Heavy. Light. Medium.

Franco Columbu Bench PressSo, if you think that this post is about all kinds of cigarettes, I’m sorry to disappoint you. It is not. It is about a simple and smart way to add more weekly training volume for a certain skill/exercise without compromising your limited recovery. It is called the Heavy-Light-Medium approach or simply HLM. I use it a lot and find it really effective if you want to concentrate on a limited amount of exercises instead of using variety of them.

Let’s take a closer look at it.

What is the Heavy-Light-Medium Approach?

You already know that your body’s recovery abilities are limited. Basically, I came to conclusion that you can’t train really heavy more frequently than once a week (well, maybe once in 5 days in several cases, but that’s if your recovery is ultra-awesome and your lifestyle revolves solely around sleeping, training and eating).

On the other hand, you know that strength is a skill, and the more you practice it, the better you get at it.

As a result, you can either train heavy but once a week, or train easier but more frequently, right? Yes, but what if you can have both intensity and frequency at the same time? “It would be awesome” should be your answer at this point.

“Heavy-Light-Medium” is the approach that allows you to have it all. It works great for developing strength and skill simultaneously. It will fit perfectly the exercises that are hard and heavily depend on skill and mastery. For example, the One-Arm Chin-Up and the Planche. Additionally, it will work great for developing serious strength in basic weighted exercises like the Barbell Squat and the Bench Press. And by serious strength I mean 1.5-2+ times your bodyweight.

How Does It Work?

Basically, you use the same train-heavy-once-a-week approach but with addition of so-called “light” and “medium” days. For example, if you are squatting heavy once a week on Mondays, you can add a 50% session on Wednesday and a 75% session on Friday.

To calculate Light (50%) and Medium (75%) days, you have two options:

– to cut intensity;

– to cut volume.

As with de-loads, I would rather do less sets but with heavier weight. In my experience, it is much more effective and has less wear-and-tear on your joints.

So, let’s get back to our squatting example. Say, you squat with 100 kg for 4 sets of 6 repetitions on a Heavy day. If you listen to the wise man (me), you choose to cut the volume for your Light and Medium days. In this case, your routine looks like this:

Monday – 100 kg for 4 sets of 6

Wednesday – 100 kg for 2 sets of 6 (or 4 sets of 3; that’s also 50% of volume)

Friday – 100 kg for 3 sets of 6 (that’s 75%)

In case you choose to cut the intensity (I don’t recommend this), your workouts would look like this:

Monday – 100 kg for 4 sets of 6

Wednesday – 50 kg for 4 sets of 6 (that’s 50% of intensity)

Friday – 75 kg for 4 sets of 6 (that’s 75%)

How to Incorporate HLM into Your Routine?

Here is the interesting part. If you have no problem with performing only one exercise for a certain bodypart or movement pattern, then you are lucky. Heavy-Light-Medium approach will fit you perfectly. For example, if your goal is to learn the One-Arm Chin-Up and you do not give even a tiny fuck about other Upper Body Pulling moves, then you can train that little bastard three times a week using HLM and progress so steady that you won’t believe it. Pushing exercises and legs can be trained as usual.

If you want to use the HLM method for a certain exercise but it is not the only one in the category, then you will have to experiment. All I can say is that something will suffer: either the HLM exercise, or other in the category.

Finally, you can use the Heavy-Light-Medium approach for all the exercises if you have only 3 or 4 of them. It can be a good idea to have a different “heavy” exercise for a different day. Let me give you an example:

Monday

A) Double Kettlebell Snatch – Heavy

B) Planche Push-Up – Medium

C) One-Arm Chin-Up – Light

Wednesday

A) Planche Push-Up – Heavy

B) One-Arm Chin-Up – Medium

C) Double Kettlebell Snatch – Light

Friday

A) One-Arm Chin-Up – Heavy

B) Double Kettlebell Snatch – Medium

C) Planche Push-Up – Light

How Did I Find Out about Heavy-Light-Medium?

This approach was out there for ages. Bill Starr’s 5 x 5 is based on this approach. The Texas Method (the extension of Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength) also uses the same principle. And I believe there are lots of other programs that I’m not aware of that use the same principle.

Closing Thoughts

That’s it. HLM is an easy way to bust through plateaus and to acquire more strength. If you train consistently for over a year and hit a plateau in a certain exercise, HLM is a way to improve. Thanks for reading.

