A Detailed Guide To Training Progression

Andy MorganTraining Principles64 Comments

What follows are the exact initial guidelines on training progression that I give to clients. They are an abbreviated version of the guidelines in The Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid book that I co-authored with Eric Helms and Andrea Valdez.

They are exceptionally logical and structured, the antithesis to the approach of just hitting the gym, smashing some weights and hoping for progress. They will stop you from wrecking your joints when starting out by increasing the weight you lift too quickly, and they will help prevent you from stalling for months on end, often without you realizing it. If you put the effort to read, understand and implement these instructions they are going to pay off for you big time. I will be waiting in Tokyo for you to buy me an overpriced craft beer as a thank you. 😉


Novice Progression: For Use When You Are Able to Make Load Increases Session to Session

The following progression rules work well for exercises you are able to make incremental progressions in weight session to session with. This is what defines the “novice progression” category. This is not about how long you have been lifting, or how much you can lift. My friend Greg Nuckols took his deadlift and squat to over 500 lbs before he needed to use some form of non-linear progression (periodization) as you will when you get to the “intermediate progression” rules, and yet no-one would look at those lifting stats and call him a novice. Admittedly, he is a genetic freak and was born to lift, but the point is that I want you to separate your ego from the name of each of the progression rules. Do not skip this section just because it is titled novice progression.

Novice progression is faster than intermediate progression, so use these rules while you can.

You will progress more quickly with some exercises than others. You may have more experience with some exercises already than others. You may have taken some time off from performing an exercise which means you would benefit from changing your progression style from “intermediate” to the novice style temporarily. Therefore, for some exercises in your program you may use novice progression rules, but for others, you may need to use intermediate progression rules.

How to Choose the Weight You Lift Initially

If you are new to a lift or returning to a lift after some time off, on the first workout just choose a weight where you feel comfortable performing all the sets and reps listed, with that same weight. You don’t want to be pushing to a maximum here because you will be learning (or relearning) the movement.

If you see, Squat 2×8, listed in your program for example, then choose a weight you feel comfortable performing 8 reps for, for two sets.

Sometimes you may see exercise listed like this, Squat 2×8 (~70% 1RM). This means perform 2 sets of 8 reps, using a weight that is approximately equivalent to 70% of your one rep maximum (1RM) for the first workout. Now, it’s important to note that this is just a guideline to help you choose a weight. If you are new to an exercise you will just have to guess at the initial weight you use because you won’t know your 1RM, and it doesn’t make any sense to test for it at this stage because you will get better quickly with practice.

For those that have experience with a lift but don’t know their 1RM, it’s possible to use a 1RM calculator. Just plug in the number of reps and the weight you can lift it for and it will tell you your estimated 1RM. You can then take a percentage of that number to set the weight you will lift with.

For example, if you know the maximum you can squat for a single set of 5 reps is 200 (5RM), and your program lists, Squat 2×8 (~70% 1RM) on the one day, and Squat 3×4 (~85% 1RM), on the other, you have two options for choosing a starting weight:

  1. Guess how much you can lift for 2 sets of 8 reps, and 3 sets of 4 reps. Your guess might be 150 lbs on the first day and 180 lbs on the other day.
  2. Plug those numbers into my beautiful 1RM calculator and find that your estimated 1RM, then just calculate 70% and 85% of that respectively. Using the calculator for a 5RM of 200 lbs gives us an estimated 1RM of 225 lbs, so from that you can get your starting weight for the first day of 157.5 lbs (225*0.7) and second day ~190 lbs (225*0.85).

Either option is fine, the calculation method is just an estimation anyway and you are only doing this for the first workout.

How to Progress After the First Session

After the first session just add weight in steady increments each time. For the heavy full and lower body compound movements (e.g., squats and deadlifts) I’d suggest you increase 10 lbs each session initially, assuming you can do so with good form. For other exercises that work less overall musculature, (e.g., the bench press, overhead presses, rows and any isolation exercises) you’ll want to progress in 5 lb or 2.5 lb increments.

There will be a point where your progress slows down and it is not possible to make increases session to session. If you have micro plates (1 lb, 0.5 lb) you can use those to keep increasing the weight each session. If you don’t have access to these (as with most gyms) just increase the weight every other session, focusing on the feeling of it being easier in that second session. Meaning, use the same weight, sets, and reps, but there will be a lower rating of perceived exertion (RPE). More on RPE later.

Here is an example of how someone would progress with this system. I’ve chosen 5×5 just to keep the numbers simple.

This is just an example, and obviously, you will want to adjust according to how you progress, but pay attention to the following points:

  • The load is increased linearly using the same rep range. This is called “single progression” (of load). Note that by increasing the load, the volume is also increased.
  • When the target repetitions cannot be completed, the load is maintained for the next session, and the repetition targets are attempted again.
  • Reduce the load by 10% if you fail to achieve your target reps in two consecutive workouts. The next workout, return to the weight you were unable to complete the target repetitions with and you will more than likely succeed. This is a very simple method of “deloading.” This is a strategy that allows built-up fatigue from weeks of training to dissipate, which in turn lets us continue progressing. There is no need to set this at specific time intervals for novice progression, but it will become necessary for intermediate progression.

