The Truth About Rippetoe’s Linear Progression

| by Truth Seeker |

Many beginners believe that linear progression is a magical strategy that will turn them into a mean machine in no time. It’s certainly one of the quickest ways to reach higher numbers, but there are many points that need to be clarified.

How does the novice’s 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, you can use a powerful stream because the bucket is completely empty, and there is almost no chance of spilling liquid. Once 70-85%  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 up to 85%.

The idea is that a novice lifter comes as an empty bucket/tub, and there is no need for complicated periodization because it will just slow down the progress.

When does linear progression end?

Sooner or later, each session will start to feel like a fight for survival. Eventually, you will stall or even regress to lower numbers because your body will fail to recover.

Back in the day, I experienced the exact same thing. I really wanted to squat 140kg, but I reached 132.5kg and stalled. However, I didn’t stop. I kept on trying. Guess, what? I got a severe hip inflammation.

In most cases, linear progression ends around the following numbers:

Squat – 1.5 BW

Once you get close to a squat equaling 1.5 times your bodyweight, the linear progression is over for most people.

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

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

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

There are many more examples. For instance, Zack Evetts, who back in 2009/10 trained under the wing of Mark Rippetoe, ended his linear progression with a 345lbs squat for five reps done at 242lbs personal bodyweight {source} This is exactly 1.42 BW.

Guys like that are a perfect example of what actually happens when you bulk too much – you simply become a large bucket and more water is needed to fill the initial 70-85%.

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

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

Bench press – 0.9-1.2 BW

The higher number is for people who have a good structure for the bench press – wide shoulders, short arms.

Deadlift – 2- 2.5 BW 

The higher number is for people who have a good structure for the lift – long arms.

Overhead barbell press – 0.5 – 0.7 BW

The higher number is for people who have a good structure for the press – wide shoulders, short arms.

So, is linear progression good for beginners? 

Yes, it’s a fine tool to use for about 3-5 months. After that, it’s better to switch to a slower progression.

It’s also worth noting that in the long run, you will do fine even if you start with a more advanced program right from the beginning.

P.S. The post on natural potential has been updated.

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  1. Ryan

    Should these numbers be for 5 rep maxes or 1 rep max?

  2. Me

    Numbers should be a 1RM not a 5RM

  3. Hammer

    If you do Starting strength you’ll be getting well above these numbers for a set of 5 by advanced novice (maybe not the 2.5 for deadlift, but 2.0 * bodyweight)

    I certainly have years before and currently have been doing running it for about 6 weeks and are doing all of those for sets of 5. ;), and at a much lower weight than before so I anticipate setting all time PRs for myself by at least 20 lbs lighter than previously.

  4. Mm

    Where SS gets you depends upon some factors including age and genetics. As a 42 year old I did much better on press, spot on for bench and dead, and slightly worse for squat.

    SS is a bit of a con though as it’s all about eating more. It’s great to have a +2.5BW deadlift but unless your large framed that 240 pounds you ended up weighing is gonna make you feel like shit.

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