First, I'd like to supplement with general info about SL 5x5 so I can put my question into context.

Sometimes in the newsletter emails I get from Mehdi where people ask him random questions about stuff like plateaus, he'll reply and say "you'll be amazed that you can add weight effortlessly after every workout. That is, if you didn't start too heavy to impress people in the gym".

Now, there are a few things he could be implying. He could either be implying that people start too heavy and have bad form, thus legitimately limiting their ability to properly lift a heavier load. He could also be implying that if you can comfortable squat with 150lb as a starting point that you shouldn't do it.

Does the whole starting with the empty bar actually enter into anything significantly if you actually CAN start some of the workouts with good form at a comfortably higher weight?

1 Answer 1


Right now, today, I could back squat 100kg for five. But if I were starting a per-workout linear progression like StrongLifts, it would be a terrible idea to start with 100kg. Even 90kg would be ill-advised. I don't want to start lifting at my 5RM or even a high percentage of it. I want to leave some space as a buffer so that I can continue to add weight. That's for a few reasons:

  • The strength increase might be smaller than the weight increase. Lifting 100kg 5x5 doesn't guarantee that next session I'll be able to squat 102.5kg 5x5. Or, maybe I'll be able to squat 102.5kg, but it'll be harder and with slightly worse form. I want to avoid that.
  • Muscle grows and gets stronger faster than bone and soft tissue like ligaments and tendons. Starting well below your muscular capabilities gives these other tissues time to catch up with your muscle.
  • 5x5 is a lot of volume for a strength program. Even moderate percentages (e.g. 50%, 70%) of your 5RM will stimulate some strength and muscle growth when you do so much of it.

The goal of starting light in SL is to make absolutely sure that the trainee will have a sustained linear progression. If the trainee starts too heavy, there are more possibilities for the progression to get stuck.

If you already have some strength training background then starting with the bar is deload overkill. But the point is not to have one's eyes be bigger than one's belly: start a little light, leave some room to progress, and by spending less time bashing your central nervous system against your 5RM you'll be stronger faster in the end.

  • This is great information. Let me ask you, if my current PR is 225 lb squat, do you think starting my 5x5 Squat at 135lb was too heavy? Jan 31, 2014 at 14:44
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    @ChristopherBruce If I could hit 225x5x5 today, I'd start StrongLifts somewhere near 185, which is a ~20% deload. Jan 31, 2014 at 15:25
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    Great point regarding soft tissue - that can rapidly become the bottleneck, as well as injury risk.
    – G__
    Jan 31, 2014 at 17:48
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    A bit off-topic but isn't time to kill off the linear progression myth, at least for longer timeperiods? Assuming it would work, someone that starts to deadlift with an empty bar (20kg) , trains three times a week, adds 2.5 kg every practice, beat Benedikt Magnussons WR in about 58 weeks, see wolframalpha.com/share/…
    – FredrikD
    Feb 1, 2014 at 11:25
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    @FredrikD What's mythical about it? No program goes on forever. That doesn't mean it's useless or untrue. Anyway, every full-length description of linear progression I've seen describes how to identify its end stages and when to start periodizing. Feb 1, 2014 at 12:04

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