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Top 10 Mistakes People Following Starting Strength Make

By Jordan Feigenbaum MD, MS, Starting Strength Staff

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1) Not reading the book

Seriously, most people who are doing “Starting Strength Novice Progression” have never even read the book. They got the “routine”, replete with rows in place of power cleans, of the Internet and are 100% unprepared for what this program requires. Further, because they have not read the book and thus, are lacking in understanding the rationale- the WHY- behind the program, they do a bunch of inappropriate things as seen in the other 9 items below. Bompa, Issurin, and Zatsiorisky all agree that explaining to an athlete the “why” behind the “what” is important for compliance. If you want to do Starting Strength Novice Progression, you need to read the book. Period.

2) Starting too heavy.

This is usually a result of a failure to read the book, however there are still some people that will start too heavy because the heavier you start the faster you’ll get strong, right? Wrong. What we’re aiming to do is use the smallest effective dose to stimulate the maximum potential response. In lifting terms, we want you starting with a weight that begins to challenge your ability. This can be gauged, roughly, by when the speed of the bar slows down or the technique suffers slightly. If the former happens, then you’ve just done a set of 5 reps that is heavy enough to drive the adaptations we want, i.e. strength, neuromuscular coordination, hypertrophy, etc. If the latter happens, however, we need to back the weight down just a tad in order to preserve proper form (see below).

3) Having poor technique.

This mostly stems from people not doing Step 1, i.e. reading the book, OR not watching all the videos, reading all the articles, etc. on the site, YouTube channel, or various other mediums. Bottom line is, if your technique is not good you’re going to see less than optimal results through any training program, period. When compounded by the fact that this program aims to get you as strong as possible in the shortest amount of time, things start to escalate quickly. It would behoove any person to see a Starting Strength Coach within their first week of training just to hammer this all out. If that’s not possible, post a form check on the Q/A the coaches so graciously run.

4) Eating like a bird.

I was thinking about putting this as number one, but alas, I thought the other things were actually more important and, specifically, doing number 1 would take care of this number. Look, if you’re a 16-23 year old male and <165 lbs, you need to gain a significant amount of body weight, like yesterday, in order to be facilitate the fastest rate of strength and muscle size acquisition. This is done through food, like LOTS of it. I’ve already written extensively about this topic in this article, so I suggest checking that out. Look, here’s the simple fact:

You have one chance in your life to put on muscle at an almost unnatural rate. This moment in time also coincides with the ability to gain a tremendous amount of strength, if you’ll only eat to facilitate this process. For 3 months forget about your abs so you can build the ice chest to put the 6-pack in.

The older, heavier, or more female you get away from this “ideal Starting Strength candidate” the less extra food you need to drive these processes. Again, see the article linked above “To Be a Beast” for more discussion on this topic.

5) Not resting long enough between sets.

After 3 minutes, approximately 80% of your muscle’s ATP has been replenished, at 5 minutes, approximately 95% is back in the game, and at 8 minutes ~ 100% is there. Don’t try to hit PR’s, which happen everyday on this program, with 80% of your muscles’ energy available.

6) Adding in too much bullshit.

Remember that we’re using the minimum effective dose to get the maximum response here. Adding in a bunch of extra stuff dilutes the “effective dose” AND spreads the body’s available resources for adaptation to the “dose” too thin for optimal results for a novice trainee. Of course, as you become more “trained” and thus, can tolerate more volume, frequency, and intensity, you’ll be able to add more exercises, sets, reps, etc. 

If, on the other hand, you add too much tomfoolery TOO SOON in your training career, you run a very serious risk of attenuating (diminishing) your adaptive responses to training, thus blunting your progress.

The take home, keep it simple Santa (K.I.S.S.- I don’t like calling people stupid, normally). The big five, squat, bench press, press, deadlift, powerclean plus chins, curls, and back extensions will work beautifully for your dedicated novice progression. Read the book to see implementation, or this excellent article on Fitocracy by Michael Wolf.

7) Resetting a million times.

Sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade and realize it’s time to move on. Whether it’s due to not enough food, not enough recovery, or poor technique, etc. you just need to either get some help or move on. If you’re not progressing every training session, you’re no longer on the Novice Progression anyway, so don’t be married to it if it’s not working for you (and you’re doing all the necessary things to make it work).

