The Rebuild Begins: Starting Strength – Phase 1

 

Welcome to an article I’ve been wanting to write for a while.  Not only is this my first review of any training model, but here we’ll be tackling a modern day classic in old school barbell training that’s equally as simplistic as it is effective.  Futhermore, I had the opportunity to give this template a proper go following a wrist injury that put me on the shelf for three months.  Here we will be discussing none other than Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength book and routine.

About Starting Strength

Having originally discovered the book via a recommendation from someone on the Bodybuilding.com message boards in early 2009, Starting Strength was already available to the public for nearly four years.  Designed by former Powerlifter and Wichita Falls Athletic Club founder Mark Rippetoe, the book does more than just provide a simplistic program for novice trainees.  It offers a scientifically detailed outlook on the biomechanics and execution of five lifts: the squat, the deadlift, the bench press, the overhead press and the power clean.  You’ll also find multiple anatomical diagrams throughout the book, as means of explaining the importance of proper technique and how just one minor mistake can cause an unnecessary injury in one way of another.  If also offers ways to coach the lifts if your goal is to train other lifters.

Phase One

Starting Strength’s template is an alternating full body routine revolving around four of the five lifts mentioned in the book.  The power clean will not be introduced until Phase Two.  For the purposes of this phase, 20lb jumps per session are allowed on the deadlift, usually for a few days, maybe a week or two depending on the lifter.  Likewise, 10lb jumps per sessions for the squat are allowed.  You will just use 5lb jumps per session on the overhead and bench presses.  The general expectations here is that by the end of the phase, which lasts just three weeks, your deadlift should have increased by 50-70lbs, your squat by 40-50lbs, and both pressing movements by 15-20lbs.  These steady increases are what make this a linear program.  There’s no deloading here, as this is a beginner’s program after all.

The Routine

Workout A                                                                     Workout B

Squat – 3 x 5                                                                  Squat – 3 x 5

Bench/Overhead Press – 3 x 5                                   Bench/Overhead Press – 3 x 5

Deadlift – 1 x 5                                                              Deadlift – 1 x 5

What you see here are just the working sets.  The reason for the deadlift requiring just one set, according to the book, is because since the move uses the largest amount of muscles, it can become easy to overtrain.  Aside from this, the one important thing to understand is that for the next three weeks, you’ll be alternating between the bench press and the overhead press.  So if you’re benching on workout A, then you’ll perform the overhead press on workout B.  Futhermore, if you execute the plan as A-B-A to start, then you’ll perform it the next week as B-A-B the next week, etc.

Frequency

Phase One of Starting Strength is high in frequency, as it should be.  As with most beginner programs, constant stimulation is the key to growth and increases in strength; and with the deadlift and squat both being performed three times a week, the posterior chain especially will get plenty of stimulation.  While you’ll be alternating between two different pressing movements, the shoulders and triceps will be trained either way.  The frequency won’t be so high come Phase Two.

Specificity 

The primary focus, especially in the book, is the squat.  The emphasis for Mark Rippetoe is hip drive as a way of recruiting the muscles of the posterior chains, because without those muscles, most movements are difficult at best.  For that alone this is an effective program for not just gaining strength, but learning strength.  Strength is not just about muscle, strength is a skill.  Without knowing proper technique, you’ll never know what your body is truly capable of.  I learned that first hand.

My Training

I chose to start my rebuild with the Starting Strength model because being that I tore my the cartilage in my wrist back in December, I knew I need to be as careful as I can to not agitate it.  I should’ve been given the clear to train again the day after Valentine’s Day, but when I was attacked by a student at the school I work in my recovery was delayed.  The swelling and the pain is steadily going away but it’s still painful at times to perform anything using a supinated/underhanded grip.  It’s also because of this that starting off as light as possible was absolutely necessary.

Start Of Phase One 3/4/18                                                                  End Of Phase One 3/22/18

Squat – 45lbs                                                                                           Squat – 125lbs

Overhead Press – 20lbs                                                                         Overhead Press – 45lbs

Bench Press – 45lbs                                                                               Bench Press – 65lbs

Deadlift – 95lbs                                                                                       Deadlift – 255lbs

As you can see above, this phase of my training has been pretty successful.  In the book, Rippetoe suggests that 10/20lb jumps in the lower body movements should only be made in the first few workouts before you lower the weights in order to avoid stalling to quickly.  He also acknowledges, however, that everyone responds differently to training this way.  Therefore, make sure to use your better judgement to figure what’s best for you; and of course use some common sense.  On that end, I was able to use 20lb jumps for the Deadlift throughout this entire three week phase because I knew I hadn’t lost that much muscle mass.  I probably could’ve even made a few 20lbs jumps on the squat if I wanted to, however I didn’t want to risk putting any pressure on the wrist.  I chose to keep the weights light on the pressing movements, for the sake of my wrist (especially with the overhead press) and because I saw this as a great opportunity for me to brush up on my technique before the weights begin to get heavier.

What Happens From Here?

While I’m very much satisfied with my progress at the moment, I will begin Phase Two of Starting Strength this Sunday.  In short, my deadlift frequency will decrease as the power clean is introduced and will replace the deadlift for the B Workouts, giving me a chance to recover from the deadlift sessions.  I’m also curious to see if the explosiveness of the power clean will carry over to my deadlift as claimed.  That last time performed the power clean in 2009 I felt like a sack of potatoes in the end, partially because I was unaware that I was asthmatic, resulting in technique breakdown early on in that portion of my training sessions.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for my report on Phase Two of Starting Strength as well as a focus on the power clean.  Be sure to follow me on Instagram and Tumblr if you don’t already.

My References

Rippetoe, Mark.  Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training 3rd Edition. Wichita Falls, Tx: The Aasgard Company, 2011.

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