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"The Why of Less"
Ellington Darden Phd.
In this short article which appeared on his website
several years ago, he explains the teachings
of Arthur Jones regarding the philosophy of "More is
Not Better" when it comes to High Intensity Strength
Training. This is the basis of our High
Intensity Low Velocity strategy and is worthwhile
reading for all of us.
“If in doubt . . . train less,” is an
important concept taken from the writings of Arthur
Jones. Jones, the inventor of Nautilus and MedX
strength-training equipment, is also the man most
responsible for the popularity of high-intensity
Jones’s quote concerning training less needs
clarification. The key to using it to your advantage
requires a brief chronology of the man, some of his
experiences, and a few ideas of my own.
Meeting Arthur Jones
I first met Arthur in 1970. He confronted me by
suggesting that I forget everything I knew about
bodybuilding. Then, and only then, he insisted,
could I understand his new philosophy of training.
Jones’s philosophy centered on exercising harder,
Arthur Jones started me thinking in a different
direction. Instead of looking for ways to train more
– by mixing various sets and cycles, splitting my
workout days into upper and lower body, and
exploring new exercises – he taught me how to get
better results with fewer exercises and shorter
It worked. In 1972, I got into the best shape of my
life and won the Collegiate Mr. America contest.
Shortly thereafter, I joined Jones as Director of
Research for Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries,
where I remained for more than 17 years. Throughout
those years, I published many books on Nautilus
equipment, free weights, and the merits of
Nautilus and high-intensity training flourished in
the 1970s and 80s. Millions of people were turned on
to a harder-but-briefer style of exercising.
In my travels throughout the country, recently I’ve
observed that many trainees have forgotten Arthur
Jones and his concepts. On one hand, this would be
expected since Jones retired in 1996, isolated
himself from the public, and eventually died in
2007. On the other hand, there are multiple web
sites with discussion forums that consistently
rehash many of Jones’s original principles –
debating the right, wrong, and in-between.
Extremists seem to be the norm on the internet.
Recommended HIT routines, for example, vary from a
high of 20 exercises four times per week to a low of
3 exercises in two weeks. That’s quite a range.
After more than 70 years of interest in strength
training, what were Jones’s concluding beliefs on
training duration and frequency?
The last several years of Jones’s life, I spent many
interesting mornings with him at his home in Ocala,
Florida. Often we talked training duration and
frequency and I remember well his answers to my
questions – answers that will help any HIT
enthusiast clarify his quest to get bigger and
Plus, an understanding of Jones’s early exercise
experiences will allow you to appreciate WHY and HOW
he eventually organized his training philosophy.
Initially, Four Sets
In 1936, at the age of 10, Arthur Jones became
interested in weight training. He also practiced
gymnastics, which explains why chin-ups and dips
were two of his favorite exercises. According to
Jones, he was well built by the time he turned 14.
Over the next 15 years, Jones’s training was
inconsistent. It was on and off, on and off since
the necessary equipment was in short supply as he
explored the world. When he trained, however, he
settled on a routine that entailed three weekly
workouts of four sets of 12 different exercises.
Such workouts brought Arthur’s body mass up to 172
pounds. At 172 pounds, however, his progress
plateaued. Additional exercises and extra sets did
not provide the answer. Thus, Arthur typically
stopped in disgust – he quit training for months, or
Being a person who was constantly on the move,
combined with little exercise, Arthur’s muscle mass
would gradually shrink. When the circumstances were
right in his life, Arthur at a body weight of 150
pounds, would settle down somewhat and start
training again. In a few months – with his routine
of four sets of 12 exercises – Jones’s body weight
would increase to 172 pounds. “Exactly 172 pounds,”
I’ve heard him say emphatically, “and not one ounce
Finally, after several more episodes of yo-yoing
between 150 and 172 pounds, Jones decided to do
something different – radically different. He cut
his routine in half. Rather than four sets, he
performed each of the 12 exercises on only two sets.
Next, Two Sets
What was Jones’s outcome of half as much exercise?
“My body started growing like a weed,” Arthur
remembered. “It shocked even me.”
Within a few weeks, Jones reached a muscular size
and strength level that was far above anything he
had been able to produce previously. With longer
workouts, Arthur reasoned, he had been preventing
additional growth by not providing his body with
enough rest after the initial stimulation.
In other words, he had been overtraining – he had
been doing too much exercise.