That being said, having a training program that revolves around the big 5 and some HIIT (if necessary) is the best base template you could hope for, with rep ranges, total volume, and frequency all reflecting an individual’s needs and goals. Put simply, you could do a lot worse than to keep resetting over and over again, but do you really want to stay weak? Figure out the limiting reagent and nip it in the bud. Grow. Progress. Profit.

8) Missing workouts (and not adjusting accordingly).

Simple enough, right? If you miss a workout on this program you are, by default, failing to provide a stimulus for your body to adapt to. This adaptation response is what is used to drive the next training day’s progress. Thus, if you miss a day you shouldn’t be expecting to “go up” in weight the next training day, although in the beginning this is more feasible. Moreover, novices tend to de-train more quickly than advanced trainees, as they’ve had less cumulative exposure to the lifts, progression, etc. and thus, it’s not unusual to see some of these detraining or deconditioning effects if a person misses a workout.

So, what do you do if you miss a workout? Simply repeat the last workout you did and start from there. If you miss a series of workouts and are a true novice, you’ll just start all over again. I really shouldn’t have to say this, but how about just not missing workouts?

9) Reading too much bullshit.

Bro 1: “Hey man, did you see that new exercise on MonsterMuscleGainer.com today?”

Bro 2: “Nah, bro. What was it?”

Bro 1: “It’s like this weird lunge thing with kettlebells. All the Russians used to use it and that’s why their legs are so jacked. I heard Klokov invented it!”

Bro 2: “Dude, this is awesome. We don’t have to do squats today then. Let’s do like 40 minutes of mobility to make sure we activate all our muscles during training, then do Klokov lunges with kettlebells.”

Bro 1: “Yea, squats are so old-school. MonsterMuscleGainer.com said these were better for hypertrophy anyway. I don’t care about being strong, I just want to LOOK strong.”

Sadly, this sort of crap happens everyday in gyms (CrossFit and black-iron gyms are not exempt from this either) across the country. People mistake “new” or “proprietary” with “better” and try to reinvent the wheel. Look boys and girls, barbells are the most efficient way to load the human musculoskeletal system and stress the body. Because it’s the most efficient*  way to stress the body, it’s the most efficient at causing the body to adapt and these adaptations are more robust than any other silly shit your “guru” is pushing.

*ef·fi·cien·cy: noun, plural ef·fi·cien·cies.

1. the state or quality of being efficient; competency in performance.
2. accomplishment of or ability to accomplish a job with a minimum expenditure of time and effort: The squat is increasing Christy’s exercise efficiency by working all the muscles of her legs and trunk instead of wasting hours doing isolation/activation bullshit.
3. the ratio of the work done or energy developed by a machine, engine, etc., to the energy supplied to it, usually expressed as a percentage.

10) Being a p*ssy.

Any program that’s designed to add weight to the bar 3x a week is going to be hard, make no bones about it. If you want it to be easy or, more commonly, easier week to week you need an attitude check.

“It never get’s easier, you just go faster”- Greg LeMond

Join the discussion 20 Comments

  • Scott says:

    Love it. I’m 40 and making some good progress having just found this type of training last year. I have two boys, 3 and 5 years old. I like how you mention at the right age and with the right program it’s possible to put on crazy muscle and stentgh. I can’t wait for my boys to get to that age.

  • Coral Polyp says:

    awesome article. I don’t follow SS but I agree with most of the points here.

  • Dave says:

    Regarding #5 might one say this varies with the exercise? Or is it just the mental battle of getting under the bar for a heavy squat set, that makes me rest longer, than when I bench?

  • Hina Askari says:

    I am a 45 year old non athletic female. 5’3″ tall and about 106 pounds.I started SS in March 2013 against everyone’s advice. I follow it like a religion …except the diet part. I started SS not for health reasons but to look sexy as fuck naked. (Going through a midlife crisis) I have never looked better in my life. Words are just not enough to describe how feel about SS. I don’t give a damn if my experience is anecdotal .. I am as average as a woman my age can be with no genetic gifts ….

