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Rippetoes Starting Strength Program Explained

Rippetoe's Strength Training

An Introduction to Rippetoe's Strength Training

Rippetoe's Starting Strength program is ideal for the beginner and even some of the more intermediate lifters. However, Rippetoe's starting strength is specifically geared towards a beginner who is new to weight training and has very little muscle mass or strength.

This program can also be effective for lifters who have not trained for long periods of time and are looking to get back into the weight room to improve their physique. Rippetoe's starting strength program focuses on two basic principles. Basic compound exercises and weight progression. Technique and form are also emphasized in this program.

Since the program is aimed specifically towards beginners I would not recommend a more experienced lifter to follow this program if they are serious about adding more muscle mass to their frames. This is not because the routine will not build muscle, it will, however, more experienced lifters will need more intense/higher volume workouts to stimulate new muscle growth.

Mark Rippetoe explaining squat

Original photo from startingstrength.com

Rippetoe's is not a complex routine and focuses on very few exercises to begin with. There are no machine or isolation exercises in this routine until you get further into the program. The volume used in this routine is also relatively small to help untrained beginners build up a tolerance for weight lifting and start them off gradually.

The Routine

The starting strength routine is very simple and is set out like this:

Workout A
3×5 Squat
3×5 Bench Press
1×5 Deadlift

Workout B
3×5 Squat
3×5 Standing military press
3×5 Power Cleans/Barbell Rows

The program requires you to train on 3 non-consecutive days a week, alternating between workouts A and B accordingly. Here is an example of what your first 2 weeks of training should look like:

Week 1:
Monday – Workout A
Wednesday – Workout B
Friday – Workout A

Week 2:
Monday – Workout B
Wednesday – Workout A
Friday – Workout B

The above is an example, it’s important to know that the program does not require you to workout specifically on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It simply requires you to workout 3 times a week on non-consecutive days. Alternatively, this may be Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Just ensure you get 3 workouts in and do not train on consecutive days. Start the routine by performing workout A first and then constantly go back and forth between A and B workouts, as shown in the above example. Don’t perform workout A and then workout A again for your next session simply because you think its better/easier than workout B. Stick to the program!

Additional Accessory Work

I know what your thinking, why are there so few exercises!? How on earth am I meant to increase my arm size and get a six-pack? Truth is that direct arm work is not necessary at the start of this program. Biceps and triceps will get partially worked during your heavy compound movements even though you are not isolating them directly.

You are currently building a strong and solid base where isolation work is not yet necessary. It can be added later on but not at the start of the routine. Abs, on the other hand, can be added to each workout should you wish to do so. Nothing too crazy here though, add one working set at the end of each workout.

Later on, you may add another set/exercise for your abs but don’t get too hung up on these. You don’t want your abs to be tired and sore when performing your squats, deadlifts, and rows.

First Exercise You Should Add To The Routine (if needed)

Remember, these exercises are not required straight away. I would probably recommend that a complete beginner sticks to the above workout template for 4 weeks before adding anything! Ok, so the two exercises you should first add to this routine are dips and pull-ups/chin-ups. These should be added at the end of your current routine like so:

Workout A
3×5 Squat
3×5 Bench Press
1×5 Deadlift
DIPS – 2 x 8-12

Workout B
3×5 Squat
3×5 Standing military press
3×5 Power cleans/Barbell Rows
PULLUPS/CHINS – 2 x 8-12 – (3 sets of pullups/chins can be done if you do the power cleans instead of the rows)

Dips are added to workout A and pull-ups/chin-ups are added to workout B. Two sets of 8-12 reps is all that’s required. If you are not strong enough to perform pull-ups or chin-ups try rack chins. Here’s a video of rack chins.

Adding Arm Work Into The Routine

Adding direct arm work to the routine should only be introduced later on in the program. However, these are not necessary if they affect your recovery and weight increases in your major compound lifts. The two-arm exercises you can add to the routine are bicep curls and tricep extensions.

If you add arm work to this routine add it to your last workout of the week only. Ideally Friday. The reason this program recommends you perform your arm work on Friday that way, you get an additional day's recovery before working out again on Monday. Reps performed should be in the 8-12 range.

Back Extensions

Back extensions are the final accessory exercise you can choose to add to the Rippetoe's starting strength program. Hyperextensions, reverse hypers or glute hamstring raises are all acceptable if you wish to further work your lower back, glutes and hamstrings. In all honesty back extensions do not need to be added to this routine unless you are months into the program.

