When is it Time to Move on from Linear?

When is it Time to Move on from Linear?

-Matthew Cavalier


Just about all of us who found our way into strength training have at one point done a linear progression style of programming. It’s so simple and so perfect for beginners. Focus on the main barbell exercises, throw in the necessary fundamental accessories and focus on getting better every single session. You either decide to progress by incrementally increasing the load on the bar or by increasing the volume every single session. This style of programming is tried and true. There are very good reasons why this programming is recommended to so many people. It's a very simple programming style to execute with a focus on the fundamentals of movement under a submaximal load. It’s practically a fool proof program that doesn’t require much though. It’s very easy to manipulate and change as an athlete gets stronger and better. Athletes can utilize a linear program for a very long time, usually a span of years.


Obviously, linear is not the only style of programming that exists out there. There are several schools of thought about strength training. From Western block periodization to German volume training, there is certainly a plethora of programs to choose from to advance a person’s strength training. Before you think about hopping on any of those programs, how do you know when you’re ready? Certainly, you don’t want to do anything that can compromise the progress you’ve made over the years. Is it really necessary to leave a style of programming that has been so effective for so long? The answer will vary from person to person. There’s no universal answer. However, there are a few indications that someone should think about moving on from linear progression. One indication is that it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to recover from session to session. Linear progression does allow an athlete to lift ever increasing weight from session to session. However, as an athlete gets stronger and becomes more capable of lifting heavier weights, the recovery demand will become more substantial in relation to a beginner. The 24 to 48 hour break in between sessions just won’t be enough time for the body to recover from having to deal with heavier loads. Another indication is that progress has stalled. This really goes hand in hand with recovery, but if an athlete is at a point where they cannot progress with anymore weight or repetitions, then it may be time to think about changing to a different style of programming.


It is also important to know what the goals are. Linear progression is great for building a base level of strength, but it may not be suitable for someone that wants to move towards something more specific. For example, someone who wants to try their hand at powerlifting will have to alter their training to meet the needs of that sport. The same would be said for someone who may want to compete in strongman or crossfit. The more specific a person gets with their training goals, the more they will have to adapt their training to satisfy the new demands. If someone wants to be competitive in powerlifting, it doesn’t do much good to always stick with sets of five on their primary exercises. They are going to have to train within the demands of their sport, and that is to lift as much weight as possible in a single rep. If someone wants to compete in a strongman or crossfit competition, they will need to train for multiple energy systems as those sports are not solely a measurement of strength. Eventually, an athlete in those sports will have to worry about things like transition times, carrying and triple extension. As previously stated, the greatest use of linear progression in programming is to help an athlete or person establish a base of strength and conditioning.

Once you’ve established a solid base level of strength and have a direction you want to transition to, then it’s time to look at the possibilities in terms of programming. A common style of training to “graduate” to is block training where an athlete will train a specific energy system for a period of time before progressing to the next. There are also styles like conjugate and cube training that allow an athlete to train multiple energy systems simultaneously. Whichever direction you choose to go in, make sure that it will do two things: it will help you satisfy your goals and it is something that you will be able to commit to. Like linear progression, they will only work if you buy into the program and commit to training it as hard as you can for a long period of time.


If you are someone who really enjoys linear programming, and doesn’t like to stray away from it, you can always come back to it. After a competition or hiatus from training for whatever reason, you can always come back to linear programming to rebuild that base and prepare yourself for the next challenge. Once I am done with my next strongman competition, I will look at getting back on a linear program to help rebuild my base and get a little more well rounded before diving back into specificity. Because of its simplicity, you really can’t go wrong with it.


If you are within driving distance of Baton Rouge and need a place to train for your next strongman competition, powerlifting meet or weightlifting meet, check out the Atlas Strength shop for all of your training needs. Send an email to cameron@atlasstrengthshop.com for your next visit. You can also check out our apparel line and programming options on our website. Be sure to like our Facebook page, here, and follow us on Instagram, here. Do you need a high quality energy supplement that won’t leave you with that crashing feeling? Check out veteran owned strikeforceenergy.com and use promo code ATLASSTRENGTH at checkout to get 20% off of your order. If you’re like me, and you like to bite down while lifting, you need to protect your teeth. Check out Impact Mouthguards and their custom molded mouth guards. Use promo code ATLASSTRENGTHSHOP at checkout to get 10% off of your order.  But wait? What if you have a glorious Beard?  Check out FerociousBeard.com and use Promo Code “ATLASSTRENGTH” to save 15% on all o your beard care!!

On November 19, 2022, the Atlas Strength Shop will be hosting its third annual strongman competition, the Rougarou Classic. If you  are interested in competing, check out the event page on ironpodium.com


“You want science and studies? F@$k you. I've got scars and blood and vomit.” - Jim Wendler