The Texas Method: Method vs. Template (Part 2)If instead of focusing on the form of a useful program, we look at the principles that make it useful we might uncover sound methods for programming. The Texas Method program contains several useful principles that can help inform a decision-making process based on principles of stress-recovery-adaptation and fatigue; the organization of variables that tend to work; and the individual lifter, the lifter's training history, and current programming.
The Texas Method: Method vs. Template
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
From “The Blind Men and the Elephant,” by John Godfrey Saxe
What is the Texas Method
There is a caveat in the scientific approach to any subject of which we must all be aware to avoid and consider. It is the danger to suppose that your limited experience with a thing is the limit of experience that exists. Some people seem to believe that when they have made their observations, formed their hypotheses, and performed their tests that they have made all possible observations and performed all possible tests, elevating their theories to Truth status due to the sheer comprehensiveness of their investigation. There is no such thing as Truth (capital “T”) in scientific investigations because the humility of the scientist is that he or she cannot possibly know everything.
And yet, a simple Internet search of something as mundane as programming for strength training can lead you to some of the most heated, passionate debates perhaps only trumped in virulent intensity by discussions of politics and religion. To avoid the risk of claiming to know more than we do, we have to begin a programming discussion by admitting that, to an extent, we are all like the blind men of the poem quoted above and programming is our elephant.
We mustn’t take something like a successful programming run and justify some absolute position on programming. Instead, the greater our experience, the more of the elephant we have revealed to our limited senses. We must treat, then, experience as informing our views rather than defining them. And this would be the difference between a method of programming and a template.
A template is a set of variables designed with an end goal in mind, but without a specific person. For example, take a popular template such as the typical Novice Linear Progression (NLP). The NLP is one of the most useful strength training templates around because it can apply and work for every novice lifter. It organizes programming variables into an easy-to-implement program, targeting people with broad adaptive capacities (novice lifters) for the goal of general strength improvements. The Novice Program shows that templates are incredibly useful.
But even that most useful of programs does not reveal a method of programming. It cannot, in fact, without considering the specific human who is doing the lifter, how he or she progresses from workout to workout, and the changes necessary to continue to meet that person at their level and rate of adaptability. If we were to take the success that everyone has with a linear progression and assume that all programming adds up to just adding five pounds every time you training, we would miss the point of the program and would supplant the template for what works, and why. Anyone who has ever tried to run a linear progression program far past its usefulness will testify to the frustrations of doing so.
A method of programming, on the other hand, is more of a decision-making process informed by basic principles of stress-recovery-adaptation and fatigue; by the organization of variables that tends to work; and by the individual lifter, the lifter’s training history, and current programming. Matt Reynolds and Scott Hambrick of the Barbell Logic Podcast have advocated and defined a method called Minimum Effective Dose (MED) for programming. This method calls for small changes based on real-time analysis of the lifter’s training. Every informed change becomes an experiment that helps the lifter or coach understand what works and what doesn’t, improving over time the ability to make better and better decisions. MED programming principles call for more and more information about the unique biological entity that is putting in the work every day—the lifter becomes the critical factor. This reliance on information is typical of any sound method and is perhaps the best distinction between methodical programming and blind reliance on a template. The template gives you an answer to the question, “What should I do?” (“Do this!“). A method gives you a question (“Well, it depends…”).
The Texas Method
If we apply the distinction between template and method to the Texas Method program, we can begin to see beyond the individual parts of the program and look at the usefulness of its structure for longer-term lifting.
Recall the original version of the Texas Method program. Glen Pendlay described it as kids wanting to get out of doing five sets of five volume work at the end of the week by trying instead for a new five-rep maximum PR. By doing so, they would complete their usual crushing volume on Monday; then they would cop out a little bit on Wednesday to prepare for the herculean effort of a weekly PR on Friday. The original program would look something like the following:
As is, this program is not for the faint of heart and would be most typically geared toward younger athletes. Young athletes tend to have the recovery capacity and time to spend on a very long workout at the beginning of the week, benefit from the power clean and snatch, and can be motivated for three 5RM PRs at the end of the week. On the surface, that would make this program of limited use to the wider range of trainees. If, however, we strip away the actual numbers and the lifts that do not comprise the typical four main lifts, we end up with something a little more versatile:
The Texas Method gives us specific goals for the week: A volume day, a preparatory day in the middle, and an intensity day. It also shows us a typical full-body program, meaning each training day involves lifts that cover the entire body instead of upper-body and lower-body splits. And this starts to look like a method in which we can work.
The Volume and Intensity Split
From experience, a programming method that tends to work for large numbers of intermediate lifters is one that trains both volume and intensity in the same week. Each represents a different kind of stress for the lifter, and intermediate lifters tend to retain some of the novice-like adaptability to general stress for strength gains. As we will demonstrate with some of the versions of the Texas Method below, having these two goals during a training cycle helps direct changes to the basic program that are both effective and appropriate for different kinds of lifters.
The volume tends to fall into the range of three to five sets of three to six repetitions. This is a broad range that accommodates many different kinds of lifters. Some people refer to this as “strength volume,” and the amounts of strength volume that will drive your progress or your lifters progress will be specific to them at any given time. However, in general, the volume is going to go steadily upward as the weight on the bar changes to accommodate changes to the reps and sets. Your strength volume work should be hard but “doable” when your recovery and external stress factors are managed properly.
