The Progression Continuum Is Real
Some of you are probably wondering what the progression continuum is. Well, it’s pretty simply. It basically represents your transition between three stages of weightlifting: novice, intermediate and advanced. That’s it, nice and simple!
In fact not only is it simple to understand, it’s incredibly important in guiding you to long-term success. If you ignore it, you can end up in a pretty tangled mess. By mess, I mean continuous setbacks, plateaus and the inability to push forwards with your weightlifting goals. I will tell you for certain, its probably one of the most important concepts to understand and keep under your belt if you want to make incredible size and strength gains. So, why is it so effective to you? Surely it’s not the most important thing out there? Well let me be honest, without it, it would be incredibly difficult to structure and implement your training in a way that maximizes your performance as you progress in your weightlifting journey.
So, What Is The Progression Continuum?
So the progression continuum is simply three different weightlifting phases: novice, intermediate and advanced. For the purpose of this article, I will only talk about the novice and intermediate stages (those that apply to 99% of you). Many people have heard of these terms, but unfortunately very few people actually pay attention to them. Believe or not, they are more than just random terms given by weightlifters. They actually serve an important purpose in helping you to achieve your goals. So if you ask me, it’s best to pay attention. It could really mean the best gains of your life!
- Graph represents the general relationship between training time (months) and size and strength gains. As you can see, size and strength gains start to slow down and become less linear as training time increases. In other words, it takes a lot more time and effort to keep the gains coming as you become more advanced.
- “A” represents the novice period of your weightlifting journey. Here, the gains come relatively fast and are pretty linear. In other words, your body rapidly adapts to the training stimulus.
- “B” represents the intermediate period of your weightlifting journey. Here, as training time increases, gains start to slow and it becomes harder to force the body to adapt. Adaptation rate is still reasonably high at this point – plenty of gains to be made! – but requires a lot more work than the novice period to force the body to adapt.
- “C” represents the advanced weightlifting stage – at this point, the body is nearing its genetic limit and it becomes tough to really make further gains.
The thing I love most about the whole progression continuum is the fact that it gives you a strong indication how you can optimally program your training along various points of your weightlifting journey. For instance, observing those who are new to weightlifting and those who have been in the game for a few years, you quickly see distinctions in how they respond to training and the programs they implement. From this, you get to see that as a novice, your approach to training is going to be completely different from the approach taken by an intermediate weightlifter. Well, it should.
Being a novice is a bit like being the new kid on the block. You are placed in a new environment and the only way to survive is to adapt, and quickly. That’s pretty logical, right? Well, your body is exactly the same. If you are new to weightlifting, your body is going to quickly feel overwhelmed, challenged and pushed out of its comfort zone. As a result, your body has no choice but to adapt: develop more size and strength. This will allow it to handle all that rusty iron you throw at it. As a novice, this quick rate of adaptation means your training is best served through linear progression: trying to increase the weight on the bar every session, for as long as possible (usually the first 6-12 months of your journey).
Novice lifters can gain strength and size quickly. That is just the way it is. It’s a great period of weight training. I wish I could always stay in the novice stage: easy gains galore! Sadly, it must come to an end. With every novice, the time comes when you can no longer keep adding weight to the bar in a linear fashion. Your progress stalls and what you are doing, no longer is effective. At this point, you could say that your body has now made the necessary adaptions to weather the initial storm. Say bye to the novice stage.
“Being a novice is a bit like being the new kid on the block.”
The intermediate stage is the next stage of your journey. Your body has now developed the initial rapid size and strength adaptations to stop it from breaking under pressure from all this new iron. Now, if you want to make further progress your approach to training has to change. Trust me folks, I really mean change. Not just a few tweaks here and there. But the kicker is: your body this time is more resistant to change. As an intermediate, your body is going to put up one heck of a fight and resist you’re every attempt to get it to adapt.
