The Texas Method: Clear Goals, Measurable Changes, and ApplicabilityThe Texas Method has predictability built into it in the form of weekly goals, programming measurable changes, and broad applicability following a well-organized novice progression. Timing is everything, and the Texas Method is one of the most useful programs for lifters finishing a run of linear progression training. As Pendlay said, "The Texas Method works because it introduces a small amount of intra-week variation to lifters who have done a program based on straight, linear increases as a beginner."
The Texas Method: Clear Goals, Measurable Changes, and Applicability
*This article is Part 1 of 2. Download the entire article on The Texas Method here.
The tender of most experts is access. People hire experts for access to the skills, knowledge, tools, and systems that they, as non-experts, lack. If you are injured in a car accident, you will likely hire a lawyer, because the average layperson does not know how to access the court system. If your car breaks down, you seek a mechanic who gives you access to the knowledge and tools to fix it. When you are sick, you find medical care and access to the medical system that can help you get better.
When you want to get stronger, without learning the ins and outs of physical adaptation and strength training theory, the access you are looking for is the form of what will work for you. Most often, people wanting strength training will find accessibility through templates before they choose to contact an expert strength coach.
Accessibility has led to the popularization of many strength training programs, recognizable to most lifters who have spent some time searching for training tips online. 5/3/1 and its many variations, Stronglifts 5×5, Bulgarian Weightlifting Training, The Texas Method. These programs simplify the subtle process of adaptation into different broad-strokes forms, providing access to strength training on the level of “it worked for so-and-so and, therefore, it should work for me.” This is access through simplification, but, interestingly, it works. Many people have gotten strong using these programs. Enough, at least, to make these programs popular.
In this article, we are going to examine the Texas Method program and dissects its popularity as a function of its general usefulness as a strength training program. But, before evaluating the efficacy of any program, we should ask first why some programs become popular while others never leave the gym floor of their inception. The obvious answer is “Because they work.” But that’s a little too simplistic.
The threshold for what “works” for a strength training program is subjective and nearly inconsequential. If the measure of what works is whether you get stronger while using it, then almost any physical activity works under the right circumstances. Comparing individual results with individual variability, we cannot assume a correlation between the program a person uses and the results of its use compared to any other person. There are too many additional factors. (Read also, “The Problem with Strength.”)
It almost doesn’t matter what the brand new lifter does. If he or she goes from being a couch potato to some moderate form of activity, strength increases will follow. The cause is simply demanding more from your body beyond a very low baseline. For already active people, any dedicated strength training program pursued with consistency and good recovery practices will yield some progress. Not because the program is great, but because dedication, consistency, and a newly organized stimulus will produce predictable changes. In short, any time we consistently ask our bodies to do something more difficult than what we have been doing, our bodies will adapt.
Causing a strength adaptation, especially among inexperienced lifters and in the short-term is no great feat. Even among experienced lifters, the right timing, good recovery practices, and the dedication of the lifter will make any program work.
If just about every strength training program can make you stronger, then there must be some other factors that make training programs popular. We are going to refer to these factors collectively as the program’s “usefulness.” The more useful a program is, the more people use it, the more popular it becomes. To avoid circular reasoning, however, we need to define what “usefulness” means.
The Texas Method is one of the most useful strength training programs. To examine what “usefulness” means, let’s look at the characteristics of this programming progression.
Usefulness and the Texas Method
The Texas Method genesis involves kids—young lifters—being challenged in ways that caused them to shoot for weekly PRs. According to Glen Pendlay, the beginning of the program was accidental.
“We had followed a squat program that called for multiple sets of five on the back squat done three times a week. It was a difficult program but it produced results. Often it would seem easy on Monday, but after a whole week of daily training sessions, the last squat session of the week on either Friday or Saturday would feel like death.
“Getting through five sets of five on the back squat with something north of 80% is tough after a long and fatiguing week.
Somewhere around 2004 or 2005, one of the lifters had a proposal for me. He asked:
‘Instead of doing the whole workout, can I only do ONE work set if that work set was with a new PR weight for a set of five?’
“As I remember, I thought about it a little but figured, ‘what the hell.’ If it will motivate him to do a new PR for a set of five, why not let him do it?
“So the kid made the PR, did not have to finish the rest of his squats and that was that. The next week a couple more guys had the same proposal, undoubtedly influenced by the first guy bragging about how he got out of finishing his squats. Over the next several weeks about half the team ended up taking me up on the offer of attempting a new PR set of five on the last squat workout of the week . . . thus getting out of finishing all the sets on their squat program.
