Moving right along in the Powerlifting Programming series, we’re all set to review Jonnie Candito’s Linear Program. You can grab a copy of the program here.
If you haven’t checked out the foundational articles of this series yet, you’re going to want to do that now. You’ll need the context for the rest of the review.
Likewise, if you’ve been an avid follower of the series thus far, and you haven’t checked out Practical Programming for Strength Training, now would be the time. As I’ve said elsewhere, in my opinion, this one book is the single best way to get yourself started down the path of proper powerlifting programming. All of the scientific foundations are there for you. Check out my full review of the book.
If you’d rather watch than read:
Candito Linear Progression Overview
Finally, we get to sink our teeth into something a little different!
Candito offers three options for his linear program: strength/control, strength/power, and strength/hypertrophy. You could very easily rename these to: Strength/Technique, Strength/Speed, and Strength/Muscle. We’ll focus on his “main” program which is the strength/control variant as it is also most specific to powerlifting of all the options.
Candito’s program is an upper/lower split that employs a four times per week training schedule. The upper and lower body training days are significantly different. In this case, I think it is most effective for me to just go ahead and layout the entire program:
As with all novice, linear progression programs, this one doesn’t feature a competitive plan. The program is intended to be run in perpetuum; you just keep going until you stall.
However, unlike other novice plans, this one features variation in intensity and volume throughout the week. The latter half of the week, the “control sessions”, is supposed to be lighter than the first half. So, realistically, you couldn’t just “skip” the control sessions and compete that weekend. The program has you set up to be strongest early in the week. If you wanted to compete on this program, you would have to do a mini-peak in my opinion.
My suggestion would be to replace the “Heavy” days early with “Control” days on meet week. From there, just rest until the meet on Saturday. It would look like the following…
How to Peak for a Meet using Candito’s Linear Progression:
Unlike Starting Strength or StrongLifts which has you doing the same workout with 3×5/5×5 every single time, using those ranges to both get stronger AND improve technique simultaneously, the “control” days on Candito’s program are explicitly aimed at technical improvement and the “heavy” days are explicitly aimed at maximal strength improvement.
The difference here is that, with Starting Strength and StrongLifts 5×5, each mesocycle AND microcycle is one full training session. On Candito’s program, the mesocycle is a full training week and the microcycles are the “heavy” and “control” days. This is still complex-parallel periodization, but it is spread out across a weekly period rather than in an individual, single session. This is a slightly more advanced form of program organization. Technically, by our definitions, this is an “advanced” method.
Candito’s programming is a bit inappropriate for a true novice powerlifter. As we’ve discussed previously, for a true beginner, the fastest way for them to make progress is simply adding more weight to the bar every time they go to the gym. They’re capable of it so they should do it. With Candito’s program, you’re only increasing weight on the main powerlifting movements once per week. More appropriate novice programs allow for PRs to be set 2-4 times per week.
Candito’s justification for this is basically that “motivation is a training variable”. I disagree. Motivation is not a training variable. Decreased motivation is a symptom of overreaching. All difficult programs will induce the lifter to overreach at various points. When a beginner starts to deeply overreach, and flirt with overtraining, then perhaps Candito’s motivation point becomes more critical. However, by this point, the lifter is no longer a true novice. They’re more of an “advanced novice” and they’ll likely have 3-6 months of lifting under their belt before linear programs really start to kick their ass every single session.
This program also introduces variety in intensity and volume right from the very beginning. You’ll notice that the “control” days keep absolute intensity down by utilizing pause movements which don’t allow for as heavy of weights. However, these control days are significantly more volume than the “heavy days”. So while the weights are lighter, which can serve as a mental break of sorts, these workouts are just as much about priming you for new PRs on the heavy days as they are about anything else. You’re getting a good volume stimulus on control days.
Of all the programs we’ve examined thus far, Candito’s Linear Program does the best job with specificity by far. The movement selection here is fantastic: the full emphasis is on squatting, benching, and deadlifting!
He also includes quite a bit of GPP (general physical preparation) in the form of upperback, arm work, etc. that tends to keep more advanced-novice types better motivated and better prepares them for more advanced stages of training. More novice programs should include GPP work.
Unlike other programs, there is a solid balance between upperbody and lower body volume as well as squat and deadlift volume. That is very refreshing to see.
Candito’s program passes with flying colors in terms of specificity.
Candito recommends increasing the weights 0-10lbs per week. Linear progression is advised, and the goal is 5lbs per week, but, ultimately, discretion is left up to the individual.
For a true novice, I don’t know that I particularly agree. There are advantages and disadvantages. The timid novice will use this as an excuse not to aggressively progress. The greedy novice will use this as a justification to jump too quickly. The honest novice will benefit greatly.
However, in general, I think this program is better suited for those with at least six months of training experience. For someone who is an “advanced-novice”, this is a fantastic idea.
Candito makes copious use of individual differences. For one, consider the loading increment advice from above. If you feel great, you can add 10lbs. If you feel awful, you aren’t required to progress every single time. Mentally, I think it is very important for novices to understand that not every single workout is going to be better than the last. Jonnie allows for some of that in a healthy way here.
