..Never ask a question that you may not be prepared to have answered. - Mark Rippetoe

The Starting Strength (3rd Ed) Novice Program Edit

This is the most up-to-date version of the Starting Strength program. This is the one you should follow.

You start with the following routine. It's meant to get you used to the mechanics of the main lifts. It should last for about 2-4 weeks, or until your Deadlift is well established ahead of your Squat.

Workout A Workout B
3x5 Squat 3x5 Squat
3x5 Press 3x5 Bench Press
1x5 Deadlift 1x5 Deadlift

After that, the Power Clean should be introduced and the routine changes to:

Workout A Workout B
3x5 Squat 3x5 Squat
3x5 Press 3x5 Bench Press
1x5 Deadlift 5x3 Power Clean

After another 2 weeks, Chin-ups are added after the Power Clean sets.

This, and the following variation with weighted chin-ups, are the main Starting Strength programs and you should stick with it for as many months as possible.

Workout A Workout B
3x5 Squat 3x5 Squat
3x5 Press 3x5 Bench Press
1x5 Deadlift 5x3 Power Clean
3xF Chin-up

Alternatively, Rippetoe mentions that you can do 5 reps of weighted Chin-ups, and add weight on every workout as you would with the Press/Bench Press. To do weighted chin-ups, you can hold a dumbbell between your thighs while crossing your knees, or use a "dip belt" to add plates.

Then the program looks like this:

Workout A Workout B
3x5 Squat 3x5 Squat
3x5 Press 3x5 Bench Press
1x5 Deadlift 5x3 Power Clean
3x5 Weighted Chin-up

Rippetoe mentions another alternative program, where you do back extensions or glutes/ham raises instead of pulling on workout B. However, this is a variation targeted at women, older people, and people who are having issues with recovering from the heavier pulling lifts because they're not eating enough(as during a cut) or sleeping enough.

Healthy male lifters who are not on a caloric deficit should stick with the main program instead, as described above.

The alternative, lighter program looks like this:

Workout A Workout B
3x5 Squat 3x5 Squat
3x5 Press 3x5 Bench Press
1x5 Deadlift / 5x3 Power Clean (alternating) 3x10 Back Extension / Glute/Ham Raise
3xF Chin-up

What does "(alternating)" mean?Edit

Some exercises have "(alternating)" listed next to them. For example :

Workout A : Deadlift 1x5/Powerclean 5x3 (alternating) means:

Monday : Workout A with Deadlifts and no Powercleans
Wednesday : Workout B
Friday : Workout A with Powercleans and no Deadlifts
Monday : Workout B
Wednesday : Workout A with Deadlifts and no Powercleans


I'm an experienced lifter and I already know my 5RM's in the five lifts. Can I use that?Edit

You can. Just deload by 10% and start the progression from there if you're stuck in a plateau with some of them.

If you know your 5RM for some of the lifts, but not all of them, follow the next entry for the lifts you don't.

What weight should I start with during the first week?Edit

The weight you use is going to be determined by the amount you can do for 5 repetitions with proper execution and technique.

The way the "first day" is explained in Starting Strength, the trainee warms up with the bar, then adds a bit of weight and does a set of 5. The bar speed will be identical from set to set. Continue to add weight and do sets of 5 until the speed of the barbell begins to slow.. Keep the weight there and perform 2 more sets with this weight. That is your first "3 sets of 5" workout for that exercise.

Yes, this is low. It allows for a certain fudge factor that is present when dealing with a novice's ability to evaluate his own technical performance.

Generally, if a novice says "I benched 135 x 5 for the first time, my technique was great!", what he really means is that "I benched 135 x 5, but I probably should've only used about 120 or 125"

Be on the safe side, start lighter than you think you need to, and go from there. This also helps develop a base of conditioning with slightly less weight than absolute max, which helps reduce initial DOMS.

Let me say that once again.

Start off using weight that is LOWER than you think you can handle, and progress upward. It is better to use weight that is too light than weight that is too heavy.

How much weight should I add from workout to workout?Edit

For young males that weigh between 150-200 lbs., deadlifts can move up 15-20 lbs. per workout, squats 10-15 lbs., with continued steady progress for 3-4 weeks before slowing down to half that rate. Bench presses, presses, and cleans can move up 5-10 lbs. per workout, with progress on these exercises slowing down to 2.5-5 lbs. per workout after only 2-3 weeks. Young women make progress on the squat and the deadlift at about the same rate, adjusted for bodyweight, but much slower on the press, the bench press, cleans, and assistance exercises. – Mark Rippetoe, Practical Programming, Pg. 122

  1. If you get all 3 sets of 5 with proper technique, then move the weight up as described above.
  2. If you get all 3 sets of 5 with proper technique, but bar speed was exceedingly slow on the last few reps (i.e. you busted a nut trying to complete your reps), then you may end up stalling if you add the full amount. Err on the side of "lower". i.e. don't add 20 lbs to the deadlift, add 15. Don't add 10 lbs to the press, add 5 (or even 2.5), etc. and proceed cautiously. Cautiously means adding less weight rather than more. There is no consequence for adding too little weight, but adding too much could stall progress for weeks.
  3. If you get the first 2 sets of 5 with proper technique, but you only get 4 reps on the 3rd, then determine if it was a "recovery deficit" (4 hours sleep last night/skipped meals, etc) or a "technique deficit" (body wasn't tight during presses, leaned forward too much in squat, etc). If the strength or technique deficit was an anomaly and/or is easily correctable, then you can probably add the normal amount of weight as described above. If the weight just felt dog heavy, then add only a bit more, or even keep the weight the same for the next workout. Better to get your 5/5/5 next workout then get a 5/5/3 or a 5/4/4 with a heavier weight.
  4. If you get at least 12 of the reps total (i.e. 5/4/3 or 4/4/4) then keep the weight the same for the next workout.

If you get something strange like 5/5/2 or 5/3/4 on your 3 sets, then you probably just need to be more mindful of rest periods. Best to use 3-5 minutes between pressing, cleaning and rowing work sets and up to 7 for squats and deadlifts if necessary. For now, use a little too much rest rather than too little rest.

If you can't get at least the first set of 5, or if you are missing 2 or more reps each on the 2nd and 3rd sets, then you are using too much weight, assuming you recently started training.

If you had been making progress, but then all of sudden, you have 3 workouts in a row where you can't add weight to the bar for an exercise and get your 5/5/5, then see the sections on "stalling."

Do I do all the exercises together, or do I do 1 set of squats, followed by a set of benches, etc?Edit

You don't switch back and forth between exercises, which is circuit training. Circuit training is when you do a single set of squats, followed by a single set of bench presses, followed by a single set of deadlifts, then repeat this "circuit". It is a form of cardio or metabolic conditioning that is not appropriate for this program.

You do ALL of your squats, followed by ALL of your benches, followed by ALL of your deadlifts.

How do I warm up properly for my training sessions?Edit

Rippetoe recommends that you first warmup by doing a few minutes on the bike or a rowing machine prior to starting your workout. The idea is to get a general increase in body heat and metabolism (no, not for fat burning). This will help prevent injury, as a warm group of muscles and tendons are less prone to injury. You should also do warmup sets for each exercise, although fewer warmups are generally necessary later in the workout, as the squat and press will get most of the body warmed up relatively well.

The warmup sets serve only to prepare the lifter for the work sets; they should never interfere with the work sets. As such they should be planned with this in mind. The last warmup set before the work set should never be so heavy that it interferes with the work set, but heavy enough that it allows the lifter to feel a heavier weight before he does the work sets. It might only consist of one or two reps even though the work sets are five or more reps.– Mark Rippetoe
The warm-up is important not only to prepare the muscles for the impending maximal load, it's also to get some extra technique practice in. This becomes especially important with Squats, Deadlifts and Power Cleans, where technique deteriorates as weight increases.

Here is Rips' warm-up template (weight x reps x sets):

Originally Posted by Mark Rippetoe As a general rule, it is best to start with the empty bar (45 lbs.), determine the work set or sets, and then divide the difference between them into even increments. Some examples are provided in figure 5." (pg. 196)

Exercise Sets 1 & 2 Set 3 Set 4 Set 5 Sets 6, 7 & 8

Work Sets

Squat 45 x 5 x 2 95 x 5 x 1 135 x 3 x 1 185 x 2 x 1 225 x 5 x 3
Bench Press 45 x 5 x 2 85 x 5 x 1 125 x 3 x 1 155 x 2 x 1 175 x 5 x 3
Deadlift 135 x 5 x 2 185 x 5 x 1 225 x 3 x 1 275 x 2 x 1 315 x 5 x 1
Press 45 x 5 x 2 75 x 5 x 1 95 x 3 x 1 115 x 2 x 1 135 x 5 x 3
Power Clean 45 x 5 x 2 75 x 5 x 1 95 x 3 x 1 115 x 2 x 1 135 x 3 x 5

Sets 1-5 are to warm up, sets 6, 7 and 8 are the worksets. With all exercises (with the possible exception of the Deadlift) the first two sets are warmed-up with an empty barbell for 2 sets of 5, and the following 3 sets are incremental percentages of the workset (ie. 40%-60%-80%). You can rest as much or as little in between warm-up sets as you desire but I usually find the time it takes to swap out the weights is adequate.

