Book Review: Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe

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Starting Strength is the seminal book on barbell weightlifting, written by one of the best known and highly respected weightlifting trainers on the planet.

As in Bigger Leaner Stronger (BLS), Starting Strength focuses on the four main compound barbell weightlifting moves; back squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press. Each move is broken down minutely, going into greater detail than BLS, and maybe more than the average lifter needs to know.

I need to be careful with my words, so am preceding them with the fact that I believe Mark Rippetoe is a genuine good guy, with best interests at heart, and is an expert in resistance training. I’ve listened to him in multiple podcasts and have followed his work. He is one of the most trusted sources of information anyone can find on compound weightlifting moves.

The problem is, Mark speaks to a trained audience. Or let’s say, he does not speak to the average office worker who knows nothing about weightlifting, spending most of their day sitting at a desk. And therein lies the main “problem” with this book.

If I take the barbell back squat as an example, or even the squat. This is such a complex move which can be broken down into so many nuances, I found myself getting lost in the details and over confusing myself. The more I knew and understood a move, the more I second guessed myself and kept trying to be perfect, rather than allow some leeway with my body’s natural movement patterns.

The best example of this is the often stated rule that the knees should not go further forward than the toes. There are many very good reasons why this should be the case, but if you have the ability to do so, and still have proper control in the position, this is not a mandatory prerequisite. I spent many months trying to squat like this. Focusing on my knees not moving in front of my toes. But with my movement patterns, this tended to put extra pressure on my lower back leaving me in too much pain to train regularly. As soon as I relaxed this rule, my squat improved and became more of a natural movement, which is what a squat should ultimately be. 

This does not mean Mark is wrong by any stretch of the imagination. Not at all. If I was 30 again and just starting out, this book would have been a gold mine. It is just his own personal bias based around his own experience of training people of a certain age or ability. 

The other major difference between Starting Strength and Bigger Leaner Stronger is the nutritional advice. In BLS, Mike Matthews makes clear nutritional guidelines, explaining how to gain muscle and lose fat with calorie surplus and deficits. He also goes into detail regarding the importance of protein and the amount of this essential macronutrient you need to eat.

In Starting Strength, the nutritional advice is more or less on one page, where Mark tells the reader that protein is important, and the way to achieve this is to drink a gallon of milk per day on top of whatever you would usually eat. In a younger fit individual, this is not such bad advice, as this would almost certainly put you into a caloric surplus, as well as give enough protein for muscle gain. But in a 50 year old untrained office worker, this advice would ensure you gain a lot of fat, and potentially have some dire stomach issues to contend with also.

 

Conclusion

This is a wonderfully detailed book, so if you have a desire to learn more about resistance training, particularly the four big compound moves, then by all means dig into Starting Strength. But as a beginner and novice, there are far more important issues to focus on before picking up this highly respected tome.

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