If your progress starts to stall after implementing the deload as described above without a return to progress afterwards (assuming sleep, nutrition etc. are in check), it will be time to consider changing your progression pattern to that of an intermediate trainee which I’ve covered below.

Using RPE Based on Repetitions in Reserve

You’ll see that I have numbers and “RPE” noted next to the exercises in your training plan.

RPE is a useful method of measuring intensity when lifting called Reps In Reserve (RIR) based on Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). This was popularized and developed by powerlifting coach Michael Tuchscherer and has been researched by Dr. Mike Zourdos and my co-author on The Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid, Eric Helms.

RPE when using this scale is based on how close to failure you get at the conclusion of each set. You simply do your sets and choose how close to failure you wish to get. A 10 RPE would be at failure (or rather, no additional load or reps could have been performed), a 9  RPE would be one rep left, an 8RPE would be two. Have a look at the table:

Sometimes we may use an RPE target to prescribe load on its own (e.g. Seated Cable Rows 3×5 @8-9 RPE), or used in combination with a %1RM (e.g. Squat 3×8 @6-7 RPE, 67.5-72.5% 1RM). This is useful because sometimes when you are in a fatigued state, you may under perform, and by doing this I am able to tell you how much stress you should be experiencing, versus what is being prescribed.

For example, let’s say your performance was slightly suppressed due to residual fatigue, but you had 5 reps at 85% of 1RM programmed. Feeling great, you might finish this set with 1 RIR (a 9 RPE). However, in a fatigued state, this might end up being to failure or you might even miss the final rep. To avoid this, I’ll prescribe not only a percentage of 1RM target but also an RPE rating so that you can adjust the load as needed to match the intended stress.

So, if one day you have Squat 3×8 @6-7 RPE (67.5-72.5% 1RM) programmed for example, but the weight feels heavier than usual today, and though you can get your target of 8 reps, you feel that you could only have performed one more rep (which would be an RPE of 9, not 6-7), then you’ll reduce the weight you lift for the next set to around the level where you will hit your RPE target. You’ll then finish any subsequent sets using that weight.

Note: Subsequent sets will be more difficult as you fatigue so use the lower end of the RPE rating for the first set. Also, bear in mind that on some days the latter sets can be disproportionately hard, and for that reason, we don’t want to go more than 2 RPE points higher than the starting setting. So, if your initial RPE setting is 7, then don’t perform any sets over an RPE of 9. If you do then stop your set, and if you have another set to perform, choose a lower weight so that you can hit the target number of reps.

This system works best when you have training experience with a lift. So for any exercises in your plan that are new to you, just bear in mind that you will get better at using this system over time with them.

[For a fuller explanation of RPE and how to implement it in your training programs check out this free email course Eric Helms and I put together.]

On Training to Failure

As it is related to RPE, I’ll include some notes here on training to failure.

Training to failure is something I was a fan of for years, but have moved further and further away from as I’ve gained more experience as a coach.

“Failure” has two common meanings: where there is a breakdown in form during a rep but maybe an additional repetition could be performed with poor form (“form failure”), and where the weight can no longer be physically moved (“mechanical failure”). In general, we don’t want to perform the big, multi-joint compound lifts to mechanical failure (squat variations, deadlift, overhead press, etc.) as the risk of injury when form breaks down is too high. Even performing these lifts to form failure on a regular basis is a bad idea for the same reasons and because the systemic fatigue generated is also very high (which can limit your ability to perform for the rest of the session). That said, it is much safer to train to failure with isolation exercises that don’t require full body efforts such as bicep curls, leg extensions, or even some machine compound movements like rows, pulldowns or perhaps the leg press.

You may be thinking at this point, “Why would I ever not want to go to failure? Doesn’t failure increase the amount of muscle activation I get and ensure that I have trained the fiber completely?” Those things are true for the most part, however, that’s looking at each exercise in isolation, rather than the big picture.

If you were to do 3 sets of bench with your 5 RM load, and on your first set you maxed out and went to failure, you would probably drop down to 3 and then possibly 2 reps on your next two sets depending on your rest interval. This will be 10 reps total. However, if you were to stop and just do 4 reps on the first set, you may be able to maintain 4 reps for all 3 sets. This will be 12 reps total.

In this way, it’s easy to see that we can hurt the amount of volume that we can do by going to failure too frequently. Thinking even bigger picture, going past just the single exercise, and thinking about subsequent training sessions, there are further negative implications from training to failure all the time.

As volume is a key driver of training progress, and training to failure can hurt the amount of volume we can perform, I do not want you to go to failure with any sets unless instructed.


Intermediate Progression – When You Are No Longer Able to Make Load Increases Session to Session

We have two different sets of progression rules which I’ve split into the categories, “compound movements” and “isolation movements.” We will now have a deload every 4th week for both.

