Foreword to the Spanish Edition

by Harilaos Fafutis, SSC | June 30, 2021

hari fafutis lifing in a strengthlifting meet

There are only a few things in life that a person needs to learn and do, having drunk from the fountain of wisdom and thus trying to live a good life – a life worth living. These things probably end up revolving around health, wealth, relationships, and spirituality. Good practices within these “4 pillars” can get us closer to living life to its fullest potential, but there’s a lot of ambiguity as to what exactly is required in these areas. However, this challenge can be understood better by turning the problem on its head to look for things one should avoid.

Actually, there are many more things one should omit than commit, and in this sense, life can be seen as the skill of walking a tightrope. It seems like a very simple operation: all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other, and use your arms in a certain way that help you stay in balance. But in this process, there are a virtually infinite number of things that can potentially go wrong. There are lots of actions – steps in the wrong direction one can take – that result in you completely failing this simple process of walking the tightrope.

In real life, not in metaphor, taking a wrong step on a tightrope could mean the end of life itself. The skill of walking on a tightrope, from this perspective, can be expressed quite literally as the skill of avoiding mistakes. And so, living, and basically any other activity one can think of, can be seen as this combination of doing a few things right, and avoiding many, many others which would harm us.

With this in mind, the roadmap that can lead us to live a good life can be made clearer. For example, in the pillar of relationships, most of us would prefer to avoid complete social isolation, because we are naturally social creatures that need each other to be both psychologically and physically healthy. The commission side of the equation would be along the lines of being good with your family, finding good friends, and matching love partners. But there are many, many more don’ts for every of these dos.

As it turns out, there really are only a few acts of commission that we must do to live a good life, and plenty more that we need to avoid. This is disappointing, because we are wired to think in terms of action: “Take this pill and you’ll feel better,” “Go to the doctor and get that back/shoulder/knee/hip surgery so that you get rid of that terrible pain,” “Eat this and you’ll lose weight,” “Take this supplement and you’ll burn the extra fat you have,” “Invest your money here and you’ll get a big return in less than a year” (you know this list can go on forever!). And yet, we almost never think in terms of omission, of the many more things we should stop doing to simply avoid making things worse. Think about the archetypal overweight lady that religiously adheres to her everyday 90-minute treadmill routine in her never-ending attempt to lose weight, yet does not think about modifying her nutrition to avoid the daily caloric surplus that keeps her overweight.

What does this information suggest? Shall we just sit and do nothing? In part, yes, but let’s revisit the tightrope metaphor: even though not taking a wrong step encompasses the majority of the task, there’s still some walking we have to do, and we better learn how to walk correctly, since that’s really about all we can do.

In the realm of health, a very obvious don’t is to avoid early death via stupid decisions (driving drunk, messing with the wrong people, overuse of drugs, etc.), but also via subtle decisions that seem harmless in the short-term, but that actually kill you later on in life; bad nutrition and sleeping habits, and/or the absence of exercise. And here’s where we can actually come up with some of the things or skills that time has proven again and again one must learn and do to avoid early death. Cooking is a good example; this is a very valuable skill that when learned correctly can help you retain a healthier and stronger body, without even sacrificing the pleasure of eating tasty food. Sleeping is also a must, even though the amount of time needed to stay healthy here can vary from person to person. And finally, we come to our main interest: exercise.

It is a harsh reality that the absence of physical activity in our lives leads to physical and psychological deterioration: the bones lose density, cardiovascular capacity diminishes, muscles get smaller and weaker, fat deposits grow in our bodies, metabolism slows down, physical explosiveness and alertness diminishes, and our brains slowly adapt to this different reality – we are becoming fragile. Of course, this is a natural and inevitable process, but what if we can delay it as much as possible? That’s what exercise does, and it also expands our physical capacities and athleticism, it makes us less prone to injuries, and improves our body image.

You probably already know that exercise is important (after all, you’re reading this book), and the paragraph above was only to remind you about the precise reasons for exercising. Now we come to an important question: if we really want to improve all of the above-mentioned physical qualities in the most effective and efficient way possible – if we want the biggest return on investment when it comes to choosing an exercise program – what kind of exercise should we be doing?

To answer this, let’s again keep in mind the principle of avoiding harmful and non-optimal things, and of doing only a few correctly, because otherwise the solution would sound something like this: running, swimming, cycling, strength training, mobility training, etc. all done concurrently on a weekly (or even daily) basis. There’s actually a handful of organizations that literally mix all of these different things together into an exercise “program” (a milkshake-of-activities of sorts that usually is presented in fancy, complicated terms), because apparently the logical rationale to really achieve fitness and health is to do it all at the same time.

Except that it’s not. Our physiology is limited; our capacity and resources to recover from exercising and other life-stresses are not infinite, and using a program that seeks to include many different exercise modalities at the same time at high intensities is just too much work, and that does not make us physically better. Simply put, by trying to train everything at the same time, at best you’ll end up being mediocre at everything, and in the worst-case scenario you’ll end up injured.

