Starting Strength Weekly Report

June 13, 2016

Training Log

Two Starting Strength Coaches share their personal experience and guidelines for training and pregnancy:

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Samara squats 225 work sets Samara is a poster child for training with perfectly consistent form. Here she is on the last rep of 225 for 3 sets of 5 at a bodyweight of 130. [photo courtesy of Feral Fitness]
john learns to clean John, age 56, learns the power clean for the first time at Fivex3 Training's Starting Strength Training Camp this past Sunday. [photo courtesy of FiveX3 Training]

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Best of the Week

Becoming a Coach (any sport)

Even though you gained your authority through your work, coaching ability and reliability, do you think you would have become the strength coach you are today had you not been an accomplished powerlifter? Do you think your results had a great impact on your coaching career?

I ask you this because I have not yet achieved the results I work for in my sport, and when I look around, I see that many of the great coaches we have were also very good competitors. This leaves me wondering if it's possible to ever become a good coach, on any modality, without having been successful in competition.

Mark Rippetoe

I was NOT a great powerlifter, Judo. I was not even a good powerlifter. Furthermore, it has been observed that the best athletes damn near ALWAYS make the worst coaches.

Why might that be?


People who are naturally gifted at lifting never learn about the little things us normals do to try to make our lifts above average. They just show up and things work out for them, and they think the same can happen for others. Weirdly, this isn't always, but can be, the same in other domains. I act and a couple of the best actors I know are actually great teachers. Some of the best scientists have written fantastic popular science books, etc..


Hard to coach something that comes natural to you, when you just "get it", and you haven't had to go through the steps or made the mistakes you are trying to teach someone else about?


To echo what tfranc and thedude have said already, proficient athletes are good usually without understanding why they're good. Many have coaches are "talented" enough to not run into problems that demand major revisions to training or recovery practices. The coaches don't even have to carry the title or credential; they could be friends or family that have stood where "their client" is standing now and simply know how to prevent damage or losses, be it from experience with or without this damage or these losses. A friend of mine is an athlete just like this. He's trained for several years completely ignorant of what to do, but out-lifts all of the guys in our circle (for now at least). His older brother is a competitive powerlifter currently in the 105kg class soon moving to the 120kg class. He's the one who coached my friend through his novice phase.

Neither of them probably know why their body moves the way it moves. Their form shows this rather well as any coach here will have several things to comment on that would "need fixing". "Needing fixing" is more of a relative term, however, as their bodies simply allow them to make these mistakes without putting them out of commission for a time. I certainly couldn't make these mistakes and painful experience has taught me that. Indeed, the older brother has had to fix several aspects of his squat form recently because the load was starting to become too heavy for his "talent" to ignore (think elbow pain).

There's an arrogance that comes with ignorance, though. Whenever programming or form is brought up (even tangentially as a topic of conversation), my friend is rather keen on ruling out realities that could serve just as well as-if not better than-the established reality which his past training has mimicked closely. Styles of training that differ from his own are usually seen as inferior, probably because he has never tried them (or had to try them) and his "own style" has worked well for him up to now. Even upon suggesting to someone else that his (guy X) hip injury is due to his poor squat form, for example, I get a response from the athlete saying "guy X's squat form is fine", a statement that is simply not true as it wouldn't have brought about the injury if it were. His brother doesn't seem to share this arrogance. Once when he and I talked about using a hook grip on the deadlift, he responded with "but that hurts", showing at least that he had tried to use this technique. A few minutes later it was clear he had thought about it as he now brought it up again and gave more reasons for why he didn't use hook grip (he even conceded that he should, but that he simply doesn't, acknowledging his "lack of excuses").

So ignorance and subsequent arrogance are a few traits all bad coaches share. A good coach is also someone who communicates clearly, which is a skill not easily learnt or taught. Good and clear communication being predicated upon the ability to speak in the speaker and the ability to listen in the listener, I can see why proficient athletes aren't also good coaches. Proficient athletes have simply never had to speak clearly or listen closely to anyone but themselves (if anyone at all).

Best of the Forum

Conditioning for a pregnant woman

Hi, my older sister is currently 24 weeks in her pregnancy, and I planned a simple FBW routine for her, which she follows 3 times a week.

Main focus would be to make her body stronger, especially the lumbar extensors as the entire center of gravity would shift slightly forward.

She currently does:

  1. DB squats
  2. OHP with 25lb bar
  3. chinups-pullups in a "gravity machine"- type of machine that reduces ones own BW using weight
  4. Dips in that same machine
  5. Light, high rep (10) RDL
  6. Isometric contraction, hands on a fitball legs on the floor, and holding the body straight like a plank- saw several sites recommending that.
  7. 25 minutes walk on treadmill at 4MPH at the end of each session
  8. +10 minute stretching twice a week

Would you direct special exercises for pregnant women? Strengthen certain muscles especially (back ext., certain ab muscles?) and is that kind of program good enough?

Mark Rippetoe

My rule has always been to keep them pretty much at the activity level they're used to after the first trimester. Before then, and in the absence of any potential difficulties, they can train as though they were not pregnant, i.e. start a new program, and lift heavy, condition hard. After these 3 months, it's probably unwise to introduce significant intensity or volume to her if she's not adapted to it already. A gal that's been training heavy for years will probably be fine training heavy up until 8+ months if her size does not significantly change her technique for squats and pulls. I've seen women PR the squat at 8+ months. This level of strength and conditioning also seems to shorten labor. Our own Sarah Kim was pushing the prowler in the heat up until 7 months.


So basically nothing in particular you would recommend for a pregnant female over any other female?

I see so much bullshit about strengthening specific ab muscles before pregnancy as they go through a serious trauma while the kid pops out etc. etc. hard to tell what's right and what's wrong

I hate it whenever the gym owner tells my sister to leave most of the basic exercises (-"don't squat!") and tells her to walk up the treadmill and swim as if she was an aging whale.

Mark Rippetoe

I am of the opinion that squats and deadlifts work the abs pretty thoroughly. Pregnancy is not a disease, and it is amazing that the species survived so long without treadmills and swimming pools.

Jonathon Sullivan

Women all over the world squat in paddies, draw water, carry firewood, thatch their roofs, herd stock, and, in some parts, fire off AKs and mortars, as the situation demands. There never seems to be any shortage of babies in these less enlightened regions, although there are often tragic shortages of education, immunizations, and good nutrition after they're born.

I haven't looked, but I bet if you did a MEDLINE or PubMed search of the literature on pregnancy and barbell training, you'd come up with...if you'll pardon me...squat.

Actually, Rip’s post above is the first data point on this question I've ever encountered, and it really got my attention. Honestly, I'd never thought about it--and quite frankly, no pregnant woman has ever asked me how late she can do barbell squats into pregnancy. Pregnancy is not a disease, true, but both pregnancy and parturition stress mother and fetus, and many things can go wrong. As a physician and a physiologist, I hypothesize that strength training during pregnancy is salutary for both mother and fetus. For example, when I read Rip's earlier post, I was thinking I'd bet my left nut that if you compared women who deadlift and squat to those who didn't, you'd find that the first group had far fewer labor-induced high-grade perineal lacerations (they are horrible).

Good luck getting a grant to do that study.

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