Why You Won't Do the Program, Part 4

It's Too Hard Because It Works Too Fast

by Mark Rippetoe | July 27, 2022

lifter locking out her deadlift

I have seen comments about the program that indicate skepticism – not about whether the program works as fast as it does, but concern about the fact that it does, and whether or not this is a good thing. Honest to God, I've seen the comment that just because you can add 5 pounds to your squat every workout doesn't mean that you should.

Why not? Is there an argument against optimization of the acquisition of strength? Too strong, too fast is a problem? Realizing your potential faster is a problem? The only reasoning for this is that it makes all the other programs look bad, because they are quite a bit less effective. I understand why a standard-industry-model personal trainer would be opposed to the Starting Strength novice linear progression – it makes their babysitting quite obviously a waste of time and money. But is there an actual objection to adding 5 pounds per workout to your squat for several months in a row?

Well, let's see: your first workout took you to 115 x 5 x 3, your second to 125 x 5 x 3, your third to 135 x 5 x 3, and then you started adding 5 pounds per workout. Let's say you trained for 6 months and missed 8 workouts due to circumstances beyond your control (your dog died, the gym was closed, your family was eradicated by COVID-19, etc.) – hey, it happens, and it will happen. That's 70 workouts, with the first 3 adding 10 pounds to take up the easy slack, and then adding 5 pounds to your squat 3 times a week, for a total of 335 pounds added to your squat, which was 135 at the end of the first week.

A 470 squat seems crazy in 6 months, but I have seen it happen several times. It requires commitment, a certain genetic endowment, eating more than you want to, and pissing off all your friends who wanted your time. Realistically, the last 6 weeks will slow to 5-pound jumps on Monday and Friday with a light day on Wednesday. Equally realistically, a 5'10” guy who starts at 175 will be weighing 215 and squatting 405 x 5. Really. And even if you “only” end up squatting 345 x 5, that's pretty good, right? Happens all the time.

Now, you've heard that you can't put on that much clean body mass in 6 months, or that there's a formula to calculate how much total fat-free mass you can gain in 5 years and it's not that much, so this Starting Strength bullshit can't possibly work.

Except that it does. All the time.

But what about your bones? Your tendons and ligaments? Your heart? What will a 400-pound squat do to your knees and back? Don't they have to have time to adapt? Attend: the fact that you're squatting 400, or even 345, means that they have adapted. Or you wouldn't be squatting it. All tissues adapt to stress, since this is a feature of living tissue – tendons, ligaments, hearts, bones, cartilages, skin, brains, testicles – when subjected to stress, they adapt quite rapidly. I know this because I've watched it happen for 45 years, and the fact that it's not “In The Literature” is the literature's fault. The fact that the human body can adapt faster than your bullshit personal training program requires it to means that the program is not optimal.

But why, you ask, must we be in such a hurry? Isn't there time to get stronger over the next 10 years? Well, maybe there will be time, and maybe there won't be time. Entropy is a rather inconvenient phenomenon that has an adverse effect on organized systems, as does contingency and chance. Your potential to deal with such things is always improved by your physical strength. If you've learned nothing over the past 2 years of hell, you should have learned that unfortunate shit happens all the time, that being stronger protects against. And since you don't know when unfortunate shit is going to happen, perhaps it would be wise to be prepared for it by getting stronger now. As in ASAFP. And since this is quite possible, perhaps it would be a good idea to stop wasting time that you may not have and get stronger. Now.

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  • Part 2
  • Part 3
  • Part 5
  • Part 6
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