Starting Strength forever...
December 1, 2013 7:17 PM   Subscribe

Can the Starting Strength program be my only strength program?

I'm a 30 year-old male, 5'10" 230 Lbs (I'm working on it). I've been doing starting strength for about three months and so far it's been great. Along side the typical goals (looking better, getting stronger, etc.) I want to keep myself from becoming a frail old man. I actually hate lifting weights but I like what weightlifting does for my body. To that end, the best weightlifting program for me is the one that I'm most likely to stick with forever or at least as long as my body lets me. I do workout A on Monday and workout B on Thursday and I feel like I can keep that up. I like SS because it doesn't take a ton of time and keeps things pretty simple.

I'm still quite a ways off before I expect to stall on any of my lifts but I've read a bit about it so I know what to expect when it happens. According to the SS wiki, after I reset a few times I should move on to a different program. But, what if I want to stick with SS forever? Can I just keep resetting until I get my weight to move up again?

I figure that after I've reset a couple of times I'll be what I consider "strong enough" and that will probably be okay. Can I just keep lifting whatever that weight ends up being for a weeks (months?) and break the plateau?

If I don't care about how fast I gain strength (after the first nine months) is there any other reason that I'd want to switch programs?
posted by VTX to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Depends what your goal is, but yes, if you basically just want to build up some strength / lean mass and then maintain it, you can stick with essentially the same program forever.

I will admit that I don't know Starting Strength specifically in great detail. My understanding was that Rippetoe was mostly about which exercises you should do, and making sure you have the right form; briefly reviewing that wiki you linked, it appears to also suggest some specific numbers of reps for certain workout days. OK.

I'm a little older than you, and I have been doing a simpler version of that program pretty much continuously for about 15 years - net of some (long!) breaks where life was just too damn busy. The great thing is, you can just subtract 15 or 30 pounds or whatever from your previous max, and otherwise pick up where you left off. Doing this, I have definitely added lean mass over when I started, and re-added lean mass quickly when I am diligent about the program after a long break. This helps both with keeping fat off, and with just general "feeling good" and being able to do random cardio workouts, pickup sports, etc., without much difficulty.

Of course, my only goal has been to essentially maintain in those areas, or get back on track after I've slacked for several weeks or months. I think it is good for that, and I don't personally feel any need to switch to some other program. It sounds like this is kind of where you are, or aim to be soon; if you have other goals that you think might require switching, can you explain in more detail?
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 7:37 PM on December 1, 2013

I figure that after I've reset a couple of times I'll be what I consider "strong enough" and that will probably be okay. Can I just keep lifting whatever that weight ends up being for a weeks (months?) and break the plateau?

This is a contradiction - if you are "strong enough", why do you want to break the plateau?

Because of this, I'm not sure how to answer your question, but I will say, yes, you can do SS as long as you like, and also that you should accept that somewhere along the line it gets harder and harder to gain strength. You can do it, but you will need to change routines, get quite serious about nutrition etc etc. Also, injuries can be more serious. You will still hit that limit whether you stay with SS or move on.

Most people who lift weights find an outer limit for whatever reason and then tend to hover around it, and that's fine, they are still fit people.

I feel like there's some ambiguity in your question because you are not clear on what your goals are: are they to get fit, to lift a certain amount, to look a certain way? You can tailor your program accordingly. Lifting, like any exercise though, is not an even gradation of steady improvements forever and ever - though you can't be blamed for thinking that from some of the arrant nonsense in the forums.
posted by smoke at 7:38 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The thing about SS is that the program really emphasizes what Rippetoe calls "linear progression", which basically means that he intends for you to be adding weight to the bar from workout to workout. As you go deeper into the program, the amount of weight you add to the bar is going to drop and drop, and then eventually you'll have to do the whole reset thing and wait for your body to catch up. I guess in theory you could stick with SS forever, just persisting along your plateau without much progress, but that isn't what SS is designed for -- it's designed to get you out of the gates strength-wise, and when the time's right, for you to make the transition to something different, like 5/3/1 or something. Besides, at the kinds of weights you'd be eterna-plateau'ing at, squatting 3x/week (@ probably 300, maybe 400-plus lb) just isn't something you can do forever, and puts you at risk for overtraining which can be beneficial if properly handled, but SS doesn't handle it all that well. So at that point, you're going to have to switch to a program that looks further ahead than your next workout, like in terms of monthly cycles with built-in resets, as in 5/3/1.
posted by un petit cadeau at 8:48 PM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Dropped in to say the same thing that un_petit_cadeau said -- SS is designed for beginning lifters during that magic period when you can expect to improve every time you walk in the gym. Un_petit_cadeu mentions 5-3-1, I was going to make the same suggestion. This is Jim Wendler's 5-3-1 program. You'll find it very similar to SS in that it focuses on four basic lifts: bench, deadlift, squat, and shoulder press. Where it differs is the periodization: it follows a four week cycle where you do sets of 5 one week, sets of 3 the next, then a 5/3/1 cycle, then a "deload" cycle. The periodization seems to be a good recipe for breaking through plateaus. Lifting isn't my primary thing, but I've successfully used Wendler in my "off season" for three years now and have had a good experience with it.
posted by kovacs at 9:19 PM on December 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

The alternative programs basically do what you're describing: switching to weekly or monthly progression, changing up the reps, introducing some accessory exercises to help with the main lifts.

