Starting Strength Program: 4-Week Beginner’s Guide | Muscle & Fitness

On the heels of interviewing strength coach Mark Rippetoe, we’re now happy to bring you more of coach “Rip” and his popular Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training book. The first edition of Starting Strength was published in 2005 and, now in its third edition, the book has become a popular commodity for coaches and consumers alike. Before we get into the Starting Strength workout itself, check out why the program works and three essential tips to completing it.

Who It’s For

“Our target market is very broad and includes beginning young people who want to get bigger, older people who lost their strength, people who need to get stronger to get out of pain, and people in manual labor,” says Rippetoe. “The program is best for anyone who is able to lift weights that haven’t already gotten strong doing so. If you haven’t exhausted the possibility of getting stronger with a simple linear progression, then the program applies to you.”

This method starts off incredibly simple, then it becomes more advanced but even then, the programming isn’t hard to follow. The program is as much for the 16-year-old kid that has never lifted before as it is for the 25-year-old jacked guy who hasn’t ever followed a strict barbell training program. Regardless of who you are, the theme stays the same: squatting often and increasing weight in every lift between workouts.

About the future of Starting Strength, Rippetoe says, “One of the most valuable applications of this program would be to military bootcamps. My military people tell me that strength is much more important than the ability to run five miles.”

What It Does

The gist of the program is that everything goes up in weight, effectively ensuring you wind up with the biggest number possible by the end of the program. The only thing that varies over time in the most basic stages of the program is the loading, not set or reps.

“This is not a program that’s assembled out of 45 different exercises that you rotate to confuse your muscles or to prevent boredom,” Rippetoe says. “It uses very few exercises that have been chosen for their their ability to increase load every time and that’s what makes you grow.”

The workout programming is simple compared to other modern strength programs. However, it’s the reliance on compound barbell lifts that makes it challenging.

What’s It Like?

Exercise form is a critical component of the Starting Strength method. You won’t be squatting, bench pressing and deadlifting the way you feel like it. You’ll be utilizing the techniques outlined and pictured in the book, which are designed to place the back at a proper angle for force production. For squatting, that means placing the bar at a lower position than you might be used to. Oh, and you’ll start off squatting every workout.

As for the programming shown below, Rippetoe altered the workout from the book to provide followers with chinups earlier than usual.

“We’re going to throw in the chinups early so you can get arms now,” Rippetoe says. “Chinups start at week 3.”

Coach Rippetoe’s Training Tips

No. 1: Rest, a Lot

The program will not work if you don’t rest long enough between sets. Take enough time between sets so that you don’t feel any fatigue from the previous set before you start the next one. For guys squatting 185 pounds in their work sets, this is five minutes between sets. If you’re only waiting 90 seconds between work sets, you’re not recovered and you’re going to get stuck.

No. 2: Make Small Weight Jumps

For the first couple of workouts, you can increase weight by 10 pounds on the squat. You certainly can do that on the deadlift. If you continue to take 10-pound jumps, you’ll get stuck. When you first start, you’re recovering and growing quickly so the jumps can be bigger. But, soon after, progress becomes slower and the jumps become five pounds instead of 10. You can’t take five pounds jumps on the bench press every workout because you won’t get strong that fast.

To take smaller than five pound jumps, you have to buy a set of smaller plates that will load a 0.5-2-pound increment, they’re known as microplates. You can buy them commercially or make them yourself out of two-inch flat washers. Just glue a bunch of two-inch flat washers with JB Weld and hang them on the bar.

No. 3: Eat Enough

Most people will not eat enough during the program so they won’t recover and wind up getting stuck. Depending on your height, eat between 3,500 and 6,000 calories a day with at least one gram of protein per pound of body weight. The caloric surplus traditionally comes from milk. Supplements can be used to make up the deficit between meals and this requirement.


The prescription for sets and reps that follows is for work sets. Warmup sets are explained more in the book but in general, do not surpass five reps per warmup set and five total warmup sets.

Work sets: On both A and B days, do three sets of squats for five reps. For the bench press and press, do three sets of five reps. Do one set of deadlifts for five reps. Do five sets of power cleans for three reps.

Note: The programming that starts in week 3 continues as long as possible and when progress is no longer possible, then the program becomes more complicated. To take this workout to the next level, check out Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training and Practical Programming for Strength Training available at, on Amazon Kindle, and on Microsoft Band.

First Published at on 2020-06-04 07:02:00

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