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The Bridge®
8-Week Barbell Medicine
Strength Program
Intermediate / Advanced
8-Weeks / 3x per Week
The Bridge
(8-Week Barbell Medicine Novice to
Intermediate Strength Program)
Dose: 3x Weekly
Side Effects: Increased strength,
muscle size, work capacity,
improved technique, and programming
Warning: Using “The Bridge” may result in
significant improvements in all trainable
physical characteristics, however this may
result in strained friendships,
increased social media following,
and nefarious accusations.
Authors: Jordan Feigenbaum, MD
Austin Baraki, MD
Table of Contents
1. Intro . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2. Programming Definitions . . . . . . . .
3. Training Outcomes and
Programming Considerations . . . . . . . 7
4. Assessment of Starting Strength
Novice Linear Progression . . . . . . . . . 10
5. The Program . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
6. Rate of Perceived Exertion,
Percentages, and Other Loading
Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
7. FAQ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
8. Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
Chapter 1 Intro
Thank you for downloading Barbell Medicine’s 8 Week Strength Program, The Bridge,
designed to help transition lifters from the Starting Strength Novice Linear Progression
to intermediate-style programming. We wrote this short text with an accompanying
program in order to 1) reduce confusion, 2) decrease time wasted following suboptimal
programming, and 3) improve training outcomes for the masses. We hope you all like it
as much as we do, but before we go over the program let’s take discuss some of the
pertinent details:
Goals of The Bridge
o Provide a “next step” to follow after completing the Starting Strength
Novice Linear Progression.
o Build adaptability into the program to meet the training needs of
intermediate trainees.
o Improve programming knowledge.
o Define programming terms.
o Collect data on outcomes.
Program Specifications
o Length: 8-week strength mesocycle
o Time per session: 70-90 minutes (typically)
o Training Frequency: 3 times per week
o GPP/Conditioning Frequency: 1 time per week
Now, let’s get into the background information on relevant training outcomes,
programming concepts, and how we came to design The Bridge in the manner you
currently see. We would highly recommend reading the rest of this text and using the
provided resources in order to get the best results possible.
Once again, thanks for downloading the eBook. Good luck!
Chapter 2 –Programming Definitions
If you’ve ever read an exercise science textbook, you have likely noticed that there is a
lot of jargon used to describe training concepts and their practical application to
program design. You may have also noticed that it’s fairly hard to figure out what exactly
the authors are talking about when jargon is used outside the context of a real-world
situation, e.g. a case study. With that in mind, we’ll start by cruising through some very
important programming definitions with the appropriate context included to make things
as clear as possible.
One very important concept needs to be introduced first: Fatigue.
In order to generate a strength adaptation, a stress must be applied to an individual that
is 1) itself dependent on force production and 2) sufficient to disrupt homeostasis. This
stress-induced disruption must then be 1) recovered from in order to restore
homeostasis, and 2) adapted to in order to more effectively “defend” this new
homeostatic state.
While this stress must be sufficient to disrupt homeostasis, it should not result in an
excessive disruption for a number of reasons. One consideration of primary importance
is that of fatigue. Fatigue is the sum of all stress the lifter is exposed to that
subsequently modifies performance including physical, emotional, and environmental
stress. It is well established that the total level of fatigue must be appropriate in order to
optimize the stress – recovery – adaptation cycle. In other words, if you want to get
stronger, bigger, improve conditioning, etc. then making sure an appropriate amount of
fatigue is being generated is important to optimize adaption outcomes once recovery
takes place.
In the context of a lifter advancing from novice to intermediate the amount of stress
applied must be increased appropriately, as inducing the disruption of homeostasis
requires incrementally more stress assuming recovery variables are held constant.*
This concept also holds true for someone advancing from early to late intermediate
levels or late intermediate to advanced training levels.
*A lifter’s recovery variables include sleep, nutrition, hormonal status, emotional stress,
and other physical stresses that occur outside the gym, i.e. walking an extra 10,000
steps when visiting a new city. If these factors change significantly, then training fatigue
may suddenly become inappropriate as long as recovery variables are changed. It
should be noted that recovery variables can be affected negatively or positively.
When it comes to the physical determinants of fatigue, the main components from a
training perspective are (not-so coincidentally) the main considerations in exercise
programming: i.e., volume, tonnage, intensity, frequency, and exercise selection, which
are discussed below in detail.
In the Starting Strength Novice Linear Progression (SSLP), the exercise selection,
training volume, and training frequency are all maintained in the context of everincreasing intensity. This increases the stress applied to the lifter in a step-wise manner
each session. During the novice phase, this stress – while sufficient to disrupt
homeostasis -- is low in absolute terms, and is therefore rapidly recovered from and
adapted to before the next session. Eventually, at a certain intensity the degree of
stress applied exceeds the lifters’ “48-hour recovery capacity”, and this approach is no
longer viable. At that point, the SSLP ends and a change in approach is necessary to
allow for continued progress.
It should be reiterated that in the context of a lifter advancing from novice to
intermediate the amount of stress applied – and therefore the amount of fatigue
generated -- must be increased appropriately, as inducing the disruption of
homeostasis requires more stress to be applied by altering one or more of the
fundamental training variables:
o Volume is the product of sets and reps, i.e. Volume = Sets x Reps. In
SSLP for instance, if a lifter squatted 3 sets of 5, the volume for that
exercise in that session would be 15 reps. Volume can also be measured
over a week and in the SSLP example the weekly volume would be 45,
(15 reps per session x 3 sessions per week= 45 reps per week).
o In order to compare volume from program to program in a useful way we
need a minimum intensity (load) consideration in order to make the
comparison worthwhile. For example, if program A recommends a ton of
warm-up sets that are lighter than, say, 60% of a lifters one rep max
(1RM) compared to program B which has a much less extensive warm up,
then the higher volume of program A may not be terribly important from a
programming perspective. However, as we’ll discuss in the other
definitions below, this may not be as straightforward as it appears.
o In general, more volume at a given intensity produces more fatigue
than less volume at that same intensity.
o The product of sets, reps, and weight on the bar yields tonnage. (For our
purposes, the accumulated tonnage of the warm-up sets is omitted, since
they do not constitute a part of the “overload event” unless serious
mistakes have been made in their programming.) This value gives more
insight into a program than the volume alone if a lifter’s strength is known.
