When, Why and How Much? Adaptive Learning Rate Scheduling by Refinement


Learning rate schedules used in practice bear little resemblance to those recommended by theory. We close much of this theory/practice gap, and as a consequence are able to derive new problem-adaptive learning rate schedules. Our key technical contribution is a refined analysis of learning rate schedules for a wide class of optimization algorithms (including SGD). In contrast to most prior works that study the convergence of the average iterate, we study the last iterate, which is what most people use in practice. When considering only worst-case analysis, our theory predicts that the best choice is the linear decay schedule: a popular choice in practice that sets the stepsize proportionally to $1−t/T$, where t is the current iteration and T is the total number of steps. To go beyond this worst-case analysis, we use the observed gradient norms to derive schedules refined for any particular task. These refined schedules exhibit learning rate warm-up and rapid learning rate annealing near the end of training. Ours is the first systematic approach to automatically yield both of these properties. We perform the most comprehensive evaluation of learning rate schedules to date, evaluating across 10 diverse deep learning problems, a series of LLMs, and a suite of logistic regression problems. We validate that overall, the linear-decay schedule matches or outperforms all commonly used default schedules including cosine annealing, and that our schedule refinement method gives further improvements.