In the second installment of the Minimum Effective Dose Toolbox series, Matt and Scott address a problem unique to intermediate trainees: what do you do when recovery becomes an issue? Based on the SRA episodes #144 and #146, we know that stress must increase in order to drive continued strength adaptations. However, for most intermediate trainees, especially older trainees, recovery between individual workouts will become an issue. The challenge, then, is to design a program in which systemic stress increases over time, but strategically reduce stress in individual workouts. This allows the lifter some “room” for recovery while adhering to the bedrock SRA principle that stress must go up, or the lifter will become weaker.
This is a difficult challenge, and one of the reason good coaches are worth their salt. First, we need to define recovery. Matt points out that recovery consists of basically only two things: food and sleep. The idea of “active” recovery, like a 5000m row on a rest day, is a false one. The only active things you can do are eating and sleeping. However, you can increase recovery passively, i.e. by notdoing something. In other words, you can facilitate recovery by reducing stress.
How do we reduce stress? Well, we could take weight off the bar. And that’s precisely what most intermediate program templates call for — reducing load on certain workouts, while increasing the volume. In this case, the intensity waves throughout the week, while the tonnage continues to increase.
Matt likes to play with set and rep schemes as well. If a lifter is struggling with 5×5 at a certain weight, then he may transition that lifter to 6×4 or even 8×3. Scott disagrees. He argues that time under tension is higher the more sets you do, due to the fact that you have to get tight and unrack the bar more times doing 8×3 compared to 5×5. As they have pointed out in previous episodes, the more advanced a trainee becomes, the more individualized her programming will become, thus set and rep schemes will depend on the individual lifter.
Matt and Scott both agree that the best option for improving recovery is moving to a 4-day split as soon as possible after early intermediate programming. In this program, the lifter is moving from 3 major lifts per workout to two major lifts, divided into two lower body days and two upper body days. The total work is the same, but it is divided into four days instead of three. This affords the lifter more rest time between major lifts– a lower/upper/rest/lower/upper/rest/rest scheme gives the lifter an extra day of rest in between squat workouts, for instance.
Additionally, the 4-Day split creates shorter workouts, since fewer lifts are performed each workout. This comes in handy down the road, as the lifter can easily add accessory work without making their individual workouts excessively long. Or add extra sets to the competition lifts. And when the lifter needs additional recovery — whether due to sickness, life stress, or other — those accessories can be dropped as needed.
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