Additionally, Candito lets people pick their own assistance exercises from a list he has written up. Not only that, but there are optional exercise slots. For more advanced-novices, this discretion will allow them to work out their inner-bodybuilding fantasies in a productive way. More advanced-novices should have enough reading and experience under their belt that they won’t completely butcher exercise selection on optional movements.
For true novices, I don’t like the idea. They won’t know what exercises to pick and very well may end up picking things that truly impede recovery. I can easily see some novice thinking that heavy stiff-leg deadlifts were a good “optional” movement or something like that.
As one last note, Candito does not address work set volume in terms of individual differences. Everyone does the same amount of sets and reps regardless of circumstances. Generally, as we’ve said in the past, this is appropriate for novices. However, for advanced-novices, perhaps some volume autoregulation would be a nice addition to the program.
Candito’s program manages fatigue with variations in intensity and volume throughout the week. On heavy days, the sets are kept down slightly. On “control” days, the sets are up, but the weights are kept down by the movement selection; you can’t go so heavy on paused movements.
Additionally, the Upper/Lower split aspect cuts the frequency to 2x/wk for both upper and lower body. Upper/Lower splits are generally great for recovery because, instead of getting 48-72 hours between full body sessions, you get 72-96 hours between upper/lower sessions. For advanced novices who are already dealing with fairly heavy weights, this is a good compromise.
Personally, just in general, I prefer full body training. However, I think it is especially important for a true novice to use full body training. They can recover fully in 48 hours very easily. This program is going to result in needlessly slow progress for someone with no experience whatsoever. The frequency is too low and PRs are only called for once weekly.
Honestly, Candito’s linear program is very, very solid. Out of all the beginner options we’ve looked at thus far, I’d consider it the best with a few caveats.
I don’t think it is appropriate for a true beginner. By a true beginner I’m talking about someone with virtually zero experience in the gym. The program offers too many choices, too many exercises, and too little frequency for this group. For you true novices, I still recommend buying a copy of Starting Strength.
That said, if you’ve already spent 3-9 months building a solid base on Starting Strength, StrongLifts, or some other full body 5×5 program, I think this would be an absolutely excellent option for “advanced-novices”. You get the freedom to choose some of your own exercises, you start incorporating some degree of autoregulation in the progression scheme, the program is highly specific, fatigue is managed properly, and, just in general, this is a well thought out program.
Along our continuum of “good, better, best”, I wouldn’t hesitate to say this program is somewhere between better and best for trainees of the right advancement. For you late stage novices and early intermediates (6-12 months of experience or so), I’ll just repeat myself and say this is a great choice for you if you have competitive interests in powerlifting.
For more information about Jonnie Candito and his programs:
Candito HQ Website: http://www.canditotraininghq.com/
Candito HQ YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWZmmDqEJv277d7hBa1nRfg
Candito Linear Program PDF: Download
Next, we’re going to take a look at Sheiko’s 6-Week novice routine. That’s right. Did you know there was such a thing? Analyzing Sheiko’s take on novices will give us great insight into how one of the best powerlifting coaches in the world believes novices should be developed.
If you enjoy this type of detailed, theoretical discussion on proper powerlifting programming then I can’t emphasize enough how much you’ll enjoy reading Practical Programming for Strength Training. The book contains 200 pages of discussion on these topics. For your investment, you’ll walk away with a scientific understanding of exercise programming that will benefit you for as long as you lift. I highly recommend the book.
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Table of Contents
Powerlifting Programs I: Scientific Principles of Powerlifting Programming
Powerlifting Programs II: Critical Training Variables
Powerlifting Programs III: Training Organization
Powerlifting Programs IV: Starting Strength
Powerlifting Programs V: StrongLifts 5×5
Powerlifting Programs VI: Jason Blaha’s 5×5 Novice Routine
Powerlifting Programs VII: Jonnie Candito’s Linear Program
Powerlifting Programs VIII: Sheiko’s Novice Routine
Powerlifting Programs IX: GreySkull Linear Progression
Powerlifting Programs X: The PowerliftingToWin Novice Program
Powerlifting Programs XI: Madcow’s 5×5
Powerlifting Programs XII: The Texas Method
Powerlifting Programs XIII: 5/3/1 and Beyond 5/3/1
Powerlifting Programs XIV: The Cube Method
Powerlifting Programs XV: The Juggernaut Method
Powerlifting Programs XVI: Westside Barbell Method
Powerlifting Programs XVII: Sheiko Routines
Powerlifting Programs XVIII: Smolov and Smolov Junior
Powerlifting Programs XIX: Paul Carter’s Base Building
Powerlifting Programs XX: The Lilliebridge Method
Powerlifting Programs XXI: Jonnie Candito’s 6 Week Strength Program
Powerlifting Programs XXII: The Bulgarian Method for Powerlifting
Powerlifting Programs XXIII: Brian Carroll’s 10/20/Life
Powerlifting Programs XXIV: Destroy the Opposition by Jamie Lewis
Powerlifting Programs XXV: The Coan/Philippi Deadlift Routine
Powerlifting Programs XXVI: Korte’s 3×3
Powerlifting Programs XXVII: RTS Generalized Intermediate Program