Aug 3, 2013

Strength Training Discussion - "Starting Strength"

After a week hiatus (a lot going on last weekend!), here's the third in a series of posts from Jake on strength training.  He's been studying up on a number of the "gold standard" strength programs out there, and sharing executive overviews of the methodologies.  You can locate this article and revisit previous articles using the "Strength" tag in the category search at right.

Any questions, experiences, or insights to share?  Post to comments...



III. Starting Strength, 3rd Edition

by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore

Starting Strength (SS) and its complement, Practical Programming for Strength Training (PPST), are novice and intermediate strength athlete programs. Hold your horses if you're reading this and thinking you're too uber-elite for this training because you have a 30 second Fran - I assure you it's worth your time.

Rippetoe's methods and the 5/3/1 method discussed previously are very similar.  In fact, 5/3/1 is really just another version of PPST. The method prescribed in these books is progressive overload through linear progression, which means you are steadily bumping up the weight you are using each workout (for the novice) or each weekish (for intermediate). You do this until you fail, then bump down the weight some percentage and start over. The overall intent is that each cycle you go through yields progressively higher overall strength. This is the way a significant amount of brutally strong men and women have gotten that way. 

Mark's focus is not on powerlifting competition. It's for general strength development in novices and intermediates, focusing on 5 specific lifts: the low-bar back squat, the standing press, the deadlift, the bench press, and the power clean. Mark goes into gory detail about how to do each of these lifts. SS is the most comprehensive and logically sequenced book on these lifts that I've encountered. Although geared toward novice and intermediate athletes, it has application for advanced lifters as well. I couldn't tell you if the advanced version works as I don't know anyone at this level (heck, I don't even really know any fully developed intermediates).

To clarify, here is how Rippetoe categorizes athletes or lifters in terms of skill level.  These terms have become the industry standard and are helpful for someone trying to program or train in general.
  • Novice: Athletes at this stage have the ability to adapt in 48 to 72 hours. In other words, every other day they can add weight to their workouts doing the same basic exercises because you are essentially untrained in weight training. This ability is called the "Novice Response." This stage doesn't last forever...depending on how hard you train and how serious you are, it can last as little as three months or last years. Novice programming has a short horizon, literally from workout to workout. 
  • Intermediate: This stage is when you can no longer increase the weight using simple linear progression workout to workout. The ability to adapt and recover in 48 to 72 hours has been exhausted. The weight being used is heavy enough that you cannot recover in that time and anything less will not force an adaption in strength. Most folks who train with weights are in this category. It is here that an athlete usually picks their sport, and the specific training for that sport spurs you into the next level. Intermediates program on a weekly basis. If you recall, 5/3/1 is a weekly program and is primarily for intermediate lifters.
  • Advanced: The advanced lifter requires significant dedication of time and resources, and is highly specified into their respective sport. Generally, strength sports such as Strong Man, Olympic Lifting, and Powerlifting are the primary contributors to the body of knowledge at this level. However, professional athletes in all sports can fall into this category. They require specialized programming because they are working very close to their genetic potential as human beings. The balance between overtraining and competition ready is a razor’s edge. They program on a monthly or greater basis and can no longer adapt using weekly models. 
  • Elite: Very few human beings fall into this category, these people are completely dedicated to their professional sport and are literally maximizing their potential as a human being. Their training is programmed on a yearly basis, as they are a repetition away from overtraining or regression. 
So what is a novice response? This is a documented condition that occurs in novice trainees (a novice is really anyone who has never really trained for sports, is out of shape, or has never trained specifically for something such as strength). Novices will exhibit large increases in fitness and performance following a short series of exposures to weight training, regardless of the nature of that exposure. Basically when you first start to train, anything you do forces an adaption because you are un-adapted. For example going for a walk around the block will increase your bench press. As you get progressively stronger and fitter, it takes more and more to force an adaption. At first, you'll be able to lift more weight every day, but again as you progress it takes longer and longer to recover.

This concept explains why any fitness program works for the first month or two, with miraculous testimonials of change and suddenly the program (no matter how silly) is insanely popular for getting "results". Reality is they do all work for what they're selling; it’s just not genius, but simple precepts of human adaption that are happening. This applies to folks in CrossFit as well, the novice response happens whenever anyone actually gets under a bar consistently, no matter how long they've been "doing" CrossFit.

The SS and PPST takes full advantage of the novice response by going heavy and pushing the limit with novices. Another important concept that PPST highlights is the nature of human adaption and how weight training exploits it. Mark looks to the theory of General Adaption Syndrome by Hans Selye. It essentially says organisms respond to stress through three stages: first is alarm or shock, second is adaption or resistance, the third is exhaustion. Mark applies this theory to exercise by saying that exercise training stress has three potential outcomes: the stress wasn't enough to force an adaption, it forced an adaption (which is where we want to be with our training) or we over taxed the system and we fall into the "overtraining" category. It is important also to understand that workouts don't make you stronger - recovering from the workouts do. Understanding this principle makes what you do on rest days much more important.

To program the way prescribed in SS and PPST is very simple. Full body 3 days a week, or two days a week, basically following this pattern:
Workout A: Squat 3 sets of 5 (3x5), Press (3x5), and Deadlift (1x5). Then some accessory work such as chins, GHD, and GHRs.
Workout B: Squat 3x5, Bench Press 3x5, and Power Clean 3x5, then the accessory work.
Rotate A and B every other workout. For example, Monday would be workout A, Wednesday B, Friday A, Monday B, Wednesday A, Friday B, until Ragnarok.

You will start out by achieving a 3 to 1 rep max on your lifts (you can use the handy max predictor from 5/3/1 if you're lazy or in a hurry). Then start the program at roughly 65% percent on all the lifts and jump in. Add weight 5 to 10 pounds each workout. As long as you don't get greedy and try to jump 20 pounds this will get you amazingly strong until the novice response wears off and you get stuck at weights. This could take anywhere from a month to a year or more depending on how untrained you were.

That's the "secret stuff" to the books. Hope it helps and let me know if you have any questions. Until then, Chalk Up.
- Jake Atkins

5 comments:

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