Even then they are not entirely necessary. Since your lower back is worked during squats, deadlifts, barbell rows and power cleans, adding back extensions into the routine may mess with your lower back recovery. If it doesn’t however, add 1 set to the end of your first A workout. After 2 weeks you may add a second set but that’s it!

Adding 1 set for 2 weeks will allow you to judge the effectiveness of adding this exercise to the routine. Perform 12-15 reps for this exercise. Once you reach the stage where you are adding dips and chin/pull-ups to the routine as well as including some arm work, abs and back extensions, your routine may potentially look like this:

Monday – Workout A
Squats – 3×5
Bench – 3×5
Deadlift – 1×5
Dips – 2 x 8-15
Hyperextensions – 2 x 12-15
Abs

Wednesday – Workout B
Squats – 3×5
Standing Press – 3×5
Pull from floor (rows 3×5 or cleans 5×3)
Pullups/chins – 2 x 8-15 (3 sets if you do the cleans)
Abs

Friday – Workout A
Squats – 3×5
Bench – 3×5
Deadlift – 1×5
Dips – 2 x 8-15
Curls – 2 x 8-12
Tri Ext – 2 x 8-12

Remember, the accessory work is optional and should only be added further on in the program once your body becomes more efficient at handling the volume of your workouts. Your main focus is to be adding weight to all the main exercises of the program. If adding accessory work makes this harder for you to do then you should drop it.

Rippetoe's Strength – Guidelines

The above template should show you how simple this routine is. However, chances are you have a number of questions about the routine such as how much weight you should use e.t.c. Here are some starting strength guidelines which will help you get started:

What weight should I start with during the first week?

Rippetoe recommends warming up with only the bar to begin with. If you are in a proper gym, chances are they have a proper Olympic weight lifting bar. This generally weighs about 20kg or 44lbs. For some beginners this may be all you need to perform your 3 sets of 5 reps. Chances are it wont. Add a small amount of weight to the bar and perform a set of 5 repetitions.

Keep adding weight and performing sets of 5 reps until your form or technique begins to break down or you find a comfortable weight in which you feel suits your 3 sets of 5. Keep this weight on the bar and perform an additional 2 sets. This will be your first 3 sets of 5 for the current exercise.

It’s always sensible to start lighter on this routine (within reason) even if you think you could throw another 10-20lbs on the bar. You will eventually be doing this so don’t panic, the main reason for starting off light is to learn proper form for each exercise.

When do I increase the weight?

You increase the weight once you are able to perform 3 sets of 5 reps using proper form and technique.

How much do I increase the weight?

Mark Rippetoe recommends the following for males who weight between 150-200lbs: Deadlifts can increase 15-20lbs per workout and squats 10-15lbs per workout for the first 3-4 weeks, providing steady progress is being made. After 3-4 weeks you should halve these increases.

For your bench press, military/shoulder press, power cleans or barbell rows you should aim to move up in weight in 5-10lbs increments for the first 2-3 weeks before slowing down to only 2.5lbs-5lbs weight increases after. Similar rules go for females as well. Slower progress is likely to be made on the bench press, military/shoulder press and power cleans or barbell rows for females however so smaller weight increases may be preferred.

When you perform 3 sets of 5 reps with good form for an exercise and are looking to go up in weight you should consider how easy the previous exercise was when judging how much weight you go up by. For example, deadlifts may have proved easy when performing all 3 sets of 5 reps in your previous workout. If this was the case you can throw on another 20lbs the following workout and see how it goes.

However, if you managed to complete 3 sets of 5 reps for deadlifts but the final 1 or 2 reps where extremely tough (bar speed was slow) then instead of adding the full amount of recommended weight to the bar, add the lower number to the bar instead of the full number. E.g. add 15lbs instead of 20lbs. The same goes for all other exercises.

What if I don’t get the full 3 sets of 5 reps?

In general you should stick with the same weight for your following workout and attempt it again, keeping your form tight. Sloppy form can affect your reps.

I still can't get the full 3 sets of 5 reps, what should I do?

Assuming you are following the routine properly and have not added all accessory work into your routine straight away, are following a solid diet and getting enough rest between workouts you should reset the weight after 3 attempts of not hitting the 3 sets of 5 reps.

Strip off 10-20lbs from the bar and work your way back up. Do not reset the weights on all exercises, only the ones in which you have stalled on.

Final thoughts

Mark Rippetoe has been a leading strength training and his methods work, it does not take a lot of equipment to implement his training methods and many of them only require a barbell and a few plates, I have personally done this routine with an Olympic bar and a couple of 35 and 45-pound plates which is a great start for beginners, make sure you choose a weight you feel comfortable to follow the steps and you can expect some decent muscle gains in a fairly short amount of time.