#149 – The M.E.D. Toolbox #1: How to Add Stress To Your Program
By now, Matt and Scott have made a logical case, founded on the Stress-Recovery-Adaptation model, for increasing stress in order to continue progressing beyond the novice phase of training advancement. Moreover, they have argued that incremental stress should be applied with a minimum effective dose methodology, that is, using the smallest incremental amount of stress to continue driving adaptation. These basic tenets have taken us away from blind adherence to templates for programming, and toward a holistic model of programming. In today’s episode, Matt and Scott outline some of the practical tools in the coaching toolbox for making changes to your program.
As Scott observed in episodes #144 and #146, we only have a few tools to manage stress in a workout: exercise selection, intensity or load (the weight on the bar), and volume. The “Big 4” compound lifts are the foundation of any strength program, and are already maximally stressful in terms of exercise selection (because they use the heaviest weights, and the most muscle mass, over the greatest effective range of motion), so intensity and volume are the first variables to change in post-novice programming. According to the SRA model stress must go up in order to drive adaptation, which we measure in terms of tonnage — the product of load and volume. The question is, then, how should we drive up tonnage? Should we add sets, reps, weight? All three? In the same workout?
The Texas Method offers a nice heuristic for answering these questions. It calls for increasing tonnage by varying intensity and volume on different days, the intensity day (PR 1×5) and the volume day (a backoff of the PR weight for 5×5). One key observation is that it is difficult, not to mention impractical, to drive up both intensity and volume on the same day. So we tend to split up the driving variables into different days. More importantly, the program drives up both variables. As Scott points out, driving up only intensity, or alternatively only volume, doesn’t last for long in his experience. Both variables need to increase, and that will happen in a waving or undulating manner.