One of the most popular beginner strength training programs is Starting Strength.
Funny enough, it’s also one of the most ridiculed routines by experienced bodybuilders and powerlifters alike.
Personally, I think most people completely miss the whole concept of who Starting Strength is targeted for and that’s why it gets so much unnecessary criticism, when in reality, it deserves a lot of praise.
Now, I’m not going to tell you this routine is for you because it definitely has some negative aspects…
…But, I will explain why it’s so misunderstood as you continue reading my Starting Strength review.
What is Starting Strength?
Starting Strength is one of the most popular beginner barbell, strength training routines and set of training materials.
I say “materials” because it’s actually much more than just your standard routine for building muscle.
The program’s creator, Mark Rippetoe, is arguably one of the most famous, mainstream, strength coaches having been in the fitness industry since 1978 and coached thousands of people.
His program is meant to create a solid strength foundation in which new lifters can build upon for very fast muscle development.
Should You Do the Starting Strength Routine?
Now, I know that Noob Gains is all about novice muscle building. (That should be obvious by now)
But I can’t stress enough how Starting Strength is definitely meant for completely new lifters.
One of the main criticisms about this program is that it’s too much work in a short period of time and because of that, it doesn’t allow you to recovery properly.
…and this is the complaint from experienced gym junkies.
What these guys are missing is that this program is NOT meant for experienced lifters in almost any aspect.
This means if you are a completely raw, untrained noob that has only touched a barbell zero (or a handful of) times, then his program is for you.
This is because the routine requires the lifter to have the ability to recover in a very short period of time after significant muscle stress and stimulation in each session.
To put another way, you can’t be anywhere near “intermediate status” and use this routine effectively.
Plus, there’s no recommendations for resetting the weight or switching to periodization to continue progress when stalling on an exercise.
In this case, Mark Rippetoe actually recommends jumping into his next book, Practical Programming and discontinuing Starting Strength altogether.
That’s why this program is misunderstood.
The Starting Strength results that you can expect as a noob is to double or even triple your strength on the main, compound exercises in a few short months and then move on to something else.
Here Are the Details of the Actual Starting Strength Workout
This routine is linear progression program, meaning you continually add more weight as you successfully perform all reps and sets in each session.
The book says that in the beginning, it’s possible to make easy 10 lb jumps from one session to the next, but eventually you’ll have to slow down and make 5 lb jumps to continue seeing progress.
This is just for males. Women have other recommendations that the book clears up.
What’s interesting about the Starting Strength routine is that it’s designed to be used for only a very short period.
What I mean is if you follow the Rippetoe’s recommendations set for the routine, with all it’s slight variations, you should make incredibly fast progress and outgrow the routine in no time.
Let me be blunt in this Starting Strength program review… for a noob, you WANT to outgrow the routine.
That means you’re making great progress.
Let’s take a look at the recommended set x rep schemes for each exercise:
|Exercise||Sets x Reps|
|Chin-ups/Pull-ups||3xF or 3×5 (Weighted)|
|Back Extensions/Glute/Ham Raise||3×10|
You’ll notice that most exercises follow a standard 3 sets of 5 reps scheme except for deadlifts, power cleans, chin-ups, and back extensions/glute/ham raises.
Let me explain why.
Mark Rippetoe determined that a standard 3×5 set/rep scheme is very effective for the majority of lifts based on their exertion on the central nervous system (CNS) against the fast recovery that noobs can afford.
To address the other lifts, deadlifts are limited to 1 single set because they are extremely taxing to your CNS and the sheer exertion of this full-body exercise requires more recovery from one training session to the next.
Don’t make the mistake of adding more sets because you think it will increase your progress because it won’t. (You’re just going to snap your shit up)
As for power cleans, this exercise is more of a test of your current ability to display explosiveness so less volume, but more sets is recommended.
With the standard chin-ups/dips 3xF means 3 sets, each going to failure where failure means “your next attempt won’t make it”.
Once you progress to the point of using a weight belt, you can still make considerable progress without going to failure.
Finally, back extensions/glute/ham raises are considered an accessory exercise and so more volume can be introduced without ruining progress on the other lifts.
This Routine Can Give You Awesome Progress because of the Phases
The Starting Strength Routine is actually an alternating A/B routine performed 3 days per week.
This is how it would be performed over the course of a couple weeks:
|Week 1||Week 2|
Now, this is one of the defining points in my Starting Strength review.
What makes this routine so effective from beginning to end is how it actually evolves and changes as your muscles adapt to the new stimulus.
Mark Rippetoe achieves this by breaking the entire routine into 3 phases where each phase lasts a few weeks and then exercise variations are introduced.
Let me show you each of the phases:
Phase 1 – The Basic Setup
This phase is the most basic setup and includes the least number of exercises.