“Then over time I noticed something else. Many of the lifters who were going for the PR on the last workout were cheating on their Wednesday squat workout.
. . . .
So the lifters who were going for a PR at the end of the week started cheating like crazy on the Wednesday workout to ‘rest up’ for that last squat workout of the week on Friday or Saturday. They would train hard on Monday, get away with anything they could on Wednesday to make the workout easier, then on that last workout of the week on Friday or Saturday they would go for a PR thus getting away with only doing one maximal set instead of the normal workout of five sets of five work sets.”
-from “Glen Pendlay: The Texas Method”
Accidental but effective. The Texas Method has been used as a post-novice program to great effect ever since, and some clever coaches have adapted its use to a broad spectrum of lifters.
A lot of people have gotten strong on the Texas Method, contributing to its perceived usefulness, but there’s more to the program than efficacy. The Texas Method has predictability built into it in the form of weekly goals, programming measurable changes, and broad applicability following a well-organized novice progression. Timing is everything, and the Texas Method is one of the most useful programs for lifters finishing a run of linear progression training. As Pendlay said, “The Texas Method works because it introduces a small amount of intra-week variation to lifters who have done a program based on straight, linear increases as a beginner.”
Identifying a Goal
Organized around an all-time or recent personal record (PR) day, the Texas Method prioritizes the actual weight on the bar in a form of determined efficacy that reflects the brashness of its origins. Lifters who approach the program with the same self-efficacy will often surprise themselves with their ability to hit PRs week after week after week. That money-where-your-mouth-is, rubber-meets-the-road conviction is the hallmark of the Texas Method. It’s simple: It works or it doesn’t; and when it works, the lifter progressively adds weight to the bar every single week.
Many strength training programs lack the boldness of the Texas Method. They only ask of the lifter what is “doable” in any given workout, some adjusting specifically to how the lifter perceives his or her abilities on any given day. The idea is that the accumulation of volume in a particular range of intensity leads to strength gains and that range rarely includes maximum effort lifts of the kind you would encounter if you chased PRs. If, for example, your program looks for various ways to accumulate volume in the 70-85% range of intensity, you could have some tough workouts, but tests of whether you had become stronger by an objective means, will be few and far between. This is not to say that such programs are ineffective or that accumulating volume in a particular intensity range does not yield strength gains. The traditional Texas Method has a high-stress, high volume “Volume Day” at the beginning of a weekly cycle, followed by a preparatory light volume day, and finishing with an “Intensity Day” that, ideally, will be a new PR.
Many programs whiff on the idea of a weekly test of the efficacy of your time spent in the gym. The Texas Method puts efficacy front and center: PRs every week as a test of whether what you are doing is working. With the Texas Method you are not just putting in work. You are challenging your grit and your ability to perform, and you are establishing a longer-term organization to your training that includes both volume and intensity stressors in a single training cycle.
Weekly measurable change allows you to apply a scientific approach to your training. Every useful program has to include a progression and contingency adjustments. We know that if you spend all your time lifting the same about of weight for the same number of sets and reps, you will get better at that one task, but the general applicability of your training narrows very quickly. Strength as a general adaptation responds to greater and greater stimulae, more stress over time that forces your body into a continually adapting cycle of stress, recovery, adaptation. But everyone is a little bit different, and not everyone responds to training in the same way. Effective programming is based on the idea that you can observe your progress and make adjustments.
These adjustments take two possible forms: progressions or shifts. Regular changes in response to effective training are the anticipated progression of a program. These adjustments answer the question of “how do I increase the stress when training is going well.” For the Texas Method progression, the primary goal is to increase the weight on the bar for the intensity. Such that the progression includes small increases to your 5RM, 3RM, or 1RM on the intensity day for that lift. Secondarily, the stress of your volume day should also increase to help drive progress. The normal progression will have the lifter adding weight to the volume day in a linear manner until the volume needs to be reset so that the lifter can complete all of the volume work. Programming shifts involve troubleshooting when things are not going according to plan, when you are stuck, and your measurable changes are not meeting reasonable expectations for this program.
For the Texas Method, the weekly intensity day gives you the opportunity to observe, change, and adapt. This program operates on the theory that you are getting stronger week to week or that you are in a place in your training career where weakly increasing efforts in specific rep ranges make sense. Most often, these rep ranges are 5s, 3s, 2s, and 1s. At the end of the week, you will have an assessment of whether the Texas Method is working for you. Then you can make weekly changes for good progress—slowly increasing both the stress of the volume day and the stress of the intensity day by manipulating the sets and reps or by adding weight to the bar. Or, you make other shifts to identify issues with your programming—is there too much stress or not enough? Observe, experiment, adapt.
