Starting Strength Weekly Report

August 17, 2020

Blame the HEAT Edition

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In the Trenches

hilda learns the squat in wichita falls
Hilda becoming harder to kill at the Starting Strength Self-Sufficient Lifter camp held at WFAC this past Saturday. [photo courtesy of Bre Hillen]
gerald under the bar starting strength training camp
Gerald becomes more useful during the event, starting with his squat. The next Self-Sufficient Lifter camp will be held October 31 in Wichita Falls, TX. [photo courtesy of Bre Hillen]

Best of the Week

Starting Strength and autism
Jake Norman

I have a new client who is the mother of a 14 year old boy with autism. She wants him to get big and strong. Great.

I have plenty of experience in coaching strength, more or less founded on the SS method from a movement pattern and programming and really general philosophy of strength perspective, and I have some experience in cross training strength for teenage male basketball players, but I have no experience in dealing with people with autism.

During the meeting with the two of them I was very tempted to just wash my hands of the whole situation, but they were referred to me by another coach who wouldn't touch them, and I know that the boy will struggle to find a coach if I don't take him on, and I really believe he will benefit from strength training, so I intend to just do the best I can. I took him aside for ten minutes and started coaching the squat with him, just to see if he can take coaching. It wasn't a long time and it was a little bit squirrely, but basically I got the feeling he can take instruction.

I've started doing some online research into general practice regarding dealing with/tutoring autistic children, but really if anybody has any experience specifically coaching autistic people in barbell training, and has any tips, I would be grateful to hear them.

Thanks, hope you're all keeping well and staying strong during the end times.

Mark Rippetoe

Since autism does not change his anatomy or muscular physiology, just coach the boy like you would anybody else. Both of you will learn something.

Brodie Butland

Read this: Expanded Use of Tactile Cues

To be clear, your particular trainee is likely very different from some of Dr. Racculia's trainees. However, Dr. Racculia's article resonated with me very strongly given my experience with my own developmentally disabled, autistic aunt (RIP and much love), in that tactile communication could often be more effective and/or less frustrating for her in everyday communication than verbal communication. I suspect you'll also find that expanded use of creative tactile cues will prove more effective in this particular instance, though it'll probably take you a bit of trial and error to figure out what works best. But then again, that's one of the most rewarding parts of coaching...and I'm candidly a bit jealous of your opportunity here to markedly change a life that others may have written off as a lost cause.

Jake Norman

Thank you for responding sir, I was thinking more in terms of experience in dealing with the general behavioral aspects of gym-based coaching a person with autism. Ways to think about the gym environment, the structure of the session, communication, things like that. I'm really in the dark, although you're absolutely right both in that I am intending to coach him mechanically exactly as I would anyone else of his age and current ability, and also that I'll be learning.

I have done some more research since my post and I have some ideas about visual aids. From the time I already spent with him I can see that at a minimum I'm going to have to learn to describe a hell of a lot less, and demonstrate a lot more, he seemed to respond well to 'look, copy' a lot better than 'listen, do', even with aspects of the squat that in the past I've found people respond well to verbal cues with. He's definitely a visual learner.

If anybody is interested I will use this thread to post any information that comes up that I think might be useful for others strength coaching people with autism.

Mark Rippetoe

The best thing you can do for this kid's life is to treat him like a normal kid without autism. Expect the same things from him that you would from other kids his age. He needs to learn how to function in society, and I can't think of a better way to teach him than by handing him the best tool he can have for controlling the outcome of his efforts, along with exposing him to a normal social situation at the same time.

Best of the Forum

Selection of barbell for female lifters

Hi - I'm just starting out on Novice LP, and I happened to see part of the live stream of a strengthlifting meet in Oakland recently. I saw women squatting over 300 lbs. Pretty cool. I'm wondering why the women lift with the 20KG, "men's" bar rather than the smaller-diameter 15KG bar, in competition? Seems like shorter fingers would do better with the smaller-diameter bar. (Mine are short, so I'm wondering this, in part, because I'm considering buying my first bar.) I've watched the videos on the SS website where you talk about bars and equipment, but still have this question.

Mark Rippetoe

The 15kg bar was designed for Olympic weightlifting, the snatch and the clean & jerk. A skinnier bar is designed to be as "whippy" under loads handled by women as the 20kg bar is for men under the same circumstances, and under heavier loads the 25mm bar will get bent. They are expensive, and in my gym they are only used for the Olympic lifts. Women have been doing the SQ/Pr/BP/DL with the 20kg bar since it was invented. Is there a reason to use a smaller diameter bar for these lifts?


Thanks for your reply. I had seen the 15kg bars described as "women's bars" so I thought their smaller diameter and lighter weight was to accommodate women's needs in all barbell training. From your answer I see that a 15kg bar is NOT a "women's bar" for women to use for squat/press/DL, but a bar for women who are Olympic lifting - which I understand to be the kind where you are doing "power" moves. Those are not in my plans (being almost 60 years old and having zero strength training up to now, I'm doing the squat, press, DL, and bench press, but no power clean) - so now I know that a 15kg bar is not what I need to buy. I thought a smaller diameter might be easier to grip for me, since I have relatively short fingers. Also I need something lighter to start on than 20kg. Up to now I've been using the equipment at the Y - they have ~4' long bars with smaller-diameter collars, and plates that are 1kg or 2.5 kg. (I don't even count the weight of those bars in my lift totals since they are pretty light and not marked as to what they actually weigh. They're actually designed for group "fitness" classes and I have to sneak into the studio and grab a bar and plates to bring with me into the free weight room.) For DLs I use kettlebells, but I'll soon be up to 50 lbs on that lift. Might need to get a "technique bar" and then a 20kg bar later.

Thank you for all the work you put into the books, and the SS website, especially the "on the platform" training videos. Your books and Dr. Sullivan's are the most useful I've had in my hands since at least 1985 - and I can say with great confidence that nothing this useful was ever communicated to me in many years of "physical education" classes in public school, in the 60s - 70s. We used to do the President's Physical Fitness Test every year, but there was never any training to develop the abilities being tested!

Mark Rippetoe

Glad to help. Good luck with your training.

Mark D

I'm glad I saw this, I was planning on getting my wife a women's bar when we set up our garage gym this spring/summer. I was mostly concerned with the bar diameter during deadlifts since she has tiny hands, I thought the 29mm B&R might be a little much for her. (We're both over 50, no I won't say how MUCH over 50 she is, so power-cleans are not really in the cards.) We'll give it a try and see what happens, if she has trouble holding the B&R bar because of the thickness we'll explore other options.

Mark Rippetoe

Old York Classic bars are 28mm, and can be found used all over the country.

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