For beginners who want to grow stronger, Starting Strength (SS) is the best program. You found it. Stop looking for a better program. There isn’t one.
SS uses what you lift in one workout to program the next workout and transition through several phases of exercise routines. This approach makes the most sense for a beginner because the ability to improve is high and each person will improve at a different rate.
A major part of the program is the diet outlined in the book. People who want to gain weight or loose fat can use the program. Many young healthy athletes want to gain weight and drinking a gallon of milk a day (GOMAD) is prescribed. For those wanting to loose fat, building fat-burning muscle is your path to success.
After spending about 5 to 9 months on SS, you’ll have built an impressive base of strength at the fastest possible rate and be best prepared to move to intermediate training programs specific to your personal goals.
The rest of this page outlines the workouts that you’ll do on SS.
These first workouts are about learning the four main, slow, barbell lifts: squat, (standing overhead) press, bench press, and deadlift. The book goes into extensive detail about how to perform these exercises properly and safely. During this period you’ll gain the flexibility and balance necessary to work with the barbell so that your form is ready when the weights become really heavy just a month or two from now.
After the warm-up sets that start with an empty bar, the squats, presses, bench presses are done for 3 work sets of 5 reps each and the deadlifts are done for 1 work set of 5 reps. The book explains the first day protocol for determining your starting weight for each exercise and how much weight to add to each exercise each workout. The weight will increase on every exercise for every workout. You’ll quickly become addicted to the rewards of lifting more and more every session.
You’ll probably be resting about 2 to 5 minutes between work sets and the workouts will be about 30 to 45 minutes long.
This first phase lasts about a couple weeks. It can last up to two month for some people. This phase ends when deadlifts weights are well ahead of squat weights and deadlifts become difficult enough that more recovery is desired between deadlift workouts. Just keep repeating week 1, week 2, week 1, week 2, etc until you are ready to move on to phase 2.
The power clean is added to the program for pulling variety and to develop explosive strength. The power clean is a fast lift and a highly coordinated full body movement. It takes time to learn this exercise but it is fun.
After the warm-up sets, power cleans are done for 5 work sets of 3 reps each.
The weights will start to become heavy during this phase and your rests will likely be about 4 to 6 minutes. The workouts will last about 45 minutes to 1.25 hour.
This phase lasts about 3 to 4 weeks.
After 5 to 6 weeks many trainees will have moved to phase 3. This is the main phase of SS and will likely last for months. Chin-ups, pull-ups, and back extensions are introduced.
Chin-ups and pull-ups are done for 3 sets of bodyweight to failure. If you cannot do bodyweight chin-ups or pull-ups, the book explains how to use bands to do assisted pull-ups.
Back extensions are done for 3 to 5 sets of 10 reps at bodyweight.
The weights for every exercise have been increasing every workout since the first workout and phase 3 is likely where the trainee starts to miss reps. When reps are missed, the weight is retried for 1 or 2 more workouts at the same weight. If the trainee fails to lift the weight then this is considered a stall and a reset to 90% of the weight is required. The weight is increased again back to the missed weight where it will feel light after the rest the reset provided and is then increased to new highs in the following workouts. Reducing the amount of weight added to the exercise each workout is also a possibility. See the book for more details.
Rests between work sets will likely be between 5 to 7 minutes and can even be as long as up to 10 minutes. Workouts will be about 1.25 to 1.75 hours.
Phase 4: The Advanced Novice Program
After the second or third reset for squats, a light squat day is introduced. Squats on Wednesday are 80% of Monday’s squats. Weight is still added to squats on Monday and Friday so that they are personal records. For a healthy young male, when your total increase on squats is 5 pounds per week or less you should consider moving to an intermediate program.
When the trainee can complete 3 sets of more than 10 repetitions for chin-ups and pull-ups, then weighted variations are introduced every other workout so that failure occurs between 5 and 7 reps.
The transition to light squat days and weighted chin-ups and pull-ups can happen at different times.
Phase 4 is the last phase in SS. When you stall a third of fourth time in any of the five main exercises (squat, press, bench press, deadlift, power clean) or recovery becomes difficult between workouts then at least some of your exercises need to move on to intermediate programming like the Texas Method or 5/3/1. This transition will happen for many trainees after a total of 5 to 7 months from the beginning of phase 1. At this point you’ll be lifting more weight than you ever thought you would be and more than most of the other people who’ve been working out at the gym for years.
One of the great things about Starting Strength is it doesn’t require much equipment or space to do the workouts.
Book & DVD
The Starting Strength book is required reading and will be your bible.
For those who like video instruction, Rip has created a instructional DVD teaching all the major lifts
A good barbell will be your most important purchase. Rip designed “the B&R bar” which is good for all the lifts including power cleans.
Bumper plates let you drop your power cleans without bending your barbell.
If you want to look like you are lifting in the Olympics you can get colored competition bumpers.
A set of bumper plates will keep you going on power cleans for a long time but you’ll be deadlifing and squatting more before you know it. Some basic cast iron plates will let you continue progressing.
Rip recommends micro-loading presses and bench presses when they start getting tough. You can use bits of chain or big washers. A set of fractional plates give you more control over your weights.
Your power rack lets you squat, bench press, press, and chin-up and do them safely. Rip supplies plans for an all welded power rack. If your welding skills are not up to par, you can buy a good power rack.
You'll need a bench to bench press. Ensure your bench is 12 inches wide. That is competition width so your shoulder blades won’t slip off the bench mid-rep like they might with a narrow “fitness” bench.
Some folks on Starting Strength lift with bare feet or in Chucks. Rip recommends proper weightlifting shoes with a 0.5" heal lift. Such a thing is hard to find. Most weightlifting shoes have a 0.75" heal lift. The Nike Romaleos are gaining popularity in the Starting Strength community. Whatever you do don’t lift in squishy runners.
Some folks squat with a belt from their first day. Some wait until they are squatting 315 lbs to start using a belt. No matter when you start using a belt, get a Best Belt. A 10 mm thick, 4" wide, single prong Best Belts will last you a long, long time.
You won’t be lifting heavy with wet hands. Dry them with chalk.
If you cannot do unassisted chin-ups or pull-ups then in Starting Strength Rip recommends using rubber bands for assistance.