Reviewing Starting Strength 5×5 Program

Mark Rippetoe - Wikipedia
Mark Rippetoe

Introduction

Starting Strength is one of the legendary powerlifting programs created by Mark Rippetoe, a true GOAT of powerlifting. Some might disagree with this statement and even I have found myself at times being critical of Starting Strength. However Mark popularized and commercialized the “do your fives” training principle which started with the ‘Texas Method’ created by Mark and Glenn Pendlay (another legend).

Going back further the Texas Method was inspired from one of my hero’s Doug Hepburn’s classic bench press workout which Mark was taught by his coach Bill Starr (check out my Hepburn Program Review).

Hepburn was said to do 5 heavy singles across followed by 5 sets of 5 reps. However Mark removed the heavy singles because the volume and intensity just wasn’t working in terms of recovery.

Which led to the idea of having a volume day for the main lifts on Monday, a lighter variety day on Wednesday then a heavy single set of five reps for the main lifts on Friday. Which is basically the DNA of all 5×5 programs out there right now! Madcow, StrongLifts, and other variations people claim to have created.

All Starting Strength programs in the spreadsheet have a A and B workout or week and you alternate between the two for up to 36 training sessions, training three times per week. The program works off your five rep max not your one rep max and you increment each session by 5-15lbs based on the lift and lifter level.

The program is easy to follow, a bit boring at times, but highly effective. The Novice and Advanced variations do lack in direct adaptation and variation which could lead to an early plateau for some lifters. It also have ZERO isolation based exercises which some lifters might find alien and just unimaginative and dull.

However, this is the concept of Starting Strength, you focus on your main lifts and larger compound exercises such as; front squats, cleans, Rows, overhead press, pull-ups. Rather than Face Pulls, Lat Pulldowns, Bicep Curls, tricep pressdowns, side lateral raises etc.

But whether many would like to admit but most OG powerlifters and younger powerlifters have under their bed with some old tissues and porn mags a dusty copy of Practical Programming for Strength Training! lol

It is a dirty secret but many powerlifter deny but Starting Strength is one of the Bibles of powerlifting that most have a copy of or have read including myself! If you don’t have a copy you can buy from Amazon from the link below, its a must have if you are going to train Starting Strength.

My advise is if you are a true novice lifter, run these program in the order ive reviewed them in:

  1. Original Program (Beginner Novice Lifter)
  2. Practical Programming Program (Intermediate Novice Lifter)
  3. Advanced Novice Program (Advanced Novice Lifter)

Original Program Spreadsheet

The original program is the first Starting Strength program and a true novice program that so many powerlifters throughout the years have followed when starting out. The program has a total of 24 sessions which totals to three sessions per week lasting a total of eight weeks.

You start week one using your 5RM (five rep maximum) calculated in the table found above the program. Only change data that’s in the yellow highlighted cells. Firstly you have to decide whether this program is to be in pounds or kilograms by editing the Smallest Weight Increment to 2.5 for kilograms or leave it at 5 for pounds.

The second task is to enter your Test Weight then Reps (<12). This means you must choose a max from 1-12 reps, however, I advise choosing your five rep max.

Increments

You then need to choose your increments for each lift. I would keep to the stated increments, remember this is a linear program and designed for novice lifters who can add to the max on a weekly basis. Therefore you do not need to make massive 20 lbs jumps every week! Slow and steady win the race! If you are doing this program in kilograms you will need to change the increment to the below numbers found in the table. If you are doing this program in pounds, leave the increments as they are preset.

The increments for the program are as follows:

 LBS IncrementsKG Increments
Squat52.5
Bench Press52.5
Deadlift105
Press52.5
Power Clean52.5
Novice Program Increments

Warm up and Working Sets

All warm-up sets are calculated using the working set weight, NOT YOUR 5RM. Don’t skip the warm-up sets, this can lead to injuries and you missing the working sets and these warm-up sets also play a role in the weekly strength adaptations made by the lifter. Perform warm-up sets with intensity and use them to correct any issues with your form and allow 1-3 minutes rest between each set. I always warm up without my lifting gear, it seems unnecessary to use a belt, wraps, straps, suits, and singlets.

