for some isolation based movements I perform 4-6 sets, but I digress. The point being, the overall theme as expressed through my training mentality and workout routines is minimalism. In this article I wish to uncover the truth behind minimalistic training and why the hell you should embrace the old adage, less is more.

What is the incredible power of minimalism?

Before I can even ask you to comprehend my way of lifting, it essential that you understand the meaning behind minimalism.

Minimalism describes movements in various forms of art and design, especially visual art and music, where the work is set out to expose the essence or identity of a subject through eliminating all non-essential forms, features or concepts

How does this apply to lifting? Well basically what I am doing is stripping down strength training to the absolute essential. It is only by eliminating the unnecessary that the effective truly becomes effective. For example; two of my favourite lifts are weighted chin ups and the incline bench press.

I consider these to be my core upper body movements. Now the power of these two movements is tied tightly to your progress with them. It doesn’t matter if your chest and back feel torn to shreds, if you’re not adding weight then the exercises are useless.

This is exactly where minimalism comes in! A back and biceps workout consisting of weighted chin ups, t-bar rows, cable rows and dumbbell pull overs + barbell curls, preacher curls, incline curls, cable curls…. might look good on paper, but it’s not! All of that volume just diluted the effectiveness of your core movement, weighted chin ups.

I’ll bet dollars to dimes you’re not getting stronger on that routine. Admittedly, you might get some good sarcoplasmic, volume based growth for a few weeks. However, all good things come to an end unless you add some weight and make that bar bend!

From a long term strength and growth standpoint you’d be much better off with weighted chin ups, maybe one extra back exercise, plus a direct biceps movement. With this workout you’ll be able to add 2-3 lbs to the chin up belt each session.

In a matter of months you’ll be chinning 100+ lbs for reps and I would stake my reputation that your back and arms would be nothing short of jacked at that point. Unfortunately, some people let their impatience get the best of them. So they add more sets and more exercises and expect better results. Nothing changes except for sorer muscles and slower strength and muscle gains.

Can you really make gains with such low volume? 

Leangains RPT

Superhero Physique – Here I come!

Hell yah you can! I don’t train this way because I’m lazy, far from it. I’ve adopted minimalistic lifting 18 months ago because it’s the more effective way to train. In a similar light Bruce Lee discovered that the key to becoming a better martial artist was to embrace simplicity and steer the hell away from the complex!

Mastering a few basic moves served more useful than trying to learn every technique under the sun. This is what led Bruce to adapt his rigid gung fu to a more adaptable, more practical concept.

Not to over glorify what I’m doing, but I have discovered that the more effective way to gain strength and build muscle, is to hack away at the unessential and strive for improving the strength of my core lifts, above all else. Second to that, I see if I can add a bit more volume to increase muscle growth without impeding strength gains. This very process has led me to the following guidelines

  1. 3 lifting sessions per week
  2. 2 day split (Chest, Delts, Tri’s / Back, Bi’s, Legs)
  3. 4-6 exercises per workout
  4. 2-3 work sets for heavy, strength based movements (reverse pyramid training)
  5. 4-6 sets for superhero pyramid training (constant weight, descending reps)

Want To Learn My 3 Most Recent Training Gems?

I would now like to share a few new realizations I have made in the past few months that have significantly improved my physique.

1. You can actually train shoulders with more volume

I have been able to successfully perform a high amount of volume on shoulders without impeding recovery or strength gains. The result has actually been a solid increase in shoulder size and roundness. If you’re performing heavy incline presses, shoulder presses and dips the anterior deltoid is getting plenty of work.

Doing direct anterior exercises is pointless. The key is to hammer out volume on the medial and posterior head! I am currently doing 6 sets of lateral raises or upright rows on my chest, delt and triceps workout and 6 sets of face pulls (rear delts) on my back and biceps workout. I must say, I am getting a lot of compliments on my shoulders.

2. Take it easy on the triceps

It is very rare in life that we are required to perform a pure triceps extension. Think about it, It just doesn’t happen. The triceps are designed to assist the chest and shoulders in pressing against resistance. Therefore the triceps are going to get the best benefit from compound presses; incline bench, shoulder presses , dips and close grip bench. This is what the triceps are truly designed for.

As a personal anecdote I was struggling to make progress on my weighted dips. Once I stopped doing rope extensions at the end of my workout I was able to add 5 lbs to dips each workout. Eventually I decided to add rope extensions back in and sure enough my dip strength plateau’d and started to retract.

I quickly came to the realization that direct triceps work was causing more harm than good. I haven’t done any direct triceps work in a couple of months and my strength and muscle development is the best it’s ever been!

Just remember, if you’re doing plenty of benching and shoulder pressing then you don’t need any direct triceps work. If you’re paranoid about your triceps then just make sure you’re either doing weighted dips or close grip bench. Trust me, the superior strength gains will more than make up for any reduction in training volume on the triceps.

3. Don’t Listen To The Haters: You Have Permission To Curl!

Unlike triceps extensions, the biceps curl is actually a very functional movement. Very often are humans required to curl their arm up. Whether it’s lifting an object up to the shoulders, holding someone in a clinch, resisting against an arm bar…. the list is endless! We are designed to curl and this anti curl movement has got to come to a complete end.

It’s actually ridiculous. I have yet to see someone with great biceps development that doesn’t curl. Currently on my back and biceps workout I am doing heavy incline dumbbell curls and high volume, superhero pyramid style cable curls. My biceps have never been better! The tape measure is stretched to 16.5″ cold and this direct biceps training has had no negative effects on my chinning progress.

Be Like Drive! Take On Minimalism And Change Your Life

I challenge you to take on minimalism. Let go of any irrational fears of losing muscle or wasting away. It will not happen. Instead you will gain strength at a superhero rate and muscle growth will follow predictably.

*Your results may vary. Testimonials and examples used are exceptional results and are not intended to guarantee, promise, represent and/or assure that anyone will achieve the same or similar results.

Greg O'Gallagher

Greg O'Gallagher is the founder of Kinobody, a site dedicated to helping men and women achieve the lean, muscular, and aesthetic "Hollywood" physique. His fitness programs have helped hundreds of thousands of people transform their bodies and change their lives in the process.

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