Beginning Iron Addiction;

A Review of Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength Program

By Charles Hagy,

for Advanced Composition, ETSU, Summer 2011


Author’s Note: Starting Strength is a beginning weight training program designed to teach basic barbell lifting technique, increase strength, and add muscle mass.  In conjunction with a proper diet and rest, it will quickly boost the trainees strength and overall fitness.  Charles has been using Starting Strength for over a year with astounding results.


Starting Strength (2nd Edition) by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore. 320 Pages.  The Asgard Company. List Price from $29.95

            Weight training is a major industry in the United States.  If you pick up almost any magazine, there will be many, many ads for The Great New Thing in Exercise Science.  The ads promise us super human muscles in only a fraction of the time it takes at the gym. However, for anyone who wants to make real strength gains, there is only one magic pill:  Hard Work with heavy weight.  But, with the plethora of training methods available, it can be daunting to find a program that will actually produce results.  Fortunately, there is one program that delivers exactly what it promises:   Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength.

            Starting Strength was designed by Mark Rippetoe, a strength coach based out of Wichita Falls, Texas.  He designed the Starting Strength program for people who have no lifting experience at all.  The goal of this program is to give the trainee a solid strength foundation to build upon for sports, bodybuilding, or general fitness. 

Starting Strength is based entirely around the standard Olympic sized barbell, which is seven feet long and weighs 45lbs.  The program consists of five exercises:  The Squat, Bench Press, Power Clean, Deadlift, and Overhead Press.

Workout A

Workout B

Squat 3x5

Squat 3x5

Bench Press 3x5

Overhead Press 3x5

Power Clean 5x3

Deadlift 1x5


The Starting Strength Workout:



Alternate between each workout each time you exercise. The first week, you would do Workout A, Workout B, Workout A. The next week, you do Workout B, Workout A, Workout B. You only workout three times per week, resting at least on day between each exercise, and two days for the weekend.  Where an exercise says “3x5”, that means three sets of five repetitions (a set being a collection of repetitions, or “reps”).  For these three sets, use the same amount of weight (if you are Squatting 135lbs, you do so for all three sets). For the Power Clean, only a smaller number of repetitions are used as it is a very technical exercise.  The Power Clean is the closest lift in this program to Olympic Weightlifting.  Its purpose is to teach the trainee how to transmit force.  Only perform the Deadlift for one set.  The Deadlift allows the trainee to lift a huge amount of weight, which can be hard for the body to recover from.

The goal with every workout day is to increase the amount of weight on each exercise by at least five pounds.  Read that sentence again.  Go ahead, I have time.  You really will add between five and ten pounds to an exerciser per week (and 15lbs on the Squat per week).  As long as you are able to add weight, you stay on the program.  If you get to the point where it is impossible to add weight, make sure you are eating and sleeping enough.  If you are, and still cannot add weight to the bar, it is time to go to a more advanced form of training. 

The tremendous increase in weight moved each workout takes advantage of a curious aspect of the central nervous system.  Strength is the product of muscle contraction.  The harder a muscle can contract, the more force it creates.  For the untrained, the muscles do not contract as efficiently as in those who have had training experience.  It is not unusual for a beginner trainee’s lifts to increase by 50lbs in the first month of training (an experienced lifter is lucky to increase their lifts by 10lbs in that same amount of time). The ultimate goal of Starting Strength is to take advantage of this process so that one can become very strong, very quickly.

The only major downside of Starting Strength is that, with its emphasis on growing muscle as fast as possible, a person who has taken up weight lifting to make their body as aesthetically pleasing as possible will be disappointed.  If done correctly, the trainee will put on fat along with muscle.  Starting Strength is NOT a program designed for “Toning Up” for the beach.  It is about improving exercise technique, gaining weight, and gaining strength as fast as possible.

