Everything You Need to Know About Starting Strength

Everything You Need to Know About Starting Strength

In our day and age, working out has seen a significant increase in popularity because more and more people are taking their fitness seriously.

Long gone are the days of slaving away at work, rushing home to cook dinner, winding down for an hour or two before bed, and then waking up and repeating that cycle for a few decades until finally announcing retirement.

That approach to life is largely becoming publicly frowned upon and discouraged, and in all aspects of life, there are more changes that cater toward a more fitness-inclusive lifestyle: office workplaces are installing stand up desks or group yoga, meditation or fitness classes, universities are offering more physically activity programs and in big cities there is a lot of public support for bicycling instead of cars.

The world as we know it is switching to a more fit one because the higher ups are recognizing that there is an undeniable link between physical health and mental well being.

Also, with the popularity of social media, every person wants to put their best foot forward when it comes to public appearance, dietary habits and lifestyle choices.

We are seeing more instructional fitness videos on YouTube, quick workout tips on Facebook and gaining inspiration on Instagram.

For old souls, there are DVD programs and routines as well as VHS tapes entirely devoted to fitness.

With all of these new ways of spreading the good word on improving your fitness, nothing beats the tried and true, oldie but goodie, way of learning, and that’s through reading.

It’s a little ironic because the older opinion about gym nuts like us is that we haven’t touched a book in decades, but that’s why I spent some time talking about the changing world.

People who want to get fit are everywhere and from all walks of life, it’s not just for the dumb jocks any more!

One of the best and most successful fitness books out there is called Starting Strength and it’s by a widely known author named Mark Rippetoe, who was best known as “Coach Rip” during his time with the CrossFit program before eventually switching to being a best-selling and mainstream fitness author.

Starting Strength has sold over 150,000 copies worldwide over its three editions since its first release in 2005.

It is currently used as required reading material by athletes, school programs and avid fitness fanatics, and is a standard go-to book for seminars, lectures or masterclasses.

Because there are three editions, each one improves from its last, and the book as a whole caters to every person no matter what their experience, age, gender, weight, health status or what their current strength threshold is.

As a book that focuses on barbell training, Starting Strength is a must have for everyone serious about fitness.

As a book, it’s been proven to be highly successful in terms of results and it can be a great way to disconnect from technology and focus on what really matters: your health. 

Starting Strength Summary

Everything You Need to Know About Starting Strength

Don’t worry, this book is not a fictional fairytale or a political commentary about the world we live in, the only “quiz” or book report you will need to do after reading it is putting the techniques, effort and workout in, in an honest way that is authentic to yourself and your fitness goals. 

Starting Strength is a book that is entirely based on barbell training. As we all know, there are thousands of books, videos or gym trainer philosophies that are all about barbells--there are so many different variations and techniques to approach any kind of workout that involves a barbell.

However, Starting Strength operates on the idea that barbell training is the best and fastest way to get fit. 

It is worth mentioning that the book is devoted to beginners, though highly experienced gym goers can learn a thing or two by reading it.

The reason why beginners are the target audience is because they have the highest potential for a uniquely strong physique that is different from people who already have started regular training. In Rippetoe’s words: 

Our target market is very broad and includes beginning young people who want to get bigger, older people who lost their strength, people who need to get stronger to get out of pain, and people in manual labor. The program is best for anyone who is able to lift weights that haven’t already gotten strong doing so. If you haven’t exhausted the possibility of getting stronger with a simple linear progression, then the program applies to you.

About the book itself, it talks about barbell training in terms of why it’s effective for strength training and gives a mechanical, step by step approach to barbell training while explaining it concisely and logically.

The book gives modern photographs and illustrations that are improved from previous versions along with the biometrics behind them.

As you can imagine with any workout book, it gives very clear instructions about basic barbell exercises such as the squat, press, deadlift, bench press, power clean and power snatch, and how to program each of these exercises into the most effective program for long term progress.

It gives a very thorough look into the human body as well in terms of how it adapts to stress through recovery and why this is the foundation of the development of strength and lifetime health.

As a nice touch, the book is completely indexed as well, so any one of these can be found easily.

I’ll talk about each of these as we read on!

What Does Starting Strength Seek to Accomplish?

Everything You Need to Know About Starting Strength

There’s a reason why Starting Strength is widely used in athletic sessions, fitness classes like kinesiology or physiotherapy and instructional videos.