Note that in all cases, as you get closer to the actual working weight, you do less reps in your warmups. The idea is to get the feel of progressively heavier weights in the hands/across the back prior to beginning your maximum weight sets.

I hate doing math, but I also like to be precise, eventually my hate for math won out and so I designed a Starting Strength Warm-Up Calculator. My calculator attempts to remain faithful to Rip's warm-up template, although I took some liberties with the deadlift. On deadlifts I lowered the warm-up sets/volume because 1) Those muscles were already warmed from the Squats 2) It became a lot of volume once you hit the heavier weights. The calculator is available at the top of the page in the Resources section.

Only 1 set of Deadlifts? Is that a typo?Edit

Shorter answer: No

Long answer: You're already squatting 3x/week of 3 sets of 5 and that hits a lot of the same target muscles as the deadlift. That, plus the fact that deadlifts are notoriously hard to recover from is why they are only for 1 set. Once they get heavy and you're going all out for your one set, you'll be so gassed that the very thought of doing two more sets will make you projectile vomit.

Why 1 set of deadlifts, 5 sets of powercleans and 3 sets of everything else?Edit

The "3 sets, 5 reps of everything" is a basic starting point for novices which works for most major primary exercises. 3 sets creates enough of a stress on the body so that homeostasis is disrupted, yet the workload remains tolerable, even for someone who is unfit and untrained. For the novice, 5 reps generally allows for the best possible mix of consistency in strength and exercise execution, as well as fatigue production.

However, it is recommended to do 5 sets, 3 reps apiece, of power cleans, rather than 3 sets of 5. The reason lies in the nature of this specific exercise and its technical nature. Fatigue is not the primary goal during the clean, rapid force generation and technical accuracy is. Because the exercise is the most mechanically difficult exercise to perform and it involves a tremendously large # of muscle groups, even moderate fatigue of the supporting musculature can have a prominently adverse effect on the trainee's ability to perform the exercise at all, let alone correctly.

Lower rep sets are more appropriate once the trainee is able to perform the exercise with a base level of competence. Unlike most standard exercises in bodybuilding and strength training, fatigue is NOT the goal. Exact technical accuracy in exercise execution is far more important and fatigue is neither beneficial or even appropriate. Sets with lower repetitions, such as 1, 2, and 3 reps per set, are more successful at ensuring the lift is worked properly and that force generation is even and consistent.

Deadlifts are on the opposite side of the spectrum. Of all multi-joint exercises, deadlifts may possibly be the easiest to perform correctly with the least amount of instruction. Aside from a few pointers about back position and grip, the exercise is, technically, incredibly easy because it is so natural. The 3 primary muscle groups used in this exercise, the glutes/hips, the thighs, and the back, are the 3 largest and most powerful muscle groups in the body. Additionally, the exercise is performed through what amounts to a somewhat reduced ROM and the hips and back are held in a mechanically advantageous position. As a result, tremendous poundages can be hoisted, sometimes by even the rankest of novices. Since this exercise is performed AFTER squats, and since squats can fatigue many of the same muscle groups, only 1 working set of deadlifts is required to achieve an appropriate training effect, and for most novices and even many intermediates, only 1 working set of deadlifts will be required to maintain steady progress in the exercise.

Can I add sets or exercises to this program? I think I should do more.Edit

You can do anything you want to do. You can squat on a swiss ball, you can bench monkeys wearing pantyhose, you can pick your nose and wear a cockring, it doesn't really matter to me, but none of those things are "Starting Strength." So don't do any of that silly bullshit and say that you're "doing the Rippetoes."
If, however, you decide you're going to add a bunch of stuff to the program, chances are good you will screw it up. Why am I so confident? The fact that you would ask a question like this indicates that you lack experience with weight training because, if you were experienced, you wouldn't ask this question in the first place. You'd simply adjust it as your experience dictates. Since the trainee is both inefficient and unadapted, only a few basic exercises should be used, and they should be repeated frequently to establish the basic motor pathways and basic strength.– Mark Rippetoe, Practical Programming pg. 113-114
Give the base program a shot for at least a month before you start adding a bunch of shit (read, before you quit doing the actual program). After you've set several PR's and you're lifting respectable weights I highly doubt you'll still be in such a rush to flush it all down the shitter.

Should I take all my sets to failureEdit

Should I take all my sets to failure?

Short answer: No. You stick to the 5 reps. Failure is bound to happen on occasion, make sure that when it does happen, it comes as both an accident and a surprise. Going to failure on every set is a great way to teach your body bad form. And if that isn't enough to dissuade you; failed reps don't count.

Long answer: Failure training is a potentially useful tool, but it is generally reserved for someone who is a bit more advanced. Failure training in the trained athlete can, if used properly and judiciously, be a beneficial technique to help elicit strength and muscle mass gains.

However, failure training for a novice is generally not going to produce the intended effect and is unnecessary and potentially harmful. Training form/technique tends to break down significantly in the novice who is exercising to failure, which can lead to injury. It can also reinforce technique flaws since you will consistently perform improper technique. What you do over and over becomes ingrained in your basic motor function. If you tend to have a shitty bench when you hit failure, the more often you hit failure, the more often your technique is compromised, the more often the improper technique is reinforced.

Additionally, novices have a much greater incidence of asymmetric balance, i.e. "my left arm is stronger than my right arm!" This results in significant asymmetric loading during pressing and pulling exercises, which can end up shredding a shoulder/rotator cuff or tearing up the trainee's spinal erectors because of an imbalanced load on the spine.

You should never need to take any of your sets to failure as a novice. You only count repetitions that you complete 100% on your own. If your spotter touches the bar AT ALL, then the rep doesn't count. If your technique isn't solid (i.e. if you bounce the bar off your chest, or don't go deep enough in the squat), then the rep doesn't count.

The first set seems really easy. Should I add more weight for the next few sets?Edit

Nope. If you followed the directions from The First Workout then you started at the right weight. Use this as an opportunity to focus on technique (since you aren't concentrating on muscling up the weight). This early on, technique is your primary goal. Get your lifts perfect and then when your technique is called upon as the only means of moving a heavy load, you'll be right on point. Trust me, it will get plenty heavy soon enough, and when you're under that bar with 2-3 hundred pounds you'll be thankful that you won't have to think so hard about technique, because all you will be thinking is "OHMYGOD-THISIS-HEAVY."

How long should I rest between sets, exercises, and during warmups?Edit

This is a strength program first, and a "mass and conditioning program" second. As such, you rest as long as necessary between sets.

During the warmup, rest between sets will be minimal. You want to get blood into the area, raise the temperature of the associated musculature and connective tissue, take some time to practice the exercise with lighter weights, and increase tissue elasticity. With the usage of light(er) weights during your warmups, you can use a shortened rest period. Usually you need only rest as long as it takes to switch out the plates. However, once you get to the "meat and potatoes" of your workout (i.e. the "3x5 work sets"), you rest as long as necessary.

At first you can probably get by with no more than 2-3 minutes between sets. However, once the weights start getting heavier, you may take upward of 5 minutes between sets. Near the end of your training cycle, especially when you are setting PRs (personal records) in the squat, deadlift, and power clean you could be resting upward of 7 minutes.

Resting between exercises is not something you really need to worry about. You will need to change weights, change stations, get a bench set up (or a power rack set up) or whatever. The exercises are chosen so that you are alternating primary areas of work, so that you don't really need to overthink this aspect of resting.

For example, you are trashed from your squats, and you have bench presses next. Well glory be to God, you get to lie your happy ass down on a bench and do some light warmup benches with an empty bar! While your legs (and possibly breathing and overall body) recover from the squats, you are lying down on the bench, happy as a pea in a pod.

Again, don't overthink rest periods between sets or exercises. Move between exercises as quickly as you can, however, DO NOT compromise your performance. If you can get 5 reps after resting 2 minutes, but only 4 reps if you rest 90 seconds, then rest 2 minutes. If you need to rest 3 minutes in order to get that 5 rep set, then rest 3 minutes. If you need 7 minutes of rest before you can reasonably get the 5th rep, then take all 7 minutes. Strength and weight-on-the-bar increases are more important than your heart rate/body temp while lifting weights.

