The Complete Guide To Starting Strength Workout Routine

milo_carrying_bull_calf_starting strength workout routineThe Starting Strength workout routine was written by Mark Rippetoe. It is primary focused for the general newbie public that is just starting but it can be used by anyone looking to get stronger.

This is one of the best strength programs out there. It will get a brand novice without an ounce of strength, to an intermediate lifting decent weights, if the program is followed as written.

In case you went to the gym for some period of time and you don’t excel in strength, this is a great program to follow.

I must say that this strength routine really works. It builds strength and muscle mass like no other. I’m grateful that Mark Rippetoe took the time to create this beautifully programmed workout routine.

This program became very popular because of bodybuilding forums and media. Most of the time, if it were for you to put a question like “I want to gain strength, what program should I use?“, everyone who has some history on reading the forums will most likely recommend the Starting Strength workout.

The Starting Strength Routine

If you are a novice or even intermediate/advanced, and you want to gain strength, your workouts should be simple, fast, and intense.

You need to get strong on a tight selection of important compound exercises that train all your body as a whole, and don’t separate it by t raining individual body parts.

The Starting Strength Novice Program Layout

For the first few workouts, you will follow this basic program:

WORKOUT A

  • Squat 3×5 (3 sets of 5 repetitions each) – work set
  • Press 3×5 – work set
  • Deadlift 1×5 – work set

WORKOUT B

  • Squat 3×5 – work set
  • Bench 3×5 – work set
  • Deadlift 1×5 – work set

NOTE: You shouldn’t count the warmup when doing this program. For example, when you squat on Monday, start by warming up for a few sets. After you finish the warmup sets, continue doing the work sets. In the squat example, 3 sets of 5 repetitions.

This basic program will go on like this:

A Weekly Example Of The Starting Strength Workout

Week 1

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

Week 2

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

In the week 3, you will repeat the week 1 and so on.

You will keep doing this program until the deadlift goes ahead of the squat. Make sure your technique is always in place.

After you settle with this, you will introduce the powerclean into the workout:

WORKOUT A

  • Squat 3×5 – work set
  • Press 3×5 – work set
  • Deadlift 1×5 – work set

WORKOUT B

  • Squat  3×5 – workout set
  • Bench Press 3×5 – workout set
  • Power Cleans 5×3 – workout set

Basically, when we look at this program, one week you will deadlift twice, and the next week you will powerclean twice.

After 2-3 more weeks, you can add chin ups after power cleans and stick with this program as long as you progress.

Now, after some time, you can break the pulling pattern by adding pull-ups and chin-ups along with some glute/ham raises and back extensions.

NOTE: Adding pull-ups or chin-ups is not mandatory. You can continue with the program as explained in the beginning.

In that  case, the program will look something like this:

Workout A

  • Squat 3×5
  • Press 3×5
  • Deadlift 1×5/Power Clean 5×3 (they will be alternated)

Workout B

Squat 3×5

  • Bench Press 3×5
  • Back Extensions 3×10
  • Pull-ups/Chin-ups 3×15 rep maximum (they will be alternated)

NOTES: Alternating means you will alternate one move with another. For example, one Monday you will do the deadlift. The next workout day which should be Wednesday, you do the power cleans instead of the deadlift.

Once you reach the 15 reps on the pull-ups/chin-ups, start adding weight

How To Warmup For The Starting Strength Routine

What you should take away from this section is that you shouldn’t overcomplicate the warmup. Don’t neglect it either.

For the warmup, a simple 5 minute treadmill should be enough. The general guidelines would be to get your body’s temperature up as easy as you can without getting into your body’s reserves. Keep your energy for the actual workout.

A slight sweat is enough.

There is an excel file that was created some time ago in which you can find some general guidelines on how to get the warmup sets done up to the work sets.

Starting Strength Program Excell Warmup 1

It’s as simple as you can get it. Just input your target 5RM weight that you will use in your training, and the excel file should give you general guidelines on how you should warm up and progress (pretty cool huh?).

