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FAQ:The Lifts

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Never ask a question that you may not be prepared to have answered. - Mark Rippetoe

Frequently Asked Questions

The Main ExercisesEdit

The Squat
The Bench Press
The Deadlift
The Press
The Power Clean
The Accessory Exercises

This section will give a relatively detailed description of the exercises performed as well as a variety of links. See also The Instructional Video Section for additional instruction. If you want a more detailed description, go buy Starting Strength (Buy on Amazon) for yourself.

Make sure, if you wish to have your technique assessed for any particular exercise, that you post a video of yourself to youtube, putfile or google video. You will get several people willing to help you with your technique. If your technique sucks, then admit it. If a ton of knowledgeable people tell you that your technique is jacked, listen to them. Don’t be a dick and argue. Go to Digital Coaching for your assessment.

The SquatEdit

How do I properly perform a squat?Edit

This warmup is the first thing Mark teaches on a squat and it's covered in Starting Strength. To this day, I use it as a warm up. This will not only get your knees pointed in the right direction, it will also help to stretch.

Warmup:

  1. Without a bar, squat all the way down.
  2. Put your left elbow inside your left knee and your right elbow inside your right knee.
  3. Clasp your hands together between your knees.
  4. Your elbows will be pushing your knees outward and you'll feel a stretch inside your thighs.
  5. Make sure that your feet are pointing in the same direction as your knees.
  6. Note the distance between your heels. If this isn't exactly how wide your stance should be it's damn close.
  7. If your hams aren't touching your calves, stay in this position for a few seconds and stretch yourself out.
  8. Stand up, thinking about lifting your tailbone first. Don't push with the legs as much as you think about lifting the tailbone. This is the first movement out of the bottom of the squat.
  9. Repeat

The basics:

  1. Get under the bar with your chest high and your upper and lower back tight.
  2. Grip the bar, ensuring your grip is balanced from left to right.
    ElbowsLowbarBackSquat
  3. Grip the bar as close to your shoulders as possible. This will test your shoulder, elbow and wrist joint flexibility. The closer your hands are (within reason, your hands shouldn't touch your ears), the tighter your upper back will be, and the better the bar will sit on your back. Use a thumbless grip. You aren't supporting the bar with your hands. You're holding the bar DOWN against your back. Your wrist should NOT bend in either direction. It should be a straight line from your forearm across the wrist onto your hand.
  4. Place the bar on your back across the low portion of the traps and rear delts (low bar position). Elevate your elbows as high behind you as possible, while keeping your chest upright. If your pectorals are sore, you will feel this as a deep stretch in the pectorals and possibly delts.
    Squat Bar Placement
  5. Inhale as deeply as possible and pull your belly button to your spine, ensure your back is stabilized, bend down a bit and squat the bar out of the rack. Do NOT LEAN FORWARD and perform a good morning to get the bar out of the rack. You will lose spine stability this way and, expose yourself to injury.
  6. Stand fully upright with the bar across your lower traps and rear delts, and clear the bar from the rack in 3 steps:
    • Take 1 step backward with one foot to clear the rack
    • Take 1 step backward with the other (trail) foot so that your feet are even
    • Take 1 step sideways with the trail foot so that you get your heels to proper stance width.
    • Do NOT perform a "backward walk" with the bar. No more than 3 steps are necessary, total. Fidgeting with a few hundred pounds on your shoulders gets tiring. Squats are difficult enough as it is, no need to tire yourself needlessly prior to exercise execution with needless steps.
  7. Make necessary adjustments so that stance width is proper, i.e. heels at approximately shoulder width, feet pointed in a "neutral" manner, around 30 degrees outward. Approximately 30 degrees is "neutral" because as you widen your stance, your toes need to point outward in order to maintain proper patellar alignment with the thigh bones (middle of patella in line with the second toe). When your heels are at approximately shoulder width, each of your feet will need to be pointed roughly 30 degrees outward from the centerline of your body, meaning that the combined angle between your feet will be roughly 60 degrees.
  8. Keep your chest high and the bar balanced above the midfoot, take a deep breath in then pull your belly button to your spine, hold it, and squat down all the way. Do not look up, do not look down, do not look side to side. Keep your eyes focused on a point that is ~ 6-10' ahead of you on the floor, or if you have a wall close enough, focus on a point a few feet above the floor along the wall.
  9. 4 basics of execution:
    • Sit back (stick your butt out!)
    • Squat down (bending/flexing the knees)
    • Balance the weight by keeping your chest and shoulders upright while your upper body leans forward slightly to keep the bar above the midfoot
    • "Keep knees tight" - i.e. don't relax your quads and simply "drop" into the bottom position, keep your thigh muscles tight throughout the motion
      Squat Hip Drive
  10. Once you have squatted down all the way into "the hole", without pausing or bouncing (more on this later), stand back up.
  11. As you raise out of "the hole", you will be doing 3 basic things almost simultaneously:
    • You will be pushing your butt upward
    • You will be pushing your shoulders upward
    • You will be extending your knees
    • You will be forcefully contracting your upper and lower back muscles isometrically to maintain tightness in your torso
    • Do not begin to exhale (blow out) until you are near to completion of the repetition. This will cause you to lose tightness.  Exhaling slowly through pursed lips if very controlled is acceptable.