What should I do if I have to skip a workout?Edit

Try really, really hard not to, but if missing a workout is unavoidable, then it is unavoidable. Push that training session to the next possible day and proceed with the workout you missed (if you missed workout A, do A, if B, do B). If it's been less than a week between workouts, go ahead and make your poundage increases. You should be fine.

This might require an adjustment in your training schedule. For example, if you missed your 2nd workout of the week, that workout ideally will become the 1st workout in a new weekly rotation when you repeat it on the next possible day. To further illustrate; say you normally workout Mon-Wed-Fri. You missed Wednesday's workout and you choose to make it up on Thursday, meaning you've now "rested" two days. Ideally, to cause as little disruption as possible to linear progression, you would re-adjust your workout schedule to Thurs-Sat-Mon and repeat.

If it's been more than a week since your last successful training session, retest your previous weights from the last attended workout again (if your last completed workout was WO. A, redo WO A, if B, redo B) and reassess where you need to be. At worst you'll need to drop 5 pounds from the next workout. If it's been a month or longer, reread The First Workout section again and follow the instructions there.

Can I do <insert exercise> on the off days?Edit

No. Your "off days" are just that...they are "off days". They are necessary for growth. If you are so advanced that you think your <insert bodypart> needs extra work, then you're either a) delusional or b) too advanced for this program. But realistically speaking, your arms aren't "weak points", your ENTIRE BODY is a weak point. So train your entire body. Once you have developed your entire body and made some progress in strength and overall muscular bodyweight, then start worrying about minutae. 'On' days beat up your body and 'off' days put them back together. You dont get strong by lifting heavy weights: You get strong by RECOVERING from lifting heavy weights, so make your off days sacred.

How long should I stay on this program?Edit

"Until it stops working" is the often frustrating response I have given on several occasions.

As is stated further into the FAQ, there are 2 resets for the squat and perhaps 1 for the deadlift that will be done before it's time to move on. You will probably reset the press and bench a few times before it is time to change programs. As long as the squat and deadlift are still moving up, however, there is no need to change programming. If you need to do a "bigtime reset" as described below, or if you are stalling on multiple exercises at once, and you've done The Advanced Novice Program then it is time to move on.

If you do everything outlined in this FAQ you could stay on the program as little as 3-4 months or as long as 8-9 months. Do your best to stay on it for 9 months if you can. Seriously, do the math and tell me how much 9 months is in terms of weight added to the bar! Yeah, Bob.

What if my question isn't answered here?Edit

Check to see if your question is answered in the Additional Starting Strength Questions Section

If you have a question that isn't specifically answered here, visit the official Starting Strength forum.

The First WorkoutEdit

In order for sustained linear progress to occur, care must be taken in determining the proper starting weights for each of the lifts. The process of determining starting weight takes place during the first two workouts and it is from there that progress begins. It is helpful for the trainee to be familiar with proper form prior to the first workout, especially if lifting without the aid of a coach, so careful reading and some light practice (such as with a broomstick or pvc pipe) would be helpful.

The First Workout During the very first workout a general warm-up performed walking on a treadmill is all that is necessary. The first set of squats begins at 45 lbs (an empty barbell) and a set of five is performed. If this is completed easily with the trainee's best form, ten pounds are added to the bar for the next set. If bar speed does not slow and form does not break down, ten more pounds are added to the bar and another set is performed. This process continues until either form begins to falter or the bar speed slows more than the preceding sets, whichever comes first. This is the trainee's starting weight. Once this occurs the trainee rests and performs two more sets at this weight, for a total of three sets of five reps (3x5) at the starting weight. For the squat, a typical starting weight is in the neighborhood of 85 lbs.

The bench press is the next lift to be performed and the process of adding weight until form breaks down or bar speed slows is repeated. Again, once this weight has been found two additional sets are performed for five reps at the starting weight.

Starting weight for the deadlift is similar but because it is done for one set, once the starting weight is determined no further deadlift sets are performed. Also, the deadlift must start from a standardized height. If bumper plates are not available to the trainee and a deadlift of 135 lbs is too heavy, other plates may be stacked under the bar to elevate it to the proper height. After the deadlift weight is established the first workout is done and the trainee takes the next day for rest and recovery.

The Second Workout The second workout marks the first step of linear progression. A general warm-up is done and then the trainee will warm up independently for the squat. After the warm-up the work sets are then done. Because the squat weight was established during the previous workout, 10 lbs are added to the previous day's working weight, so a trainee who squatted 85 lbs is now squatting 95 lbs.

The press weight is established next, beginning again with an empty bar and continuing until form becomes problematic or bar speed slows, and two more sets are done at that weight.

The power clean weight is determined last. Because it is crucial to learn the lifts properly in the beginning, the power clean should be undertaken only after the initial pull of the deadlift can be executed reasonably well. If the trainee can perform the first portion of the deadlift properly -- moving the bar from the ground to the middle of the thigh -- he should establish his power clean form at the end of the second day. This is done, again, by beginning with an empty bar and performing sets until the weight alters form. The power clean is usually done for five sets of three reps, but it might be helpful for the trainee to begin with three sets of five reps (as with the squat, bench press, and press) to get uninterrupted practice while the weight is low. After two or three sessions of power cleans the 5x3 scheme should be employed. Don't be concerned if you don't progress beyond an empty barbell for the first few workouts while technique is still being articulated. It is much safer to express incorrect technique with 45 lbs., rather than incorrect form with 55 or 65 or 75 lbs. Likewise it is much easier to correct technique with 45 lbs. than it is with a heavier weight.

The Chin-Up/Pull-Up, in terms of establishing starting points is both the easiest and the hardest because many novices cannot perform them at all. The easy approach for someone who can do them is to perform them to failure for three sets. For someone who cannot do any, a combination of kipping chin-ups, jumping chin-ups, or negatives (where one lowers himself slowly but does not pull himself back up) can be utilized until full chin-ups can be performed. For a simple exercise, however, a novice lifter must be wary of a fact of progression: if you are gaining weight but your chin-up numbers are staying the same, you are becoming stronger. Aside from a mandate that progression must occur, there are very few hard and fast rules for chin-ups and the trainee is encouraged to actively experiment to find what works.

A Word of Caution Progression begins from these starting weights. One fact everyone determining his starting weight should keep in mind is that it is a rare trainee who starts out too low. Most trainees begin with weights that are too heavy for them, overwhelming their body with a level of stress that is too high to be sustained with adaptation. Starting too high causes a trainee to be unable to sustain linear progress -- he stalls and must reduce the weight on his lifts and try again far more quickly than if he had begun with a lighter weight. On the other hand starting too low has almost no negative consequence. This is due to the rapid progression typical of a novice lifter; a squat weight that is 30 lbs too low means the lifter is behind only by a week. A squat weight that is 30 lbs too high would cause an almost immediate stall, probably after several workouts wasted determining if a stall was occurring. An 85 lbs starting weight for the squat is a reasonable number -- if you are too far from this as a novice you are likely overshooting your proper starting weight. A humble starting weight followed by modest increases in working weight each session is the fastest route to strength gains. Starting too high or being greedy with weight increases both cause premature stalls and slow down progress.

Progressing Beyond the First Workouts Find out HERE how much you add to the bar after the first two workouts.

Additional Starting Strength QuestionsEdit

Should I arch my back when doing squats, deadlifts, and power cleans? Or should I keep my back flat?Edit

Normal spinal curvature of the lumbar spine IS an arch. It's a natural arch, it's the lumbar curvature, and it is arched, rather than "flat". A "flat back", if taken literally, is a back position which requires you to actually attempt to round your spine. "Flat back" is and always has been a misrepresentation of the normal positioning of the lumbar spinal area. When a strength coach says "keep your back flat", he really means "keep your back in its normal, naturally arched position"

So, to make it short and sweet, "normal spinal extension" equals "flat" equals "normal arch".

You use your abdominal muscles and your lumbar spinal muscles to maintain your natural arch. Although advanced and elite-level strength athletes do exercises with a rounded back for a specific purpose, there is NO REASON WHATSOEVER for a beginner to round his back on ANY exercise, aside from abdominal exercises.

How should I breathe during each of the exercises?Edit

For all of the lifts, you'll be performing what is called The Valsalva Maneuver. Basically it means filling up your lungs with air and holding your breath. Rip's favorite analogy for this is, imagine your car runs out of gas on the freeway. You get out, put the car in neutral and get ready to push. Before this first big push you'd naturally take a deep breathe of air and PUUUSSHH while keeping that air locked deep in your lungs. Can you imagine this same scenario while breathing "normally?" Using the valsalva maneuver will increase stability throughout your body aka "give you a tight core".

Here's are the basic rules of thumb:

Squats: breathe at the top, hold breath while doing the rep and then breathe between every rep.

Bench: breathe at full extension, hold breath while doing as many repetitions as is comfortable, and breathe when you need to when the bar is at full extension.

