Starting Strength

Starting Strength is widely considered to be the best novice strength training program by the weightlifting community. Its writer, Mark Rippetoe, is the owner of Wichita Falls Athletic Club. He’s been in the strength industry for over 25 years and has many years under his belt as an athlete. The expression “Learn from the best to be the best” comes to mind. Mark has numerous accomplishments to accredit him as a leading figure in the industry, but his 1,643 pound raw powerlifting total speaks for itself.

“Strong people are harder to kill than weak people and are more useful in general.” – Mark Rippetoe

Starting Strength is first and foremost a beginner program. Although many people consider ‘beginner’ to imply someone who is new to weightlifting, there is much more to it. A beginner in the powerlifting sense is someone who can still put weight on the bar every time they go to the gym. Programs that require a lifter to make consistent day-to-day progress are grouped as linear progression programs.

Many lifters are too proud to consider themselves beginners. They want to think of themselves as advanced athletes and hop on a lifting regiment like Sheiko or Smolov. These lifters are shooting themselves in the foot, because you cannot make faster gains with any program than you can with linear progression, provided you can still make consistent gains in the weight room. With that said, let’s get to the dirty details of this legendary routine.

There are only 5 primary exercises in Starting Strength. These include the Back Squat, the Deadlift, the Bench Press, the Military Press, and the Power Clean. You may be asking yourself “Only five exercises? Surely that’s not enough variety.” Its beauty is in its simplicity. By making short jumps in weight each workout, you’re rapidly putting weight on the biggest compound movements that are essential to getting bigger and stronger.

starting-strength

These exercises are broken down into 2 different days: Day A, and Day B. On Day A you’ll be performing the Back Squat, the Bench Press, and the Deadlift. On Day B, you’ll be Back Squatting, Military Pressing, and Power Cleaning. The lifter will be in the gym 3 days per week, alternating between Day A and Day B each time. Make sure you include at least one rest day between each day of training. Some weeks you’ll be bench pressing and deadlifting twice, and other weeks will have you mostly Military Pressing and Power Cleaning. Every workout, however, you’ll be squatting. Mark Rippetoe highly recommends that you perform the exercises in following order- Squatting, Upper body movement, Pulling movement.

Workout Schedule

Monday: Workout A
Wednesday: Workout B
Friday: Workout A

The following week, your schedule will look like this:

Monday: Workout B
Wednesday: Workout A
Friday: Workout B

As you can see you alternate workouts every other training day. Now, you don’t have to train only on Monday/Wednesday/Friday; you can also train Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday instead. The key thing to remember here is that you should train 3 times a week non-consecutively as to let your body rest for a full day after your training day. After one week of training is over, you take two days off and then start the next week of training.

Workout A

Note:(Warm up sets are not listed but are essential. Proper warm ups help activate muscles to perform at their best under heavy loads in addition to lowering the risk of injury.)

Exercise Sets Reps
Back Squat 3 5
Bench Press 3 5
Deadlift 1 5


Workout B

Exercise Sets Reps
Back Squat 3 5
Military Press 3 5
Power Clean 3 5



You may have noticed that the Deadlift is only done for 1 work set. Deadlifts are the most taxing lift you can do, so doing multiple sets would not allow for most lifters to recover enough for the next workout in order to make progress. Also note that Power Cleans may be done for 5 sets of 3 reps if you prefer. However, all other lifts must be done as 3 sets of 5 reps.

You may think squatting three times each week is too much, but if it wasn’t possible Starting Strength wouldn’t be anywhere near as popular and effective is it is to this day. The key to making big gains is small, consistent jumps in weight. You’ll be adding 5 pounds to each lift every time you step into the gym. Let’s play around with some math to illustrate this. Assume a lifter has the following Five Rep Maxes:

Squat: 185
Bench Press: 135
Deadlift: 225
Military Press: 95
Power Clean: 155



Adding 5 pounds to each day’s 3 lifts that are being performed that day, every lift except for the squat will gain an average of 7.5 pounds per week. The squat will gain 15 pounds per week due to being performed every workout. This same lifter with the above Five Rep Maxes would have the following 5 Rep Maxes after 3 months (12 weeks):

Squat: 365
Bench Press: 225
Deadlift: 315
Military Press: 185
Power Clean: 245



In just 3 short months, this lifter has put 180 pounds on his squat and 90 pounds on each other lift. Note that the deadlift is the fastest increasing lift and thus you may add 10 pounds per workout if you find this to be a comfortable rate. Do not push too fast though. Consider the analogy of the tortoise and the hare. Although the hare is fastest out of the gate, the tortoise wins in the end. Slow and steady wins the race.