Deloads

With novice progression, a simple 10% reduction in weight was all that was necessary to deload, and you did this whenever additional weight could not be added. Managing fatigue is a little more complex however for the intermediate trainee (which is probably best defined as someone who needs to use intermediate progression techniques for the majority of their lifts).

You will have lift-specific, periodical deloads built into the progression pattern every four weeks. This allows residual fatigue dissipate before it can build to a point where it hampers performance and prevents you from progressing with the workout plan as intended. It will also reduce the risk of injury by allowing your connective tissues to recover. You must resist the temptation to not deload.

Occasionally, we will have a full deload week where I will instruct you to reduce volume (and sometimes intensity) for all exercises. I will typically do this at times where life or work stresses are high and I feel you could use a break. I may also suggest one when progress just seem a little off with expectation and I think you could benefit from one. For exercises with 2-3 sets, I want you to reduce the set number by one. For exercises with 4+ sets, reduce the set number by two. If I want you to reduce the intensity also I will give a percentage I wish you to reduce the loads lifted by, typically, 10%.

Intermediate Progression Rules for Compound Movements – “Linear Periodization”

Let’s say that you have Bench Press 3×6-8, 70-75% 1RM listed in your training program.

  • Choose a weight where you can complete 3 sets of 8, without needing a spot and rarely hitting failure on the last set (RPE no higher than 9.5 on last set and typically lower). If you unsure of what weight that might be, use the percentage of 1RM listed to guide you. So, if you can lift 200 lbs, choose 70% of that to start with, so 140 lbs.
  • For each successive workout, increase the load by 5 lbs and reduce the number of reps for each set by one.
  • The 4th workout is a deload day where you intentionally reduce both the load and reps.
  • On the 5th workout, get back to 3×8 and increase the load to slightly more than what you used the prior time you used 8 repetitions.

Here is how that looks in a table:

You can see that load, reps and volume will fluctuate workout to workout, but the load being used will increase every four weeks. This is called “linear periodization,” meaning that intensity goes up as volume goes down. It is a wave loading intermediate progression because the volume increases every fourth week.

Wave Loading Periodization

For the 3-5, 4-6, 5-7, and 6-8 rep ranges, drop the rep target by 1 rep each week with only a 5-10 lb (2.5-5 kg) increase in load week to week.

For the higher rep ranges of 8-12, reduce the rep target by 2 rather than 1 each week. So for example, if you see Incline Press 3×8-12 listed you would do a week of 12’s, then 10’s, and then 8’s, while increasing the load 5-10 lbs each week. (In most cases I’d recommend 5 lbs.)

Intermediate Progression Rules for Isolation Movements – “Double Progression”

For isolation exercises, it is not realistic to increase load as quickly. Imagine trying to add 5 lbs to your dumbbell bicep curl every fifth week – it is simply an unrealistic amount of progress. That would be an increase 10 times every year, requiring an addition of 50 lbs (~22 kg) to your bicep curl each year when most people can’t even dumbbell curl 50 lbs for one rep strict. Think about it in relative terms. If your max squat is 355 lbs (~160 kg), a 5 lb increase is an increase of about 1.5%. if your max dumbbell curl is 50 lbs a 5 lb increase is an increase of 10%. So that same 5 lb increase is over six times more of an increase for a curl than a squat. Therefore, we need another approach for isolation exercises.

The approach that I’d suggest we use is to add reps week by week, instead of increasing load. This is almost a reverse linear approach, where we are adding volume before increasing intensity, rather than adding intensity while decreasing volume. This is called double progression – we don’t progress the second variable until we progress the first; we don’t progress load before we progress repetitions.

Let’s say that you have Bicep Curl 3×12-15 @7-8 RPE listed in your training program.

  • Choose a load where you feel you can get pretty close to 15 reps for 3 sets (but not quite). (Note that we won’t set load based on a percentage of 1RM for isolation movements as it doesn’t work very well.)
  • Add reps each week, trying to get to the goal of 3×15. Take as many sessions as you need to achieve this. Avoid hitting failure until the last set, or you’ll sabotage your next sets.
  • Take the 4th week as a light week (a deload week). Regardless of what happens in the week prior to the deload, in the deload week go to the bottom of the rep range and just do two sets (12, 12).
  • After the deload you will hopefully come back, find yourself recovered and improve performance (in the example we get 15, 15, 14). Then in the next week, we get 15, 15, 15.
  • Thus in the next session, we increase the load, once again working back towards 3×15.

This is an example of how you as an intermediate trainee can still make pretty visible linear progress on a more or less week to week basis. (As a side note, if adding reps is too difficult in a narrow rep range such as 8-12 or 12-15, you can widen the rep range to allow slower progression, i.e., 8-15.)

Which progression system should I choose for exercise [X]?

The line between “compound movement” and “isolation movement” can be a little blurry. Furthermore, for some exercises that are technically compound movements, the isolation movement progression rules can be better suited as they will allow you to progress between the jumps in weight.