If performed correctly with standard progress, it shouldn’t last more than 2-3 weeks.
|Workout A||Workout B|
Phase 2 – Enter the Power Clean
After the freshness of the deadlift has worn off, it’s a good point to jump into phase 2.
The difference in Phase 2 is that the deadlift in Workout B is substituted with the power clean instead.
|Workout A||Workout B|
Phase 3 – Chin-ups and Pull-ups
In the final phase of Starting Strength routine, alternation of the last exercise is introduced in workout A and workout B uses both back extensions and chin-ups to finish out the session.
This begins to really build a well-rounded muscular physique over your strength foundation.
|Workout A||Workout B|
|Deadlift/Power Clean||Back Extensions|
|Chin-ups or Pull-ups|
To make clearer, if you’re looking at this phase over the course of two weeks, it would look something like this:
|Deadlift||Back Extensions||Power Clean|
|Chin-ups or Pull-ups|
|Bench Press||Press||Bench Press|
|Back Extensions||Deadlift||Back Extensions|
|Chin-ups or Pull-ups||Chin-ups or Pull-ups|
Why You Should Get the Materials Even if You Don’t Follow the Program
Unlike most other beginner strength training programs out there, the Starting Strengh book and DVD are some of the best materials for learning all you would ever want to know about performing these lifts, the basics of progression, and even the equipment required for successful execution.
Seriously, the book is over 300 pages (large pages) and the details of the routine like the sets and reps are not even mentioned until page 291!
Up until that point, Mark Rippetoe explains everything about how to perform the exercises, how to troubleshoot the exercises, and the gear you’ll need if you want to make good progress.
Again, this book is fantastic for a new lifter to read and I think you should get it (being blunt).
Now, if you don’t like to read… (what a joke, right?) I also recommend his DVD because he shows exactly how to perform each exercise correctly right in front of your eyes.
Plus, one of his students is like this really old lady and you’re like, whoa… is she really going to do a squat?
And then she does you’re all like “Damn lady.”
Reasons Starting Strength Might No Be For You
Up until this point, I probably sound like a little cheerleader for the program, but it’s not all rainbows and unicorns.
Starting Strength is good, but not quite rainbows and unicorns – Click to Tweet
These are the things I don’t like:
#1 – You Have to Squat Every Session
Now, this might not be problem for you, but for me it was.
I highly recommend programs for beginners that involve squats because I believe that every lifter should understand the mechanics of performing a squat and develop their legs at least to SOME extent.
However, if you have genes like I do, squatting every session has the potential to swell your legs faster than a Weight Watchers flunkie at a Chinese buffet.
When I did Starting Strength, I saw massive strength gains that I was very proud of…
…but I also split the seams on multiple pairs of boxers and shorts in the process because of my bulging quads.
So, there’s that.
Make sure you have plenty of boxer shorts.
#2 – If You Want to Get a Six Pack, You’re Not Going to Like the Nutrition Advice
If your goal is have a chiseled body with a nice set of defined, six pack abs, you don’t want to follow Mark Rippetoes’ diet advice.
He even mentions in the book, his advice is not aimed at young teens who are seeking six pack abs and he doesn’t believe in that sort of thing.
He made this program to build strength with no exceptions.
In fact, he says it’s not uncommon for new lifters (boys) to gain 10-15 lbs in the first TWO-THREE WEEKS if they follow his diet advice.
Now, I’ve been around the block a few times and I can tell you straight up, the MAJORITY of those lbs will NOT be muscle.
They will be body fat.
Especially when you consider some of his “diet tips” to get big which are very old school:
- Eat around four meals per day with sources from meat, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and lots of milk. (The food suggestions are fine, but there’s no evidence that eating four meals will be better for your progress)
- Consume 1g of protein/1lb of bodyweight (This is fine too)
- Eat around 3500-6000 calories per day
- For fastest gains, drink a gallon of milk a day (GOMAD Diet)
The protein requirements I agree with because of what I stated in this post about how much protein to build muscle.
If you’re looking for a reliable protein powder to supplement your diet, check Fitness Savvy since they highlight some of the best prices on the web.
However, blatantly recommending a kid eats 3500-6000 calories a day leads to a lot of body fat and no definition.
This is especially true if you’re also slamming down entire gallons of milk daily too.
Starting Strength Book Review Conclusion
If you’ve never touched a barbell before or you think you still have plenty of room to grow and improve, I think Starting Strength will be a great program for you.
However, this program isn’t recommended for anyone who already has a few months of productive progress under their belt.
The reason is because they most likely can’t meet the aggressive recovery requirements that the program demands.
But besides the details of the routine itself, it’s difficult to argue with just how thorough and awesome the materials are in terms of how to perform these main lifts and the gear needed to do it.
Others have tried, but the Starting Strength book and SS DVD are still some of the best lifting resources available and I think you should get them.
Yes, there are a lot of programs out there, but if you’re completely fresh to lifting weights and building muscle, Starting Strength is a good place to start.