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Starting Strength

Experience: Beginner
Days per week: Three
Equipment: Barbell, Bench Press, Squat Rack
Great for: Everyone, Powerlifter
Focus: Bench Press, Deadlift, Full Body, Squat

Introduction to the Starting Strength Routine

Starting Strength just might be the #1 most popular training routine recommended to those who are new to strength training. The reason? Because it is simple, works great, and gets beginners making progress quickly.

Is Starting Strength for you?

The Starting Strength routine is designed specifically for beginners and those inexperienced in the basic strength building movements. If you fit this description, than Starting Strength is probably for you.

If you are an intermediate to advanced lifter, you will probably find the prescribed progression in weights too fast. Beginners are usually able to make progress much more quickly.If you do hit a wall in progression too quickly using Starting Strength, check out the intermediate and advanced routines.

Starting Strength Explained

The original Starting Strength consists of 5 exercises (Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, Military Press, and Power Clean / Barbell Row), rotating between two workout days (A and B), and is done three days per week. Here’s how that works, starting with your first week:

  • Monday: Workout A
  • Wednesday: Workout B
  • Friday: Workout A

Then, the A, B A, B pattern continues onto next week and continues.

  • Monday: Workout B
  • Wednesday: Workout A
  • Friday: Workout B

The workouts should be done in this fashion with the workout days spaced out with a day of rest in between, and two days of rest at the end of the third day.

Now, here’s the description of Workout A and Workout B showing sets x reps.

The Original Starting Strength Novice Program

Day ADay B
Squat 3x5Squat 3x5
Bench Press 3x5Press 3x5
Deadlift 1x5Power Cleans 3x5

The workouts should also be done in the order above, with the squat first, the upper body exercise second, then the pulling movement third.

Mark Rippetoe (creator of this routine) mentions that you can replace the Power Clean with Barbell Rows. While he does not consider it a perfect replacement, the option is available if you do not have a coach, or other conditions do not comply with doing the Power Clean.

Full Starting Strength Routine

Below is the full routine, and a link where you can customize, print, or download to your device. Just plug in your max, and let it do the calculations. Bring a pen to the gym, and scribble off the days/sets as you go!

To edit the spreadsheet customized to your lifts, click HERE. You can also print, or download.

Starting Strength

Progression and Gain

The general progression is approximately 5 pounds added per workout, or about 7.5-15 pounds per week. A 30-40 Lb increase in muscular bodyweight over a 6 month period is usually achieved with beginner athletes.

Failure to Progress

Once you reach a point where you are unable to increase the weight on an exercise for two sessions in a row, it will be time to reset. The next time you are about to perform that failed lift, do warmups as normal, then 1 set at 90% of your best set of 5. You will need to calculate this out to load the proper weight onto the bar.

Example: if your heaviest complete set was 100×5, 90% of 100×5 is 90×5.

Moving into Intermediate

If you continue to fail and regress backwards in strength, Mark Rippetoe recommends you use this more intermediate level version of Starting Strength:

Week 1

Squat 3×5
Bench 3×5
Pull up 3×8

Front Squat 3×5
Press 3×5
Deadlift 1-2×5

Squat 3×5
Bench 3×5
Chin Up 3×8

Week 2

Squat 3×5
Press 3×5
Pull up 3×8

Front Squat 3×5
Bench 3×5
Power Clean 5×3

Press 3×5
Chin Up 3×8

Note: Once you stop making progress on the above layout, it is time to use a more intermediate routine like the Texas Method or Bill Starr 5×5.


Mark Rippetoe popularized this style of training by creating a method he believed would meet the needs of the general public. Starting Strength has been used by thousands of lifters since then and has spread in popularity alongside the book, Starting Strength.

Tips for Starting Strength

  • Start with light weights, and make sure the exercise form is good. A video camera provides instant feedback for this, also giving you the ability to ask more experienced lifters for a critique.
  • Keep track of all workouts with a workout log. Include videos, and note thoughts for each rep. (Example: “Felt like I was going deep, but checked video and saw I was above parallel”).
  • Make sure everything is as consistent as possible. The time you go to the gym, the equipment used, etc. can all make a significant difference in your overall progress.
  • You have to eat enough to fuel gains. It is said that Mark Rippetoe recommends 4 big meals, plus a gallon of milk daily.
  • Don’t take jumps in weight that are too large. Make sure you leave a little left in the tank, otherwise you will stall out too often.


    They, as well as other such beginner programs,deliberately deemphasize deadlift. These are primarily a squat centered programs where squat is prioritized over and above every lift.

    Beginners can, and should, treat deadlift just like other lifts for same sets and reps. It is exactly what principle of specificity dictates. It says that to get better at something, it should be practiced quite often. But SS gradually reduces deadlift frequency and replaces it with power cleans and chin up.

    Beginners should do squat and deadlift in alternate sessions, and with equal focus, volume, intensity. It won’t burn them out.

  2. It’s a great program, but you’re short-changing yourself if you neither buy the book nor watch the videos. Both the book and the videos describe how to perform the exercises properly. The book is not that easy to read–if you don’t enjoy reading, simply watch his videos on Youtube.

    In terms of programming, his key point is that periodization (regular changing the program) is unnecessary unless someone has already gone far in training. Rather, a person simply increases weight so long as the person is able to do so, even though those increases may be small. This view is contrary to that advocated by most fitness organizations. He does not advocate for muscle confusion.

  3. Andy Sweetman

    Be careful about that quote regarding a gallon of milk per day, he does say that it’s not for everyone.

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