Science of Sports Performance

Minimum effective Dose vs Maximal Recoverable Volume

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Recently, Juggernaut Training Systems posted an Instagram graph and quote:

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There is NO SUCH THING as a “minimum effective dose” in training. There is such as thing as the “dose for the response YOU WANT.” To a point, the more you do, the better the results. That stops when you hit your maximum recoverable volume and everything extra on top of that makes you WORSE.

But until you hit around your MRV, doing more is BETTER. And because most adaptive systems are asymptotic and smooth in dose-response structure, there’s not a clear “best bang for the buck” time-efficiency dose, either. What’s the answer to the question of “what amount of training do I have to do so that I get the most by putting in the least?” The answer is: a very small amount of exercise. Let’s say, one set per training session. Doing 2 sets will make you better, but it’s a bigger waste of your time since you don’t get AS MUCH per unit time doing 2 sets as you did doing 1 set. Same goes for 3, 4, 5 sets, etc, all the way up to your MRV.

So how much should you train? Train as much as you need to get THE RESULTS YOU WANT (so long as they are realistic and not over your MRV). What kind of results do you get training “minimally?” You get minimal results.

[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”4868″ alignment=”center” border_color=”grey” img_link_large=”” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]As someone who has frequently written about the 1×20 program and its benefits for athletes BECAUSE of its use of the MED principle, this post is…both correct and incorrect at the same time.  The concepts of minimum effective dose and maximal recovery volume describe very different things, and to say one doesn’t exist because the other does is shortsighted.  One asks: what total amount of work do I have to do to get a good response?  The other asks: how much work can I do to maximize that response without overtraining?

It is entirely true that continued volume in certain lifts increases the adaptive response of those lifts, and for people who COMPETE in those lifts, its very necessary to do more, and more, and more, to get better.  Aiming for 1 and 2% gains in a given lift is necessary for improvement.  Doing 5 sets of squats, 3x per week, will yield a higher response than doing 4 sets, 3x per week.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

However, where this post is categorically wrong is saying minimum effective dose does not exist.  It does, and in fact the second graph proves it.  For an athlete, increasing your maximal squat means nothing if it doesn’t translate to the actual end goal (which is not squatting).  Look at the second graph, the first set gave the highest response in strength, every additional set did indeed cause a greater physiological response of strength in that exercise, however it become quickly diminishing.   For someone who doesn’t compete in strength sports, yet simply uses strength sports as a means to and end of improving their actual sport, why would you spend time and effort trying to get that additional response, to maximize return on those specific lifts?  Training is time, and when there is time there is opportunity cost, the more time you spend trying to increase your squat, that’s time you do not spend on other lifts and exercises that you may need (and in fact, get a total higher response by following the “1st set gives the biggest return” philosophy”.

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Minimum effective dose is not about trying to get as good as you can by doing the least (though that is not that bad of a goal, if you think about it).  Its about structuring a training protocol that gives the most overall improvement from the entirety of the training plan, with the least amount of lasting damage possible (remember, they still have to practice their ACTUAL sport).  If your plan includes getting better at squatting, then you have to squat, a lot.  If your plan is to build the entire system to prepare it for something else, a few less sets of squats and a few more sets of other stuff is likely a better option, as you get the majority of the result gained from doing a few sets, and you get that “majority” result from more movements.

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The general idea behind minimum effective dose is: how much do I have to do to provide a measurable response in this exercise?  The answer, as stated in the original instragram post, is usually one good set.  And if your goal is long term training success, following this path is a true path to success: start by doing as little possible to get better, slowly accumulate volume and intensity as “lower” methods stop providing such a result.  If you START at the bottom, you can work up.  If you start at a Westside ME program, where are you going to work up to?  Tapping out training resources before their effectiveness has been used is poor long term programming, because you can’t go back.

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I hope to make clear that applying both of these concepts simultaneously doesnt work. They are different things, used for different programs and populations.  If your goal is to compete in powerlifting, the more specific work the better, and this is where maximal recovery volume comes in.  Total strength is largely tied to total training volume (I would argue: effective training volume, but that’s another post), and in the context of strength sports, that’s important.  Not as much in athletics, where getting the most out of a lift before moving on is vital.  That’s all folks!

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Steve Olson

Steve Olson is a sports performance coach with a special interest in program design and periodization. He believes training is planning and tracking, and uses many different but effective methods of training for the short and long term development of athletes. He has trained Athletes from youth, high school, collegiate and professional, and utilizes different periodization models, training systems and modalities for each to maximize the athletic return from that athlete. He is also the owner and founder of Excel Training Designs, and can be reached at steveolson2202@gmail.com

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