Starting Strength is a strength training program created by Mark Rippetoe.

It’s one of the most popular and effective strength training routines for people looking to gain strength fast because it’s simple, effective, and suited to a wide variety of goals.

In this article, you’ll learn what Starting Strength is, as well as everything you need to know about starting Starting Strength, including the workout routine, how to schedule your training, the exercises, rest times, and progression scheme involved, and more. 

What Is Starting Strength?

Starting Strength (or “SS” for short) is a strength training program designed for new weightlifters by strength coach Mark Rippetoe.

It focuses on building a solid foundation of strength using basic compound exercises, such as the squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, and power clean. The goal is to increase the weight you lift regularly, promoting quick and efficient strength and muscle gains. 

The Starting Strength program features in a book by Rippetoe, first published in 2005, titled Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training.

The Starting Strength book goes beyond simple outlining the program, though. It offers a detailed look at how to perform the barbell exercises in the program by examining anatomy, biomechanics, and physics.

Then, it simplifies this information into clear, easy-to-follow instructions, making these complex exercises easier to perform. 

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A Complete Guide to the Starting Strength Program

Here’s everything you need to know before starting Starting Strength.

The Starting Strength Routine

The Starting Strength routine has three phases. 

  • Phase 1: You usually do phase 1 for 1-to-3 weeks. After this time, most people will have added enough weight to their squat and deadlift that doing both in every workout becomes too taxing and, thus, move to Phase 2. That said, if you’re . . .
    • A young man who hasn’t added 40-to-50 pounds to your squat and 50-to-70 pounds to your deadlift 
    • A young woman or older adult who hasn’t added ~10 pounds to your squat and 10-to-30 pounds to your deadlift

. . . you can continue with Phase 1 until you reach these benchmarks.

  • Phase 2: This phase varies in length, ranging from a few weeks to several months. Here, you’ll alternate between deadlifts and power cleans in your workouts, allowing you to enhance full-body strength and power without wearing yourself to a frazzle.

You graduate to Phase 3 when you’ve added enough weight to your deadlift and power clean that doing these exercises in every workout becomes too challenging and compromises your recovery

  • Phase 3: In the final phase, you alternate between deadlifts and power cleans in Workout A and do chin-ups at the end of Workout B. The purpose is to continue building strength while preventing excessive fatigue and burnout.

Here’s the full workout routine:

Starting Strength Full Novice Program

The Starting Strength Schedule

You train three days a week on the SS program. How you schedule these workouts is flexible, though you must leave at least one day to recover between workouts. 

Given this stipulation, most people default to the following schedule:

Week 1: 

  • Monday: Workout A
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Workout B
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Workout A
  • Saturday: Rest 
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 2:

  • Monday: Workout B
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Workout A
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Workout B
  • Saturday: Rest 
  • Sunday: Rest

The Starting Strength Exercises

The novice program includes the following six exercises:

  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Bench press
  • Overhead press
  • Power clean (or power snatch for those who lack the mobility to power clean)
  • Chin-up

As a side note, people often refer to the squat in Starting Strength as the “Starting Strength squat.”

They do this because Rippetoe and Starting Strength coaches teach the squat slightly differently to most. Specifically, they emphasize “hip drive.”

That is, they encourage weightlifters to initiate the movement out of the bottom of the squat by driving their hips straight up. The thinking is that this helps you engage the large muscles or your posterior chain (the muscles on the back of your body) and lift more weight. 

You can learn more about how to perform the Starting Strength squat in this video:

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How to Warm Up for a Starting Strength Workout

Start your warm-up with an empty bar. Then, gradually increase the weight in small increments until you reach your “working weight” (the heaviest weight you’ll use for that exercise in that workout).

For instance, if you can squat 275 pounds for 5 reps, your warm-up would go like this:

  • Empty bar (45 pounds): 2 sets of 5 reps
  • 135 Pounds: 2 sets of 5 reps
  • 185 Pounds: 1 set of 3 reps
  • 235 Pounds: 1 set of 2 reps
  • 275 Pounds (working sets): 3 sets of 5 reps

How Long to Rest Between Sets in a Starting Strength Workout

Rest 2-to-5 minutes between sets. When you go to do a set, you shouldn’t be breathing heavily or feeling fatigued from your previous set. When in doubt, give yourself another minute of rest just to be safe.

How to Progress on the Starting Strength Program

Starting Strength uses a simple linear progression scheme. 

If you complete all 3 sets of 5 reps for an exercise, add 5 pounds the next time you do it. For example, if you squat 200 pounds for 5 reps today, aim for 205 pounds in your next session.

If you don’t hit 5 reps across all three sets—say you manage 5, 4, and 3 reps—keep lifting the same weight until you can do all sets of 5 reps.

If you can’t increase the weight on the bar for two consecutive workouts, “reset” on both workouts. To reset, perform 1 set at 90% of your best 5-rep lift on each exercise for an entire week. After resetting for a week, continue adding weight as usual the following week.

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The Starting Strength Program: FAQs

FAQ #1: What are the 5 exercises of Starting Strength?

The full Starting Strength Novice Program actually contains six exercises: the squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, power clean (or power snatch), and chin-up. 

FAQ #2: Is Starting Strength worth it?

Yes, Starting Strength is an excellent program for those who want to make rapid strength gains that you can apply in the real world (if you’re an athlete or have a physical job, for example).

FAQ #3: Is Starting Strength a good book?

Yes, the Starting Strength book is the most comprehensive guide to barbell weightlifting you’ll ever read, explaining everything you need to know about how to squat, bench press, overhead press, deadlift, and power clean and snatch safely and effectively. 

And if you enjoy Starting Strength, you’ll also probably like Rippetoes’s books Practical Programming for Strength Training, which takes a closer look at how to design workout routines, and The Barbell Prescription: Strength Training for Life After 40, which details how to train to avoid disease and decrepitude as you age.