For example, for a guy who squats 405 lbs x 5RM, we can make better
predictions about the effect of a program that prescribes 315 lbs (78% of
405) for 5 sets of 5 reps than if we only know the volume without any
discussion of the load. 5 sets of 5 at 225 (55% of 405) for this lifter is a
completely different training stimulus, and again requires consideration of
the minimum intensity necessary for a given amount of training volume to
be “useful” (i.e, sufficient to disrupt homeostasis).
o In general, a higher tonnage produces more fatigue than less
tonnage over a given period of time.
o The load being used is referred to as the intensity, and can be objectively
defined as a percentage of 1RM. However, intensity can also be
subjectively characterized using Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), which
requires the lifter to retrospectively estimate the difficulty of a work set.
This concept is described in detail later in this text.
o In general, higher intensity training is more fatiguing than lower
intensity training, though there are no universally agreed-upon
ranges that determine “low,” “medium,” or “high” intensities.
o Frequency is defined as the number of times a movement or movement
pattern is trained per unit of time (week/month/year). Broadly speaking,
the three basic movement patterns that are most important from a strength
perspective are squatting, pressing, and pulling. With that in mind, any
squat-type movement can be included in the overall frequency of
squatting. For example, if a program calls for squats on Day 1, paused
squats on Day 2, and front squats on day 3 then the total squat frequency
is 3 times per week.
o More interestingly, consider the different effect of a program that
prescribes squatting 5 reps for 5 sets @ 75% of a 5RM all in one day
(frequency of 1x/wk) compared to another program that prescribes
squatting 5 reps @ 75% of a 5RM for one set on five separate days in a
week (frequency of 5x/wk). These two different protocols would generate
vastly different effects on relevant training outcomes like strength and
hypertrophy. By spreading out the frequency, the overall fatigue tends to
increase, as stress is serially applied without full recovery. While the 1x/wk
frequency would represent a significant single stress event, it’s effects
would likely be dissipated in 2-3 days for an early intermediate lifter
without generating additional fatigue from subsequent stressors.
o Thus, increased frequency tends to produce increased fatigue.
Additionally, more frequency is associated with increased volume
and tonnage and this also produces more fatigue. However, the
above example shows how increasing frequency without altering
volume or tonnage represents a different type of stress, with
different effects on fatigue.
The aforementioned programming variables can be compared to the different bands on
an equalizer. Each variable can be manipulated independently or in conjunction with the
others, with varying effects on training outcomes. Intelligently organizing these changes
is key to ensuring good results and is classically referred to as periodization.
Periodization can be defined as the systematic planning and organization of training in
order to produce a desired outcome. There is no shortage of jargon with respect to
periodization, so let’s just get those out of the way here:
o Macrocycle: The entire training year
! Length: 12 months
! Number of training sessions: Variable
o Mesocycle: Each “block” of training where the variables of the program are
often biased towards a specific outcome
! Length: 3-8 weeks, in general and 8 weeks in this example.
! Training sessions: Variable in general, but 18 training sessions and
12 GPP/conditioning sessions for this program
o Microcycle: A series of workouts where stress is applied cumulatively.
! Length: 1-10 workouts (1-15 days)
For context, in this specific program, we are running a strength mesocycle, which is part
of the yearly macrocycle. While this all may sound wildly complicated, we’d like to
suggest the radical idea that long-term planning of training is likely to produce
better results than flying by the seat of your pants, you know?
For example, we know that a good run through SSLP is going to last 3-5 months on
average so we may plan on making some changes (e.g. a light squat day) or obtaining
certain data (volume, tonnage, or practicing assigning RPE’s to work sets) in order to
inform subsequent training decisions after SSLP is finished.
Now that we’ve wrapped up the common programming definitions, let’s discuss training
Chapter 3 Training Outcomes and Programming Considerations
In this chapter, we will discuss the major training outcomes of strength and hypertrophy,
and how each of the previously discussed programming variables can influence these
outcomes. More specifically, we will discuss how manipulating programming variables
influences the stress-recovery-adaptation cycle as it pertains to these outcomes. This
becomes more complex when considering how the stress-recovery-adaptation cycle
changes in multiple ways as a lifter advances. We will define our training outcomes as
Strength: The production of force against an external resistance. In the context of
barbell training, improvements in strength result in an increase in weight on the
bar for a given rep scheme, e.g. 3 sets of 5 reps, 3RM, 5RM, or estimated 1RM,
for instance.
Muscular hypertrophy: An increase in muscle cross sectional area (CSA)
resulting from the growth of both the contractile and non-contractile elements of a
muscle, typically in response to training combined with appropriate nutrition that
is resulting in net weight gain.
We agree with Rippetoe’s classification system for novice, intermediate, and advanced
lifters, which stratifies lifters based on their rate of adaptation to training stress and also
has implications for how that stress is applied. Training stress is only one component of
overall fatigue, a concept introduced in the last chapter. However, since we cannot
directly control all sources of fatigue via exercise programming (e.g, non-training
physical stress, emotional, environmental stresses), we must focus on the elements of a
program that are within our control as they relate to trainees’ differential rates of
adaptation. These categories are defined as follows:
Novice: The stress of a single properly programmed workout is enough to disrupt
homeostasis, yet the recovery interval is ~48 hours long before adaptation
occurs. This allows for objective strength progress every workout on a proper
novice program like SSLP. The hypertrophy stimulus provided from a single
workout is sufficient to nearly maximize the molecular and physiologic processes
involved in increasing muscle cross sectional area, given that a novice -- by
definition -- is previously untrained. Once the threshold for homeostatic disruption
has been reached, exposing the untrained novice to more volume (working reps)
in a single session does not produce more muscle growth, but does produce
increased fatigue that may interfere with strength improvements.
