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Starting Strength Kindle Edition
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As a beginner to barbell training, I was (and still am) very wary about most of the information and training materials out there. For every article or video promoting good, safe form, there's five youtube videos demonstrating a one way ticket to Snap City. The Internet is also a "broscience" minefield. Just because someone looks (or is) strong doesn't mean they're qualified to show you how to lift weights safely.
Starting Strength is a useful book on multiple fronts:
1. It teaches you how to perform several compound lifts. These explanations are comprised of broad-strokes descriptions (grab the bar like so, chest up, squeeze muscle x etc.), fine adjustments and also corrections for common mistakes.
2. The book doesn't just constrain itself to specific lifts; it contains general principles about ensuring the bar takes an optimal path. You can use this knowledge with other lifts.
3. It contains numerous little bits and pieces about developing grip strength, what grip to use, whether straps / belts / wraps are appropriate etc.
4. It puts these lifts into a simple, structured beginners program complete with suggested weight progressions. It also details how long you can exercise in this manner before you encounter diminishing returns and so forth.
5. It has a companion website with additional resources.
6. There's lots of other bits of good advice. In particular, how to spot without actually getting in the way. If you touch the bar, it doesn't count!
I've read and re-read the deadlift chapter in particular about 5 times and, each time I do, I find something new that helps me.
The negatives (I've revised my review and added a few):
1. The bravado, gung-ho approach is entertaining to a degree, but the "MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY" chat gets old quick, especially when...
2. The diet section is beyond ridiculous. Rippetoe advocates the GOMAD diet (gallon of full fat milk a day) for underweight trainees, the goal being to pack on as much weight as possible and to hell with the consequences. I usually get through 2 to 3 pints of semi-skimmed milk per day and that's plenty for me; I can't fathom the need for more. Very few trainees need to put on a tonne of weight in the space of a few short months, so I don't see this advice as being sensible. Furthermore, it runs the risk of engendering a quick-fix "you can be super-strong in no time at all!" mindset just so he has some impressive-sounding numbers to point at for marketing.
The truth is that, for most people, training is hard and sticking to a routine is even harder. As such, forget quick fixes and gimmicks like the GOMAD diet; it's my firm opinion that a gradual, measured approach is far more sensible compared to forcing yourself to chug down a gallon of full-fat milk just so you can add 2.5kg to your squat every session. In a year, I've gradually gained 10kg (22lbs) of weight by eating a sensible diet. I'm still at the gym, no quick fix was required. My weight is still going up. I don't have to choke down a gallon of fatty milk, either.
3. There is a significant lack of information on evaluating your limitations. How do you know what you don't know? I read the book start to finish about five times, took notes and generally had a good (or what I thought was good) idea of how to do the basic mechanics of the lifts. I was able to correct several basics problems in my friend's squat and deadlift form, amongst other things. The problem is that, as is touched upon in the book in a few cases point, you may not actually have good awareness of what _your_body is doing. Given that this is a book for rank beginners, there isn't enough caution exercised. I am a methodical person and tend not to take things lightly, but still managed to injure myself in a few ways:
Firstly, some of the lifts are heavily dependent on flexibility. Got t-spine mobility issues because you sit at a desk all day? Well, you can't press safely. The book does not cover this and, thankfully, I noticed my lumbar region was sore prior to putting any serious weight on the bar and was able to track down the relevant information elsewhere. My back healed up without a problem while I worked on my flexibility.
Secondly, I'm a really tall guy (198cm / 6"6) and, despite my best efforts, I still knackered myself deadlifting despite getting my friend to form check & video me. I'm not saying don't do the lifts, but take it at a pace that is even slower than advocated in the book unless you are 100% sure that your form is spot-on. Rippetoe states that you should add a fair amount of weight (2.5kg+) to your major lifts every session. Unfortunately, the extra weight you can add to the bar every session means that certain lifts can very quickly reach a weight progression that is capable of causing lasting injury.
By adding ~2.5kg per session, I was pulling 102.5kg for the deadlift not long after I started and, before I knew it, I overshot what was safe for my progression level and injured myself (each previous session felt easy, so don't kid yourself that it can't happen to you). If I had stuck around on 65kg for a month, I could've worked on my form without risking injury. Yes, I am an adult and made such a choice, but it's very easy to convince yourself that you're lifting safely when, in reality, you're a couple of months into a barbell programme and you're still figuring out how to do the lifts and internalising the rules. The weight I was pulling was well within the parameters of the programme. I thought I was being careful. The truth is that for all of the reading, re-reading, form-checking and so on, I was missing some information regarding flexibility that could've saved me a lot of pain and hassle.
Two years+ on and I still suffer some lower back pain. Deadlifting aggravates it. It's not the end of the world, but my back has been in better shape, plus I really, really liked deadlifting, but now I cannot do it until I figure out how to rehabilitate my back. You might make the same mistake, so be careful. Again, keep the weight low until you're sure your form is perfect and your body is able to assume the position required of it at the bottom of the deadlift.
If you're a recreational lifter, don't eagerly harvest your beginner's gains. Instead, take the time to improve your technique and build up slowly. If you're adding 2.5kg per session, it won't take long to run out of runway (see comment I left recently below).
4. The kindle edition is naturally limited in its ability to show the pictures and diagrams. Photos come out OK, but when you want to see a lift progression, it's pretty clunky having to click through 5 pages. Look at the companion website, instead.
5. Some of the dynamics talk is a touch abstract. I'm not thick by any means (I did dynamics as part of my university course), but by the time I've been told that the scapulas connect to the blah and the blah connects to the do-dah, I've forgotten what we're talking about.
In the kindle edition, the diagrams pertaining to these discussions don't come out very well (to the point where I can't read the hand writing). I found myself skimming these paragraphs unless I was particularly interested. Most of them are ancillary in nature, though; they're mostly concerned with backing up the author's arguments about why you should lift in a certain stance/configuration. Perhaps it's more readable in the print edition.
Basically, this is a really good book, but don't believe everything you read; it is a programme that has a lot going for it but, for my money, it does have some iffy advice, particularly with the speed of progression and dieting. If you exercise a bit of caution, it's well worth a read.
The main positive? I've gained 17kg of body weight in 2.5 years and still thoroughly enjoy barbell training. I owe most of this to Starting Strength.
It's probably worth reading just so you can walk around looking at people doing 1/4 squats, 1/2 range chinups, bouncing deadlifts etc. By reading this book, you get a good leg-up on the folk who just turn up and don't think about what they're doing.
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