What Is Linear Progression
Simply put, its progress over a period of time that incrementally trends upward. Imagine a graph, it starts at the bottom left corner and as the line moves to the right it angles up as well. Now this line should not spike straight up, nor should it go back down at any point. The most ideal scenario is the line moves slightly up consistently across the time domain without any plateau or drop.
Let’s use a 12-week cycle as an example. Across those weeks the line should move consistently up as it moves to the right, but should not spike, because if it spikes then the athlete is likely to plateau and halt the progress. The “spike” is what happens when an athlete tries to do too much too soon. Remember, this is progress across 12 weeks, not 3. It seems like really good progress to get it done quickly, however, it is going to come with its consequences, such as increased injury risk or less improvement on technique.
Pro’s And Con’s
As with any form of training, there will always be pro’s and con’s.
- Progressive loading allows for less likelihood of plateauing
- Lower risk of injury/overtraining
- Increased opportunity to focus on technique while increasing strength
- Highly researched and timeless strategy for strength training
- Easier to track progress
- Takes time
- If an athlete is having an off day it could be tough to work at the intensity necessary to continue with the gradual increase in weight thus making for a day/week which is lighter than the previous
- While still effective, it can be considered boring to advanced athletes (5+ years of consistent strength training)
What Does Linear Progression Look Like?
Now for the fun part, let’s put together a linear progression structure to use as an example.
Let’s use Back Squat as our movement:
- Week 1-3: 10’s
- Each squat day athletes will perform 3×10 at 60%
- Week 4-6: 5’s
- Each squat day athletes will perform 5×5 at 70%
- Week 7-9: 3’s
- Each squat day athletes will perform 6×3@80%
- Week 10-12: 1’s
- Each squat day athletes will perform 10×1@90%
Now, this is a very simple example, but notice that as the reps decrease, the sets increase and the weights do as well. So for an athlete who has a 1 rep max back squat of 100lbs, they would perform their 3×10 at 55lbs, and so on, working up to 85lbs for the 10×1. This takes place over the course of 12 weeks, which can be perceived as slow progress, however, the opportunity it brings is the chance to improve technique at the same rate as improving strength, which reduces the risk of injury and over training, and a lower likelihood to plateau.
Differing Rep Schemes
What is the purpose of the changing rep schemes? Aside from coinciding with the increasing intensity/percentages, the high rep/low set working its way to the low rep/high set actually has a purpose.
10’s: Having a high number of reps each set, with only a few sets, means lower weight. The idea here is to increase time under tension leading to more muscle growth and better ability to focus on technique.
5’s: This allows an athlete to still get a fair amount of time under tension, however, because it is half the reps that means the weight can increase. This allows for a good balance of muscle growth and strength gain, but also still light enough to give some attention to technique.
3’s: At this point, an athlete has spent 6 weeks solidifying their technique while also increasing muscle size. This means it is time to make the strength gain the priority while still having a small amount of time under tension. The athlete’s body has adjusted to time under tension and increased its ability to recover which makes higher intensity training to be feasible.
1’s: Time to make weight the absolute main focus. Here the athlete will have a very small amount of time under tension because they are now chasing the intensity rather than the muscle gain or technique. This prepares the body for reaching a maximal weight by taking the muscle and technical gain from the previous 9 weeks and finally adding in maximal nervous system recruitment by focusing on single reps at their heaviest weights.
It Takes Patience
Whether you choose to use linear progression or any other form of strength training, it takes patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is proper technique and strength. Be consistent, listen to your body, and trust the process. Strength gain is a marathon, not a sprint.