Before jumping into the nuances of linear progression, it is important to establish who the novice is. There are no clear guidelines for this, but a novice can generally be categorized as someone in their first year of lifting weights regularly.
Now, what is linear progression exactly? Simply put, this is when an equal amount of resistance is increased for each exercise with the same number of sets and repetitions. If during your first bench press session you lift 95lbs for 4 sets of 6 repetitions, you would lift 100lbs for 4x6 next time.
This way, you are constantly using progressive overload in order to force the body to adapt to the greater resistance by building muscle and conditioning the central nervous system to activate fully and efficiently when handling such weights. Improvement is consistently required in every workout.
For those in the early stages of lifting weights, it is not uncommon to see that the amount of progress they make in the first year will be much greater than the progress they make in the next several years combined. This is referred to as ‘beginner gains’ and using linear progression will allow the novice to squeeze every ounce of this very quickly.
There are two more reasons why linear progression is superior: Motivation and objective progress.
It is much easier to feel motivated to work out when you have clear and concise goals. However, aesthetic goals are subjectively measured. Lighting, certain mirrors, and psychological states are important factors in how one views their physical appearance.
On the other hand, lifting more weight is an essential form of objective progress. A 100lb increase on the bench press is a 100lb increase, no matter what.
Obviously, if you are in an extreme caloric surplus daily during this increase, you will likely gain lots of body fat. But, if the diet is in check and the calories are tracked, you are almost guaranteed to see favorable aesthetic results with strength gains of this magnitude.
As far as picking the correct linear progression program, it all depends on the desired results. A 5x5 program is one that has been favorable for many, as a great deal of strength will be gained quickly to lay the groundwork for further improvement later on. In addition, the hypertrophy achieved on this program will be noticeable, while still functional in nature.
All great things do come to an end at some point. The rapid improvements will begin to slow as you shift into the intermediate and advanced stages of fitness. Linear progression will not be as beneficial, as it make take weeks, and even months, before seeing small, incremental improvements.
Periodization will be necessary, such as having to using varying repetitions, resistance, and rest. Although, prior to doing so, linear progression will allow the lifter to create a foundation of strength, technique, and knowledge that can be properly carried into more advanced programs later on.