Fundamental Concepts for Strength Training

What is a Linear Strength Progression?

This guide covers fundamental concepts of strength training that every woman should read and understand before training with Spitfire Athlete.

It all starts with your first linear strength progression. A linear strength progression is where you train the major barbell lifts three days  week and increase the amount of weight you lift in a linear fashion each training day.

Usually, you increase your squat and deadlift by 5lbs and your bench press and overhead press by 2.5lbs.

We believe that every woman, no matter her age, her training background, or experience level should go through a linear progression at least once in her life and ideally, at the beginning of her strength training journey.

A linear progression is the most efficient way she can become the strongest she can be.

The Warrior: Barbell Strength Cycle with Squats, Deadlifts, and Bench Pressing is the perfect beginner strength training plan for every woman.

In The Warrior, you will build your strength with the squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press.

In our intermediate strength plan, The Powerlifter, you build on top of these exercises with the power clean, chin-ups, and back extensions. You don’t need a million different exercises to get strong. You just need to lift heavier, little by little, over time. This is called progressive overload.

What is progressive overload?

In order for a muscle to grow, strength to be gained, performance to increase, or for any improvement to occur, the human body must be forced to adapt to a stress that is greater than what it has previously experienced.

Let’s say that you start squatting your bodyweight three times a week for 3 sets of 5 reps. You continue doing this exactly for a month. How strong are you going to be by the end of the month?

You may be tempted to think that you’ll become really strong. But actually, you’ll only be slightly stronger than when you started. Why? Because your body doesn’t care that you are consistent with your training – it only adapts if it’s forced to adapt.

Doing the exact same workout with the exact same weights will not cause your body to adapt after the initial stimulus. Because once it has adapted to squatting 3 sets of 5 reps at your bodyweight, it will not expect to lift more, so it will not prepare to lift more and it will not become stronger.

You can exercise every day – but if your training isn’t structured to provide a progressive overload towards your goal – your body will not change beyond the initial adaptation. This concept applies to any athletic ability you want to improve: strength, endurance, power, flexibility, and so on.

On the other hand, let’s say that you squat 3 days a week starting with your bodyweight for 3 sets of 5 reps. Now let’s say that each training day you increase the weight you lifted by 5lbs. How much stronger will you be by the end of the month?

We can actually quantify this: 5lbs * 3 days * 4 weeks = 60lbs. You can measurably lift 60lbs more than when you first started.

As you progress as an athlete, care must be taken to design a training program that actually develops the improvements you seek by adjusting the right variables in a structured way.

This is why we aren’t a fan of randomized workouts. Randomized workouts are fine if your goal is to just exercise. But if you want to hit specific goals, you need to train. The foundation of every great training plan is structured progressive overload that is appropriate for the athlete and the desired stimulus and that assists her productively in the pursuit of her goal.

Week 1

Let’s take a look at how our weights would increase on just the barbell squat if we followed a linear progression for four weeks.

Monday: Barbell Squat – 3 sets of 5 reps – 45lbs

Wednesday: Barbell Squat – 3 sets of 5 reps – 50lbs

Friday: Barbell Squat – 3 sets of 5 reps – 55lbs

Week 2

M: 60lbs

W: 65lbs

F: 70lbs

Week 3

M: 75lbs

W: 80lbs

F: 90lbs

Week 4

M: 95lbs

W: 100lbs

F: 105lbs

Assuming your starting weight is 45lbs (the weight of a standard powerlifting barbell), within a month, you can see you’ve basically doubled how much you are squatting. Quantified strength gains – how beautiful is that?

But let’s keep going to weeks 5-10.

Week 5

M: 110lbs

W: 115lbs

F: 120lbs

Week 6

M: 125lbs

W: 130lbs

F: 135lbs

Week 7

M: 140lbs

W: 145lbs

F: 150lbs

Week 8

M: 155lbs

W: 160lbs

F: 165lbs

Week 9

M: 170lbs

W: 175lbs

F: 180lbs

Week 10

M: 185lbs

W: 190lbs

F: 195lbs

Within 10 weeks it is possible for your squat to go from the barbell to 195lbs. This is why this program is beautiful in it simplicity.

Unfortunately, we all won’t be able to squat forever increasing the weight by 5lbs like this. If that were true we would all be able to lift cars, houses, airplanes. Ha!

Several months into your linear progression, assuming you are following the program, performing the movements with solid technique, and are on a diet that promotes recovery and performance, your progress will start to plateau.

It happens to everyone. Hitting this plateau is good – it means you’re not a novice anymore. It means you are much stronger than when you started.

It means that you have greater training needs as an athlete and that you’ll need to transition to a well crafted intermediate training program (like our program The Powerlifter) to continue your pursuit of strength.

How to Determine Your Starting Weights

Ok, so you’re ready to start squatting, deadlifting, bench pressing, and overhead pressing. What weight do you start with?

To find your starting weights for each of the big lifts, start with the empty barbell and do 5 reps. From there, add a small amount of weight and continue to do 5 reps, waiting about 2 minutes of rest in between sets.

You have reached your starting weight when you feel that the next jump you take will slow the bar speed down or prevent proper form. Use this weight for the rest of your sets on the first day. Err on the side of caution when finding your weights as they will increase throughout the duration of the training plan.

Now, going forward each training day, increase the weight by 5lbs on the squat and deadlift and 2.5lbs on the bench press and press. This is critical. If you are not lifting more, you are not going to get stronger.

If you fail to complete an exercise with a given weight (let’s say you attempt a 175lbs squat but can’t make all 3 sets of 5) then take a 90% of the last successful weight you lifted and start there for your next workout. We recommend training with a spotter and resting for at least 5 minutes in between sets.

Make sure to read our accompanying guide Welcome to the Weight Room to learn how to safely set up the squat rack and the bench press so that you can fail your lifts safely as you lift heavier.

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