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Note: We published this protocol in the Barbell Medicine newsletter in March of 2018, but have since added some additional context, explanation, and recommendations for this intervention. Be sure and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on all the latest content!

A novice lifter is someone who can add weight to the exercises being performed each time they train, typically every 48 hours. Ideally, the increased load functions as both a display of the strength previously developed as well as a training stress designed to facilitate further improvement.

As the novice phase comes to a close however, the increased loading tends to serve more as the display rather than the driver of further progress due to an inadequate amount of progressive overload. While it is true that total tonnage or volume-load, defined as the product of repetitions and weight for all sets, increases workout to workout- the failure to display increased performance, i.e. a missed rep or set, proves that this no longer provides enough stress for the lifter.

At this point, the novice lifter has a choice to make between acutely decreasing the current training stress in order to allow adaptations from past training stress (e.g The Deload Protocol) to occur or, more correctly, increase training stress in order to further strength development (The Development Protocol).

In the first option, the novice lifter will take 10% off the bar weight while keeping the rep scheme and total volume the same (e.g. 3 sets of 5 repetitions), which lowers the stress for a few workouts and allows adaptations of days and weeks prior to occur. Alternatively, the lifter could reduce the repetition range from 5 repetitions to 3 repetitions, which reduces training stress by decreasing fatigue that accumulates during the workout. The problem with either of these approaches however, is that the lifter runs the risk of missing the forest for the trees. By sacrificing current training stress -which is needed for future adaptations- in favor of short-term performance, the lifter is setting themselves up to experience the same problem a few weeks later because the underlying problem (insufficient stress) has not been addressed.

In most cases this is not our preferred approach, as we favor continued development of the newer lifter over a long period of time with minimal accommodations made to solely display -not train- performance. That said, it may be appropriate to use the deload protocol in a situation where the novice lifter has extenuating circumstances such as an extreme life stress (work, relationship, medical condition), has missed training, or has a fluke form issue. Conversely, we consider perpetual cycle of deloading and re-attempting the same workouts over and over again to be inappropriate for outside of these contexts.

With The Development Protocol described herein we are aiming to increase the amount of stress applied to the lifter in a way that improves both their long-term development and short-term performance:

  • Strength/Hypertrophy: Muscle size and neurological efficiency both contribute to strength performance. Hypertrophy is most dependent upon training volume (reps x sets), whereas neurological improvements are best improved with intensities >70%, in general.*
  • Work Capacity: Regular training improves the lifter’s tolerance to and recovery from training. Increasing the amount of training that is done over time improves work capacity, which is a good thing since more training is needed to drive further progress.
  • Skill: Regular exposure to a given task improves performance and proficiency in completing that task. If a lifter wants to press more weight, for example, he or she needs to press more.

*Neurological improvements are somewhat specific as far as their transfer to different tasks. An improvement in a 5 rep maximum (5RM- about 86% of a 1RM) does not guarantee improvement in a lifter’s 1RM, as these represent somewhat different challenges. Similarly, an improvement in a 1RM does not guarantee improvement in a 5RM. Thus, improving neurological efficiency within the context of strength should be somewhat specific for the goals and application(s) of the lifter. 

Training variables like increasing volume, intensity, density of training (reduced rest periods for given amount of work), using novel stimuli (exercise variations), etc. all tend to increase the stress on the lifter, but all do not produce the same adaptations.

For example, when rest periods are decreased to a point that much lighter weights have to be used due to compromised force production by the fatigued muscles, strength improvement suffers. If intensity (weight on the bar) is increased to the detriment of volume, hypertrophy and work capacity suffer. Therefore, we must choose wisely so we don’t cut off our nose to spite our face.

In the Novice Linear Progression (NLP), the most bench press and the press tend to be the first lifts to require more stress to drive further progress. While it has been said that NLP includes “too little volume” for the upper body lifts to begin with, there is no evidence to support that claim. Rather, existing data suggests 5-9 sets per week for a upper body muscle groups trained in compound movements tend to produce good improvements in strength and hypertrophy, though the volume needs to increase over time.

Therefore, when a lifter’s bench and press numbers plateau prior to their squat and deadlift, we propose the following solution as a direct plug-and-play for workouts A and B*:

* Novice Linear Progression (NLP) is set up on an A/B schedule where workouts “A” and “B” are alternated on non-consecutive days, e.g. M/W/F or T/R/Sat.

