deadlift, strength training, powerlifting

At some point, the Novice Linear Progression (NLP) gainz train will start to slow down. You’ll start to stall on some lifts, finding it impossible to add weight to the bar on every session. Congratulations, you’re no longer a novice.

Is it time to make changes to your program? Yes. Actually, if you’ve already stalled on some lifts, it’s a little late. Changes should be made to the lifts that start to show signs that its LP is running out of steam. From this point on, your program will start being more individualised.

So when your NLP shows signs that it is running out of steam, what should you do next? 

The Novice Linear Progression always works…to a point

If you’ve no idea what the NLP is, find out more at this link – Starting Strength Novice Linear Progression.

If you’re new to barbell strength training, it’s the best program you can follow when you first start training. Hell, it can even work even if you’ve been lifting for years. If you’ve just been mucking about in the gym and never followed a structured training program, you’ll find that you can still get stronger on the NLP.

It’s the most efficient way to build strength as a novice – it’s a simple and straightforward program that can be applied to any novice to get them stronger.

How long does the NLP last? It will depend on your age, sex, genetics, training history, and lifestyle, etc, but generally a couple of months. 

What’s next after the NLP?

If you’ve read books like Practical Programming or articles on programming, you may have an idea of how to structure your programming for continued progress. 

However, most new lifters will be unfamiliar with the ins and outs of programming. The average lifter usually reaches the end of the NLP, starts to stall, can’t figure out why, and either a) try to find more information about programming from books and/or online, b) start asking questions about their programming on forums etc, c) hire a coach or d) try some program they found online that some popular fitness influencer wanker is promoting.

Unsurprisingly, the last option is a bad idea but unfortunately happens. Maybe you come across your favourite lifter talking about squatting 300 kg at his last meet and the program he did to prepare for it. Then you think to yourself “Oh, he’s pretty strong and I also want to squat 300 kg, so I’ll follow his program.”

The issue with blindly following someone else’s program is that the program wasn’t written for you. It was written for that particular lifter at that point in time. 

If there’s one takeaway from this article, it’s this – do a program that is suitable for where you are right now in terms of training advancement, and not where you want to be. The problem is that most people like to think of themselves as being more advanced than they really are.

Don’t lie to yourself. If you’re an intermediate lifter, do a program suitable for an intermediate lifter. Following a program for advanced lifters when you’re an intermediate lifter doesn’t make you an advanced lifter. You’ll just be an intermediate lifter following a program that’s inappropriate for you and wondering why it’s not working.

Making minor adjustments

Start by making small tweaks to your program as your NLP starts running out of steam. There are a few ways that you can do that, like alternating between a heavy and light squat day, or micro-loading your press and doing sets of 3 instead of sets of 5.

One thing to note is that you should adjust the specific lifts as needed. The progress of individual lifts all follow their own timeline. Usually, the press will start to slow down first, followed by the bench, the squat, and finally the deadlift. What you don’t need to do is make wholesale changes to all your lifts just because one of them is getting stuck. Press starting to stall out? Tweak the programming for just that. Squats still doing well? Keep going with whatever you’re doing. 

If something is still working, keep doing it. Don’t make the mistake of changing something that’s still working just for the sake of changing. Make a change only if and when it’s needed.

If you need more tips on what to do when your NLP is coming to an end, watch our video about how to transition from novice to early intermediate

So you’ve made small tweaks to your NLP and gone from a novice to an intermediate lifter. You continue to make progress, albeit at a slower pace, as you slowly approach advanced lifter territory. The more advanced a lifter you are, the more individualised your program has to be. So how do you select a program that will give you the best shot at continued progress over the long term? Here are some factors to consider when selecting a program.

Factors to consider when selecting a program

What are your goals?

Make sure your program is suited towards your goal. If one of your goals is to get stronger on your press, following a powerlifter’s program and simply swapping the bench out for the press may not work. This may come across as a “no shit, Sherlock” thing to do take note of but you’d be surprised

Where are you currently in terms of training advancement?

To get stronger than where you are now, you need to gradually increase your training stress beyond what you’re currently adapted to. 

If the new program’s training stress is below your current level of adaptation, you may progress for a bit over the short term. This is because the lowered training stress will allow for some fatigue to dissipate, letting you display whatever performance you’ve built up. But that effect will only last for a short while, and you’ll very quickly grind to a halt.

If the training stress is way above what you’re currently adapted to, you’re going to be very sore initially. Apart from that, you’re unlikely to be able to recover from the sudden spike in training stress.

So you need to choose a program that has an appropriate level of training stress.

