Minimum Effective Dose vs Maximal Recoverable Value

Here are two concepts that are starting to be used a lot when talking about strength training. I became aware of the concepts via Dr. Mike Israetel from Renaissance Periodization.

Minimum effective dose (MED) has also been popularized by Tim Ferris and is a theoretical value indicating what is the smallest action that will lead to an effective outcome. Generally, you don’t want to take excessive amounts of any substance above and beyond what is needed, a simple example would be regarding ibuprofen, the recommended way to take ibuprofen is to take the one tablet and if in an hour that isn’t effective, take another one or two. You wouldn’t want to take 1000mg of ibuprofen if it isn’t necessary.

The reason this is a theoretical value when it comes to training, is because there is no real way to ascertain a real MED with any exercise. Is one sets of squats enough to illicit an ‘effective’ response? What is an effective response defined as? There are a lot of general principles regarding training intensities and volumes, all of which will differ based on personal physiology, training experience, the target body part/movement and even the training outcome. Hypertrophy MED will require differ from the MED to drive up a one rep max.

The Maximum Recoverable Value (MRV) is another theoretical ceiling for activity that the body can recover from. In the example of a drug, going over the MRV would lead to an overdose. For training purposes, exceeding MRV would place you at a greater risk of overtraining and injury. E.g. you try to go from not squatting, to squatting for six hours a day. Your body will be so fatigued and driven down, that you wouldn’t be able to be productive for a couple of days.

The point of highlighting these two theoretical values is to give the trainee something to think about when planning for their training. If you’re just getting started and going from a relatively sedentary lifestyle, both MED & MRV will be quite low. Walking for 10 minutes and doing 10 pushups might be enough exercise, that it will illicit a small change in the body. It is also so far under the MRV that it doesn’t mentally tax you to stop training.

As your training age increases, so too does your MED & MRD. This is because your body adapts to the increased stresses brought on by training, this is coupled with the body’s increased ability to recover from the stress. What this means for the trainee, is that as they do more, the have to do more in order to advance. There is much more nuance to this concept, however as a blanket statement, as you get stronger, you need to increase the amount of stress you place on the body in order to drive more adaptations.

Having these two concepts in your mind as you plan for a training program will help keep volumes and intensities at productive and optimal levels. The best way to learn where to stay, is to keep a good training log as this will be able to tell you when performance suffers or RPE shoots way up, or if you don’t even want to train or can’t train due to an injury. Are you hitting a plateau? Maybe you are not hitting your new MED levels in order to drive a change.

For a more in-depth discussion about MRV, check out this video interview with Dr. Mike Israetel

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