It starts off very simple, hence the name, and then gradually becomes more advanced as your body slowly gains strength and gets used to Coach Rip’s workout techniques.

Because of its huge accessibility--the book providing workout programs that can be used by 16 year old teenagers wanting to start their fitness life strong, or by a 29 year old adult who has never committed to any organized fitness routine--the book is seeing a huge upsurge in sales by hardcore workout programs like military bootcamps, where strength is is highly emphasized over than the ability to run 10 miles. Although both are important, this book is about strength. 

Starting Strength is intended to improve your strength drastically. The basic premise of the entire program is that everything increases and goes up in terms of weight, and at the end of the book you should be able to lift the highest number possible that your body can handle.

Instead of focusing on an overwhelming number of different workouts or exercises, the book stays with the same few exercises because they simply offer you the most potential to increase your weight each time.

The only thing that varies over time during the basic stage of the program is the carrying weight or loading, instead of the number of sets and reps.

As coach Rip says, “this is not a program that’s assembled out of 45 different exercises that you rotate to confuse your muscles or to prevent boredom."

It uses very few exercises that have been chosen for their ability to increase load every time and that’s what makes you grow. 

Whether you are new to weight training or a highly experienced lifter with crazy gains, Starting Strength is one of your best books that you should sleep handy.

There are so many instructional sources out there that are just simply incorrect--they use the end goal of being fit as a kind of “reward” for doing their program, but they do not teach you how to do it correctly, which can put you at risk for serious and long term injury.

If you have only been using machines or doing calisthenics, or if you have not mastered squats, bench presses, deadlifts, power cleans or power snatches, Starting Strength will set you straight because coach Rip’s instructions are simple and clear enough for even a notice to understand even the most minute details of the workout.

After reading Starting Strength, you will have familiarized yourself with the basics of effective compound exercises and weight progression, while really hammering down proper form and flawless technique, which is key for avoiding unwanted injury and to ensure that you are working out the correct and intended areas of strength.

You will have found a perfect foundation for strength, muscle and power, and you can go ahead with any further exercises by training your body as a whole, complete and unified system, instead of as a collection of individual pieces. As Rippetoe says,

Exercise is the stimulus that returns our bodies to the conditions for which they were designed. Humans are not physically normal in the absence of hard, physical effort. Exercise is not a thing we do to fix a problem--it is a thing we must do anyway, a thing without which there will always be problems. Exercise is substitute cave-man activity.

Workouts in Starting Strength

Everything You Need to Know About Starting Strength

A huge emphasis of Starting Strength is working out in the correct way--proper form is key in coach Rip’s book.

Using the techniques and positions as indicated by the illustrations of the book, you’ll find subtle corrections to make in your form.

You will see that your back’s angle will be fixed, you’ll place the bar at a lower position than you might be used to during squats, and you’ll start squatting a lot more in general.

The whole workout program in Starting Strength lasts 4 weeks, with you only working out 3 days per week.

The goal is to build muscle and get stronger for beginners who are entering this type of strength training.

Before diving into the workouts themselves, coach Rip offers 3 important training tips for his program to work best. 

1. Rest...and Rest a Lot

This program will not work at all if you’re not kind to your body. You have to rest long enough between sets so that you don’t feel fatigued from the previous one before starting the next one.

Coach Rip suggests 5-7 minutes of rest between sets--you’ll be lifting same hard weight, so make your rests count!

It should also go without saying that you should be prioritizing rest outside of the gym with consistent sleep and even sleep aid if that's what you need to let your body recuperate.

2. Make small weight jumps

For the first couple of workouts, you can increase your weight load by increments of 10 lbs. However, the higher up you go with weight, take smaller increments like 5 lbs, and then 2 lbs, then 1 lb and maybe even 0.5.

It’s important that your body gets used to consistent weight before moving up. After all, you can’t do just one rep of a heavy weight and call it a day. You have to be able to consistently lift heavy weights for the duration of the entire workout.

3. Eat enough

It’s an easy thing to miss, but healthy eating is so important for good workouts. The nutrients in food will help you recover your energy and muscles and will help you avoid getting stuck in terms of the weights you are carrying.

Good eating (around 3,500 and 6,000 calories per day) will allow you to carry more and to do it with consistency.

Coach Rip also advises to have at least one gram of protein per pound of body weight.

Of course, you can also consider various supplements to help such as creatine, protein powders, and vitamins, but a diet consisting of whole foods are always advised.