 

Should my knees stay in, or should I push them outward as I squat down?Edit

Most people will need to think about forcing their knees to stay outward during the up and down motion of the squat. It almost feels unnatural for the novice trainee to keep his knees tracking along the proper "groove" when the motion is very new.

Your knees, technically, should track at the same angle that your toes do. Yes, powerlifters, you keep your legs wide and point your toes forward because this tightens your hips on the way down and up from the hole, but we're not talking about that. Figure 56, pg. 56, Starting Strength demonstrates this graphically and gives an excellent explanation.

Should I be leaning forward a little bit or do I try to stand straight?Edit

Some amount of forward lean is natural, and in fact, is necessary. It is impossible, with a free weight barbell, to keep your upper body at a 90 degree angle to the floor. You cannot maintain any form of balance this way and if you try, you will fall onto your rump.

The bar, as it rests on your back, must remain above the midfoot area throughout the range of motion. It is common for a new trainee to lean back too far or, more commonly, lean forward too far. However, some amount of forward lean IS NECESSARY in order to keep the bar over your midfoot. The lower on your back you hold the bar, the more forward lean will be necessary.

The problem is that people have a tendency to lean so far forward that their heels come off the ground, or they end up putting far too much stress on the glutes and lower back and their squat turns into an impromptu good morning. Keep the bar tracking above the midfoot area, and you will be fine, as long as you don't round your back.

Why is my lower back rounding at the bottom?Edit

This is the infamous "butt wink." This stems from hamstring tightness pulling your lumbar spine at the bottom position. Weak spinal erectors and tight hamstrings are the most frequent culprits. It's actually not a huge issue unless it is severe and will often be present to some extent in all trainees.

It's worth noting that butt wink is more severe when there is less weight on the bar rather than more. In other words, just because you are witnessing major butt winking when you do a bodyweight squat, does not mean it's the same when expressed under a loaded barbell.

Things you can do to reduce butt wink:

  1. Work on calf and hamstring flexibility
  2. Do NOT go up on your tiptoes
  3. Stretch your hamstrings
  4. Do a better job of warming up
  5. Stretch your hamstrings.

Do this stretch, except keep both legs straight. The lower leg stays flat on the floor with your knee straight and your foot straight up and down (in other words, don't allow your leg to rotate laterally/outward). The other leg also stays straight. This will help "stretch your hips apart" as well as loosen up those banjo-string hammies.

You can also do this stretch with a towel. Same rules apply, keep your legs straight. Another variation is to do these in a doorway. Your lower leg stays flat on the ground and runs through the doorway. The upper leg is held flat against the door frame. Another necessary stretch will be to start in a full squat position with your hands flat on the ground about 2 feet in front of you. Straighten your knees while keeping your hands flat on the ground. You should feel a VERY powerful stretch in your hamstrings. Keeping your knees straight, walk your hands inward toward your feet until you are able to touch your palms to the ground without bending your knees.

