If you’re looking for a new strength training program, “Starting Strength” might be an excellent choice. The Starting Strength workout routine is specifically designed to engage all of the body’s muscles using simple movements that are suitable for lifters of any level.

But, is it the right program for your needs? To help you decide if the training program is a good choice for you, we put together this complete guide to the Starting Strength program. Up next, we’ll walk you through the basics of the routine so you can see if it’s worth your time.

What Is Starting Strength?

Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program is a weight lifting and training system that was designed with novices in mind. The system uses basic movements to help people build up muscular strength for long-term gains.

Starting Strength focuses on barbell training and gradually increasing weight so that the entire body can get stronger over time. Interestingly, there are only 5 barbell exercises (plus chin-ups) used in the Starting Strength program. The focus is on simplicity and efficiency when it comes to building overall fitness.

However, while many popular strength training programs are designed to last a couple of months, Starting Strength has long-term goals in mind. The program was created to give weight lifting novices the foundational strength and skills they need to progress to future training programs. It is a simple, effective, and time-tested system for anyone looking to improve their fitness and health.

How Does Starting Strength Work?

As we’ve mentioned, Starting Strength uses simple barbell exercises to help people improve their overall fitness. However, the program’s founder, Mark Rippetoe, realizes that strength gains don’t happen overnight.

Instead, building up strength is all about something called “linear progression.” Starting Strength’s linear progression model involves adding a small amount of weight to the barbell during each training session. This process continues for as long as possible until one is no longer able to lift progressively heavier weights.

The concept here is that the body adapts to stress. As we add more and more weight to the barbell, the body gets stronger and adapts. Of course, you can’t add too much weight too quickly – doing so can easily lead to injury.

This is why the program’s founder is adamant that people need to stick to Starting Strength’s novice linear progression system. Breaking away from the system can lead to injuries that could’ve been avoided.

The “Novice Effect”

Starting Strength’s system also takes advantage of something called the “Novice Effect.” The Novice Effect is basically what happens when a beginner starts to lift weights. When someone first starts a strength program, their initial strength gains skyrocket.

Although beginners get stronger very quickly, these initial gains eventually plateau. That’s where Starting Strength comes into the picture. The idea is that as one’s strength gains start to naturally plateau, the program can help novice lifters continue to grow.

The Starting Strength Novice Program

Starting Strength is broken up into three programs: Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced. Since the system’s founder states that everyone should start with the novice program, that’s what we’ll discuss here.

Starting Strength Phases

The program is phase-based. So it involves gradually building up strength within distinct periods that can last a few weeks or a few months.

The Novice program has three phases, each with an “A day” and a “B day.” In these starting phases, workouts are done three times a week. So, your first month in the program could look like the following:

  • Week 1: Monday (A), Wednesday (B), Friday (A)
  • Week 2: Monday (B), Wednesday (A), Friday (B)
  • Week 3: Monday (A), Wednesday (B), Friday (A)
  • Week 4: Monday (B), Wednesday (A), Friday (B)

While you don’t have to stick to a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule, the idea is that you have a rest day in between each workout day. Additionally, you should flip between the A day workouts and the B day workouts for the duration of the program.

Keep in mind that the workouts for this program only provide information about “work sets” not “warm-up sets.” Adequate warm-ups are critical for preventing injury, so it’s essential that you warm-up before each exercise.

If you need some help figuring out what weights to use for warm-up and work sets, you can always check out the Starting Strength App. The app has a Starting Strength calculator to help you determine the right weights to use for the beginning of your linear progression.

Once you understand the system layout, it’s time to talk about the actual phases of the program.

Phase 1

A DayB Day
Squat: 3 sets, 5 repsSquat: 3 sets, 5 reps
Press/Bench: 3 sets, 5 repsPress/Bench: 3 sets, 5 reps
Deadlift: 1 set, 5 repsDeadlift: 1 set, 5 reps

Phase 1 of the program usually lasts 1-3 weeks. This phase is all about creating a foundation that you can build on moving forward.

As you can see, the A day and B day of Phase 1 are identical. However, you’ll alternate between overhead presses and bench presses each time you do the workout. So, you can decide if you want A day to be overhead presses or bench presses. Then, on your B day, you will do the other exercise.

