Trouble starting Starting Strength
May 17, 2009 7:13 PM   Subscribe

Ok, so I've read, highlighted and taken notes on Rippetoe's Starting Strength, after half of Metafilter and my gym going friends recommended it. I've run into some trouble with the program, though, since I can't seem to do deadlifts and I can't follow his dietary advice.

Before this, I may have been in a weight room about five times in my life. I've always kept physically active (hiking, running, etc) and eaten a somewhat decent diet, but strength has been an outstandingly huge blind spot for me. I've had good luck with keeping somewhat acceptable form with the squat and the bench press, but when the time came around to do a deadlift I couldn't get the damn bar off the ground. Rippetoe suggests 5-10 lb plastic training weights, but I can't seem to find them in my gym. I've looked around for something to prop up the bar to the standard 8 1/2 inches, but I can't seem to find anything usable that's lighter than the two 45 lb weights that I can't lift. Would I kill my back by using the smaller weights and a lower starting position? It struck me as a bad idea at the time. For that matter, are there any other exercises I could do to strengthen my back until I can do a deadlift?

Second problem I've run into is that I have both a dairy allergy and am lactose intolerant, so I think drinking a gallon of milk would probably be my death. My diet has mostly revolved around meat, beans, peanut butter, fruit, and a bunch of different whole grains. It's getting dull, though. If you have high calorie, high protein meal ideas that don't involve any dairy, could you share them?
posted by ayerarcturus to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
1. If you can't find the bumper plates, get a milk crate or somesuch to put the bar on, so you can use the smaller plates without having to bend down so much. Alternatively, if you can lift the bar from the lower position without rounding your back at all, you'll be OK. The key thing is to make sure your back is always straight, or you can hurt yourself pretty bad. As far as strengthening your back, all the other compound lifts are good for that (squat, overhead press).

2. Cheapest proteins are eggs and peanuts (peanuts are a nice bonus in the calorie department). Don't worry about the milk thing.

3. My biggest complain about Starting Strength is that he has you do this routine that includes 3 heavy sets of squats 3 times a week, which was too much for me. I had much better luck going up in weight when I dropped down to 1 or 2 sessions a week for each compound lift.
posted by rxrfrx at 7:25 PM on May 17, 2009

I know nothing about Starting Strength, but I do know a bit about lifting weights. Why not do the deadlift with dumbbells? As someone who hovers around the 115 pound mark, the bar is a little bit too much for me, so I do the dumbbells. Example here.

Also, for getting the bar up higher, you could try using two steps from the step aerobics class. They have adjustable height, so just stick a step under each end of the bar and you're good to go.
posted by smalls at 7:46 PM on May 17, 2009

Can we have some more information such as your age, gender, weight, level of general physical fitness, and amounts that you can squat, bench, clean, and press? When you say you couldn't get the bar off the ground, can you elaborate? How much weight was on the bar? Did the bar simply not move when you attempted to lift it? If so, it might be worth trying an alternate grip, as Rippetoe suggests, although from your description so far, I am concerned that you are failing at some very basic aspect of this movement, so I hesitate to suggest that you try it again without more information.
posted by holympus at 8:24 PM on May 17, 2009

Seconding dumbbells. Also, if your body mechanics don't work for a regular deadlift (putting your back at risk), consider using the sumo deadlift. Not for everyone, but it's safer and more pleasant for me.
posted by ferdydurke at 8:43 PM on May 17, 2009

Alright, thanks for all the answers so far. To each of you:

rxrfrx: Weirdly, I couldn't find anything that would lift the bar up in the gym, maybe I'll rummage around for something to bring. I'm pretty flexible though, so maybe I can still keep a flat back with a smaller plate. I'll have to try.

smalls and ferdyduke: I never considered doing that exercise with dumbbells, I'll give it a shot.

holympus: I'm approaching my mid twenties, weigh a little over 130, and about 5'8 to 5'9. I'm a skinny bastard since I was more or less perpetually ill from dairy until my doctor and I figured out what was going on. I'm using (what I think is) a 45 pound bar, and after adding 10-30 pounds of weight my form for any of the lifts get worse (started last week). I found a ~10 pound rod at work, video recorded my form while lifting it up from propped up boxes, and compared it to what I've read and this video. The problem at the gym is to get the bar up to the recommended height, I need to pile on the 45 pound plates, and I can't seem to lift a (45*3=135lb) bar. I was going to do the alternate hand grip, but I didn't want to risk my back before getting a second opinion.
posted by ayerarcturus at 9:02 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think your instincts are good--I'm suspicious that you would be unable to deadlift 135 lbs with proper form, and you definitely do not want to proceed without proper form. In fact, I would be worried about your form in the other lifts too given what you've said so far. I would try to find someone to give you some hands on training. To echo what I'm sure you've seen in the other posts recommending Starting Strength, have you considered checking out a local Crossfit box? You could probably find a trainer there who would give you a couple of hours of one-on-one training without joining the gym.
posted by holympus at 9:31 PM on May 17, 2009

Another option for stacking would be to just stack up a few plates until the height is right, and then set the weights\bar on that.
posted by !Jim at 9:36 PM on May 17, 2009

What holympus said, though I can't imagine it's a grip issue. I wouldn't switch to dumbells yet -- make sure that you're doing the movement correctly before you try to change it.

