Posted: 4/14/2008 5:01:26 AM EDT
The end of this week marks the end of a year of continuous strength training for me. While I have dabbled in weight lifting no less than 4X, this is the first time I have made it pass the 2 month mark.
So the question I seek involves an arbitrary answer. At what point do you move from noob to intermediate or "experienced". Is it by how much weight you move, how long you have been doing it, or the ability to use and recognize correct from across a wide array of movements, or is it a combination of all 3?
There's no standard that I know of.
Let's set one. How about this:
Bench press your own weight.
Leg press double your weight.
Min of 25 sit ups in a row.
I think Rippetoe's definition is the most useful...
You are no longer a novice when you are unable to make linear progress using a basic program, and require a more complicated / advanced (aka "intermediate") program to make strength gains.
I think a definition like this is good because it helps keep the ego from getting involved ("what do you mean I'm a novice, I lifted for 4 years in high school off-season football!"), and gives you an easy metric to evaluate progress, and allows everyone to be evaluated independently (ie, you aren't comparing a 5'2" stick and bones kid to a natural athlete).
I've been pondering the same question as I'm also in the noob category, but starting to think about my next steps after Rippetoe's SS stops producing results, as most programs descriptions have a note on the recommended experience level. I like the following definition that I found, which expands a bit upon the sentiments expressed above.
EXPERIENCE LEVEL AND TRAINING
Typically a beginner will have a very simple program and can progress workout to workout for a decent stretch. This might be adding 5lbs to the back squat 2 to even 3 times per week or maybe it's 2.5lbs to the bench on the same frequency. Essentially every time or most times he goes into the gym, he's a different lifter. Simply the rate of adaptation is high, the time between personal records is low, and the necessary complexity of the programming to elicit these progressions is low.
An intermediate may ramp up to his records over a few weeks and then get decent stretches where he'll set new records on lifts on a weekly basis. At first he might get 12 week runs, later on only 3-4 weeks, but nevertheless he is making fast progress and adding weight to his lifter weekly or almost weekly. Within a week lifts and stress on the body will generally undulate. If 3 full body workouts are used it's typically Heavy, Light, Medium with the work geared to getting that next record the following week. Rate of adaptation is still medium, time between records is medium, and complexity of the program is medium.
An advanced lifter gets to the point where weekly progress isn't really viable. He may ramp up and get 1 record or he might not be able to go anywhere with that structure and to get that kind of progression he has to train so far from his core competency that the training fails to carryover well and even cause regression in ignored core. For example dropping the back squat and training the butt blaster machine or working in the 25 rep range on lifts or some other oddball thing. Sort of like a 100m sprinter working on his 3000m times because easy progress is available to him there (unfortunately his 100m doesn't really move much if at all). I have a post on properly using benchmarks to evaluate progress here. Programming here is characterized over larger blocks of weeks in a micro, meso, macro cycle format for planning. He may work very hard and only make a single increment of progress at the 4 or 8 week point. This type of training is indicative of periodization and what goes on in advanced athletics and it gets longer and longer. One could almost say for a top world lifter, he may be training an entire year for a single increment of progression at the world championships and he might have a 4 year plan setup to hit his best at the Olympic games. Obviously adaptability is low, time between records is long, and complexity of the program is high (and for the world level lifter add "very very" before each of those but it doesn't have to be that way for everyone at the simple advanced classification I'm talking about).
So those are the 3 easiest ways to look at it and on the line between beginner and world level lifter there are obviously infinitely many sub-points but I think it's easiest to look at it like this and more relevant to the discussion. Obviously, regardless of where you are or where you think you ought to be, you want to be in the fastest lane possible. Complexity for complexity's sake is dumb. Slow progress when fast is available is very poor decision making. Training indirectly with elaborate assistance exercises to raise your back squat is foolish if you can walk in the gym and add weight to your back squat. These are all done out of necessity not because they are desirable.