Most Lifters are Still Beginners

One of my favorite questions to ask strength coaches and personal trainers during interviews is, "What are five industry-related books that you consider a must-read for anyone starting out in the gym?"

Regardless if the coach is a grizzled veteran or a fresh-faced kid who writes programs on an iPad, their answer usually includes "Starting Strength" by Mark Rippetoe.

Rip-a-who? Oh yeah, he's the guy who rips on the NSCA (National Strength Coaches Association). Even so, when you hear the same name enough times, you start to wonder what else there is to the man.

Who The Hell Is Mark Rippetoe?

Mark Rippetoe is the owner and general manager of Wichita Falls Athletic Club in Wichita Falls, Texas, and is the author of four strength training books including the classic, "Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training."

Asked about his professional qualifications, Rippetoe, or Rip, cites his 30-plus years coaching lifters first, followed closely by his years of experience as a competitive powerlifter.

His Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) designation, which he'd held since the NSCA first offered the certification back in 1985 — which he recently relinquished mid-session – is a distant third, along with his various weightlifting accreditations.

Rip's tendency to speak his mind — bluntly — has drawn fire from many of his colleagues, particularly the ones who hold conventions like professional accreditations and peer-reviewed studies in high esteem. Rip doesn't care. "I always stress common sense over conventional wisdom," he says, "Especially when that conventional wisdom is patent bullshit."

Strong words, but Rip has friends in high places, like old time coaching legend Bill Starr, who started Rip on his coaching path many years ago, to modern day iron warriors like Jim Wendler. "Rip's a straight shooter and he knows his shit," says Wendler. "Only a complete freaking idiot wouldn't listen to him."

Starting Strength

The Starting Strength program is designed to take advantage of the body's immense growth capability during the first few months of training, when Rip says a lifter can gain faster naturally than many seasoned veterans can on steroids.

What kind of growth are we talking about?


How can a program achieve gains of that magnitude? According to Rip, the answer is also what makes periodization such a poor choice for novices — progressive loading.

The Problem With Periodization

Many of Rip's colleagues consider him "anti-periodization," a designation he flatly denies.

Using the earlier example of a140-pound newbie, Rip argues that the periodization model is flawed from the start.

Rip says the reason something as flat-out wrong as "periodization for beginners" became accepted in college athletic programs is that it created a job for strength and conditioning coaches.

Not surprisingly, Rip's suggestion of corruption in the strength and conditioning field has raised the ire of certifying bodies like the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Rip saves his sharpest criticism for them.

The National Scam Association?

Rippetoe was in the first group that wrote the National Strength and Conditioning Association's CSCS exam in 1985, and in 2008 became the first member to relinquish his designation mid-session.

Rip says you need to look no further than the strength and conditioning journal the NSCA publishes each month to see why he felt the way he did.

It seems fitting that Rip's breaking point was an article published in the journal pertaining to periodization: how to periodize abdominal training.

Rip says the desire for many of those in the upper echelons of the strength and conditioning community to be seen as clinicians contributed to the certifying bodies losing their way.

Rip offers a dark-side example that many lifters will appreciate:

The Program

The original Starting Strength program is simple — deceptively so — but Rip says that's what makes it effective.

The classic Starting Strength workout is as follows:

Workout 1:

A) Squat — 3 x 5
B) Bench Press — 3 x 5
C) Deadlift — 1 x 5

Workout 2:

A) Squat — 3 x 5
B) Press (Overhead press) — 3 x 5
C) *Power Clean — 5 x 3

*Raw rookies and general gym-goers may substitute back extensions and chin-ups for power cleans.

Workouts 1 and 2 are alternated, and performed on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Week 1:

A) Monday — Workout 1
B) Wednesday — Workout 2
C) Friday — Workout 1

Week 2:

A) Monday — Workout 2
B) Wednesday — Workout 1
C) Friday — Workout 2

Week 3: Cycle Repeats

Why three sets of five? "Cuz' four sets of five is too much and two sets of five isn't enough," says Rip. "Seriously, I've been doing this a long time, and this is what seems to work the best.

Some additional assistance work is included of course, including direct arm work.

The Diet

Sixty-pound gains in a year don't happen out of thin air, of course. Rip says gains of that magnitude require calories, and lots of them.

Six Pack Without the Ice Chest

A trend that most seasoned lifters find irksome is the obsession many young male lifters have with maintaining single-digit bodyfat year round. Psychologists call it body dysmorphia or "manorexia," Rip simply calls it the Soccer Player Phenomenon.

He also calls it a big mistake.

Rip reasons that any nutrition program designed to pack on muscle will also put on some fat, with a 60-40 ratio of muscle to fat being about average.

But with bodyfat being relatively easy to strip off — especially for an active, muscular male — it's an easy trade off.

Hope For You Yet?

Readers might find themselves wishing they'd come across Mark Rippetoe years ago, when they first found the high school or college weight room. After all, 50 or 60 pounds in a year? Oh, to be 18 again.

Put your hankies down. You may still be in luck.

According to Rip, just because you've been training for a long time doesn't necessarily mean you've progressed or adapted past the initial "beginner" stage, where rapid increases in loading and bodyweight are possible. If that initial adaptation still hasn't occurred, Rip says there's no reason why it can't now.

Gain 30 plus pounds in a year? Even if high school and college are a distant memory?

No problem, says Rippetoe.

For more information on Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training and Mark Rippetoe, visit

A little bulk is a necessary thing if you want to build a physique worthy    of center stage.

A little bulk is a necessary thing if you want to build a physique worthy of center stage.

The overhead press. We like watching it too.

The overhead press. We like watching it too.

Mark Rippetoe in his competition days.

Mark Rippetoe in his competition days.

The deadlift.

The deadlift.

Rippetoe says that if you want to put on size, you've got to eat.

Rippetoe says that if you want to put on size, you've got to eat.

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