Minimal Effective Dose and the Search for Magic Bullets

TAGS: CARE Program, professional rugby players, Minimal Effective Dose, training block, Exercise Selection Chart, Rugby, Ashley Jones

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You all know how much I love simplicity in programming for both the training of my rugby players and for all training in general. Most people want to get strong, but they chase programs looking for “magic bullets” and simply fail to recognize what is required. To paraphrase Ronnie Coleman, “Everybody wanna be strong but nobody wanna lift heavy weights.” Ain’t that the truth. News flash: This is what you need:

  1. Focus on big movements.
  2. Keep your reps under five, which by numerical association equals intensity.
  3. Volume is appropriate to the level of intensity.

Programs such as Reg Park/Bill Starr’s 5 x 5 on the Big Three, Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1, Jim Schmitz’s 5,4,3,2,1 Done, and Dan John’s 1 – 2 – 3 have all of the qualities you need to look for if you “wanna get strong.”  Yes, it will take time (sorry, millennials, considering your need for “instant gratification”), and yes, it will require mental toughness to stay on track with the intensity and hard work required. You will have to stick to one program and not “chop and change” everytime you read something new and different on Twitter or Instagram.


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Look at our shared Iron history and you will quickly see that any of the great bodybuilders, strongmen, powerlifters, and weightlifters trained on the basic big movements for extended periods of time before specializing. Unfortunately, the echo of these words seems to be fading as we progress further from the past, but if you heed the words of history, you, too, can reap the rewards of dedication to intense work.

The genius in this type of programming is that you are accomplishing so much in the least amount of time; the minimal effective dose is what is required, not what you can tolerate before you start to have minor niggles or, in the worst case, injuries that then force you to take valuable time out of training. I know some of you just love to be in the gym, but there are other things to do in the gym rather than programming. Do some GPP work, and attend to prehab/rehab elements; these support the heavy lifitng program and do not detract from it. You will find that attention to these elements will actually enhance the main program.

If you are a beginner/intermediate lifter, I would urge you to take a week or two off of lifting, as I believe that you already are most possibly overreached. Stop reading the training programs of “elite”-level lifters or bodybuilders, and start back into training with the 5 x 5 mentioned above. Stay with it for 12 weeks, then take a week off. If you have made steady gains, which I know you will have, stay on it for another 12-week cycle, and then, take that 13th week off again. Now you are ready for Wendler’s 5/3/1. Go with the same approach and train for 12 weeks, then have the 13th off. I think you can run Wendler’s program for a series of these 12-week blocks and continue to flourish.

Next, you may want to move to either Smidtz’s or John’s programming as listed. I am a huge fan of Johns’ work. His writing reminds me of the writers in the 1970s and 1980s who filled the pages of IronMan Magazine with “gold nuggets” of wisdom. His 1 – 2 – 3 program is one of his best yet, and I humbly think he actually could have gone one step further by doing the following: Do the Pull – Push – Squat, determine your 90% (usually three reps for most), and stay with his 1 – 2 – 3 rep protocol for three cycles. Maybe that would be too intense, and some would reach failure, which is not the goal of his programming style. Or maybe it is just the old math teacher in me playing with "numerical alliteration." I know I will certainly give this a trial, and it may very well find its way into a training block soon, if appropriate.

It would be remiss of me to finish here and not give you insight into how I use these aspects of programming in the programming I use with professional rugby players. The program below is an in-season approach, which differs greatly in terms of the volume aspects of the off- or pre-season programming, which I have addressed in many other articles. It is only four weeks in duration, as that is what an international group usually gets as a group when brought together for games other than in a World Cup year.

The training group is divided into three groups for the purposes of programming and emphasizing key work-ons. The players will get access to a gym-based session for two or three sessions a week usually, ideally a full-body program session on each training day, but if the player is more used to a split in his or her regular team training environment, we can easily adjust the programming to accommodate this.

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Exercise Selection Chart

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My exercise selection chart is based on the minimal number of movements that you would be guaranteed to find in any commercial training facility when the team traveled internationally.

The final element of the program is listed below, and this is equally if not more important than the major lifting component described above, as it addresses the key movements as determined by both the medical and performance staff.

CARE Program (Core Accessory Rehab Program): Sets, Reps & Load is Needs Based

Loaded Core (3 x 5): ½ Turkish Get Up/Windmills/Rollouts/Suit Case Dead Lift/Combat Twist/Renegade Row/Weighted Sit-ups/Pallof Press/One-sided Farmer’s Walk/Waiter Carry/Med Ball Slams

Unloaded Core (3 x 15): Dead Bugs/Sprinter’s Sit-up/Plank Variations/Hanging Leg Raises

Accessory Rehab 

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To finish off this article, I would like you to consider a few rules that I have come to believe are the cornerstones of success in programming and training after my almost 45 years of training, writing, and speaking about strength training:

Rule 1

Confucius said this far better than I will ever be able to put into words; “The man who chases two rabbits, catches neither.”

Decide what you want to achieve, and pursue that goal.

Rule 2

Slowly, Slowly, Catchee Monkey!

An extension of number 1: it will take time to achieve the goal, so hasten slowly in the direction you want to go.

Rule 3

Surround yourself with people who are on the same mission as you.

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