Posted by on Mar 25, 2013

BeginnersStrength Training
This Starting Guide was written by Michael Wolf. Wolf is a Strength & Conditioning Coach and Personal Trainer in Manhattan, NYC. In addition to his certifications from the NSCA and USAW, he is a Starting Strength Coach and member of Rippetoe’s Starting Strength Seminar Coaching Staff. When not coaching at SS Seminars, he coaches Division III student-athletes as well as a diverse population of New Yorkers looking to improve their strength and fitness. You can check out his website and Facebook page for more information.

Starting Strength (SS) Program Overview

Required Skill Level: Novice

Training Days per Week: 3

Description:

The phrase “Starting Strength” (SS) has two distinct meanings.

The first is the title of the best-selling book, Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, 3rd edition, by Mark Rippetoe.

The second is the Starting Strength Novice Program. (aka the “Starting Strength Linear Progression”)

While the program appears in the book, the book itself is much more than simply a description of the Novice program. SS:BBT3 provides an in-depth, thorough analysis of the five primary barbell lifts: Squat, Deadlift, Press, Bench Press, and Power Clean/Power Snatch. Correct form is derived through analysis and application of functional anatomy, biomechanics, and physics. How to utilize this correct form is then distilled into easy to follow instructions that make the complexities of the lifts as easy to execute as possible.

SSS Squat 1

The Barbell Squat, one of the core exercises taught by Starting Strength through analysis and application of functional anatomy.

A basic introduction to strength programming is provided as the final chapter in Starting Strength, along with a description of the Novice program as it applies to the lifts whose correct performance is the primary topic of that book. Rippetoe’s Practical Programming for Strength Training addresses exercise physiology and program construction in more detail, as its primary topics.

This guide focuses more on the program aspect of Starting Strength. There is no substitute or shorthand method to convey the analysis, model, and method found in the book. Starting Strength is the only work of its kind. No other resource delves as seriously and deeply into the background and application of technique for the primary barbell lifts and how to correct deviations from proper technique.

Doing the SS Program without using the SS Lifting Model and Method will work but not nearly as well as using both together. It is therefore highly recommended that you purchase and read the book before beginning the SS Program.

Why do Starting Strength?

Developed from Mark Rippetoe's many decades of coaching, Starting Strength allows beginners to make strength gains very quickly.

Developed from Mark Rippetoe’s many decades of coaching, Starting Strength allows beginners to make strength gains very quickly.

The Starting Strength Program is the best program for a Novice to develop the strength that will serve as the basis for all future training as well as increase performance in life and sports. Developed by Mark Rippetoe and refined over decades of experience coaching thousands of trainees, the SS Program allows trainees to make faster strength gains during their first serious period of training than any other program.

The Starting Strength Program is an appropriate place to start for nearly all trainees new to serious strength training. Whether the long term goal is powerlifting, general health and fitness, or training for sport, the SS Program will provide the training base necessary to succeed and excel at any and all of those endeavors.

The SS Program’s beauty is its simplicity. You need only perform and master 5 basic barbell exercises, plus chin-ups, to complete this program. It is cost effective for those who prefer to purchase their own equipment and work out at home. It is also time efficient, since you don’t need to perform a lot of isolation or assistance work.

With that introduction, let’s get to the actual program.

The Starting Strength Program

The SS Program can be broken down into two workout days, Day A and Day B. The entire body is worked each session. As the trainee progresses through the program, Days A and B are slightly modified to take into account the adaptations in the body of the lifter.

General Notes

The goal of this program is to add weight each and every time you lift, taking advantage of The Novice Effect that allows you to do so. Perform the program on a 3 day per week schedule, on non-consecutive days, i.e. Mon/Wed/Fri, Tues/Thurs/Sat or similar.

Most healthy men between the ages of 18 and 35 or 40 can add 10 lbs to the squat the first 2-3 times it’s performed, 15-20 lbs to the deadlift the first couple times, and 10lbs the next several times it’s performed. After that, jumps become 5 lbs per workout. For the press, bench press, and power clean, you may get one 10 lb jump, but you may need to start with 5 lb jumps. Later on, you’ll move to 2.5 lb or smaller jumps for these lifts when 5 lbs becomes too much to add every workout.

Once you’re into Phase 3 and doing chin-ups as part of the program, some of you will progress to weighted chin-ups. If you can perform 3 sets of 10 reps at bodyweight, then you can do every other chin-up workout as a 3 sets of 5 weighted, while continuing to do 3 sets of bodyweight chins to fatigue on your alternate chin-up days.

Now let’s get to the program itself.

Phase 1

(Usually 1-3 weeks)

Day A Day B
Squat 3×5* Squat 3×5
Press/Bench Press 3×5 Press/Bench Press 3×5
Deadlift 1×5 Deadlift 1×5

*3×5 refers to three sets of 5 repetitions, and includes only work-sets, not warm-up sets. 1×5, similarly, refers to 1 work set of 5 reps.

Phase 1 Notes

In this initial phase, workouts A and B are the same, except that the press and bench press alternate. So if you began the program on Monday and pressed, you’ll bench press Wednesday and press again Friday. The second week, you’ll bench press Monday and Friday and press on Wednesday.

At the end of this phase, if you’re in that 18-35 healthy male demographic, your squat should be 40-50 lbs higher than it started, your deadlift should be 50-70 lbs higher than it started, and your press and bench press each 15-20lbs higher than they started.

Most women (and men over 35 or 40) will begin with smaller jumps – perhaps a single 10 lb jump in the squat, two or three 10 lb jumps in the deadlift, and immediate 5 lb jumps in the other exercises – then proceed to 2.5 lb or smaller incremental increases in some movements sooner.

