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Minimum Effective Dose for Maximum Strength, Part 2

Why Simple and Hard are so Effective

by Matt Reynolds, SSC | February 20, 2019

lifter locking out the squat

[The rationale behind the MED approach is discussed in Part 1]


The process of implementing this programming approach might look something like this:

Beginning: Starting Strength Novice Linear Progression

(PRs every workout)

  • Intensity: Increases 1-5 lbs per workout
  • Volume: Static
  • Frequency: Static

Starting Strength Novice Linear Progression: Phase 1

 

Day 1: Monday

Day 2: Wednesday

Day 3: Friday

Week 1

Squat 3x5

Squat 3x5

Squat 3x5

Press/ Bench Press 3x5

Bench Press/ Press 3x5

Press/ Bench Press 3x5

Deadlift 1x5

Deadlift 1x5

Deadlift 1x5

For the vast majority of lifters, the early phase of SSNLP will look just like this, with 5 lb increases every workout. Then, as the lifter progresses through the first 4-8 weeks of the program, smaller weight increases (1-2.5 lb) will be necessary. Eventually the lifter will often be unable to complete all the reps 3x per week on squat or deadlift or both, so we’ll need to make a MED change to continue making progress…


MED Step 1: Wednesday Light Day

(PRs every workout for Bench and Press, and on M/F for Squat and Deadlift)

  • Intensity: Increases 1-5 lbs M/F for Squat/Deadlift, Decreases 20% on Wednesday, increases every workout for Press/BP
  • Volume: Static (or increased for deadlift on Wednesday)
  • Frequency: Static (or reduced for deadlift in place of the Power Clean)

SSNLP: Light Day

 

Day 1: Monday

Day 2: Wednesday

Day 3: Friday

Week 1

Squat 3x5

Squat 3x5 @ 80%

Squat 3x5

Press/ Bench Press 3x5

Bench Press/ Press 3x5

Press/ Bench Press 3x5

Deadlift 1x5

Deadlift 1-3x5 @80%

(or Power Clean 5x3)

Deadlift 1x5

For the first MED step, we’ll simply increase recovery between the Monday and Friday sessions by reducing the intensity on the Squat and Deadlift on Wednesday’s session. Younger lifters may add in the Power Clean at this point in training, which also can serve as a light Deadlift. Additionally, chin-ups may be added at the end of the workout on Wednesday or, optionally, at the end of all of the workouts, if desired. (For simplicity of program layout, chins will be left off the programming charts.)

Often, the press or bench press will begin to stall next (or sometimes first, so that Step 1 and 2 can be flip-flopped).

MED Step 2: 5x3 on Bench Press and Press

(PRs every workout for Bench and Press, and on M/F for Squat and Deadlift)

  • Intensity: Increases 1-5 lbs every workout (Press and/or BP moved to 5x3)
  • Volume: Static
  • Frequency: Static

SSNLP: 5x3 on Press/BP

 

Day 1: Monday

Day 2: Wednesday

Day 3: Friday

Week 1

Squat 3x5

Squat 3x5 @ 80%

Squat 3x5

Press/ Bench Press 5x3

Bench Press/ Press 5x3

Press/ Bench Press 5x3

Deadlift 1x5

Deadlift 3x5 @80%

Deadlift 1x5

For the second MED step, we’ll move the bench press and press from 3-sets-of-5 to 5-sets-of-3 and continue to drive the intensity up every session. Females and older populations might choose to move all exercises to triples in order to better drive up the magnitude of the weight on the barbell or lower the volume for better recovery, and elicit a better strength response.

MED Step 3: Back-off Sets

(PRs every workout for Bench and Press, and on M/F for Squat and Deadlift)

  • Intensity: Top set increases 1-5 lbs every workout, next 2 sets decrease ~10%
  • Volume: Static
  • Frequency: Static

SSNLP: Back-off Sets

 

Day 1: Monday

Day 2: Wednesday

Day 3: Friday

Week 1

Squat 1x5

2x5 @ 90%

Squat 3x5 @ 80%

Squat 1x5

2x5 @ 90%

Press/ Bench Press 5x3

Bench Press/ Press 5x3

Press/ Bench Press 5x3

Deadlift 1x5

Deadlift 3x5 @80%

Deadlift 1x5

For the next MED step, in a situation where the lifter is able to complete their first work set of 5 (or 3 on the Press/Bench), but then experiences a falloff (for example: set 1 = 5 reps, set 2 = 4 reps, set 3 = 3 reps), then an approximately 10% back-off for sets 2-3 would be an appropriate next step.