For young men, the goal for the end of this phase is to have a squat that’s 40-50lbs (18.1-22.7kg) higher than when you started. Additionally, deadlifts should be 50-70lbs (22.7-31.8kg) higher, and both presses should be 15-20lbs (6.8-9.1kg) higher.

For women (and men over 35), the ideal gains here are slightly less. But, there is no set prescription for gains in this program. It’s essential to pay attention to your body than to push too hard toward a specific target weight.

Phase 2

A DayB Day
Squat: 3 sets, 5 repsSquat: 3 sets, 5 reps
Press/Bench: 3 sets, 5 repsPress/Bench: 3 sets, 5 reps
Deadlift: 1 set, 5 repsPower Clean: 3 sets, 5 reps

The length of Phase 2 varies greatly from person to person. While some people can complete the phase in a few weeks, others might take a few months. The goal is to get comfortable with the power clean and to build on the gains from Phase 1 in the other exercises.

The power clean is the new and exciting part of Phase 2. Like Phase 1, you’ll alternate between overhead presses and bench presses on A and B days.

Additionally, by Phase 2, your deadlift weight should be heavy enough that you can’t fully recover in just one rest day. This is why the power clean is introduced in this phase to diversify your exercise options.

Phase 3

A DayB Day
Squat: 3 sets, 5 repsSquat: 3 sets, 5 reps
Press/Bench: 3 sets, 5 repsPress/Bench: 3 sets, 5 reps
Deadlift: 1 set, 5 reps & Power Clean: 3 sets, 5 repsChin Ups

Phase 3 is where things start to get fun. Additionally, this phase doesn’t have a set time limit. Instead, Phase 3 ends when you’re no longer a novice lifter.

What does this mean, you might ask? Well, once your weight gains start to plateau, you’ve left the novice stage behind and are now an intermediate lifter.

In Phase 3, you should be lifting heavy enough weights that you can’t deadlift and power clean every other day. So, the program adds chin ups on B days to mix things up.

However, there is no set number of chin ups for you to complete. Instead, you do as many chin ups as you can. If you can do 3 sets of 10 bodyweight chin ups, you can consider doing weighted chin ups to the point where you can only do 3 sets of 5.

Additionally, once you’re in Phase 3, you’ll probably only be able to increase the weight of your squat twice a week. Usually, people add weight to their squat on Monday and Friday while taking Wednesday as a recovery day with a lighter weight load.

Intermediate and Advanced Starting Strength Phases

Once you complete the Novice phases, you can move onto the Intermediate and Advanced programs. In these higher-level phases, lifters work on increasing their strength while diversifying the workout routine.

The intermediate and advanced programs only use the basic barbell exercises (plus chin-ups). But, they also incorporate different types of reps and sets to encourage the body to adapt to new loads continuously.

The Starting Strength Diet

While exercise is certainly important, it is not the only factor in overall fitness and strength gains. In reality, proper strength training relies on adequate recovery. This means that anyone serious about improving needs to sleep enough and eat enough.

Mark Rippetoe, the program’s founder, states:

Trying to do this program while on any type of restricted diet is not optimal: Intermittent Fasting, Paleo, and Zone are examples of three currently popular styles of eating that will stunt your Starting Strength novice gains. (Source: Starting Strength)

Instead, Rippetoe suggests that people doing the program should eat much more than they’re used to – up to 6,000 calories a day. Additionally, Rippetoe recommends that young, underweight men try drinking a gallon of milk a day (the GOMAD protocol) in an attempt to increase body mass.

However, he does not recommend a gallon of milk per day for anyone other than young, underweight men. Rippetoe also recommends that people consume the number of calories that help them gain muscle mass without putting on too much excess fat. He provides more specific guidance in his book, which is a must-have for anyone considering the program.

Is Starting Strength Right For You?

The Starting Strength training program is an excellent choice for anyone that wants to build a solid foundation of muscular strength. Starting Strength is designed for new weight lifters, but also offers a lot of value for people that have struggled to stick with training programs in the past.

However, if you choose to start the program, you need to follow it to the letter. Starting Strength only works if you follow the program, its prescribed exercises, and its required recovery days. Otherwise, you risk hurting yourself or limiting your overalls strength gains.