Make Linear Progression Work for You

What Is A Linear Progression?

A linear progression is a training method where you train one muscle group at a time, usually 3 times per week. Each workout consists of three exercises performed with very little rest between them. The idea behind this type of training is to build strength and size over time without having to worry too much about volume or intensity.

The main advantage of this type of training is that it allows you to focus on developing only one muscle group at a time. This means you don’t have to worry about increasing your overall endurance during each session because all the work will be done in one set. Also, since there are no increases in total volume or intensity throughout the whole training cycle, you won’t get injured from overtraining (which occurs if both sets and reps increase).

Another benefit of this type of training is that it doesn’t require any equipment such as machines, free weights, dumbbells or bands. All you need is a bar and some plates. If you’re new to this type of training then I recommend starting out with two workouts per week where you perform the same exercise twice and once with different exercises.

Why Should You Use A Linear Progression?

There are several reasons why someone should use a linear progression. The main ones include: increases in both strength and size over time, no increase in endurance during each session, no increases in injury risk due to training too hard or too frequently, allows you to train at home without having to buy expensive equipment and suitable for people who don’t want to think about exercise programs and routines.

A Quick Overview Of The Program

The training is very simple. You pick an exercise, you perform it, you rest and you do it again. That’s right, the program doesn’t require any fancy techniques or any equipment at all other than yourself and a bar.

So if you’re new to training at home then look no further because this is one of the cheapest and easiest training methods available that can actually produce good results for you.

How does linear progression work?

The basic principle is very simple. You perform one exercise, you rest, then you perform it again. You rest again, then you perform it one more time. That’s one set. You perform 3 such sets for each exercise.

So what happens is: You perform the exercise, you rest, you perform it again, you rest, you perform it again. After that you move on to the next exercise. Each muscle gets trained once every five days.

So what does this mean?

Simple: You train each muscle group only once every five days.

How often do you train each muscle group?

Once every 5 days.

How many sets do you do?


How many reps do you do?


What Progression Scheme Do You Use?

Now we get to the part where most people mess up and that’s the progression scheme you use. Many people use the same scheme for years on end and ultimately get stuck because their body gets used to the same stress over time. The trick to any good training method is to change things up once in a while to keep your body guessing.

With linear progression that means that every few months you change one of the three parameters: sets, reps or weight. This forces your body to adapt to a new stress and avoid the post- adaptation slumps.

So how exactly do you change one of those three variables?

It’s simple: You increase the parameter every week or two. This ensures steady progress in strength and size for years on end. Let me give you an example of what I mean:

Let’s say that today is Tuesday. This means you would start with sets of ten reps for the bench press. You warm up first with light weights, then do your working sets.

Let’s say that your maximum is 100kg for today. This means that on week one you start with a weight you can lift for ten reps. We’ll make that 60kg. The next week you increase the weight you warm up with to 70kg and you try to do ten reps with that weight. If you can, great. If not, you try to do at least 9 reps. Week three you then go for 80kg for ten reps. Week four you go for 90kg for ten reps. In week five you go for your maximum with the new weights, 100kg in our example. Week six you go back down to week 1 weights of 60 and try to do ten reps. If you can do ten reps then great, if not you try to do at least nine reps. This is week seven. Then you increase the weight at again by ten kilos and start week one again.

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Let’s assume you stick to this scheme for two years, increasing your bench press by 50kg and your squat by 80kg along the way. Now let’s look at what you’d have accomplished:

You have increased your strength significantly within two years without ever getting hurt and while only spending an hour in the gym, three times a week. In addition to that your muscles are bigger due to the growth stimulus of the extra poundages.

Does this sound too good to be true?

Well yes, it is true…to a degree. If you stick with this method for ten or fifteen years like some people do you WILL plateau at a certain point.


Because the body is smart and will eventually realize that something is going on and adapt to the stress you subject it to. This means that after a certain amount of time the same weight will get harder to lift every week. For most this will happen after five to eight years. The percentage of increase will drop and so will your strength if you keep relying on constant increases.

But as I said: this method is a way of life, not just a temporary solution to a training problem or goal you’re trying to achieve. If you’re disciplined and patient then you’ll be rewarded with continuous and maintainable progress.

The flipside of this coin is that you can keep the same weight, increase the reps and keep the same number of sets every week. The body will then again adjust but you’ll be doing more work which will result in more endurance, which in turn is a good thing if you want to join your local fire brigade in twenty years. You can also keep the sets and reps constant and increase the weight every week.

The advantage here is that your muscles will have to continually grow to be able to handle the extra weight. The disadvantage is that this will eventually lead to injuries because your body can’t keep up with the sudden growth every week.

Personally I prefer a mixture of both: I keep the sets and reps constant and increase the weight every two weeks. This gives my body enough time to grow stronger but keeps me from getting injured.

Use this information as you see fit. It’s up to you to keep on increasing your strength and size. The road is long and hard but the rewards are great for those who persevere.


Many people will have written to you about the multitude of different supplements that are available on the market. Although some are a waste of money, some are actually useful. Let me tell you about a few that I use and like:

Protein powder: This is basically powdered milk without the fat. It’s a very fast and easy way to increase your protein intake. Use after or between meals to increase the amount of protein your body is getting.

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Now that you’ve read this far I hope that you’re as excited about pumping iron as I am. If you are then there’s one more thing I want to tell you:


Thanks for listening.

(Special thanks to my friend Jim for helping me with the supplements section)

This article was written by Frank Zane, It is used here with his permission.

This article was last updated April 18, 2003.

This page created April 18, 2003.

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Updated July 6th, 2003

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Sources & references used in this article:

Punctuated equilibrium and linear progression: Toward a new understanding of group development by A Chang, P Bordia, J Duck – Academy of Management Journal, 2003 –

Pointwise linear progression criteria and the detection of visual field change in a glaucoma trial by MR Wilkins, FW Fitzke, PT Khaw – Eye, 2006 –

Applying the stages of change by JO Prochaska, JC Norcross… – Psychotherapy in …, 2013 –

Understanding career decision-making and progression: Careership revisited by P Hodkinson – Career research and development: the …, 2009 –

Translator Education Programs & the Translation Labour Market: linear career progression or a touch of chaos? by H King – T and I Review, 2017 –

Continuity and progression in music education by T Cain – Issues in music teaching, 2001 –

Blakean manipulations: a linear progression from the creation to last judgement in the marriage of heaven and hell. by SD Gillin – 2012 –