Be sure to do these stretches AFTER your workout, not before, as pre-workout stretching can actually weaken your muscles.

Are deep squats bad for the knees?Edit

Parallel Squat Position
Parallel Squat Position
Tim DonaheyAdded by Tim Donahey

Squats are not "bad for the knees". They are, in fact, good for the knees. Properly performed, they evenly and proportionately strengthen all muscles which stabilize and control the knee (in addition to strengthening the muscles of the hip and posterior chain, upper back, shoulder girdle, etc.). When the hips are lowered in a controlled fashion below the level of the top of the patella, full hip flexion has occurred, and this will activate the hamstrings and glutes. In doing so, the hamstrings are stretched at the bottom of the motion and they pull the tibia backwards (toward da' butt) which counteracts the forward-pulling force the quadriceps apply during the motion. As a result, the stress on the knee tendons is lessened since the hamstrings assist the patellar tendon in stabilization of the knee. A muscle supporting a tendon which supports the kneecap is going to be better than the tendon having to take up the entirety of the strain by itself..

Think about Olympic lifters. They squat VERY deep (almost ridiculously deep) all the time, frequently 5 or 6 times weekly, with very heavy weight. If deep squats were so bad for their knees, they wouldn't be able to squat that deep, that often, and that heavy.

Partial squats, however, will NOT activate the hamstrings, and the amount of shearing force on the patellar tendon increases exponentially. What WILL happen if you do partial squats is that your quadriceps will become disproportionately strong as compared to your hamstrings, and the following are likely results:

  1. In partial squats, the hamstrings aren't activated, which means the patellar tendon takes up all the strain/stress/pull during squats. As a result, fatigue and damage to the tendon can accumulate because tendons recover MUCH slower than muscles. Any type of action involving knee bend can then cause further stress and strain during daily activity. This is asking for trouble. If the hamstring is strong, it drastically reduces the amount of stress on the patellar tendon. Full squats make the hamstrings strong. Partial squats allow the hamstrings to become weak. Weak hamstrings are bad Bad BAD.
  2. Partial squats develop the quads and neglect the hamstrings. Weak hamstrings coupled with strong quads result in hamstring pulls while sprinting, starting or stopping suddenly, playing sports, etc.. They frequently occur as the result of muscular imbalances across the knee joint. Strong quadriceps and weaker hamstrings result in a knee joint that is unstable during rapid acceleration and slowing, and the hamstrings are unable to counteract the powerful forces that occur during sudden stops and starts. In other words, you do a sprint with extra-strong quads and weak hammies, and you are begging for a pulled hamstring because your hamstring isn't as strong as the quads and isn't able to perform an adequate eccentric contraction to keep your knee joint from hyperextending during a sprint. As a result, you strain the hamstring because, although it isn't strong enough to do the job, it will hurt itself trying.
  3. In sports, your acceleration will be weak, as will your jumping ability, as a result of underdeveloped hamstrings and hips. Poor speed/acceleration = poor performance
  4. You will end up using stupidly heavy weights in the partial squat due to the mechanical advantage afforded by partial squats, and you put your back and even shoulder girdle at risk due to the extreme loading of the spine.

If it's too heavy to squat below parallel, it's too heavy to have on the back.

Mark Rippetoe, Starting Strength, pg. 18

Do I really need to squat if my legs are already big?Edit

Don't be afraid of the squat. Learn to embrace it.

Having said that, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and we'll assume you are part of the 1/4 that isn't afraid of the squat. Determine what your goals are. If you want to get as big as possible, all over, then you will most definitely want to become a master of the squat. Your physical structure might not be ideal for the squat. You may have zero aspirations of becoming a powerlifting squat champion. You might not really give a flying fig how much you squat.

But if you SERIOUSLY want to be as large as you possibly can, all over, then yes, you will squat, even if you already have big legs.

There is simply no other exercise, and certainly no machine, that produces the level of central nervous system activity, improved balance and coordination, skeletal loading and bone density, muscular stimulation and growth, connective tissue stress and strength, psychological demand and toughness, and overall systemic conditioning as the correctly performed full squat.