Deadlifts: breathe before pulling the weight, hold breath while doing the rep and then breathe between reps.

Press: Presses are a little more individual. For the first rep, breathe at the bottom and then extend the weight overhead, hold breath while doing as many repetitions as is comfortable, and breathe when you need to, either when the bar is locked out at full overhead extension or while racked on the shoulders. Experiment with which position suits you best.

Power Cleans: same as deadlift.

Is it better to use heavy weights and "lose" form or lighter weights and proper form?Edit

If you cannot do the exercise properly, then you are using too much weight, period. Cheating is a technique that you might see some professional bodybuilders use, and even some advanced trainees as well. However, cheating is a technique that, oddly enough, requires quite a bit of knowledge to properly apply.

Until you can answer this question for yourself in a logical fashion, you should avoid cheating. There is a time and a place for a bit of "body english" in your exercise execution, but you need to find this answer out for yourself through experience. As long as you need to ask this question, then the answer is always "use the lighter weight"

How fast should I move the bar up and down? Should I pause the weights during the motion?Edit

Repetition speed gets a lot of talk, especially from the "Super-slow" HIT crowd. Repetition speed is not something to obsess over. Don't believe the hype about "TUT" (time under tension). It is one of several factors that influence muscular growth and development. The Superslow crowd believes that it is the "be-all/end-all" of training, and will use weights that a 9-year-old could use, so that they can spend 10 seconds in a slow-motion contraction.

If you want to be weak and slow, then by all means, have at their training methods. However, if you want to be strong, powerful, and quick, then you will be better served by a program that encourages this type of development. Training is both general and specific, and if you specifically train in a slow motion method, you will get very good at being very slow.

Now, specifically onward and forward to the exercises.

The eccentric (or lowering) portion of the squats, presses and pull-ups (Deadlifts and cleans will be discussed separately) should be "controlled". Not excessively slow, but under control. It should not look like you are dropping the bar (or from the bar), but you shouldn't spend all day lowering the weight.

The concentric (or raising/lifting) portion of the exercise should be controlled, but fast. Attempt to accelerate the bar during your heavy sets. Doing so can improve force production/generation and can result in greater/faster/better strength gains. Note that it is a CONTROLLED ACCELERATION.

Acceleration ≠ Heaving Acceleration ≠ Swinging Acceleration ≠ Bouncing

(≠ is the same as "does not equal")

When you perform a heavy set of the bench press, you lower the bar under control (don't count the seconds, just lower it under control), touch the shirt but not the chest (picture being told this, then picture how you would respond if given this type of instruction) pause briefly (further discussed here), and then press hard to full lockout. No bouncing off the chest, no heaving of the butt into the air, no kicking of the feet, etc. Make your muscles do the exercise.

The name of the game is control. The squat is somewhat unique as far as the eccentric portion because you can use a certain technique to activate a VERY strong contraction of the hamstrings, allowing you to use significantly more weight in a manner that is safer and provides better muscular and strength development. If you want to find out what I'm talking about, then buy the book (Buy on Amazon)

Deadlifts are unique because they start with the concentric (raising) portion of the lift, and the eccentric portion is generally best left as a separate element. Although there are a variety of deadlifting techniques "on the market", the basic deadlifting technique described in the book requires a powerful raising of the bar, then a semi-controlled (although usually much faster) lowering of the bar. As long as a modicum of control is exercised, (the deadlift weight) can be dropped as fast as the trainee is capable of doing safely, with the back in good position according to our previous analysis – Mark Rippetoe
As for the power clean, it is a different movement entirely, and is an animal unto itself. You start the exercise with a basic deadlift, but once the bar clears the knees, you attempt to heave the bar into space as you try to jump to the moon (slight hyperbole here). This is a "fast exercise". There is a certain level of control, but make no mistake, you are trying to move the bar as fast as you possibly can. You can AND MUST accelerate the bar during the concentric phase to the point where you are basically throwing it.

As for the lowering of the bar, you can drop it on the floor if you're using bumper plates. If your gym doesn't have bumper plates, you can just lower the bar to your thighs, and set it back on the floor just like you would in a deadlift.

The same ideas go for any accessory exercises. Control both the positive and negative portions of the exercises without bouncing, swinging or heaving.

Can I do Rows instead of Power Cleans?Edit

From page 289 of the second edition of Starting Strength here is how Mark Rippetoe feels about replacing power cleans with rows in a nutshell:

"People without access to bumper plates may choose to use the barbell row instead of the power clean. This is not a terrible substitution, but be aware of what you're giving up if you do. Cleans are important to the deadlift in that they add an element of power to the pull off the floor, and in the long run this contributes to strength in that pull. The row is a different movement entirely, and contributes to deadlifting only in that it works the hip extensors and provides isometric work for the low back. If you are avoiding the clean because you don't want to have to learn how to do it, it is suggested that this might not be the best way to approach your training."

Can't I do 8 reps per set?Edit

The general idea that 1-5 reps builds power and strength, and 6-12 reps build muscular mass is a pretty widely held notion. Arguably, this statement is correct in many cases. However, we must once again consider our target audience. The untrained novice will be able to maintain better technique and more even and consistent force production with fewer reps in the same set because fatigue will become less of a factor (as will the lack of the almighty Jane Fonda burn!) Strength is built with 5 reps, and for a novice barbell trainee, strength is all that matters for his development because it leads rapidly to mass accumulation (assuming diet is in order).

Granted, the newcomer wants 'the big biceps' and wants to get a pump like Arnold and wants a rippling 6-pack, and he wants to do all this while doing easy exercises and eating chocolate cake. Unfortunately that is not possible, and in order for a novice to build his musculature he MUST develop a base of strength before moving on to "specific hypertrophy work". The heavier weights that 5 reps per set allows means that the trainee will be able to more effectively load his skeletomuscular system. Since a novice really doesn't lift with anywhere near what his true strength and recovery would allow due to lack of motor skill and conditioning, the lower reps and heavier weight will do far more for him than "the pump" ever could.

Will this program work if you use 4 reps instead of 5? yeah, probably. What about 6 reps per set instead of 5? Again, yeah probably.

"Everything works, but some things work better than others."

It is Mark Rippetoe's opinion, and the opinion of countless knowledgeable and successful strength coaches, that somewhat lower reps (4-6) and the resultant base of strength that is developed will do more for a novice than higher reps and the "pump effect".

In other words, 8 reps will probably work just fine, but in the long run, you won't progress as fast as you would if you worked the program as it is written, with sets of 5 repetitions.

Since Mark Rippetoe probably doesn't own stock in "5 repetitions", and doesn't stand to benefit financially from promoting 5 reps instead of 8, it would be wise to accept the experience of someone who has been training for over 3 decades, and has been coaching youths for nearly as long. 5 reps per set isn't magic, nor is it voodoo. It is, however, effective, especially for novice trainees and as such is the recommended rep scheme for the majority of exercises.

If you want to look like a bodybuilder, that's fine with me. That is a matter for you to discuss with your God and your psychologist. But even a bodybuilder is a novice strength trainee until he's an intermediate. The fastest way to gain muscular bodyweight -- the supposed goal of a bodybuilder -- is with a linear progression on the basic barbell exercises. And 5s are the way this progression works best.
– Mark Rippetoe

Why should I stay on the base program as long as possible? Won't I grow better on an advanced routine?Edit

This program is ideal for someone who is still in a rapid improvement state, or the "novice" phase. As you get bigger and stronger, you will eventually "outgrow" this program. However, a novice program like SS will give you faster results than an advanced routine. Those other routines are designed to make you stronger in a slower fashion, as you're not a novice anymore and can't keep increasing the weights on every workout.

So stick with SS for the maximum, faster gains during your novice stage.

How long do you use it?

You use it until it stops working. I describe this in detail in Section III. The program is, in Rippetoe's own words, "the () novice workout" (Figure 4, page 193, Starting Strength). As long as you are adding weight to the bar in your exercises, stick with the program.

...if progress is being made on these exercises, your trainee is getting stronger and your objective is being accomplished.
– Mark Rippetoe Don't fix it if it ain't broke. Your goal now is to milk this program for all its worth.

Should I use a weightlifting belt, knee wraps, or gripping straps?Edit

The purpose of a weightlifting belt is to provide more efficient stabilization of the torso and lower spine while doing exercises such as the squat, deadlift, clean, and press. As you progress in your training to more intense poundages, a belt will eventually become a potentially useful tool.

It is recommended for a novice to introduce the belt as early as possible, since the use of a belt allows the trainee to manage heavier weights because of the additional intraabdominal pressure and because getting stronger is the primary objective of the routine.

However, before introducing the belt, it is an absolute necessity for the lifter to learn the proper execution of all movements, as a belt cannot be taken advantage of without proper breathing and bracing technique.