After you’ve inputted your numbers in the excel file, you should get some results like these:

Warmup example in the starting strength pdf routine

You can get an idea on how to do a proper warmup without getting yourself into the ground.

By the way, you can get the excel file that will help you program your workout, by using the share buttons bellow:

How To Chose The Weight For The First Week

You need to determine how much weight you can handle for 5 reps with good form. If you are in your first days of the Starting Strength program, you should warm up with the bar, then try adding some weight. Do some sets of 5 until with bigger and bigger weights until you get to a weight that doesn’t let you do more than 5 reps.

That is the weight you should start with in the next workout.

Try to make your technique “bulletproof” with weight, and perform two more sets.

This is the easiest way with which you can gauge your approximate working weight.

Many novices, and even intermediate lifters over-estimate that final weight at which they should stay. The best thing you can do is to drop 5-10% of your starting 5RM weight, and go with that weight in your next workout.

Starting lighter is always a better thing to do than starting too hard and not working with proper technique. Remember to reinforce proper technique by starting lighter.

How To Progress

When you are in the novice shoes, the progression will come more easy because your body is not accustomed with weights. Novices should be the ones that increase the weight from workout to workout until plateau comes.

The key here is to maintain good exercise form as the work sets weight increases depending on your experience, age, sex, and consistency. Generally speaking, you can get 10 pounds more on the bar every workout.

There is an end to all good things and this is also true in the case of progressing continuously. For example, when you are starting to miss 1-2 reps from your last work set, then you should know that your newbie fast progression is about to end.

For the very young, and the old people that want to start training, 5 pound increases are sufficient.

Don’t try to make huge weight jumps even if you can make them. Stick to 5-10 pound increments and work from there.

Frequent Questions And Answers Section

Question: Can I do cardio on this program?

Answer: Yes, but take it lightly like brisk walks or slow jogging… don’t stress yourself on this.

Question: Can I use the starting strength routine for fat loss?

Answer: This program is tailored for strength gaining because of its frequency but it can be used for fat loss by cutting down the volume/exercises.

Question: Can I change the exercises or substitute some?

Answer: Unless you have an injury that is keeping you for doing the program as it is, or you can’t do it safe, NO. Just do it like I explained.

Question: Can I use the Starting Strength PDF for building muscle mass and size?

Answer: The short answer is yes. Heavy weights and getting stronger while lifting them plus proper caloric intake equals more muscle mass.

Question: Is stretching recommended before the workouts?

Answer: Static stretches should be avoided and you should focus only on pre-workout dynamic stretches.

Question: Can I add curls?

Answer: Just do the program as written down. Don’t exhaust yourself. If you really want to curl, do 1-2 sets of 10-20 reps at the end of the workout.

Question : How long should I rest?

Answer: Rest long enough so you can do all the sets and repetitions but not so long that you transform the workout into a 3 hour laying around routine.

Question: Do I really need to squat?

Answer: Not really. You can substitute it with leg press but I would recommend you to do the squat.

Anyways, look at my leg press vs squat article and also learn how to squat with proper form.

Question: Can I train two consecutive days?

Answer: NO.

Question: I don’t want to do the power clean/I can’t learn the power clean/I can’t do the power clean in a safe way. Is there any exercise with which I can substitute it?

Answer: You can replace the power clean with the bent row/cable row.

Question: Can I do this program Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday?

Answer: As long as you do it in nonconsecutive days, it’s ok.

Question: Can I change the order of the exercises listed?

Answer: NO! Do the exercises in the correct order. Squats first, upper body second, and finish with the pulling movement.

Question: Do I have to do chin-ups and pull-ups?

Answer: No. They are only used as accessory work at the end of your main workout.

Question: What kind of grip should I use ?

Answer: It doesn’t matter as long as you are progressing on them.

If there are any questions you might want to ask regarding this program, please do it so bellow and I will kindly answer.

Also if you have a friend or a relative that wants to get stronger?

You can use the sharing buttons that flow to the left (did I mention that sharing is free? (: )

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Comments

  1. can I leg press instead of squatting on starting strength??