Mark Rippetoe, Starting Strength, pg. 19

Squats spur full body growth when combined with full body training much better than full body training without squats. If you want to look like some Abercrombie model, then find another program and enjoy your nice, easy training style. If you are serious about adding muscle to your frame, then get under the damn bar and make it happen.

I don't know how to produce a good hip drive, What can I do?Edit

Hip drive is getting out of the hole using your posterior chain, basically the glutes and the hamstrings. One of the best ways to guarantee a pure hip drive while getting out of the hole is to curl your toes up. By curling your toes up, your system can not go forward, thus the load will now be shifted from your quadriceps to your glutes and hamstrings.

If by curling the toes up, you fall backward while getting out of the hole, this is an indicator of dormant or too weak glutes. Deload till you find the weight you can manage with a good hip drive and continue progressing and powering your glutes.

Another indicator of a good hip drive is feeling the glutes getting squeezed and tightened unconsciously while getting up. It feels as if the whole weight is moved up by your glutes. If you get a sore quadriceps instead, I guarantee you that you're not curling your toes up and the weight is shifted forward instead of up while getting out of the hole. A quadriceps-dominant back squat is a leg press, not the interior-posterior-balanced squat type recommended by all Rippetoe books.

What about the leg press?Edit

...(the leg press) restrict(s) movement in body segments that normally adjust position during the squat, thus restricting the expression of normal biomechanics...(it) is particularly heinous in that it allows the use of huge weights, and therefore facilitates unwarranted bragging. Please slap the next person that tells you he leg-pressed a thousand pounds. A 1000-lb. leg press is as irrelevant as a 500 lb. quarter-squat.

Mark Rippetoe, Starting Strength, pg. 61

The leg press is an excellent tool for an intermediate or advanced physique athlete to use for quad and/or glute and/or hamstring development. However, it has NO place in the routine of a novice trainee, and it has no place in this program, despite its uses and advantages.

Can I use a manta ray, safety squat bar, buffalo bar, or back pad when squatting?Edit

The Manta RayEdit

If you have had shoulder problems, the Manta Ray can be a pretty useful piece of equipment. Its use is certainly not advised unless absolutely necessary, because it lengthens the lever arm between the weight and the rotation point (i.e. the barbell and the hips), which can cause problems with the lower back. It can also "wobble around" atop the shoulders causing a load shift affect, which also can cause problems with the lower back.

However, if you are experienced enough with the weights to know you NEED a manta ray, then by all means, it is better to squat with one than to NOT squat with one.

If, however, you simply want to use a manta ray for comfort's sake, then don't bother squatting at all. The amount of pain tolerance from a hard, heavy set of squats will be too much for you if you can't take a little bar sitting across your shoulders. Perhaps you should take up a different hobby...knitting, for example.

The Safety Squat Bar and The Buffalo BarEdit

Assuming you have had an injury of some sort, or you have shoulder joint flexibility problems for whatever reason, then absolutely. The buffalo bar and safety squat bar both are outstanding pieces of equipment, especially for the lifter who has had shoulder problems *raises hand and points to self*. They certainly can create a different training effect than squatting with a conventional bar setup, but the training effect can be quite beneficial, especially for those with shoulder injuries who cannot squat otherwise.

Understand, however, that the novice trainee should NOT choose these devices over the basic barbell back squat. Their use should be limited to those who have injuries and cannot perform a barbell squat.

EDITOR'S NOTE - Both the buffalo bar and the Safety Squat bar are used by knowledgeable powerlifters as assistance lifting devices. Obviously my statements do not apply to them, as they would have no reason to read a "novice training program description" for anything other than mild curiosity's sake.

The Back PadEdit

Meow.

No. Don't use the "puss pad".

If your back hurts excessively while squatting, then chances are good you aren't flexing your upper back muscles sufficiently to "pad" your skeleton. When you grip the bar, you must keep your hands in toward the body as closely as possible while gripping the bar BEFORE you unrack the bar and start squatting.

