127 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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…”

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

    2. 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

    3. 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?

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. Great article!

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

    Thanks!

  13. 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).

    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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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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