In 2007 I decided to get serious about weight lifting. I scoured the internet for a place to start and nearly every source pointed in one direction, Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength (SS). So what is Starting Strength, who does it work for, what are the programs’ pros and cons?

Starting Strength” is a book by Mark Rippetoe, as the name implies, it’s a book and program targeted towards those looking to get started in strength training. The book starting strength is a very helpful primer and is one of the best books out there for learning proper form for important lifts including the squat, deadlift, press, power clean, and flat bench press. The Starting Strength routine fills a small portion of the books’ pages, most of the book is spent describing proper form.

First, a warning. Or a few. Mark Rippetoe and his program, Starting Strength, enjoy an almost cult-like following. There are millions of myths surrounding the program; you’ll gain 15 pounds of muscle in 6 weeks, you’ll be benching 225 in no time, squatting uncomfortable amounts of weight day after day will do no harm, etc… There is nothing magical about SS. There is nothing strikingly special about SS. You will have your best gains in lifting over the first 6 months of lifting regardless of program. Mark Rippetoe claims that it is reasonable to expect 31lbs of lean body mass gain in 11 weeks using his program. This is pure delusion and it’s cruel to say the very least. It’s supplement level trickery, “gain 31lbs in 11 months with this super-duper nitric oxide fruit punch flavored drink.” His irresponsible marketing is shameful, especially when the book and the program are a pretty great foundation for a lifetime of strength training.

What is the Starting Strength Program?

The starting strength program is deceptively simple. Below I’ve delineated the workouts using a simple lettering system. The letter X represents a rest day. There are just two routines in the program, represented by the letter A and the letter B. For example, the first week of workouts is “AxBxAxx”, workout A on Monday, rest on Tuesday, workout B on Wednesday, rest on Thursday, workout A on Friday, and rest the weekend.

For first 2-3 weeks:

AxBxAxx — BxAxBxx — AxBxAxx

  • A= squat, press, deadlift
  • B= squat, bench press, deadlift
  • x= rest day

Then, for 2-3 weeks do this:

AxBxAxx BxAxBxx AxBxAxx

  • A= squat, press, deadlift
  • B= squat, bench press, power clean
  • x= rest day

For the remainder of the 6-9 months,  do this:

AxBxAxx BxAxBxx AxBxAxx

  • A= squat, press, deadlift or power clean
  • B= squat, bench press, back extensions, chin-ups or pull-ups
  • x= rest day

Nutrition & Starting Strength

I do not agree with much of Mark Rippetoe’s nutritional advice, and I am not the only one. Mark Rippetoe has a flair for the excessive. The obscene caloric intake he recommends is just too much. Here is an abbreviated version of what Mark Rippetoe recommends in the SS program:

  • Consume at least 3500-6000 calories per day
  • 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight per day
  • Four meals a day
  • Loads of eat, egg, and dairy
  • Loads of vegetables and fruit
  • Eat excessively for the first two years of lifting, i.e. no six-pack abs

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There are also special recommendations for skinny folks, those under 10% bodyfat:

  • Consume 6000 calories per day including one gallon of whole milk a day, continue until bodyfat is above 20%
  • Consume 4000 calories per day including one-half gallon of whole milk a day until bodyfat drops down to 15%-17%
  • Adjust caloric intake to maintain 15-17% body fat

Special recommendations for people over 25% bodyfat doing the SS Program:

  • Consume 3500 calories per day with a paleo-type diet until bodyfat down to about 20%
  • Adjust calorie intake to maintain 15-17% body fat

Pros of Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength

Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program is an excellent, no-frills admittance into lifting. It’s great for:

  1. Newcomers to strength training looking to gain strength and weight
  2. People with access to a squat rack.
  3. People who have access to a strength training coach or experienced lifter who can help with form.
  4. People who have realistic expectations.

Cons of Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength Program

  1. Exaggerated marketing claims of 31lbs LBM in 11 weeks just pisses me off, you couldn’t achieve that if you were shooting testosterone in your ass and lifting on amphetamines every day, it tricks skinny teens into thinking they’ll be a bodybuilder in a matter of weeks
  2. His nutritional advice sucks, you don’t have to get fat to build muscle. Just because some bodybuilders use insane dirty bulk techniques doesn’t mean you have to. They also abuse testosterone, human growth hormone and insulin. Do you? Clean bulking is one thing, stuffing your face with 6000 calories a day is something else entirely.
  3. You really need an experienced lifter to help you or a trainer.  I don’t believe you can competently teach yourself to squat, bench and deadlift safely even with page after page of description. You simply cannot read your way into technique.
  4. No cardio? Cardiovascular exercise is not mentioned once in the entire Starting Strength book.  It’s really telling, health is not the goal of SS. Cardio belongs in every workout regimen.

My Experience With Starting Strength

In 2007 I started SS after a year or so of completely unstructured lifting. My starting lifts were approximately:

Squat 135lbs
Bench 115lbs
Deadlift 155lbs
Press 55lbs

(I started lifting as a 130 lb. 6′ 2″ cyclist)

I took the program very seriously, almost never skipped a workout and over-ate like crazy. I lifted with an experience partner and worked on form.

6 months later my numbers were:

Squat 225lbs,
Bench 185lbs,
Deadlift 345lbs,
Press 135lbs.

I had also gained nearly 50 lbs. A large portion of that came quickly from no longer riding my bike 300 miles a week and an even larger portion of it was just fat. So sure, I got stronger and my lifts improved drastically. A good part of that is just noob gains and another good part was learning good form.

Overall, I was happy with the strength and not happy that I had to cut like crazy to not be fat.

Conclusion

Ignore the nutritional advice and the extravagant gain lies and you still have a great program and book. It’s really a shame that Mark Rippetoe chose to trash his credibility by sticking to his ridiculous “31lbs LBM in 11 weeks” marketing claim. Follow his nutritional plan and you will gain 31 lbs., it will not be LBM though. The SS program is great for building a lifting base so you can move into other programs, but it won’t get you ripped or looking good or in shape or ready to play a sport.