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Starting Strength Program

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.

Weekly Layout

Starting Strength involves five exercises in two sessions, alternated over two weeks
  • 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 Deadlift is the final exercise and to avoid fatigue is limited to a single set of five reps

The Main Exercises

One of the selling points of Starting Strength is the detail with which Coach Ripp 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, which make up the foundation of all good strength programs.

Unlike programming which puts explosive lifts like the power clean at the start of the session, Coach Ripp uses the squat as a form of warm up for the other exercises, though it is still performed with maximal intensity. 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:

Starting Strength covers the main exercises in great detail.

Progressive Overload

The basic concept of getting stronger is to lift more weight every few sessions. With Starting Strength you can initially look to increase your Deadlift or Squat by 10lbs (4.5kg) per session, dropping that down to 5lbs (2.2kg) once progress slows down. The emphasis should be on building up momentum and consistency, not rushing into a heavier load and finding you get stuck.

For the Bench Press, Strict Press and Power Clean you are likely to lift less weight and so increments of 2.5lbs (1.1kg) per session are satisfactory. Again the focus should be on progressing to heavier weights but not at the expense of proper form. Coach Ripp notes that even increasing a lift by 1kg per week would result in a 52kg increase over the calendar year.

Warm up sets should be relatively brief compared to other programs, performing 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:

  • 2 sets of 5 reps @ 20kg (the bar)
  • 1 set of 5 reps @ 40kg
  • 1 set of 3 reps @ 60kg
  • 1 set of 2 reps @ 80kg
  • 3 sets of 5 reps @ 100kg (the working set)
Beginners will see quick improvements with any program, but the longer they train the more consideration should be given to periodisation

For beginners they don’t need to worry too much about program specifics – pretty much anything they follow will result in significant strength gains. As you progress through to intermediate and advanced strength, approaching your genetic potential, you need to factor in de-loads and more complex programming that isn’t included in Starting Strength.

If you want further information then I highly recommend the Starting Strength PDF, which is available online and in the Resources section.