Intermediate: The stress incurred from a week-long series of properly
programmed workouts is enough to disrupt homeostasis. The recovery interval is
approximately ~1 week before adaptation is completed. This allows for objective
strength progress every week on a proper intermediate program like The
Bridge. The hypertrophy stimulus provided from a single workout may be
sufficient to nearly maximize the processes involved in increasing muscle cross
sectional area if training volume is sufficient to represent an overload event.*
Exposing the intermediate to increased volume (reps) in a single session in
excess of that which produces optimal strength improvements may result in
increased muscle hypertrophy when accompanied by appropriate nutritional
interventions that produce weight gain. However, the degree to which muscle
hypertrophy is increased with “more reps” alone within the context of a strength
program is not yet known. As a thought experiment, consider the hypertrophic
response to training (HRTT) ranging from 0 to 1, where a score of 0 represents
no hypertrophy and 1 represents maximal hypertrophy. If a training session does
not meet criteria to cause an overload event*, then it receives a HRTT score of 0.
On the other hand, a training session consisting of 5x5 squats, 5x5 bench press,
and 5 x 1 deadlifts may represent an HRTT score of 0.8 for the trained
musculature. If we compare that to a training session consisting of 5x7 squats, 5
x 7 bench, and 5 x 2 deadlifts, the HRTT score may be 0.9 due to the added
volume in the latter example. However, there is also significantly more training
stress in that example, which may be inappropriate for the lifter depending on
their training stress requirements and the context the overall program. Training
frequency’s influence on hypertrophy outcomes are discussed with the advanced
lifter’s description below.
* By definition, any and all training that meets the physiological criteria for an
“overload event” will elevate the muscle protein synthesis (MPS) rate. It is critical
to note that this theoretical threshold does not always have to be met with
significant intensity, however. If the lifter is exposed to enough volume, intensity,
and range of motion to accumulate enough stress to qualify as an “overload
event,” this exposure produces an increase in muscle protein synthesis rates.
The minimum training stress that qualifies as an overload event is not known in
absolute terms. It varies among individuals and changes over time depending on
the lifter’s age, level of training advancement, hormonal milieu, etc. As a lifter
becomes more advanced, older, and/or has a less anabolic hormonal profile,
overload events generally require more volume in order to surpass the threshold.
Advanced: The stress incurred from a series of workouts completed over a time
interval greater than 1 week is required to disrupt homeostasis. The recovery
interval is also therefore also greater than 1 week before adaptation is
completed. This allows for objective strength progress every 2 weeks or
greater depending on the level of advancement. The more advanced a lifter, the
longer the stress accumulation and recovery, e.g. fatigue dissipation, will be. It is
not unusual for advanced lifters to require stress accumulation to last for a few
months with the subsequent realization of that training’s effect occurring weeks to
months later. The same hypertrophy considerations seen in the intermediate’s
description apply here as well, with additional caveats that training frequency is
even more important here given the more rapid decay in muscle protein
synthesis (MPS) rates seen in highly trained lifters. MPS rates tend to remain
elevated for 24-48 hours after an overload event, with novices and earlier
intermediates trending towards a 48 hour elevation whereas later intermediates
and advanced lifters trend towards a shorter, 24 hour elevation. In practical
terms, this means the advanced lifter who wants to maximize hypertrophy may
benefit from more frequent training of muscle groups. This concept also suggests
that “total annihilation” of a muscle group with ultra-high volume training, e.g. 300
reps for “arms” may be counterproductive, since further training of the arms (and
therefore subsequent stimulation of MPS) may be delayed long past the
completion of that MPS bout, due to soreness. In short, the way to maximize
hypertrophy is to stimulate MPS as often as possible through training without
doing too much “extra stuff” that compromises future stimulation of MPS.
Again, the overarching theme that persists regardless of training level is that the correct
amount of training stress must be applied through manipulation of volume, tonnage,
intensity, and frequency to ultimately induce the desired adaptation after recovery takes
place. The application of an inappropriate amount of training stress (either insufficient or
excessive) results in stagnation, regression, or even increased risk of injury.
In the Starting Strength Novice Linear Progression (SSLP), the exercise selection,
training volume, and training frequency are all maintained in the context of everincreasing intensity. This increases the stress applied to the lifter in a step-wise manner
each session. During the novice phase, this stress is rapidly recovered from and
adapted to before the next session. Eventually, at a certain intensity the degree of
stress applied exceeds the lifters’ “48-hour recovery capacity”, and this approach is no
longer viable. At that point, the SSLP ends and a change in approach is necessary to
allow for continued progress.
At this point, there are two general approaches to managing the post-novice lifter. The
first involves continuing to escalate the applied stress in a single session, while
providing additional time for recovery and adaptation. This is one interpretation of the
theoretical underpinning in the original Texas Method, whereby a very large stress is
applied on “Volume Day”, this stress is recovered from through the week (including
“Light Day”), and the adaptation is demonstrated on “Intensity Day”.
This approach fundamentally relies on incremental increases in the stress applied on
Volume Day. The downside of this approach is that there is a physiologic upper limit to
the amount of training stress in one session that an intermediate lifter can tolerate and
recover from within the context of a program designed for a 1-week stress-recoveryadaptation cycle. Additionally, there is an upper limit to the amount of useful stress that
can be applied in a given session; in other words, a threshold above which you aren’t
getting more adaptation, so the only real effect is additional unnecessary “junk” fatigue.
With these factors in mind, you can see how linearly progressing the intensity of a
massive single-session volume stress might generate fatigue out of proportion to the
ultimate adaptation.
The alternative to this approach is to accumulate the necessary training stress over a
series of workouts, instead of within a single session. This provides a far more
sustainable strategy for incremental increase in training stress over a far longer period
of time. This approach is the alternative interpretation of the Texas Method, where
stress applied from the volume, light, and intensity days all sum together to produce
enough stress to disrupt homeostasis over the week in its entirety and, similarly, is
simultaneously recovered from over the week and weekend in its entirety. The
adaptations are then “displayed” during the following week’s training days, which then
sum together to disrupt homeostasis yet again. It is possible that those running Texas
Method may oscillate between both models presented here depending on their recovery
capacities given that recovery is a dynamic process that changes all the time.