The dumbbell overhead press is one such exercise that immediately comes to mind for example. You may be able to progress using the compound movement progression rules for only a short while before the jump to the next set of dumbbells (which is usually in 5lb increments) becomes too great. At this point, you want to move to using the isolation progression rules.

In terms of progression speed: Linear progression > linear periodization > double progression > advanced periodization techniques.

For all exercises, choose the one furthest to the left of the continuum that you can actually progress with. This is the way you’ll progress fastest. When you can’t do the one, you move onto the next.

Are you suggesting I do the novice progression or some lifts and the intermediate progression for other lifts?

Yes. Whatever lift you can do novice progression for, do so, as you’ll progress fastest.

What about advanced progression?

This is for people who have gained 80-90% of their genetic potential in terms strength and/or hypertrophy and are seeking to get the remaining 10-20%. This can get complicated. We spent 18 pages directly addressing it in The Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid, though I consider the entire 176 pages as necessary cover it fully enough, and a lifetime to master. If you enjoyed this article you’ll get a lot out of the book.

Questions welcomed in the comments. – Andy


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Andy Morgan

I am the founder of RippedBody.com, this is my sincere effort to build the best nutrition and training guides on the internet. Some readers hire me to coach them, which I've been doing online, via email, for the last six years. If you're interested in individualized, one-on-one nutrition and training coaching to help you crush your physique goals, let's start the conversation.

64 Comments on “A Detailed Guide To Training Progression”

  1. Hi Andy,

    Can I train my abdominal muscles everyday? Is it good or bad from the point of overtraining? (My goal is good shape and bigger abdominals, not burning fat)

    regards

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  4. Hey Andy,

    Great article. I don’t have access to barbells right now just plenty of heavy dumbbells. What would a linear progression model look like for an intermediate doing heavy DB bench as opposed to a barbell movement where you can make incremental loads. Seems like the typical 10lb jump between doing 80’s then 85’s is quite aggressive.

    Thanks in advance.

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  6. Hi Andy,

    currently I am in the middle of my high volume hypertrophy block. I’m going to start a cut with the end of this mesocycle and do a powerlifting style of training during my cut. I want to test my 1RM before and after a diet to check if I will maintain my strength or even increase it. When I took a look at a calendar checking when I have holiday and a couple of social events I found out it would be the best to test 1RM during a deload after the current hypertrophy block. Do you think it’s a good or bad idea? What are the pros and cons?

    Thanks,
    Maciej

  7. Hi Andy,

    Great article! I’m going to purchase your and Eric’s pyramids very soon (next paycheck), but in the meantime I have a question! I also share Yifan’s question from above (1.04.17). I think you may have misunderstood our question, and I don’t believe he gave it another shot, so I will 🙂

    He asked you about squatting 3 times per week instead of once as you used in your example template, and asked what if you did something along the lines of:

    Monday: 3×8
    Wednesday 3×7 (+5lbs)
    Friday: 3×6 (+10lbs)
    Next Monday: deload
    Next Wednesday: 3×8 (+5lbs)
    etc.

    I believe you thought he was confusing set-rep schemes with progression schemes, and instead suggested using different loads on each day, progressing each day independently.

    But what IF you wanted to actually do what we mentioned? So instead of using 3 separate set-rep schemes for each day of the week and progressing each independently, I guess you would classify our proposal as just using one single set-rep scheme, and treating each day of the week as one step forward in linear periodization.

    I hope this makes sense haha. If you would be able to clarify, it would be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks,
    Sean

      1. Hello,

        I bought the books and read the entire periodization section. Unfortunately I didn’t find what you were referring to in the DUP section (pgs 83-85). I also checked the 800+ questions on the support page and couldn’t find anything unfortunately. I’m probably not doing a good job explaining it.

        Sorry for the bother, I’m just very curious on this one concept. Using the chart on the bottom of pg. 80, training a given lift 3 times per week as it shows, but instead of “on each day you follow the intermediate progression scheme with a different rep range,” as stated, could on each day you follow the intermediate progression scheme with the same one rep range? Or would that mess with the various variables and not allow for good progress?

        If I’m still being too confusing, I apologize I’ll just drop it after this. I’m absolutely loving the books so far btw! Great work!

        Thank you,
        Sean

        1. Hi Sean, thanks for checking back in. So as you read, varying your rep ranges (a form of periodization) may help with further progress (DUP), but that is not to say it is a requirement.

          1. Good to know 🙂 I will definitely switch to DUP in the near future, but I think I’m just going to use the same rep range 3x/week a little longer because I like it haha.

            Thanks!

  8. Week 1 to week 4 is set as 666 555 444 then 44 (deload) my question is if you only hit 554 on week two do You go back to the same weight and re-attempt 555 until you hit the 555 then move to 444 etc

    Or Do you keep moving forward?

    Eg: 666 554 444…. or 666 554 555….

