Our Values at Starting Strength Gyms

by Ray Gillenwater, SSC | June 01, 2021

As an organization that values substance over image and doing what we believe to be right instead of what others expect us to do, it’s important that we clearly articulate who we are and what we stand for. We are “not for everybody,” but the people we are “for” seem to recognize that our unwillingness to bend to external pressure, adopt the latest fads, or do anything other than what we believe is objectively correct is what makes the Starting Strength brand valuable. This is why we are documenting our standards now, as the size of our in-person group, including members, coaches, and gym owners, expands from the 100s to the 1000s. Limiting our group to people who value the same things that we do is necessary if we intend for this company to function in line with our expectations as the size of our network reaches 10,000 people and beyond.

Critical Thinking

This value isn’t important to us merely because it helps us make better decisions; it’s part of the brand’s ethos. Starting Strength is attractive because it is the most complete analysis ever created on the subject matter, and because that analysis is verifiably correct. We’re not interested in the most popular ideas, we’re interested in the most accurate ones. And although having unpopular ideas can cause conflict, or in current times, ridicule and excommunication, they are welcomed here so long as they’re defensible.

Clear Communication

Good ideas aren’t useful if they’re communicated poorly or not at all. Many of us would not have tried strength training with barbells had it not been for the detailed arguments laid out in Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training. If an argument challenges our existing thinking and we can’t come up with a logically sound counter, then we need to be open to the idea that we might be wrong. Being wrong is okay, as long as a better idea is adopted as soon as it’s discovered and vetted.


The only people that are capable of creating perfect policies, products, or services are those that are not accountable for the results of their actions, those that don’t test their ideas in the real world, or those that are willing to be dishonest. Avoiding individuals and organizations that lack the ability to make the distinction between theory and reality helps us improve the quality of our thinking, and as a result, the quality of our execution. All of our products, services, policies, and processes must, if possible, get better over time. This applies to this values system as well.

High Standards

As individuals we experience fulfillment when we perform as close to our level of capability as possible. This is why we were initially attracted to strength training – to achieve our potential – and this is the reason we are attracted to this business. This means that individuals in this organization have a built-in incentive to produce high quality work, a characteristic that is so valuable that it’s difficult to quantify. We aren’t working with strangers; we’re working with friends and family. We specifically select for people that have personal standards that are equal to or greater than our own.


Being able to share ideas and rely on each other to be truthful and dependable requires that we care about each other. We specifically select people that have an innate interest in helping others succeed because we are in the business of helping others succeed, at every level. Our trainees support each other in their pursuit of strength. Our coaches enable trainees to improve their quality of life. Our gym owners provide an environment for coaches to help as many people as possible using the best system in existence. The franchise team enables entrepreneurs to make a living in the business of Starting Strength. And The Aasgaard Company creates the intellectual property that enables the entire ecosystem to exist. Since we care about each other and operate under the same value system, we are able to produce high quality work as individuals, which means we produce high quality work as a group.


Failing to acknowledge how fortunate we are to be able to spend time with people we care about and do work that we love would contradict our first value of critical thinking. There are always problems to solve and our commitment to high standards can make recognition and appreciation seem like an inefficient use of time when time is in short supply. We do our best to resist this temptation and demonstrate graciousness by finding the positives in difficult situations, by giving each other the benefit of the doubt when things are uncertain, and by recognizing each other whenever a meaningful contribution has been made.


We are interested in working with people that view Starting Strength as fundamental to a high-quality existence. The franchise agreement is ten years in length and building a gym, in most cases, requires a six-figure investment. Becoming a Coach requires an investment of at least several months and potentially thousands of dollars. Being a member requires investing hundreds of dollars per month, three or more hours in the gym per week, and significant lifestyle adjustments outside the gym to facilitate progress. And although the rest of the industry relies on term member contracts, we don’t because the most committed members are those that show up – because they want to, not because they feel financially obligated.

If we are successful in selecting people that embody these values (or are open to adopting them) we will make a meaningful impact on the fitness industry. And when we achieve our potential as a brand, we’ll make a meaningful impact on the current state of public health. To learn more about our culture, read Rippetoe’s article on “The Corporate Culture of The Aasgaard Company.”

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