The fact remains however, that because our lifter has freshly graduated from novice
status, the total stress applied must be carefully managed in order to remain
appropriate. Too little stress offers no disruption of homeostasis and results in stalling or
detraining, whereas too much stress does not allow for enough recovery to occur within
program structure, and may cause injury and/or regression.
As mentioned above, when discussing the different rates of adaptation that define a
lifter’s training advancement, an intermediate lifter’s “new” stress-recovery-adaptation
cycle length is longer than the novice’s for strength outcomes. Instead of a full cycle
taking place within 48 hours, it now takes place over 7-14 days, which should translate
into an objective performance increase (such as weight on the bar or estimated 1RM)
every 1-2 weeks.
Let’s now turn our attention to assessing SSLP and figure out we came up with The
Chapter 4 Assessment of Starting Strength Novice Linear Progression
We are assuming many who will be running The Bridge will be fresh graduates of the
Starting Strength Novice Linear Progression (SSLP) or have completed it in recent
history. Therefore, we will assess the volume, tonnage, intensity, and frequency of
SSLP and give some clues as to how we modified these variables to manage training
stress appropriately.
In SSLP, the lifter squats 3 times per week and subsequently exposes the lifter to 45
working reps for the squat and pressing exercises. SSLP also commits 20 working reps
of volume to the deadlift from the combination of the deadlift and power clean. Working
reps in this context refer to the sets done across at the same weight within SSLP. For
instance, a lifter squatting 315 for 3 sets of 5 did 15 “working reps” for the squat that
session and these reps most directly translate to producing strength gains.
For completeness, we admit that all reps performed at sufficient intensity level to
produce an overload event that subsequently results in improved strength performance
should be included in the volume calculation. In general, reps performed at intensities
greater than 70% of a lifer’s 1RM would qualify, but the number of these reps in SSLP
that occur outside of the work sets are small enough to ignore.
Increasing volume of the lifts is one way that we can increase training stress, though it
would be hard to discuss the addition of volume without discussing its intensity. For
example, suppose a have a lifter squatting 315 for 3 sets of 5 reps who just finished
SSLP. In scenario A we add 2 sets of 5 at 315 and in scenario B we add 2 sets of 5 at
275. Both scenarios provide the same amount of additional volume, but the higher
intensity of scenario A inflicts more stress than scenario B.
An interesting concept has come up in some coaching circles suggesting that there are
trainees who are uniquely “volume sensitive” who do not handle adding stress in the
way of volume very well and incur more stress than we’d otherwise expect from a given
amount volume. Classically, this type of trainee is an older person and the typical
suggestion is to train less frequently, use less volume, and to use higher intensity work
sets in order to incrementally increase stress. We find these claims lacking both
scientific and anecdotal evidence and, in our estimation, representing a
misunderstanding of exercise programming. Consequently, we will attempt to show that
increasing volume exposure correctly is both necessary and beneficial for long term
As mentioned above, the effect of volume cannot be discussed without intensity.
Further, we know that trainees get better at tolerating and recovering from a stress the
more they are exposed to it. This is due to the Repeated Bout Effect (RBE) Principle,
which describes the adaptation process muscles undergo when exposed to a novel
training stress. Simply put, exposing the lifter to 3 sets of 5 reps at 315lbs for squats
produces a bevy of changes in that lifter that ultimately make re-exposure to the same
workout less stressful and also, easier to recover from.
For an extreme example, imagine that a “volume sensitive” novice lifter has been
advised to train twice weekly in the following fashion:
Day 1
o Squat x 5 reps x 1 set
o Press x 5 reps x 1 set
o Deadlift x 5 reps x 1 set
Day 2 (3 days later)
o Squat x 5 reps x 1 set
o Bench x 5 reps x 1 set
The lifter had been advised to do a single work set on each lift because volume would
“beat him up” and prevent his stress-recovery-adaptation process from taking place
within the time between Day 1 and Day 2. For a rank novice, this program would likely
result in progress for a few weeks, but at some point in the near future the stress
increase incurred from just increasing the weight will not result in an improvement.
The question is why and simply speaking, there are only two possible answers:
1) The stress applied is insufficient to disrupt homeostasis.
2) The stress applied is too great to recover from in the given time interval.
It could be either in this situation, but we’d make a case for the former with some
additional nuance (of course). A high intensity set, e.g. a 1RM, 3RM, or 5RM, applies a
certain amount of stress upon a trainee and will disrupt homeostasis in untrained
populations for about ~6 weeks. This is substantiated by multiple studies looking at
single set vs multiple set training programs applied to various demographics showing
worse strength outcomes with single sets.
After this initial period of success however, a single work set does not generate a
significant physical or metabolic insult to the muscles and will not disrupt homeostasis.
As we would predict, this is one of the reasons multiple sets training programs routinely
outperform single set training programs in more trained populations.
Moreover, a lifter who is not exposed to significant training volume never builds the work
capacity to tolerate volume, which occurs through the Repeated Bout Effect and this
compromises the trainee’s future success. Hypertrophy outcomes also suffer without
appropriate volume, as it [volume] is the main driver of muscle growth.
Finally, it should be stated that less male someone is, e.g. not male, lower testosterone
levels, or of advanced age, the less robustly they will respond to a given training stress.
This is secondary to blood flow characteristics that change with aging, the hormonal
milieu, and tissue plasticity. In other words, younger males with high testosterone levels
respond more readily to an overload event than older females with miniscule amounts of
T floating around. If anything, this young virile cohort may be the “volume sensitive”
folks, not the geezers or geezlings.
In summary, we feel that the evidence suggests against reducing volume, or by
association- training frequency, for older trainees. However, we do not deny that it is
possible to apply too much stress to an older trainee if the intensity is too high. In
general, volume performed at 70% of a lifter’s 1RM is useful volume for strength
improvement and adjustment of intensity while increasing volume is our preferred
method of programming folks after SSLP.