It is recommended that a lifter only wears his belt for the very last of his warmup sets, since it's not required at lower intensities. If you decide to use a belt, get a powerlifting belt. Notice the belt is the same height throughout the entire length, and only "tapers" inward near the buckle? That is the key. Don't get one of these kind of belts, with the wide back and super-narrow midsection. Those are used mostly for Olympic Weightlifting. There are different types of belts like prong or lever belts, single or double prong, 10 or 13mm, but it all comes down to preference. For a novice trainee with no previous experience with lifting equipment, a simple 13mm wide single prong belt will suffice.

Also, many lifters use a wider belt for squats than they do for deadlift, while others position the belt lower or tighter around the midsection, but this again comes down to preference. A novice trainee can play around with his deadlift and squat setup and see what he feels most comfortable with. If he is dissatisfied with the belt's thickness on the deadlift, he may decide to buy a different belt particularly for the deadlift and think of his two belts as the "squat belt" and the "deadlift belt".

As for knee wraps, they are completely unnecessary for now. If you are an older type and you need some support at the knee joint, I recommend you pick up some neoprene "sleeves". They should be loose enough so that you can comfortably keep them on throughout your entire workout. They should provide a minimal amount of spring while keeping your knees warm and they should also help your knee track properly. Excessively tight sleeves and/or wraps that are wrapped wrong are going to be worse for your knees than nothing at all.

Grip straps are a no-no for a novice. You'll want to develop some grip strength now because if you don't develop it now, you stand to develop a serious strength deficit. Nothing wrong with a more advanced lifter using them at the proper opportunity, but a novice has no need for straps.

I'm sore after my first workout, should I skip the next workout?Edit

No, assuming the soreness is basic muscle soreness. If the soreness was felt during or immediately after the training session, then seek medical advice because you might have an injury. If, however, the soreness didn't seem to be problematic until several (i.e. at least 8-12) hours after the training session, then it is probably Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). A good (and common) indicator is that you feel fine when you go to bed, and wake up the next morning with a serious tightness in the muscle that hurts (yet feels good) as you stretch.

DOMS is very common, especially upon the initial undertaking of a training program. Since the volume on the Starting Strength program is quite reasonable, it is almost guaranteed that the soreness isn't actual serious damage. Just continue to work through it for the first several workouts. Chances are good that after the first weekend of rest, you will be fine. In fact, training through the moderate soreness you should feel after the first few workouts will help condition you so that DOMS isn't such a problem after future workouts. The soreness is merely your body's way of saying "you were a Nintendo-playing couch potato for too long."

Interestingly enough, skipping workouts due to DOMS is a GREAT way to guarantee you will continue to get sore after your training.

Train through the basic DOMS. If you have acute, severe DOMS which interferes with basic ROM, then that is a case-by-case basis that needs direct, rather than indirect (via the internet) attention and advisement.

I'm NOT sore after my workout. What did I do wrong?Edit

Relax! You did nothing wrong. "Soreness" is not an indicator of which muscles you've “hit” and "soreness" is not an indicator of progress. Progress is measured by weight on the bar and weight on the scale. If you're still adding 5-10 pounds every workout, why should it matter if you're sore or not? In fact after a few weeks on the program you will rarely if ever get sore. Near the end of your run on the program you still won't be getting "sore" much but expect to get extremely fatigued. Food and rest will become especially important at that time.

When I'm done, I don't feel tired and I don't have a pump. Is something wrong?Edit

Not at all. This routine is not about "getting the pump". It is about adding weight to benchmark exercises so that you get stronger. The pump is not a part of this program. Strength and muscular development is. Although Arnold thinks the pump is as good as cumming, many of us beg to differ. The pump has SOME type of correlation/relationship to growth...maybe...or maybe not. It certainly isn't a necessity, and it certainly isn't worthless, but it is far from being important enough to worry about.

In many a typical "bodybuilding" workout, especially a bodybuilding workout that is augmented with anabolics, the pump can be a pretty interesting experience. Although it CAN be indicative of potential muscle growth, it is not, in any way, shape or form, DIRECTLY tied to muscle growth.

In other words, muscle growth and "the pump" are not directly related. You can have one without the other. You can build tremendously large, thick muscles without getting much of a pump.

You'll notice that some of the leaner powerlifters and strongmen out there are incredibly well-developed and powerful. I'm willing to bet they don't conduct their training with "the pump" as a goal. It might be a side effect, depending upon the phase of training and the specific exercise, but it certainly isn't their target.

You want a pump? Grab a Campbell's soup can (I like Chunky Steak'n'Potatoes, myself) and start curling it. Curl it for 10 minutes. Bet your biceps feel tired! Bet you have a helluva pump! Bet you didn't do a damn thing to make your biceps bigger or stronger!

Get it? Pump ≠ Growth Bottom line - don't worry about the lack of the pump. If you really need to get a pump because it is just like cumming, find a pretty lady who is willing and able, or get some vaseline and spend some quality personal time with yourself.

I don't get a burn in my muscles, just an ache. Am I doing something wrong? Shouldn't I feel a burn?Edit

This program is not a "burn in the muscles" type of program. Jane Fonda wanted to feel the burn when she did her aerobic tapes. If you take a 12-oz can of Chunky Soup (The soup that eats like a meal), and curl it for 20 minutes straight, you will feel a burn. If you flap your arms like a dodo bird trying to fly, you will feel a burn. None of those things will provide any type of growth.

Although "feeling the burn" in a variety of exercises can be beneficial, it is unnecessary at this stage of training, and as such, is not going to be a result of this type of training. No, you aren't missing out on anything, other than a burn. If you want to feel a burn, light yourself on fire.

Should I do a "deload"/"active rest"/"cruise" period after 6 weeks on this program?Edit

No. Stay with this program for as long as it works. Once your lifts all stall, you will reset your lifts and continue on again until you have to reset once again.

Reset no more than 2x before you begin to make adjustments to your training, discussed extensively in The Stalling and Resetting Section

If you truly feel overtrained and in desperate need of additional recovery, you can try a deload period as it is expressed Here.

How do I know if I am overtraining? When should I deload?Edit

Overtraining is one of the most misunderstood phenomena in all of weight training. Overtraining is a SYSTEMIC event, not a local one. You won't overtrain if you do biceps every day. You will overtrain if, over a period of weeks, you train so hard for so long that your body gets overcome by fatigue and you are unable to recover from your training.

Symptoms of overtraining vary widely from person to person. Severe appetite and energy drops are probably the most common. Aches, fatigue, restless sleep, muscles that always feel fatigued, odd body temperature (odd compared to what you are normally), etc.

For me, I know it's time to deload when I don't want to eat. For you, it might be different.

Remember, it takes SEVERAL WEEKS or MONTHS of hard training before overtraining can possibly occur, and for a beginner, the chances of overtraining on this program are almost zero. You simply will not be lifting enough weight to truly tax your system. You will end up resetting a few times and cycling off of this program before you will overtrain from it.

Read More on Overtraining in the Injury Section

I did Starting Strength and it didn't work. What the hell?Edit

It could be a few things.

  1. You modified the original program and weren't really doing Starting Strength.
  2. You started your weights too high.
  3. You increased your weight too fast.
  4. You weren't eating enough.
  5. You weren't sleeping enough.
  6. You're suck at lifting (not enough commitment and effort.)
  7. You are not a novice lifter, in which case you're not the target of the Starting Strength program. Look into the "Texas Method" program, or other intermediate-level programs like "5/3/1".

Can I take a week off without losing all my strength?Edit

Generally, it is HIGHLY DISCOURAGED for beginners to take a day off of scheduled training, let alone a full week. The initial months of training are where you lay the foundation for strength development and conditioning. Usually there won't be a real reason to avoid training, the reasons end up being personal in nature. If you are dedicated to progress and you really want to get bigger and stronger, then don't blow off even 1 single workout, let alone an entire week. If you are making consistent (even if it is slow) progress in your training poundages while maintaining proper form/technique, do everything you can to NOT miss a workout.

HOWEVER, taking a day or even a week off won't have a negative impact as long as you keep eating well. In fact, lots of people come back from a week off to find they're even stronger than before. Keep in mind, though, you should only take a week off if you REALLY HAVE TO.

If you're feeling SORE, you should still go to the gym and do your lifts. In fact, the soreness will usually pass during the warmup sets. You will NOT be weaker because you are sore. The soreness you feel (aka DOMS, or delayed on-set muscle soreness) is DELAYED. That means you're feeling sore even though your muscle is completely fine.