We find that most programming arguments turn on this point: the right program at the right time provides useful, long-term progress; but the right program at the wrong time will cause your training to fall flat. We can analyze the relative merits of programs by their organization, volume, relative intensity, effort levels, frequency, etc. But, ultimately, the right program depends entirely on the lifter.
There is a general spectrum for lifters. We often think of this spectrum as extending from the rank novice to the advanced competitive strength athlete. While this serves some purposes for programming, a more accurate spectrum is one that starts with the most basic or general implementation of variables to the more complex and specific implementation of those same variables. As an example, a typical novice linear progression program will utilize the more general iteration of programming variables: it comprises the four main lifts; sets and reps are in the general “strength volume” range; and the only change is a gradual increase in the weight on the bar, the smallest change possible. This is a very general program that applies to lifters who are amenable to big improvements from a broad-strokes approach. This, typically, is a lifter who is either new to lifting or is new to the concept of organized training.
Timing is key. Beyond these general phases of training, assuming a lifter stays consistent, the shape of a lifter’s programming will become more specific over time. A highly specific program, one used often for competitive powerlifters, then, isn’t great for a brand new lifter. Similarly, a lifter who is peaking for a Strengthlifting championship probably shouldn’t use a general, novice program.
The Texas Method is useful, in part, because it follows a well-executed novice linear progress exceptionally well using Minimum Effective Dose changes. A typical novice program might look something like the following near the end of its run:
A hallmark of most novice programs is that they prioritize increasing the weight on the bar. This adds a gradual amount of stress to the program, prolonging its usefulness, and adding weight to the bar, helping lifters develop the indispensable skill of lifting heavier and heavier loads.
One of the biggest changes you can make to a program is to shift the entire focus of the program.
With MED programming, we prefer small changes that will help steer the lifter toward continued steady progress. Whereas many intermediate programs will shift the lifter from a focus that adds weight on the bar to something that may be percentage or perception-based, the Texas Method flows out of the novice program, continuing to prioritize the PR while reorganizing to help maintain progress of the same kind that the lifter has experienced thus far.
If we are going to preserve this kind of progress, we know where we want the lifter to go:
*Note this version of the Texas Method deviates from the most common versions in a few ways. It excludes the power clean and power snatch in favor of lighter, higher-volume deadlifts and barbell rows. This example also places the intensity Deadlift effort at the end of the squat and upper-body volume day.
With this program in mind, the lifter can make small changes to run out the novice phase with no big shifts in focus, no dramatic alterations to exercise selection, and continued prioritization that drives the intensity of the program gradually upward. Here is one example of how a lifter might go from the steady daily PRs of a novice program to steady weekly PRs with the Texas Method.
MED Changes from Novice to Texas Method
With the basic Texas Method as a target program, you know on which days you will want to prioritize the volume stress and which will prioritize the intensity stress for each lift. With that in mind, your program can gradually shift from one form to another in a stepwise manner. First, reduce the volume on your target intensity days, while increasing the volume on your target volume days:
Note that these changes likely will not take place all at once. The above program reduced the volume on Friday for the squat, press, and bench press, continuing the linear progression of adding weight. As a trade-off, volume is added to the Monday workout with an appropriate reduction in intensity to accommodate the change. The deadlift made a similar change, dropping to one set of three repetitions to allow for continued increases in load while adding volume to the Friday and adjusting the intensity accordingly.
Another progression in volume and adjustments will bring you to the basic Texas Method example above:
With these shifts, you have transitioned smoothly from a general program to one that is more specific to you.
But wait, there’s more…
You cannot get away from the fact that as programming becomes more advanced, more complex, and more specific, its application narrows considerably. Everyone starts with a typical novice program, but not everyone will find applicability in the version of the Texas Method outlined above. These hypothetical transitions from novice to the Texas Method can only serve as examples of the program’s applicability. We chose a version of the Texas Method, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the details of any program are going to be worked out through application, use, and your own adaptation to the program, making it useful.
In the hands of the uninformed, the Texas Method becomes a template, and templates without informed progressions lose their usefulness very quickly. Next time we will discuss how to treat the Texas Method as…well a method of programming rather than a simple template. Specifically, we will discuss how the bifurcation of volume and intensity can set you up for long term training success. We will outline different versions of the Texas Method and discuss how those versions will continue to transition a lifter into other useful programming frameworks.