You should notice a trend in my advice and opinion on training; illicit an adaptive stress to improve. A person who hasn’t done serious and consistent strength training will benefit from a Linear Progression (LP). There are different kinds of LPs, but the best will have a given set and rep scheme and will increase the load each workout. An LP will allow one day of rest in between training days and will typically average three training days per week. Some very good LPs include Starting Strength (SS) and the Greyskull LP (from Greyskull Barbell).
When a trainee can no longer recover after resetting several times, they will need to upgrade their programming to something more complex. The trainee is unable to adapt on a daily (by workout) basis, and must now shift into a weekly adaptation. During this time the trainee needs to specify some kind of goal; the goal will begin to funnel the training. That’s why I like to recommend that people compete; it continues the funnel into a spout that ends in competition day. In any case, a good next step for a trainee is upgrading their program to the Texas Method (TM).
The TM is designed to create a stress with higher volume, and then express the adaptation and further the stress with intensity. The by-the-book program (from the book, “Practical Programming” by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore) is
Monday — 5×5
Wednesday — Light work, commonly 80% for 2×5
Friday — 5 rep max (5RM)
Many people see this and implement it in all situations. If a person has come off of a LP, particularly SS, then this is a good transition. However, it works best as a general strength program and will be better off if modified for most trainees. When I use the term TM (I usually say “a TM set-up”), I imply a program that manipulates volume and intensity to yield a weekly progression. This means that you don’t have to be locked into the above template. After the beginning phases of any LP, there is no cookie cutter program. One-size-fits-all doesn’t apply to the human body because each individual is full of variances and peculiarities, and this is why programming is an art. It’s also why I bitch about needing more information if you ask me a question on pretty much everything (I do this all the time; my friends and girlfriend sometimes get annoyed). Most people don’t implement programs very well because they don’t know how to modify them for their own goals or situation. Tweaking the TM will be a focus in subsequent posts on the TM.
What is the TM good for?
The TM is a very good general strength program. It continues an appropriate dose/response of tonnage on the body while moving along the upper limit of stress that the body can handle (the latter references experienced trainees who have been on the TM for a few months). A proper LP will have established a good body size, and the TM can continue to build and refine mass, although it is not optimal. However, properly positioned assistance exercises can help increase the size of some body parts that may have been neglected during an LP (barbell curls, weighted dips, power shrugs, and neck harness being the best options for size).
The TM is also a good off-season strength program. Season athletes, those that compete in a sport with designated seasons of competition, will benefit from re-establishing or improving their strength base before getting into a strength maintenance and conditioning phase. It is also possible to switch early novice lifters (those who are on a LP) to a TM set up for various reasons. I have done so in trainees who have anatomical issues (typically asymmetry) as well as to has out subtle form issues — mostly in females in either case. I’ve had a trainee increase on a LP, yet had pelvic asymmetry (rotational scoliosis in the lumbar) to the point where a 3×5 volume three times a week was giving her problems. Instead, we switched to a TM set up; the volume 5×5 (and lower weight) allowed us to work on positional issues as well as conscious neurological innervation, and the intensity day of heavier weight allowed us to push the weight up without worrying so much about the technique. I have several other examples, but the point is that forcing a LP in spite of problems is going to exacerbate things.
The TM is great at continuing to establish a base of strength and can be tweaked for powerlifting competitions, but it has some drawbacks.
What is the TM not good for?
TM is not a good program for Olympic weightlifting — straight up. There is no way you can get appropriate work in the Olympic lifts (anything over 80% on a regular basis — i.e. each training session) while maintaining a good 5×5 to 5RM squat program. It just doesn’t work. I’ve tried, and I probably recover better than you. If you aim to compete in Oly, then switch to it. In my run up to going to senior nationals, I used the TM to get my strength back up after a low back injury, but it didn’t leave me with much time to focus on the Oly lifts for nationals (only five or six weeks). In any case, don’t attempt a TM while trying to get good Oly work.
Additionally, the TM is not a very good program if you need to get conditioned. This should be obvious, but when you’re training for strength it obviates for conditioning since conditioning will take away from recovery capabilities. Conditioning can be added to the TM, but it’s placement should be careful as not to interfere with strength (this principle is necessary in any strength and conditioning program).
TM consists of a lot of stress. If you’re doing it to get as strong as you possibly can, it is not easy. Eventually it will take seven to ten minutes of rest in between the 5×5 sets on volume day. The 5×5 can sometimes be a survival based workout (my most poetic moments when lifting, aside from the Olympic lifts, were on volume squat day). Not many people can handle it and not many people should. If you aren’t serious about competing — meaning you aren’t serious about eating, sleeping, recovery, mobility, and doing everything you can to improve in all aspects — TM will become too much for you. If you are an older guy (let’s say around 35 and up), then you will probably find that a TM set up is too much on your body. A good, hard TM is a young man’s program. The lifters who have had the most notable success using it (arguably limited to the people involved in this website) are all young and reckless. If your body can’t handle it (which is not the same as your mind handling it), then tweak it or change the overall program. If you admit that you don’t eat or sleep well, there are other programs that will help make progress, albeit slower progress for your capabilities (Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 is wonderful).
The utility of a TM set-up is very useful if you know how to tweak it, and use its principles for your goals. Remember, a program is supposed to work for you. In a TM set up, it aims to manipulate volume and intensity to improve strength. This doesn’t necessitate a 5×5 volume day and a 5RM intensity day, and in future TM posts, we’ll learn why and how to tweak it for your needs and goals.