Changing the content of a program
“Can I do the program Power to the people, but with only one set of deadlift, alternating bench press and military press every workout, with added squats, 3 sets of 5 instead of 3 sets of 5-3-2, and 3 times per week instead of 5?”
Yes, you can do these changes. Please also change the name of the program to Starting strength.
There are some themes that regularly pop up on a forum dedicated to strength. Changing the program is one of them. The usual answer to people willing to do changes to a program is: “No. Do it to the letter”.
I wrote about altering the program, when the stress cup is too full. Altering a program to avoid excessive stress is a legit option. It should be done carefully. There is a risk to always go light to avoid tough training, using stress as an excuse. Still, when additional stress is too high, it is always better to do a light day than forcing training too much.
The key is to understand the difference between sometimes altering the program, because of exceptional external conditions, and changing the content of the program.
Whatever your goal and the modalities of your training, there are many proven effective programs out there. Once the goal is defined and the modalities clarified, all that is needed is discipline.
Above are mentioned two proven programs: Power to the people (PTTP) and Starting strength (SS).
Both aim to increase absolute strength. Both work very well with novices. The former is more focused on high frequency, with little mass gains, more neuro-muscular optimization, 5 to 7 days a week, with two exercises, 2 sets (3 with the 5-3-2 rep scheme), and is done in 30 minutes max. The latter has a significant hypertrophy component, is done 3 times a week with always a full day of recovery between sessions, has up to 6 different exercises, done for 3 sets of 5 and lasts 45 to 60 minutes. They both work, and thousands of people are out there to prove it. The reasons to choose one or the other depends on you, your life style, your preferences and your constraints.
Once your choice is done, though, follow the elected program to the letter for at least 6 weeks. This is the absolute minimum amount of time to see if a program is delivering or not. Check that no external circumstances affected the program: bad recovery, excessive additional stress, vacation…
Did the program deliver?
Do not change anything. Keep following the program as written.
If you are a novice, SS delivers for at least 12 weeks, and in some cases for as much as 6 months. Then, it might be the time to go to something different. PTTP is a bit more flexible: cycling load can get you a very long way.
Just do not try to reinvent the wheel. Follow what has been proven to work.