    Its fully not explained in the M&S Pyramid books

    Thanks 🙂

    1. Hi Nas, thank you for the question.

      It’s quite normal for strength to fluctuate across weeks with stresses inside and out of the gym. Thus, not meeting a set-rep target on any given week is not necessarily indicative of issues. See how you feel at the next session. If you feel you can continue to the next progression do it, if not then repeat.
      Did you see the support page we put together? We answered nearly 800 questions.

  9. Hi Andy,

    Was wondering why you’d suggest one adopts linear periodisation before trying double progression?

    Haha the math of linear periodisation is harder to remember..

  10. Hello Andy,

    I’ve been following your site for about 2 months now and I’ve already lost 20 lbs following your nutritional guide and using IF. (about 2.5 lbs per week) so thank you for all that you do!

    Recently I came down with a horrible case of acute gastritis and had to stop IF and my whole eating has been out of wack because I can only stomach certain foods (mostly carbs like bread, and coconut water). My protein and fat intake has been substantially lower than normal since I have zero appetite and the thought of food makes me nauseous. I took a break from working out as well as I recover and wanted to know if you would recommend lifting the weight I was hitting or if I should scale it back a bit and decrease my load since I’ve gone so long without working out? Im scared I’m going to lose some of my hard earned gains during this time and want to minimize that and the risk of injury when I start working out again. Also, I searched the site for an article on what to do when sickness hits as far as training and eating goes but couldn’t find one. If you have any links to an article you trust that goes over what to do when you are sick and how to get back into your normal routine I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks again!

    1. Hi Josh, congrats on the weight loss so far. Your strength will be down a little for 1-3 weeks when you get back into it but that’s all. A good rule of thumb is to lift less than you feel you can on the first session back to avoid soreness for the days after.

      Muscle isn’t built quickly nor will it waste away quickly (barring starvation conditions) so don’t worry about it.

  11. First of all thanks for the best and clearest article on progression I’ve ever read.
    That being said I have two questions which aren’t clear for me yet.
    1) You did answer that question in the comments, but could you clarify a little bit more on what I should do if I’m on linear periodization scheme and I miss a lift anywhere?
    2) On some important exercises (cable row, pulldown) I only have the possibility to add +10lbs. Novice progression won’t be possible pretty soon. Going from let’s say 100 x 8,8 to 110 x 8,8 in 1-2 workouts gets tough. But maybe instead of aiming for 110 x 8,8 in 1-2 weeks I could progress like this?
    100 x 8,8
    110 x 8, 100 x 8
    110 x 8, 110 x 8

    Because I can’t use “normal” novice progression of 100×8,8;105×8,8, 110×8,8. It takes two “progression jumps” anyway, but since +5lbs is impossible, I could use two different weights in second “jump”. Also, doesn’t “+10lbs” complicate linear periodization as well?

    1. Hi Wojtek, thank you for the compliment and the questions, most appreciated!

      1. Sure. Click reply on the comment where I answered and let me know what specifically was unclear.
      2. Sure, that will work. / It does. First, try with 10-pound increments and see how you go. You could consider getting a small 5lb weight designed to go on top of the weight stack. You could also use the isolation movement progression example.

  12. Hi Andy,
    Great article. I feel like I’m about to start again with my programme.

    1. I understand The concept of RIR. however if say you have 3 sets of 5 bench. The purpose is to get 3 sets of 5. If you drop one then you follow the progression scheme. So the first set of 5 maybe RIR of 7, the second would be an 8 and the third maybe a 9 or 10. I would expect it to be like this as each time you are trying yo progress. If you set a RIR of 7 for the whole set then how are you pushing yourself. So in essence I don’t fully understand RIR. Thanks mark

    1. Hi Mark! It’s a purposeful choice to keep the RPE lower. You may find the free RPE email course that Eric Helms and I put together useful, but here is a the relevant section:

      “Some of you might be a little confused right now if you were under the impression that training to failure was a good idea to do on every set or the majority of sets if your goal is hypertrophy.

      Volume is a key component of hypertrophy training. So let’s take a hypothetical situation where you decide to take 3 sets with your 10 rep max (10RM) to failure on all sets and see what your volume is if you don’t change the load.

      If you go all the way to failure on set 1, doing 10 reps and then maintain the same load, you will more than likely drop to ~7 reps on set 2, and then down to ~5 reps on set 3. That means a total of ~22 reps performed with a 10RM load.

      Let’s say instead, you stayed 1 rep shy of failure on your first set and did 9 reps. More than likely you’d be able to maintain 9 reps on set 2 but be pretty damn close to failure, and then on set 3 only be able to get 8. In this case, you got 26 reps with a 10RM load, which is four more reps. Can you honestly say that the former is better for hypertrophy given the importance of volume?

