Linear Progression, Steroids and Pop Motivation with Brian Carroll

Posted on 20 Dec 2015 18:57


Brian Carroll wrote a myth-busting article on the various lies in the strength training world. The topics he has covered are linear progression, steroids, pop motivation, form and offseason down time.

Most of the time these myth-busting articles are a bunch of nonsense and misinformation but as usual Brian has cut to the heart of the matter on these topics. You can find Brian’s article out HERE.

Linear Progression

Brian has provided a commonly occurring anecdote of unrealistic expectations. He writes about someone expecting his deadlift to grow based on his past performance and I can relate to that. A few years ago, there was a guy that came up to me at the gym who saw me deadlifting 500 pounds. He told me that he had taken his 225 pound deadlift to 335 pounds in a matter of a few weeks so based on his recent short track record, he was expecting to lift 500 in a few months and then 600 easily in a year. I didn’t want to burst his bubble and I was a bit perplexed as to why he was sharing this so I let him go on his merry way. He never made it to 500 – he crashed and burnt out at 405, sadly. But the take home message is that you cannot expect to keep adding weight to the bar exponentially. There is a reason why world record holders are world record holders and every guy lifting weights is not going to be part of that elite group. Brian says that your strength gains are very rapid initially and then taper out to a tiny crawl as you get more and more experienced. There is a great deal of truth to this. Let me throw out some numbers for you.


Brian Carroll


Brian Carroll.

I am going to put myself on the line. I am a deadlift enthusiast and until this year I was a deadlift-only guy. I started training for pure strength in 2008. It took me 2 years to go from a deadlift of 275 pounds to 500 pounds. That an increase of 225 pounds in 2 years. From 2010 to today, 2015, I have managed to take that 500 pound deadlift, bump it up to 525 pounds on a few occasions and I can regularly pull 505 pounds for doubles. As you can see, in 5 years my progress has slowed down massively and I am at a tiny crawl at the moment. In fact, the truth is, I am at my genetic ceiling – and this is despite having a whole year of being injured in this 5 year time span. Now let me give you another example.

Eric Lilliebridge is a phenomenal athlete. He burst onto the online powerlifting scene back in 2008 when he was 16 or 17 years old and he did a deadlift of 800 pounds in his home gym. Fast forward to today. In 2015 he is at approximately 900 pounds on the deadlift and he is in his mid-20s. So in 7 years he added only 100 pounds to his deadlift even though he busts his butt in the gym every single session. I am not putting him down. I am trying to illustrate this point: your body can only do so much. You will start out running really fast making all kinds of gains with huge jumps – but once you cross a threshold these gains will slow down. They will turn into a crawl and you will get frustrated because for years at a time you will not be able to push past a certain number. You may have qualitative progress in terms of making each rep better and more technically efficient but you will not be able to blast through your max. This is how strength training really works.

If you look at these fad programs like Starting Strength or Texas Method or 5x5 you will see that linear progression is just adding 2.5 – 5 pounds to the bar every workout. I have been staunchly against recommending 5x5 type cookie cutter programs for a myriad of reasons and one of them is this dependence on progress by only adding weight to the bar. I find it to be limiting in nature. You don’t need to progress by only adding weight to the bar. There are other parameters to play with, like adding sets, reps, reducing rest time, etc. Think about it like this: in 2010 I could do a deadlift of 500 for a single and that was it. Today I can do 500 for sets and reps. Which version of me is stronger? Naturally today my performance speaks to the workload capacity I have developed. Even though these programs are targeted towards beginners, just relying on adding weight to the bar is very restrictive and doesn’t do anything to check deterioration of ability to handle the weight. Imagine a trainee will keep adding 5 lbs to the bar till he fails. He is not going to suddenly just go from 200 to 205 pounds in a workout session and just fail. He will develop weaknesses in his form and technique along the way. These weaknesses will manifest into bad habits that he will pick up to overcome these weaknesses because the goal is to keep adding 5 lbs to the bar. And subsequently when he fails 205 he will look at his form and nothing will seem right. Then he will be advised by form experts to reduce the weight on the bar and begin the climb up the metaphorical hill all over again till he fails again because this process will keep repeating itself. This becomes into an inane act of jogging into a wall, smashing into it in vain, taking a few steps back and charging at it again all the while hoping that the wall will break.

To get to the top these powerlifters did not start at the bottom. I know this is going to rub a few people the wrong way but you won’t become a 900 pound lifter if you started off struggling with 100 pounds. Most of these big boys debuted with a huge number and took eons of hard work, dedication, genetics and drugs to crawl up to world record levels. There is a difference between starting from deadlifting 135 pounds to 405 pounds and starting from 800 pounds and reaching 900 pounds.

