Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Rich Pauley Case Study: Linear Progression Always Works. Sometimes, It Really Works

by Karl Schudt | October 25, 2018

rich and karl

Rich Pauley came to see me at Chicago Strength and Conditioning in February 2018. He wanted to get back into lifting weights and thought he “could be a monster.” He is 38 years old, has a large frame, and seems to have some talent for strength. He signed up for SSOC, and I wrote in my welcome email: “I'm looking forward to hanging a lot of muscle on your frame. 6 ft, size 14 feet? Let's have some fun with that.” His squats in our first session together were 265 lbs x 5 x 3. I had an inkling that Rich could be exceptional, and I looked forward to seeing what we could do.

We did a linear progression from February to July, three sets of five every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, adding a little bit of weight to each lift every time. We made changes based on Rich’s performance and attitude. When training started to wear him down, I added a light day, once in the beginning of April to help his recovery, and then regularly (every Wednesday) in May. Our plan was simple. The weights on the lifts were adjusted to match his strength gains, and his weekly program was adjusted to ensure that his body recovered adequately.

We did no conditioning or “functional movements.” Rich got better at “cardio” by strength training. The only modification to a standard Starting Strength progression was the use of a high-bar squat. Rich is not very flexible and has great difficulty getting into the low-bar position. We used the best squat that he could do.

There were no real setbacks. We did not worry about nutrition. Rich will eventually need to get his waist down to a more manageable number, but he ignored every bit of nutrition advice I gave him. It’s just as well, because he had an exceptional linear progression.

Rich’s linear progression kept running until he did 495 x 5 x 3 on 7/6/18. Rich was complaining about how hard it was, and although he could have kept it up with backoff sets for a while longer, we decided to end it the following week. He hit 500 x 5 on Monday, and 505 x 5 on the following Friday. To wrap up this phase of his training, I gave him permission to chase some singles the next Monday. At that point, he was considering moving on from SSOC, and I wanted him to have a little fun and test his strength. Then, Rich hit a single at 600 lbs. He has since decided to continue working with me.

squat progression over several months

The Starting Strength Linear Progression works for everyone. Every single human who is alive will respond to an appropriate use of the Strength/Recovery/Adaptation cycle. Some adaptation will occur, but humans are distributed in a bell curve in their response to strength training. A normal human male should be able to get his squat into the 300s on a linear progression, but there will be some who don’t do as well, and also some who do better. Rich is an example of someone on the tail of the bell curve. If we had followed some sort of template that suggested moving on to a more advanced program at a certain weight, there would have been lost opportunities for growth. Rich could do it, and so he should have done it. We don’t live forever, after all, and there’s no benefit to getting stronger slower.

Rich also shows the importance of compliance. He rarely missed a workout until graduation season for his children. If you go to the gym and put in the work, you will get stronger. Even if you don’t have the smartest coach or the perfect program, compliance will cover a lot of the problems up. Get to the gym and do your work!

We are going to transition Rich to a four-day split where we attempt to put more weight on the barbell every week rather than three times a week. I have no doubt he is going to be successful.

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