The math above illustrates just how effective linear progression is. In order for these lifts to increase so much, make sure you’re eating enough. You’ll need a LOT of food in order to keep up with these weight increases, so pound down the meat and milk. This is not an excuse to get fat, but it’s absolutely necessary to eat big to get big.

get-big

All good things must come to an end. At some point, you’ll find that you can’t make progress every day and you might start missing some lifts. At this point you’ll need what’s called a reset. To reset, take 90% of your current 3×5 weight and work back up from that point. For example, let’s say you squat 315 for 2 sets of 5 reps, and on your third set you miss the last rep. Take 90% of 315 and you end up with approximately 285 pounds. This will be your new working set for the following workout. Reset as needed, but if you find yourself resetting too often it might be time to consider an intermediate level program. Pat yourself on the back- by the time you’ve milked everything you can out of linear progression you’ll be stronger than nearly everyone in your gym.

In conclusion, Starting Strength should be a top consideration for any lifter who’s relatively new to the sport and wants to get bigger and stronger. It’s worked for thousands of people and it’ll work for you too if you stick to it, pay your dues, and eat like there’s no tomorrow. If you have any questions you can leave them in the comments.

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28 comments… read them below or add one

thecaptainspeaks

You’ve got the routine mixed up – it’s bench press & power cleans one day, then press & deadlift the other day. Also it’s worth pointing out that you shouldn’t be starting with current 5RMs even if you’ve been lifting for a while and you know what they are. You are meant to start lower and get back up to them (and breeze past them) in a few weeks. You may not have meant that but it could be implied from the example.

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Chris J

Actually you’re the one who is wrong. The standard notice programme is:

Workout A

Squat
Bench
Deadlift

Workout B

Squat
Press
Clean

The Starting Strength FAQ Wiki has it wrong too, but that’s not written by Ripptoe. Rip’s actual book gives it as I have here.

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Brian

How much time between sets and exercises? How much cardio should be done?

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Sam

Cardio isn’t part of the program, though you’re welcome to do it if you want to. Take as much of a rest between sets as you need to insure that you don’t miss any reps. Accumulating fatigue from one set to the next is not part of the physiological stimulus SS pushes for.

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felipao

How much rest between sets and between different exercise? How much weight for each exercise?

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mthurston0001

This program worked so well for me, I bought the book.

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Douglas Brown

if i’m 42 years old and I want to start a strength program like this will it work for me

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Dan

For sure. You might not grow like a hormone-filled 19-year-old, but it’s likely it will still be a lot more effective than you expect, especially if you’re new to the game. As long as you eat right. To quote Rip, if you’re not eating right, “You’re Not Doing The Program.”

Be aware of your body, though. Pay attention if you feel pain, and research good prehab techniques. Keeping soft tissue healthy gets harder the older you get, but it’s not a problem of you’re attentive.

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Gilmoure

I’m 45 and begin Starting Strength this past January (first time I’ve done any sort of voluntary exercise). I’m up to 285 lb squat, 315 lb dead lift and 185 lb bench press, as well as waist down 4″ and weight down 7 lbs. Not bad for a fat old computer geek. I’m at the point of having to reset as I’ve hurt my left shoulder with flat bench presses. Am working back up with incline press now. Also, have allowed myself to drift from main program. Reading this, need to get back on strict A/B schedule and break out the book for another read-through

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josh

if your hurt your shoulder you might just need to fix your benching form. if u keep your elbows flared out 90degrees from your torso then you’ve got bad form.

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Dwight

Can this program help me to achieve my goal of Squating 1.5x my body weight, want to improve my vertical jump.

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Anonymous

Yes. I started the Starting Strength program in November ’13 and I just hit the 1.5x body weight squat. 25 yo male

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James

Should any assistance work be done during this? Like rows for bench, maybe tricep dips?