Play rough!

Alex Zinchenko

Every time you don’t like and share this article, you upset a kitten somewhere.

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13 thoughts on “Heavy. Light. Medium.

  1. Mads Borch

    Very interesting method – i am definetely gonna give it a try! But 3 excersises pr day doesnt seem like much, do you have a program like this, but for the whole body? :-) Keep up the good work, play rough!

    Reply
    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      Hey Mads,

      Thanks. Regarding 3 exercises per day, the example program is actually a full-body routine. If you perform these exercises with adequate intensity, you will not need more.

      – Alex

      Reply
      1. Mads Borch

        Okay cooL!
        Is it okay to do normal chin ups, if i cant do one arm yet?
        And do you have any excersice that can replace the kettlebell snatch, as i dont have acces to this atm? :-) Preferably one that relies solely on bodyweight or a squat bar or something? (i have a squat bar)

        Reply
    2. can

      Hey, great article as usual. I want to start to experiment with the heavy/light approach by doing a “strength/growth” day and an “endurance” day split.

      for example: MON – archer chin-up, archer push up, shoulder press (4×6 heavy) / WED – leg and core stuff, heavy (4×6) / FRI – chin up, push up, shoulder press (4×12 light) / SAT – leg and core stuff, light (4×12)

      The idea is pushing my limits on one day, and on the other, improving my skills on slightly easier versions of the same exercises, while taking it a bit easier on my body.

      Please let me know what you think.

      Cheers.

      Reply
  2. Dylan P

    Nice article, Alex. I’m reaching the point where my recovery ability can’t keep up with the weight I’m pushing, so this kind of set up should definitely help. Especially since it irritates me if I go too long without training.

    Reply
  3. Cameron Peterson

    Bro, your posts and more importantly your philosophy towards strength conditioning is not only correct, ( in my humble opinion) but very insightful and awe inspiring. Awesome for short.I have been lifting, and doing all sorts of wild things from mma fighting, rock climbing, and now my job as a high-rise window cleaner has challenged my body to yet another/different level. Not like being sore for five days after doing heavy deads and squats, but more on my joints from high repetition and low weight. More specifically my shoulders and my entire back are the areas being thrashed and I feel like I cannot recover . I have to sit in a Bosun chair all day and go crazy washing windows from a strange body position. The body tension and kinaesthetic quality are very unique and put a lot of stress on the areas I exemplified earlier. Now, let me give you something to work with. I work Mon-Fri 8 hrs/day. My weight lifting experience is at a novice level although I know I’m pussing out and should be way Rougher!! My goals are a one armed pull up, and to bench 2x my body weight. I’m currently 160lbs and still 5″9 (even after 30years!) and can do a wide grip pull up behind my neck with about 60lbs, squat only about 300,can bench about 250 but I have been working on my shoulders a lot and can now rack out handstand push ups on PVC paralettes . What say you O wise one? How can I make gains with this current regime? Do you suggest maybe going heavy on Fridays for my upper body pulluing muscles so I can recover for the week ahead for my job of repelling off of sky-scrapers all day? It is a lot of physical stress on my neck, back, biceps, and forearms. Pretty much my whole body dood!! Anyways, look forward to hearing your thoughts, thanks in advance, Cameron.

    Reply
    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      Cam,

      Thanks for kind words. I believe you should start with low-volume training. Something conventional like Starting Strength but with Heavy-Light-Medium (The Texas Method). Then you can experiment with other variables.

      – Alex

      Reply
  4. Gandefer

    Hi, nice article, I like your approach to keep the intensity high while varying volume. I was thinking myself of a HML programm, but I was a bit confused. This help.
    What about two heavy press lifts along the week? I would like to keep my 4 main lifts on the go: bench press, standing press, squats and deadlift (alternated with power cleans every other week). Any suggestion?
    Just found about your site today, looks great, I am definitly going to dig around, thanks!
    (and sorry for loosy English if you care .)).

    Reply
    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      You can try it. However, I doubt that two REALLY heavy presses per week would work. I would rather alternate between heavy standing presses and heavy bench presses each week, having medium and light versions of both exercises weekly.

      – Alex

      Reply
  5. Gandefer

    Ok, got it! Thanks for the sensible advice. Keep rough, seems to suit you well!

    Reply

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