Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced Defined

Bro Mo

> 1k Posts
I often see beginner, intermediate, and advanced defined with training age of some kind. I feel like that doesn't really accurately define it. I recall discussions in the past about what barbell equivalents are for Simple, Solid, and Sinister too. I wanted to discuss the definitions of beginner, intermediate, and advanced and how those levels should be modified for things such as age.

Should levels be based on strength: weight ratios? How does age decay those ratios? What other factors decay those ratios? Etc...

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Blake Nelson

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This is a great question! I love thinking about this type of thing.

I don't have super strong feelings about specific numbers for barbell lifts, I mostly train with kettlebells, but I have a rough framework that I use. It is based on a concept of reasonable progress with consistent, focused training. I guess that is a way of saying "training age" but it includes mindset and environment.

Beginner: someone who is building foundational skill in the lifts and making linear or nearly linear progress. This phase ends once more sophisticated programming becomes necessary. I don't think this phase directly relates to strength to weight ratios or age. Anybody can be a beginner, it will just look very different for people of different abilities.

Intermediate: someone who has put some time in, usually a year or two depending on their physical attributes, and is learning the nuances of the lifts. They have learned how to follow a program and be coachable. Any DEDICATED person can become an intermediate. I think strength to weight ratios are relevant here. I believe any healthy adult can achieve SFG1 or SFL if they want, for example.
This phase ends once the laws of diminishing returns kick in. Most lifters don't graduate from this phase because consistent training over many years is hard. I work with many older clients and the challenge is often to maintain or slow the natural decay rather than to improve their numbers.

Advanced: someone who has dedicated themselves to consistent, hard effort over many years. They have sought out skilled coaches and training partners and high-level training environments. This phase only ends when the trainee retires from training/competition.
 

jef

I am a student of strength.
Certified Instructor
The history of those Basic strength standard is fun. They were published in a now discontinued book and do not come not from data analysis, but from a discussion between coaches, of what level they would expect from a trainee and when.
They were discarded in further editions of that same book, because they were used too strictly, and by the recognition of the author, the definitions were inadequate.

For the authors, a novice is someone who is so far from his potential that he can quickly gain progress with a linear progression (from session to session), and how much you lift does not say if you are or not. They give the example of a young man who came with an already decent squat who could progress to much much more with a linear progression (I don't remember the exact numbers, but that would put him it in advanced, while he was still training as a novice).
 

Steve Freides

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These things are lines drawn at spots on a continuum. I confess I don't see the point. If pressed, I'd go with the Bruce Lee quotation (which I am paraphrasing from memory here):

Before I learned martial arts, a punch was just a punch and a kick was just a kick. - Beginner

When I studied martial arts, a punch was no longer just a punch and a kick was no longer just a kick. - Intermediate

Now I understand martial arts, and a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick." - Advanced

-S-
 
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Kettlebelephant

> 1k Posts
When I think of those terms I go with the definition about rate of adaptation - beginners can adapt from day to day, intermediates from week to week etc. and also the length of the needed routine (e.g. beginner can use a routine for months while advanced people have to change routines within weeks).
@kennycro@@aol.com can give you a more detailed version of what I'm talking about.

So following the definition that I use, you could be lifting for years, but still be a beginner.
 

Anna C

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Since you're posting in the barbell forum I would say this could be oriented a few ways: general strength, powerlifting-specific (squat/bench/deadlift 1RMs), and weightlifting/Olympic Lifting.

For Olympic Lifting, here is one way: Olympic Weightlifting Skill Levels Chart
Unfortunately he doesn't have a corresponding chart for masters.
So these are weight class and weight totals, but there is also a helpful description in each Level relative to technical proficiency, etc.

Powerlifting probably has similar charts to see if you're competitive in your weight class.

For general strength development, I agree with @Blake Nelson @jef and @Kettlebelephant that it's defined by how you respond to training. If you get stronger every session, you're a beginner (or novice). This can last many months. And, it's lift-specific. You can be a beginner in the squat and be intermediate in the deadlift, for instance. If you get stronger week to week on a dedicated program, you're intermediate. And if you have to do fancy cycles and programming tricks and peaking and all sorts of supplemental lifts and other things to add to your 1RMs, you're advanced.

The funny thing is that people follow intermediate programs like 5/3/1 and advanced programs found in all sorts of publications when they are a beginner and very simple programming would work just fine, and actually would work even better. MOST OF US ARE BEGINNERS. Either because we never developed our strength with a dedicated strength training program, or because we haven't maintained it. But, being a beginner/novice is good news. It means strength can be build relatively quickly and without a lot of complexity. You just have to do the work.
 

Chrisdavisjr

> 1k Posts
For Olympic Lifting, here is one way: Olympic Weightlifting Skill Levels Chart
Unfortunately he doesn't have a corresponding chart for masters.
So these are weight class and weight totals, but there is also a helpful description in each Level relative to technical proficiency, etc.
Nice charts. I'm currently shooting for a 148kg+ total to qualify for the British Masters this year and it's kind of nice to see that it's not an unrealistic target.

