If you haven’t heard about the minimum effective dose (MED), it was a concept coined by Nautilus fitness creator Arthur Jones and popularized by lifestyle hacker Tim Ferriss in his book The Four Hour Body, here’s the simplest definition: the smallest dose that will produce the most desirable effect or outcome. For Jones, this was the minimum effective load, the point after which any additional resistance added to the bar would be redundant or even counterproductive to one’s strength and fitness goals. For Ferriss, the MED is about getting the most bang for your exercise and dietary buck.
We will first discuss the MED for exercise, then we will have a second article on the importance of keeping a MED for nutrition as well.
A popular example is boiling water. If you want to boil a pot of water at standard air pressure, the MED is 212° F (100° C). Adding more heat is redundant and won’t make it “boil even more.” We can take this example into exercise and nutrition as well. What if I told you when you are just starting a new fitness routine that our most successful clients make it to the gym between 3-4 times per week, as this satisfies the MED for fat loss and muscle gain from what we have found from our thousands of hours coaching clients and getting great results. You could turn right around back to me and say, “Well, if 4 times a week is good then 6 times a week is even better, isn’t it?!” Remember this one thing when starting something new, especially with exercise or nutrition:
Just because some is good doesn’t mean more is better
Our time during the day is limited, I understand. We only get 168 hours in a week, no matter what! What if I told you the solution is to do less than what you thought you had to commit to? Could you trust me and realize that the minimum effective dose for training for fat loss could be training between 3 – 4 times per week. This will consist of a couple total body strength resistance training sessions (or Metabolic Resistance Training) and one or two High Intensity Interval Training bouts, which is less about lifting and more about tracking heart rate and recovery between intense bouts of exercise.
In our gym, we know that short, intense bouts of exercise will trump long duration and low intensity bouts of exercise every day of the week. We know this not only based on our results in the gym, but also based on all the science out there on this subject.
In one study, two weeks of sprint interval training, for a total of six sessions, were enough to increase muscle oxidative potential (resting muscle glycogen content) and aerobic endurance capacity in trainees. Subjects performed four to seven 30 second “all out” cycling reps, each separated by four minutes of recovery time. VO2 max was not increased, but this strangely didn’t impact or impair their aerobic capacity, which “increased by 100%.” A mere fifteen minutes of actual sprint training was enough to double endurance capacity within two weeks’ time. Increasing your muscle glycogen content at rest also means a greater capacity for storing carbs as muscle energy, rather than having to convert them into body fat, which is nice and will help protect you from obesity.
In another 2007 study, researchers discovered that the metabolic adaptations produced by low-volume sprint training are remarkably similar to those produced by traditional endurance training. Two groups of “active but untrained” men and women – people who work out but aren’t athletes – were given six weeks of either sprint training or endurance training. Sprint training consisted of three weekly four to six rep sessions of 30 second sprints with 4.5 minute rests, while endurance training consisted of 45-60 minute continuous cycling sessions, done five times a week. The sprinters spent about one and a half hours each week (with most of that time spent resting, rather than actively sprinting) on the bikes, while the endurance subjects gave up four and a half hours each week (with most of that time spent pedaling.) Despite the huge discrepancy in time commitments, there was no discernible difference in metabolic outcomes, causing the authors to conclude that sprint interval training is the more “time-efficient strategy” to obtain the benefits of endurance training.
Now here are two great examples of studies that proved more is definitely NOT better, and there is a better way to get faster results in less time. Is High Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT as its known to many) the answer? It is a great place to start, but not the one and only answer. If you are not currently incorporating weekly, short high intense bouts of exercise into your routine – it could be something as easy as hopping on a stationary bike and performing a few sprints – then start with that now. A well rounded fitness routine will include this along with a couple sessions of strength training to keep your muscle mass at a desirable level. This will help fight the signs of aging, as we know if we don’t resistance train, our bodies will lose muscle mass and aging occurs at a much higher rate.
We have learned that as little as three 15 minute bouts of short intense bouts of sprinting could be a great MED. Although this is not the most well-rounded approach that we suggest, it is a great start! I can tell you one thing, just starting your exercise routine is the hardest part of starting anything new. Set up a schedule for yourself and stick to it! Do you eat breakfast in the morning? Do you brush your teeth every night? How about taking out the trash every week? We all have set routines, you just don’t realize it since these routines have been forced into habits. Start with a routine that is maybe less than the MED we are recommending, then you can always add to it when you reach your goal after 2 weeks. Write down what you are planning to accomplish, then set it in your calendar as an appointment and stick to it!
Just know that exercise isn’t as difficult and strenuous as all the media has made it out to be. But also on the other end of the spectrum, you will not get “6-pack abs in 5 minutes a week” either. These are false promises, and they are on every newsstand in America. What will get you closer to your goals is just starting! Start today! Commit to yourself you will start to make one change today in your exercise routine – and if that means just starting – just do that. Don’t make it too difficult for yourself. We start brand new clients on a 2x/week schedule, since that is normally 2 times more than they are used to coming into a gym environment. We are also getting them closer to that MED.
We will be following up with another article on what the MED is when it comes to nutrition for healthy weight and body fat loss.
If you are looking to make a change in your fitness routine, but are not quite sure where or how to start, you may be the perfect candidate for our 28 Day Kickstart Challenge. We are only taking a very small number of applicants, and would love to be in your corner to help you reach your full potential!
Apply Now, and see the difference we can make in your life!