In other words, get under the bar, bring your hands in as closely as possible along the bar, grip the bar with a thumbless grip, lift your elbows back and up, and step under the weight. By keeping your hands close and your elbows back and up, the muscles of your entire shoulder girdle, as well as your trapezius muscles, will all "bunch/hunch up", which will provide significant padding for the bar. Ensure the bar is kept in the "low bar position" at the lower-rear portion of your traps and rear deltoids, and you should be fine.

The main problem with the pad, in addition to making you look like a wuss, is that it tends to throw the center of gravity off. For an experienced trainee, this won't be a problem, they can compensate (and they probably wouldn't ask to use a pad anyway). For a novice trainee, this can be VERY detrimental to proper technique and balance development inherent in the learning process of the squat. So, all joking aside, the pad might help your upper shoulders "feel better" while squatting, but once you get to heavy weight, that little pad won't do jack squat, except for throw off your technique! If you have a shoulder injury, then the pad won't help at all. Look into using a Buffalo Bar, a Safety Squat Bar, or a Manta Ray

Can I deadlift first, instead of doing squats first? Do I really need to squat every day?Edit

Deadlifts are an outstanding exercise, however, squatting before deadlifting is necessary for a variety of reasons

Squats serve as a more efficient and general "warmup" and preparation for your weight training sessions than deadlifts. Deadlifts will fatigue the upper and especially the lower back muscles prior to beginning the squats, which can definitely be hazardous to the health of a trainee, especially a new trainee. The last thing you want while squatting is a set of spinal erectors that are unable to bear the load. You can still frequently deadlift to near-limit poundages after squatting, but you will NOT be able to do that on your squats if you deadlift first.

Squatting first and squatting every workout is also ideal because it sends a strong growth signal to the entire body.

3 sets of 5 ≠ a set of the fabled "widowmaker" 20-rep squats, where after you're done with the squats, you are done with the training. Your lower body will get taxed during the 3 sets of squats, but a novice won't be able to squat enough weight to leave them unable to properly perform their next exercise, which is a bench press or a standing press. The lower body rests as you work the upper body with the pressing exercise.

So, as mentioned elsewhere, perform the squat properly as often as possible, and you will maximize growth in your entire body (assuming you train your entire body). Just make sure you do it everyday, and you do it first. If you have bum knees or you're an old fart like me, then you will possibly need to make adjustments. See This Section for some ideas on adjustments that you can make.

Should I use a block under my heels while squatting?Edit

Although this can put your knees and hips in a more advantageous position, it is not recommended for a number of reasons:

  1. A block of wood doesn't support the entire foot, and as such makes it an unstable surface unsuitable for squatting.
  2. Backing 2-3 hundred pounds onto a fixed block of wood could have disastrous consequences if the trainee stumbles over it. Even if he doesn't stumble, getting yourself aligned evenly will burn off the fuel in your tank. Or if you can't get yourself alligned, it will make for an uneven, biomechanically awkward squat.
  3. Squat shoes are better.

You can get all the benefits of using a block of wood, with none of the detriments, by rewarding yourself with a pair of solid squat shoes. They are well worth the price and they will make you a better, safer, stronger squatter as well.

I did squats for the first time and my legs are insanely sore, what should I do?Edit

For the first few times, this is completely normal and nothing to worry about. Just be sure to get enough rest and you'll be back in business in just a matter of days. This will not occur as long as you continue doing squats regularly. 

If it's really bad take some Ibuprofen or NSAIDS to help relieve the pain.

Additional ResourcesEdit

Squat Videos in The Video Section

An excellent series on the squat called Squat Rx. I recommend it to anyone who would like some more in-depth analysis of perfecting the squat form.

The Bench PressEdit

This is the standard bench press for a novice.