Consider your genetics

Different lifters can respond very differently to the same stimulus. 

Some lifters have high neuromuscular efficiency, which means they can recruit a high percentage of their muscle mass to generate a lot of force – these lifters are naturally athletic, explosive and have a lot of potential to get pretty darn strong. Because of the differences of in neuromuscular efficiency between an athletic lifter and an average lifter, the program needs to reflect that disparity.

For example, take an athletic lifter who can recruit 85% of their muscle mass at one go. Doing backoff sets at 90% would be 76.5% of their muscle recruitment (90% x 85% = 76.5%). 

Whereas if you’re an average lifter who can only recruit 70% of your muscle mass at one go, backoff sets of 90% would mean 63% of muscle recruitment (90% x 70% = 63%). 

Apart from that, lifters with high neuromuscular efficiency are generally pretty strong. Even though the backoff percentages are the same, 90% of a 300kg squat by an athletic lifter and 90% of a 150kg squat by you are two very different stressors.

Following the same percentages will yield different results because you’re both made differently. What you can do is take the percentages shown as a guideline and tweak them as you learn more about yourself and how you respond to the training.

Not to be a wet blanket, but the overwhelming majority of people have average genetics so the chance that you are one of them is pretty high. For the average lifter, the chance that they will ever squat 300 kg (for guys) or 200 kg (for gals) is infinitesimally small – even with the best program and recovery, and even with drugs. While having goals to work towards is definitely a good thing, one needs to be realistic.

Consider recovery factors and external stressors

How do you maximise your recovery outside of the gym, in order to recover from your training sessions? 

Consider how much sleep you’re getting. How’s your eating – do you get sufficient protein?

What are your major life stressors – a busy and stressful job, lots of travel, or other commitments like family, kids? Are you 19 years old or 55? All these make a difference to your recovery. If you’re not able to adequately recover from the training sessions, that’s eventually going to be a problem.

So review your life and choices, and ask yourself: are you able to recover from the training sessions? If not, you need to manage your expectations of how strong you can get and select an appropriate program. 

How committed are you to training?

Is training a priority for you? 

Are you willing to put in the amount of time and effort needed to get to where you think you want to be? Getting to that goal of squatting X amount of KGs could mean training 2 – 3 hours per session, 4-5 times a week. On top of that is making sure your recovery is on point. Be honest with yourself, are you willing to make that commitment?  

It’s cool to see super strong lifters lift enormous amount of weights but what most people are not aware of is the huge amount of work it took to get there. If you look at lifters who’ve made steady progress over the long term, a big part of how they got to where they are is their consistency and willingness to put in the time and effort over a sustained period of time.

Your program will evolve as you grow stronger 

Over time, your program will gradually evolve with you as you get stronger – from a novice to late novice, then early intermediate, intermediate etc. It’s not like you finish a novice program, then *boom* jump into a totally different intermediate-level program for all lifts at the next session. 

Remember, the best programming for you is the one that suits your level right now, with everything taken into account.


My interest in fitness started when I was around 19 years old. Being overweight for most of my growing up years, I decided to do something about it. After months of not being able to achieve the desired results, I began poring through books and articles about training and nutrition. The more I read, the more interested I became in this field, and got better results when the the newly discovered knowledge was applied. After 1 year of persistence and hard work, I lost 24kg and felt fantastic. The sense of achievement motivated me to pursue a career in working with people to help them achieve their own fitness goals.

After achieving my weight loss goal, I tried a variety of training programs for a few years, looking for a new goal to train towards. After aimlessly moving around from program to program, I chanced upon a book called Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, written by renowned strength and conditioning expert, Mark Rippetoe. Little did I know that this book was about to change my life and coaching career.

At that point, I had experience training with barbells and was relatively familiar with it but never have I come across any material that gave such explicitly detailed explanations of how to perform the barbell lifts. I devoured the book and modified my lifting technique and program. In just a few months, I was pleasantly surprised by how much stronger he had become. I now had a new goal to work towards – getting strong.

With full confidence in the efficacy of the Starting Strength methodology, I began coaching my clients using this program and got them stronger than they ever thought was possible. The consistent success my clients achieved through the program cemented my confidence in Mark Rippetoe’s teachings. I then decided to pursue the credential of being a Starting Strength Coach and I’m currently the first and only certified coach in Singapore and South-East Asia

In my 9 years of experience, I have given talks and ran programs at numerous companies and worked with a diverse group clientele of all ages with a variety of goals. Today, I specialise in coaching people in their 40s, 50s and beyond because it brings me a great sense of satisfaction to be part of the process of improving this demographics’ health and quality of life by getting them stronger.