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What is Starting Strength?

There are tons of different lifting programs out there, promoting through books, websites, blogs, magazines and every other possible type of media you can think of. But few of these programs get any degree of notoriety.

A stunning exception, however, is Starting Strength by famed coach and fitness writer Mark Rippetoe. Detailed in the book Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, and numerous websites, the workout is fairly simple but highly successful.

But why? What exactly is Starting Strength? Who is it good for? Does it work?

The Basics

As the oh-so-descriptive name suggests, Starting Strength is all about teaching novice lifters how to perform to basic barbell exercises. Namely, the program focuses on:

  • Bench press
  • Deadlift
  • Squat
  • Overhead press
  • Power clean

And, even though it isn’t technically a “barbell exercise,” you’ll be doing a fair number of pull-ups as well.

These exercises are performed are performed in 3 sets of 5 reps, with 2 minutes of rest between each set. There are two exceptions to this rule, though. First is the deadlift, which will be restricted to 1 set of 5 reps to prevent you from overworking your muscles as the weight piles up. Next, you’ll be using 5 sets of 3 reps on the power clean to help add power to your deadlifts.

The workout is designed to keep you steadily adding weight to each of your lifts so there are three stages meant to stop you from stalling in your progress. These stages are similar, though, and offer just minor changes.

Who Is Starting Strength For?

As you might have gathered already, Starting Strength was intended for a specific audience: novice lifters looking to gain lots of strength quickly. And, really, the rapid gains in the strength seen on this program could only be expected by beginners.

The human body is a master of adaptation; the more you do something, the less of a challenge it presents to your system. So, long-time lifters will have to work very hard to achieve even small improvements.

Beginners, though, don’t have this problem. This whole “lifting” thing is still new. Their body is going through a massive overhaul of both its muscular and nervous systems – meaning that noticeable adaptations will happen very quickly. Experienced lifters, therefore, won’t see the same dramatic results that are usually associated with Starting Strength.

It’s also important to reiterate the goal of Starting Strength. The program is all about strength. While you could gain muscle, and lose fat depending on your diet, that’s simply not the purpose of the program.

Put simply, then, Starting Strength is for beginners who want to familiarize themselves with the core barbell lifts and gain some strength in the process.

Does It Work?

As is the case with many workouts, the question of effectiveness is a difficult one.

Does it work? Yes, if you expect it to do what it’s built to do. But if you’re an experience athlete, looking to pile on mass, no. Starting Strength won’t work for you.

Then there’s the issue of degrees. Part of the reason for the rapid rise in popularity of the program is that the internet is full of people bragging about massive jumps in their lifts. And this absolutely does happen. But the exact amount of weight that you’ll be able to add to your lifts each week will depend on a host of individual factors.

You might never see the leaps that some other people have enjoyed with the workout. Sorry.

The Actual Program

Right, so you have all the basic information about the program. But what about the actual workouts? Each phase of Starting Strength consists of two different workouts, which alternate throughout the week. Perform the workouts three times a week, with one day of rest between each.

When to move from one phase to the next will depend on your progress. For some people, it only takes a week in each stage. Others will be able to stick to one phase for three weeks. The basic principle is to progress to the next phase one you stop making progress in your lifting numbers.

Phase 1 –

Workout A:

Squat (3 sets, 5 reps)

Bench Press (3 sets, 5 reps)

Deadlift (1 set, 5 reps)

Workout B:

Squat (3 sets, 5 reps)

Overhead Press (3 sets, 5 reps)

Deadlift (1 set, 5 reps)

Phase 2 –

Workout A:

Squat (3 sets, 5 reps)

Bench Press (3 sets, 5 reps)

Deadlift (1 set, 5 reps)

Workout B:

Squat (3 sets, 5 reps)

Overhead Press (3 sets, 5 reps)

Power clean (5 set, 3 reps)

Phase 3 –

Workout A:

Squat (3 sets, 5 reps)

Bench Press (3 sets, 5 reps)

Deadlift/Power clean (1 set, 5 reps)

Workout B:

Squat (3 sets, 5 reps)

Overhead Press (3 sets, 5 reps)

Chin-up (3 set, 5 reps)

A note on Phase 3: To prevent overwork injuries, alternate deadlifts and power cleans each time you perform Workout A. So, if you deadlift on Monday, the next time you perform A on Friday, you’ll being cleaning instead.

Some Things to Think About

Even though Starting Strength is designed for beginners, it is not an easy workout. It’s vital that your nutrition and recovery routines be under control before starting the program.

It’s also worth mentioned that this workout was meant to work in conjunction with the book, which teaches you form and technique. To really to get the most of Starting Strength, you should use the book or seek out a Starting Strength Coach in your area.

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