There is no single prescription for everyone, so common sense and paying attention to how your body responds to the increased weight are your best guides here.

Starting Strength Seminar

The (Overhead) Press is one of the first exercises introduced in Phase 1 of Starting Strength.

Phase 2

Day A Day B
Squat 3×5 Squat 3×5
Press/Bench Press 3×5 Press/Bench Press 3×5
Deadlift 1×5 Power Clean 5×3

Phase 2 Notes

In this phase, we introduce the power clean. Your deadlift is now heavy enough that doing it 3 days per week is difficult to recover from. You’ll do deadlifts on Day A as before, and do 5 sets of 3 reps in the power clean on Day B. The explosive nature of the Power Clean will continue to help drive up your deadlift, without the excessive fatigue associated with high frequency deadlifting.

Phase 2’s length is variable, from several weeks to several months, depending on the individual trainee. 

The Power Clean – One of the exercises introduced in Phase 2 of Starting Strength

The Power Clean – One of the exercises introduced in Phase 2 of Starting Strength

Phase 3

Day A Day B
Squat 3×5 Squat 3×5
Press/Bench Press 3×5 Press/Bench Press 3×5
Deadlift/Power Clean 1×5 Chin-ups

Phase 3 Notes

At this point you’ve become strong enough to pull enough weight that we limit deadlift and cleaning frequency. Each is alternated on Day A, while chin-ups are performed on Day B. So if you deadlift on Monday, you’ll do chins on Wednesday, power cleans Friday, chins (or weighted chins, see General Notes above) on Monday, and deadlift again Wednesday. This allows adequate recovery.

Phase 3 is also often where people often need to begin micro-load their pressing movements and cleans, adding weight in 2.5lb or smaller increments to continue linear progress.

Finally, Phase 3 is also often where people reach the “Advanced Novice” stage, and add weight to their squats only twice per week (i.e. Monday and Friday), while using Wednesday as a lighter recovery day for squats. 

FAQs

Warm-up Sets

People get confused here, but it’s not rocket surgery. Take the difference between the empty bar and your working weight, and make four relatively even jumps between the two. i.e. if your work sets will be @ 275lbs:

Empty Bar (45lbs) x 5 reps x 2 sets

135×5

185×3

235×2

275x5x3 (5 reps, 3 sets)

If your working weight will be 95 lbs:

Empty Bar (45lbs) x 5 reps x 2 sets

60×5

75×3

85×2

95x5x3

And so on.

If you’d rather just not think about it, you can get the Starting Strength Warmup App for iPhone or Android.

Stalling

When you don’t make the prescribed sets and reps in a given exercise, try again the next time that exercise comes up. If you make the lift, continue progressing. If you miss again, de-load your weight in that lift by 8-10%, and work your way back up from there, using small jumps. When you’ve done two or three de-loads and worked back up, and stall again, you’re probably done with your linear progression for that particular exercise, assuming that your recovery – sleep and nutrition – have been in order.

Recovery

Sleeping less than 7-8 hours per night will negatively affect your recovery. If you are short on sleep on a regular basis, the length of time during which you can add weight to the bar as a Novice will be artificially stunted.

Much has been written regarding the optimal nutritional intake to take advantage of the Starting Strength Program. Rip’s article, A Clarification, should be read before beginning the program.

However, in short, you need to eat enough to recover. Ample protein, carbohydrates, and fat are required. Trying to do this program while on any type of restricted diet is not optimal: Intermittent Fasting, Paleo, and Zone are examples of three currently popular styles of eating that will stunt your Starting Strength Novice gains. We don’t recommend getting fat while doing the program, but to optimize your gains, you’ll probably have to eat a lot more than you’re used to. Many underweight young men have supplemented their eating with a gallon of milk a day, the famous GOMAD protocol, to aid in their quest for strength.

If you’re already obese, you don’t drink the milk and watch your carbs more carefully, especially if you don’t see some weight and fat loss over the first few weeks.

Exercises in the Program

No, you didn’t miss anything. There are only six exercises in the program. Adding weight to the bar and progressing on these six exercises will do more for your training than anything else, during your first months. Don’t spoil the recipe by adding extra ingredients. A few sets of arm work on Friday is probably OK, and you’re probably going to do it anyway, but beyond that, just do the program.

When you have accumulated enough strength and lifting experience to be an Intermediate lifter, you’ll know enough to decide whether or not to work your reverse leaping axe choppers into the program and if so, how. Until then, just do the program.

One last note: There is much confusion about barbell rows. The program includes power cleans. Substituting barbell rows for power cleans, or power snatches if you can’t rack the clean, is not doing the program. There are a very small percentage of people for whom this may be a good idea, but you’re almost certainly not one of them. Do the cleans. If you really think you may be one of those few people, seek out a Starting Strength Coach in your area for a session.

Other Questions

We’ve tried to be thorough in this guide, but doubtless many of you have more questions. The source texts, Starting Strength and Practical Programming will answer the vast majority of these questions. The Starting Strength DVD provides two-and-a-half hours of examples of practical instruction and form corrections on the basic barbell lifts that are part of this program. It is a useful learning tool for all, especially visual learners. Attending a Starting Strength Seminar is also highly recommended for those who want to truly master the material. Mean Old Mr. Gravity discusses many of the questions you probably have, organized by topic from previous forum Q&As.

We are also active on Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, Rip provides articles and interviews on Strength & Conditioning on the Starting Strength website and answers questions daily (yes, for free!) on his Mark Rippetoe Q&A.


Thanks to Michael and the Starting Strength team for this! Sign up for Fitocracy to check out the starting strength group, or make sure to check out Fitocracy Group Fitness for help with your fat loss or strength goals.

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