Working sets are the key part of the session, its here you make your strength gains! They must all be completed and you cannot skip any working sets or fail any reps. Allow 3-5 minutes rest between sets, and you can wear lifting gear for working sets.

Exercises

Workout AWorkout B
SquatSquat
Bench PressPress
DeadliftPower Clean

You perform the main lifts; squat, bench press, and deadlift then two other variation lifts the Overhead Press or Inline Press and Power Cleans. Some lifters choose to replace the Power Cleans with the Pendlay Rows, this is down to the lifter. Both lifts can be very helpful for powerlifters, however something to consider is the Power Clean requires a lot of practice and you have to master the technique to get any sort of strength benefit from the lift.

The Pendlay Row is far more simplistic and can be mastered very quickly and remember neither lift is performed at the platform come meet day! So why invest so much time and energy in the Power Clean when you will never perform it competitively, plus you really should be focusing your efforts more on perfecting the main lifts.

Workout A and B

As I mentioned earlier you have a Workout A and Workout B for Starting Strength, the main difference is for workout B you replace the Bench Press with the Overhead Press or Incline Press, and the Deadlift with the Power Clean. However, you perform the squat for both workout A and B.

Regarding the SxR (sets x rep scheme) working sets everything is the same with exception to the Power Cleans where you perform 5 sets of 3 working sets instead of 1 sets of 5. The warm-up percentages vary depending on the lift, some lifts are slightly higher and slightly lower in intensity. But the warm-up routine rep scheme is the same for all lifts:

  1. 2×5 (Empty barbell)
  2. 1×5
  3. 1×3
  4. 1×2

You increment your working sets by the stated amount each training session, for example if on Monday you squatted 3 sets of 5 for 100 lbs, Wednesday you squat 105 lbs for 3 sets of 5 reps. ITS THE SIMPLE!

MY RECOMMENDATION: if you feel like the linear increment progression is too much, reduce the squat, bench, press, and power clean from 5 pounds to 2.5 pounds (2.5 kilograms to 1.25 kilograms) and the deadlift from 10 pounds to 5 pounds (5 kilograms to 2.5 kilograms). If you feel like you can do more then for the Deadlift and Squat increase the increment by 10 pounds (5 kilograms) and all other lifts by by 5 pounds (2.5 kilograms).

Workout A and B Table

For this program you train three times per week, alternate between workout A and B training Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. This means you perform workout A twice a week and B once a week as seen below:

Monday/TuesdayWorkout A
Wednesday/ThursdayWorkout B
Friday/SaturdayWorkout A
Novice Program Weekly Routine

Practical Programming Novice Program

Introduction

This the second sheet and it differs from the original program taken from the Practical Programming book by Rippetoe. This programs consists of 36 sessions, training three times a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) over a period of 12 weeks.

The data entry table and warm-up percentages for each lift are the same as the Original Program I have already reviewed above. However, the program follows a very different structure and the workouts are not the same as the original program. Instead of a ‘Workout’ A and B you have a week A and Week B and they alternate for 12 weeks.

In addition, this program includes new assistance exercises which are the Chin-ups and Pull-ups which you perform for 3 sets to complete failure. Rippetoe recommends you perform the Chin-ups with a supinated grip as seen in the below video tutorials. In addition, Mark recommends choosing the Chin-up over the Pull-up which he outline in the second video seen below. He recommends if you are unable to do Chin-ups or Pull-ups you replace it with the Lat Pulldowns.

MY RECOMENDATION: you replace the Pull-ups on Friday with Lat Pulldowns performing three sets to failure and keep the Chin-ups either weighted or bodyweight on Monday if you can perform chin-ups. If not, then replace it with Pendlay Rows, for 3 sets of 5-8 reps.

Workout A and B

You squat three times per week for the full eight weeks and deadlift once a week every Wednesday. However, the main difference is Week A you Bench Press twice a week and Press (by press I mean Overhead Press) once, then Week B you Press twice a week and Bench Press once.

