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Mark Rippetoe

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February 5, 2014 - 11:00 am
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Starting Strength Seminar

(image credit: Thomas Campitelli, The Aasgaard Company 2013)

Strength training is quite popular these days, and is getting more popular as people realize the benefits of approaching their exercise program with a definite goal in mind. Stronger is more useful. Stronger is better. Stronger even looks better. And stronger is a straightforward process — lift a little more weight today than you did last time, and keep doing so for as long as possible.

But as simple as this process is, it can become unnecessarily complicated without a basic understanding of the nature of the exercises that make you strong most efficiently. The best exercises to use are the ones that involve the most muscle mass, the greatest number of joints, and that require you to balance yourself while you’re doing them. Put a bar on your back and squat below parallel, press a bar overhead, pick a bar up from the ground and set it back down. These are normal human movement patterns that can be turned into progressively heavier exercises that make you strong the way your body moves naturally.

You normally use your strength while standing on the ground and applying force with your hands and upper body. The hips and legs generate the force, it is transmitted up your torso and out through your arms. The press and deadlift are perfect examples of this precise application, and the squat is the best way to build strength in the hips, legs, and back. Add the bench press for upper body strength, and chin-ups for arm and upper back strength, and you have all the bases covered.

But if that’s true, why is it that when you go to the gym you are immediately shown two hours worth of movements that are not deadlifting, pressing, or squatting?

Why are you shown an array of exercise machines that divide the body into small groups of muscles to be worked separately, when the body actually uses them all at the same time? And when the Certified Trainers move you over to the large colorful balls and have you do balancing tricks on them, one foot at a time, is it really an improvement?

No, it’s not. Here’s why:

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Top Rated Comments   
In 2011 I fell from a 2 story roof in the course of my duties as an insurance adjuster. I incurred pilon fractures of both legs - basically powdered the ends of both bones where they insert at the ankle..imagine someone whacking you with a sledgehammer on the heel. After 9 surgeries, a near amputation, 5 months in a hospital bed - I was advised that I would never walk unassisted again - most likely a wheelchair, best case scenario - a walker. Then out of the blue, Mark Rippetoe contact me. He had no idea who I was, but he heard my story. He said together we would get strong. Long story abbreviated? I had never touched a weight before in my life. I was 44, nearly 360 pound and atrophied from being infirm. I could not even pick up my 3 year old daughter. Under Mark's guidance I began to lift. Let me add that I am in Lexington, KY and Mark is in Wichita Falls, TX. He guided me to the community at Starting Strength and threw me in. Fast forward to today - 2 years later - 300 + Bench Press, 400 + Squat, 200 lb Overhead Press and I just Deadlifted 615lbs. The surgeons that told me I would never walk again, the ones that absolutely refused to endorse or support my efforts when I started out, the ones that wanted me to do light seated cardio and be happy with my lot in life - -a handicapped life - have no explaination. If interested - here is a link to an interview I did last year:

http://startingstrength.com/index.php/site/index/barbell_training_as_rehab

Never think you can't, never think it is over. Every journey has to start . . and to continue just make a little more progress than the day before...1/2 lb, 1/2 an inch . . . I went from moving my leg in my hospital bed 5 inches at a time back and forth to Deadlifting 615 lbs. At the age of 46 no less...if it can work for me it absolutely can work for you. Feel free to contact me, I will help anyone that wants to help themselves. Mark reached out an helped me . .I will always pay it forward. Squat and Get Strong folks!
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37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm 72 and the program works great for me, so long as I keep getting to the gym.

You are making the assumption that as you reach for new levels, eventually something will break. That's not how it works. Eventually, your muscles will max out and you'll stop making progress, no matter what clever training pattern you use.

At my age, I expect to plateau some in the next few years, and then start declining gradually. But it will be a far slower decline than if I was not lifting. And I can cut wood and hump book boxes whenever I feel like it.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
The big five are:
squat
deadlift
2 handed overhead barbell press
bench press
power clean

not what others have listed below
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (81)
All Comments   (81)
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Hey Mark...