Charts like this are nice to see if you're 'on target' or to draw attention to any major deficits in strength (disproportionately weak squats etc.) but it's important to remember that there will always be outliers and the importance of cariation in the individual cannot be understated.
 

Blake Nelson

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MOST OF US ARE BEGINNERS. Either because we never developed our strength with a dedicated strength training program, or because we haven't maintained it. But, being a beginner/novice is good news. It means strength can be build relatively quickly and without a lot of complexity. You just have to do the work.
100%
 

Bro Mo

> 1k Posts
Before I learned martial arts, a punch was just a punch and a kick was just a kick. - Beginner

When I studied martial arts, a punch was no longer just a punch and a kick was no longer just a kick. - Intermediate

Now I understand martial arts, and a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick." - Advanced
Perfect!

In Practical Programming, Mark Rippetoe has a note about intermediates having specific goals identified from novice training. Those Bruce Lee levels align to that well.

That makes me ponder a novice training for trainings sake, an intermediate training to enhance specific identified needs, and an advanced athlete using the former to work for the later?
 

Nate

Triple-Digit Post Count
If you lay off big weights for a while, do you go back to beginner?
I have a hard time buying those numbers on the charts. From that, i used to be advanced and it never seemed that way....
 

Anna C

> 6k Posts
Elite Certified Instructor
If you lay off big weights for a while, do you go back to beginner?
Yes, I did, after surgery. Beginner gains came again quickly, though. I was about 90% back up to pre-surgery weights after 6 week layoff + 8 weeks of novice linear progression training.

But you describe a different scenario - where you used to lift heavy, and no longer do, however you are still training. So with that I would say, it depends what your current training is preparing you for, as to how well it transfers back to heavy lifting. But basically same thing - you act as a beginner with rapid simple progression, until that stops working. Then more complicated programming.
 

LukeV

More than 300 posts
I think it's worthwhile reflecting that beginner, intermediate and advanced shouldn't be used to refer to people as if we have to to be one or another. Fact is many of us will be beginner in some ways, intermediate in others and maybe even advanced in others still. I'm guessing but if we decided to coach Eddie Hall in the snatch we may commence with a beginner program. But is Eddie really a beginner? To my mind these terms more appropriately refer to ways of thinking about training and particularly about ways of training optimally for a given exercise and goal. As Anna said, most of us are beginners but many of us are intermediate and advanced as well
 

Anna C

> 6k Posts
Elite Certified Instructor
I think it's worthwhile reflecting that beginner, intermediate and advanced shouldn't be used to refer to people as if we have to to be one or another. Fact is many of us will be beginner in some ways, intermediate in others and maybe even advanced in others still. I'm guessing but if we decided to coach Eddie Hall in the snatch we may commence with a beginner program. But is Eddie really a beginner? To my mind these terms more appropriately refer to ways of thinking about training and particularly about ways of training optimally for a given exercise and goal. As Anna said, most of us are beginners but many of us are intermediate and advanced as well
Yes, exactly. And I'm experiencing that, too. I'm intermediate in powerlifts (low bar back squat, bench press, deadlift) but beginner in weightlifting. I'm currently doing a beginner program from USAW and adding about 5 lb to the various lifts (power snatch, power clean, power jerk, jerk, clean, squat, front squat, high bar back squat, snatch balance, etc) each time they come up in the program. Basically I just find what weight is challenging but do-able for the movement, and do the programmed reps/sets. As my skill and movement-specific-strength catches up to my general strength, I'm still able to progress at a beginner's pace. Being a beginner is a good thing!! It means fast progress. Ride the wave...
 

Bro Mo

> 1k Posts
Are the type of adaptations occurring a determinant? Do different types of adaptations stop? Do beginners have a lot more types of adaptation occurring simultaneously vs advanced having fewer and each type contributing some percentage of gain? Beginners have technique, hypertrophy, neural, etc adaptation occurring simultaneously compared to an advanced athlete might only have hypertrophy contributing to gain?
 

Anna C

> 6k Posts
Elite Certified Instructor
Are the type of adaptations occurring a determinant? Do different types of adaptations stop? Do beginners have a lot more types of adaptation occurring simultaneously vs advanced having fewer and each type contributing some percentage of gain? Beginners have technique, hypertrophy, neural, etc adaptation occurring simultaneously compared to an advanced athlete might only have hypertrophy contributing to gain?
Yes, I think that's mostly it. Well stated. Although I think advanced can still make some gains independent of hypertrophy. They're just going to take a larger training volume, and more time.
 

Blake Nelson

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Certified Instructor
Another way of thinking about this (and a context in which it is directly useful for a coach):
Within the Starting Strength world, Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced refer to a lifters rate of recovery and adaptation. A novice is ready for a new PR within 48-72 hours, an intermediate within a week or so, and an advanced lifter requires periodization using monthly cycles or longer.
Blake
 
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