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barbell5

It’s not in the book, but it can be done no problem

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Chris J

“Adding 5 pounds to each day’s 3 lifts that are being performed that day, every lift except for the squat will gain an average of 7.5 pounds per week. The squat will gain 15 pounds per week due to being performed every workout. This same lifter with the above Five Rep Maxes would have the following 5 Rep Maxes after 3 months (12 weeks):
Squat: 365
Bench Press: 225
Deadlift: 315
Military Press: 185
Power Clean: 245″

Sorry but that is not correct. Starting strength stipulates:-

“For young males that weigh between 150-200 lbs., deadlifts can move up 15-20 lbs. per workout, squats 10-15 lbs., with continued steady progress for 3-4 weeks before slowing down to half that rate. Bench presses, presses, and cleans can move up 5-10 lbs. per workout, with progress on these exercises slowing down to 2.5-5 lbs. per workout after only 2-3 weeks. Young women make progress on the squat and the deadlift at about the same rate, adjusted for bodyweight, but much slower on the press, the bench press, cleans, and assistance exercises.”

You can’t maintain those largest increases for 12 weeks, quite simply you’d hurt yourself. If anyone manages it, they started way too light from the beginning.

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Pete

These articles on this site are really well written and informative. Thanks for getting me back into lifting again.

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Pete

I’m 54 and I used to lift when I was in my 20′s. I’m using this program to get back into lifting. I didn’t buy the book, I’m doing it exactly as written above and it’s working great. Minus the milk though, I hate milk. If you eat Tuna, Salmon, and Chicken you don’t need any supplementary drinks or any of that stuff.

Even though I’m in fairly good shape (I’m only about 10 lbs over for my height) I decided to start all the way back at the bare bar to avoid unnecessary soreness and injury. Is it boring? Not for me, I like it. I’ve gone from benching the bare bar to 90 lbs, 5 lbs at a time and its no problem at all. Could I put 45′s on and bench 135 right now? – Sure, but I don’t need to. I used to bench 225 and I know I’ll get back there 5 lbs at a time with no strain and lots of gain.

I’ve only been at it a few weeks and people at work are already like, hey – what have you been doing? It’s great and I’ll be able to stay on this regimen a long time before I max it out. After I max this out I think I’ll just maintain because I’m not interested in competing. I’m planning on living a long time and I just want to remain strong an capable.

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Tim

I appreciated reading your comments, Pete. I’m 53 and of like mind, and plan to follow a similar approach to SS.

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Steelhead

I started the program at age 67 and am now squatting 315 and dead lifting 330 for example.

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Chuck

Do I add more weight after each set? Or do I stay at that weight for the day?

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User

You stay at the same weight for the day.

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Hamish

For power cleans I believe Rippetoe has you do 5×3 rather than 3×5. This is because they are more technical than the other lifts, thus fatigue from doing 5 reps would make your form deteriorate too much.

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Jeffrey

How many warm up sets of deadlift should you do?

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Jeffrey

Can you curl and do triceps and leg extensions? Or should you just do the 5 exercises?

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Adolph Rayner

I believe the book details when and how to add accessory work into the program. Don’t take my word for it but I think Rippetoe prefers Chinups and Dips over Curls and Tricep Extensions. If in doubt, buy the book.

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Sarge

Just started this program, looking forward to seeing the results. I am presently 55 and back into powerlifting after 20+ layoff. Glad to hear guys my age and older are using this system.

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J

Im an absolute novice at powerlifting but have been training for growth and aesthetics for a few years im leaving all that behind and im going in full force on a linear progression program like this. can anyone help me out as to what are proper warm up sets for this kind of training. eg. rep range, how many sets, light or moderate strain. id appreciate any comments

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Nimble

I would encourage you to perform an Internet search for “Dynamic Warm-up.” Doing a dynamic warm-up is how I prepare for any work out – sprints, metcon, oly-lifting, rec-league games. I think that this is important because not only will it lubricate your joints but it will also speed-up your heart rate, which prepares your body to physically perform. A dynamic warm-up should be completed before any intense varied functional movement at high intensity. After the dynamic warm-up, proceed to do 1-2 ramp-up sets of slightly higher 8-12 reps with a moderate weight (40-60% of max). You can calculate your 1RM, one rep max, a number of ways; a simple Internet search for 1RM Calculator should do the trick. Doing a legitimate warm-up and ramp-up will significantly reduce injury likelihood and promote proper form, since you can really focus on your form in the ramp-up.

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