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Starting Strength in the Real World


Can I Get Strong and Also Do … ?

by Nick Delgadillo, SSC | January 26, 2017

ADHD training method

Without fail, at every seminar someone asks the question: “Can I do the program and still (insert chosen physically demanding hobby here)?”  The “program,” or the Starting Strength Novice Linear Progression, cannot be done while CrossFitting, boxing, running, Zumba-ing, or anything else.  If such a thing is attempted, then the program is not being done optimally, and doing some variation of the program along with some other physically demanding activity inevitably yields poor or mediocre-at-best results nearly every time it’s tried.

For those who are mildly serious about improving their performance in the “box,” on the mat, or on the field, this becomes a serious question when they begin to realize that strength has become a limiting factor in being able to do things at the level at which they want to do them. We are sometimes successful in convincing these folks that spending some time getting strong the right way – doing the program, then going back to their hobby of choice at the intermediate stage of training advancement – is a worthwhile endeavor. And for a subset of these people, the realization comes that what they really wanted all along was to be stronger.  Most will see dramatic improvement across the board as they increase their ability to produce more force and apply it.  And for some, their former goals become irrelevant after having done a truly hard thing and gaining an understanding of what strength is. 

Case Study – Michael

I met Michael in December of 2015 at which time he told me he wanted to get stronger.  He said that he was stuck around 275x5 on the squat and had squatted 300x1 recently.  His goal was to squat 350 lbs by December 2016 and he didn’t know how to proceed.  I explained that he was actually only a few months away from a 350 squat, and that if he did what he was supposed to do, he’d be squatting at least 405 by the end of 2016.  I guess I was convincing enough because he showed up at WFAC the following Monday. 

His numbers on the first day were:

  • Squat – 225x5x3
  • Press – 105x5x3
  • Deadlift – 315x5
  • Bodyweight – 181 lbs

The start was rough. Michael continued to WOD and didn’t gain weight for the next 6 months. He gradually cut back on the amount of CrossFit he was doing, and after a lot of counseling and peer pressure, we got him to eat carbs. Eventually, I was able to convince him to sign up for the Fall Classic and get serious about training. Around July, Michael stopped exercising and dedicated himself to training. 

As a “situational intermediate” – due to his prior refusal to quit merely dabbling in proper training – Michael’s numbers were:

  • Squat – 325x1
  • Press – 130x5
  • Deadlift – 325x5
  • Bodyweight – 190 lbs

Not very impressive for 6 months of work.  He went back on the program with a slight modification as follows:

MondayWednesdayFriday
Squat 3x5Squat 3x5 @ 80%Squat 3x5

Starting load was 280x5x3 for the squat.  Five pounds was added every Monday and Friday.

In August, around a month later, back-off sets were added: 

MondayWednesdayFriday
Squat 1x5Squat 3x5 @ 80%Squat 1x5
Squat 2x5 @ 90% Squat 2x5 @ 90%

training the squat

Starting load was 335x5 with two back-offs at 285x5 on the squat. Five pounds was added to the bar for the first set every Monday and Friday.

Sometime in September, I moved Michael to a Heavy/Light/Medium program in which his heavy day would consist of 5s, triples, and singles leading up to the meet: 

MondayWednesdayFriday
Squat HeavySquat 3x5 LightSquat 3x5 Medium

Michael was squatting around 355x5 at this point and he ran this program up to the Tuesday before the meet.  

At some point back in July, after realizing that he had wasted a bunch of time, he told me that he would love to just get a 405 squat as his third attempt at the meet. I told him that he would open with 405. On the Tuesday before the 2016 Fall Classic, Michael squatted 405 for a double and he went on to squat 412 lbs at the Fall Classic at a bodyweight of 196.  

When it’s all said and done, what happened here is that a healthy guy who enjoys working out took 3 months to run a simple yet grueling program properly. In that time he made what would have previously been considered two years worth of strength gains. These results are not uncommon for those willing to do the work whether they start with a 315 lb squat or with the empty bar. The value and lessons that this kind of hard work imparts can only be attained by having done the work. Every so often, a guy will listen and choose to try to find out for himself. If you ask Michael what his goal is now, he’ll just say, “I want to get strong.”  


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