"Minimum Effective Dose" - What Does That Mean?

Discussion in 'Other' started by Steve Freides, Sep 26, 2019.

  1. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Forum Administrator Senior Certified Instructor


    Forgive me for diving off the deep end here but this brings up an interesting bit of semantics for me. My guess - only a guess - is that what we mean by "minimum" is more along the lines of achieving the most results relative to the time we spend. So maybe, e.g., 20 minutes does more than twice as much for you at 10 minutes. Or maybe it means that even though 20 minutes doesn't do twice as much, the amount more it does is still work the extra time spent, and the increase in results per time spent starts to go down after 20 minutes.

    Or something.

    This will vary by the practitioner and the exercise, of course, but I think even a very small amount can be effective. Effective means it has an effect, and I feel better after I've done a minute's worth of swings in a variety of formats, e.g., a single Q&D series, or even something as simply as picking up a bell and swinging it for a minute non-stop.

    I raise the language issue only because I'm in a very busy period in my life right now and don't train nearly as much as I like to, but I still feel benefit from very short bouts of exercise in a variety of format. Besides a minute of swings, a 15-second bar hang has an effect for me. Yesterday I did 5 deadlifts (a single and two doubles, 130 kg @ 69 kg) in the space of 5 minutes and I feel it had an effect.

    Maybe minimum effective dose means the minimum to have a training effect, i.e., the minimum to enable us to continue to progress. Is that how we're using it around here in a training context? And maybe my ramble above is all for naught if that's true, but effect and training effect are related but different things, IMHO. At the least, minimum effective dose for maintenance and for progress are different things.


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  2. Oscar

    Oscar Quadruple-Digit Post Count

    @Steve Freides I liked your ramble.
    In my opinion there are 4 relevant doses:
    1. Maintenance dose: how much is required not to lose ground.
    2. Most efficient dose: the one that gives the most progress for time and energy spent.
    3. Point of diminishing returns dose: adding more above this point gives very little benefit
    4. Maximum recommended dose: doing more than this does more damage than good.
    Minimum effective dose is, in my opinion, the first one. It is effective because it achieves maintenance, and is minimum.

    I'd say that we should generally be between 1 and 3. If required by a special event for a short time between 3 and 4.

    Pavel seems to base his programs on this concept, especially Q&D.
  3. Steve W.

    Steve W. Quadruple-Digit Post Count

    This (what Steve describes above) may constitute a maintenance dose (not losing ground), but it puts me in mind of another dose that I call the "not nothing" dose.

    When life gets in the way of training how I might like, I just try make sure I do something instead of nothing. I might be able to maintain that way (and sometimes even gain) or I might lose ground. But even if I'm losing ground and not maintaining my capabilities, at least I'm maintaining the continuity of the training process and I'm setting myself up to more easily recover any ground I've lost when I can ramp my training back up.

    Edit: "Not nothing" is not necessarily minimal. Often it is. But often it may be a longer session with a lot of volume, or a bunch of short mini-sessions throughout a day with a significant total volume. The idea is that when you might not be able to consistently do as much as you'd like, or consistently follow a structured program, you still do what you can and don't just do nothing. Sometimes that's a minimal little something, and sometimes it's a bigger something, but it's got to be "not nothing."
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2019
  4. wespom9

    wespom9 More than 500 posts Certified Instructor

    Interesting query, because it depends on the goal.
    As @Oscar noted, I think the MED for maintenance is different than the MED improving.

    If we take research from cognitive an motor learning, we know learning is best done in
    random > blocked
    retrieval > repetition (this doesn't really apply to physical exercise or lifting I don't think)
    spaced out > marathon session

    Pavel has mentioned before that a 3x3 at your 85%, done 1x a week, can maintain your lifts (at least on barbell, which is what he was talking about)
    Clearly, that may not improve so the MED would be higher for improvement.

    /my own ramble
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  5. LukeV

    LukeV More than 300 posts

    In my experience people grossly overestimate the minimum required to look good and feel healthy. They buy into mantra that's more about gym memberships and winning Mr Olympia and feel despondent and do nothing because they don't have the time, money, equipment, perseverance etc to do that.

    Your average person (average genetics, average attitude etc) only has to workout once per week, with one exercise per muscle group and a single set to failure. For completeness add plenty of vegetables and lean meat and a walk or two.

    If they do that consistently they will achieve a great physique and look and feel about the best they ever will doing anything else without consistency. But you'll never sell a gym membership let alone a book advocating that.

    And of course people would be better doing more but that's the minimum effective dose.
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2019
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  6. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Forum Administrator Senior Certified Instructor

    Could you say a bit more about this, or use more white space in how you post it? I'm not following. Thanks.

  7. wespom9

    wespom9 More than 500 posts Certified Instructor

    @Steve Freides For sure, apologies I was at work and in a rush to post before a meeting

    Blocked practice means to practice the same thing repeatedly, while random is multiple things in chaotic order. Research tells us that while blocked practice shows improvement in a session, there is little carryover to the next session. An ideal practice of a skill would be to work on something briefly, switch to a different task, and return later. It is far more frustrating, but repeatedly been show to show greater skill enhancement from session to session.