Percentages and Rep Schemes

The warm-up percentages for each exercise are the same as the Original Novice Program, the differ from each lift because some lifts you can warm-up with more intensity than others such as the bench press and press. Whereas you warm-up with less intensity for the squat and deadlift. The first two warm-up sets are 2 sets of 5 with an empty bar which in the spreadsheet is 45 which represents the 45 lbs barbell. However, your barbell might be heavier or lighter, it doesn’t matter just make sure these are performed with an empty barbell.

Practical Programming Novice Program Percentages and Rep Schemes

Increments

This program follows the same same logic as he ‘Original Program’ of incrementing your top working sets by the fixed increments you inputted in the starter table. This is with exception to Week one whereby your working set weight is your current 5RM.

For example; week one for the squat on Monday your 3×5 working set is 125 lbs which is your current 5RM. Then Friday your working set weight will be 3×5 for 130 lbs.

I recommend keeping the same increments as the Novice program, however, you can increase the deadlift slightly to 15lbs (7.5kg) if needed. If you at any point feel you can adjust the increments due to the increment being to much or too little this can be done. However, be aware of the fact that this is a 12 week program, you might still have a long way to go if you messing around with the increments in week 1-4.

MY RECOMMENDATION: Keep the increments fixed for the 12 weeks then adjust them for the next time you run this program.

 LBS IncrementsKG Increments
Squat52.5
Bench Press52.5
Deadlift10-155-7.5
Press52.5
Practical Programming Novice Program Increments

Advanced Novice Program

Introduction

Advanced Novice Program Week A and B

This is the final program in my series of the Starting Strength, if you were a true Novice I would advise this being the last one you complete starting with the ‘Original Novice’, then the ‘Practical Programming’, then finish with this ‘Advanced Novice Program’. The above table shows that there is the same logic as the Practical Programming program of a Week A and B which differ based on exercise selection. The Increments per each training session is the same as Practical Programming Program as is the the process of entering your information in the ‘Data Table’ in the yellow highlighted cells.

Week A you Press twice a week and bench press once a week and Week B you bench press twice a week and press once a week. Week A you deadlift on Wednesday, week B you Power Clean on Wednesday. Then you alternate between Weighted and Unweighted Chin-ups and Pull-ups.

There are few differences between this program and Practical Programming program, therefore I wont go into a full write up, instead I will just highlight the key differences between the two.

Squats

In the advanced program instead of performing a Back Squat on Wednesday you perform a Front Squat. In addition, the front squat warm-up percentages are 5% lighter than the Back Squat:

  • 2×5= Empty Barbell
  • 1×5=40% of 5RM
  • 1×3=60% of 5RM
  • 1×2=80% of 5RM

Chin-ups and Pull-ups

In this program you alternate Week A and Week B between weighted and unweighted Chin-ups and Pull-ups. By this point in your training journey you should be able to do weighted chin-ups and pull-ups to failure.

This can be three reps or ten reps, as long as you perform each set to failure. I have included the tutorial videos in the Practical Programming review above if you need a refresher on how to perform both ‘Starting Strength style’. IF you are just unable to do either exercise you can replace it with Lat Pulldowns for 3 sets to failure.

Power Cleans

In the Practical Programming program you perform deadlifts both week A and week B, however in this advanced program you alternate between deadlifts and power cleans. Week A you deadlift for 1 set of 5 reps, then week B you power clean for 5 sets of 3 reps.

MY RECOMMENDATION: if you are like me and see NO point in Power Cleans for powerlifting, you could replace the power cleans with Pendlay Rows for 3 sets of 5 or a deadlift variation for 3 sets of 5 or 5 sets of 3 such as:

  • Snatch Grip Deadlifts
  • Deficit Deadlifts
  • Stiff Legged Deadlifts

Make sure you perform these variations are a LOW RPE of 6-7.5 (see RPE scale below) 60% of your 5RM. Below are tutorial video’s on how to perform the above deadlift variations.

How to Use RPE in Your Training *Correctly* ReactiveTrainingSystems|
RPE SCALE

Program Download

YouTube Tutorial Video

Donations

If you enjoyed this program review and found it helpful I highly appreciate any donation. I do all my program reviews for free to help people because when I started powerlifting I had access to free material and it hindered my opportunity to develop quicker. Good luck with this program and stay strong and never give up.

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