Should I work out in the morning, in the afternoon or the evening?Edit

Mark Rippetoe:

I'll go out on a limb here and say that training first thing in the morning is for crazy people. And my CNS takes more than just time to wake it up. But depending on your reason for training, it might behoove you to slap it around a little, especially if job requirements dictate that you are not always able to control the time when you have to use the aforementioned sleepy CNS. Combat personnel, firefighters, LEO, etc., often do not have the luxury of choosing when to exert, and are best prepared for this contingency by doing an occasional workout very early.

This is going to vary from person to person. There is a bit of evidence that suggests weight training is ideal 3 and 11 hours upon waking for optimal test levels and testosterone peaking, especially for adults in their 30's or older, but I would worry less about this and more about what works better for you. Some people train best on a stomach without much food, others train best with several meals in their bellies. You need to find out what works in with your time schedule and your meal planning best.

Best Time to Train What is the best time to train? First and foremost, when you can! However, research on circadian rhythms (your body's internal clock) indicate that the summation of several important (anabolic) hormones peak at 3 and 11 hours upon awakening. What does that mean in plain english? Well, according to science, if you wake up at 6:00 am, you are at your strongest at 9:00 am and 5:00 pm. And, according to Olympic Strength Coach Charles Poliquin*, your joints (specifically, the synovial fluid that lubricates your joints) require about 3 hours to reach an optimal level of warmth which will help improve performance while decreasing the likelihood of injury. Also, some people require a meal before training (remember to allow at least 1 hour for digestion) to maintain adequate energy levels throughout their workout particularly in the morning; others don't. However, there is a difference between ideal conditions and reality! Reality dictates that we train when we can regardless of what time it is. The important part is to get your workout in. Today's lifestyle is quite busy and hectic. Many people have a tendency to jeopardize their workouts later in the day because other priorities get in the way. For these individuals, I suggest working out first thing in the morning and getting it out of the way. Actually, some authorities believe that training first thing in the morning on an empty stomach will facilitate weight loss.

Can I still do this program without a squat rack?Edit

Yes. You can squat with spotters to help you in case you fail. One spotter is okay for lighter weights, but once you're handling heavier loads you should have two spotters, one on each side. One spotter won't be enough to help you when you need it.

My gym has a Smith Machine. Can I use that?Edit

No, no, no, no, no. NO!

Smith Machines are the devil.

For one thing they completely remove the stabilization aspect of the squat. But go ahead, get up to 300 on a smith machine and then try it with a barbell and see how long you can keep from falling on your ass.

For another thing it restricts the natural range of motion. See each of us has our own biomechanics (the mechanisms that distinctly tie our individual bones and muscles together) and hence we have an individual movement pattern (range of motion) when doing the squat, or anything else for that matter. For example a guy with a long torso and stocky legs will not squat remotely close to how guy with a short torso and long legs does. The smith machine has only one range of motion for either of these individuals because the bar runs on rails in a fixed path (straight up and down or a slight diagonal). Every individual must conform to no matter their distinct movement pattern. This can be devastating to your skeletal system over time. Just like having your feet bound or slumping severely in your chair, as time passes the smith machine will turn you into a sideshow freak. And children will weep when they look upon you and mothers will shield their eyes from your abnormal freakishness. Your story will become a cautionary tale for novice weightlifter for years to come... "Don't use the smith machine or you'll end up just like John Spinalcase." Turn back now, it's not too late.

"Squatting" in a Smith machine is a oxymoron. A squat cannot be performed on a Smith machine, as should be obvious from all previous discussion. Sorry. There is a gigantic difference between a machine that makes the bar path vertical, and a squat that is executed correctly enough to have a vertical bar path. Muscle and skeleton should do the job of keeping the bar path vertical, not grease fittings and floor bolts.
– Mark Rippetoe

What if my question isn't answered here?Edit

Check to see if your question is answered in the Basic Starting Strength Questions Section

If you have a question that isn't specifically answered here, you can try visiting the official Starting Strength forum:

PR, RM, ROM, what do all these acronyms mean?Edit

BB -- Barbell, Bodybuilder

BF -- Body fat

BP -- Bench Press

CGBP -- Close Grip Bench Press

CNS -- Central Nervous System

DB -- Dumbbell

DL -- Deadlift

DOMS -- Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness, the phenomena of muscle soreness from sport or exercise afflicting the body a day or two after performance.

ROM -- RANGE OF MOTION -- a reference to the total action of a muscle(s) and the associated joint(s) in contrast to partial or abbreviated muscle and joint action.

GI –- Glycemic Index

HIIT -– High Intensity Interval Training

OL –- Olympic Lifting

PC -- Powerclean

PL –- Power Lifting

PP -- Practical Programming

PR -- Personal Record. The heaviest weight you've lifted on a certain exercise.

REP -- one "repetition", or the complete movement of an exercise that's meant to be repeated.

RM -- Rep Max, describes the maximum number of repetitions that you can do with a prescribed weight. Ie. My 5RM Bench is 200 lbs.

SLDL -- Stiff-Legged Deadlifts

OHP -- Overhead Press (aka the Press)

SS -- Starting Strength

VOLUME -- a reference in muscle building to the total of sets and reps of exercises completed in a workout.

How much does a barbell weigh? How much weight am I lifting? What's a plate?Edit

The basic 84" (7-foot) Olympic bar will weigh 45 lbs. The variation that typically comes with metric weights is going to be 20kg (44 lbs)

Curl bars, triceps bars, fat/thick bars, Safety Squat bars, trap bars, etc. all vary greatly in weight, so you are best served by weighing them yourself.

The consensus, among both amateurs and professionals, is to include the weight of the bar in your stats. It is important to keep track of the weight of your lifts as you improve for programming, warm-up and - most of all - ego inflation. Counting the bar allows you to improvise if you are forced to use bars which are not male Olympic bars.

A plate is the catch-all name for weights put on the end of a bar. When referring to weight lifted, however, they are usually used to describe the amount of mass being moved around in terms of increments of what is usually the heaviest plate in a non-olympic gym. These plates will tend to weigh the same as the bar you are using: metric is 20kg, imperial is 45lbs. This difference (~400g) is widely considered negligible outside of competition.

Thus, when somebody says a lift is 1 plate, they are talking about 60kg (20kg from the bar + 2*20kg from 1 plate either side) or 135lbs. 2 plate is 100kg (225lbs).

This relationship means that each increment of a 'plate' equals 40kg (~90lbs) extra.

25kg (~55lbs) plates are also common but are not used in this naming convention. This is because strong men have fragile egos.

Stalling, Resetting and ProgressingEdit

My <insert exercise> is stuck now, and it won't go up. Why did I stall?Edit

You will "stall" on some exercises faster than others. This is going to be a function of the following:

  1. Experience with each exercise - if you have been benching for years or even months and you are only now deadlifting for the first time, you will stall on the bench long before you stall on the deadlift, unless you make enormous weight jumps on the deadlift. This is the most typical "reason" for the bench stalling so soon.
  2. Mechanical Complexity of each exercise - the mechanical complexity of the squat is far greater than that of the bench press. You have far more going on in each of the involved joints with the squat than with the bench press. As a result, you will hit a wall on the bench press before the squat.
  3. Musculature involved with each exercise - You use far more musculature in the deadlift and squat when compared to the press. This means that you have a larger host of potential weak points in the deadlift and squat that gets fixed with training. As your weak points get stronger, your lift will get stronger, so you will "stall" later in the program on this exercise because you have a greater # of potential weak points to address (and improve). The press is much easier to perform properly, so technique will be a limiting factor for a much shorter period of time.
  4. Total "upper limit" of the exercise - this is a function of the musculature and complexity of the exercise. The more you can POSSIBLY lift on an exercise, the longer it will take to reach your genetic potential, and thus the longer it'll take before you actually stall. Generally, your strength will be as follows, from strongest to weakest (once you are "fully and proportionately developed")

Deadlift > Squat > Bench press/power clean > Standing press

Compare your strength to the strength standards table (The Strength Standard Tables are only an approximation. You might look at it and say, “Hey, this says I'm intermediate,” calm down, you're probably still a beginner.)

What this means is that, once you are "fully and proportionately developed", assuming you don't have any type of injuries, oddities in your structure (i.e. super-short, stumpy arms; very small hands/weak grip; genetic deformity/malformation of your spine, etc), or problems with your mindset (i.e. you're a pussy who is afraid to squat or deadlift), your deadlift will end up being your strongest exercise relative to the others, and your standing press will be the weakest.

Now that you can recognize that it is normal for your presses and rows to stall before you deads and squats, you must determine WHY you are stalling.

There are 4 different reasons for stalling, in addition to the basic guidelines above. Rip mentions 2 of them in Practical Programming, I'm going to expand that to 4 due to the questions I've seen asked via the internet.

