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How to Squat 405 in 12 Weeks

by Niki Sims, SSC | August 16, 2017

how to squat 405

The Novice Linear Progression (NLP) is very basic. As SSC Brent Carter, who does the programming lecture at our seminars puts it, it’s pumpkin spice lattes and Uggz. As a Novice, you don’t need complexity to get stronger than you are right now. All of you is weak, so you’ll focus on the big lifts to make all of you less weak. But don’t let the term “basic” fool you. The program starts off rather easy as you prioritize learning the movements, yet becomes quite challenging as you become stronger and the weights get heavier.

The is the program that we put every single person on when he is first getting serious about strength training. Even recovering CrossFitters and gym bros and brahs are able to squeeze out some more pure strength from this program.

I’ll be taking you through the expectations you should have for a well-executed NLP and some modifications and considerations that are typically necessary when the honeymoon stage is over.

A fresh Novice, in the “this is too easy” stage, will start out with the Workout A and Workout B rotation:

Workout AWorkout B
Squat 3x5Squat 3x5
Press 3x5Bench Press 3x5
Deadlift 1x5Deadlift 1x5

Sometimes there will be an injury or pathology that requires an exercise modification, but the program looks exactly the same for everyone. Older lifters will adjust the frequency to allow longer recovery.

The program does not come with recommendations for starting weights because we are not fortune tellers. Find these by starting with the empty bar and working up in sets of five until your form is on the verge of breaking down. The weight should demand some effort, but it cannot be a distraction and you don’t want to look like a Gym Fail Meme. You’ll repeat these workouts adding weight to the bar, 2.5–10 lbs, every session to make linear progress. If you miss reps, you’ll repeat the weight.

The title is kind of a joke, kind of a hook, and kind of a true thing, sometimes. The Novice Linear Progression is not a program that guarantees you a 405 lb squat in 12 weeks for 13 easy payments of $19.99, but see how easy it is to fall for? Sure, there are young, potent males who do that, but your ending numbers are not predictable, no matter what the internet calculators and arbitrary charts say.

You must set goals, but understand that the NLP is about PROGRESS, not forcing yourself into a strength standard chart. It’s cool, Rip is down with this. What the NLP does guarantee, if you do the damn thing correctly, is:

  1. Sound lifting technique to carry you through more advanced programs or strength maintenance. You can still fix things while you add weight to the bar.
  2. The habit of training. Every lifting session and every hour of recovery thereafter is practice at being a stronger version of you, which is a behavior change so you must give it the time, effort and dedicated frequency to stick.
  3. More favorable body parts. You will increase muscle mass. If you’re eating enough or already have a good amount extra fat stores, your legs, butt, back, arms and even your abs will change and the opposite (and perhaps the same) sex will react favorably. Importantly, everyday tasks that require strength and balance will be easier. Which reminds me: never cut your NLP short because you don’t want to buy a new pair of pants to accommodate the new meat. It’s a ridiculous reason to rob yourself of being a stronger person and a better contribution to the gene pool.

As you can see, up to this point the NLP and the expectations explained above are one size fits all. But there will be some necessary changes along the way to accommodate for variances in genetics and recovery, largely linked to how 18 and male you are or aren’t.

Here are some examples of some necessary considerations and modifications for certain populations. These are generalizations based off the thousands of people I’ve coached, so I have enough data to make these, but not everyone will fit exactly into each demographic, it’s fine if you identify with something in another group. 

young man novice progression

The Skinny 23-Year-Old Man/Boy

Skinny or skinny fat, most of you tend to want everything right now. You want to Squat 315, Bench 225, avoid getting hurt, keep from getting too fat, do a “Spartan” Muddy run (can you imagine how hilarious an actual Spartan would find those things?), do curls and have abs.

My suggestion for you is to try to get visible abs everywhere but your stomach; stay true to the program that forces you to lift more weight each time you train using the most muscle across the most effective range of motion and eat enough protein and carbs to facilitate this. “Enough” is more protein than you’re eating right now, start shooting for 200 g/day and eat plenty of vegetables and grains. If you eat enough you’ll be primed to make long steady progress on your linear progression and build a good amount of muscle.

Abstain from extracurricular activities like running and accessory lifts for a couple months so that all of your recovery resources are allocated to big lifts which make the biggest impact. Do add in chin-ups after about a month, but since you’re adding bodyweight, don’t get bent out of shape for not being able to add many reps or much weight to these.

You’re also typically pretty deficient at setting your lumbar spine in extension. I suggest seeing a coach as soon as possible to nip this in the bud – this is a major link in the chain of gainzzz.

You’ll start with 3 sets of 5 like everyone else, you'll Squat, Bench and Press, but you’ll probably need to switch to one heavy set of 5 and 2 back off sets at 5% less after you take a re-set. Do your very best to take your NLP as far as you can – train, learn how to grind, eat and sleep. 

woman on starting strength

The Fluffy 32-Year-Old Woman

You’ve had to dig through a lot of fitness BS out there, like every human does, and have probably done your fair share of bootcamps, 5ks, Instagram Squat Challenges and CrossFits, but ended up hurt and/or in the same physical and mental state of being constantly frustrated. Don’t even get me started on how 30 we feel right now, trust me, I hear you!

