Starting Strength is a program written by experienced strength coach Mark Rippetoe and centres around five primary lifts. It is a linear progression program meaning you slowly add weight every session to increase your strength over time.
- Every session starts with a squat
- Squat, OHP (Overhead Press or Strict Press) and Bench (Press) are done for 3 sets of 5 reps
- Power Clean, as a more explosive exercise, is performed as 5 sets of 3 reps
- Deadlift is very fatiguing in multiple heavy sets and so is restricted to a single heavy set of 5 reps
- Warm up sets do not count towards the total sets performed
The Main Exercises
One of the selling points of Starting Strength is the detail with which Coach Rippetoe explains each of the main lifts over 170 dedicated pages. As a Biomechanics graduate I loved the breakdown of angles, body position, centre of mass and direction of forces. He has chapters for the Back Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, Strict Press and Power Clean. These five lifts make up the foundation of all good strength programs.
Coach Rippetoe uses the squat as a form of warm up for the other exercises, though it is still performed with maximal intensity. This is unlike other programs which put explosive lifts like the power clean at the start of the session. The order is Squat – Press – Pull on each day, though the exercises alternate. An example of the warm up sets for a 100kg squat would be:
The basic concept of getting stronger is to lift more weight every few sessions. You can initially look to increase your Deadlift or Squat by 10lbs (4.5kg) per session. Once progress slows down, drop that to 5lbs (2.2kg). The emphasis should be on building up momentum and consistency, not rushing into a heavier load and getting stuck.
The Bench Press, Strict Press and Power Clean likely involve less weight so increments of 2.5lbs (1.1kg) are satisfactory. Again the focus should be on progressing to heavier weights but not at the expense of proper form. Coach Rippetoe notes that even increasing a lift by 1kg per week would result in a 52kg increase per year.
Warm up sets should be relatively brief compared to other programs. Try to perform a few reps at progressively heavier weights leading up to the working sets. An example of the warm up sets for a 100kg squat would be:
- 20kg (the bar): 2 x 5 reps
- 40kg: 1 x 5 reps
- 60kg: 1 x 3 reps
- 80kg: 1 x 2 reps
- 100kg (the working set): 3 x 5
For beginners they don’t need to worry too much about program specifics. That’s because pretty much any program they follow will result in significant strength gains. Deloads and complex programming should be factored in as you progress through to intermediate and advanced strength. That’s not included in Starting Strength but is important the closer you get to your genetic potential.