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Hype or Help Review: The Starting Strength Program


Starting Strength Review

Ya'll, I have not done a Hype or Help review in a hot minute. If you haven't been around these parts long, a Hype or Help review is more of a deep dive than just sharing my thoughts and opinions on a program.  I go all out and actually put myself through the program and share my entire experience and results. I generally share before and after photos, before and after weight and inches, and really the entire experience. (Scroll to the bottom to see my updates and progress!)

I'm super excited to dive in and test out the Starting Strength program. This will obviously be so much more than just a book review, it will be a 2 month test of the program. Though I will share my thoughts on the book itself as well.

So, what's Starting Strength? Well, it's a book, and a bigger picture barbell training methodology, by Mark Rippetoe. It really does go much beyond just the book as there are Starting Strength coaches and gyms out there too. Unfortunately, there isn't a coach or gym near me, so I'll be relying on the book and other online resources I can find. 

The basic premise of Starting Strength is that it is important to be strong, and then it proceeds to tell you how to get that way. It clearly lays out a simple barbell program focused on the best way for newbies to build strength and is very thorough in teaching the moves.

This was exactly what I was looking for! Clear, simple, and efficient. 

As I mentioned in my November goals post, I haven't lifted with barbells since high school. But I did lift in high school and have lifted with dumbbells for YEARS, so I have a basic knowledge of the movements. I was definitely not confident to just take off without the book though. The instruction on form in Starting Strength is excellent and gives me confidence to do this at home. When I say excellent, I mean page 7 to page 71 are on the squat! Very thorough to say the least.

I set up a gym in my basement of the rental we're in. It wasn't in the budget to go all Rogue all the time as I'd prefer, so I did it on the cheap. (Until we move, then HELLO Rogue equipment!) I bought a power cage on Amazon and my sister in law gave me some old barbells, plates, and a bench the school she works at got rid of (basically I'm workout out with antiques, they're likely what I used in high school and some may even be what my dad used in high school!). I already have quite a bit of other equipment like a Concept 2 Rower to warm up on.

I began November 2.

My beginning stats:

  • Weight: 217
  • Bust: 44
  • Waist (at belly button): 40
  • Hips (at hip crease): 48
  • BF%: 41.6 BMI: 35 (both according to my Omron Fat Loss Monitor, however accurate that is)
  • Fasting blood sugar: 112
All of those numbers are UP for me. No bueno. I'm especially concerned with that fasting blood sugar. I typically keep it below 90. I have not been tracking and clearly my carbs have inched up and my activity has gone down.

My initial lifts were:

  • Squat: 45 lbs
  • Bench: 45 lbs
  • Press: 45 lbs (but couldn't finish 3rd set)
  • Deadlift: 65 lbs
I will be sticking to these lifts only as I am not confident in my power clean abilities and am not comfortable going up in weight without a coach to help me with my form/technique. WHEN we get moved, hopefully it will be somewhere I have access to a Starting Strength coach. I am aiming to follow the plan exactly and do the workouts MWF.

Before photos:

Starting Strength Before

Starting Strength Before

Diet/Eating Plan:

While the book does talk about food a bit, that's definitely not a main focus. It does discuss needing to gain weight and eat enough food, for smaller guys for example. There is a some talk about eating enough to fuel strength gains and just sort of a mention a couple times about food in the lens of fat loss. Mostly the focus is optimizing recovery for strength gains. Getting enough protein/calories etc.

As there isn't really a diet plan what I'll be doing is pretty similar to what I always do, with the one change of upping my protein. As I've been gaining weight again lately, clearly I've wandered off a bit.

Basically, I'll keep my carbs low (20-30 grams) and just watch my portions and try to follow my hunger cues. I'm not tracking for now, though that may change. Currently, I'm focused mostly on upping my protein. As my main goal is getting strong right now, I'll be aiming for 150ish grams of protein a day and I have definitely been coming nowhere near that lately. I am supplementing with my favorite protein powder to help reach these goals.

So, Starting Strength workouts MWF. Walking as my only cardio for now. Keeping my carbs low, my protein up, while eating enough, but not too much. Getting strong. That's the plan!

