Foreword to the Japanese translation of Starting Strength (English version)

by Naoki Kawamori, PhD | April 25, 2019

starting strength japanese

The Japanese translation of Starting Strength was recently published in Japan. We have been generously provided with an English translation of the foreword prepared for that audience to share with you.

This is the Japanese translation of Starting Strength by Mr. Mark Rippetoe. The first time I had my hands on the original book dates back to 2005, although it has since received updates and what we have now is the third edition. It was a recommendation from my professor when I was studying in the US, and as I began reading it, I immediately noticed the great value of the book. There is no other book in existence that describes how to perform strength training in such a detailed, logical, and nerdy manner (in a good way). I feel firsthand that reading Starting Strength greatly deepened my knowledge and understanding of strength training.

I have been recommending Starting Strength to any friends and other coaches who asked me for a book recommendation on strength training. However, responses to the effect of “Oh, I can’t read English.” and “Only if there was a Japanese version of it.” Have been all too common. The fact that it is written in English has proven to be a barrier, preventing the teachings of Starting Strength from spreading in Japan. I’ve always felt that it was unfortunate.

I had a feeling resembling relief when I first heard the news that Starting Strength was finally going to be translated into Japanese after more than 10 years since the first edition of the original book was published. It is a great honor that I have the opportunity to write the foreword to this Japanese version. As someone who has been a long-term reader of the original book, I would like to share my thoughts on what makes Starting Strength so unique.

Many a book on strength training has been published. Some books describe how to perform strength training exercises but most books only have instructions spread over a couple of facing pages per exercise. For relatively simple single-joint exercises like the leg extension and the side raise, perhaps those meager instructions are enough to show how to perform them. However, when it comes to complex multi-joint exercises done with free weights like the squat and deadlift, it is virtually impossible to understand and acquire the proper techniques by reading a couple of pages of instructions only. Attempting to squat or deadlift with such shallow levels of knowledge and understanding, as would be based on those two-page descriptions alone, would not produce the desired training effects and could even lead to greater risk of pain or injury.

In contrast to books covering countless exercises with these two-page instructions, the most unique feature of Starting Strength is that it mainly focuses on five barbell exercises; the squat, the press, the deadlift, the bench press and the power clean with detailed descriptions extending over tens of pages for each exercise. There is no other book that dedicates this many pages to individual exercises.

The fact that Starting Strength only features five exercises may seem unsatisfying to some people who are used to reading training-related books that cover tens of exercises. (Although Starting Strength actually has some assistance exercises in addition to the five main exercises.) However, these five exercises have great abilities to build strength because they involve a lot of muscle groups to lift heavy weights through long ranges of motion. It is far more likely that you will achieve the goal of gaining strength by focusing on the five exercises described in Starting Strength than if you go through the tens of exercises in those training-related books that are commonly available.

press japanese starting strength

Starting Strength teaches you how to perform the exercises in great detail, but it also explains, based on knowledge in biomechanics and anatomy, why to perform the exercises in the ways described in the book. For readers who are in the position of teaching strength training, understanding the whys in addition to the hows will enable them to teach the hows more effectively and more confidently. For readers performing these exercises, understanding the whys will enable them to be more attentive to proper techniques (= the hows) and to train more effectively. Understanding the whys will lead to more confidence in the method, which should then lead to greater motivation to train.

Such detailed explanations of the whys are one of the unique features of Starting Strength that other training-related books do not offer. Reading it all will probably be a surprising and a ground-breaking experience to many readers as they probably will not have thought as deeply as presented in the book about how to perform the exercises and the reasoning behind it.

In addition to how to perform the aforementioned five exercises, Starting Strength offers advice on how to move forward with your training using these exercises. In particular, it provides a program specifically designed for novices who are new to strength training.

This program for novices is very simple. It mainly consists of the five exercises featured in the book with only two other additional exercises; the chin-up and the back extension. Most exercises are done for 3 sets of 5 reps with the exception of the deadlift being 1 set of 5 reps. The load is increased by 2.5kg or 5kg after each training session and this progression is supposed to be used until it’s no longer possible to do so. Unlike strategies commonly referred to as periodization, there is no change periodically made to the exercise selection, volume (≒ total reps) or intensity of load (≒ weight lifted) over time.

Because it is so simple, some readers might wonder if such a simple program can really be effective. However, focusing on just a few exercises that are actually important will definitely improve strength more at the novice stage than trying many different exercises. And because novices will gain strength relatively quickly, simply adding 2.5~5kg at each session rather than fiddling around with the set × rep scheme will be the more efficient path to strength gains. I can attest to this based on my experience of coaching athletes of many different levels, and the book also explains why this is the case.

The novice program laid out in this book is indeed simple, but because it’s simple, it is highly effective. There is no need to be concerned about its simplicity. There is no need to add more exercises or change the numbers of sets or reps to perform. I would recommend the readers to do the program exactly as it is designed if they want to maximize the efficacy of the program.

In addition to the novice program, the book provides additional explanations for things like how to program warmup sets and work sets, how to increase weight, and what to do when strength plateaus occur.

Practical information on these topics will be necessary when implementing strength training programs written on paper. Commonly available training-related books typically just tell you something like “Squat 3 sets of 5” and don’t provide practical advice on whether to use the same weight across the sets or increase weight each set, or at what point to increase weight when the weight you’re currently lifting starts to feel easy.

In contrast, Starting Strength provides a wide range of practical knowledge on the premise that the readers will implement what they read in the book. The fact that Mr. Mark Rippetoe regularly coaches members of the gym he owns is probably a major contributing factor to this aspect of the book. What you read in Starting Strength is not an empty theory on paper; it is actually useful in real life. This is a major strength of this book.

With all these features, Starting Strength is a very unique book. There is no other book like Starting Strength. I am excited about this Japanese version being published and Starting Strength becoming accessible to many more people. Just like Starting Strength deepened my knowledge and understanding of strength training, I am looking forward to seeing this Japanese version improve the knowledge and understanding of the entire training industry in the country.

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