Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Which Program Is Better – Texas Method or HLM?

by Nick Delgadillo, SSC | November 03, 2020

deadlift in a starting strength gym

The only “default” program in the Starting Strength Method is the Starting Strength Novice Linear Progression, because it takes advantage of the novice’s ability to add weight to the bar workout to workout. With the use of full range of motion exercises that allow for the most weight to be lifted, using the most muscle mass possible, The Program creates a powerful stimulus for strength gains, and therefore – regardless of sport, hobby, lifestyle, or athletic background – the Starting Strength Novice Linear Progression serves as the best way to improve all aspects of performance for a novice trainee. No one gets stronger faster than by adding 5 lbs to their squat and deadlift three times a week for a few months. Nobody’s performance in a given sport improves faster than by increasing strength in a short amount of time.

Since the novice program is so simple and produces predictable results, it’s easy to carry this simplified thinking into post-novice training. But the thing to understand is that programming moves along a continuum from most general, basic, and simple, to specific, individualized, and complex. That continuum tracks along with the strength performance curve according to the law of diminishing returns. The stronger you are, the harder it is to get stronger, and more effort, resources, and time will be required to make continued increases in strength.

The way that lifters mess this up in practice is to take the same templated approach that worked so successfully as a novice and try to apply the same method to intermediate training. Upon making the determination that you have somehow achieved intermediate “status,” you open up Practical Programming, flip to the intermediate chapter and pick a program that looks like fun or sounds cool, and then plug in your numbers and try to run the program as written with the examples provided in the text.

This approach also results in questions like, “I’m getting to the end of my LP, which program is better? Texas Method or HLM?” First of all, this is the wrong question to ask. The correct question is, “how do I apply the principle of stress/recovery/adaptation as outlined in Practical Programming to make an increase in the weight on the bar on my lift that’s slowing down in the next reasonable time interval while using the programming examples in the book as guides, not as prescriptions?”

The second question is more accurate and useful, but far less exciting for all parties involved. What’s missing is the understanding that the NLP is the entry point into a lifetime of training, and that after the novice program you have moved further along the programming continuum and now require slightly more specific and individualized programming. Not to the degree that an advanced lifter with 3 years of training under his belt will, but enough that a question about what program to do next isn’t really relevant.

The idea at the late stages of novice programming and early stages of intermediate programming is to start learning about your training variables and to change as few of them as possible at any given time. Generally, look at the programs beyond the Novice Linear Progression as examples of the principles applied, rather than prescriptive templates to plug your numbers into. And maybe actually spend some time reading Practical Programming, rather than just program shopping.

To keep this from being obnoxiously frustrating for you people who thought you were reading a programming article, I’ll leave you with the following answer to the original question of which program to run or which one is better. The answer is, as always: “It depends.”

It’s helpful to think about HLM (Heavy, Light, Medium) as a way to organize training variables. Starting out in a simple transition from novice, to late novice, to intermediate, HLM with intensity as the primary manipulated variable makes sense and is the way I demonstrate it at the Starting Strength Seminar. Something like transitioning from 3x5 on the NLP for the squat three times a week, to adding a light day in the middle of the week sometime down the line, to then adding back off sets a few months in, and then making the last workout of the week a medium day.

But HLM doesn’t just apply to intensity. You can run an HLM setup using exercise selection instead of intensity to design the program. So Monday would be the squat (heavy), Wednesday would be pause squat (light), and Friday would be box squat (medium). You’d still do each of these exercises at a high intensity, but the nature of the lift makes it a heavy or light or medium lift, so it’ll fit into the respective slot.

Another example for the pulls would be deadlift for heavy day, power snatch for light day, power clean for medium day. While for the upper body lifts, you could bench for heavy day, press for light day, close grip bench for medium day. HLM is very flexible and there are many repackaged HLM templates out on the internet sold as amazing, nuanced, and novel ways to address post-novice training.

Texas Method is far more prescriptive as a program. It’s a direct manipulation of set variables in a prescribed way to achieve the most strength gains possible. The intent is to take the overall stress and split it over two hard workouts. Since you’re putting your volume on one day and your intensity on another day, you’re not manipulating a single variable over a series of heavy-light-medium workouts. You’re going as hard as you can on volume day and then going as hard as you can on intensity day. Since Texas Method has defined objectives as written, there is little flexibility in the approach. The only variable you can play with is what constitutes “volume” day, and what constitutes “intensity” day. Volume day will be 5x5 for a 28 year old guy, while it may be 3x5 for a 48 year old guy. Similarly, intensity day may be a single set of 5, triples, doubles, or singles depending on the trainee or the training cycle.

If you’re not strong, get strong first by doing The Program. As your progress starts to slow down, figure out which lift is slowing down and why. Determine whether you are lacking stress or lacking recovery. If you’re lacking recovery, ask yourself the First Three Questions, then make a programming change, if necessary. If you’re lacking stress, make a programming change. Read the appropriate chapters in Practical Programming and look at the program examples. Make a change that corresponds to the lift in question and that disrupts the rest of your program the least and that allows you to add weight to the bar again as soon as possible because adding weight to the bar means getting stronger. And getting stronger is what you’re here to do.  

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