I'll be adding updates to the bottom of this post instead of adding new posts as I go along, so be sure to pin or bookmark this post if you're interested in following my progress! I'm also sharing workouts on twitter.

Starting Strength, hype or help? Let's find out...

Starting Strength Review

Week 1

Day 1 
I did the lifts I listed at the top of this post. I was definitely weaker than I'd expected. I couldn't finish the third set of presses with just the bar. 

I've never done a low bar squat before and it felt pretty awkward. I think I could have gone heavier this day, but I was really trying to figure out form and just how to move with heavy weights. Previously, my 26 lb kettlebell and 20 lb dumbbells were the heaviest things I had.

Day 2
Squat 65
Bench 45
Deadlift 85
Felt a little better, but still a bit awkward on the movements.

TERRIBLY sore this week. No surprise. Only did 2 days because of how sore I was. Looking forward to getting stronger!

Week 2

Day 1
Squat 75
Press 45
Deadlift 95
Not going to lie, felt pretty badass having two 25s on the bar for the deadlift! 🤣 Was a bit frustrated I couldn't go up on my press.

Day 2
Squat 85
Bench Press 45
Deadlift 95
Everything felt wonky today! Couldn't go up on bench or deadlift. I realized that I need to do some more studying on form.

Day 3
Squat 95
Press 50
Deadlift 105
Today felt like 🔥🔥🔥! I figured a couple things out about my form that were off (from the Starting Strength book). Game changer.

Not very sore this week. Feeling amazing actually. Very interested in the attitude/mindset shift I see occurring already. I can't wait to see some 45 lb plates on both sides of the bar. Did the scale go down? No idea, haven't stepped on it. Also, I have really looked forward to my workouts this week. Recently I had slipped back into dreading workouts, which is really unlike me. Feels good.

Week 3

Day 1 
Squat 105
Bench 50
Deadlift 115

Day 2
Squat 110
Press 55
Deadlift 120

Day 3
Squat 115
Bench 55
Deadlift 125

Two things: Wednesday workouts just always seem to suck for me and I am so amazed at my progress already! I can't believe how quickly progress is coming, honestly, just being over 100 pounds already on the squat and deadlift seems crazy to me. I was SO weak!

Finally making some progress at the bench and press, but it seems so slow (in my head, I have no idea what is normal). Honestly, my upper body strength seems to be limiting my other lifts even. My arms get so sore just trying to hold the bar on my back with that heavy of a weight in the squat. Frustrating, but I just have to work through it. I did go over form in the book again and tweaked a couple things (especially on my bench) which seem to be helping.

Overall I just feel sturdier. That's the best word I can come up with. 

I'll share updated weight, measurements, etc at the end of next week. Week 4, here we go...

Week 4

Day 1
Squat 120
Press 60
Deadlift 135

Day 2
Squat 122
Bench 60
Deadlift 140

Being Thanksgiving week I altered my schedule and got in 2 workouts instead of 3. 

Results After 1 Month of Starting Strength

  • Weight: 215 (-2)
  • Bust: 43.5 (-.5)
  • Waist (at belly button): 38 (-2 inches!)
  • Hips (at hip crease): 48
  • BF%: 41.2 BMI: 34.7 (both according to my Omron Fat Loss Monitor, however accurate that is)
  • Fasting blood sugar: 101 (-11)

I feel good. I feel strong. I'm in love with barbell training. Who knew? I'm making great progress. I've more than doubled my squat and deadlift in 4 weeks. That amazes me. 

I have been recovering like it's my JOB. On training days I sleep 9 hours and 8-9 on others. My protein is coming in right around 150 grams every day. I've been aiming for calories just above maintenance, but didn't track all month. Yesterday I put a couple of average days into MFP (I am one of those people that tend to eat the same things) and I have probably been coming in a couple hundred calories higher than I meant to. I will shave those off for December and try to come in right at maintenance. 

Sadly, I do think I've hit the end of my capacity for big jumps (well, big for me) in weights each workout. I think I'm looking at 2ish pound jumps for my squat next week and I'm not sure about the deadlift, maybe 5, but maybe 2.5. We'll see. I only mention that because I think it's so funny how that makes me sad! My mindset is so different. Ya'll, the first time I put 45 pound plates on the deadlift bar the other day I was jumping up and down screaming happy (on the inside, I didn't really). I was stupid excited. 

