The best strength program for novices
The Novice Linear Progression (NLP) is arguably the best strength program for new lifters. It is an A/B type program where you workout 3 times a week for as long as you are able to add weight each workout. The program design is simple and easy to follow which belie it’s brutal but effective approach to strength acquisition .
NLP was introduced by Mark Rippetoe in his book “Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training” as a straightforward way for novices to get stronger. Untrained people which make up the large majority of trainees all fall under the novice category. Uncle Rip posits, that for these people, barbell training using NLP is the best way to get strong.
A key difference of NLP from most strength programs is the absence of “cycles”. As the name implies, NLP training is linear; there are no de-loads, no cycles, and no timeframes (nothing definite at least). You only progress forward to heavier and heavier weights every workout until doing so is no longer possible.
The definition of novice is important in NLP as it determines your progress within the program. You are considered a novice only when you are able to lift light enough weights that can be recovered from in 2-3 days. It is important to note, however, that “light” is relative in this definition. A more helpful reference I have found is that a weight can be considered light if you are able to recover from lifting it in 2-3 days; the weight is heavy otherwise.
You are nearing the end of your NLP once you are able to lift heavy weights — those that take more than 3 days to recover. At this point, you are closer to an intermediate lifter than a novice and will soon have to transition into an intermediate training program such as the 5x5 or the Texas method to continue getting stronger.
This is how NLP ends. Trainees that successfully complete their NLP become intermediate lifters.
NLP focuses on 5 lifts that train for strength and power. There is a huge emphasis on training the core and lower body as they are the largest contributor to force production; and force production essentially defines strength.
|Workout A (sets x reps)||Workout B (sets x reps)|
|Squat 3 x 5||Squat 3 x 5|
|Press 3 x 5||Bench Press 3 x 5|
|Deadlift 1 x 5||Power Clean 5 x 3|
These workouts are performed 3 times a week, typically with at least a day gap in between workout days. A classic workout schedule is to lift on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The program is performed by alternating workout A and B each workout day.
|Week 1||Workout A (Mon, Fri), Workout B (Wed)|
|Week 2||Workout B (Mon, Fri), Workout A (Wed)|
|Week 3||Workout A (Mon, Fri), Workout B (Wed)|
Another schedule I usually prefer is to lift on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Likewise, you alternate workout A and B each workout day. Either schedule is good. What matters is that you are able to stick to it until your NLP is over.
Before you start doing this program however, it is important to note whether or not you know exactly how to perform these lifts. Most people don’t. Like 95% of people do not know how to correctly perform these lifts. You probably do not know either. I did not know either when I started NLP.
Ignorance is an important problem to address early on because it is hard to self-diagnose and it messes up everything. This is an important fact that applies beyond strength training. You need to first educate yourself. You will otherwise be griping with lack of progress when you should be griping for lack of knowledge.
Unfortunately, the large majority of fitness gurus, trainers, and coaches out there do not know correct lifting technique. This may infuriate some trainers but it is true. Most of the “ripped” gym trainers lounging around in your typical gym have no idea how to get strong. Most of them aren’t even strong even if they look so.
Instead, I suggest you pick up a copy of “Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training. 3rd Edition” and read at least the first couple of chapters on lifting technique. Otherwise, checkout various YouTube videos on how to perform the Starting Strength (SS) lifts. Alan Thrall’s channel is a good resource for how-tos on SS lifts.
Once you start your NLP, do not quit. It is easy the first few workout since you start with a light load (again with the relativeness here) and your technique with the lifts must take priority. But as you progress several weeks into the program, the ever increasing weight will start to demand more of your grit. Great physical strength requires mental fortitude. Do not chicken out of your workouts when they get heavy.
That said, also be sure to rest adequately (6-8 hours of sleep) and to eat enough to recover. Uncle Rip recommends consumption 3000-6000 calories per day including a gallon of milk. That may sound way over the top but what we can take away here is that you have to make absolutely sure you are getting enough nourishment to recover and adapt from the stress you are subjecting yourself to. At the later phases of NLP, you will be under immense physical stress; you will be lifting the heaviest you can in your life. Be sure you are recovering sufficiently.
For as long as you can (but no longer), stay in the NLP phase of training; it is here that you make the most gains in strength. It is simple. It is effective. And, it is specially designed for novices who are able to keep up with the brutal pace of NLP. By the time you complete it, you will be the strongest you have ever been.