Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

The Girl Who Fell Down

by Chris Kurisko | January 11, 2018

lifter between squat sets

Arya came to a talk I gave last fall about the benefits of barbell training. She liked the idea of getting stronger despite the fact that she had never touched a weight, played a sport, or done anything physical. I could tell immediately that she was going to be a special client and was excited to see what she could do, even though most of the women I have trained over the years had some form of athletic history.

Like I do with every new client, I taught her how to squat without a barbell. You know the drill – knees out, bend over, weight over the middle of the foot, butt just below parallel, and eyeballs down. As a Starting Strength Coach, I have done this many, many times with clients of all ages and strength levels. This teaching method is performed at every one of our Starting Strength Seminars and Training Camps. It’s done regularly at my gym to teach people how to squat and it works very well. The few people who have not been able to perform the movement unweighted during their first session with proper coaching were too weak or suffered from some sort of injury.

Arya fell down while I was trying to get her into the right bottom position. She was uncoordinated and rather weak, and she just lost her balance and fell down as I was trying to get her hips back and her back angle correct.

“It happens all the time,” I said. I lied – I had never had anyone fall down, but I didn’t want her losing any confidence. Most people quit because training gets hard anyway, and I didn’t want to lose this one before she even got started. After finally getting her into the right position and moving to a very light bar, she fell again. I decided to take it even slower and leave the bar out of the equation for a while.

After squats, I had her press. I decided to teach her the strict version of the press at first before incorporating any more technical challenges into her training. We attempted to deadlift next, but poor Arya’s legs were shaking uncontrollably. I was determined to try to get her at least set up on the deadlift for one set, but while I was trying to get her in the right position she fell over the bar to the floor again. The poor girl was having a very rough first session. The last fall didn’t have anything to do with coordination – she was just spent from the squats at that point. I called it for the day and told her that we had plenty of things to build on.

I knew I was going to have to take a gentle approach to her program. Yelling at her wasn’t going to work and neither was corporal punishment. Not just yet anyway. We needed to figure out just how much stress we could apply, and take it slow. I decided to just have her do bodyweight and light dumbbell squats the first few sessions, and I coached her on the basics of the movement. The 15-pound dumbbell was just something to have her hold on to, so that she felt like she was doing something while everyone else was in the rack under a loaded barbell. If I had a leg press, she would have been an ideal candidate for a few workouts on that, but as a coach you have to use the tools that you have available.

Every session her technique improved and pretty quickly the bar was added. Plates started to accumulate as well. Even though we started very slow, our regular training sessions started paying off. Arya ran a modified 2-day-a-week linear progression over the next few months. We started with a basic A/B rotation at first; once her deadlift weights got a little more significant we only did them on workout A, and we started to work in close-grip bench, one-arm rows, and the prowler after squatting and pressing during workout B.

arya ready to squat

We tried doing chin-ups with bands and attempted power cleans, but neither one worked out very well. I decided to hold off on them because I didn’t want to mess with the success we were having. The four basic lifts were all climbing nicely, especially her squats and deadlifts, and I wanted to keep it rolling.

There were a few other obstacles along the way, but she has been steadily chugging along ever since. We ran a standard Texas Method set up after her LP for a month or so, with 5 sets of 5 for volume and 1 set of 5 for intensity. We revisited power cleans and were successfully able to add them to intensity day. Eventually, we transitioned to triples on both volume day and intensity day. Her last few weeks have included a 185x3x5 volume day and a 225 triple on intensity day on the squat, and an easy 255x3 deadlift.

Arya’s numbers may not yet qualify her for nationals, but considering where we started from I am more than happy with her gains. For a woman who fell down the first day and had a very rough start, she has progressed very nicely. She came to me with no athletic background, very little coordination, no experience with barbell training – who fell down trying to do a bodyweight squat during her first session. Now she is getting ready for her first competition and working towards a 300 pound deadlift. Arya has inspired many of us in the gym throughout this process and is a great reminder to us all about how consistent training always pays off.

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