      Well, we don’t have to speculate, because we actually have data to show that training to failure results in similar adaptations to not training to failure…”

      1. Thanks Andy,

        I get that. Volume is improved if you don’t go to failure. So therefore all my sets should be set to an RPE of 7/8 to ensure I get the desired sets X reps. I can therefore apply this to linear progression and periodisation using the principles outlined so using the 5 X 5 eg. 1st 1 X 5 RPE 7 complete, 2nd 1 X 5 RPE 7 complete…….5th 1 X 3 RPE 7, so couldn’t complete all reps to keep 2/3 from failure. Then repeat next session or drop the load next session until I can complete all 5 X 5 at 7RPE. Once that is achieved put the weight up. Is this thinking correct. If it is my follow on question is what is the ideal RPE to apply and secondly how on earth do you know when you have 3 left in the tank. RPE of 9 is easier to establish but by then you’ve blown it. I’ve signed up for the email course a couple of times just haven’t seen anything through. Thanks for your time Andy, mark.

        1. Is this thinking correct.
          – Yes, but in your example, you’d have done another rep in that fifth set as the rep range is 7-8.

          If it is my follow on question is what is the ideal RPE to apply and secondly how on earth do you know when you have 3 left in the tank.
          – There isn’t a single one. It’s another variable like volume, load and frequency to be managed.

          The RPE scale based on repetitions in reserve can be quite accurate if you have experience with it and are not a novice lifter. Having lifting experience ensures you have a better idea of what it feels like to be near or far from failure, and how strong you are at different rep ranges. Also, having practice with the scale ensures you get better at using it as a tool.

          For this reason, novice lifters will not use RPE to formally guide their programming, but rather should simply record RPE values after each set to familiarize themselves with the scale and “anchor” the experience of different intensities of effort, with the RPE scale. Once they have this experience with the scale and have at least a solid 6 months of lifting under their belt, they can then actually use RPE to guide their load selection.

          Remember, for novices especially you want to stay further from failure as a general rule. This is a time where almost any stimulus will act as progressive overload and produce gains, and it’s also very important to ingrain good motor patterns. Thus failure is unnecessary and potentially counter-productive as it’s harder to keep good form while you are close to failure. If you are a novice trainee (or coach novice trainees) then you want to feel that you have at least one or two more good reps left in your tank at the end of all sets, and this will be an RPE of 8-9 at most.

          Now, if you’re a non-novice lifter, before trying to implement a program primarily guided by RPE, I would still recommend tracking RPE (without using it to guide programming) for at least a few weeks. Just perform your regular training routine, and then after each set pause to think how many reps you felt you could have still performed (without any form breakdown), then jot down the appropriate number on the RPE scale in brackets next to wherever you usually log your workouts.

  13. Hey Andy –

    How does failure play in to the linear periodization progression? Using your example above, say I bench 3×8, then 3×7 (+5 lbs), but then fail on the 3rd workout (3×6 +10 lbs) and only get 6, 4, and 3 reps. Would you repeat that 3rd workout? Drop the weight for that entire exercise? Any feedback is greatly appreciated.

    1. Nathan, thanks for the question.

      In this (common) situation, it could be that you failed to progress, or it could just be due to a natural fluctuation in strength. (Strength is not stable as it fluctuates session to session based on stress inside and outside of the gym.) You won’t know which on that day, but you may the next time you hit the gym.
      – If you feel great, consider repeating the third workout.*
      – If not, take the deload.
      *If you’re using intermediate progression for the majority of your exercises, then consider just skipping that and going into the deload, then repeating the same progression the again. This way you will keep the timing of your deload across all exercises.

  14. Great read, Andy.

    I’d often thought about things like this, and this article confirms the hypotheses I came up with, myself: Use linear progression on lifts when possible & incorporate some other progression style on the ones that you can’t.
    I’ve always (since High School) been a *decent* bench presser. So, naturally, when I started training again, that lift progressed the fastest (and thus stalled the quickest). On the other hand, I’d never really deadlifted and my mobility for squat was absolute garbage due to a sedentary lifestyle for 1.5+ decades. So, I was very novice-ish in those lifts, while other lifts were more intermediate. Should I go to an intermediate program while some things were still progressing with LP? How to progress on the more developed lifts while still using LP for the ones where I could? Seemed the answer was some kind of hybrid using LP where possible and whatever model worked on others. This article elucidates a method for progression model selection. Thanks for this.

  15. Hi Andy,

    What would you do if you generally use linear periodisation, but for one of the compound lifts, you use linear progression – do you still do the week 4 deload for that novice lift, or do you continue to add weight to just that one lift while doing the deload for the other lifts?

    Thanks in advance

  16. Andy, thanks for a great article (as always!).

    I have 2 questions:

    1) Do these recommendations hold for all types of programs, both full body, upper \ lower splits and “push-pull-legs” splits?
    In some you train a movement 2-3 times a week and in others maybe 1-2 times a week, and of course the number of rest days between sessions \ movements is different.

    2) can one use the “heavy \ light” scheme, often described in programs like “the texas method”, “madcow”, Mark Rippetoe’s “practical programming” intermediate programs etc., together with the periodization schemes you describe here?

