Starting Strength Weekly Report

November 25, 2019

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lala duncan coaches angel blount through the squat teaching method
Lala Duncan takes Angel Blount through the squat teaching method during the Squat Coach Development Camp held at Fivex3 Training in Baltimore. [photo courtesy of Nick Delgadillo]
michael boyle coaches eric strong at the coach development camp
Michael Boyle coaches Eric Strong at the same event. [photo courtesy of Nick Delgadillo]

Best of the Week

Strength/Conditioning Combo?

I was just reading over a quote of yours on why 5s are so useful, where you give the extremes of 1s and 20s as an example on both sides of the spectrum.

You end by saying: "Sets of five reps are a very effective compromise for the novice, and even for the advanced lifter more interested in strength than in muscular endurance. They allow enough weight to be used that force production must increase, but they are not so heavy that the cardiovascular component is completely absent from the exercise. Sets of five may be the most useful rep range you will use over your entire training career, and as long as you lift weights, sets of five will be important."

I was just wondering if this means sets of 1 (more realistically sets of 1-3 only) could be used exclusively for the trainee only concerned with strength when it comes to lifting. Could a combination of only training singles, doubles, and sometimes triples, (and never 4s and 5s) produce better and quicker pure strength gains than 5s?

Also, I'd like to know how useful the "muscular endurance" you mentioned is to a lifter who just wants to be strong? What is muscular endurance really, and what is practical real-world use and translation of it? If someone could get very strong never going above 3s, what would they lack by not having the muscular endurance higher reps train?

I'm wondering if a good combination for someone who just wants to be strong and somewhat cardio-conditioned could be training exclusively with singles, doubles, and occasional triples and then running some sprints or pushing the prowler once a week or so. The shorter lifting sets would lack the cardio component I feel on sets of 5, but I feel the sprints produce a similar cardio feeling and could train that aspect. The only gap I see and am unsure about is that I see how the sprints are not really training "muscular endurance" and only cardiovascular endurance. Does this mean this type of setup/combination would leave some detrimental gap in training?

Or maybe there is something I am missing entirely in regard to volume and muscle-building that helps with strength gains that 5s are more helpful for?

Mark Rippetoe

Maybe. Try it and see. Most people train for the overall effects of the program. You may be different. Try it and see.

Seems to me that since 5s provide all the cardiovascular work you need for just walking-around health, you'd just do the 5s. But if you want to reinvent the wheel, try it and see.

Maybe you're missing the part about the millions of people over the past 100 years who have tried every permutation of training and have concluded that 5s are the best rep-range for strength and conditioning.

Mark E. Hurling

I am currently using an old school Hepburn routine with sets of singles increasing from 6 to 10 with deload/dynamic effort/speed sets interspersed every 3 weeks. It hasn't hurt my VO2 max any, I test in the 38-42 range which is way up in the excellent end of the scale for the 65+ geezers. My heart rate hovers in the 70-80% range during these lifting sessions. I do back it up with several other days per week of straight conditioning work as well, so it may not be an apples to apples comparison for what you are looking at. I have no idea if my age (69) is a factor in this.

Maybe getting or borrowing a heart rate monitor for some lifting sessions might give you some data to look at for yourself.


Cool, glad to hear I'm not way off with this line of thinking. Gonna try it out and see. Truth be told, I just really enjoy lifting in the 1-3 rep range allot more then 5s and when I read your quote about lower reps being best for straight up force production (or strength) that’s what got me thinking about this. I go for a walk everyday anyway and don't mind throwing in some sprints here and there to keep cardio up. So this way of training just sounds great to me. Excited to apply it and try it out.

It seems you know more about how to set up low-rep set type training then me; I have to look into this more (or experiment) and figure out how much volume I need to make progress. I'll look into Hepburn routine. Thanks!


I was just talking about this the other day. The only problem when you do reps of 1-2-3 is it is hard to add weight because it is so close to your 1RM. If I'm doing a work out of 5x5 at 70% ish it is easy to add 5ish pounds almost every week for a long period. If I'm doing a work out at lets say five heavy singles or 3x5 at 95% or 85% of my 1RM it is going to be almost impossible to add any weight for more than a few weeks.

You do need a combination of both. Several weeks of 5s followed by a few weeks of 3s followed by a peaking phase. It is covered pretty well in Practical Programming.

Mark Rippetoe

Yes, if you're an advanced lifter.


This is what I don't really understand - why are you not able to keep adding weight? I read practical programming, but I don't think I fully grasp the concepts of volume and intensity and why they are both needed. Also, balancing workload with recovery.