The relative effort on any given set of 5 during the novice progression is somewhere
between 70% and 90% of his actual 5RM ability. This means that the lifter could likely
perform an additional 1 to 3 reps in any given work set if he absolutely had to. From an
intensity standpoint, this corresponds to 79-84% of “1RM” for a set of 5 reps.
With this in mind, SSLP’s intensity for the working sets tends to be about 80-85%, and
likely improves within this range due to the relatively consistent increase in the novice
lifter’s strength as he runs the program successfully.
We can also increase stress by increasing intensity, e.g. by adding weight to existing
set/rep schemes or by changing them in order to allow more exposure to heavy weights.
For example, changing from 3 sets of 5 reps to 5 sets of 3 reps preserves the volume,
i.e. it’s 15 reps in either case, but the intensity and tonnage is higher in 5 sets of 3 reps.
Interestingly, both scientific evidence and professional experience suggest that adding
intensity doesn’t work very well in this context.
It should be stated that SSLP is already fairly high intensity so increasing that aspect of
the program without modifying other factors doesn’t tend to produce strength gains or
any additional hypertrophy, however it may allow the lifter to realize previous strength
via testing that is thinly disguised as training. Consider a program that has a lifter cycle
through rep ranges, e.g. a 5RM one week, 4RM the next week, 3RM the following week,
and so on before repeating this method. Given the low volume situation of training
sessions like these, it is highly likely that weekly “improvements” seen are really just
previously developed strength gains that are now being tested.
It is also possible that the act of exposing an intensity naïve individual to this type of
loading may improve their ability to demonstrate their strength. Said another way, a
person who has not previously trained with singles (sets of 1), doubles (sets of 2), or
triples (sets of 3), may get better at doing singles, doubles, or triples once they train
them. This is most easily explained by the Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand
(SAID) Principle, which states that the body adapts to the specific demands placed
upon it.
Recall that tonnage is reps x sets x load. Using the theoretical example of a 180 kg
squatter, 110 kg bencher, 70 kg presser, and 200 kg deadlifter and under the
assumption that SSLP uses an average intensity of 81.5%, as this is the mean of the
predicted 79-84% intensity range, we get the following comparisons:
• Squat Tonnage= 6601kg per week
• Bench Tonnage= 1793kg per week
• Press Tonnage = 855kg per week
• Deadlift Tonnage= 815kg per week
For squats, SSLP provides a good amount of tonnage at a given strength level.
However, the higher the absolute strength, the less able the lifter will be to recover from
and sustain that amount of intensity at a given volume. More advanced lifters, despite
the benefits of the Repeated Bout Effect (RBE) stating that a lifter gets less fatigued
from what he is exposed to, cannot tolerate thrice weekly loading at >80% of 1RM for
significant amounts of volume for extended periods of time.
The last program variables we’ll jointly assess in this article are frequency and “slots.”
Frequency refers to the amount of times a particular exercise is seen, whereas slots are
the exercises within the workout sorted according to whether they are upper-body, like
the pressing movements, or lower-body, like squats and deadlifts.
Keeping with the methods used when assessing volume and tonnage, we’ll limit
frequency calculation to only directly attributable variations of the Big Four lifts, e.g. the
squat, bench, press, and deadlift. However, we will include the additional variants that
train the collection of muscle groups in either the lower body or upper body. The logic
for comparing slots this way is as follows:
“…the carry-over, stress and fatigue, and other effects from exercises stressing similar
muscle groups are significant and thus, are best grouped together. For example, squats
contribute to increasing the deadlift and deadlift training contributes to increasing the
squat through both indirect and direct mechanisms.”
Thus, SSLP has 4 lower body slots (3 squatting and 1 deadlifting) and 3 pressing slots
(the alternating press and bench) per week.
Overall Assessment and Plan
Now that we’ve laid out the main variables in play, we can consider what modifications
should be made in order to provide the appropriate increase in stress for the post SSLP
lifter. As you may have predicted, an increase in any one of the factors (save for
intensity) discussed above typically results in higher volume. Our personal and
professional experiences agree with the scientific evidence that increasing volume
typically produces a beneficial increase in stress provided it is increased in an
appropriate manner. This requires adjustment of training intensity, frequency, and
exercise selection.
We briefly outline how we prefer to increase training stress for each lift for this program
Squat: Increase volume, decrease intensity slightly, maintain frequency, and
gradually improve skill for handling circa maximal weights.
Bench: Increase volume, maintain intensity, increase frequency through use of
similar variations, and gradually improve skill for handling circa maximal weights.
Press: Increase volume, maintain intensity, increase frequency through use of
similar variations, through use of similar variations and gradually improve skill for
handling circa maximal weights.
Deadlift: Increase volume, decrease intensity, increase frequency, and gradually
improve skill for handling circa maximal weights.
How these modifications come together synergistically are seen in the next chapter, The
Chapter 5 The Program
We present to you the 8-week Bridge:
*for RPE discussion, see next chapter
Movement Explanations
Squat w/ belt: Self-explanatory, just squat with the belt.
2ct Paused Squat: Pause for 2 seconds at the bottom of the squat.
Pin Squat: Squat in a rack with the pins set at a height where you just get below
parallel when the barbell touches the pins. Start the movement at the top, squat
down and pause on the pins, then stand up.
3-0-3 Tempo Squat: Take 3 seconds to descend and 3 seconds to ascend in the
squat. Do not pause at the bottom.
Squat, no belt: Squat without a belt. Most variations besides the squat w/ belt
should be performed beltless. This is not done to increase how much the “core”
gets trained or to get the lifter to use their abs better, as neither of those
statements are supported by evidence. Rather, beltless squats allow for a
training stress to be achieved with a slightly lighter weight, which may allow for
technique corrections and decreased load-induced musculoskeletal pain.
Bench Press, 1ct paused: Bench with a 1 second pause on the chest.
Press w/ belt: Overhead press w/ belt. Each rep should be done from a dead
Close grip bench: Bench with a grip set at ~16.5” between index fingers.