    For example, do one session (for a compound movement) to a 5RM (for example) or 5 sets of 5, then for the next session when you do the same movement, use 80% of the weight, do less sets, or both.

    Mike

    1. 1. Yes.
      2. Looks like it would be compatible if applied to the 5×5 portion, though it’s been a good while since I read PP and can’t remember the finer points. Best to not mess with the set and rep numbers, otherwise you aren’t following the program and may as well just build your own.

      Here’s the sample Intermediate Powerlifting program I mentioned at the end of the article. Due for announcement and release later today but the link will work right now.

      Thanks for the questions Mike. Hope you find that helpful.

  17. Thank you for another great article, Andy.

    Question regarding the progression example you gave for compound movements:
    The table shows the weight going up every 4 training sessions. In the description, you mention that the weight goes up every 4 weeks. So I’m assuming in this example, the particular movement is only being done once per week. For example, if one were to do squat 3 times a week, the weight would go up a little over a week each time right?

    Now, if you are to mix in more than 1 compound movement, and if one movement lags a bit behind and you need to take an extra training session to get to that next point of, for example, 3 sets of 6, then the deload session will go out of sync between your different lifts (this can also happen if, for example, you train squat 3 times a week, but bench press 2 times a week). In this scenario, then is it important to you to have the deload for all lifts to happen on the same day so you get a bigger deload effect as opposed to deload for one lift on one day, then a deload for another lift a few days later?

    Thanks for your time.

    1. For example, if one were to do squat 3 times a week, the weight would go up a little over a week each time right?
      – Yes, that’s right, if you are squatting with the same target intensity (RPE), set numbers and reps. However, an intermediate trainee squatting multiple times per week may progress faster by using a variety of intensities, set numbers and rep ranges on their different squat days. Example:
      DAY 1 3*7-8 reps @6-7RPE,
      DAY 2 5*1-3reps @6-7RPE,
      DAY 3 3*3-5 @8-9RPE

      In this case, you would increase the load independently because the load being used each day is different, which is once per week. Here is an example in the sample Intermediate Powerlifting Program.

      Is it important to you to have the deload for all lifts to happen on the same day so you get a bigger deload effect as opposed to deload for one lift on one day, then a deload for another lift a few days later?
      – There’s the fatigue that we feel in specific muscles and then there is systemic fatigue which is not specific. The novice trainee isn’t generally going to be able to push themselves hard enough to require a full deload of all lifts across a week, and can just do it for single lifts. However, for the intermediate trainee, having periodical deloads (all lifts on the same week) becomes necessary to reduce the baseline of fatigue so that you can continue to lift enough to keep progressing.

      Thank you for the questions, Yifan.

      1. Thank you for the answers, Andy. I have a follow-on question:

        If we compare the 2 squat examples:
        A: 3 days / week. Progress as 3×8, 3×7 (+5lbs), 3×6 (+10lbs), 2×6(deload), 3×8 (+5lbs) …
        B: 3 days / week. 3×7-8 (6-7 RPE), 5×1-3(6-7 RPE), 3×3-5 (8-9 RPE) …

        What is the reasoning behind B “may progress faster” for an intermediate trainee? It seems A would have a higher volume per week than B. Although, B does include some higher intensity training which would translate into better skill for strength on 1 RM attempt for squat. I guess we may have to define “progress faster” here first to make sure we are on the same page: faster hypertrophy or faster PR growth on squat, or maybe both?

        Again, thank you for your time.

        – Yifan

        1. Yifan, thanks. I think there is some confusion here.

          ‘B’ is the set-rep scheme for Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3. ‘A’ is the progression scheme which will be applied to Day 1. The same progression scheme will also be applied to day’s 2 and 3, just with different rep ranges.

          Does it make sense now?

  18. This article literally answered every single question that I had about periodization and progression. I wish I had known this information when I started lifting. It really should be a must read for everyone.

  19. Another great article, thank you so much Andy! I have my copy of both pyramid books and they are a masterpiece. I think the most obvious difficulty here is to left the “Bro” mand behind and take your time to take notes, using your head and stick to it after. Fortunately you cover the psychological part in your article also, so as I’ve said, a really great article.

    Here is a question for you: it is ok to use this progression rules on every routine you recommend here on your site (the big 3, RPT, etc)?

    A big hug from argentina

    1. Hi Maxy, thank you.
      Is ok to use this progression rules on every routine you recommend here on your site (the big 3, RPT, etc)?

      Big 3 – certainly.
      RPT Routine – depends what you mean by the question.
      – If you’re asking in terms of the exercise selection and split, then yes, you can apply it as is.
      – RPT actually refers to reverse pyramiding (heaviest set first), so if you use the progression guidelines above you won’t be reverse pyramiding.
      – Bear in mind that the RPT is an abbreviated routine which can work because the sets are performed at a very high intensity (9-10 RPE). As the RPE will be lower when using the guidelines above, training volume will be lower overall and may need to be increased. Please note the drawbacks I have mentioned of RPT style progression in that article. Recovery/stimulus is harder to balance and it’s not something I use with clients anymore. Examples coming in the next two articles.

