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The Starting Strength Program

The Starting Strength Novice Program can be broken down into two workout days, Day A and Day B. The entire body is worked each session. As the trainee progresses through the program, Days A and B are slightly modified to take into account the adaptations in the body of the lifter.

General Notes

The goal of this program is to add weight each and every time you lift, taking advantage of The Novice Effect that allows you to do so. Perform the program on a 3 day per week schedule, on non-consecutive days, i.e. Mon/Wed/Fri, Tues/Thurs/Sat or similar.

Most healthy men between the ages of 18 and 35 or 40 can add 10 lbs to the squat the first 2-3 times it’s performed, 15-20 lbs to the deadlift the first couple times, and 10 lbs the next several times it’s performed. After that, jumps become 5 lbs per workout. For the press, bench press, and power clean, you may get one 10 lb jump, but you may need to start with 5 lb jumps. Later on, you’ll move to 2.5 lb or smaller jumps for these lifts when 5 lbs becomes too much to add every workout. The pattern is similar for females and older lifters, but with smaller increases. Program modifications for older novices are discussed extensively in The Barbell Prescription: Strength Training for Life After 40.

Once you’re into Phase 3 and doing chin-ups as part of the program, some of you will progress to weighted chin-ups. If you can perform 3 sets of 10 reps at bodyweight, then you can do every other chin-up workout as a 3 sets of 5 weighted, while continuing to do 3 sets of bodyweight chins to fatigue on your alternate chin-up days.

Now let’s get to the program itself.

Phase 1

(Usually 1-3 weeks)

Day ADay B
Squat 5 reps x 3 sets*Squat 5 reps x 3 sets
Press/Bench Press 5 reps x 3 setsPress/Bench Press 5 reps x 3 sets
Deadlift 5 reps x 1 setDeadlift 5 reps x 1 set

*Sets here include only work-sets, not warm-up sets.

Phase 1 Notes
In this initial phase, workouts A and B are the same, except that the press and bench press alternate. So if you began the program on Monday and pressed, you’ll bench press Wednesday and press again Friday. The second week, you’ll bench press Monday and Friday and press on Wednesday.

At the end of this phase, if you’re in that 18-35 healthy male demographic, your squat should be 40-50 lbs higher than it started, your deadlift should be 50-70 lbs higher than it started, and your press and bench press each 15-20lbs higher than they started.

Most women (and men over 35 or 40) will begin with smaller jumps – perhaps a single 10 lb jump in the squat, two or three 10 lb jumps in the deadlift, and immediate 5 lb jumps in the other exercises – then proceed to 2.5 lb or smaller incremental increases in some movements sooner.

There is no single prescription for everyone, so common sense and paying attention to how your body responds to the increased weight are your best guides here.

Phase 2

Day ADay B
Squat 5 reps x 3 setsSquat 5 reps x 3 sets
Press/Bench Press 5 reps x 3 setsPress/Bench Press 5 reps x 3 sets
Deadlift 5 reps x 1 setPower Clean 3 reps x 5 sets

Phase 2 Notes
In this phase, we introduce the power clean. Your deadlift is now heavy enough that doing it 3 days per week is difficult to recover from. You’ll do deadlifts on Day A as before, and do 5 sets of 3 reps in the power clean on Day B. The explosive nature of the Power Clean will continue to help drive up your deadlift, without the excessive fatigue associated with high frequency deadlifting.

Phase 2’s length is variable, from several weeks to several months, depending on the individual trainee. 

Phase 3

Day ADay B
Squat 5 reps x 3 setsSquat 5 reps x 3 sets
Press/Bench Press 5 reps x 3 setsPress/Bench Press 5 reps x 3 sets
Deadlift 5 reps x 1 set/Power Clean 3 reps x 5 setsChin-ups

Phase 3 Notes
At this point you’ve become strong enough to pull enough weight that we limit deadlift and cleaning frequency. Each is alternated on Day A, while chin-ups are performed on Day B. So if you deadlift on Monday, you’ll do chins on Wednesday, power cleans Friday, chins (or weighted chins, see General Notes above) on Monday, and deadlift again Wednesday. This allows adequate recovery.

Phase 3 is also often where people often need to begin micro-load their pressing movements and cleans, adding weight in 2.5lb or smaller increments to continue linear progress.

Finally, Phase 3 is also often where people reach the “Advanced Novice” stage, and add weight to their squats only twice per week (i.e. Monday and Friday), while using Wednesday as a lighter recovery day for squats. 

After Getting Started and finishing the Novice Phase

First, make sure you are actually finished being a Novice: Who Wants to Be a Novice? You Do

Intermediate & Advanced Programs

Intermediate programs are appropriate for those who have already developed their strength using a linear progression

Rationale, construction, and example programs for intermediates are in Practical Programming for Strength Training

Program modifications for older intermediates and the very detrained can be found in The Barbell Prescription: Strength Training for Life After 40.

For a taste of some intermediate-level programming, see articles:

Starting Strength Seminars

Learn to Coach

Coach Workshop

Training Camps

Self-Sufficient Lifter
The Squat
Press & Bench Press
Deadlift & Power Clean
Squat & Deadlift
Squat, Press, & Deadlift
Rehab, Injury, Pain Management


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