2 or 3ct paused bench: Pause for 2 or 3 seconds on chest, respectively.
Pin Bench: Bench in a rack with the pins set at chest height, i.e. where you just
touch the pins before touching your chest with the barbell. Start the movement at
the top, bring the bar down and pause on the pins, then press it back up.
• Deadlift w/ belt: Standard deadlift from the floor w/ belt.
Rack Pull, mid shin: Deadlift in a power rack or with the bar elevated on blocks
such that the barbell is at mid shin level, e.g. 2” higher than it would be it were on
the floor. Perform reps from this height.
2ct paused deadlift: Start like a normal deadlift but then pause for 2 seconds 1”
off the floor, then finish the pull.
Pendlay Rows: Start with the barbell on the ground over the midfoot, i.e. where
you would deadlift it from. Extend the knees slightly more than you’d have in a
deadlift, then row the bar to a point where it contacts the lower sternum. Try to
use minimal hip and knee movement to lift the weight.
About GPP
A common question with nearly all programs is “Where do I put ______?”, e.g. cardio,
arm work, etc. and again this depends on a ton of variables. For the intermediate
recently graduating from SSLP, we assume that he or she was not performing a
significant amount of conditioning or accessory work prior to running this program so the
type of progression seen in The Bridge is how we’d start incorporating GPP into a
In general, we like to program in General Physical Preparedness (GPP) work 1-2 days a
week. Furthermore, we try to make sure the lifter can’t go full-bro and apply too much
stress to themselves on these GPP days by using time-caps on highly effective (in my
opinion) exercises, e.g. 7 min upper back or trunk work.
In these time-criterion prescriptions the goal is to accumulate as many reps as possible
within the given time frame. Each set should be submaximal meaning that the lifter
should be able to perform additional reps or work and not go to failure.
The conditioning is included in order to augment development of a lifter’s work capacity,
i.e. how much work they can tolerate before becoming too fatigued to induce the
desired training stress. If you assumed that a failure to develop work capacity over time
limits the amount of training a lifter can both perform and recover from AND that this
has implications for future progress- then you’re right on the money. Suffice it to say, it
behooves the early intermediate trainee to start developing their work capacity
appropriately and some conditioning work is usually indicated for this.
We include low intensity steady state conditioning (LISS) work initially and later include
high intensity interval training (HIIT). The rationale for including LISS first is that it is
difficult to improve overall conditioning without an aerobic base, which compromises
development of work capacity. While it is true that many studies suggest HIIT is superior
to LISS for outcomes like body fat loss, VO2max improvement, etc., these studies are
all short term and performed mostly in untrained populations or, at best, endurance
If we think about the population running The Bridge program, we can infer that nearly all
of them have been exposed to large amounts of anaerobic stress from recent training,
e.g. lifting weights, which will now be increased. From a conditioning standpoint, the
adaptations produced are mainly metabolic fatigue factor producing (e.g. lactate) and
force production increases and this may actually cause a more rapid onset of fatigue
during highly aerobic activities like running, cycling, swimming, etc. unless additional
steps are taken to transfer the anaerobic improvements to aerobic capacity.
In short, we need some aerobic conditioning to get good at clearing metabolic
byproducts, maintain or improve efficiency of movement, and the cardiometabolic base
that anaerobic improvements (from a conditioning perspective) must be built upon. Said
a different way, we need to do some LISS to make sure the HIIT works optimally and a
failure to do so compromises results from a conditioning perspective, which
subsequently may compromise strength outcomes.
Tracking Progress
On this program, we recommend you write down all work done at RPE 7 or greater (see
below for discussion of RPE). Week to week, the idea is to add more weight to the bar,
accrue more tonnage, and maintain or improve technique.
You should be tracking your estimated 1 rep maximum (e1RM), which can be calculated
from the included percentage chart. Let’s say you squatted 350 x 5 reps @ 9. From the
chart, we know that 5 @ 9 is 84% of a 1 rep max. So, we can set up the following
350/x = 84/100 and solve for x, which gives as an e1RM of 417lbs.
For simplicity sake, you can use the following equation to calculate your e1RM:
E1RM=(Weight on the bar x 100)/Percentage from Chart
Ideally, each week you would try to make the e1RM go up. If the rep range stays the
same week to week, this is fairly straightforward- just add a little bit of weight if you can
while staying within the given RPE range. If the rep ranges change however, we
recommend calculating the load you need ahead of time in order to beat last week’s
Chapter 6- Rate of Perceived Exertion, Percentages, and Other Loading
During the novice progression, load selection is easy. It’s always “just a little more than
last time”. Training intensity continuously increases as you adapt to ever-increasing
intensities. Unfortunately, as we have already discussed at length, this does not work
forever. Eventually, more than one training variable must be manipulated at a given time
(e.g., periodization) in order to continually deliver sufficient stress while 1) allowing for
adequate recovery, 2) managing fatigue, and 3) realizing the final adaptation.
So if we aren’t going to be adding more weight to the bar every session anymore, how
do we decide what the load should be for a given exercise on a given day? There are a
few common methods used in exercise programming for this. Perhaps the most
common method of load selection involves using percentages. Typically, these
percentages are calculated off of a lifter’s 1-rep maximum in a given lift (or perhaps a
different rep-max like a 5RM). For example, a program may suggest squatting 5 x 5 at
80% 5RM, or benching 3 x 2 at 90% 1RM. These are very convenient and preferred
among many lifters because they continue to provide a concrete number that they must
hit on a given day.
It should be obvious that this technique requires a crucial part of information – knowing
the lifter’s 1-rep maximum for a given lift. And at no time during (or after) the novice
linear progression is it recommended for a novice to perform a 1RM test, because
novices are not yet sufficiently trained (in terms of skill and neuromuscular recruitment &
coordination) to actually execute a “true” 1RM effort.
The alternative, of course is to estimate the 1RM off of their best 3RM, 5RM, or training
5 x 5. There are various formulas and calculators available to estimate such things.