Note that we replaced the intensity 5RM with three possibilities a 5, 3, or 1 RM. This can be a number of different rep schemes, but the focus should be on increasing the weight on the bar for a high-intensity set. Earlier intermediate lifters can continually push for PRs. They tend to follow a path of shooting for 5-rep PRs for a while, then 3-rep PRs, and down to singles eventually, the goal is to add weight to the bar on intensity day continually. Whereas your volume day stress should continually increase by adding sets and reps of volume, the intensity day stress is mostly organized around adding weight to the barbell.
Texas Method Variations
With these general principles in mind, here are a few reorganizations of the traditional Texas Method program that we have found useful. Keep in mind these are snapshots of hypothetical programs. They may be useful to you or to your lifters, but they carry the same caveats against being used blindly, as templates. We will look at two program outlines to help demonstrate the versatility of the Texas Method as a method. One program, the Old Man Texas Method can act as a possible precursor to the more traditional Texas Method. The other, the Four Day Texas Method, represents a natural evolution of the Texas Method into a four-day split program.
Old Man Texas Method
The changes here make this program less stressful for a lifter than the traditional Texas Method program, but preserve the effective pieces of it. The strength volume day is reduced to three sets of five from the crushing five sets of five. The heavy deadlift alternates with a barbell row each training day, and the upper body lifts are focused more on the 3RM effort than a 5RM.
The Old Man Texas Method is more accessible than the traditional version shown above, but it contains the same useful elements. The volume day still falls in the strength volume range. The intensity is spread out a little bit more with the deadlift regularly alternating with the barbell row. That same deadlift/barbell row alternation also helps keep the intensity higher. In general, lifters who will use something like the Old Man Texas Method will require a higher threshold intensity. For these lifters, lifts like the power clean and power snatch are less useful due to the relatively light weights they are forced to use for these explosive lifts. The barbell row, instead, incorporates a useful compound lift that provides a different stimulus while still using large amounts of muscle mass, a big range of motion, and heavier loads than the power clean would. In some ways, the Old Man Texas Method is a scaled-back version of the traditional Texas Method with lifts that tend to accommodate older or less explosive lifters better.
Theoretically, a lifter could start with the Old Man Texas Method and through a gradual increase of volume and improvement in work capacity progress toward something very similar to the traditional Texas Method, using five sets of five for volume work. The volume day for the Old Man Texas Method lifter would progress from three sets of five (3×5), the lifter adding weight every week until he could not do so anymore, to four sets of five (4×5) with a percentage decrease in load, again adding weight each week to this new volume, and finally progressing to five sets of five (5×5) repetitions with another drop in weight. While that progression in volume could continue almost indefinitely, eventually the lifter will run out of time and/or the ability to add more sets. Typically, after five sets of five repetitions, you have to get more creative to continue to add volume stress to the program.
The Four Day Texas Method
One of the creative and useful ways to continue to modify a program is to switch from a three day per week, full-body organization to a four-day split. The four day split is an organizational method that separates upper body and lower body days and runs in a four day cycle. Usually the first and second days and the third and fourth days are back-to-back with a day of rest in between. Training days might be Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday or some other variation. Lifters who cannot make four days of training per week happen can instead use a four-day cycle across three days per week.
The Texas Method lends itself well to a gradual shift from three days per week to a four-day split program, or what we might call the Four Day Texas Method. Let’s pretend our hypothetical lifter progressed from the Old Man Texas Method. The lifter gradually increased the volume of each lift from 3×5 to 5×5 on Monday and developed a deadlift volume day by adding one set at a time to their deadlift at the end of the week, while keeping the weight increasing for a single set of five on Mondays. Their program might start looking something like the following:
Likely for this lifter volume squat, volume bench/press, and intensity squat day is particularly taxing. The lifter won’t be able to progress steadily with this day for very long. The smallest change we could make from this point would be to keep the goal stresses the same, steadily increasing from week to week, while actually reducing the drain on the lifter’s ability to recover. If we are concerned less with the numerical tonnage of a program and more with a lifter’s needs, the necessary stress to drive progress, and the lifter’s need to recover from that stress, a change to a four day split program with the same basic, Texas Method organization may be just what the doctor ordered.
Keeping a dedicated volume stress and a dedicated intensity stress for each lift, each cycle the Four Day Texas Method looks something like the following:
Without more, these workouts have become dramatically shorter in duration, giving the lifter more time for intra-workout recovery—rest between sets—and opening more possibilities for accessory work within the program. Consider that most four-day split programs will follow the two main lifts of the day with accessory or supplemental lifts that can target specific issues the lifter is having with the main lift, provide novel stress, and add overall stress and volume to a training day.
For example, as we mentioned above, one of the challenges of the Texas Method is to keep volume going upward without running the lifter into the ground or causing them to run out of available training time. One solution to this is to add volume work following the intensity set. Another solution would be to use a new-to-the-litter supplemental lift in place of the volume work that would allow for manageable loads but effective use of volume. At the extreme of versatility, a Four Day Texas Method program might evolve into something like this:
The takeaway from this discussion should be that there is no easy answer to the “what should I do now” programming dilemma. But there are well-established methods of programming that tend to work well and tend to flow well together. Every useful program has some theories behind why it works and its efficacy for different lifters at different times in their lifting careers. But as we discussed last time, the threshold for what works is low. Everything works, a little bit. But not every program represents an effective programming method. The lessons we should take away from the Texas Method and its many advocates is that it shows us some useful programming methodologies. In particular, the simultaneous training of volume and intensity in each cycle. The gradual progression of both types of stress. The identifiable goals and immediate feedback.
So, if you are stuck, what should you do next? Well… it depends.