At this point we’ve most likely made enough small changes to keep driving intensity without manipulating volume much at all. Now we’ll need to begin manipulating volume to continue to drive both stress and recovery in order to keep making progress.

MED Step 4: Texas Method or HLM Transition

(PRs every week)

  • Intensity: Waved weekly, but still increases from week to week for each workout
  • Volume: Waved weekly, 1 high volume day, 1 moderate volume day, 1 low volume day
  • Frequency: Static

Texas Method or HLM Transition

 

Day 1: Monday

Day 2: Wednesday

Day 3: Friday

Week 1

Squat 3-5x5 @ 90% of Fri

Squat 3x5 @ 80% of Fri

Squat 1x5

BP 5x5 (85% of 1x5)

Press 3x5 (90% of 1x5)

Bench Press 1x5

Deadlift 1x5

Deadlift 3x5 @80% of 1x5

Deadlift 3x5 @ 90% of 1x5

Week 2

Squat 3-5x5 (+5 lbs)

Squat 3x5 (+5 lbs of Wed)

Squat 1x5 (+5 lbs of Fri)

Press 5x5 (85% of 1x5)

BP 3x5 (90% of 1x5)

Press 1x5

Deadlift 1x5 (+5 lbs)

Deadlift 3x5 (+5 lbs of Wed)

Deadlift 3x5 (+5 lbs of Fri)

In this step, we begin adding volume (while reducing intensity) to Monday’s Squat and Press/BP, and to Friday’s Deadlift. Inversely, we’ll continue adding intensity (while reducing volume) to Friday’s Squat and Press/BP and Monday’s Deadlift.

This transition can occur over several small incremental steps so that when complete, we have a program that looks like the Texas Method (or conversely, a Heavy-Light-Medium program).

MED Step 5: Texas Method 4 Day Split

(PRs every week)

  • Intensity: Similar as before, with 1 high intensity (low volume) and 1 moderate intensity (high volume) day per lift
  • Volume: Similar as before, with 1 high volume (moderate intensity) and 1 low volume (high intensity) day per lift
  • Frequency: Moves to 2x/week for all lifts, decreasing for Squat and Deadlift, increasing for Press and Bench Press, and increasing overall to 4 workouts per week, including additional slots for accessory work as needed.

Texas Method 4 Day Split

 

Day 1: Monday

Day 2: Tuesday

Day 3: Thursday

Day 3: Friday

Week 1

Deadlift (Intensity)

1x5

 

Press (Intensity) 1x5

Squat (Intensity)

1x5

Bench Press (Intensity)

1x5

Squat (Volume)

5x5 @ 85-90% of Thurs

Bench Press (Volume)

5x5 @ 85-90% of Fri

Deadlift (Volume)

3x5 @ 85-90% of Mon

Press (Volume)

5x5 @ 85-90% of Tues

 

Chins (3 sets)

 

Barbell Rows (3x5-8)

 

Dips (3 sets)

 

LTEs (3x10) 

The 4-day split adjusts volume in the form of frequency changes for each lift. This change accommodates the continually increasing intensity for each lift while spreading out the stress and minimally increasing the inter-workout recovery.

MED Step 6: Texas Method 4 Day Split- 3 week cycle

(PRs every 1-3 weeks)

  • Intensity: 1 high intensity (moderate volume) and 1 moderate intensity (high volume) day per lift, aiming for a 5RM week 1, 3RM week 2, and heavy single (occasionally 1RM) week 3.
  • Volume: 1 high volume (moderate intensity) and 1 moderate volume (high intensity) day per lift
  • Frequency: Static from previous.