Unfortunately, their accuracy still is highly variable due to individual differences in things
like training status, neuromuscular efficiency, and skill. This leaves you basing your
entire training program off of a measure of questionable validity.
Of course, there is also the consideration of when this 1RM (or “estimated” 1RM) was
performed. Let’s say you completed your novice progression 3 months ago, then got
caught up with a new job, school, and life stress. But, having completed your novice
phase, you want to start an intermediate program because they are more complex and
exciting, with more variety to “keep things fresh”. You plug in your old 1RMs, print out
your program, enter the gym on day 1, and get pinned under the first heavy squat set…
because your 1RM was no longer valid.
For some novices, the simple act of performing a rep max effort in order to test their
strength represents an overload event from which they adapt and get stronger –
similarly rendering the measurement immediately invalid. Similarly, the fact that an
effective intermediate training program will get you stronger on a weekly basis means
that the original 1-rep-max used to calculate your training weights becomes
progressively less and less valid as the program goes on.
Finally, recall our important concept of fatigue. It is a necessary component of any
training program, and must be managed carefully as lifters get more and more
advanced. However, recall also that fatigue encompasses other non-training
components that may be outside of our control. Unexpected or non-modifiable
increases in fatigue (e.g., having to flip to working night shifts, an unexpected life stress,
etc.) might result in performance decreases that are not accounted for by the rigid
prescription of a percent-based program. In other words, you might be strong enough to
squat 5 x 5 at 80% of 1RM, but since you’ve been dealing with various acute life
stressors you might fail your second work set that day. What do you do then? Quit and
go home?
There is a better way.
Let’s introduce the concept of R.P.E., an acronym which stands for Rate of Perceived
Exertion. The RPE scale was originally developed in the 60’s by Swedish psychologist
Gunnar Borg and had a linear scale of 6-20. Each increment is associated with a
subjective level of effort, with 6 representing a resting state and 20 representing
maximal exertion.
Using this scale, each numerical value is correlated with a heart rate by multiplying the
RPE by 10. For example, if a person rated their exertion at 13 (somewhat hard), then
their heart rate is estimated to be about 130 beats per minute. At this point, the RPE
scale was typically applied to aerobic exercise and exercise physiology research and
not resistance training.
Fast forward to the late 2000’s and enter the freaky strong and very intelligent Mike
Tuchscherer, owner of Reactive Training Systems. Mike was the first to apply RPE
principles to strength training as a way of selecting the weight for a given exercise on a
particular day. We would be remiss if we did not give credit where credit is due, as Mike
deserves a lot of praise for bringing this concept to strength sports. I am fortunate to
have called him both coach and friend.
It is our opinion that there are advantages and disadvantages to using RPE to
determine the load for non-novice lifters that we discuss below. EVEN WITH RPE
By using RPE to determine loading, we can account for variability in performance that
occurs day to day. You see, performance on a given training day is related to many
factors, including many the lifter may not be able to control. Things like previous training
stress, sleep, nutritional status, motivation, time of day, injuries, training environment,
etc. all play a role in what a lifter’s performance level will be for a given training session.
Using RPE to select the weight accounts for all of this because it allows the lifter to
“feel” out the load that will deliver the prescribed stress. In contrast, using something
like percentages or pre-planned loads may be less appropriate depending on the
accuracy of the 1RM they are calculated from. Consider that a 1RM is only truly
“accurate” on the specific day it is performed. Days, weeks, or months later, a that
previously measured 1RM may be much heavier or much lighter than a lifter’s current
maximum ability; therefore, selecting loads using this old measurement may be suboptimal.
While I’m not against having a certain load in mind as the goal of the day, it is my
opinion that the load may need to be adjusted based on the lifter’s actual performance
on that day. In other words, there may be a discrepancy between predicted and actual
performance that is learned during the last few warm up sets by subjectively rating
these sets’ difficulty level.
Secondary to allowing for selection of the appropriate loading based on performance
potential of a given training session, RPE allows us better opportunity to expose the
lifter to the correct training stress. By now, you’re probably sick of hearing about “the
correct amount of stress”, but it bears repeating applying just the right amount of stress
given the demographic, the timing within the training cycle (e.g. are we close to a meet
vs. being 16 weeks away from meet day?), and the amount of fatigue the lifter is dealing
with at the time is really friggin’ important.
For instance, if someone is far away from a meet or test week, it’s likely best to get in a
good amount of training volume at a relatively lower intensity than if the meet or test
week is 14 days away. So in selecting the load for a particular exercise, RPE
prescriptions can communicate to the lifter that the sets are supposed to be at a certain
level of difficulty and they can gauge this in real-time, depending on how they feel under
the bar. Of course, this depends on numerous factors that are hard to communicate so I
simply say “Do 4 sets of 6 reps @ 7” because there is (hopefully) an understanding of
just how hard an “@7” set should be regardless of any other factors, e.g. rep range,
exercise selection, ambient temperature, etc. Overall, if we continue to apply the right
stress over a series of training sessions, we’ll likely be see the greatest improvements in
One seldom discussed benefit of using RPE is that it has a high likelihood of improving
a lifter’s awareness with respect to their ability of a given day. When we use RPE for
each set, we get the unique opportunity to clue the lifter in on their potential
performance for the particular exercise. This is, admittedly, relatively more important for
competitive lifters and serious trainees- but I do find it useful to help build a lifter’s selfawareness of their performance over time.
Say a lifter is warming up and everything feels light, by using a set scale like the RPE
scale to describe the relative effort, he or she will have insight into their potential for the
day, which is very important during a meet in attempt selection.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t also discuss the drawbacks to using RPE, but it should be
said that we ultimately think that using RPE has a better risk/benefit profile compared to
using percentages or discrete loading. Thus, we also think that learning to use RPE26
likely best improved by continued practice assigning RPE’s to sets- is a valuable skill to
have. Nevertheless, let’s talk about the potential pitfalls of RPE.