    http://i.imgur.com/KKBT04v.jpg

    My upper body is starting to look like this and my lower body is coming along well .. I don’t give two shits about what anyone says … i am too fucking old to care .. I am getting the body i wanted at 20 thanks to SS and I intend to show it off.
    PS: I have gotten very strong
    Squat: 106 LB / started at 35 pound bar
    SP: 55 LB / started with 18 pound bar
    DL: 126 LB / started with 45 pound bar
    BP: 76 LB / started with a freaking broom stick
    PC: still learning to do /

  • […] 8 minutes for ATP to be replenished fully. 3 minutes to you get about 80% of your ATP replenished. Top 10 Mistakes People Following Starting Strength Make | thefitcoach Female, 5'3", 49, Starting weight: 163lbs. Current weight: 135 (more or less). Starting […]

  • fasdf says:

    bro don’t make fun of klokov who can probably outlift you with one hand

  • Daniel Wolf says:

    I was just wondering if the rest period is the same for squats, presses…?

    • Jordan Feigenbaum says:

      I would- though my bias is more rest for squats than presses based on my own experience. Still, if you’re prone to rushing the rest periods I’d keep them the same.

  • PG says:

    This is a great list. Sadly, I’ve learned all this the hard way, only to then discover Starting Strength and start working out smarter.

    I still struggle with not resting enough between sets. I get it physiologically. It’s just that my workouts have already slowed way down now that I understand how to do a proper progression of warmup reps for each of the basic lifts.

    So, my question – if I do, say, squats and press in pseudo-circuit fashion, i.e., do a set of squats, switch out the plates on the bar, rest for a minute or two, then do a set of presses, switch the plates again, wait a minute or two, then do another set of squats, and so on, am I shortchanging myself on the rests? Obviously, the presses make my lower body work to some degree, but they’re still sorta resting, compared to squats, right?

    I have a funny feeling I know the answer, but I just never envisioned myself resting so much while supposedly working out.

    • Jordan Feigenbaum says:

      If you do that circuit you are short changing rest, yes. Rest= rest, don’t do anything, sit, maybe foam roll or something if you’re still warming up. If it was a conditioning workout, you wouldn’t be resting so much but strength development requires rest.

      • PG says:

        Hey, thanks very much for this, and the reply in the other thread as well. Guess I’ll just have to continue to adjust my attitude about resting between sets. It’s largely a social problem. My gym is full of guys who really only come to hang out and talk really loud to each other about Manly Things, while watching whatever games are on the TVs. Every now and then, they’ll accidentally do a set of 3/4 ROM bench presses, or some noticeably bent elbow shrugs in the squat rack I’d like to be using, then it’s back to conversation and TV. So I like to bang out my sets and get out of there. Must ignore them. Must.

  • Ntrojnky says:

    Regarding “missing workouts”, I’m”strategically” missing workouts in that I’m taking 72 hours between training days because after 48 hours i don’t feel fully recovered. I don’t get DOMS, it’s more of a CNS fatigue, like my nervous system is short circuited. But after 72 hours I’m ready to go again. I’m 45 years old, 5’8″ 210 pounds and still going up in weight each workout. Squat 265, bench 175, press 115 and deadlifts 300. I know Rip would say YNDTP but is this actually ok as long as I’m still making progress?

    • Jordan Feigenbaum says:

      I would not do that, as it sets you up for failure later on. You need to get used to some volume my friend.

  • ShocDoc says:

    This is a great knowledge summary that took a lot of years to attain from various sources, backed up by personal experience, no doubt, of Dr Feigenbaum and countless others…including me. The only thing I would add to this is really more from a source of encouragement than anything else and that regards point number 4. You do have to eat a lot…and that is great up to a point. I have been able to put on 35 pounds (no steroids) over the past 18 months, which brings me to my point. At 51, I am obviously pretty far away, lifting-wise, from my late teens and twenties. However, following the program closely and ensuring I use the heaviest of the heavy weights I can for each exercise at each programming point has resulted in great strength gains, of which a nice side effect is getting bigger and bigger. I don’t have a six pack, and don’t want one. I just want to get stronger, which SS does irrespective of how old you are. So, if you are an old fart like me who lifted “heavy” on and off his whole life but never with a “point” until focusing on strongman and SS stuff, know it is possible to make good gains in both size and strength.

  • Hazel says:

    About rest periods..

    What about if you’re at a public gym?…8 mins between sets is a long time.

    I mean I have no problem with it but I can forsee other issues with people wanting to use the rack or bench…

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