Once I questioned Jones about the time in his life
when his body was at its biggest and strongest?
“It was in 1954 in California,” he said. “I weighed
205 pounds with cold upper arms that measured 17-3/8
inches. And I was still doing two sets of 12
exercises. That year I could have placed high in the
Mr. America contest.”
In 1954 Arthur would have been 28 years of age. At
the time of our conversation, early 2003, almost
five decades had passed and Arthur had traveled the
world extensively, developed both Nautilus machines
and MedX strength-testing tools, written more than
300 related articles, funded meaningful university
research, and retired comfortably to think about it
So I asked him, “Arthur if you’d known then what you
know now, what would you have done differently with
“I would’ve trained less,” he replied. “Instead of
12 exercises, I would have reduced the number to 8.
Instead of two sets, I would have performed only one
set. Instead of training three times per week, I
would have trained twice a week.
“training in such a fashion, I believe I would’ve
reached a body weight of 205 pounds – or even
heavier – faster!
Optimally, One Set
Okay, let’s take Arthur Jones’s advice of . . . One
set of 8 exercises, twice a week . . . to heart.
Jones and I both like the idea of an “A” and a “B”
workout. The A Routine would be performed on Monday
of each week, and the B Routine on Thursday or
1. Squat with barbell
2. Pullover lying crossways on bench with one
dumbbell held in both hands
3. Dip on parallel bars
4. Chin-up on horizontal bar
5. Bench press with barbell
6. Biceps curl with barbell
7. Triceps extension with one dumbbell held in both
8. Wrist curl with barbell
1. Stiff-legged deadlift with barbell
2. One-legged calf raise
3. Lateral raise with dumbbells
4. Overhead press with barbell
5. Shoulder shrug with barbell
6. Bent-over rowing with barbell
7. Negative dip
8. Negative chin-up
To supplement the above routines, occasionally I’d
substitute the leg press machine for the squat. Or
of you can’t do the squat properly, then you might
do the leg press exclusively. The other possible
modification to the A Routine would be in the #8
exercise, wrist curl. You could substitute a number
of other movements here: reverse wrist curl, trunk
curl (or other abdominal exercises), or neck work
(the 4-way neck machine would be my first choice).
For the B Routine, you could do the leg curl machine
instead of the stiff-legged deadlift, and the leg
extension machine instead of the calf raise.
Of course, all of the above assumes that you are
already an advanced trainee who works intensively
and progressively – in good form.
The Next Step
After performing one set of 8 exercises twice a week
for many months, is it possible to reach a plateau?
Yes, I’ve worked with a few very strong bodybuilders
who have done just that.
The next step is to reduce the exercises by two and
adhere to the same frequency: one set of 6 exercises
twice a week. Then, if another plateau is reached,
I’d recommend decreasing the frequency, but
increasing the exercises slightly. In other words,
you’d go back to 8 exercises for one-and-one-half
times per week – which equals 8 exercises three
times in two weeks.
Eventually, a few men may require once-a-week
training. I’ve worked with only five men, who I
would place in that category. That’s five men out of
thousands that I’ve worked with over 50 years.
Can you reduce your training too much? Obviously,
there’s a time and place in your life where less
isn’t always better! More exercise might be a
consideration (up to a point) during rehabilitation,
recovering from injury, practicing maintenance, or
perhaps in the senior years.
The vast majority of people involved in strength
training and bodybuilding, however, do too much,
rather than too little, exercise. Remember, if your
progress is at a standstill, or if you’re
dissatisfied with your results – then
train less . . . but work harder.
Gain from Jones’s Guidelines
Looking back, Arthur Jones, from his more than 65
years of strength training, learned the following:
• Two sets are better than four sets, and that one
set is better than two.
• 8 exercises are better than 12.
training two days per week is better than three.
Sure, some athletes with the right genetics can grow
to massive proportions on much more exercise than is
recommended above. Arthur Jones himself proved that.
But the same athletes would have gotten even better
results if they had trained less.
Do not assume that you’re an exception to Jones’s
concepts. In fact, you’d be better off assuming that
It took Arthur Jones more than 30 years to learn
that growth stimulation for a particular muscle
requires only one, properly performed, set. It took
him another 20 years to understand that overall
muscular growth accelerates from shorter routines
and more rest days.
Decide today that you’re going to reach your full
muscular potential in the most efficient manner.
Understand and apply the Why of LESS.