Are you stalling because:

  1. You aren't doing what you are supposed to be doing for recovery. This includes dietary considerations (enough protein/carbs/fats? Enough vitamins? Enough water? Skipping meals or eating every 2-4 hours?) as well as rest considerations (go to sleep at 10 PM or 1 AM with an 8 AM class that morning?)
  2. You aren't adding weight properly. Yes, I'm talking to you greedy bastards who decide that you can jump 10 lbs between bench workouts, or you decide to add a 25 to each side of the bar for your next squat workout.
  3. You have recently added exercises (such as dips/chins/arm work) or made your own adjustments to the program in whatever manner.
  4. You are doing everything right WRT rest, recovery and weight progression, but you are simply advancing closer to your genetic limitations.

1 is easy to fix. Get your ass to sleep on time, eat properly. Don't change anything about your training for at least a week until you have made 100% sure that you got your 8 hours of sleep, and that you ate your necessary calories EVERYDAY, didn't skip meals, got proper protein/carbs/fats during the day and at crucial times (especially post-workout, breakfast, and before bed). You screwed yourself on this one, but this one is easy to fix. Fix it and progress as normal until #4 describes you.

2 is easy to fix as well. Drop 5 lbs on your presses and rows (and cleans, drop 10 lbs on your squat and deadlift, and start back up. This time, however, be sure to only add 5 for presses/rows/cleans, and add 10 for squats and deadlifts. This will USUALLY fix the issue, depending upon how rapidly you added the weight. A problem exists when you were adding weight to exercises that you had no business adding weight to. We'll get to you folks in a moment, because you may have induced overtraining (systemic overtraining, not "biceps overtraining" or "pectoral overtraining", both of which are misnomers)

3 is usually pretty easy to fix as well. Stop EVERYTHING, strip back to the basic 3 exercises for the day, add a set or three of abdominal work, and THAT IS IT. Make sure you have #1 above in line, and train for a few weeks with only the basic 3 and the ab work. You greedy bastards were CONVINCED that 10 sets of barbell curls and triceps pressdowns wouldn't hurt, and instead of the big gunz and the bicep peak, you got your asses buried! Good for you. Listen next time ya damn teenage know-it-all! ;) (Yes, I was a teenage know-it-all.) (Hell, I'm a middle-aged know-it-all...nothing's changed, I'm just older and fatter!)

4 is a "true stall". In other words, you are a coach's dream because you listened, did exactly what you were told, put forth full effort and intensity, you took your training (and especially your recovery/rest/nutrition) seriously, and yet you still hit the inevitable wall. See the questions regarding stalling and resetting. That's right, a legitimate stall is a hallmark of progress. Ironic, no?

To increase the weight or not to increase the weight, that is the question...Edit

The ideal circumstance is this: you're getting loads of rest, eating great food, and your form is spot on every time. You've been making the progress from workout to workout that you should be and suddenly you can't make all of your reps on (let's just say) squats. The next time you go into the gym, you drop the weight by 10 % and you reduce the incremental increase you've been making... if you've been going up 10 lbs you start going up 5 lbs. After this reset you hit your previous working max in a week or two and continue progression for several workouts, partly because the reset gave your muscles some extra time to rest ('working recovery' because of reduced intensity) and also because you are now asking your body to adapt at a slower pace. If you do that a couple more times, you're no longer a novice and you can move on to an intermediate program. That's how things work in a dream world.

In the real world it's a lot more difficult. You might eat badly or not enough a couple of days in a row, you might have a rough night of interrupted sleep, you might have had to chop fire wood for a few hours before going to the gym, or you might have let your form degrade as weights get heavier and heavier and lifts that you didn't really make were logged as successful because we all want to keep getting stronger. That's why there's some discretion involved in knowing when to reset -- and there's the rub. Novices aren't used to keeping such close tabs on things at least in part because they don't always know which variables are important. The trouble is each of these factors matters increasingly more as a trainee advances, so even something he could get away with in month one won't be forgiven by a loaded bar in month four.

What's this all mean? If you miss your lifts for a day, do some reflection about what might have contributed. For younger guys this often includes staying out too late and drinking too much beer but eating and sleeping too little. Sometimes there's an accumulating effect and a lag time... you sleep badly on Tuesday night but lift just fine on Wednesday. You sleep badly again on Thursday night and expect to be able to complete your lifts on Friday since fatigue hadn't messed you up before, but you can't. That's often how disruptions manifest themselves, so keep an eye on what you're doing.

Sometimes when you miss reps the answer is to increase weight as planned in any event. This is when you KNOW what the problem was and have already taken measures to fix it -- you realized you were eating 1000 calories less than you thought you were, for instance -- and you only missed one or two reps. Another approach is when you know something fishy is going on and so repeat the weight next time in the gym. If it's still hard and you're sure it's not sleep, food, or extra physical activity then you should consider a reset.

If you miss your squat at 200 a couple of times, you drop down to 180 or so and then start going back. If there was a big problem with your rest or nutrition then you might try 10 lb increments until you're back to 200, but most likely you'll want to go to 5 lbs jumps. If all of your lifts are stalling, drop them all by about 20% and really look around at all of the things you do in the 47 hours between gym sessions that might be interfering with that 48th.

How do I know if I've "officially stalled" and need to reset?Edit

"If you fail to complete all the reps of all the work sets, you cannot increase the weight in your next workout."[1] Keep the weight the same for the following workout. But, if this happens three workouts in a row, you need to do a minor reset. If you get your reps on either of the two following workouts, keep progressing from there. This might also be a signal that you need to start taking smaller jumps (5 lbs vs. 10 lbs.) or you need to microload (2.5 lb vs. 5 lbs.)

If you miss all three attempts it's time for a minor reset. We'll get to that in a moment.

The following serves as an example. The #s are not exact, but they ARE representative, so if the weight change differences seem to describe you, then it applies to you, even if the exact poundage's are different.

This assumes the average 150-200 lb teenage male. Make adjustments if you are older, smaller, or female.

Here is how training progression might look from week to week, assuming rest/recovery is ideal. When I say "bar speed", I'm making reference to your speed of movement in the concentric portion, i.e. are you really struggling and barely getting that last rep (bar speed very slow) or are you making that last rep nice and solid (bar speed good)


220 x 5/5/5 (bar speed good, proceed with 15 lb jumps)

235 x 5/5/5 (15 lb jump, bar speed slow, proceed with 10 lb jumps)

245 x 5/5/5 (10 lb jump, bar speed slow, proceed with 5 lb jumps)

250 x 5/5/5 (5 lb jump, bar speed good)

255 x 5/5/5 (bar speed good)

260 x 5/5/5 (bar speed slow)

265 x 5/4/4 (missed two reps (due to poor night's rest), bar speed slow, proceed with 5 lb jump)

270 x 5/5/5 (bar speed good)

275 x 5/4/3 (3 missed reps = missed first attempt, bar speed very slow, strike 1) - keep weight the same

275 x 5/5/5 (successful second attempt, bar speed good)

280 x 5/5/5 (bar speed good)

285 x 5/5/5 (bar speed slow)

290 x 5/5/5 (bar speed very slow)

295 x 5/4/4 (two missed reps, bar speed slow, proceed by micro-loading) - note attempt to correct bar speed and missed reps by very small incremental jump

298 x 5/4/4 (3 lb. micro-jump, missed 2 reps, bar speed very slow, proceed with 2 lb. jump)

300 x 5/3/3 (4 missed reps = missed first attempt, bar speed very slow, strike 1) - keep weight the same

300 x 5/4/3 (3 missed reps = missed second attempt, bar speed very slow, strike 2) - again, missed reps with NO boost in weight used, attempt one last time

300 x 4/4/4 (3 missed reps = missed third attempt, strike 3, time for a reset)

Note how the weight progresses. 10-lb increments with steady bar speed means more 10-lb increments. Bar speed slows down or 1-2 missed reps = reduce increments by 1/3 or 1/2 or more (ie. from 15lbs to 10 lbs, from 10lbs to 5lbs, or from 5lbs to 2.5lbs, 2.5 lbs. to 2 lbs, etc). Smaller incremental jumps in weight should eliminate missed reps as well as produce good bar speed. If you are missing reps, even after the smaller incremental jumps, then keep the weight the same. If you cannot hit your 15 reps even after keeping the weight the same for three consecutive workouts, then it is time to reset.


