Heavy, Light, Medium (HLM) programs are a simple and effective way to organize strength training. Each training session consists of either a heavy, medium, or light load for a given lift. The HLM training style is extremely flexible and can be used to accommodate many training goals.
Table of Contents
- 1 HLM Training is Flexible
- 2 Origins of this Spreadsheet
- 3 How to Use this Spreadsheet
- 4 Writing Your Own HLM Program
- 5 Discuss HLM Programming Styles
- 6 HLM Resources
HLM Training is Flexible
Since the HLM training style is flexible, it has rarely been captured in spreadsheet form (at least that I’ve been able to find for free). This is because there is no “definitive” HLM program. It is a way to organize training.
Origins of this Spreadsheet
Still, there are many smart folks like Bill Starr, Mark Rippetoe, and Andy Baker that have spent a lot of time thinking about HLM and providing recommendations on what they have seen work for their athletes.
The spreadsheet below is based on my interpretation of Andy Baker’s “Structuring 12 Week Heavy Light Medium Programs” article. It is in no way associated with Andy or endorsed by him. It is not a representation of his training methods, but I tried to follow his article as closely as I could when building the spreadsheet.
How to Use this Spreadsheet
Why are there so many customization options? Just tell me what to do!
When making this spreadsheet I tried to allow the lifter to utilize the flexibility of the HLM programming style.
If I just pumped out a static spreadsheet, that probably wouldn’t be very useful for a lot of people, as making changes would be hard.
If you just want to be told what to do, I do start the spreadsheet with a “vanilla” HLM progression. This will probably be great for some people and not great for others, but it can act as a starting point for adjustments.
I tried to make changes easy and straightforward to make so you can play around with the programming style and see how it works for you best. I think you could learn a lot about programming for yourself by using this spreadsheet as a starting point. I’d also recommend picking up Practical Programming or reading through Andy Baker’s excellent articles (see list below) on the subject in order to maximize the benefit of the spreadsheet’s flexibility.
Lifts + 1RM
You can choose any lifts you’d like to perform. Enter your selections on the “Input” tab.
You can also enter a corresponding 1RM if you’d like for weights to be calculated for you.
Heavy Percentage of 1RM
You can choose what % of your 1RM you’d like to be used on the first training session of each phase’s heavy day.
For example, selecting 70% for squat means that on the first heavy training session, 70% of the 1RM will be used for the squat.
Medium and Light Offset Percentages
You can choose what the % offset will be for your medium and light training sessions. This is relative to the heavy % you chose in the adjacent column.
For example, if your heavy % is 70% and your medium offset is 10%, then your medium training days will be -10% of your heavy day for the same week. So week 1 will have a medium % of 60% (70% – 10%). The default value in phase 1 is 10% offset for medium training days.
The same logic is used for your light offset. The default value in phase 1 is 15% offset for light training days.
This the the % increase that will occur each week for the heavy training days.
As the medium and light loads are calculated based on the heavy load, they too will increase at the same percentage each week.
Sets & Reps
The prescribed sets and reps are based on my interpretation of the Andy Baker article linked above. They are not gospel; they are a starting point.
The only thing that is more is less “set in stone” with this spreadsheet is that the training load will be programmed as “sets across” where the load is the same for each set. It does not accommodate a different training load per set.
To edit set and rep counts, you must overwrite them manually. Nothing fancy here.
Organizing H/L/M Days & Lifts
The default or “vanilla” HLM configuration that this spreadsheet uses is as follows:
Monday (Day 1)
- Heavy squat
- Heavy bench press
- Medium deadlift
Wednesday (Day 2)
- Light squat
- Light bench press
- Medium rows
Friday (Day 3)
- Medium squat
- Medium bench press
- Heavy deadlift
This is a pretty standard set up where Monday is the “heavy” day, Wednesday is the “light” day, and Friday is the “medium” day.
