5×5 Starting Strength Explained

5x5 Starting Strength
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Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength is the most widely used beginner strength training program to grace this planet. Rippetoe debuted his program in Starting Strength, Basic Barbell Training, which also includes proper guides for each lift, programming advice, and beneficial accessory workouts. World-class athletes and beginners alike follow Rippetoe’s program for a simple reason – it works.  Starting Strength doesn’t include six-pack shortcuts or require specialized equipment; instead, it’s a linear progression style of training that guarantees significant strength gains, provides an understanding of weightlifting principles and requires minimal equipment. This post is a crash course in using Starting Strength to capitalize on your beginner gains.

**Download a copy of my Starting Strength Planner and be entered to win a copy of Starting Strength**

Experience Level:Beginner/Intermediate
Goal:Strength Training/Powerlifting
Days Per Week:3
Equipment:Barbell and Weights
Squat Rack

Getting Started

First and foremost, this post is just the tip of the iceberg that is Rippetoe’s Starting Strength; Starting Strength is a best seller not because of the program, but because of all the additional information Rippetoe jams between the covers. It’s 200+ pages of scientific form critiques, programming advice, an assistance exercise index, and much more. Understanding the program is just the beginning; get his book if you’re serious about the program.

Starting Strength cannot be any simpler; increasing the amount of weight lifted every day is the goal of Starting Strength. The workouts are limited to two different days performed on an alternating basis; not only does Starting Strength’s linear progression capitalize on the novice effect, but it also embeds proper form of each lift into your head – a staple of the Starting Strength program. By increasing the weight lifted every training session, the novice effect is pushed to its furthest limits. That being said, let’s see how Starting Strength is programmed.

The program is performed on three non-consecutive days (eg Monday, Wednesday, Friday) with two days of rest after the third day of training. The two workout days – Day A and Day B – are performed on an alternating basis. So, if you perform Day A on Monday, then you will perform Day B on Wednesday, Day A on Friday, and Day B on the following Monday. Starting Strength is divided into three phases which increase in variety as you progress.

Phase 1

Day ADay B
Squat 3 x 5Squat 3 x 5
Bench Press 3 x 5Overhead Press 3 x 5
Deadlift 1 x 5Deadlift 1 x 5

* “# x #” = sets x reps

** warm-up sets are not included

As you’ve probably noticed, Phase 1 doesn’t have much variety. The only difference is whether you bench or overhead press each day. This is because these lifts are the foundation of barbell training in its entirety. You cannot power clean without being able to deadlift, and you cannot jerk without being able to overhead press. Lower body movements, squat and deadlift, can be increased by up to 10-20 pounds each training session whereas bench and overhead press should be limited to 5-10-pound increases. Most people complete Phase 1 in about a month; the goal, however, is not to quickly move to the next phase. The goal is to increase weight at your own pace; so, once your squat is 40-50 pounds higher than your beginning weight, deadlift 50-70 pounds, and presses 15-20 pounds, you are able to move to the next phase.

Phase 2

Day ADay B
Squat 3 x 5Squat 3 x 5
Overhead/Bench Press 3 x 5Overhead/Bench Press 3 x 5
Deadlift 1 x 5Power Clean/Bent Over Row 3 x 5

Deadlifts are extremely taxing on your body and, once you begin Phase 2, requires more recovery time. For that reason, either the power clean or bent over row replace the deadlift on Day B. You must choose, however, either to perform the power clean or bent over row, there is no variation for both. Starting Strength recommends the power clean because its explosive nature helps your deadlift; the bent over row, however, may be substituted for the power clean if you are limited by equipment/experience. The length of time to progress from Phase 2 to Phase 3 depends on the individual, but most people take about one to three months to complete Phase 2.

Phase 3

Day ADay B
Squat 3 x 5Squat 3 x 5
OH/Bench Press 3 x 5OH/Bench Press 3 x 5
Deadlift 1 x 5/Power Cleans (Bent Over Row) 3 x 5Chin-ups

Day A essentially becomes two different workouts – let’s say, Day A1 and Day A2. On Monday, you will perform Day A1 and deadlift; on Wednesday, you will perform Day B; on Friday, you will perform Day A2 and either power clean or bent over row; and, on the following Monday, you will perform Day B. This limits the frequency of the deadlift and power clean/bent over row, as they should now be heavy enough to require more recovery. For Day B, I recommend following my chin-up ladder program.

Final Thoughts

Starting Strength is the best beginner strength training program available. It’s simple and Rippetoe has a wealth of invaluable knowledge. Apart from the actual program, here are some final thoughts that can be found in Rippetoe’s book.

  • Do not exceed five reps during each warm-up set
  • Do not exceed five warm-up sets
  • Once a work weight is achieved for that day, do not increase weight. Stay at the prescribed weight and complete three sets of five.
  • Emphasize form over weight; Starting Strength is not for ego-lifting, it’s designed to teach proper lifting techniques while making significant strength gains.
  • Eat a lot and eat healthily – avoid processed foods and “low-fat” “low-sugar” nonsense.

Download My Planner and Enter the Contest!

I will be giving away 3 copies of Starting Strength – one paperback and two e-books. Simply subscribe to MyLifeExplored.com by following this link and you will be automatically entered and will receive my Starting Strength 5×5 Planner. Winners will be announced in the upcoming February 28 newsletter and on Twitter.

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