This is getting hard, sometimes I look at a lift and think, oh crap that's heavy, I have to lift that. At the same time I'm having a blast! I'm not sure I'm doing a good job translating this experience into words. It's just awesome the positive changes I'm seeing physically and mentally.

I'll share new pics the end of December...

Week 5

Day 1
Squat 125
Press 62
Deadlift 145

This workout was SO HARD. Felt great.

Day 2
Squat 127
Bench 65
Deadlift 147

I think this was my first good Wednesday workout so far. Felt great. Felt strong.

Day 3
Squat *
Press 63
Deadlift 148

Felt weak. Squat was trash. Could only get 3 reps at 128. Tried twice, then went down to 127 and failed after 1. Because of my inexperience I'm not 100% sure what is going on. I know that I have a really bad habit of pause squatting. I have no idea why. But clearly I cannot pause squat 128. I'm re-reading the entire squat section of the book too because I think my form may be off. Next week I will go back down to 120 on my squat and focus on form and NOT pause squatting. We'll see how that goes.

I also think it's strange that my bench and press are nearly identical. Apparently this isn't usual. Maybe that will change over time. 

--Got the crud over the weekend here. Wondering if that was part of Friday's workout being so bad. Anyway, felt really weak after and had to go down in weights for week 6. Also, only did one workout after I felt better...

Week 6

Day 1 
Squat 115
Bench 65
Deadlift 145

Week 7

Day 1
Squat 117 
Press 63
Deadlift 146

Still feeling very weak here. 

Day 2
Squat 118
Bench 66
Deadlift 147

Finally felt better here. Felt strong again.

Day 3

Squat 119
Press 64
Deadlift 148

Felt amazing for this workout. A little frustrated to go backward in progress overall, but feeling better and focusing on just moving on.

I cut out most dairy this week. My fasting blood sugar isn't coming down as quickly as it should be, and I know from past experience this means I've been having too much dairy. So, I cut out high fat yogurt, cream cheese, hwc, and cheese. I'm only keeping in whey protein and occasional grass-fed butter. I struggle to hit my protein targets without protein powder and grass-fed butter has never caused me an issue.

Week 8

Day 1
Squat 120
Bench 67
Deadlift 149

It's a little tough to move up in weights so slow. The bigger jumps at the beginning were so fun! But I'm focused on continued progress and making the most of my novice phase.

Day 2
Squat 121
Press 65
Deadlift 150

SO excited to hit that 150 deadlift! Feeling strong. Only did 2 days this week with Christmas festivities.

Week 9

Day 1
Squat 122
Bench 68
Deadlift 151

Day 2
Squat 123
Press 66
Deadlift 152

Day 3
Squat 124
Bench 69
Deadlift 153

OK, I think you get the point. My progression has slowed, but I'm still edging up every workout and will continue to do so as long as physically possible. I'm not going to update this post anymore as I think I've given a sufficient overview of the program. (I will post 2 month progress tomorrow.)

Final Thoughts

Never have I ever seen such amazing results from a workout program. I'm flat amazed. In just two months (November and December no less) I went:
  • from a 45 lb squat to a 124 lb squat
  • from couldn't finish 3 sets with just the bar on press to a 66 lb press
  • from a 45 lb bench press to a 69 lb bench press
  • from a 65 lb deadlift to a 153 lb deadlift

I also went from:
  • Weight: 217 to 212
  • Bust: 44 to 43
  • Waist (at belly button): 40 to 36.5
  • Hips (at hip crease): 48 to 46
  • BF%: 41.6 to 40 BMI: 35 to 34 (both according to my Omron Fat Loss Monitor, however accurate that is)
  • Fasting blood sugar: 112 to 89
Again, whoa. Actually, I'm not sure those numbers do justice to what I've seen. I don't think my body fat monitor is very accurate. I feel like I've seen a bigger change than it shows. I was surprised the scale went down at all, that was not my goal and I wasn't eating in a deficit. 

The biggest shift I've seen is in my mood and attitude. I feel strong, I feel capable, I feel amazing. And most of all? I can't wait to keep upping those plates!

Needless to say I highly recommend Starting Strength. Go. Buy. Now. 


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