What is the Starting Strength Linear Progression?
The Starting Strength Novice Linear Progression is a program when weight on the bar increases, linearly, every workout for each lift.
What’s a Novice?
A novice is someone for whom the stress of a single workout is significant enough to drive a physical adaptation but also allow for adequate recovery, creating a strength increase by the next workout, 48 to 72 hours later. This is helpful for programming because it tells us a few things about the lifter. First, we know the appropriate frequency of their training. Workouts should be 48 to 72 hours apart to allow for sufficient recovery from the previous workout.
Second, that the lifter can add weight every single workout. This is important because it means that novices can get much stronger in a relatively short amount of time. And if we take advantage of this fact we set the best foundation possible for the lifter’s long term strength development.
Finally, a novice lifter can take advantage of the novice effect, meaning he or she can get stronger from a relatively broad, low dose of stress.
The Stress, Recovery, Adaptation Cycle
When we are talking about the “stress” of training we are referring to part of what we call the Stress-Recovery-Adaptation process. When we create an intentional training stress, sufficient to disrupt our normal physiological state, and then allow for sufficient recovery from that stress our bodies adapt and get stronger. This process is specific to the stress we put on our body. So, if our goal is to get stronger, we induce that process by lifting weights–as opposed to running, yoga, or pilates.
For novice lifters, this means that your squat gets stronger from squatting, your bench press gets stronger from bench pressing, and so on; and extra exercises do not add any value to your training.
We use these exercises because they use the most muscle mass, across the longest effective range of motion, and allow us to lift the most weight, making them the biggest and most general movements for developing strength.
We also have to organize the stress of training by manipulating the load on the bar and the number of sets and repetitions we perform with each exercise. The load changes from workout to workout, and we start all lifters at a load that is light enough for them to execute the lifts with good form. Even relatively light weights will make a new lifter stronger.
What About Sets and Reps?
You’ve probably heard the Starting Strength mantra to “Do your Fives.” This is because most of our sets as a novice are grouped into sets of five repetitions. But why fives? When we train we are targeting increases in both force production and muscular size to develop long-term strength gains. Experience has shown that sets of five are the sweet-spot for increasing both strength and muscle size.
And three sets of five reps is the right amount of stress for most novices on most of the lifts. However, for the deadlift, we tend to just use one set, because the lift begins from a dead stop on every rep it tends to be a more stressful lift.
So, we are going to squat, bench, press, and deadlift three times per week, and we are going to do our fives. But we know that to continue to get stronger over time, we must increase the stress. So, what changes?
We increase the stress a little bit each workout by adding a little bit of weight to the bar from the previous session. The weight on the bar is the only thing that changes when you are a novice, increasing workout to workout linearly, which is why Starting Strength calls it’s novice program the Novice LINEAR Progression.
The novice program uses just two workouts, an “A” workout and a “B” workout that alternate back and forth every workout. For the “A” workout, you are going to squat for 3 sets of 5 reps, press for 3 sets of 5, and deadlift for 1 set of 5. On workout “B” you are going to squat again for 3 x 5 but you add 5 pounds. This time you are going to bench press for 3 x 5 and then you will deadlift again adding 5 pounds to your deadlift as well. The only thing that changes during this first iteration is that you alternate the press with the bench press each workout. The novice progression will continue in this manner for some time before any changes are required, and it works undeniably well.
Simple. Hard. Effective.