This review of the book Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training is going to get a bit personal… not because I enjoy spewing a lot of personal information or because I want to drone on about myself. It will get personal because I’ll be honest about my fitness levels in order to give you a real measuring stick for what this book/program might be able to do for you.
Everything Before Starting Strength
I played sports growing up, especially soccer. I played several intramural sports in college and was very active in the years immediately following college. I spent some time lifting in high school, college, and beyond but mostly without aim or guidance.
Once I was married and settled into a sedentary job, I spent several years with little to no exercise and I paid the price in weight gain. I lost a significant amount of weight about 6 years ago through diet and exercise.
For the last 2 years, I have used kettlebells, sandbags, rucking, hiking, and a little running to keep the weight at bay or at least stay in shape to hike which I really enjoy. I naively thought that, through these types of training, I was building strength and to some degree I probably was. However, it wasn’t until the end of last year that I realized how weak I was allowing myself to become.
When everyone else investing guns, ammo, and magazines in advance of the election, I decided to invest in my long-term strength and capability. I viewed getting stronger as another, maybe even more important, form of prepping. I began filling out the missing pieces of a home weight lifting gym and researching a program to start. In November of 2020, 1 month before my 40th birthday, I started the Starting Strength Novice Linear Progression.
After Starting Strength
The first session, when I established my first work set weights, was humbling. My numbers were low. I was immediately confronted with how naive I had been about training. My first work sets were 165 lb low bar squats, 185 lb deadlift, and 135 lb bench press. That’s a sub-500 lb total for those who are keeping track. I was, for the first time, confronted with a quantifiable measure of my weakness and this focus on the measurable is something that is central to Starting Strength. These numbers are not at all ambiguous. These numbers don’t lie.
I found the book to be fairly easy to understand. When there was something that I did have a question about, I found that my question was likely answered somewhere on the web already. This a major strength of this program. It is extremely well supported with years worth of instructive and diagnostic videos as well as active forums where there is a good chance someone has already asked your question.
I would even go so far as to characterize this book as simple. I don’t mean simple as in lacking depth. The book doesn’t lack depth at all. It dives more than deep enough into each of the core movements and your initial programming. I mean simple in that, after you have read the book, it can be tempting to think you need to do more than what it says to do. You are basically just going to squat, deadlift, bench press, over head press 3 times a week, adding weight to the movements nearly every time. That isn’t much of an oversimplification.
I had to learn to trust the process in this book and its simplicity. I initially tried to do more like do conditioning intervals on days between lifting. I quickly found that this was spoiling my lifts and slowing progress. The Novice Linear Progression seems to provide quick results for most untrained people but it is somewhat demanding in the pace of its increases so any work outside of the program might screw with your progress… at least if you are an untrained 40 year old like me.
Once I settled into the program, results came quickly like the book said they would. You have a lot of room for improvement when starting as weak as I did. I passed a 600 lb total in less than 30 days and passed a 700 lb total in another 30. As of the time of this writing, I am just short of a 900 lb total. All of these numbers are for work sets, not max lifts. I haven’t tried heavy singles in a while so there is a good chance my total is actually higher than 900 lb.
I realize that a lot of you are putting up much larger numbers than that. We all know everyone on the internet has a supermodel wife, six-figure income, 12″ hog, and 1200 lb powerlifting total but those numbers represent a lot of hard work for me. I’ve added about 400 lbs to my totals in less than 3 months and I feel pretty good about that.
In addition to increasing my lifts, I’ve also noted body composition changes. I gained almost 10 lb but actually lost inches from my waist. I had to buy a new weight lifting belt to accommodate my narrower midsection.
Now that winter has lost its grip on North Idaho, my goals are changing. I will continue to lift but slow my progress on increasing them while starting to work in more conditioning. I’ve mostly neglected conditioning over the winter in favor of gaining strength and now I need to build that back into my routine. The amazing mountains around here aren’t going to climb themselves.
This review is very experiential and it lacks a lot of depth. I am not sure I will ever become the guy who can name every muscle group and tell you about micro nutrients. I think that is part of why Starting Strength works for me. It is written to be a starting point for weak, untrained people.
I think the bottom line on Starting Strength is that, if you want to build a solid foundation of strength, it works. If this book starts a life-long passion for powerlifting, great. If it just serves as an instructional guide for being less weak, that’s great too.
I bought my copy of Starting Strength on Amazon – Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training 3rd Edition (affiliate link)