A Month of Starting Strength

Walt - July 24 2015

About a month ago I found myself cruising around on the internet, looking for something to replace the cutting routine that I found on JEFIT. I felt as though that routine had run it’s course and it was time for something fresh.

After a bit of research I compiled a list of three potential routines to try. I had my likes and dislikes with each of them but they all seemed solid and were backed up by positive reviews.

Strength Routines

Ultimately I came to the conclusion that Wendler’s program, while highly recommended, probably wasn’t the best starting point for me. It is what people consider an intermediate program and I was very much a beginner. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that there was a beginner modification to the core program.

That left me with two viable options in Stronglifts 5×5 and Starting Strength. Both programs were designed for beginners and were based on a linear progression in strength with core lifts. Neither program would make me a sculpted bodybuilder or a seasoned powerlifter but they would increase my level of strength, which was my goal.

A review from Powerlifting to Win actually pushed me away from Stronglifts 5×5 and towards Starting Strength. I purchased the Starting Strength Book on Amazon and began training on June 29th.

Training with Starting Strength

When I began the new program, finding a starting point was hardly scientific. Once you learn the basics of a given lift, you perform that lift with little to no weight on the bar. After five reps you gradually add weight to the bar and repeat the process. When your reps begin to slow down, that locks in your starting weight for the program.

My Starting Weight

  • Squat: 135lbs
  • Press: 95lbs
  • Deadlift: 185lbs
  • Bench Press: 125lbs

While these numbers aren’t a great representation of my level of strength at the start of the program, they serve as a decent enough baseline. Additionally, they go a long way in forcing you to ignore your pride. It is tough standing in a gym full of people and lifting such a low weight when you know that you could do more. However, doing that would set yourself up for failure later on down the line.

Starting Strength calls for you to add 10 pounds to each lower body exercise and 5 pounds to each upper body exercise every time you successfully complete your three sets of five reps. While it may seem like it takes forever for the bar to get heavy, it happens much faster than you think.

Failing for the First Time

On my fourth week of Starting Strength, I stepped into the rack and got under 210 pounds. I completed the first set of five squats and knew that I was going to struggle with later sets. By the time I got to the third rep on my third set, I was in trouble. My form had broken down and completing the last two reps were grueling.

I re-racked the barbell and stood there, staring at myself in the mirror, knowing that while I may have done the required reps, I had failed. My form fell apart and patting myself on the back would only mean a bigger failure during the next session.

Knowing that this was the point where true progress is made, I shook off my disappointment and continued on the with the other lifts.

I was back in the gym two days later to complete my last workout in the first four weeks of the program. I got back under the bar and tried 210 pounds for the second time. The first two sets came a little easier this time but it was still tough. When it came time to complete my last set I focused on my form and began to lift. I felt a little shaky on the last rep but I completed it with good form. My pride swelled, not progressing paid off and I earned the increase in weight the following workout.

Making Progress

Now that I’ve completed the first month of Starting Strength, I think it is about time to begin modifying the program. The book calls for swapping out the deadlift in Workout B for the power clean once the exercise is well established. I think that I’ll stick with this modification for a month then reevaluate before moving on to the last modification which calls for accessory exercises.

My Current Weight

  • Squat: 210lbs
  • Press: 120lbs
  • Deadlift: 235lbs
  • Bench Press: 145lbs

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been playing around with a website called Symmetric Strength. The website calculates your 1 Rep Max, based on weight and reps of your last set, and gives you a score based on others of your sex and weight. The first time I used the website I was listed as Untrained with a score of 42.2. As of my last lift I am now listed as a Novice with a score of 48.5.

I don’t know how much stock I put into the website calculation but I like being able to check it periodically to see progress.

Symmetric Strength - July 25 - 1

Symmetric Strength - July 25 - 2

Symmetric Strength - July 25 - 3

After Starting Strength

As of right now I’ve invested about a month into the Starting Strength Program. I feel like I’ve come a long way and am happy with the progress I’ve seen. Saying ‘I’ll stop the program on X date’ is tough because of he nature of the program. I’d like to say I’ll give the next modification a month then give it another month for the following modification but, the truth is, I’ll stop the linear progression when my body says it’s time.

Using that hypothetical time line, I’ll probably go from Starting Strength to a cutting program designed to reduce body fat. I’l probably give that six to eight weeks, then roll into the Wendler 5/3/1 program.

These days I’m putting less focus on losing weight and instead just trying to make healthier food choices and increase strength. The number on the scale is important to me but I’ve been enjoying my time in the gym and want to make getting healthy a long and happy process.

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