The Starting Strength program by Mark Rippetoe is one of the most popular lifting protocols on the planet. Why? Because it was designed as an introduction to lifting for people that have no experience lifting. And it works. Starting Strength is a great way to build a solid foundation of strength, whether your goals are bodybuilding, powerlifting, or a little bit of both.
Most bodybuilders will spout on endlessly about hypertrophy routines and how you have to do high volume training to see muscle growth. This isn’t true to begin with, but furthermore, it leads to much confusion in the gym, especially for newcomers. Go to any bodybuilding forum and you will see pages of bad or erroneous advice about the only way to build muscle. This simply isn’t true.
The foundation for any physique is a solid base of strength. Hypertrophy training has its place, but you will get nowhere if you are stuck benching 100 pounds. The stronger you are, the more weight you can lift. Period. This applies to both bodybuilding and powerlifting. The more weight you can lift, the more strain you can place on your muscle with a hypertrophy routine, which will make your bodybuilding split much more effective.
But, I digress. Starting Strength at its core is a progressive overload system using big, basic barbell movements. SS generally works on a 3 day split, and movements are usually done in sets of 3, for 5 reps each. Every time you do a movement, providing you were able to complete the set previously, you will add weight to the bar. Every Time.
There are several SS routines that you can follow, keeping in mind that SS is a program for beginners. The most frequent program (and most basic) is the A/B 3 day split. In this program, you have an A workout, and a B workout. You train on Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Every training day, you alternate the workout. So Monday: A, Wednesday: B, Friday: A, Monday: B, etc.
A simple A/B routine is:
Bench Press 3×5
Overhead Press 3×5
Power Clean 5×3
When you hear people refer to Starting Strength, this is usually the type of protocol they are referring to. If you have been going to the gym and messing around, doing a set here and a set there on different machines.. you are familiar with the gym and have some level of fitness, you could try doing an advanced routine.
A 3 day split advanced SS routine is:
3×5 Bench Press
Chin-ups: 3 sets for 8/7/6 reps. Add weight if completing more than 8 reps.
3×5 Squat (80% of previous days load)
3×5 Overhead Press
3×5 Bench Press
Pull-ups: 3 sets for 8/7/6 reps. Add weight if completing more than 8 reps.
This routine is great for an advanced novice and will provide many gains for those people looking to gain strength!
Since most of the people on Starting Strength are just starting their journey into the gym, it can be a little intimidating. People get intimidated when going to the gym, especially if you have never been or don’t have the best physique ever. You know what? Who cares? Get that out of your mind early, and you will be better off. It doesn’t matter what the guy the next bench over is lifting, all that matters is you. There will always be someone out there stronger than that guy, I guarantee it. Don’t be afraid to put a little bit of weight on the bar and try it out. You have to find your starting weight before you can progress. Starting with the bar, do each movement to get a feel for the motion and the mechanical load of weight. Afterwards, try adding some weight (maybe 10 or 20 pounds) and then try doing the movement again. Repeat this process until you have to actively struggle to complete more than a few reps. Take this weight, add 5 pounds, and start there.
In SS, you want to add weight to the bar every session. The idea is to provide progressive overload every single time you perform a lift. Generally, with bigger lifts you will be able to add more weight, like 10 pounds on squat or deadlift. For smaller lifts, work in 5 pound increments. If you were unable to complete your set the previous week, maintain the weight you lifted for that session, and increase the weight next week.
Remember that everyone will have shitty days in the gym; it just happens. Even the best bodybuilders and powerlifters have shitty gym days, so don’t let it dissuade you.
While Starting Strength was designed for skinny kids looking to get stronger, it is great for any person (male or female) looking to increase their strength and gain a good platform for further development. Remember that the key to any physique or training program will be raw strength. Don’t be fooled by the people that tell you you need to lift high volume, light weight. People like Arnold, Franco, and Ronnie didn’t get where they are now by busting out 50 reps on the bench at 100 pounds.
Use the Starting Strength program to get to a good level of strength. You can find a great calculator to figure out your strength standards here. Think of it kind of like elementary school: You need to learn the basics before you can move onto something bigger. Be the better man. Get stronger and lift heavy shit!