This post will deal with adapting the system for "low-volume" lifters. First, let's categorize what a low-volume lifter is, then we can get on to designing an actual workout. When it comes to the heavy-light-medium system I categorize a low-volume lifter as a lifter who 1) responds well to workouts that contain less volume (most lifters respond well to moderate-volume, and some—about the same number of lifters who respond well to low-volume, in case you're wondering— respond well to high-volume), and 2) gets stronger on the top-set of a core lift with a relatively low number of progressively heavier sets.
I first discovered this category of lifters on this system myself a few years back. I was training with three other powerlifters, and we decided to start using a version of the heavy-light-medium system while training for an upcoming meet. Since all of us were relatively advanced strength-wise (pound-for-pound I was the strongest, but all of my training partners were as strong as me, if not stronger—they just weighed more), I decided it would be best if we trained with a moderate to high amount of volume.
All of us got good gains out of the program for the first few weeks except my best friend Puddin'. (Puddin', in case some of you don't understand this, is a very southern redneck nickname—and my buddy is the only person I know with the name; I assume there are other Puddins out there in the redneck universe, but I could be wrong.) Puddin' actually got weaker on all of his core lifts except for his squat. He didn't get weaker on his squat, but his numbers didn't go up on it either; just stagnated.
At first, this didn't compute. Puddin' was the strongest of all of us. He weighed over 300 pounds at a height of 5'9", could bench press more than 450 pounds raw, could squat 600 pounds raw, and could deadlift around 500 pounds. (He was too short and his arms too stubby to have a really big pull.) He was also—considering his weight—in really good shape. After all, he was capable of doing about 20 reps on dips—really good considering his size—and could do quite a lot of reps on chins. But then I got to thinking. He was also bad about drinking too much beer, and laying off from the garage gym once every three or four weeks or so. He was also known to show up to our workouts having already drank far too many beers—which usually meant he wasn't going to do near the workload as the rest of us. And you know what? He always progressed as fast as the rest of us did.
With this revelation, I made a decision. I had him cut out all of his assistance work. He went from 5 to 6 sets of progressively heavier sets of 5 or 3 reps to only 3 to 4 sets of 3 to 5 reps. Also, I had him cut out all lower back work on his "light" day.
Lo and behold—you know what happened? His lifts skyrocketed. And he soon broke all his personal bests.
Puddin' was definitely a low-volume lifter.
Here is an example of what a heavy-light-medium workout should look like for low-volume lifters. Keep in mind that when the program says 4 sets of 5 or 3 sets of 5 on a "core" lift, this means 4 or 3 progressively heavier sets of 5 reps. The last set should be "all-out." Although you want to get all 5 reps, 6 should be impossible if you were to attempt it.
Squats: 4 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 3 sets of 5 reps
Incline Bench Presses: 4 sets of 5 reps
Squats: 3 sets of 5 reps
Standing Overhead Presses: 4 sets of 5 reps
Barbell Curls: 4 sets of 5 reps
Squats: 3 sets of 5 reps, 1 set of 3 reps (This last set of 3 reps should be with a weight heavier than your 4th set of 5 reps from Monday.)
Dips: 4 sets of 5 reps
Good-Morning Squats: 3 sets of 5 reps
Here are a couple of other tips:
First, don't do this program if you're a moderate-volume or high-volume lifter just because you're lazy. This program is meant for those who actually thrive off less-volume.
If you're a moderate to high-volume lifter but you work a job that requires a lot of heavy manual labor (construction worker, for instance), then this program is good for you in this case.
This program is also good for moderate to high-volume lifters who are athletes and are "in-season." The workload is low enough that you should still be able to perform your other workouts for your sport and compete in your chosen sport.