Except in this case, rows are medium instead of light because this Imaginary Athlete finds that they prefer medium loads when performing rows. This Imaginary Athlete also does not like to perform heavy deadlifts and heavy squats on the same day, so heavy deadlifts have been moved to Friday. Heavy deadlifts are also performed for only 1 set, as additional volume is too taxing on recovery for Monday’s heavy squats.
Perhaps you differ from this Imaginary Athlete. This is fine! Please adjust as you see fit. Take out the light bench press and replace it with medium overhead press – do 3 sets of heavy deadlifts instead of 1 set – it’s up to you!
Phase 1 lasts for approximately six weeks. If you’re absolutely crushing your sets and feeling great, you can extend the number of columns shown and continue for some additional weeks.
Phase 2 typically lasts for about 3 weeks, but like Phase 1, you can extend it by showing more columns, etc.
It is similar to Phase 1, except there is slightly less volume on heavy days (3 sets instead of 5 sets, still for 5 reps) and weekly increases are halved to +1.25% each week.
Further, medium and light offsets are frequently increased here to provide some additional room for recovery while keeping set and rep counts the same. 15% and 20% are the default offset values for phase 2, respectively.
As always, you can adjust these if you’d like.
Phase 3 typically lasts for 2 weeks and in it you will see:
- heavy days drop to 3 sets of 1 to 3 reps
- 90%+ load on heavy days
Things get a little weird in the last week of training, as here you will see a decrease in the medium offset %, down to about 10%, in order to increase the overall intensity of the medium sets.
Andy expands more on this below:
And on the final workout of the last heavy week prior to the deload, I will push their medium day pretty hard with multiple sets across in the 80-85% range. This can be a bit miserable, but it pays dividends in the end. We never fail reps, but during the last week or so the medium day gets “not so medium” and the program looks very much like a Texas Method template with one day dedicated to higher intensity singles and one day dedicated to high effort volume work.– Andy Baker, “Structuring 12 Week Heavy Light Medium Programs”
When to Move to Next Phase
If it’s your first time running an HLM template then it’s probably a good idea not to extend each phase beyond the default length.
However, it is a good idea to potentially cut a phase short if you’re starting to miss reps. You don’t want to be missing reps in training, period. If that happens, a few things may be occuring:
- You started the program too heavy. Take 10% off of your 1RMs and see if that helps.
- You’re not recovering properly (calories, protein, sleep).
- You have form issues that are hindering progress.
That’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start.
Writing Your Own HLM Program
Managing Intensity & Volume Through INOL
I included an INOL calculator built into the spreadsheet to help you gauge if the program you’ve devised is sufficiently challenging.
Note: I included the INOL values for the optional weeks as well. Again, you do not have to run the optional weeks. You shouldn’t run them unless you are feeling super fresh.
Here’s the INOL value cheat sheet. These are general guidelines you can use to help gauge the feasibility of your training plans. You may respond slightly differently to various INOL ranges for different lifts (e.g. you can handle higher INOL values on bench press, while need lower INOL values for deadlifts). This is for you to discover as you go.
INOL Values per Training Session
|< 0.4||Not enough stimulus|
|0.4 - 1||Good, recoverable|
|1 - 2||Good IF you're loading or accumulating volume|
|> 2||Extremely difficult|
INOL Values per Week
|< 2||Good for recovery, deloading, off-season|
|2 -3||Recommended for loading phases|
|3 - 4||Lots of fatigue, can be run for short periods of time|
|> 4||Not recommended|
Inspiration & Ideas
Check out the video below from Andy Baker to get some ideas on how to organize your own HLM training program. You should be able to incorporate most of his ideas in the spreadsheet on this page.
Note: the spreadsheet on this page is set up for “sets across,” not the “top set + back off sets” method described here, but you can still apply some of his ideas using “sets across.”
Discuss HLM Programming Styles
If you want feedback on your HLM split or want to share your own, share it on the Lift Vault forums HLM Programming thread.
To learn more about Heavy Light Medium programming, check out the following links: