Minimum Effective Dose vs. Maximum Recoverable Volume

We all want to have effective workouts. Seeing the hard earned results from your work in the gym is the end goal for most people. But what does that look like exactly? Are you putting in enough work to see progress or are you leaving more results on the table?

On the flip side, what happens when you’re training too much, and not recovering enough? The body needs to recover from training. Exercise still counts as stress on the body! In order to achieve the aforementioned end goals, the body needs to recover properly.

This is the minimum effective dose and the maximum recoverable volume debate.

In order to make progress there needs to be a stress (in the form of training) to push the body beyond its homeostasis set point. Once a person has accomplished that, the body will recover from that stressor through the rebuilding process. The result? You’ll become bigger (ladies, you won’t get bulky, just toned!), better, stronger, and faster. This is known as the supercompensation model.

The minimum effective dose is the least amount of work that can be done to accomplish the same goals. It doesn’t mean you can sit around and expect to see results, but it means you put in only the minimum amount of work necessary.

This is great for people that want more free time with friends and family. Or for those that don’t love spending hours in the gym, unlike gym freaks like myself. Time restrictions are the most commonly cited problem for not exercising. But what if you’re trying to achieve a goal and you leave some progress on the table? There could be a time of failure during a competition; the thought of not putting in enough work would be absolutely unsettling for me and most other competitors.

That said, you can still achieve effective results and put in a fairy minimal, but realistic amount of work. If there wasn’t a competition riding on your performance, then doing only the necessary amount of work and no more would be a good plan.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the maximum recoverable volume. This is the maximum amount of work that you can possibly do before your body starts to break down. Obviously, going beyond this point has no long term future for an athlete. It will lead to overtraining syndrome which is a horrible position to be in.

The question is, what is your goal and how best to approach it? Where between these two lines does one’s training fall? Obviously outside either of these will give less than ideal results, and in a competition setting that’s not an option for a serious athlete.

Overreaching – a short term imbalance of training versus recovery – left unchecked will lead to overtraining. This can be advantageous to long term goals, as long as adequate rest is given regularly to allow for supercompensation to occur. Training is stress on the body, and a really large stress (overreaching) can lead to really large improvements – as long as you recover properly!

As with all things in fitness the answer is “it depends.” It is always a personal journey with personal goals. Two things will always remain constant: if you don’t train enough, you will see less than ideal results. If you train too much without recovery, you will burnout. With strength and conditioning as a supplement to sports performance, skills training must be viewed as the number one priority, therefore, strength and conditioning should not interfere with skill development. The fine balance rests somewhere in between and can be regulated by a quality coach.

Wade Dickinson


https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25134000/

https://us.humankinetics.com/blogs/excerpt/defining-supercompensation-training

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31797219/

https://us.humankinetics.com/blogs/excerpt/training-frequency-requirements-for-older-adults