By: Barbell Logic Team

The truth is that the Novice Program is individualized. It’s just that the changes that we make to accommodate individual variability are not to the overall structure of the program, at least not at first. The exercise selection, set and rep schemes, and frequency don’t change whenever someone is first starting out. The reason is that having a standard place to start gives us good data that we can easily interpret. Your responses to training then inform the changes to the program, but those changes are big overhauls to the program: they are small, measured changes that preserve the ability to test, observe, and analyze your response to the changing variables.

The Novice Program: Part 3

 

Novice Linear Progression Program

Photo: Nick Delgadillo

 

Criticisms of the Novice Program tend to highlight its seemingly-cookie-cutter approach to training: the same basic lifts and the same set and rep schemes for each. If everyone is different why should an elderly detrained grandmother be on the same program as a teenage athlete?

This post is number three of a three-part series on the Novice Program explaining why the program such a frequently used tool. Besides its proven efficacy in making novice lifters stronger, without exception. There are three reasons the Novice Program is so useful to coaches in their role of programming for lifters and to lifters who are trying to make the best use of their training time: (1) Everyone is a novice sometimes (usually many times) during their training career. (2) The program is the best way to generate useful training history that informs the rest of your training.
(3) the Novice Program is individualized, based on actual training, and playing out in as many different ways as the number of people who use it.

It works because it adapts to you.

The truth is that the Novice Program is individualized. It’s just that the changes that we make to accommodate individual variability are not to the overall structure of the program, at least not at first. The exercise selection, set and rep schemes, and frequency don’t change whenever someone is first starting out. The reason is that having a standard place to start gives us good data that we can easily interpret. Your responses to training then inform the changes to the program, but those changes are big overhauls to the program: they are small, measured changes that preserve the ability to test, observe, and analyze your response to the changing variables.

When people consider a training program they tend to focus first on exercise selection. “What lifts should I do to get stronger?” There is a myth that the exercises we do in training should mimic activities we perform in our daily lives. At the most basic level, however, your muscles do not know whether you are running or jumping, picking up groceries, or carrying a child. Your muscles only contract; they pull. Sometimes they contract and shorten, moving your skeleton, sometimes they contract and hold your bones in place, and sometimes they contract and pull while lengthening to resist movement. But they only have one job. If you want to make the muscles for running, jumping, and picking up and carrying things stronger, you need to make them better at their job. We do this with exercise selection, picking the lifts that train the most muscle mass across the largest effective range of motion and allow us to lift the most weight.

But there is more to consider with exercise selection. Each lift is part of an overall program. Because we aren’t just trying to train individual muscles, we are trying to train the whole body. And the response to training that makes us stronger is a system-wide response. We not only need to train the muscles that need to get stronger in a coordinated manner according to the normal function of the body, we also need to create a systemic stress throughout the body that initiates the cascade of recovery processes that lead to us getting stronger.

The only time the exercise selection needs to change is when the lifter can’t perform the exercise with acceptable form. In that case, the goal is to either progress the lifter to where they can use the best lifts for strength or to find the next best option using the same exercise selection criteria.

What Does Change?

The Novice Program is a program of change. You start at one place and you get stronger from there. The rate of change and the ability to continue changing are what differentiate each person who trains in this systematic manner. Very strong, very athletic people can make faster progress, maybe adding 10 pounds per training session to their squats for several weeks. Other people will progress at a slower pace.

There is a misunderstanding about the Novice Program that we “just add five pounds next time.” Most people will, at some point during their linear progression, add five-pound jumps to a lift for several consecutive training sessions. But many people add more or less weight, depending on where they are in their progress and how they respond to the training.

The rate of adding weight depends on your actual performance in the gym. If the bar is moving fast and you aren’t causing enough stress to drive adaptation, then you might need to add more weight than the standard five-pound jump next time. If you are older, you might need to add a lot less weight. For example, many lifters will benefit from a long-term loading strategy in which they add one pound to the bar each time they press. As we generate training history we know what increases are both tolerable and productive for your training.

Sets and reps and even training frequency may also change, depending on the lifter. Some people benefit from training sets of threes after a while. For some people, a heavy set of three provides a similar training stress to a heavy set of five. Others, usually older people with age-diminished recovery capacities, will benefit from training twice a week or every 72-hours.

There are also progressions to the Novice Program from the basic format to an “Advanced Novice” program. This progression reduces the frequency of certain lifts or changes the intensity on one lift for one day of the week. How you manage both of those changes will depend on the lifter. The number of ways a person progresses through their Novice LP is almost as varied as the number of people who do it. We know the general trends, but the actual program requires subtle alterations and many small decisions that aren’t reflected in the on-paper template.

A final factor that depends on the individual is form. The Novice Program allows you to learn and practice the lifts as part of the process. Progress presumes that you are lifting with good form. There may be times when you have to reset a little bit and fix your form before you keep adding weight to the bar. If you were on a periodized 12-week training program, the revelation that your form is bad would ruin the program. When you are a novice, a slight reset with correct form is an adjustment of the training stress that begins to affect your workouts. Taking your squats from six-inches high to full depth at 25% of the load represents a new, better training stress. And, as you increase the weight from there in a linear fashion, you will get the benefit of the small increase in training stress from your new and improved squats.

There are non-strength-related benefits to the Novice Program. We have talked about the power of Voluntary Hardship. It will challenge you, it might force you to face some fear or other issues. At the core, the program is simple, hard, and effective. If you stick to it, work on your form, and follow the program, you will get stronger. A lot stronger.

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