The Truth About “Rippetoe’s” Linear Progression What actually happens when you eat like a pig and lift like a madman

Everybody thinks that linear progression is a magical thing that will turn you into a mean machine in the fastest way possible. It’s certainly one of the quickest way to reach higher numbers, but there are many points that need to be clarified. The today’s question is: what actually happens during the so-called novice linear progression?

How does “novice linear progression” work?

Imagine that you are trying to fill an empty bucket or a tub without spilling any liquid on the ground. In the beginning it’s pretty easy, and one can use a powerful stream because the bucket is completely empty and there is almost no chance of spilling liquid. Once 70-85% of the bucket have been filled with water, it becomes significantly harder not to spill liquid unless the force of the stream is reduced significantly.


In essence, linear progression is just that – an initial strong stream used to fill the base and up to 85% of the bucket. The idea is that a novice lifter comes as an empty bucket/tub, and there is no need for complicated periodization (slow stream), which will just slow down progress.

When does linear progression end?

As you can guess, sooner or later the progress you are getting from linear progression comes to an end. Each session will feel like a fight for survival, and you are simply going to hurt yourself and stall, if you choose to keep on trying to add weight forever.

Your joints will start to complain and you will even regress to lower numbers because your body can’t handle the beating. Back in the day, I experienced the exact same thing, trying to squat 140 kg in less than 6 months of training. I reached 132,5 kg and stalled. However, I didn’t stop. I kept on trying. Guess what? I got a severe hip inflammation. My hip would start shaking during squats without me being able to stop it. Very stupid move.

Most of the time linear progression ends around the following numbers:

Squat – 1.5 BW

Once you get close to a squat equaling 1.5 times your bodyweight, it’s over for most people. I don’t care what anybody tells you. That’s a fact and I have plenty of evidence. It worked this way with me, and many people have reported similar experience.

In a post entitled “This is why you run a novice linear progression, 1605 lbs in 6 months” on Reddit.com, a man under the name “BelligerentBehemoth” posted the following:

Squat before linear progression – 275 lbs for five reps at 290 lbs personal bodyweight;
Squat after linear progression – 545 lbs for fiver reps at 340 lbs personal bodyweight;

Guess, what? 545 lbs at 340 lbs is 1.6 BW.

There are many more examples and even Zack Evetts, who back in 2009/10 trained under the wing of none other than Mark Rippetoe, ended his linear progression with a 345 lbs squat for five reps done at 242 lbs personal bodyweight {source} This is exactly 1.42 BW.

Guys like that are a perfect example of what actually happens when you stuff your body with calories and lift – you simply become a large bucket and more water is needed to fill the initial 70-85%. However, you still ain’t developing top end strength.

That’s why most permabulkers have incredibly weak squats for their bodyweights. In what universe is a 345 lbs squat considered strong when you weigh 242 lbs yourself?

Just a bigger bucker to fill, that’s all.

Bench press – 0.9-1.2 BW; The higher number is for people who have good structure for the bench press – wide shoulders, short arms.

Deadlift – 2 – 2.5 BW; The higher number is for people who have good structure for the lift – long arms.

Overhead barbell press – 0.5 – 0.7 BW;

So, is linear periodization good for beginners? 

Yes, it’s a fine tool to use for about 3-4 months. After that it’s better to switch to something with less frequent progression. It’s also worth noting that in the long run you will still do fine, even if you start with a more advanced program straight from the beginning. Sure, linear progression may take you to a certain level in 3 months while a more advanced program may get you there in 6 months, but since you are going to be lifting for years and years – it’s not the end of the world.

Should I get fat/become a bigger bucket?

A lot of people get caught in the number games and allow themselves to get fat as hell. The fatter you are the more weight 1.5 BW squat equals. Cool, but you ain’t developing high end strength for your bodyweight. Sooner or later, you will have to stop. You can’t keep on getting fatter forever just to lift more weight.

It’s like building a bigger and bigger engine to increase the power of a car. There comes a point when the engine will be so heavy and large that the fuel expenses will be way too high to drive the vehicle in the first place. It’s better to build a more efficient engine instead.

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