One of the biggest gripes with RPE is the worry that a lifter will gauge their efforts
poorly. We admit that there’s definitely a learning curve here either and it is very normal
for people who have never assigned RPE to their sets to both under and overestimate
at the beginning. I have also run into people who consistently underrate or overrate their
RPE, and this can be troublesome over time if it’s not worked out.
So, how does one get better at this? By doing it more, of course! It is important to be
honest with yourself after a given set, use video for objective feedback, and keep
practicing to hone your RPE rating abilities. For some this takes longer than others, but I
do feel the advantages outweigh this disadvantage when considering how I as a coach
most effectively communicate the intended loading and stress for a given exercise if I
can’t be there in person.
Additionally, there is a potential that training progress is slower the in the absence of
discrete loads being planned for. Some folks just like planning their training linearly, i.e.
if I squatted 405 x 5 this week, I’m aiming for 410 x 5 next week. We see the appeal in
that, certainly, but would make the argument that the use of RPE and linear progression
(adding weight each session or each week, for instance) are not mutually exclusive.
The idea- EVEN WITH RPE- is to be adding weight to the bar regularly and if a person
can do that weekly without overshooting the planned training stress (and thus, likely
missing reps or having to eliminate volume by cutting sets) then that’s a great plan.
Having a backup plan in RPE however, allows the lifter to know what to do if they
cannot. for whatever reason, make that 2.5-5lb jump they planned for.
Chapter 7 - FAQ
1) Why is this better than the Texas Method or 5/3/1?
a. Neither program has an appropriate change in the factors contributing to
training stress discussed above, i.e. volume, intensity, and frequency, to drive
strength improvements optimally.
b. For a more in-depth discussion, see here:
2) What should I eat while on this program?
a. Great question! As you might expect, the answer depends on a host of
variables that are specific to each individual. However, it is our
recommendation that if you are slightly underweight, you gain weight
consistently week by week. Similarly, if you are slightly overweight you should
lose weight slowly while running this program.
b. For a very underweight individual, SSLP is likely a better choice when
accompanied by appropriate weight gain. For a very overweight person who
is seeking to lose a significant amount of body fat quickly, this likely isn’t the
best program either.
c. For more details on how to setup a diet for you, the individual- see here:
3) What should I do after this program?
a. That’s a great question whose answer depends on what you want to do.
Theoretically, you could repeat the program and probably get some good
results, but you may need alterations in volume, intensity, frequency, or
movement selection to optimize it to your specific needs. Coaching may be
needed for this process.
4) How should I warm up?
a. We recommend doing repeated sets of 5 with the empty barbell for the first
exercise every minute on the minute for 8-10 minutes until appropriately
warm. Then, we recommend sticking to the prescribed rep range for that
exercise and increasing weight. In other words, if the prescription is 4 reps @
7, 4 reps @ 8, 4 reps @ 9, do sets of 4 all the way up until you get to
something that feels like a RPE 7. Then, add 5% to the bar, which should get
you close to an 8. Then add another 5% to the bar for your @9 set. By adding
5% bar weight while maintaining the rep range, we typically see an increase
in RPE by 1.
5) What can I do to maximize recovery?
a. You can sleep 7-8 hours per night, maintain good support systems for your
outside-the-gym stress, and eat appropriately such that rapid weight loss is
not occurring. Also, being mindful of sticking to the program will optimize
recovery. Stretching, contrast baths, massage, chiropractic adjustments, etc.
will not help recovery.
6) I have to take a week off, what should I do?
a. Depends when this occurs, but usually we’ll have you jump right back to the
week preceding your week off.
7) Can I train arms, bro?
a. Sure. Do them on GPP days, set a clock for 7 minutes, and do as many reps
as possible using sub maximal sets . This will need to be titrated up every few
8) When do you recommend stretching?
a. Easy answer, NEVER.
9) Do you recommend supplements with this program?
a. Supplements definitely aren’t necessary to survive, by definition, but for
maximal performance one could make an argument for inclusion of some
sports supplements, e.g. creatine, beta alanine, HMB, citrulline malate,
betaine anhydrous, sodium, etc. These are all combined in our GainzZz Rx
supplement where you take 1 scoop pre workout and another 1 scoop post
workout, elimintating the hassle of dosing multiple supplements.
b. Whey protein is also useful, and we recommend our GainzZz Rx Whey
Protein or protein of similar quality.
10) I’m not a novice, should I still run this program?
a. Yes, this program is designed for folks who are not novices.
11) What kind of lifting gear do you recommend?
a. Great question. We recommend obtaining a good quality lifting belt that is 3 or
4” wide, 10 or 13mm thick, and of the single prong or lever variety. A good set
of knee sleeves, wrist wraps, and wrist straps may also come in handy.
12) Why so much benching, bro?
a. Great question. Our experience suggests that increasing the strength of the
shoulder girdle most readily responds to increased pressing volume,
specifically of the bench variety. However, we have had cases of folks with
history of shoulder issues who do well we 2x/wk pressing and 1x/wk
benching. If that sounds like you, we recommend pressing on days 1
(swapping out the supplemental bench on Day 1 for a press) and 3 (press w/
belt) and benching on day 2 (paused bench), but keeping the same rep, RPE,
and volume recommendations.
Chapter 8 - Resources
For 1 on 1 coaching click here (http://www.barbellmedicine.com/consults-and-contact/)
or send us an email at info@barbellmedicine.com
How to setup your diet: http://www.barbellmedicine.com/584-2/
Ask a nutrition question: http://startingstrength.com/resources/forum/forum167/
Smartphone App for tracking dietary intake: https://www.myfitnesspal.com/
Form check: http://startingstrength.com/resources/forum/forum171/
How to do the lifts:
Squat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QhVC_AnZYYM
Bench: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4T9UQ4FBVXI&t=27s
Press: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnBmiBqp-AI
Deadlift: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AObAU-EcYE&t=64s
Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training: https://aasgaardco.com/store/books/startingstrength-basic-barbell-training-413
Practical Programming: https://aasgaardco.com/store/books/practical-programming-forstrength-training-328-506
For a Starting Strength coach in your area http://startingstrength.org/index.php/site/coaches