But there’s a solution to this that’s also based on an informed understanding of physiology: if you focus on training the one physical attribute that has the most positive impact on the others, then your fitness in general will also improve. This one physical attribute, the most fundamental and basic of all, is strength. Strength training will not only make you stronger, but it will improve, among other things, your conditioning, mobility, balance, systemic integrity, bone density, and body image. That’s it! You don’t need to do everything at the same time. You actually need to omit lots of activities, but the trick here is that you have to train for strength properly.

I’d go further and say that strength training is analogous to the walking part of the tightrope activity, and that avoiding the other physical activities would be akin to omitting a wrong step. The complete whys and hows behind strength are inside these chapters, so the rest of this answer to the question “What kind of exercise shall we be doing, and why?” are here for you to read. You’ll also find many valuable insights for your education about health, fitness, and exercise in general. But most important of all, is that you’ll be able to apply all of this knowledge immediately to your own training.

I will now turn to another question that is appropriate as an introduction to the world of resistance training: if strength is so important, why are so many people neglecting it? This is naturally a multifaceted social problem, but consider the following idea. Strength and muscular size were, for most of the history of mankind, seen as a virtue, even as a divine attribute if we go back to pagan times – like in the Greek and Nordic mythologies. The Christianity of the Renaissance, as evidenced by the superb Sistine Chapel (and other famous painters inspired by Michelangelo’s works) shows a heavy emphasis on strong, healthy, muscular human beings. Strength and physical perfection were the supreme ideal, the sine qua non of the complete life.

This changed dramatically in the last half century: being underweight with little muscle seems to be the new socially accepted condition of the “healthy” human body. It seems as if strength turned into a weakness, even maybe a vice. But this is just a fault of our time, a trend that stems from the morals and manners of our contemporary civilization, all of which are subject to change. Our biology not so much, and as you will soon find out, my dear reader, strength is still a fundamental requisite for living creatures and for interacting with this planet.

If strength is that important, then we should aim to pursue it to stay healthy and live a better life. Here’s a caveat: strength can only be progressively trained by lifting weights. Swimming, running, or playing sports will not do the job, and it does not matter how much we wish they could. You have to move increasingly heavy objects to increase strength, and there is no getting around that, even if your doctor or other “experts” tell you otherwise.

But “heavy” does not mean a thousand pounds on the bar loaded on your back (for some reason, that’s what people imagine when they think about lifting weights). It means heavy for you: an exercise with a load that challenges your current physical situation without putting you in danger, whether it is pressing a broomstick overhead or lifting 200 pounds off the floor. By learning proper technique with these barbell exercises, virtually anyone can train them safely, and thus become stronger and have a healthier life, regardless of age, sex, or other factors.

The book in your hands is the final distillation of half a century of trial-and-error for creating an effective, efficient, and safe method for strength training. There’s probably not another human being on the planet who has coached as many people from all walks of life in executing the basic barbell movements (the squat, the press, the bench press, the deadlift, and the power clean) and trained himself doing them than Mark Rippetoe. Furthermore, there’s not an institution that has studied these movements as deeply and thoroughly as Starting Strength. And there’s not another book on the market that completely explains and describes these exercises, using concise and clear analysis derived from all the basic sciences that influence them: namely biology, physics, and chemistry.

If you think the information is intimidating, complicated, or difficult to understand, you'll find that this is not the case. You’ll find that the synthesis of these topics, as they relate to barbell training, are organized in a very simple way, leading you, the reader, to understand the concepts without herculean effort. So yes, this book is for you: the soccer mom who wants to be healthy, the kid who wants to be more athletic to perform better at sports, the middle-aged businessman who’s been ignoring his health and becoming weaker – not willing to recognize that he needs strength back in his life, the person who’s been dealing with lower back pain for quite some time, and who was told that lifting weights was “dangerous” (that was me), and the grandma who just wants to be able to play with her grandkids and show them who's the boss.

In the end, even if we pretend it’s not important, our body still is our earthly residence, and keeping it in shape is one of the wisest investments one can do in life. At least, you can count on it when you are in dire straits: wouldn’t you rather feel the security that emanates from physical strength when things are about to go down? Wouldn’t you rather know that you can easily bench press 300 pounds when a stranger aggressively comes at you? The ancient Greeks liked to say that if anything was more shameful than a man who could not defend himself with words, it was a man who could not physically defend himself or his family. If these arguments are not convincing enough, how about this one: being able to move freely even into old age, keeping your vitality mostly intact and Father Time at bay, dying on your own terms (or at least defeated by a real evil and not just by tripping while you walk), to the last rep. Does that sound like a good alternative?

The acquisition of strength is still one of the few very important acts of commitment that we should all be pursuing. I hope this brief foreword sheds some light on its importance. All that is left is to start training for strength.  

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