The Beginning of MED Series
Stop program hopping. Learn the principles of making minimum effective dose changes for maximum return toward your strength goals.
Ep 1: A Rational Philosophy for Early Intermediate Programming
Matt and Scott first discuss the idea of minimum effective dose programming, explaining why and how they modify programming to continue to drive strength adaptations for their clients.
What are the main cards we have to play to continue progress after LP? They are intensity, volume, frequency, and exercise selection. We drive intensity for intermediate lifters. They have primarily done 5s, so the weight goes up and they move form 5 to 3 to 2 to 1. They both realize their previously-developed strength and develop the ability to produce maximal force–physically and mentally.
Moving to increase volume is less fun, requires longer workouts, and takes the focus away from strength. Let’s hold off on volume and complexity until we have to and let the lifter learn to overcome increasingly heavier loads.
Ep 2: MED
We prioritize intensity over volume, simplicity over complexity, and economy–in time and stress. Let’s stick with simple as long as it works. If you stick with training long enough, it will get complex, and volume will get high, and programs will take 8 or 12 or 16 weeks. Enjoy the rapid, simple progress of novice and early post-novice training while it lasts.
Ep 3: Programming 101, Part 1
What do you do when LP stops working and why would you make those changes? In this episode, Matt delivers a lecture to college students about the reason underpinning his programming methodology.
Programming theory comes from the stress, recovery, adaptation cycle, in which a lifter disrupts homeostasis with a stress, recovers, and then adapts to be able to prepare for a greater amount of that stress. Programming also relies on specificity–training for a marathon does not help you train for a powerlifting meet.
When it comes to stress and recovery, total stress matters. This means stress from other aspects of your life can negatively affect your recovery and adaptation ability. Coaches must take this into account.
When it comes to variations of the lifts, these either increase or decrease the range of motion or time under tension, which ultimately increases or decreases the intensity.
Ep 4: Programming 101, Part 2
Why does LP end? Is the lifter not recovering from the stress (too much fatigue) or is the lifter not delivering enough stress to disrupt homeostasis and recover? It turns out, it’s a little bit of both (though it differs for the different lifts) so we adjust training accordingly to continue progress.
During LP, the stress recovery adaptation cycle is clean–the workout is the stress, the lifter recovers in 48-72 hours, and the lifter adapts and is ready to lift more the next time. To continue to progress, the lifter will have to deliver more stress (e.g. 4×5, not 3×5) but the lifter cannot recover from this within 48 hours, so a lighter Wednesday is added to deliver a small amount of stress and allow fatigue to dissipate for Friday’s intensity slot. To move, however, from three times weekly progress to weekly progress, make small adjustments as opposed to jumping from one program to another.
Small adjustments allow you to better know what is working and as opposed to changing every possible variable or many, you change one or a couple to continue progress.
Ep 5: Rethinking SRA
Another model for performance allows us to better understand how we progress strength, especially when we move beyond the novice linear progression.
The fitness fatigue model divides the positive and negative reactions into fitness and fatigue respectively. The sum of these two is performance. After a stress event, fatigue peaks before fitness, allowing the adaptation that we understand from the SRA cycle.
For advanced training, however, as opposed to trying to figure out what the stress event is as we elongate the entire cycle, it helps to think of overreaching as building up fatigue and then adjusting training to allow fatigue to dissipate while minimizing the decrease in fitness. We benefit from the fact that fitness peaks after fatigue. We thus drive up performance to hit PRs and increase strength.
Ep 6: SRA Continued
We have two primary variables to manipulate to keep driving up stress and progress: intensity and volume. Frequency and exercise selection are secondary, as frequency is ultimately a function of volume. Supplemental exercises are also a function of volume and intensity, as they either decrease or increase time under tension or the range of motion.
We have to build fatigue to increase performance, and we’re most concerned with strength. At times–especially as an advanced lifter–we have to build up fatigue and temporarily decrease performance to deliver enough stress and then continue to train, allow fatigue to dissipate, and allow performance to peak and thus elicit an adaptation. This means the SRA cycle has lengthened.
Ep 7: Accessory Lifts
Accessory lifts are lifts that are not variants of the main lifts but train similar or different muscle groups. They may train antagonists of the muscle groups used in the main lifts. We primarily use accessory lifts for the upper body.