To achieve the correct bar height with smaller plates, stack the plates up on the floor as described in this article.

But definitely check out some deadlift videos and make sure your form is good.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:38 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

If your gym has a squat cage, you could put the side horizontal safety bars down at just above ankle height, then lift the bar from that.
posted by ctmf at 9:46 PM on May 17, 2009

Could you ask the gym staff for something to use to stack on? Also, I have found it extremely hepful to work with a trainer when I've started lifting weights. I signed up for a circuit training class at my local rec center and fortunately for me the other two folks in the class have rarely shown up -- so, I have had almost free personal training. I'd suggest working with a trainer or taking a class to start with if this is in your budget at all...or, if you have a friend who knows something about lifting weights that would help.
posted by fieldtrip at 9:56 PM on May 17, 2009

You could probably make some training plates out of plywood fairly cheaply and bring them with you. Go with thick enough wood to support adding real plates. When you get to 135 in a couple of months, switch to 45's. Keep the wooden ones for when you want to practice/warm up cleans and snatches with just the bar.
posted by ctmf at 9:57 PM on May 17, 2009

In the half dozen gyms I've belonged to, I can't remember one that didn't have light wooden dummy plates for Olympic bars. They're basic equipment. Complain to the management.

Also, I'm fully prepared to believe that lifting more than your bodyweight is a bit much. I'm your height but 40lbs heavier. It's taken me several years, off-again on-again, to get to deadlift slightly more than twice my body weight (165 kg x 2 is my current max and I weigh 79 kg right now). I remember being quite pleased at breaking the barriers of bodyweight, 1.5 x bodyweight, and then 2 x bodyweight.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:40 PM on May 17, 2009

Some people use a shrug bar, but for the sake of learning proper form this video is really instructive crappy music included.
I would also include squeezing the butt and humping upward motion as helpful tips.

Sumo Deadlift offers the benefit of less chafing. A lot less chafing.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:01 AM on May 18, 2009

I don't think a real deadlift is technically feasible until you can put 35 or 45 lb plates on either side, because that bar needs to be some distance from the ground - so ctmf has the right idea. Start with rack pulls in the cage to get an idea of the form and the weight you can lift. If you are an adult, you really should be able to lift at least an olympic bar (~45 lbs) from a rack pull. In fact, think you'll be pleasantly surprised with how much you can pull.
posted by Burritos Inc. at 2:46 AM on May 18, 2009

Sorry, forgot about the second part of the question. If you want a crazy, high-protein meal, start a pan on the stove, dump in a can of tuna, chunks of tofu and crack a couple of eggs in there. Cook. Eat. Very, very quick and simple!
posted by Burritos Inc. at 2:50 AM on May 18, 2009

Rippetoe recommends the gallon of milk thing because it is an easy way to get a tremendous excess of calories with a good balance of fat, carbs, and protein. Also, there is some belief (with a mix of anecdotal and scientific truth behind it) that milk protein is tops for muscle-building and weight gain.

If you can't handle the lactose, just make sure you are absolutely stuffing yourself. A gallon of milk is something like 2000-3000 extra calories. However, take note that particular recommendation is geared towards new teenage lifters who are perpetually skinny and still growing. Older folks who go on SS often find taking in that excess of calories is not so great for the waistline. Make sure you're eating plenty, especially if you're skinny, don't be afraid to put on some fat as long as you're building muscle and your lifts are going up, but don't think that because you start this program every day should be a free-for-all at Ben & Jerry's (no offense, I just know people who have done this and have been unhappy with the results).
posted by schroedinger at 3:47 AM on May 18, 2009

I just started Starting Strength last week! I've had trouble getting started with the deadlift too. I've been using two aerobic steps (like this). I remove the height adjusters and set a 25 pound plate on top of each step. Then I take the bar and set the bar collars into the center of each plate. That puts the empty bar at exactly the right height. After doing those sets, I remove the plates from the steps, add 5 pound plates to the bar, and it's at the correct height again. Next time I'll add some more 5 pound plates since 10 would make it too high. I'll be glad when I get to 135 so I can just use the 45s on the ground!

In the half dozen gyms I've belonged to, I can't remember one that didn't have light wooden dummy plates for Olympic bars. They're basic equipment. Complain to the management.