Would love to read your take on "Super Slow Weight Training"

Thanx
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
My body hates muscle. I work as hard as anyone to increase strength, but the minute I stop, it evaporates. I mention the preceding by way of background. I have found I need strength training to improve. Case in point--when I graduated bootcamp I could do several dozen push-ups compared to when I went in, but during a visit to my gym during boot leave, I found I had lost a full 50lbs of strength on the bench press. Likewise, when I was trying to increase my pull ups for the PFT, I found multiple sets, regardless of how many rest days in between workouts, just preserved the status quo. When I started doing pull ups with a waist chain and plates (very carefully), and very little weight, I started with 2.5lbs, and worked up to 5lb, my max pull ups increased by 2. Deplyment cut that routine short, but I'm a believer in strength training.

On a similar note, my father used weight training and running to stay in shape. All he had was a bench, rowing machine and exercise bike. He'd do pull ups wherever he found a handy tree branch. At 60 he developed Parkinsons. He attributed his prior weight training, which he continued literally to the day he died with allowing him to remain mobile, and possibily live longer as that mobility prevented him from developing any of the secondary conditions associated with Parkinsons due to immobility.
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is the money quote, as far as I can see:

"Put a bar on your back and squat below parallel, press a bar overhead, pick a bar up from the ground and set it back down. "

Can someone rewrite that in the English language?
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
These lifts have made me stronger riding a bike up hills. They have made me quicker off the dribble in basketball. Power clean can help white guys with our verticality deficit.
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
Question: *Pull strength"
Most activities of daily living require a lifting up or pulling towards yourself as do nearly all emergency manuvers. You pull it, them or yourself out of there.
Power lifters have strong and big biceps because they nearly all do supplemental curls.
...................
Are pull-up variants an equal or as warranted for total body conditioning? Core? - yes. Compound? - yes. Gym or $40 door gadget? - yes. Too hard to do at first?? - start at top and lower slowly at first - "negatives".
...............
Would also like to hear a user(!!) dialogue on trap bar dead lifts. After XX injuries and scopings, I am very happy with mine -huge weights, low reps, and no fear//pain.
Low weight home barbell?? - work up to over-head half-squats

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37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
One problem with some gym chains is that they've replaced traditional round plates with those ridiculous, gay, polygonal plates, which discourages lifting off the floor. Why did my generation invent the wheel so that younger folks could regress? I slap my head in bafflement.

Despite that designing stupidity, I see many people in my L.A. Fitness gym doing floor lifts anyway. That includes me.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think the priority should be to get people to do any kind of resistance exercise, and then as a secondary matter, worry about whether or not they can ever be persuaded to do the theoretically best or most efficient exercises.

My mother, for example, is never going to get under a heavy barbell and squat: it just is not going to happen. But she can be persuaded to do leg presses on a machine. An inferior exercise that will be done is more effective than a superior exercise that never gets done. If most people feel safer and are safer on an exercise machine, particularly with no supervision or low skill supervision, who cares if the exercise is perhaps not as good properly executed free weight exercises. It is still a lot better than being a couch potato. Don't let perfect be the enemy of 'good enough'.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Have to agree, from long observation and experience. I am one who favors free weights, and got much stronger than average for my size that way. Barbells and free weights in general are unbeatable for maximum strength gains, but that's not what most people in a gym are after.

For serious athletes in any sport, and for those who want to be genuinely "cross-fit," free weights, including the big three standing exercises, are the way to go. But for most people? Different story for different needs.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Adding more weight gradually over time. Giving the body a reason to get stronger and stay that way. Great article. I certainly see value in free weights along with certain types of machines. I feel strongly about the saying "you're only as strong as your weakest link". I stay away from the balancing ball stuff and unstable environment stuff. Give the body challenging resistance, increase it gradually over time. Do it in a way that doesn't damage what you are trying to construct.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is a big win for PJMedia, and its readers. Proper form can not be over emphasized, doing it wrong will cause harm.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
If you are looking for proper barbell coaching from Starting Strength Coaches there are a handful of Starting Strength Gyms in the US. Follow this link to find one near you.

http://startingstrength.com/index.php/site/gyms/
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
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