The biggest shift for you will be cherishing the progress you can see with the weight you add to the bar. As a 32 year-old woman, I can 100% relate to constantly wishing to be “End-Goal Me.” I’ve spent a lot of time trying to have the body of someone else by doing all the fitness things. Barbell training and being in control of my eating has made me happy to be “Current Me” with my eyes on constant progress. I have one or two visible abs, depending on the day, and I also have some cellulite, but I know I can control most of that with my diet and training goals, and that I can’t control some of it due to genetics. It’s a very honest and satisfying relationship.

You’ll start with 3 sets of 5 like everyone else, but you’ll probably need to switch to 5 sets of 3 for your Squat, Bench and Press after a couple of months. I also like one heavy set of 5 for Squats with a 5% backoff for 2 more sets. You’ll probably need to switch your Deadlift to 2 sets of 3. You should also do chin-ups, but may need to start with lat-pull downs, negatives, and band-assisted reps.

Press and Bench will switch to 1–2-pound increases pretty early in the program – we just don’t have as much muscle mass in our upper bodies as our male counterparts do. But, as mentioned in PPST3, we get to enjoy multiple orgasms, so it’s cool. Sets of 3 make your workout longer, so cue up some podcasts! Barbell Logic, Barbell Medicine, Hardcore History, and Sword and Scale are some of my favorites. Be sure to join the Starting Strength ~ Bar Belles Facebook group in which we all go the bathroom together to gossip about our barbell relations.

Shoot for 150 g of protein a day and take it easy on the Rosé. Veggies are your friends, the good kind, not the kind who constantly validate you but talk behind your back. 

middle-age starting strength

The Muscular-But-Light 45-Year-Old Man

This tends to be the “I’m not trying to get super strong, I just want to stop getting hurt” population. Guess what? You still have to do the program, just like a person who is trying to get super strong, the main difference is you’ll advance differently after the NLP is over.

Hang your running shoes up for a couple months and start shoveling protein into your face. As we age, we need to eat more protein, so even though you probably only weigh 165, it’s in your best interest for recovery to eat close to 200 g of protein per day.

To keep yourself from getting hurt, eat and work with a coach as soon as you can. You can be too lean to make progress, and you’re not as elastic as you once were, so give yourself some extra reserves to work with. It’s likely that getting into the low-bar position will be a struggle for you, and you'll have problems setting your low back, just like your 23-year-old self. The former will likely require some extra flexibility work (try this Low-Bar Stretch) but the latter isn’t a flexibility thing, it’s a positional awareness and strength thing.

Expect to get a good 2–3 months of solid progress on this NLP. You’ll do well with smaller weight increases, like 2.5 lbs on your Press, Bench and Squat during the second month, give or take. After a couple of re-sets, proceed to something intermediate like a 4-day upper and lower body split, which allows for more recovery. 

older lifter starting strength squat

The Fluffy 57-Year-Old Woman or Man

We’re still in the “I’m not trying to get super strong” population here. Got it. Let’s work on getting you stronger than you are now so that you could help your kids or grandkids disassemble and move their new oak bedroom set but can use your seniority to opt out.

Aging comes with some big changes in hormones and metabolism that make it a bit slower to gain muscle and lose weight, but not impossible.

Ladies will probably need to start with a bar lighter than 45 lbs for every lift except the deadlift. Sometimes we need to start with a leg press for a couple weeks and then squat to a box for another couple weeks.

The low-bar Squat bar position and Press lockout also tend to be a bit of a struggle and will require some flexibility work – see the Low-Bar Stretch Video. For your Press lockout, try reaching up and gently hanging (let the floor or a box support some of you bodyweight) from a pull-up bar for a 3-4 sets of 10 second holds before your Press workout days.

We can usually get about 3 weeks of standard NLP in the books before making some modifications. I like to drop the squat work sets to 2 sets of 5 or 3 sets of 3 and alternate between a regular deadlift and a light (2 sets of 5 at 80%) deadlift. You don’t need to do Power Cleans, and probably shouldn’t unless you have an athletic background. Some of you may also do much better lifting every 3 days so you get a full 2 days of rest between workouts. The Barbell Prescription is required reading.

Finally, my friends, you are very much in the “eat protein like it’s your part-time job” realm. Aim for 1–1.1g of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. Eat plenty of wholesome grains, fruits and vegetables and keep processed carbs to a minimum. 

starting strength work for back injury

Any Person With A “Back Issue”

The word “issue” includes a real injury, unexplained pain, and MRI’s that show a spinal pathology that does or does not cause pain but does indeed cause fear.

Training with back issues tends to be more mentally than physically problematic. Barring a significant nerve injury that prevents muscular contraction or hardware in the spine that may need attention, you can and should start with a weight that you can move with proper form, and you should gradually increase the weight each time. Even you.

There are so many cases in which getting stronger has reduced back pain or eliminated it completely – look them up on the boards at www.startingstrength.com. However, there are also some people that continue to experience pain no matter what they do. Fortunately, a strength adaptation can still occur in the presence of pain and spinal pathology as long as the movements are executed to near perfection and the weight progression is in balance with recovery factors. Work with a coach, be brave, and get strong. Your quality of life will improve.


If you’re not sure where you fall here or you have an issue that I was not specific enough about, there are a handful of Starting Strength Coaches who are also esteemed medical professionals, and they can help you navigate through the NLP and beyond.

Every person will benefit from this program. Maybe you’ll end up squatting 405, maybe not – sorry for lying to you in the title. What matters is that what you choose to do afterward will be enhanced by the habits you’ve created and the strength you take into it. If you need help with your NLP and beyond, read the books, work with a coach, and don’t turn into a YouTube comment “expert.” 


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