Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

The Only Emphasis Is Strength

by Mark Rippetoe | June 22, 2021

female lifter training the press

The YouTube comments are fairly consistently indicative of a broad misunderstanding of what we do on this website and at the Aasgaard Company. I'll take this opportunity to clear up a few things. They can be summarized easily: we are only concerned with your strength.

We are not primarily concerned with your health. Insofar as getting stronger makes you healthier, we're happy to help. But your health is of secondary importance to us, because our program gives you complete control over your strength, while your health may well be at the mercy of factors outside the control of the program. Disease, genetics, and bad luck can be mitigated by getting and staying stronger, so that is our purview. We stay in our wheelhouse.

The same is true of body composition. If you are waddling around at 52% bodyfat, we're concerned about it because it will affect your mechanical ability to execute the primary barbell exercises at optimal efficiency. Part of your program must be attending to this dietary problem in an aggressive way, so that strength can be increased. As far as we're concerned, once you're below 30% you no longer have a problem, and your body composition then becomes your business, not ours.

If “definition” is one of your training goals, you don't understand the point of training. It is true that muscle burns calories, muscle mass makes bodyfat loss easier in the presence of the dietary craziness necessary to get below 10% bodyfat, and strength training builds muscle mass. But we don't recommend that you actively try for a sub-10% bodyfat, because it interferes with strength acquisition. It's also “unhealthy,” but as I mentioned, we really don't care about that. If you are so fixated on your appearance that you are willing to follow a dietary lifestyle (“definition” is diet, not training) that pisses off your family and everyone around you, and which, in retrospect, will have deprived you of a lot of pleasure as well, you go right ahead, but at this point strength has been left in the cloud of dust behind you.

Likewise, “muscularity” – the appearance of the individual muscle bellies – is obviously enhanced by making them bigger, but their final appearance is almost entirely controlled by your genetic endowment – just like sub-10% bodyfat. High-level bodybuilders are born, not trained, and the best way to waste a bunch of time getting neither stronger nor more muscular is to train for “hypertrophy,” the new 21st-century word used to market template training services that use light weights to the huge number of guys who don't understand this.

The appearance of your calves, quads, delts, bis, tris, and abs is always improved by getting your press to 200, your bench to 300, your squat to 400, and your deadlift to 500, as fast as possible. And that's all we're concerned with. This simple but difficult process is accomplished by using sets of 5 reps, adding weight every workout to the basic exercises as long as you can, and not wasting time with assistance work. You'll eventually look even better at 275/375/550/625, and we know how to do that too. We don't know how to build “capstone deltoids” or “diamond-shaped calves” – neither does anyone else. And we don't care, since all we care about is strength.

So resist the temptation to criticize the Starting Strength program for its imagined failings based on your own personal insecurities. If you want to be healthier, get stronger. If you don't like your body composition, get stronger. If you don't like your aesthetics, get stronger. If you're mentally healthy, you'll see the point very quickly. If you're not, getting stronger will help that too.

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