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Warm-up Sets

People get confused here, but it’s not rocket surgery. Take the difference between the empty bar and your working weight, and make four relatively even jumps between the two. i.e. if your work sets will be @ 275lbs:

  • Empty Bar (45lbs) x 5 reps x 2 sets
  • 135×5
  • 185×3
  • 235×2
  • 275x5x3 (5 reps, 3 sets)

If your working weight will be 95 lbs:

  • Empty Bar (45lbs) x 5 reps x 2 sets
  • 60×5
  • 75×3
  • 85×2
  • 95x5x3

And so on.

Read more about warmups in Our a warm-up.

If you’d rather just not think about it, you can use the calculators in the Starting Strength App for the Starting Strength Warmup App for iPhone.


When you don’t make the prescribed sets and reps in a given exercise, try again the next time that exercise comes up. If you make the lift, continue progressing. If you miss again, de-load your weight in that lift by 8-10%, and work your way back up from there, using small jumps. When you’ve done two or three de-loads and worked back up, and stall again, you’re probably done with your linear progression for that particular exercise, assuming that your recovery – sleep and nutrition – have been in order.


Sleeping less than 7-8 hours per night will negatively affect your recovery. If you are short on sleep on a regular basis, the length of time during which you can add weight to the bar as a Novice will be artificially stunted.

Much has been written regarding the optimal nutritional intake to take advantage of the Starting Strength Program. Rip’s article, A Clarification, should be read before beginning the program.

However, in short, you need to eat enough to recover. Ample protein, carbohydrates, and fat are required. Trying to do this program while on any type of restricted diet is not optimal: Intermittent Fasting, Paleo, and Zone are examples of three currently popular styles of eating that will stunt your Starting Strength Novice gains. We don’t recommend getting fat while doing the program, but to optimize your gains, you’ll probably have to eat a lot more than you’re used to. Many underweight young men have supplemented their eating with a gallon of milk a day, the famous GOMAD protocol, to aid in their quest for strength.

If you’re already obese, you don’t drink the milk and watch your carbs more carefully, especially if you don’t see some weight and fat loss over the first few weeks.

Exercises in the Program

No, you didn’t miss anything. There are only six exercises in the program. Adding weight to the bar and progressing on these six exercises will do more for your training than anything else, during your first months. Don’t spoil the recipe by adding extra ingredients. A few sets of arm work on Friday is probably OK, and you’re probably going to do it anyway, but beyond that, just do the program.

When you have accumulated enough strength and lifting experience to be an Intermediate lifter, you’ll know enough to decide whether or not to work your reverse leaping axe choppers into the program and if so, how. Until then, just do the program.

One last note: There is much confusion about barbell rows. The program includes power cleans. Substituting barbell rows for power cleans, or power snatches if you can’t rack the clean, is not doing the program. There are a very small percentage of young people for whom this may be a good idea, but you’re almost certainly not one of them. Do the cleans. If you really think you may be one of those few people, seek out a Starting Strength Coach in your area for a session. 

If you're 50+, especially if coming in from sedentary background, you're in a population where the risk/reward is much lower and recovery problems are more likely anyway. Power cleans can be omitted from your program if the lift causes problems - try it and see. If you are very elderly or frail, it is acceptable to omit them from your program. Focus on building your strength with squat, bench, deadlift, and press.

Strength and Programming

Your level of training advancement determines the most appropriate type of strength program  (novice, intermediate, or advanced) for effective and efficient training. 

Programs are not set by strength level, but rather, by how quickly the lifter adapts and recovers after training stress. You can be relatively strong or weak compared to others who are at the same training stage. Strength standards may be helpful for you to see how you stack up to others outside of contests, but scoring at the intermediate level in a lift doesn't change you from a novice to an intermediate. It means you are strong for a novice. 

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