It has taken me awhile to find the time to write Essentials of Programming 2. In part 1,  I mention that we are not perfect trainees and explain the reasoning for that.  For this same reason, I am not the perfect writer.  Business, family, commitments and obligations get in the way. I do this for pure passion, not as a means to make money, so…

The topic of this blog will begin where I left off, at the most basic of Programming principles; which is linear progression, or the ‘One Factor Theory’.  This is where I start off most of my trainees, and it usually proves successful, at least for a while, if progress stalls, there is a reason. Understanding the reason is not always as easy as one would think.  I’ll get back to that later.

When it comes to Physical Fitness Science, and especially Resistance Training Science, you will most often come across the word “theory”. This is simply because not enough studies have been done on the Science of getting stronger, and the studies that have been carried out are seldomly done in a perfect environment, using the perfect methods and the ideal study groups.

Even the most recent definition of how muscles contract is called ‘The Sliding Filament Theory’.  Feel free to look that up on the web. Though it is now generally considered the true explanation of how muscles contract, it is still considered a theory.

Let’s get back to linear progression, the most basic of training programs for strength gains and the simplest one to follow. The logic behind linear progression is simple and – most times – it works. After all, physiological adaptation is one thing that has been proven over and over again throughout human history. Once you learn the proper technique behind a movement, say the squat, then keep on adding a bit of poundage to the bar at every training session and you are, by definition, getting stronger.  Not only are your muscles getting stronger, but your tendons, your ligaments, your bones and your whole system is getting stronger. You are even getting mentally stronger, especially when the load starts getting heavier and heavier, it becomes a mental challenge as much as a physical one.

Depending on objectives, fundamental linear progression is all that most trainees will ever need for general strength gains, and I often revert back to linear progression when training myself, especially after a prolonged break due to travel, illness or to correct form. Herein lies the first challenge, form.

Barbell training is highly dependent on form. This is what will enable a trainee to maximize his or her efforts and also avoid injury. It is fundamental that form remains intact as the poundage increases, and it is the coach’s job to ensure this happens (again, if you are training yourself then you are your own coach). It is quite common that when load progressively increases, form progressively decreases.

The complication is that a decrease in form is not immediately noticeable. It’s very gradual, subtle and happens over a period of time if not kept under constant scrutiny. This slow change in form can change your motor pathways and your body-space-mind perception to the point that correction can only occur with a decrease in load and a re-adjustment of your mind-body connection.

The Squat is a perfect example. Squatting is a very natural and basic movement that is often used in everyday living.  As basic as it seems it is actually a rather complex movement which requires not only strength but balance, stability, agility, flexibility and motor unit coordination.

This complex simplicity is what makes the squat one of the most important yet challenging movements in Barbell training and one that requires the most attention when it comes to form.

In the squat, range of motion is one of the first things that suffer from increased loads.  I have seen this happen over and over. That squat that started off by perfectly reaching just below parallel is now just barely breaking parallel, and if not monitored correctly and constantly, it will regress even further to where the trainee is not breaking parallel at all, sometimes going undetected.

In such a case, you have gone from squatting, say, 135 pounds just below parallel, to say 185 pounds but not breaking parallel. Have you gotten stronger? Yes, but only through the shortest range of motion, that is not the objective.  Technically, and to a degree, that “shortened” squat can actually be considered a different movement to the original, which needs to reach a depth just below parallel to hit the “sweet spot”, where all the muscle mass of the knee extensors, the hip extensors and the spinal stabilizers are working at maximum capacity.

Any higher than that angle and you are not working as much, with work being defined as Force x Distance. (The opposite is true as well, any lower than that and something has to “relax” down there, and that is definitely not good!)


The same can be said about another movement, that for some reason or most trainees new to the barbell training have a great difficulty grasping; The Overhead Press. The “Press” is one of the oldest movements in barbell training and probably the oldest movement of mankind to express strength, (lifting a heavy object overhead – I might actually write a blog specifically on the Overhead Press at some point, as I feel it’s one of the most important movements in Barbell training).

Due to its length and the use of weaker stabilizer muscles as compared to the squat, ideal form in the overhead press can deteriorate quite quickly if not kept under constant check, and poor form in the Press simply means that the barbell just won’t go up, and linear progression comes to a halt.


Form, (or technique) is not the only reason linear progression can stall. Many outside factors can be involved; Inadequate calorie intake, inadequate sleep, external stress, or many other factors, including human error.  Therein lies the second, perhaps even bigger challenge: External Factors.

Recently, one of my trainees failed miserably on his three sets of five on the bench press on a Monday. I had increased the poundage in a linear way from the previous Friday session and there was seemingly no reason for this setback. Any setback on linear progression has a reason, and as I soon found out, he had spent his whole weekend fishing. His style of fishing involves a lot of casting, hence he obviously came in with a tired shoulder. It wasn’t bothering him, it wasn’t hurting him. There were no deficiency symptoms of any kind. His squats were solid, and so was his deadlift afterwards. However, his pressing movement suffered from a weekend of…fishing.

I refer back to understanding – as a coach – the reason for a stall in progression. This is not always easy. In many cases it’s one of the most complicated aspects of being a Strength Coach, and one that requires the most attention. In many cases a lack in linear progression can be attributed to three factors: not enough Macronutrients ( incorrectly proportioned or timed), lack of adequate rest and recovery time, or a combination of both. However, sometimes it’s just not that simple, and a thorough analysis is required to understand the often, sublime reason for failure to progress.

When it comes to generating strength gains and overall fitness, Barbell Training, in my opinion, reigns. Complexity in its simplicity. Train, train hard, then go home, eat and rest. Once well rested and fed, do it all over again. Same movements, greater resistance (heavier weights). It really is just that simple, and you will grow stronger.

Squat, Push, Pull, Eat, Sleep, Repeat. Sounds simple enough, but it isn’t.

I constantly see many trainees in my gym just doing way too much, and 3 months down the road they are no stronger, nor leaner. In many cases Less is more, especially when it comes to strength gains.

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The topic of this blog will begin where I left off, at the most basic of Programming principles; which is linear progression, or the ‘One Factor Theory’. This is where I start off most of my trainees, and it usually proves successful, at least for a while, if progress stalls, there is a reason. Understanding the reason is not always as easy.

Read Article

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