Nothing New Under the Sun

by Mark Rippetoe | November 04, 2020

perikles kakousis

As the old saying goes, and it indicates the timelessness of good ideas. Starting Strength takes advantage of good ideas, like basic barbell exercises and arithmetic. We didn't invent either one, but we are the first to actually explain their most efficient and effective use in strength training. And with most simple, obvious, and neglected things, our approach has been criticized. Of course.

So why was it neglected? Why is it the first program of its type? Starting Strength is a strength training program. It is not about aesthetics, low bodyfat, or muscularity. To the extent that the male physique can look better without a psychotic preoccupation with one's appearance, the muscular size that results from getting your deadlift up from 185 to 495 provides that improvement honestly, quickly, and in a healthy manner. Strength requires size, and big traps, shoulders, forearms, hips, and legs are the hallmark of the useful male, and female too. Razor abs are not – starving people have razor abs, and cannot deadlift 495.

And yet Starting Strength draws criticism from stupid people. We didn't invent strength training – we merely fixed it. Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training and Practical Programming for Strength Training are the best-selling books on the subject in history, and have made more people stronger than any other method in use today. The criticism originates from the basic nature of its approach, which lacks the tantalizing and romantic complexity that people with Bachelor's degrees savor.

If Starting Strength is nothing more than “Bill Starr's 5x5,” why isn't it included in The Strongest Shall Survive? That famous book devotes two (2) pages to the squat. While Bill recognized the squat as the foundation of strength training, he didn't teach the technique of the squat or the other lifts in the sense that we do. His approach was to let everyone figure it out for themselves. Our approach has been to analyze the mechanics of the movements based on the physics of levers and vectors, to determine the most efficient way to involve as much muscle mass over the longest effective range of motion, and then to teach this specific technique to everybody in the simplest way possible.

And Bill's programming was a weekly Heavy/Light/Medium model, using assistance exercises as an important part of the program. Our approach to the novice linear progression is unique to Starting Strength, having been developed by me at WFAC over the first 20 years of my ownership of the gym. I found that a new member could increase his load on all of the major exercises every workout for several months before the process stalled. This results in the most rapid possible increase in strength, and consequently the best use of the trainee's time.

I discovered a rather important thing accidentally: if an exercise could not be increased every workout for months, it was unnecessary to include it in the novice's program. There may be room for it later, but certainly not at first. The resulting Novice Linear Progression is deceptively simple, lacks variety in exercise selection, waits until later to increase in complexity, and works every single time it is properly applied to every trainee across all demographics. It is a concrete application of the Principle of Diminishing Returns, which operates across the physical universe (which I also didn't invent). And Starting Strength provides programming from the first day in the gym through your career in strength training until you are old.

I didn't invent the deadlift. I was merely the first to describe the most efficient way to perform the movement pattern, and I developed the most efficient way to teach it to new lifters. I reintroduced the standing overhead press (The Press) as a basic exercise, it having been forgotten during all the interest in big pecs with which bodybuilding has infected the fitness industry. I concluded that there were in fact not as many ways to effectively squat as there were grains of sand on the beach, that there is one way to squat that uses the most muscle mass and allows us to lift the heaviest weight, thus getting as strong as possible under the bar. This approach to Bill's foundation exercise has been proven to do its job for hundreds of thousands of people over the past 15 years.

I stood up for the Power Clean as the best way to keep the display of power improving along with the strength increases produced by the squat and deadlift. Lazy coaches refuse to use it, usually because they don't know how to coach it correctly, but it is an important lift for most younger trainees today, just like it was for Bill 50 years ago. And we teach it better than any other organization in the industry. I didn't invent the power clean, but Starting Strength has kept it relevant.

The simplicity of our approach puts off some people, because complexity has an appeal for people who perceive themselves to be intelligent. I have often said that we are “narrowcasting” – broadcasting a message to everybody that will only be received by the few who can “get it.” Starting Strength is very simple, logical, and extremely straightforward. It is a synthesis of several first-cause arguments, and it is unique in its effectiveness for everybody that uses it. I'll be the first to say that it shouldn't be – I'm just not that bright, and somebody should have done it before I did. But they didn't, so here we are.

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