I began Starting Strength in May of 2010.  Since 2007, I had stopped exercising, and steadily gained fat.  I had a job manufacturing costumes, which required long hours and few breaks.  Because of this, my diet was poor and I eventually stopped exercising altogether.  In the span of roughly one year, I had gone from 140lbs at about 14% body fat, to 185lbs, and nearly 30% body fat.

After I left that job, I decided to get back into shape.  However, I could not decide on what exercise regime I wanted to begin.  I was burned out on Yoga, I have always detested running, and weight training was, in my mind, only for jocks and meatheads who wanted to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I searched extensively on the internet, trying to find the best method to return to my previous level of fitness.  I tried many different methods, but there was nothing that could keep my interest long enough to make any kind of fitness gains. 

            One program popped up repeatedly on message boards I frequented.  It was Starting Strength.  At first, I was skeptical.  Rippetoe promised that, if people did the program correctly, it was possible to be able to lift massive amounts of weight in a short amount of time.   So what, I thought, every other program promises the same thing.  I had no interest in lifting.  However, I continued reading about the program, and eventually, the program’s simplicity won me over.  Other workouts I had considered were long and complicated.  This program takes less than 45 minutes, performed every other day, and consists of only three exercises per day.  Ok, I thought, I’ll give this a try.

The following Monday was my first Starting Strength workout.  The first workout hurt.  Sweat poured off me, and I could barely walk down the stairs at the Parks and Rec building, which had the only free gym I could find.   The next day, I discovered what Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) felt like.  DOMS fall somewhere between dental work and getting punched in the face by Mike Tyson on the pain scale.  My next training day was that Wednesday, and despite being sore, I worked out.  Friday, I completed the last workout of my first week. After the first week, I had overcome the soreness, and developed the endurance I needed to complete the workout of the day without feeling as though I had swum from England to America.  I was hooked on iron.

However, I did have one more objection to this program.  Rippetoe encourages people to eat.  A lot.  Gain weight! I thought, why on earth would I want to do that?  I want to lose weight!  However, as I learned more about the program (and strength training in general), I found that caloric excess must be present in order for muscular hypertrophy (growth) to occur.          

When I first started the program, I decided not to follow the diet advice, and continued my calorie-restricted diet.  This adversely affected my strength gain, and left me feeling drained and fatigued during my rest days.  I had gotten my Squat up to 135lbs within two months, but could not progress on that exercise.  I almost gave up on training, but instead I followed Rippetoe’s advice on eating more between workouts.  While the average person only needs about 2000 calories per day, Rippetoe suggests eating between 4-6000 calories per day, along with drinking a gallon of milk every day.  I should say, though, that I modified this diet and only increased my eating by about 500 calories a day and drank maybe one or two glasses of milk a day.  All of my lifts increased, especially my Squat, which increased by 50lbs in less than a month and fatigue was no longer a problem. 

As a beginner weight lifting program, Starting Strength shines.  It is simple, though not easy.  It takes advantage of a beginning weight lifter’s ability to adapt to this kind of training quickly, through improving exercise technique and forcing the nervous system to work harder than it may have before.

However, the body can only sustain the kind of linear strength increase that Starting Strength provides for so long.  Eventually, adding weight to the barbell every workout will become impossible, and the trainee will have to switch to a program that adds weight more slowly. For some people, this can take six months, but I have been on this program for a year, and am still making progress.


My current lifts:

May 2010 (Beginning)

June 2011(Current)

Squat:  85lbs

Squat:  235lbs

Bench Press: 45lbs

Bench Press: 155lbs

Deadlift: 135lbs

Deadlift: 250lbs






Note:  A person with access to proper training equipment can progress to where I am in roughly 4 to 6 months.  I did not have full access to a gym for some time when I began training, and also suffered from shoulder injury that put me a few months behind schedule.  I would also like to note that I did not receive the injury through strength training.

I do not know what program I will go to next, but for any person, man or woman, who wants to begin strength training, Starting Strength is one of the best programs one can use. 

While the book Starting Strength is not absolutely necessary to do this program, it provides highly detailed information about the exercises.  A DVD is also available.