    • Oneizer, as explained, you can substitute the squat with leg press but I would suggest to do that only if you have an injury or if you are not capable of doing squats.

  2. What do I do when I hit a plateau?

    • There are plenty of strategies you can use when you hit a plateau:

      1. If your weight is static, the weight on the bar is also static, the plateau is probably there because you are not eating sufficient calories.
      2. If you try and try for over 2-4 weeks and you don’t see any progress, it might be the time for a deload
      3. Try switching to a more intermediate routine like 5×5 for a while

      Don’t forget to watch your caloric intake!

      • Thanks for the fast reply!

        Would incorporating a deload every 5 weeks (5th week is deload. 6th week would be 2.5%/2.5lbs more than week 4) be advisable? Or just keep pumping the weights until a plateau and then take a deload?

        Also how do you calculate a deload? I don’t know if you have written an article about deloads yet, might be a good idea for us beginners.

        Thanks

        • Well, this whole deload issue is yet subjected to another article.

          As I stated before, It all depends on your diet and how you train.

          The easiest strategy would be to “keep pumping” the weights until you hit a plateau.

          Deloading can be done in many ways (I will discuss about this in another article) but it’s not rocket science. You can simply train with 50% of the weights for 1 week and that can be considered a deload and the next week, you can train with the same weights you did before starting to deload (just try to get more reps in).

          Watch out your caloric intake!

  3. It is very hard reading this page with that extremely annoying social media menu floating down the left side of the article. If you really want to use it, why don’t you embed it at the end of the article instead? That way you won’t be blocking everyone’s view and pissing them off.

    Now, that I’ve said that. Please explain what ‘press’ is? You mention ‘Press 3×5′ and also ‘Bench Press 3×5,’ but only bench press is a link. Perhaps you could link each exercise to a page/video of someone performing that exercise correctly? That would make it easier for some of us to understand what you are talking about.

    • Good suggestions Jimmy, I actually like getting critiques because it helps me to learn more what my readers like to see.

      Alright, sorry for not explaining “press”. Mark Rippetoe included the press in his program as an alternation to the bench press. Basically 1 workout will be done with the bench press (for chest) and in the next you will press (for shoulders) -> standing shoulder press is the main exercise used by mark but you can do any pressing movement (when I worked with this program, I did the standing barbell shoulder press and it worked like a miracle).

      Regarding the social media suggestions, I think that I’ll implement what you said because I was also thinking about it some time ago.

      Regarding every movement, I linked the squat, deadlift and bench press through the article.

      Thanks for your suggestions and if you have any other questions left, I’m here. Also good luck!

  4. Hi Marinas,

    Thanks for loading out all the information in a concise manner, it’s very helpful.

    Just a comment / question regarding the warm up sets…

    if I followed this format based on my own 5RP i would be changing the weights 5 times for each exercise |(sometimes after a single rep!) that’s a lot of messing about in a busy gym in central London i’m bound to get some aggro..

    Is there any other way?

    I also noticed that for example the squat is at 500lbs as the work set and the final warm up is 400lbs, this is high for a warm up no? Even so, it must be an important part of the general routine at 80% of the 5RP.

    I hope you can help. Many Thanks,

    Chris

    • Hey Chris,

      I’m glad I can be of help.

      1st question: Well, the warm-up section is very important. You don’t really want to risk your joints (believe me, I had problems some time ago because I was not doing the warm up properly).

      Everybody warms up and this is the correct way to warm up.
      I don’t think that you should pay attention to how much you change the weights – I mean you pay for that place and you should be able to move any weight around as much as you want to.
      I mean, it’s common sense that you need to move weights around the gym and get them on the bar.
      Busy or not, it’s your training program – don’t pay attention to what others say/look, just train – that’s why gyms are made, for training
      Just do your warm up sets, get the weight, don’t really take notice of what others say.

      2nd question: No, it’s not high for a warm up because you will be doing 1-2 reps :)

      Good luck and if you have any other question, I’m here.
      Florin

  5. If I switch power clean to row,is ok or better to me stick with power clean?

  6. what to do after this routine?

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