155 x 5/5/5 (five pound jumps, bar speed good)

160 x 5/5/5 (bar speed good)

165 x 5/5/5 (bar speed slow)

170 x 5/3/4 (missed first attempt, bar speed very slow, strike 1)

170 x 4/5/3 (missed second attempt, bar speed slow, strike 2)

170 x 5/5/5 (successful third attempt, bar speed good, reduce jumps by half)

172.5 x 5/5/5 (2.5 lb micro-jumps, bar speed good)

175 x 5/5/5 (bar speed good)

177.5 x 5/5/4 (bar speed slow)

180 x 5/4/4 (bar speed slow)

182.5 x 5/5/5 (bar speed slow)

185 x 5/5/5 (bar speed very slow)

187.5 x 5/4/4 (missed 2 reps, bar speed slow, proceed with 2 lb. jumps)

189.5 x 5/5/4 (bar speed very slow)

191.5 x 5/3/4 (missed 3 reps, bar speed very slow, strike 1)

191.5 x 5/4/3 (missed second attempt, bar speed very slow, strike 2)

191.5 x 4/4/4 (missed third attempt, strike 3, time for a reset)


245 x 5 (bar speed good, proceed with 15 lb jumps)

260 x 5 (bar speed good)

285 x 5 (bar speed slow)

300 x 5 (bar speed slow, proceed with 10 lb. jumps)

310 x 5 (bar speed good)

320 x 5 (bar speed slow)

325 x 5 (bar speed slow, proceed with 5 lb. jumps)

330 x 5 (bar speed slow)

335 x 5 (bar speed very slow)

340 x 4 (missed first attempt, strike 1)

345 x 5 (successful second attempt)

350 x 3 (missed first attempt, strike 1)

350 x 4 (missed second attempt, strike 2)

350 x 4 (missed third attempt, strike 3, time for a reset)

By now, you should get the idea. Once the bar slows down, make note that you will probably need to reduce the weight jumps pretty soon. When you start missing a rep here or there, assuming you are resting and recovering properly, then you'll need to reduce the weight jumps. Once you start missing reps in multiple sets or multiple reps in one set, then keep the weight the same. If you can't get your 5/5/5 after using the same weight for 3 workouts, then it's time to reset.

I stalled on an exercise, what should I do? How do I "reset"?Edit

First, if you haven't read "My <insert exercise> is stuck now" and "To increase the weight or not to increase the weight, that is the question..." as well as "How do I know if I'm officially stalled" then do so before proceeding.

Okay, assuming you read the above, and you are in "class #4" and you have 'officially stalled', then proceed as follows.

We'll use our stalled squat example:


280 x 5/5/5 (bar speed good)

285 x 5/5/5 (bar speed slow)

290 x 5/5/5 (bar speed very slow)

295 x 5/4/4 (two missed reps, bar speed slow, proceed by micro-loading) - note attempt to correct bar speed and missed reps by very small incremental jump

298 x 5/4/4 (3 lb. micro-jump, missed 2 reps, bar speed very slow, proceed with 2 lb. jump)

300 x 5/3/3 (4 missed reps = missed first attempt, bar speed very slow, strike 1) - keep weight the same

300 x 5/4/3 (3 missed reps = missed second attempt, bar speed very slow, strike 2) - again, missed reps with NO boost in weight used, attempt one last time

300 x 4/4/4 (3 missed reps = missed third attempt, strike 3, time for a reset)

Again, remember that we started with 10-lb jumps. We started missing reps shortly after bar speed slowed down. This isn't so much causative as it is indicative. Finally, we obviously hit the wall because we could not reach the 5/5/5 requirement despite using the same weight for 3 consecutive workouts.

How to proceed? Proceed by dropping 10% from your stalled weight

THE RESET270 x 5/5/5 (10% drop from 300 (30 lb reduction), bar speed good) Proceed from here with ten pound jumps.280 x 5/5/5 (10 lb. jump, bar speed good)290 x 5/5/5 (bar speed good) - as we get within 10 lbs of our previous 5RM, only jump 5 lbs or less295 x 5/5/5 (5 lb. jump, bar speed good) - note reduced weight advancement300 x 5/5/5 - This is your previous 5RM. You successfully get all 15 reps!305 x 5/5/5 – congrats, you just broke thorough your plateau and set a new personal record.310 x 5/5/5 - continue adding 5 lbs, then 2.5 lbs, etc, etc until you stall again.

What happens if I've gotten a lot weaker in a couple of my lifts? Should I just reset?Edit

Chances are good that a basic reset won't work. If you've actually regressed in your training for a few workouts, i.e. something like the following:


290 x 5/5/5 (bar speed very slow)

295 x 5/4/4 (5 lb jump, bar speed very slow)

298 x 5/4/4 (3 lb micro-jump, bar speed very slow)

300 x 4/3/2 (2 lb. micro-jump, bar speed very slow, strike 1)

300 x 4/2/2 (technique breakdown, strength loss, strike 2)

300 x 3/2/1 (bar weighed "a ton," further strength loss, strike 3, reset)

then a simple 10% drop won't cut the mustard. You will need a more intensive "reset"". If it only happens on one exercise, while your other exercises are progressing along, then no biggie. We can just do a bigger reset. If it is happening on a few of your exercises, or if you have already reset once or twice, then you probably need to do a deload and make a switch to your training planning and progression. That's right Willie, you're no longer a novice!

Anyway, the 'more intensive reset' would look something like the following:


Do only warmups, ie. 2x5x45, 5x120, 3x180, 2x240, and quit there for the day

270 x 5 (10% reduction (30 lbs.), weight felt kinda heavy) – note that only one set is done

270 x 5/5 (weight felt a bit heavy on 2nd set)- only two sets

270 x 5/5/5 (weight felt pretty light) – only three sets - add 10 lbs to the following workout if the 3 sets across are relatively "easy"

280 x 5/5/5 (10 lb. jump, bar speed good)

290 x 5/5/5 (bar speed good) - as we get within 10 lbs of our previous 5RM, only jump 5 lbs or less

295 x 5/5/5 (5 lb. jump, bar speed good) - note reduced weight advancement

300 x 5/5/5 (Weight felt properly challenging) – Previous 5RM

303 x 5/5/5 (3 lb micro-jump, weight felt properly challenging) – You broke your plateau and set a new personal record!

A few points of note.

  1. Do not skip a workout (yet). Just do the exercise, but stop at the warmups. Don't do a full "work set" yet.
  2. The first workout will be 1 set of 5 with ~10% less weight than the previous stall point.
  3. The second workout will add a 2nd and 3rd work set, but only if the weight feels pretty light.
  4. Once 3 work sets @ ~10% less than previous PR are established, move upward in normal increments, workout-by-workout, until you get back to the previous stall point
  5. Proceed with small weight increments beyond the stall point

This is an obviously more intense backoff period than a basic reset, and will usually only be done once before a full-on deload and "upgrade" to the programming is necessary.

How often can I reset before I know it's time to move on?Edit

Generally only 2 resets for the squat and perhaps 1 for the deadlift will be done before it's time to move on. As long as these 2 exercises are still moving up, however, there is no need to change programming. If you need to do a "bigtime reset" as described above, or if you are stalling on multiple exercises at once, then it is time to move on as well.

Don't reset if you've only stalled in the press, bench, or powerclean. As long as your deadlift, and especially your squat, are moving up you are making progress. Stick with it.

Okay, I've microloaded, reset my squat twice and my deadlift once. Now what?Edit

You've graduated to the Advanced Novice Program. You're almost an intermediate!

How can I do an offload/deload within the confines of the program?Edit

Try this as a 'Rippetoe deload', for a week (even 2):

Monday and Friday

Squats - 3 ramped sets up to top set of 5 (i.e. warmups + 185 x 5, 225 x 5, 275 x 5)

Bench - 3 ramped sets up to top set of 5 (i.e. warmups + 135 x 5, 165 x 5, 205 x 5)

Pendlay row - 3 ramped sets up to a top set of 5 (i.e. warmups + 95 x 5, 125 x 5, 155 x 5)

Abs - weightless situps or leg raises, 3 x 10

No accessory work, aside from a few sets of abs to keep them tight, and even this is optional. Instead of 3 sets of 5 ("sets across"), do what amounts to 1 work set of 5, as described above, by "ramping" your weights, i.e. doing 5 reps per set, but adding weight each set up to your top weight.

This will keep you training, but will give you a much needed break. Workout time should not exceed 1/2 hour to 45 minutes. Your intensity will still be "high" because you'll be hitting a heavy weight at the end of the workout, but your total workload (both actual and adjusted) will be quite low, because only 1 set will be of substance with each exercise.

This is one way of deloading (one of several). Other methods might include only doing 3x3 on Monday and Friday with your previous 3x5-rep weight, another method might be doing only main exercises on Monday, and then only Assistance exercises on Wednesday and/or Friday.

A straight "deconditioning" means you take a week or two completely off. No training at all. This is pretty good for the advanced lifter who can read when they've really pounded themselves into the ground, but is generally less useful for the novice and early-intermediate trainee, who probably hasn't built up enough systemic fatigue to fully benefit from the time off. In other words, I wouldn't try a straight deconditioning yet.

What should I do after Starting Strength? Edit

Go on to The 'After Starting Strength' Section.


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