Steroids, Drugs and Chemicals

At one time steroids were the big deal but now thanks to technology there is an even bigger plethora of chemicals to choose from to improve performance. Brian writes that just upping the drugs will not make you stronger than your competitor. I have no direct experience with steroids (as yet) but I have two things I want to say. One, I have been lucky to train around a lot of big name bodybuilders in my corner of the world. I know the culture in the US is to keep steroid talk to a minimum but lifters in India are usually very honest about their steroids cycles and steroid use. Most of them do not know what they are doing and I know a lot of them are honest because they want you to source your first or next cycle from them. However, from all the bodybuilders and wannabe strength guys I have met, the guys who are the cream of the crop are not the heaviest drug users. The guys are truly strong are guys who make the drugs work for them.


Image for steroids taken from PhotoBucket: Click Here


Image for steroids taken from PhotoBucket: Click Here

So if you think that just taking the most amount of steroids is going to get you to the top you are oversimplifying the process. I have seen guys take more steroids than what Ronnie Coleman has reputedly taken and have zilch to show for it (in comparison to Ronnie). This is the same in the strength world. Very few people are honest about their steroid usage so it is hard for me to compare lifters to those in America but the 175 pound powerlifter doing deadlifts with 575 pounds has made his steroids work for him a thousand times better than the 200 pound professional bodybuilder struggling with 500 pounds. More drugs is not the solution. I haven’t picked up a lot of knowledge about steroids because I know most of the users here do not know what they are doing and I am not at a stage in my life where I want to begin this, but what I little I do know is that you must make the chemicals work for you – that is the goal.

The second thing I want to say is that a lot of people are naïve enough to believe that top level lifters do not take drugs and anybody can be a top level lifter just because they take drugs. To get to the top you do whatever you can to be king of the hill. And just because you take drugs you won’t overcome your genetic limitations.

Pop Motivation

I am really glad that Brian has talked about this. I wanted to say earlier, in my point about steroids, that my mentor Eric Troy once told me that you know how people talk about success being 70% hard work and 30% diet or some nonsense like that? It is 100% mental. It always boils down to your worth ethic and your determination – things in your mind.

Brian has called out the motivation memes and silly internet slogans trending on social media sites. I thoroughly agree with his points. Passion and hard work are not enough. You need genetics and drugs to succeed and become the best in powerlifting.

The topic of motivation reminds me of two articles I’ve read on Ground Up Strength. Motivation May be an Overused Term in Strength Training and Fitness is a great resource to learn about whether motivation is this black and white issue that people make it out to be. Either you are motivated or you are not. What about motivation with relation to specific outcomes, to specific tasks? It is no longer as simple as just being intrinsically or externally motivated. I can only speak for myself but I am inherently an intrinsically motivated lifter. However, every so often when I’m not in the right mindset I like listening to music to get me in the groove of lifting heavy. So how does this pertain to these classifications of motivation?

In the second article, Strength Training Motivation And Goal Setting the author goes in depth about expectations, goals and how we are motivated to achieving what we want. This also becomes an issue of “why are we doing what we are doing?” and those of you who have shifted goals frequently in the past will really relate to this.


Brian has discussed a couple of other points that I do not want to get into in detail. As you become more experienced in the activity of maximal strength training, you will hone in your technique to become the most efficient and effective lifter you can be. I have written about this in my blog post Good Form? Bad Form? Lifting Heavy Weights with PERFECT Technique? and Brian’s last point about having down time and not trying to be in competition mode 52 weeks a year is something I sort of agree with but it is too specific to all round powerlifters. If you are just training one lift specifically you can be on your A-Game all the time. So this is too broad a point for me to comment on.

In conclusion I want to say that Brian has written a great article outlining these myths and lies in the strength training world. I think linear progress is always going to be linear because we cannot hop around in time so it will always be moving forward. Linear progression on the other hand, is very specific to certain programs and must be treated as a tool to be used amongst other tools such as improving sets, reps, etc. I think limiting your training to just one factor is like driving at 50 miles an hour on the German Autobahn; you are not doing justice to your training. No matter how much hard work you put in, you need the genetics and the chemicals to beat all your competition. And lastly, you have to put all these useless and meaningless platitudes and judgmental quotes on motivation on the side and grind hard with your training.

: Steroid Image : Image for steroids taken from PhotoBucket: Click Here

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