      Big hug from Tokyo!

  20. Hi, Andy.

    Great article.
    A little bit bummed that you insist on lbs in your pics and references and it makes it hard to relate to.

    A question. When I’m on a cut oftentimes I feel no energy to get my ass to the gym. It bugs me a lot and sometimes I end up screwing up my diet. Eventually I gave up and calculated my meal plan as “inactive” person and decided to just get my diet in place first. Surprisingly, it worked! I feel much more relaxed and less stressed. I plan to keep it until I reach my target weight (and probably once the January gym attendance spike passes). But, in general, is that a viable option? It sure works for me, but allowing myself to not working out feels… Weird. Do you think this approach is fine when travelling? I always stress a lot when I have a long work-related trip and can’t find a gym there. Should I add some cardio just to keep me moving?

    1. Hi Igor.
      A little bit bummed that you insist on lbs in your pics and references and it makes it hard to relate to.
      Nonsense, just divide by 2.
      Scenario: You’re in a foreign country and a hot girl starts flirting with you in a bar after some games back and forth she walks over but you find out that she only speaks very broken English. Do you:
      a) Tell her you are disappointed and turn away.
      b) Do your damn best with what you have – her broken English, body language and gestures.

      I would put money on you choosing B. No moaning, don’t give yourself excuses.

      When I’m on a cut oftentimes I feel no energy to get my ass to the gym.
      Yes. A calorie deficit is an energy deficit and it can be hard. If it were easy and your body didn’t fight it everyone would be ripped and I would be out of business.

      Surprisingly, it worked!
      If you are basing this on the first week’s scale weight change what you experienced is the initial whoosh of water weight come off from a reduced carb intake. Only a small portion will be fat loss.

      But, in general, is that a viable option?
      When dieting, the most powerful tool we have in our arsenal for holding on to muscle mass is resistance training. Get your arse to the gym.

      The menu is at the top of the site. Everything you need to be successful is here, the only question is whether you are going to put in the effort to read it.

  21. Hey Andy,

    Personally I can’t do all the sets with the same weight and same reps(for example: 5×5 with 200 lbs) simply cannot.I tend to first set of 5, second of 5, but from third set i can’t do 5 reps(only if i reduced the weight, the fatigue come) and because of that i ca’nt do that progression.What is better: decrease the weight and maitain the reps or keep same weight all the set? And for progression: Once I can don the upper limit of prescribed reps on the first set move up the weight?

    Thanks.

  22. Great article!

    The most important piece I was missing is that every exercise is tracked and progressed individually.

    Thanks!

  23. Hi Andy. Again great article!
    What are you’re thoughts on training only 1 time body part a week, for example: Monday squat and then squat again the next week on Monday. My recovery is very slow, still searching for the cause of that btw. But will it slow my progress in muscle gaining because of maybe to much recovery time after the supercompensation?
    Thnx in advance. Greets Marnik

    1. Hi Marnik, thanks for the question.

      A higher frequency will probably work better as you will be able to get in a greater total training volume as well as practice with the lifts. If you are sore right now and have just started training, that is normal. If you have been training for a while then the reason for the prolonged soreness could be too much training at a high RPE (i.e. close to failure).

  24. Would one be able to progressively overload if on a calorie deficit, as novice or/and as intermediate ?

    1. Yes, however, the ability to progress when in a caloric deficit decreases:
      – As training experience increases.
      – As you get leaner.
      – The higher the caloric deficit.

      Thus, you may progress now but find that progress stalls towards the end of your diet. At that point, you just have to wait for the bulk.

      Thanks for the question, Lucky.

  25. What metrics indicate if one is novice or intermediate ? I have been training on and off for 2 years now but have just begun to do major 3 compounds movements. I keep confusing myself with which training method (5×5, RPE, you modified RPE, 3×8) would give me maximum gains.

    1. Hi Lucky, thanks for the questions.

      What metrics indicate if one is novice or intermediate?
      The ability to progress linearly with a movement. Bear in mind that this is a distinction for the purposes of choosing a progression pattern, just an evaluation of the level of training experience per se.

  26. Hi Andy.

    Finally I have a chance to ask this question about progression choice.

    I’m a intermediate lifter and I have micro plates down to 0.25lb. I tried to add 0.5lb tiny weight every week on my squat, but there was still some time I can’t lift it without hitting to failure. But I always feel a bit easier after I move to next week/session and not add weight any more. So I could progress though slow.

    Comparing to such simple progression, is there any advantage of “Linear Periodization” you mentioned? By the way I deloads regularly.

    Thx Andy.

    1. Hi Pingye, thanks for the question.

      Comparing to such simple progression, is there any advantage of “Linear Periodization” you mentioned?
      Yes, it is necessary when linear progression ceases to work, as it pretty much has done for you now. Try it, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

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