In late February, 2018 of this year, after a series of back and forth emails, I informed Rip et al that I was resigning from Starting Strength. Since then, there has been a large amount of chatter on the Internet about what happened and what’s next. This letter aims to address both topics.
To really understand what happened we need a brief backstory about the beginnings of Barbell Medicine. From 2008-2012 I was working as Director of Education for a large personal training company in Missouri while also coaching full-time and completing my Master’s Degree in Clinical Anatomy and Physiology. Like many folks, I was introduced to Rip and Starting Strength through CrossFit around 2010 and had been using the methods described in The Book to coach myself and others. In June 2012 I attended a Starting Strength Seminar in scenic Wichita Falls,TX and though everyone was offended at how skinny and well-groomed I was, they let me pass and obtain the Starting Strength Coach credential. Later that year, I interned at a seminar in Atlanta and was placed into the pool of Starting Strength Seminar Staff.
While this was all going on, I had moved to Virginia for medical school, and my online coaching business increased substantially, as I was no longer coaching folks in person outside of working a Starting Strength seminar or training camp. By December 2012 I had trolled Rip for long enough to convince him into letting me run a nutrition forum on his website and, just like that, business started picking up.
I was doing business under a self-titled entity until the Fall of 2013 when I purchased the domain www.barbellmedicine.com and filed paperwork, changing the name of my business to “Barbell Medicine”. Now this was two years after Dr. Sullivan’s article Barbell Training is Big Medicine was published on the Starting Strength website and while it is true that the words “barbell” and “medicine” never appear together in that article, I would be remiss if I did not give credit to Dr. Sullivan for inspiring my business’s name with that landmark article. Thanks, Sully.
Until very recently, Barbell Medicine and Starting Strength operated symbiotically. I was allowed a platform to garner exposure while producing content for Starting Strength and developed deep, meaningful friendships with those in the organization. I view Rip, Stef, et al as my friends and colleagues who I will always hold in high regard. However, things have changed over the last year and it would be fair to say that the relationship has become more complicated or perhaps, more nuanced.
In the fall of 2016, Starting Strength Online Coaching (SSOC) was formed by another Starting Strength coach, Matt Reynolds. At the time, there were only a few Starting Strength coaches who were doing a significant amount of online coaching, with Matt and I having the two largest businesses- both of which were operating independently without any problem. I was informed of SSOC’s formation while heading into a night shift during an inpatient pediatric rotation and while I didn’t get to talk to Rip or Reynolds for any extended period of time, everyone seemed to agree that Barbell Medicine and SSOC were not competitors in the online coaching space and it would not be a problem.
Looking back, this seems a bit foolish on my part for agreeing that this was the case, as we very clearly are competitors. Additionally, any disagreement between Barbell Medicine and SSOC – now an extension of the Starting Strength brand, represents a disagreement with Starting Strength proper. I probably should’ve argued harder that using the name “Starting Strength Online Coaching” to represent a business that did not include all Starting Strength coaches who had online coaching practices was unfair and potentially harmful to other coach’s businesses. Hindsight is 20/20 in this regard and ultimately, I think that the SSOC business is a good thing and there is plenty of business to go around, but I do not think there should be one entity representing Starting Strength’s online coaching presence when there are many individual professionals within the Starting Strength organization. Starting Strength is very important to me and I think that it is a great resource for lifters, coaches, and the community. I would like to see it continue to flourish.
That said, since the formation of SSOC there has been a growing number of disagreements and seemingly inflammatory actions between Barbell Medicine and Starting Strength through a variety of channels. We [Barbell Medicine] have put on our own seminars, training camps, and started our own forum. We’ve also had some not-so-private arguments on programming as well. The disagreements have been, not surprisingly, amplified by the culture of the Internet and ultimately this leaves us at an impasse. The programming disagreements are not compatible with putting forth the same message and when taken in conjunction with our other branding activities, it was time to rip the band-aid off and separate.
Now, it’s not all doom and gloom. Quite the contrary, in fact. In the past year Barbell Medicine team has grown to include Dr. Austin Baraki, Leah Lutz, Vanessa Burman, Jessica Griffith and the bearded wonder who always trains untamed- Alan Thrall, which allows us to put out more content, reach a wider audience, and ultimately make a bigger difference. Ultimately, Starting Strength and Barbell Medicine want the same things, i.e. more people training intelligently with barbells, and I believe we’re both making the world a better place in our own separate ways.
So for all those asking, “Why did this happen?” Well, I don’t have a simple answer for that, but we’re all going to be just fine, and I am excited for the future!
Thanks for reading.
Austin Baraki, MD