We live in a society that seems to live and die by the “more is better” approach. But is it? When trying to create long term meaningful change, more is not better. When we take on something too aggressively, our chances of sustaining it decrease dramatically. Nor is it more efficient. Our time-crunched lifestyle demands efficiency. More is not always the safest approach either. You can have too much of a good thing. Even the sun burns if you get too much.
If more is not better, what is just right? The minimum effective dose. The least amount needed to reach the desired response. ALL physiological responses have a minimum effective dose. Typically for best results, it should be adhered to.
In pharmaceuticals, every drug has a minimum effective dose. The least amount required to achieve the desired response. Take X tablets Y times a day for relief. No doctor in their right mind tells a patient to take twice the effective dose of painkillers. It would be dangerous and potentially lethal. More is not better.
In other fields the minimum effective dose may not be as obvious yet it is equally important. For example, when training athletes, minimum effective dose is crucial. If you know how few reps of a particular exercise your athletes can get away with doing while still benefiting from the activity, you are saving not only valuable training time, but wear and tear on your athlete.
Because it is efficient and less daunting, minimum effective dose helps with compliance and adherence. Both of which are important for long term success. A full-time working mother doesn’t have two hours to spend at the gym every day. She is much more likely to commit to 20 minutes of exercise, even if it is more intense, than the 60 minutes she thought she needed.
While doing less may seem counter-intuitive, exceeding the minimum effective dose can get in the way of progress. Think the power of less. How little can I do and still achieve success? Identify the least important things and eliminate them. Then go hard on the things that yield big change. Eliminating the static not only makes a task more efficient, but also more approachable. The one change that you make all the time is 100% better than the five changes you make for three days and then quit entirely. Less IS more.
How often should I foam roll in order to keep my glutes from locking up?
How many cheat meals can I have and still maintain my ideal weight?
What is the least amount of time I need to study for this test in order to get an A?
How many glasses of wine can I have and still wake up feeling good?
How often do I need to lift weights in order to maintain my strength gains?
Answers to these questions are good to know. Where is the sweet spot, your minimum effective dose? It’ll keep you efficient, safe and compliant.
Minimum effective dose protects us from ourselves. For the underachiever, it ensures sustainability by minimizing the output and making a task seem less daunting. For the overachiever, it keeps things in the green – preventing over-use injuries and decreased performance from too much exercise; avoiding a sunburn on the first day of vacation. Recognizing the minimum effective dose doesn’t mean you can’t ever exceed it or fall short, but you should know what it is and when you are outside of it – tread lightly.