With these 3 golden rules of Starting Strength in mind, let’s take a look at the actual workout. I’ll divide this section into weeks and the types of workouts.

Basically, you alternate workout A and B, with rest days in between. For weeks 1 and 3, it’s workouts A, then B, then A; for weeks 2 and 4, it’s workouts B, then A, then B.

Note that workout B changes on weeks 3 and 4, as they introduce chin-ups and power cleans.

Phases of Starting Strength

You'll see three tables below and each one represents a Phase of the Starting Strength training program.

Phase 1 is the beginner stage that takes 1-3 or 4 weeks, Phase 2 can take between a few weeks and a few months, and Phase 3 is where the lifter enters into an advanced novice stage.

Past Phase 3 you can continue Starting Strength assuming you continue to make progress or move onto an intermediate program, of which there are examples in the Practical Programming for Strength Training book, also by Mark Rippetoe.

Phase 1

Phase 1

Phase 2

Phase 2

Phase 3

Phase 3

Basic Workout Structure of Starting Strength

Week 1

Workout A: 3x5 Back Squats; 3x5 Barbell Overhead Press; 3x5 Barbell Deadlifts

Workout B: 3x5 Back Squats; 3x5 Barbell Bench Press; 1x5 Barbell Deadlifts

  • Day 1: Workout A, 5 minute rest in between exercises
  • Day 2: Rest
  • Day 3: Workout B, 5 minute rest in between exercises
  • Day 4: Rest
  • Day 5: Workout A, 5 minute rest in between exercises
  • Day 6: Rest
  • Day 7: Rest

Week 2

Workout A: 3x5 Back Squats; 3x5 Barbell Overhead Press; 1x5 Barbell Deadlifts

Workout B: 3x5 Back Squats; 3x5 Barbell Bench Press; 1x5 Barbell Deadlifts

  • Day 1: Workout B, 5 minute rest in between exercises
  • Day 2: Rest
  • Day 3: Workout A, 5 minute rest in between exercises
  • Day 4: Rest
  • Day 5: Workout B, 5 minute rest in between exercises
  • Day 6: Rest
  • Day 7: Rest

Week 3

Workout A: 3x5 Back Squats; 3x5 Barbell Overhead Press; 1x5 Barbell Deadlifts

Workout B: 3x5 Back Squats; 3x5 Barbell Bench Press; 1x5 Barbell Deadlifts/5x3 Power Cleans

  • Day 1: Workout A, 5 minute rest in between exercises
  • Day 2: Rest
  • Day 3: Workout B, 5 minute rest in between exercises
  • Day 4: Rest
  • Day 5: Workout A, 5 minute rest in between exercises
  • Day 6: Rest
  • Day 7: Rest

Week 4

Workout A: 3x5 Back Squats; 3x5 Barbell Overhead Press; 1x5 Barbell Deadlifts

Workout B: 3x5 Back Squats; 3x5 Barbell Bench Press; 5x3 Power Cleans

  • Day 1: Workout B, 5 minute rest in between exercises
  • Day 2: Rest
  • Day 3: Workout A, 5 minute rest in between exercises
  • Day 4: Rest
  • Day 5: Workout B, 5 minute rest in between exercises
  • Day 6: Rest
  • Day 7: Rest

Final Thoughts

Starting Strength is a great way to not only learn correct technique and proper form, but to gradually increase your strength, correct bad habits, commit to a diet and to strive for excellence when it comes to fitness.

One of the most important things that this book can do for any lifter is make them comfortable with barbells, which are in my eyes, the single most important piece of equipment in any gym. 

It's a gateway to appreciating different kinds of weight plates, power or squat racks, and helps build the foundation for all kinds of workouts and programs.

The whole program lasts four weeks with 3 workout days each week, so it’s really 12 workout days over a span of 28 days--not too shabby at all if you think of it this way.

You would only need a gym membership for this program, unless you own a barbell rack and chin-up bar at home.

Regardless of what your fitness goals are, strength training is an important aspect of physical and mental wellbeing.

Mark Rippetoe’s book Starting Strength is an excellent source of inspiration, technique, consistent gains and is just a great read overall. 

Denver Matheson
 

I spend a lot of time at the gym and even more time in the kitchen giving my body what it needs to repair itself and grow stronger. The third most important place for any athlete is their research zone. That's exactly why this site exists, to help me share all of the information I've learned throughout the years just like people did for me in the first place!

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 0 comments

Leave a Reply: