Greyskull Linear Progression and Hardstyle Kettlebell Work

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Greetings. I have recommended, and heard others recommend, the Greyskull Linear Progression as a first barbell program around the forum. Along those lines thought I would write a review of the program from a StrongFirst perspective. I've been running the Greyskull Program since January of this year.

About me: I'm a 32 year old male standing 5'6" at 185 lbs, military service (US Army), and I've been some form of obligate (and later voluntary) fitness enthusiast in one way, shape or form for around 15-16 years. My training background is mostly barbell based work (for the past six years) with some kettlebell training experience.

Right, first off, to answer the most obvious question: What is the Greyskull Linear Progression?
Well, as the name suggests it is a linear progression, meaning you add weight to the bar after each workout (2.5 lbs for the upper body lifts and 5 lbs for the lower body lifts) built around the following four lifts:
  1. Bench Press
  2. Squat
  3. Press
  4. Deadlift
The program originated from a Philadelphia based gym known as the Greyskull Barbell Club (established in 2008) and is the product of the mind of US Army veteran Johnny Shaeffer (or Johnny Pain).

For the curious I have attached the forum thread that best documents it all here: the GSLP Forum Thread in case you aren't interested in buying the book or eBook editions of the program.
Of note there are now two editions to the Greyskull Linear Progression book and a third is due for release.

The Programming: As I stated above the 'base programming' for the GSLP is built around the Press, Bench Press, Squat, and Deadlift which are all compound, multi-joint exercises that work the entire body.

From the book itself it is recommended to start with a weight you can safely lift for 8-10 repetitions with the following split (assuming lifting on Mon/Wed/Fri for this example) with the following sets and reps (sets x reps):
  1. Mon: Press 2x5/1x5+, Squat 2x5/1x5+
  2. Weds: Bench 2x5/1x5+, Deadlift 1x5+
  3. Fri: Press 2x5/1x5+, Squat 2x5/1x5+
The above is the aforementioned 'Base Program' of the Greyskull LP. And the 1x5+ set is a Greyskull trademark and that means do that set for at least five quality repetitions. Shaeffer developed this sets/rep scheme when resetting clients on Starting Strength.

While on the subject of resets, the Greyskull Reset consists of a 10% reduction (very reminiscent of Easy Strength, where a peak is followed by a drop off) in weight the next session. For instance I failed at 212.5 lbs (getting 2x5 and 1x3 last week) on Bench Press. No worries, I went back to 190 lbs and am fighting on from there, going for higher rep records on the 1x5+ set (but leaving a rep or two in the tank, a-la StrongFirst methodologies) as I climb back up. This 1x5+ set prevents a lifter from stagnating through a reset.

Each week you alternate between pressing twice a week or benching twice a week, forming a natural sort of back off every other week as far as upper body movements are concerned.

Now what separates the GSLP from Starting Strength just with more reps is Shaeffer's concept of plug-ins (to use a software analogy). He describes all sorts of things to facilitate a decent assortment of physical goals that one can do in addition to the base lifts (like assistance movements, conditioning, fasted walks, and calisthenics).

His templates in the second edition of the book even has a variant called 'Joshie's Limeaide' which was written by former Pan Am Games competitor Josh Wells that details the program for those interested in the Olympic Lifts. Because of the applicability of Olympic Lifts for power development I was intrigued and used the template below:
  • Mon: Bench 2x5/1x5+, Squat 2x5/1x5+, Row Variant: 2x6-8
  • Weds: Snatch *10x1/6x1, *Clean and Jerk 6x1/10x1, **Front Squat: 3x3
  • Fri: Press 2x5/1x5+, Squat 2x5/1x5+, Deadlift 1x5+
  • *Note: This denotes doing 10x1 one week and 6x1 the other for snatch and 6x1 one week and 10x1 the other for clean and jerk.
  • **Note: I later moved to a 4x2 Front Squat sets x reps scheme in order to tackle higher weights and still maintain better form.
Now given that I had the above as my 'base programming' barbell wise I went with some plug-ins. In my case my 'easy endurance' plug ins are easy swims M/W/F (200-300m swimming) and easy runs on Tu/Th.

Shaeffer mentions what he calls 'Frequency Method' calisthenics (where easy sets of basic pushups, pullups, squats) can be done up to six days a week. I typically do 4x days a week (M/T/Th/F) for easy pushups, pullups, and squats for bodyweight work.

And a unique plug-in was one of my making, a Hardstyle Kettlebell Plug-in. In Greyskull LP 2-3 high intensity conditioning sessions are a plug in. I reasoned that Hardstyle Kettlebell Training is a great power developer, assistance movement, and conditioning in and of itself.

When I started this program in January before leaving for Korea in May I used Simple and Sinister on Tuesday and Thursday as a plug in for conditioning. When I arrived in Korea I noticed we didn't have the 24 and 32 KG bells I needed to try and reach the Simple goal. I simply adapted and overcame, designing a 2x session per week Hardstyle Kettlebell plug built around the snatch, clean and jerk and long cycle clean and jerk, having to put the Simple and Sinister goals on the back burner till I come back to Hawaii later this month.

So far I've noticed some great progress in my base lifts (most recently I did 4x2 for 240 lbs front squat, 3x5 at 260 for back squat, 3x5 for 210 lbs bench, and 137.5 lbs for 2x5/1x6 for Press, with a 100 lbs snatch and 157.5 lbs clean and jerk). The Hardstyle Kettlebell training also helps train my mobility for the Olympic lifts (indirectly) and more directly addresses power endurance and timing as well as general endurance.

And this is my experience with the Greyskull Linear Progression, a program built around basic barbell lifts that is very friendly towards smartly designed plug-ins (Simple and Sinister can be plugged into this up to 3x/week).

Now here's how I'd recommend a novice get started with this program, assuming a clean bill of health for lifting:
  1. If you're not familiar with the lifts at all get proper instruction (if possible) from a coach on them. If not there is always YouTube and the book itself actually describes the main lifts too.
  2. Use your first two to three days as test days for the four lifts. Find a weight you can lift with good form for 8-10 reps during those days for each of the lifts and record that number. It'll be your starting loads for your training. Don't worry if you start a bit light. You'll start moving heavier and heavier loads as time progresses.
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