Texas Method 4 Day Split – 3 week cycle

 

Day 1: Monday

Day 2: Tuesday

Day 3: Thursday

Day 3: Friday

Week 1

Deadlift (Intensity)

Press (Intensity)

Squat (Intensity)

Bench Press (Intensity)

5RM, then 2x5 @90%

5RM, then 2x5 @90%

5RM then 2x5 @ 90%

5RM, then 2x5 @ 90%

Squat (Volume)

Bench Press (Volume)

Deadlift (Volume)

Press (Volume)

5x5 @ 85% of Thurs

5x5 @ 85% of Fri

3x5 @ 85% of Mon

5x5 @ 85% of Tues

 

Chins/Dips

 

Rows/ LTEs

 

 

 

 

 

Week 2

Deadlift (Intensity)

Press (Intensity)

Squat (Intensity)

Bench Press (Intensity)

3RM

2x5 +5 lbs (last week)

3RM

2x5 + 5 lbs (last week)

3RM

2x5 + 5 lbs (last week)

3RM

2x5 + 5 lbs (last week)

Squat (Volume)

Bench Press (Volume)

Deadlift (Volume)

Press (Volume)

5x5 +5 lbs (last week)

5x5 +5 lbs (last week)

5x5 +5 lbs (last week)

5x5 +5 lbs (last week)

 

Chins/Dips

 

Rows/ LTEs

 

 

 

 

 

Week 3

Deadlift (Intensity)

Press (Intensity)

Squat (Intensity)

Bench Press (Intensity)

1x1

2x5 +5 lbs (last week)

1x1

2x5 +5 lbs (last week)

1x1

2x5 +5 lbs (last week)

1x1

 2x5 +5 lbs (last week)

Squat (Volume)

Bench Press (Volume)

Deadlift (Volume)

Press (Volume)

5x5 +5 lbs (last week)

5x5 +5 lbs (last week)

5x5 +5 lbs (last week)

5x5 +5 lbs (last week)

 

Chins/Dips

 

Rows/ LTEs

This step further adjusts for recovery. The 3-week cycle changes the target PR. Even though the lifter observes weekly PRs, progress across similar PRs occurs every third week. This attenuates the intensity adjustment and allows us to better observe the lifter’s recovery ability.

MED Step 7: 4 Day Split with Supplemental Exercises

(PRs every 1-4 weeks)

  • Intensity: 1 high intensity (moderate volume) main lift and 1 moderate-high intensity (moderate-high volume) variant per lift
  • Volume: 1 moderate volume (high intensity) main lift and 1 moderate-high volume (moderate-high intensity) day per lift
  • Frequency: Static from previous overall. Main lift performed once per week, and a variant on the main lift performed once per week. Accessory slots remain the same.

4 Day Split with Supplemental Exercises

 

Day 1: Monday

Day 2: Tuesday

Day 3: Thursday

Day 3: Friday

Week 1

Deadlift 1x5,

2x5 @ 90%

 

Press 1x5,

2x5 @ 90%

Squat 1x5

2x5 @ 90%

Bench Press 1x5

2x5 @ 90%

Pin Squat

5x3

Close Grip Bench Press

5x3

Rack Pull

5x3

Press Lockout

5x3

Optional:

Prowler

Chins (3 sets)

Optional:

Prowler

Barbell Rows (3x5-8)

 

Dips (3 sets)

 

LTEs (3x10) 

A later permutation of the MED principles would involve a change in exercise selection. Recall that exercise selection is a secondary variable and, therefore, one of the last changes we make when our goal is to make small, observable changes to programming. This is also a more individualized change. Based on the lifter’s needs, exercise selection can allow for a small, but highly specific change in volume and intensity. The nature of the change will depend on the types and reasons for the selected supplemental lifts.

Good programming choices are not just about what works, but why. When you are stuck and don’t know what to do next, the choice between one template or the next is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Even if the next program works, what about the one after that, or the next one? We can solve this problem with Minimum Effective Dose changes – simple changes based on well-established principles that allow us to observe and adjust as needed. And if you are a novice, the outlined approach above will set you up for success by helping you avoid plateaus and helping you learn more about your own response to different training variables. MED is a programming theory based on the most basic principles of the scientific method – observation, measurement, testing, and modification – always improving, always getting stronger.

My Barbell Logic podcast partner, Scott Hambrick noted that what he was doing personally with his clients, and what he observed all of us doing at Starting Strength Online Coaching, was making small incremental changes to our clients’ programming in order to consistently drive the strength adaptation, rather than moving clients from one program to the next all in one instant. Then we began to brainstorm and laid out the practical step-by-step MED changes we were making with our clients. And such, Minimum Effective Dose Programming was born.

I’m incredibly grateful to Scott, as well as the rest of the staff at SSOC for helping us test and refine this method over the past two years. We hope it works as well for you in your own training as it has for us at SSOC.

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