Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

For the Coaches: The Starting Strength Method, The Model, and You

by Nick Delgadillo, SSC and Mark Rippetoe | January 20, 2021

broup instruction in starting strength

People periodically ask some version of, “What is the best refutation of Starting Strength?” While this is definitely a silly-ass question, it brings up the chance to discuss the “first principles” of the Starting Strength Method. They are 1.) the application of the basic physical science of the Moment Model of Barbell Training, and 2.) the stress/recovery/adaptation phenomenon of the General Adaptation Syndrome. Taken together, they form an approach that results in strength improvements for everyone with whom it is used.

In order to “refute” Starting Strength, you’d have to argue that the physical model is wrong, that the explanation of how the first principles apply to getting strong is incorrect, and that it therefore does not work for everyone – despite the fact that it does. You'd have to have the actual experience of applying the model in practice, and then be able to demonstrate that the correct application of these factors failed to result in the acquisition of strength. Anything less would not be a refutation of what we do.

Getting this done is a very tall order and brings us to the point: when you’re trying to learn something new, it's useful to search for alternative explanations – other ways to understand the concepts you're being given, and possible refutations of the things you're being asked to accept that make more sense than the way you're being taught. If you don’t go through this process, you are just parroting someone else’s ideas using rote memorization rather than first-principles thinking. This is perfectly fine for a guy trying to convince his aging father that he should pick up a barbell, but professional coaches should rely on first-principles thinking or they risk not being correct.

In fact, one of the most important aspects of the development of the Starting Strength method has been the criticism of the method from intelligent people who forced us to think through our explanations, to make sure they are correct, and to refine them to the point that their usefulness is transparently obvious. Like engineering, the development of the Starting Strength method has withstood the rigorous testing of the professionals that question it, refine it, hone it, and use it daily – people who cannot afford for it to be wrong.

As a coach, you are the interface between the model and the lifter. Understanding the model is a prerequisite for being an effective coach, and understanding comes not only from your own time under the bar as a lifter, but also from time spent examining the fundamental concepts that apply to the task at hand, how they interact with each other to produce the movement you’re coaching, and the progress that results from the correct application of these principles. And throughout the process, never blindly accepting anything because of the perceived authority of the person teaching you.

While most of this has already been done for you by Rip, Stef, and Andy Baker in the source material – Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, and Practical Programming for Strength Training – you must bring a skeptical eye to the process of learning from the material, because you will learn more if you do. Then you add the practical experience by spending lots of hours working with people on the platform, finishing the job of honing the method to fit the individual client. The model is the integration of the first principles, and coaching is the integration of the model with the lifter’s movements.

Your entry point into coaching is doing the program yourself and introducing others to the program, but as soon as you can, you should read the books again and start looking at the method with a skeptical eye, learning the fundamental concepts as you go and thereby deepening your understanding of the model and its application.  

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