This time, you are going to need to do even more work to force your body to adapt. But don’t forget: with more work, comes a greater need for your body to recover from it. This requires you to handle your training in a more intricate way: think, all of that non-linear periodization stuff that I love to talk about so much.
If you’re an intermediate, then you are going to need to manage your exercise rotation, volume and intensity, recovery and program structure in a completely different manner than when you were a novice. If you don’t, you will stall before you even get started! This is why many weightlifters struggle to make long-term progress after their initial novice period. Most never get out of the novice way of thinking! They get so hooked on these quick linear gains, that they get stuck in this novice way of training. I like to call this the ‘novice trap’.
- This graph represents the general relationship between rate of adaptation (red), size and strength gains made (blue) and training complexity (black) over time, against the genetic limit (green).
- “A” represents the novice stage – As you can see, the rate of adaptation to the training stimulus is high, the training complexity is low (simple linear progression is enough), the gains come quickly and you are far from your genetic limit.
- “B” represents the intermediate stage – As you can see, the rate of adaptation to the training stimulus starts to slow, the training complexity becomes greater (non-linear periodization, volume and intensity undulation and exercise rotation is essential in this phase), the gains start to slow. Also, you are getting closer to your genetic limit (but still pretty far!).
- “C” represents the advanced stage – As you can see, the rate of adaptation is extremely low, the training complexity is very high, and further gains are almost non-existant. Here, you are nearing your genetic potential.
The ‘Novice Trap’
In my experience, one thing tends to happen quite a bit with new weightlifters: the novice trap. The novice trap is easy to characterize: it’s the addiction to the fast novice gains made during your novice period. In other words, many people quickly become aware of the awesomely fast gains they make during the novice stage and try to religiously recreate this situation by stretching out the ‘novice way of training’ further into their weightlifting journey. I see it quite a bit: many novice-addicted weightlifters continuing well after their initial 6-12 months, trying to churn out and re-replicate those quick gains by insisting on adding weight in a linear fashion every training session. Sorry, but it’s just not going to work. The problem is, most that continue this novice way of thinking just stall and never move their progress further forward. The fact is, once you finish the novice period, the structure and implementation of your training has to change.
The gains come quickly in the novice stage because your body is starting literally from nothing, and your body is in a position where it can quickly recover from the work you subject it to. The best way then for you to capitalize on this situation is to linearly increase the weight every session. This allows you to get the most gains out of this novice period. However, this method of training you have to leave behind once you leave this novice phase. The novice trap is a problem because many people have the impression engrained into their head that gains can come indefinitely from linear increases in the work you do in the gym. No matter how great you found the gains with your training program in the novice stage, it will not carry through to the intermediate/advanced stages of your journey. Trust me when I say: for the sake of your gains, don’t fall into this novice trap!
- The graph on the left shows what should happen as weightlifters progress through their journey.
- The graph on the right shows a representation of the novice-trap, in which new weightlifters try to stretch the ‘novice-way of training’ (simple linear progression) over a longer-period of training time (the blue box). As you can see, this is sub-optimal for long-term gains. Why? Simply because training complexity increases, gains slow and the rate of adaptation reduces. This means that the ‘novice-way of training’ is no longer effective as you approach the intermediate stage.
Pay Attention To The Weightlifting Phases: They Might Just Save Your Gains
As you can see, the progression continuum highlights distinct transitions in your weightlifting journey: from novice to intermediate and then to advanced. Each stage is so unique, that your body will respond to each differently. Simply put, the rate at which your body adapts to weight training as you transition through these states, slows down. This means, you have to be prepared to put up a fight with your body (and have a lot of patience!). In order to continue the adaptation process throughout all stages, the structure and implementation of your training will need to change. By paying close attention to the progression continuum in your weightlifting journey, you will be able to make sure that your training is always optimized at all points in your weightlifting career. That means you never have to worry about sub-optimal training again.
If you have any questions about the article or would like to discuss further some of the topics mentioned, then please feel free to leave comments down below!