Workout A
Squats per NLP
Bench x 1 @ +5% from last 5 x 3 sets on LP, then take 15% off the bar for 5 reps x 5 sets
Deadlift per NLP
Press x 8 reps x 4 sets @ -12% from previous press 5 x 3 sets on LP

Workout B
Squats per NLP
Press 1 @ +5% from last 5 x 3 sets, then take 15% off the bar for 4 reps x 6 sets
Power Cleans or Rows per NLP
Close grip bench x 8 reps x 4 sets @ -15% from previous bench press 5 x 3 sets on NLP

With respect to progression, the lifter should attempt to add 2.5-5lbs per week on all sets without going above RPE (rate or perceived exertion) 8, which means having approximately 2 reps left in reserve, i.e. you could’ve done another 2 reps before failing.

Additionally, bench presses are done touch and go style- not paused, whereas overhead presses are all done from a dead stop. If you have a meet coming up, we would recommend alternative programming. Additionally, you can use a belt if you like on both the bench and/or the press. You may find it [the belt] improves your ability to perform a Valsalva and reduces back fatigue from accruing intra-workout prior to any pulling work that needs to be done (deadlifts).

We also recommend limiting rest periods to 4-5 minutes between work sets and continuing to alternate A and B workouts as you were on NLP. The point at which your squat and deadlift stop increasing on SSLP, start The Bridge ,as there are too many limitations in NLP to consider it a viable programming option for a lifter at this point.

We hope this helps! If you have any questions, post them in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

-Jordan Feigenbaum, MD

Join the discussion 43 Comments

  • Mark Troiani says:

    Are you saying that if you hit a plateau in bench (or whatever lift) the best way to overcome it is to build on some other training variable such as volume? Why can’t repeated deloads be used as a solution?

  • Chris says:

    Why 5×5 for bench but 6×4 for press? Just curious.

    • Jordan Feigenbaum says:

      I think presses suffer from more intraset fatigue, so 4’s might help this out (and have in my experience).

  • Fred Frisell says:

    Thank you!

  • Hayden Tharp says:

    You mention that you do not reccommend the deload method for most unless there are extenuating circumstances.
    Questions: how would you go about identifying if the life stressors are too great and warrant a deload? Would that be if they appear to stall sooner than expected?
    Also, if it is identified as necessary to go the deload route how many times would you consider deloading before just moving forward and increasing volume/training stress?

    • Jordan Feigenbaum says:

      I think that in most cases the deload method is readily recognized as something out of the ordinary. If someone stalls sooner than expected then I would argue the original programming is not appropriate for them and they should move on. I wouldn’t deload more than 1-2x (in general) on NLP

  • Henri says:

    Wouldn’t the volume for bench and pressing be lower in the bridge than the volume in this protocol?

    • Jordan Feigenbaum says:

      Yes, as the Bridge would come after this…..

      • Henri says:

        But is your advise not to not move to a program where colume is lower? Being one of the reasons why you don’t like to run it out a la advamced novice or do texas method

  • Jordan Watson says:

    This was exactly what I needed to read today after my demoralizing workout. Thanks for the info Doc

  • Ciro Jaen says:

    Just what I was looking for! Thank you.

    Question: for how long should I do this ok plug in?

  • Eduardo R says:

    Should it also be RPE 8 in the Press and Bench x 1 @ +5% from last 5 x 3 sets on LP?

    Press from a dead stop means it should not be like the press 2.0 with no dynamic start?

    Also this workouts are much longer than the NLP.

    • Jordan Feigenbaum says:

      Ideally the single would be RPE 8. The dead stop denotes no touch and go presses. And no, these workouts are not much longer than NLP on the folks we’ve tested them on.

  • Andre Silva says:

    Hey Doc Jordan what you think about using with a rep range like 4 to 6 reps as form to auto-regulations after stalling in the NPL? For example: Bench Press 185x3setsx 4-6 reps( when able to hit 6 reps increase the load; 5 reps= matain the load and 4 reps decrease the load)
    Thank you and greetings form Brazil

  • Jordan Watson says:

    Mr. Jordan,

    My apologies I read it somewhere and can’t seem to find the info.

    What was your suggestions on a squat light day again Sir?

    Squats are extremely taxing on me (6’5″) especially starting my workout with them. I was thinking of always having my middle workout day a light day, in addition to the Plug and Play.

    Any feedback would be greatly appreciated- cheers Doc

    • Jordan Feigenbaum says:

      I don’t recommend a light day squat.