I go to the YMCA, and they don't have dummy plates. Unfortunately some gyms aren't set up for barbell lifting. The Y mostly has machines and only 1 squat rack. It's not very conducive to the Starting Strength system. The problem is that my wife and daughter go to the Y, so I would have to pay for a new gym membership on top of the family plan at the Y. I am going to try asking for dummy plates. They are usually pretty good about responding to requests. Maybe I can get them to add another squat rack too!
posted by diogenes at 6:20 AM on May 18, 2009

Stack three or four big plates (25s or 45s) flat on either end of the bar to rest it on. It's not perfect - you'll have to be careful the bar doesn't roll - but it'll work.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:03 AM on May 18, 2009

Everything here is spot on. Some high-protein, dairy-free suggestions:

1. Canadian bacon (this + eggs = great high-protein breakfast!)
2. Tuna is a great protein source. All kinds of fish are excellent, though; I personally love salmon.
3. Turkey, chicken, basically ANY lean meat
4. Some not-so-lean meats too! You're trying to put on weight here so a fatty piece of steak or some 70/30 ground beef isn't a bad idea. Maybe one meal every other day or so.
posted by achompas at 3:31 PM on May 18, 2009

Some not-so-lean meats too! You're trying to put on weight here so a fatty piece of steak or some 70/30 ground beef isn't a bad idea. Maybe one meal every other day or so.

ayerarcturus, you weigh 130 pounds. You do not need to worry about how lean your meat is.
"And folks, for weight-gaining purposes, "eating clean" is not a useful concept. Big Macs are." -- Mark Rippetoe
posted by ludwig_van at 7:30 PM on May 18, 2009

ayerarcturus, you weigh 130 pounds. You do not need to worry about how lean your meat is

Assuming that he wants long-term weight gain, it makes more sense to do it with a diet that can be healthily maintained over a long period.
posted by diogenes at 10:05 AM on May 19, 2009

I'm just telling you what Mark Rippetoe would say, only he probably wouldn't be very polite about it. Feel free to go to his forum where he's said the same thing many times. The idea of a 130 lb. guy tying to do Starting Strength while counting calories or worrying about eating only lean meat is goofy.

A beginner's strength program like Starting Strength has nothing to do with maintaining over a long period. It's about making as many beginner gains, in terms of strength and mass, as possible, until you can't make them anymore, and then you change programs.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:33 AM on May 19, 2009

For example, the prescription to drink a gallon of milk a day, which the OP should probably follow, does not mean one is supposed to drink a gallon of milk a day every day for the rest of his life.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:44 AM on May 19, 2009

I don't think you would kill your back if you put 10 pounds on each side of the bar for a deadlift. Your range of motion will be greater, but you'll be okay. It'll make it that much easier when you actually get up to the 45 pound plates on each side. As long as you can keep a nice neutral spine throughout the lift, you will be okay.

As for the milk, I think SS was mainly designed as an introduction for high school weightlifters (primarily football players). So the emphasis on putting on lots of weight is geared to that audience. Those of us not so concerned with becoming beefy linemen can safely ignore the gallon of milk a day and substitute lots of good, healthy eating.

Rippetoe has lots of nice things to say about the deadlift and how it tests the character of the lifter. Don't let initial setbacks deter you from deadlifting. It is by far the most challenging lift you will do, and probably the most satisfying.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 12:45 PM on May 19, 2009

Post gym update: I put the bar on top of some stacked plates like some of you suggested, and that seemed to work. I was looking for both "clean" eating ideas and not so clean ideas -- I find that if I bias myself towards the former but allow myself the latter I end up with a fairly healthy diversity of food and I can also get my calories up high enough. I am avoiding fast food, though. Anyway, thanks for all the suggestions, and good luck for anyone who's starting too.
posted by ayerarcturus at 1:36 PM on May 19, 2009

Kind of late, but if your gym locker is big enough to keep a couple of 10s, Rogue Fitness is selling 10 lb. bumper pairs for $30.
posted by ctmf at 10:15 PM on May 19, 2009

A beginner's strength program like Starting Strength has nothing to do with maintaining over a long period. It's about making as many beginner gains, in terms of strength and mass, as possible, until you can't make them anymore, and then you change programs.

I hear you. I just struggle with the idea that eating lots of Big Macs is ever a good idea. I'm also a little unclear on what to do after the initial gains. If you make gains by drinking a gallon of milk every day, aren't you going to lose some of those gains when you stop doing that?
posted by diogenes at 6:27 AM on May 20, 2009

I've been reading through Rippetoe's forum in an attempt to answer my own question. He says "The caloric surplus needed to grow the mass is far in excess of the caloric maintenance level that increased as a result of the new tissue. In other words, it's more persistent than you think." I want to learn more about how and when to transition from a calorie intensive (gallon of milk a day) diet to a more sustainable diet. Any suggestions for where to start?
posted by diogenes at 8:02 AM on May 20, 2009

I was searching for that very quote from his forum, I'm glad you found it. He's also said that he thinks fast food is fine to facilitate weight gain in the short term. As for a more sustainable diet, Rippetoe often recommends the Zone diet, which is popular with crossfitters. As for when to transition, that's hard to say. The end of the beginner stage (i.e. the point where you can no longer adapt to weight increases every workout) would seem like a reasonable point.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:51 AM on May 20, 2009

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