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Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe

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Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength (SS)

What is the Starting Strength (SS) program, who is it appropriate for, and what are its pros and cons? First of all, “Starting Strength” is a book by mark Rippetoe and, as the name implies, it’s a program to get people started in strength training.  The book Starting Strength is on my list of recommended books because it is probably one of the best books out there for learning proper techniques for the squat, deadlift, press, power clean, and bench press.   Very rightly so, the Starting Strength lifting program is only a very small segment of the book, most of the book is spent describing proper technique.  

First, a word of warning about this book and Mark Rippetoe. There is an almost cult-like following of SS and its followers perpetrate the myths associated with it. Its quite likely that you heard of Mark Rippetoe’s SS program on some forum where people were touting the “incredible gains” possible with it – don’t believe them! Starting Strength is a good program but its not magical like the anecdotes seem to indicate. Its gains are no better or no worse than similar programs. Every report I have seen of someone having “great” results was because they didn’t know how to measure their progress accurately. Mark Rippetoe claims that it is reasonable to expect 31lbs of LBM gain in 11 weeks using his program, this is pure fantasy and its a cruel trick to mislead teens to think they can achieve this.. His irresponsible and exaggerated marketing claims are the reason I have put him in my Fitness Hall of Shame. The issue is, if the author is willing to use exaggeration to sell the book, how do you know when to believe them and when not to? Its really too bad that Mark Rippetoe has insisted on sticking to these inflated expectations. Not only has it gotten him the harsh criticism of well respected fitness experts like Lyle McDonald but it has soiled the reputation of his otherwise good book as well.

What is the SS Program?

Before we talk about the pros and cons, lets look at what the Starting Strength program actually is. Below is a description of the lifting portion of the Starting Strength program. If you are not familiar with the below notation of showing workout plans, a little explanation is in order.  Below the workouts for three weeks are illustrated and each of the three weeks is represented by seven letters , one for each day of the week.  The letter “x” represents a rest day.  The letters “A” and “B” are workouts described below.  So, for example, the first week of workouts shown directly below is “AxBxAxx”, which means do workout A on Monday, rest on Tuesday, do workout B on Wednesday, rest on Thursday, Do workout A on Friday, and rest on 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, chinups or pullups
  • x= rest day

Nutritional Component of the Starting Strength Program

My recommendation is to ignore all Mark Rippetoe’s nutritional advice as I am not the only one who thinks that is really bad. Mark Rippetoe’s expertise is in lifting, not nutrition. The worst is the obscene caloric intake he recommends. Having given you that warning, here are the nutritional recommendations of the SS program in a nutshell:

  • Eat four meals a day
  • Get 1g protein per pound of bodyweight
  • Eat lots of meat, egg, and dairy
  • Eat lots of vegetables and fruit
  • Do not worry about sixpack abs for first two years of lifting
  • Consume 3500-6000 calories per day

Special recommendations for the skinny (under 10% bodyfat):

  • Consume 6000 calories per day including a gallon of whole milk a day until bodyfat is about 20%
  • Consume 4000 calories per day including a half gallon of whole milk a day until bodyfat drops down to 15%-17%
  • Adjust calorie intake to maintain 15-17% bodyfat

Special recommendations for those 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% bodyfat

Pros of Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength Program

Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program is an excellent, no-nonsense lifting program – no gimmicks and no outrageous claims. Its a great beginning program. Its great for people:

  1. People who are newcomers to fitness wanting to gain strength and weight as quickly as possible.
  2. People who have access to a squat rack.
  3. People who have access to a good strength training coach who can help perfect their technique.
  4. People without lower back problems.
  5. People who have realistic growth expectations.
  6. People ages 17-35.

 

Cons of Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength Program

 

  1. His exaggerated marketing claims of 31lbs LBM in 11 weeks is pure fantasy and its a cruel trick to mislead teens to think they can achieve this.
  2. Starting Strenngth (SS) Nutrition

    The food pyramid according to Mark Rippetoe

    His nutritional advice is bad, the worst is the immense caloric intake he suggests. Clean bulking is fine but stuffing your face with 6000 calories a day serves no purpose at all. Lets look at his numbers, for a skinny 6′ tall teen he suggests 6000 calories per day. To maintain weight, this teen needs 2500 calories, what happens to the other 3500 calories? Those who believe in the tooth fairy think that 3500 calories turns into muscle but you cant gain muscle just by eating more!!! In round numbers, that teen is gaining a pound (1/2 kilo) of FAT daily! That means he is gaining about 30 pounds of FAT a month! Every time I have cornered someone and ask for the details of their “amazing” gains, it is clear that they do not know how to weigh themselves accurately nor have they ever measured their bodyfat. If you cant do those two things then you have no idea what your gains were.

  3. Important things are missing from his nutritional advice. The first is the importance of fiber. To his credit he does mention eating lots of fruits and vegetables which have fiber but he never mentions complex carbs or legumes. The second thing he never mentions is the importance of carbohydrate quality and trying to avoid simple carbs in favor of complex carbs – oats rather than table sugar. The third thing he doesn’t mention that I think he should have is about fats. He doesn’t mention EFAs (Essential Fatty Acids) nor give any guidance on how to allocate the fat budget (PUFAs, MUFAs, sat fat, trans-fat, etc)
  4. Not recommended for home workouts.  In my opinion, you cant teach yourself to squat and deadlift safely even with the aide of this book. The other problem is that very few home gyms have the equipment needed to safely squat.  In my opinion, home bodybuilding style workouts provide more muscle mass gains, almost equal strength gains, and they do it in a much safer manner.
  5. The fact that cardiovascular exercise (cardio) is not mentioned once in the entire book is a problem in my view.  I know that health is not a goal of the SS program but I still think that cardio belongs in every single workout program.

 Conclusion

As long as you ignore his nutritional advice and ignore the outrageous gain myths, this is a must have book for your book collection. Its really a shame that Mark Rippetoe ruins his credibility by sticking to his ridiculous “31lbs LBM in 11 weeks” marketing claim. As far as who should do a SS type program, someone who is young, in perfect health, and whose goal is to get big and strong as fast as possible. It is *not* a good program if you want washboard sixpack abs, a “V-taper“, definition, or vascularity. It is *not* the best program for general health, endurance, speed, or flexibility either. For some sports, like American style football, it might be the best workout program but its not the best for all sports. If you are not sure if SS is the right program for your goals then check here to find a workout plan to meet your needs.

If you are going to do SS, I suggest ignoring his nutritional advice and using the following in place of it. The below chart gives a much higher caloric intake than I recommend for people doing my home workout plans but less than the SS program recommends:

    Your Current Bodyfat         Daily Calories         What to eat    
 under 6%  TDEE*+50%  BB nutrition
 7%-12%  TDEE*+30%  BB nutrition
 13%-19%  TDEE*+20%  BB nutrition
 20%-25%  TDEE*+5%  BB nutrition
 over 25%  TDEE*-5%  BB nutrition

*Calculate TDEE  (Total Daily Energy Expenditure)  in less than a minute!

If you are doing the SS program using my above nutritional advice, I would recommend re-evaluating your caloric intake every month.  For example, if you start at 30% bodyfat you will be at a 5% caloric deficit.  After a month, you measure your bodyfat again and find you are 22% so you go to a 5% caloric surplus.  After another month you find you are at 15% bodyfat so you move to a 20% caloric surplus.

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