      • Adam McCormick says:

        In a podcast (Starting Strength Novice Linear Progression Tips and Tricks) you (Dr. Feigenbaum) said you will do a light squat day at about 80% for 2 sets of 5, to aid in recovery. Have you changed your thinking on this?

  • Dean Friedland says:

    Hi Jordan,

    I am doing NLP and was wondering if I should extend my rest periods past 5 mins when that duration no longer allows me to complete all reps on all work sets. What is your opinion? I believe I read in Starting Strength that increasing rest times to 8+ minutes is acceptable.

  • James Oates says:

    This is excellent. I can see the rationale and, moreover, it works in practice. I’d been unwittingly incorporating the deload protocol, only to hit the same wall a few weeks later with little to no progress. It was frustrating and de-motivating. This article had helped massively. Thank you.

  • Sam says:

    For various life related reasons I’ve done the an LP with one session a week aware that it will be compromised, but it’s better than nothing (it is going surprisingly well).

    Predictably my press has stalled first. Would there be a way to adapt this plug in to those circumstances?

    Cheers

  • chris a. says:

    Bench x 1 @ +5% from last 5 x 3 sets on LP then take 15% off the bar for 5×5

    Are you recommending 3 sets of 5 reps at the increased weight, dropping and doing another 5×5 at the reduced weigth?

  • chris a. says:

    We are supposed to do a 1×1 for the first set?

  • thisisjakeboyce says:

    So I stalled out on squats at least twice and I’m on a light squat day on Wednesdays but the weight still goes up 5 lbs each on Monday and Friday. My deadlift goes up 5lbs a week (only one heavy deadlift day though, the other 2 days are for rows, and lighter deadlifts with some volume). Squat is currently 240lbs and deadlift is currently 280lbs. But both my press and bench press keep stalling out (currently 120lb press and 158lb bench). I’m 6 months into LP, I’ve gained 30lbs in weight (currently 160lbs at 5’9″), and I’m 29 years old. Am I done with LP at this point and is it time to move onto the Bridge (just bought the Master Template Bundle btw!)? Or should I use the plug-in above?

    • Jordan Feigenbaum says:

      It sounds like you’re very underweight (potentially) with a stalled bench and press. Doing LP for 6 months at the numbers you’re at sounds very suspect, but you could do the plug in and gain some weight (potentially).

  • John colbat says:

    Great article, just what I was looking for. I am doing LP currently after two years of lay-off.
    I haven’t tried the plug-in yet but concerned if it will aggravate my bicep tendinitis/tendinosis (old injury) with so much pressing and dramatic increase in volume
    .
    Is it worthwhile just doing a max set and 5×5/6×4 backup sets and skipping the 4×8 sets initially and se how it works with slightly increased volume?

  • Alex Sinclair says:

    Hi Jordan so just to be clear is that 1 rep at +5% or 1 set at +5%? Then followed by 5 sets of 5 at -15%?
    Will definitely try this when I inevitably stall on press and bench.

    Thanks.

  • ES says:

    Hey Jordan, thank you for sharing this. My press is stalling but my bench press is still improving on LP. In this case would you recommend switching to the plug-in anyway?

  • Eddie says:

    Wait, so you’re saying we should bench AND press on Workout A and press AND bench on Workout B? Wouldn’t that be too much volume for the upper body for a single day?

  • Dennis van Vondelen says:

    Hi Jordan, thank you very much for addressing this issue (and providing a solution!) of stalling on these movements.
    I use exactly the warm-up schedule provided in the article “Our warm up is….a warm-up” on the SS site by Nikki Sims.
    For schedule A, for example, where you have put Benching in the middle (as I recall SS uses SQ,Press, DL for A and SQ,Bench,PC for B schedule in the LP) should I warm-up as for the last 3×5 and then proceed with the plug-in, starting with the 1×1? And what about the warm-up for the Press which follows at the end of schedule A? Perhaps the same warm up as for the DL (which is a shorter version, as prescribed in the article?)
    I have the same questions, of course, for your B schedule with the plug-ins.
    Thank you very much for time.
    Greetings Dennis from the Netherlands.

    • bbmedicine says:

      I would not follow the SS prescribed warm up, as I think decreasing the reps during the warm up offers few, if any, training advantages.

      Rather, I would have someone do sets of 5 repetitions all the way up to their work sets of 5 or, if following this plugin, until they hit their single.

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