How to pick a starting weight for NLP
There is little information on how to get started with Novice Linear Progression (NLP). Personally, I went with what I could lift for 5 reps using my old high bar squat. Needless to say, this was a mistake. I quickly hit a plateau and stopped progressing. My technique was really bad as it was incredibly hard to do a form check while gathering my wits under a heavy bar. Three weeks into my first attempt at NLP, I had to reset and reevaluate.
While I had many things going wrong on my first attempt, a notable one was the starting weight I picked for NLP. Succinctly, it was too heavy to be productive. I have found there are more good reasons to start at a weight you think is light than one where you think you are optimally demonstrating your strength i.e. heavy. As a novice, your first priority is to master good lifting technique. A relatively light starting weight serves this purpose and becomes doubly important when you are without the expert opinion of a coach.
Day 1 of NLP is when you determine your starting weight. It requires a slightly different progression from succeeding workouts due to the absence of a baseline weight from which to improve upon.
It is important to keep in mind that while the primary goal is to determine a comfortable starting weight, every workout is supposed to drive an adaptation. It important, therefore, that the criteria for a starting weight include:
- It reduces bar speed — slows your ascent out of the bottom of the squat
- It challenges your form — regardless of the accuracy of your mental model of the form at the time
Without expert opinion on your execution, it is prudent to be conservative in this approach. It would be far more desirable to err on starting too light than starting too heavy.
Progression of the workout for the first day will require a rather special warmup. Without a target weight to lift yet, it is necessary to utilize a mini linear progression for warm up and settle for the first weight that induces a significant struggle in form and bar speed.
Start with some air squats to rehearse the pattern then proceed to a 3 sets of 5 (3 sets x 5 reps) warm up with an empty bar. Unless the empty bar is already too heavy, you then proceed to start loading the bar in increments of 15/10/5 lbs and a single set of 5s until your ascent slows and your form becomes unsteady. You have determined your starting weight when your bar speed on ascent has slowed down and maintaining your form becomes challenging. You then perform 2 more sets at that weight to complete your first 3 sets of 5 workout.
Here is a sample progression program for the first day:
|Rep Scheme (sets x reps)||Load (lbs)|
|Air Squat 3 x 5||None|
|Squat (w/ bar) 3 x 5||45 lbs|
|Squat (w/ bar) 1 x 5||75 lbs|
|Squat (w/ bar) 1 x 5||95 lbs|
|Squat (w/ bar) 1 x 5||105 lbs (unsteady form!)|
|Squat (w/ bar) 1 x 5||105 lbs (two more sets!)|
A common mistake when starting out is inadequate allotment of rest periods. When strength training, you are not training to overcome fatigue but to exert more force. Rest should, therefore, be ample enough to prevent fatigue in a previous set from interfering with the next. At least 2 minutes of rest per set is recommended.
The duration of rests should give you an idea of how long a typical workout will take. This is a useful benchmark for you to plan succeeding sessions. For reference, a typical workout (Squat, Press, Deadlift) takes between 75 to 100 minutes. If you are trying to fit your NLP into a schedule, it is important to take note and account for this. It is not wise to rush your work sets.
Other lifts follow a similar pattern. Perform a mini linear progression for warm up and settle for the first “challenging” weight — preferring to err on the side of “too light”.
Once you have your starting weight, you can proceed with NLP and your preferences. However, be very conscientious with form and execution and confer the same respect to your warm ups as you would your work sets. Do not cut corners on technique simply because the weight is light.
It may also benefit you if you were to avoid looking into mirrors or reflections during workout. Lack of visual input is known to improve proprioception and makes for a more useful and functional strength. You can develop your technique to be more reliable this way.
It all starts on day one. It is better to make slow steady progress than quick unsustainable ones. Getting stronger involves stress, recovery, and adaptation and the human body needs adequate time to make adjustments. A light enough weight facilitates slow steady acquisition of good technique and greater strength. Do not rush.