Starting Strength Weekly Report

July 27, 2020

Monsoon Edition

Starting Strength Radio
  • Silencing Fenix Ammo – Justin Nazaroff, owner of Fenix Ammunition in Novi, MI, talks with Rip about firearms, the Boogaloo, and having his business and personal social media accounts deactivated.
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Starting Strength Channel
  • Gaining Inches Where it Matters – Starting Strength Coach Chase Lindley and his client Phoebe Hightower discuss training at Starting Strength Houston, her goals, and her special appreciation for the staff at SS Houston.
  • Starting Strength Coach and Owner of Testify Strength and Conditioning Phil Meggers on nailing the bar position in the squat.

Training Log
  • How fast and how effectively can you come back from a forced layoff from training? Jordan Burnett shares a case study of a lifter's rebound at Starting Strength Dallas.
From the Coaches

In the Trenches

alexanne squatting starting strength houston
Alexanne squats during a session at Starting Strength Houston. [photo courtesy of Nick Delgadillo]
chase lindley coaches phoebe bench press starting strength houston
Starting Strength Coach Chase Lindley coaches Phoebe on her bench at Starting Strength Houston. [photo courtesy of Nick Delgadillo]

Best of the Week

One set to failure…
Buff DrinkLots

I would like to know your thoughts on lifting to a single set to failure.

Back in the early 1990s, this method was somewhat popular at a gym I belonged to - since this philosophy was something Mike Mentzer was promoting and he was from the same part of PA we were from. I never read his book(s) but from what I was told/understood a lifter, after a few warm up sets, would perform a single set to failure (I believe this was meant to be technical failure, not absolute muscle failure). In addition, the lift was only to be done once a week or so plus paired with a significant amount of calories and rest.

Mark Rippetoe

It doesn't work. But that never stopped Mike.

Brodie Butland

Failing a set is a helpful lesson; intentionally failing a set is counterproductive.

It is not uncommon for lifters to bail from a set early, either by re-racking the bar before reps are done or by giving up on the lift once it gets hard. You get stronger--mentally and physically--by forcing yourself to try to accomplish something that you don't think you can do. If you don't permit yourself to fail in the short term, you will fail in the long term. Failing a set is a great teaching moment. It teaches you that failing won't kill or seriously injure you. It teaches you to get up, dust your pants off, and try again next time. It teaches you the importance of focusing on the process. It teaches you to never give up on a lift, no matter how hard it seems...and that, in turn, is the only way for you to learn what you truly are capable of.

That being said, failure must be kept in context. In a well-designed program, failure is a signal. At minimum, it means that you didn't accomplish what you were supposed to on a particular training day. This may be because you just had a bad day, as everyone does from time to time. But if you start failing frequently--and especially if you fail in consecutive training sessions--that signals that something systemic is wrong. Maybe it's your recovery (eating, sleeping, stress levels, etc.), maybe it's your rest periods (The First Three Questions), maybe it's a programming issue. But the point is, something is rotten in Denmark, and it's time for honest reflection to figure out what it might be and to fix the issue.

This is why training to failure makes no sense to me, even on a theoretical level. You're intentionally overstressing your body rather than letting it accomplish a pre-defined goal based on a specific programming choice. Empirically this does not work long term, and it is not even very effective in the short- or medium-term compared to well-engineered programming that does not rely on failure. Theoretically, you take what should be a warning signal and turn it into a deliberate part of the program, which a priori renders failure far less effective as a diagnostic tool. And then there's the safety issue...failure means you couldn't accomplish the lift, which often means there is a form breakdown somewhere. Why would you want to trigger a form breakdown if you don't have to?

tl;dr - Accidental failure happens, and that's okay...use it as the powerful learning experience that it is. Intentional failure is nuts.

Best of the Forum

Aspiring Powerlifter

Mark, I need some guidance. I'm 43 years old and have a burning desire to compete in the sport of powerlifting. Is it common for someone to compete for the first time in the masters division? Don't get me wrong, I'm no powerlifting stud. I have much work to do. I'm weighing around 210, my bench is 300 (torn pec five years ago... never the same as before), squat 435, deadlift 450. That's lifting recreationally. I guess what I'm asking you is, am I wasting my time and would I be making a fool out of myself. I want to know if I'm out of my league before I actually take this on. In case you're wondering I'm fully aware of the toll on the body, I live sore as it is.

Mark Rippetoe

Sorry, I don't either coach or recommend powerlifting.

Christopher Anderson

Well Masters is just the age group not the skill level. But as far as it being a waste of time is up to you and how you approach the situation. Like any endeavor if you are going to approach it by fully diving in and dedicating yourself to the sport and learning its rules and how each lift is judged and so on, and most importantly enjoy the experience, then you will not be wasting your time at all. Being out of your league? it's possible but hey that's life right? You're not entering raw nationals so don't freak out about it too much. Pick a local meet and go for it and have fun!

Mark E. Hurling

I didn't start competing until I was 62 in 2012. This was after getting coached at one seminar held in Costa Mesa. After stef fixed my deadlift form, I managed a 425 gym lift. So I began to speculate about competing. After getting some advice from hamburgerfan I looked at the winners in my age (62) and weight class (275) and thought "Well Hell, I can beat that." So I dove in and lifted unequipped in the USPA/IPL Raw division.

So far I have competed in 6 meets. I happen to occupy a very narrow niche. As the venerable Gordon Santee once remarked, "All my competition is injured or dead." Same for me. You, being younger and a lower weight class, will have more competition than I do.

But it's been a great boost to my training, even though I am finding my top weights falling a little over time. That's the one drawback at my age. I may have peaked late and now have to accept the inevitable decline in strength. But I'll be damned to let those weights drop without one Helluva fight. Supine acceptance is just not in the Hurling DNA. Then again, I suspect my squat and deadlift form may have drifted and I need some coaching. Next year for sure.

OTOH, competing has gotten me 6 gold medals. I have a CA state record in the untested divisions and one in the drug tested divisions implemented just this year by the USPA. As a result of the second drug tested record, I qualified for both the untested nationals in Las Vegas and the tested nationals in Georgia. I elected to compete in the tested nationals because I wanted to support the program. I lifted a record total there too since it was the first one held. I even managed to compete in the IPL Worlds early on. Hell, I never imagined I'd win a gold in anything I competed in, let alone at the Worlds.

You might surprise yourself. Give it a try.

Lawrie Abbott

I competed for the first time at 53, weighing in a bit less than you and would have been very happy to hit those numbers. Still would.

I outlifted people younger and bigger than me and was out lifted by guys older and skinnier. No one cared...and no one else remembers now.

Give it a go. Competition may bring out your best, or it will expose some weaknesses. Whatever happens, the environment will be supportive and encouraging and gives you a reason to keep improving.

Will Morris

What's more important to you: 1) stepping on to the platform in competition as a means to drive your training, or 2) winning the competition?


Compete. The worst thing that happens is you have fun and set a total to build from. You will probably set some PRs and make a few friends.

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