novice lifter

Be a Novice, Build Your Training History

By: Barbell Logic Team

The Novice Linear Progression is a scientific approach to training: Test-Observation-Analysis. This is the process that informs programming. It mirrors the training process of Stress-Recovery-Adaptation and it is a scientific, observation-based approach to training. Your log provides the observations and this process informs all of the decisions about your training as you move forward.

Why We Love the Novice Program (Part 2): Build Your Training History


“Simple. Hard. Effective.” is the mantra we believe characterizes most useful plans for self-improvement. Previously, we discussed what makes the Novice Linear Progression (or Novice Program) simple and hard; and why everyone, from couch potatoes to athletes, should, at the very least, go through the Novice Linear Progression. The process is simple, loading the “Big 4” lifts daily, in manageable increments, with some small variations, will quickly get you to a point where you can’t do that anymore. During that time, you will develop a base-level of strength as your body adapts to the ever-increasing demands you place on it. You teach your body to expect this kind of hard work and you put all the processes that make you stronger into overdrive, maximizing your body’s ability to adapt and get strong in the shortest reasonable amount of time.

To help manage the difficulty of the program, the intensity increases at your rate of adaptation. You start at your own baseline on the first day with a stress that is new. Because it’s new, it doesn’t have to be a big stress of great magnitude to start the training process. The next training day, you add a little bit more weight, increasing the magnitude of the stress. If you follow this program and the recommended weight-increases, you can do this for a while, adding a little bit of weight–increasing the magnitude of the stress.

This also means that the program gets very hard at the end. Just as the final strides of an all-out sprint turns your shoes to lead as you try to put one foot in front of the other, lifting heavy weights, recovering, then lifting heavier weights over a short period of time becomes a very real struggle.

It Generates Useful Training Data

Even if you aren’t brand new to lifting, the Novice Program may be appropriate for you. And as you play catch-up and increase your strength, you are doing something else that is imperative to your long-term success: You generate data, creating training history that gives insight into your responses to each of the training variables.

In her video about 3 things every new lifter should know, Niki Sims talked about the importance of a training log. The training log is indispensable. Even if you are an online client and you receive your program via email every day, you still need a paper training log. This log will contain data: weights lifted, number of reps, number of sets. It will show the difference between what you had planned for the day and what you actually did. It is a record of your personal notes on training, how things felt, form cues that worked, and where you continue to struggle.

This isn’t just for ego. What you do in the gym today affects what you do tomorrow, or the next day, or next month, or next year. And, because you are human, your training will not always be perfect.

Moving from one workout to the next, based on the General Theory of Adaptation, making observations about how you respond to the most basic change (the weight on the bar) is a scientific approach to training. Test-Observation-Analysis. This is the process that informs programming. It mirrors the training process of Stress-Recovery-Adaptation and it is a scientific, observation-based approach to training. Your log provides the observations and this process informs all of the decisions about your training as you move forward.

Judicious use of the Novice Program puts useful numbers into your training log that will then inform your programming as it needs to change. Changes during the Novice Program are small changes, so as not to muddy the observable responses. They include changes to the rate at which the load increases, gradual additions to the pool of exercises we use to get stronger, changes to the numbers of reps and sets they will use on each lift; sometimes the lifter’s recovery capacity warrants changes to frequency, and sometimes lifters need to reset the weight on the bar, deloading and working back up. The lifter’s physiology, lifestyle, and the evidence of their training log, combined with an evaluation of their lifting form dictate each of these decisions.

The best training plan doesn’t mean anything if you don’t do it, or don’t lift with good form, or if it doesn’t consider your individual response. The Novice Program starts in a standardized place and builds training history in a recognizable format, with enough simplicity to interpret your training and make wise programming decisions. Things you should pay attention to in your own log include:

  • Observations about your recovery practices and how they affect your training
  • What the increasing weight and volume do to you
  • What amount of stress you can handle
  • How you tend to reach the limits of your muscular endurance during a set of 5 reps

Paying attention to your training as a novice will reveal certain practical considerations. If your job is very stressful, it will affect your ability to recover and you will see that in your training. If you have bad eating habits or sleeping habits, the Novice Program will expose them. If it turns out you are a rockstar with a barbell, it will also reveal this through stellar steady progress.

It Accommodates Your Need to Lift With Good Form

It has been our coaches’ experience that most people’s form needs work. This doesn’t mean that most people are lifting in an unsafe manner (though some definitely are), but rather that they aren’t lifting in a repeatable manner or in a way that produces the best training stress. The correct execution of the lifts IS part of the program. If you haven’t been doing that part, you haven’t been training optimally; and upon fixing your form, you will benefit from the Novice Linear Progression as a way to gauge the new and improved stimulus. You’ve opened a path to get stronger more quickly (as least for a short time) by making your training more efficient.

We talked in detail about the importance form plays in programming and your strength development. The Novice Program is the time to really focus on your form. If you make mistakes they cost you a lot less in time and potential problems as a novice than they will as you get stronger and your programming becomes more complicated.

Next time we will address the main criticism of the Novice Program: that it is “cookie-cutter” or not individualized. The Novice Program works because it adapts to you. Stay tuned to find out how.



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