You talk about eventually breaking a plateau so I assume you're still gonna try to consistently lift your five rep max. Squatting your 5RM three times a week when you get to 350+ pounds and deadlifting twice a week is gonna be very hard on your body so you'll probably at least switch that up. And at that point you may as well go with another template program.

As an aside, you mentioned one of your reasons for lifting is to look better. SS kind of has a reputation for focusing a lot on lower body strength, because that's what athletes primarily need. It doesn't really matter when you're starting out but once you reach intermediate level you may want to focus more on upper body stuff, which is just another reason to switch programs.
posted by rq at 11:51 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

No, you can't run Starting Strength forever. Rather, you can, but it's a tremendously bad idea. Please don't do it.

SS is a linear progression program designed for novices. If you're not a novice, the linear progression (adding weight or trying to every session in every lift) is an invitation to overtraining and injury.

I am curious as to what "doing SS" has looked like for you. If you're 230 and have been running the program for three months, the workouts shouldn't be making you "feel like you can keep that up" and they shouldn't be quick. If not now, then soon. Starting Strength is hard. Within another 3 months the workouts will be grueling, filling you with a terror the moment you wake up. "Oh shit," you'll think, "I have to squat five more pounds today. How will I do it? Can I do it? Last session was so hard even when I took ten minutes between sets. Oh man. Oh, man." The beginning is great--personal bests every day!--but the end is so, so hard.

Aimee Anaya Everett of Catalyst Athletics has seen trainees like you, who think they can ride this wave of accomplishment until the end of their days. Replace "snatch" and "clean and jerk" with "squat" and "bench press" to hear what she's saying to you:
New people come on the scene...these folks PR every week, their lifts continuously go up week after week, and they are the fucking bomb! Their confidence is through the roof! Do we have the next World Champ? The greatest thing to hit weightlifting… they are thinking to themselves, well shit fire and save matches! At the rate I am PRing in my snatch and clean & jerk, 3-5kgs a week, I will be beating all these bitches, all these top 10 girls or boys, and I will be amazing! I will be an Olympic medalist for sure… as they are calculating what their lifts will be in 6 months at this 3-5kg per week increase.

And then reality sets in. You can’t PR every week forever. New people to the sport have a level of strength and a level of technique. Once those two things match up, they hit a wall. New folks PR every week because they are new to the sport, and they are going to naturally progress to where their limit is, based on their athletic ability. When they reach their limit, they find PRs are not coming every week. Or every two weeks, or maybe not even in a whole month.

Weightlifters who have been lifting for years fight for every kilo. ‘Elite’ lifters may not PR in one of the lifts for a whole year! They may spend six months not even close to their PRs. They may go backwards.
When your lifts get heavy, and hard, and you keep resetting over and over--listen to what the iron is telling you. It ain't lyin'. Switch to 5/3/1 or the Texas Method if you want to keep powerlifting, or, as Rippetoe & Kilgore suggest in Practical Programming, ask yourself whether you want to work on another aspect of fitness: bodybuilding, conditioning, Oly lifting, a sport like CrossFit or judo, or if you just want to start mixing it up with different lifts (Turkish get-ups! Front squats! Handstands! Muscle-ups!) in order to stay fresh and challenged. There are other lifts, other programs, other elements of fitness to try.

Also--do you have the book? It doesn't sound like it. The book is important. The wiki is not enough. Read the book. Twice. At least.
posted by daveliepmann at 3:57 AM on December 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: As mentioned, you can run starting strength forever, but you're basically shooting yourself in the foot and wasting your time once you consistently start stalling. Several folks have already recommended it, but let me add a voice saying go with 5/3/1 and stick with that forever.
posted by bfranklin at 5:56 AM on December 2, 2013

Response by poster: This is a contradiction - if you are "strong enough", why do you want to break the plateau?

The plateau might happen before I'm "strong enough"

This table of strength standards linked to in the SS wiki shows that I should probably have a theoretical, training for the Olympics max squat of somewhere around 530 Lbs, about 400 Lbs would make me an "advanced" lifter, 300 for intermediate, 245 for novice and 130 for untrained.

Right now, I'm squatting 175 Lbs for my five reps in three sets. So my single rep max is probably around 195 Lbs placing me between untrained and novice. I kind of expect that I'll have to reset once before I hit the novice level and probably again before I hit intermediate. If I can get to 400 Lbs squats and can't ever break that plateau, I'm totally fine with that. But, if I hit a wall before that at say 350, I'll probably want to break through it, I just don't really care all that much about how long it takes. My goal is basically to find some upper limit and hammer at that wall until I get old and die. I don't really know what that limit will be and I probably won't know until I get there.

If all it really takes is changing the number of reps, sets, and weights a little bit I can totally do that (especially if it tops out at 3x5). What I really want to avoid is adding a bunch of other exercises to target specific areas. I don't really have an issue with replacing squats with some other squat variation but I really want to keep my workouts to three total exercises. I really don't want to have to mess around with doing squats, bench press, and dead lifts and then trying to do some assistance exercises to try and break a plateau faster when I could just keep doing the same basic lifts and being patient.
posted by VTX at 7:03 AM on December 2, 2013

As someone in his mid-late 40s, I've increasingly come to appreciate the value of strength training without injury for the long run. One book I like is The New Rules of Lifting for Life, which is a sustainable program designed for old people like me. You're young, so maybe you can get a lot more mileage out of programs like Starting Strength and 5-3-1. But if your goal is long-term fitness -- and you don't care about what your one-rep max is -- you may want to make some changes.
posted by Shoggoth at 7:27 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

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