Common accessory lifts include chins up or pull ups, dips, lying tricep extensions, curls, and glute ham raises.
Ep 8: RPE
RPE–rate of perceived exertion–is a subjective way to assess the difficulty of a set. The set is rated with a number that roughly aligns with the number of reps in reserve–the number of reps the lifter believes he could complete if he went to failure.
RPE is great as a descriptive tool and can be used to cap or increase the intensity of a set based on how the lifter is performing on a particular day. It first should be used descriptively, as lifters learn to appreciate the true difficulty of a set–especially with the help of a coach.
It can be used prescriptively, especially for the first time a lift is used, as for a supplemental lift. A ballpark should generally be given, as the lifter could be wildly off the desired difficulty.
Finally, it’s impossible to assess RPE without knowing what an RPE 10 set feels like. Novices do not need to be worried about RPE. RPE is best introduced with intermediates who perform a wide array of difficulties throughout the week.
Ep 9: Advanced Programming Intro
Few lifters reach advanced programming, because it requires consistency over a long period of time. Life too often interferes, whether it be injury, illness, vacation, or significant stressors.
The road to advanced programming requires putting the work in as a novice and intermediate, adding weight first every 48-72 hours and slowly the SRA cycle lengthens and complexity goes up. This is accomplished through MED changes to continue to progress strength adaptations.
Ep 10: All Roads Lead to Block
Block or conjugate programming is an advanced program that MED programming leads to naturally if a trainee lifts consistently over a long enough period of time. It is essentially a 3 phase or block program, divided by deloads, where the primary stress is initially volume, then both, then intensity.
During the initial accumulation block, the lifter complete completes a high amount of volume at a relatively low intensity. Supplemental lifts tend to emphasize greater time under tension or longer range of motion. This is followed by a deload week, with an only limited decrease in intensity or no decrease in intensity with volume being peeled back.
The transmutation or intensification phase, the volume is moderate and the intensity is moderate and increased. This means total stress is high and fatigue will exist. The lifter tends to not feel great toward the end of this, and a deload allows some fatigue to dissipate.
The realization or peaking phase peels back volume but the weights are heavy. Some fatigue is still present, and there is a balancing act between peaking too early and not removing the fatigue prior to the peaking. Lifters may worry about their performance during this time. This phase both allows for practice of heavy singles and allows fatigue to dissipate toward the end to peak performance.
Ep 11: MED Toolbox 1 – How to Add Stress
We add stress during LP by adding intensity to a set volume. Exercise selection, for the most part, stays the same. After LP, however, how do we add stress? We have volume, intensity, and exercise selection to play with.
We essentially divide the volume and intensity stressors. One session emphasizes volume, often 4×5 or 5×5. The other emphasizes intensity, a top set of 5 or 2×3 or 3×2 or 5×1 or a top triple, double, or single with back off sets.
We hold off on changing exercise selection until later, although supplemental lifts can be thought of as modifying the main life toward more volume or intensity by either increase range of motion or time under tension or decrease these.
Ep 12: MED Toolbox 2 – Managing Recovery
In order to adapt, we have to recover. If we’re missing reps, our form is good, and we train consistently, we have to check to see if we’re resting enough between sets. We have to ensure we’re getting adequate protein, calories, and sleep. We must ensure there’s no additional physical stress. We have a few ways to manage recovery, if we’ve taken care of the above.
The 4-day split is one of the best moves we can make in our MED toolbox. If delivers a reduced stress per session, but also allows for accessory work to more easily be added. It reduces lower body frequency, allowing more recovery, and increases upper body frequency slightly. The upper body lifts are less stressful (they train less muscle mass) so the increased frequency often helps drive these up.
We must rest and recover to grow strong.
Ep 13: How to Manage Unproductive Stress
Programming is, in large part, managing stress. Life stress and your stress from all other aspects of your life besides the barbell counts to your total stress. You can only recover from so much stress. If you’re beyond LP, you may have to reduce training stress. Training in the gym may have to be fun, as it’s important to maintain the habit and get something done. You likely won’t be able to chase numbers during these times.