Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World


A principle with varying potential methodologies

by Andy Baker, SSC | June 02, 2016

Programming Heavy-Light-Medium

As I was working with a couple of clients yesterday, we discussed the nuts and bolts of their programming. 

Both clients, (one young, one middle aged) are using a heavy-light-medium approach to their training. Both are getting great results, but within the context of the HLM programming, they are each using two different methodologies. 

Client #1 - Young, Explosive, Athlete

The younger client is 18. He's strong, very neurologically efficient, and therefore very explosive (he'll be going to OU next year on a full ride track & field scholarship).  When you work with a guy like this you have to understand that they fatigue themselves easier than do less strong/less neurologically efficient trainees.  This means you have to be careful with too much volume at work set weights, particularly if they are balancing sports practice and competition on top of training.   

Currently on his "Heavy Day" we work up to 3x3 across on the Squat and the Bench Press.  Since he primarily competes in the shot-put these are two of his mainstay focus lifts.  Usually after the Bench Press we do 1 or 2 sets of close grips as a back off set. 

For Light Day we do 3x3 on Presses, and then we Power Clean a bunch of singles or doubles - usually about 10 total sets.  This is followed by working up to ONE heavy set on the deadlift of 1-3 reps.   

On Medium Day we do sets of 5 reps on the Paused Box Squat and the Incline Press.  For the Incline, we usually do 3 sets of 5 reps across.  Occasionally, I'll sub in a Dumbbell Incline Press for 3 sets x 6-8 reps. 

For the box squats we do 5 x 5 ascending in weight each set until we hit a top set of 5 reps. For sets 1-4 we really focus on exploding the weight up and making the plates rattle (a la Bill Starr).  The 5th set is the only one that is truly "heavy" but never really in danger of a miss. 

I don't calculate tonnage and all that crap, instead I largely go by my own observation of my client at work and his feedback to me about which workouts are the most physically stressful.  By far it's the 3x3 Squat workout on Monday, and everything else falls neatly into the HLM template. 

The whole week looks like this: 

Monday (Heavy) Wednesday (Light) Friday (Medium)
Squat 3x3 Press 3x3 Box Squat 5x5 (ascending sets)
Bench Press 3x3 Power Clean 10x1-2 Incline Press 3x5 (or DB Incline Press 3x6-8)
  Deadlift 1x1-3

Stupidly simple I know, but it works.  I'm a fan of both simplicity and effectiveness so this works for me. 

Client #2 - Older client

For the older client, a similar approach was taken using HLM, although in some ways this method looks a little bit like Texas Method programming.  The reality is that it's kind of a blur between the two methodologies, but it's closer to HLM than Texas Method and I'll show you why in a sec. 

Monday is our "heavy" day, which can also be characterized as our "high stress" day.  This is our money day that drives improvement across the board. 

Our Heavy Day is currently based around improvement of the client's ability to do 3 sets of 5 reps across on the Squat and Bench and 1 set of 5 on the Deadlift. 

Monday (Heavy / Stress)Wednesday(Light)Friday (Medium/Preparation)
Squat 3 x 5 (across) Squat work up to 1 set of 5 (about 10% less than Monday)  Squat 2-3 x 2-3 (across)
Bench 3 x 5 (across), 1 x 8-12 (back off set) Press 3 x 5 (across), 1 x 8-12 (back off set) Bench 2-3 x 2-3 (across)
Deadlift 1 x 5 Lat Pulldowns or Seated Cable Rows 4 x 10-12 Deadlift 1 x 1

On our medium day we actually go heavier than on the heavy day, but the overall volume is much lower and therefore the stress is much lower.  And, we only go marginally heavier than we did on Monday,  maybe 2-3 lbs on the Bench and 5 lbs on the Squat and Deadlift

This is what makes it NOT the Texas Method which calls for a much bigger offset between Volume and Intensity Days and both days are pushing the limits of capacity. In this program, Friday is not pushing any limits. 

In a way, our Medium Day is more of Preparation Day, which gets this particular client acclimated and ready for the sets to come on Monday.  I just noticed over time that he does better if he gets to "feel" the weight in his hands or on his back once before I ask him to push it for hard sets of 5. 

So the weight that we do on Friday is equal to the load we will do on Monday, but we only do it for 2-3 sets of 2-3 reps. Doing so gets his body and mind "ready" to blow it out hard on Monday for 5-rep sets across without overtaxing his body.   

For deadlifts, because they can be so stressful, we only pull for 1 x 1 with the weight we will attempt on Monday for 1x5.  It’s as much a confidence builder as anything else. 

Here is an example of a 3-week progression using just the Squat as an example: 

WeekMondayWednesday Friday 
1 3 x 5 x 315 1 x 5 x 285 3 x 2 x 320
2 3 x 5 x 320 1 x 5 x 290 3 x 2 x 325
3 3 x 5 x 325 1 x 5 x 295 3 x 2 x 330

So who would use this approach?  Probably someone who struggles a little bit "mentally" with heavier and heavier loads each week.  This approach allows you to "test" or "feel" the weight once in a "non-stressful" way before having to go all out with it for a new PR. 

These blocks of training won't last forever.  Maybe we get a good 8-12 week run before we have to switch things up.  If you're in a rut give something like this a try.  It just might work for you too. 

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