I think about Rip's famous suntan analogy - you need more stress each time for more results - and then about his quote on 1-20 reps and low reps being best for straight up force production. So if I come in and do 315x2 then my body needs to recover from that stress and make it stronger for next session where I should be able to do 317.15 or 320x2. Why do we eventually hit a wall where this cannot go on any further?. I really don't know. Obviously you're not gonna come in just do 1 set of 2 reps and get up to a 700 pound squat...but I really don't know why. I think it's because you need more volume to create more stress, but not so much that you can’t recover from it. But, I don't really know why we need the volume and why intensity is not enough.

So my plan for now is that Im gonna just do 1 double and see if I can add weight the next session. If I can't, I will do 2 doubles, the 3 for more volume. I want to experiment with this and do the minimum amount of sets to keep making strength gains. I'm going to train exclusively in the 1-3 rep range because I prefer it and it seems it is best for pure strength gains which is all I care about when lifting weights. I can get my conditioning pushing the prowler or sprinting once a week.

I get the feeling that I'm missing something with this line of thinking, but Im gonna test it out and see how it works.

If someone could explain why we need volume (or point me in that direction) that would be really cool. Thank you.

Mark Rippetoe

Maybe you're missing the part about the millions of people over the past 100 years who have tried every permutation of training and have concluded that 5s are the best rep-range for strength and conditioning.


I hear you Rip; sets of 5 are the best rep range for strength AND Conditioning - it's like an extremely efficient jack of all trades rep range, nothing else needed to get both strong and conditioned for most. I see you're not a fan of trying to separate these components, whereas I am - just a personal preference. I was thinking I could make the strength training component even more focused on pure strength gains and just do the conditioning work on another day - this only came to mind after reading your quote that lower reps are best for pure strength (but sacrifice the conditioning component - I hear you loud and clear on this). But like I said, since I personally wouldn't mind separating them (and would even enjoy it) it is something I would be willing to experiment with. I'm gonna go with your first comment to try it out and see how it works out. Thanks again.

Best of the Forum

Training after a bend

I picked up a vestibular bend last weekend on a dive. It was on a conservative dive profile, so I am very likely to have a PFO. I had a week in the pot; and now I have recovered. I fancy getting back under a barbell later today. It feels wise to reset and take it easy for a week or two. Other than this, is anyone aware of any restrictions this could place on my lifting, either over the shorter or longer term?

Mark Rippetoe

You'll have to explain to us rubes how you know that a patent foramen ovale is the cause of your decompression problems.


The diving docs think a PFO is very likely. I saw a few; they were unanimous.

My bend was in the inner ear. (I believe the area affected is actually the cerebellum rather than the ear fluids.) The most likely explanation for my bend is that nitrogen rich blood shunted through the PFO to the arterial blood. It's not 100% that this was the cause; however this bend type, if there was a conservative dive profile, is highly correlated with PFOs.

I will get a test at some point.

Mark Rippetoe

I'd like to hear about why you think that nitrogen saturation has a gradient within the circulatory system. Is it being sequestered by some mechanism I don't know about?


I am not an expert on decompression theory. With that caveat, my understanding is:

My dive was to 31m. I was breathing air. At this depth, the pressure is roughly 4 atmospheres. Air is roughly 79% nitrogen, so I was breathing in nitrogen at around 3.2 time atmospheric pressure. The tissues would still contain nitrogen at roughly .79 atmospheres' pressure.

So at this point of the dive, I was on- gassing. My tissues were absorbing pressurised nitrogen. Different tissues absorb and release nitrogen at different rates. (My dive computer uses a common algorithm which assumes 16 tissue compartments, all with different half lives for absorption.)

Later, I slowly ascended. Then my tissues started to off-gas. So the tissues absorb oxygen from the blood, and off-gas the pressurised nitrogen they absorbed earlier. So the venal blood contains micro-bubbles of nitrogen from the off-gas get process.

My bend happened 40 minutes after the dive. Arterial blood at this point should come straight from the lungs, so be oxygen rich and have few (if any) nitrogen bubbles. However, my slower tissue compartments were still off-gassing, and so the venal blood was nitrogen rich.

Following the shunt, the arterial blood gas nitrogen by bubbles, all hell breaks loose and the bubbles become big.


It's an interesting question. Without the PFO, bubbles formed on the venous side would get filtered by the lungs. With the PFO, they can enter cerebral circulation. Bubbles formed on the arterial side will likely stick where they form (joints, tissues) and not come back to wind up in the brain.

At least, I think so. Tough research to do and a lot of it is modelling. Sample sizes of actual subjects are usually small. Like this tiny series:

But I am interested in the question of lifting weights after decompression illness. I haven't thought about that, opinions there would be welcome.

Mark Rippetoe

Got it. The pressure causes the gradient due to abnormal absorption in the tissues. Sounds to me like your PFO was benign when you were training before, and it will be benign when you train now. The bubbles are gone, right? Just don't train at 4 atmospheres.


Sounds reasonable. I will lift later today.

Jonathon Sullivan

It's always the sports and activities in the z-axis that get you.

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