    Repetition vs retrieval - most people study by re-reading there notes over and over. This makes it seem like they remember what they've read, but this type of practice is very poor for long term retention. Retrieval (or "practice exams") shows FAR greater long term retention in. It is harder and more frustrating, but by forcing one to think, it assists the neural connections in the learning process.

    Now that I have time to think about it, spaced out vs marathon practice was a re-iteration of saying blocked vs random. Doing 20 minutes of study for 4 days is better than 80 minutes in one day.

    Most research shows similarities in learning, whether it is cognitive or motor based. Almost everything I said above is from this book: from https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/0674729013/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_10?smid=A3DWYIK6Y9EEQB&psc=1
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  8. Oscar

    Oscar Quadruple-Digit Post Count

    Oh yes the "not nothing" dose is an important one. it probably is the "minimum effective dose". It certainly is effective and no doubt its minimal. But, as you say, it may not grant maintenance or progress.
  9. Karl

    Karl Double-Digit Post Count

    I have thought of it more the way Tim Ferriss talked about it in context of the 80/20 rule/principle. 80% of your gains come from 20% of your effort. Not that I have thought about this that deeply.
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  10. Oscar

    Oscar Quadruple-Digit Post Count

    I think the 80/20 dose is no. 2 in the above scheme. The one that maximizes outcome for resources.
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  11. Anna C

    Anna C More than 5000 posts Elite Certified Instructor

    "Minimum effective dose" to me means:

    - the minimum amount (volume and/or intensity) of training that keeps driving progress towards a goal/capability at a reasonable pace (i.e. not dragging it out for years)


    - if the goal has already been attained and the new goal is to maintain it, the minimum amount (volume and/or intensity) of training that allows that capability to stick around.
  12. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Forum Administrator Senior Certified Instructor

    This is something Brett has mentioned at certs I've attended. I must admit that, for me and practicing music, I have not found it to be true. There are, of course, many important differences between resistance training and playing scales on the piano, which could arguably called "trying-to-reduce-the-resistance" training. :)

    The important distinction for me, if I could make the comparison to kettlebells, would be increasing the weight during a single session, i.e., what's more like music practice would be something like swinging a 16 for a few minutes, then a 20, then a 24, and so on, and you'd end up with a weight that, had you just picked it up to start with, you wouldn't have been able to swing. That's not how we kettlebell train - we know it doesn't work that way and we'd be fatigued by the end - but with an extremely low resistance, high skill thing like scales at the piano, it is how I practice, because often the progress or breakthrough to a new level only comes after a long session of doing the same thing over and over, and if I never got through the long session, I'd never make the progress.

  13. Sean M

    Sean M Quadruple-Digit Post Count

    Because I like visuals:
    The top of the curve may be necessary for someone whose performance demands that extra 5% effectiveness. Someone heading that way on the dose continuum needs to watch out for the cliff, though.

    The rest of us mortals would probably be fine to stay in the MED sweet spot most of the time.
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  14. Anna C

    Anna C More than 5000 posts Elite Certified Instructor

    Decent graph, but it doesn't capture the fact that the actual dose of training stress needs to change over time for effective training. I can handle a LOT more overally stress/tonnage/training volume (however you want to measure it) in any given session/week/month than I could a few years ago. Stress needs to increase to continue development of physical qualities. As we become stronger and more anti-fragile, the right dose of stress changes quite a bit... and this is a good thing.
  15. Sean M

    Sean M Quadruple-Digit Post Count

    @Anna C Yes, it would be a single snapshot in time, the shape and height (and width of tolerable dose) all changes over time.

    There’s also probably a curve for any given exercise, and the shape at any given time is interconnected with pre-existing fatigue, capacity for additional useful stress, novelty of the exercise, etc.
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  16. offwidth

    offwidth More than 5000 posts

    I think Anna summed it up very succinctly here.

    Of course this is highly individual and context (goal) specific in nature. One persons min is another's max.

    300miles / week on the bike is not going to get the job done for some, and is likely dangerous for others...
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  17. vegpedlr

    vegpedlr More than 500 posts

    The correct answer, of course is

    It depends.

    Which is of course, not very helpful. This discussion, though, is helpful.

    I get my thinking from Joe Friel, endurance coach who wrote the Bible.

    I divide it into three:

    1. Maintenance, which is the minimum needed to keep most of what I have. It’s usually less than what people think.

    2. Progress, the minimum needed to improve. It’s usually less than people think, but consistency is vital.

    3. Point of diminishing return, amount where going beyond really raises risk of injury or burnout. Over reaching, this is Bus Bench Training. Best used sparingly.

    As @offwidth noted, lots of individual variation here. The minimums will look much different for someone right off the couch vs right out of the Olympic training center.
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  18. vegpedlr

    vegpedlr More than 500 posts

    Application also matters, or goals. What many here describe as a minimum for aerobic work would cause me to lose fitness. Likewise, what I call the minimum for strength work many here would call a warm up.
  19. Alan Mackey

    Alan Mackey Triple-Digit Post Count

    To me, it’s all about slowly increasing you “shame levels”.

    I define “shame level” as something you could do after a night of horrible sleep, while running a mild fever.

    If I increase my “shame level”, my “performance level” will be increased too. It’s the same concept behind Easy Strength, but taken a bit further.
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  20. vegpedlr

    vegpedlr More than 500 posts

    The “Hangover Minimum?”
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