What's Next After Linear Progression? Can I Still Progress?
June 10th 2019
I know that feeling - you are working hard with your linear progression program. Then, all of a sudden, it stops working. Should you move to another program?
If you have any experience in the weight room, this should be no strange experience for you. You pick a program, which is linear by nature. After all, as a beginner, you should make progress no matter what you do. But after some time, father time comes swooping in and ruins your progress. Now what, it left you down and somewhat broken. What should you do after a linear progress program, like Greyskull LP or Starting Strength?
What to do after linear progression?
Lifters need to use their common sense and trust their gut on what to do next. While I am a firm advocate on challenging your limiting beliefs, do not throw logic out of the window. If you are truly stalled with linear progression, using an intermediate program like 5/3/1 is the next step on your strength training journey.
I am telling you what you should not do. You should not give up. As you become more experienced in the gym, you will need to direct some energy in optimizing what you should do. This means that your routine needs to be carefully planned and analyzed. As a beginner, you may have gotten away with just pick a program and roll with that. You may have read some of my previous articles or watched some other videos after staying consistent with your program, for at least one year.
Okay, so you did that. A few months to a few years go by and you find that you cannot make any more progress with linear progression. While it is ideal to maintain a linear progression forever, it is not realistic for most lifters. Their bodies have adapted to the squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press well enough that it needs more than just 3 sets of 5 reps in order to continue making gains.
If you have browsed my article about linear progression limits, you can begin to understand and internalize why you may be slowing down with your progress. There is also some common sense involved with your linear progression limits but that is another story for another article.
But the biggest question you have is, what to do next? Well, I am still figuring that out even though I have over 6 years of strength training experience. For the most part, I have only been doing a “linear progression” style of programming no matter which program I modify or select. Though I have done programs like Kizen Offseason Program, I still stuck to my roots with trying to maintain a linear progression.
And my results?
After about 2 years of training, that was when I hit a true stall. 4 years after that, I went through several injuries and was focused on rebuilding. I never really tested my maxes until my 5th year of strength training. Regardless though, I have still not reached some levels of rep PRs I accomplished in the past. I did, however, started increasing my maximal strength and started to focus more on my PRs. For better or for worse, I think that my progress was sub-optimal. Though I made progress, I always felt that I could have worked harder to achieve a bigger PR. But my results should speak for themselves.
On one hand, I did slowly rebuild my strength and completely revamped my physique. I stayed injury-free and got to really enjoy my training. On the other hand, I did not really “push” myself as hard as I wanted to reach for my goals.
But to get back on topic, what would I do differently?
Get started on 5/3/1
There is no perfect program and no one program will fit all your requirement. However, there are some programs that are better than others and you should vet which programs can help you achieve your goal.
I will actually be started 5/3/1 (finally) after 4 years of really stalling with linear progression. Why so long? I was stubborn for one. I thought I could continue to progress with linear progress (in a way, I was right). Increasing weight is not the only way you can continue progress. Many lifters can also increase the number of sets they can do and/or decrease the amount of rest time they take in between sets. Together with these three different parameters, you can still do a linear progression for a long time.
If I am honest with myself, what I did was a bit strange. I would reset over and over again. I would always stay within the 60-80% range and continue to hammer those sets for 4-8 reps all the time. And I did this for years. It was pretty frustrating to not be able to hit my working set numbers that I wanted to hit. But I had to remember that I am no longer a beginner and that recovery can take longer as I continue to gain more strength.
So, what is the take-home message? After you stall once or twice, I would challenge you to figure it out. See if you are truly stalled or if you are just slacking.
Oh yeah, and FYI, I will be using this link for my 5/3/1 calculator. I will be doing the Big But Boring (BBB) variation (also found here, for more information). If you prefer a paperback copy, you can get yours here.
Challenge your beliefs
Everyone else is saying that you should be switching to another program, including me in a way. But here is the other side of the story, are you truly done with linear progression? Depending on how passionate you are with your training, how much can you push yourself?
Your body is capable of a lot more than you can ever imagine. Even Chris Duffin deadlifted 400kgs/880lbs for cancer for 16 days straight until he was injured. And you are telling me you cannot even try to see if you are truly done with linear progression?
Sleep more. Remove stressful events from your life. If you are in a caloric surplus, more power to you. Challenge your viewpoints on strength gains. Sure, a lot of veteran lifters are saying that you should not do this or that. But if they were not there to tell you that, what would you do? What would you not do? These are some of the many questions you must ask yourself when deciding on another program.
Do what makes sense
If linear progression is literally not working for you, why force yourself to continue? A lot of lifters like to tunnel into a program and turn off their brains. I can see where that mentality comes from since we are all lifting heavy weights that hurt. I get that. But how will you make logical decisions if you do not use your brain? You need to use common sense in order to both continue progress and minimize your injury risk.
I am confident you clearly know what has worked for you and what did not. Go from those clues. Use your online resources to your advantage. It will make your lifting journey a whole lot smoother and less stressful.
You can literally do anything you like after linear progression. That is one of the best things about strength training - you have the freedom to do whatever it is you like. With that freedom comes great responsibility. Do the wrong things and you will hinder your progress or worse, set yourself back.
One of the most logical things to do is to do an intermediate strength training program. Instead of making progress after every single workout, you will make progress after every single week. This is a healthy progression and something that will take a huge load off your mind when it comes to figuring out what to do.