  1. Lie flat on the bench, ensuring that you are evenly balanced from left to right. Falling off of one side of the bench in the middle of a press is embarassing and decidedly non-anabolic. Your eyes should not be gazing directly beneath the bar, but rather looking just past the "foot side" of the bar.
  2. Your feet need to stay on the floor at all times, and not move. If you need to get blocks or use plates on either side of the bench so your legs can reach, then do so. Don't lift your feet in the air or rest them on the bench. Your knees should be bent at approx. 90 degrees, and your feet should be on either side of the bench, with your legs spread at approximately 30 degrees to either side. An extra wide stance will generally be uncomfortable, an extremely close stance will not allow for proper stability and can encourage the lifting of the butt off the bench, which is a no-no. Find a comfortable stance and foot width, and maintain it throughout the motion.
  3. Your glutes should stay in contact with the bench at all times, and should be contracted during all repetitions to help maintain a stable base.
  4. Tuck your shoulder blades underneath your body and pinch them together and down. This will elevate the ribcage and stabilize the shoulder girdle. Maintain this state of tightness in your upper back/traps during all repetitions. This will also create a natural arch in the lower back, and will create a stable platform out of your upper back muscles for you to press from. This is called "shoulder joint retraction" and will make your rotator cuff very happy when benching.
    Bench Press Arms
  5. Without protracting your shoulders (allowing them to roll forward/upward and lose tightness), reach up with each hand and grasp it an equal distance from the center of the bar. Use the outer "smooth ring" as a reference point. You should use a hand spacing that places your pinkies within an inch or 2 of the smooth ring. Wrap your thumbs around the bar and allow the bar to rest along the heel of the hand, rather than up near the knuckles (which will cause unnecessary stress to the wrists)
  6. Lift the bar straight up with locked elbows (still touching the rails) and bring it straight forward over your nips. These are two distinct movements, not one. Remember each rep begins and ends with locked elbows. Do not unrack the bar and immediately lower it to your chest from the rack in a diagonal line. Make a mental note of where the bar is in relation to the ceiling. Find a spot, beam, or other marker to use as your visual reference point. If no point pre-exists, make one. The bar will return to this point after every repetition.
  7. From a stopped position with the bar directly above your nipples, take a very deep breath, then without exhaling pull your belly button to your spine to maintain stability in the upper back and "pull" the bar to your nips in a controlled fashion. Your elbows should not flare or tuck excessively. Ideally, your upper arm bones (the humerus) will form an angle that is approximately 40-60 degrees from your torso. If your elbows flare out wide to the sides (~90 degree angle) then you hit your pecs incredibly hard at the risk of your rotator cuff's health. If your elbows tuck into your body (20-30 degree angle) then you will place too much emphasis on your triceps and delts, and not enough on your pecs. Your forearms should form about a 90 degree angle with the bar and with the floor (straight up and down). This is illustrated in the final picture on the left. If his grip was any narrower or wider his forearms would either be acute or obtuse to the bar. Having your forearms going straight up and down allows for the most efficient transfer of force to the barbell. You might need to experiment with hand spacing to find this "sweet spot."
  8. Touch the bar to your shirt, not to your chest - if you visualize this and then try to perform it, this will pretty much guarantee that you don't bounce off your chest.
  9. Press steadily and evenly to complete lockout without hyperextending your elbows or protracting (lifting) your shoulders from the bench (i.e. your upper back/traps should stay tight even at the top).
  10. Lather, rinse, repeat
  11. On the final repetition of the set, do NOT press directly toward the rack. The last rep should look identical to the first. You will press the last rep to lockout directly over the chest, and then bring it straight backward until it hits the rails of the bench, and then it will be lowered. Any attempt to press the final rep directly into the bench rests (diagonally) could result in the loss of your face if you miss!

What are the most common errors in benching, and why do they occur?Edit

  1. Half-assed bench press: This occurs because you shorten the ROM by several inches when you pop your hips off the bench, and also allows for hip drive to actually assist. Keep your ass directly planted on the bench at all times and this won't happen.
  2. Bouncing: This occurs because people want to be able to use stretch reflex as well as the flexibility and rebound properties of the sternum and ribcage to help get the bar up. Only ever touch the bar to your shirt and you shouldn't have a problem with rebounding.
  3. Lifting one leg while benching: this usually occurs in the novice who has asymmetrical strength/coordination/flexibility. The stronger side arm presses the bar too fast, and the bar tips toward the weaker side. In an attempt to "rebalance" themselves, they lift the opposite leg, which, of course, doesn't work. Keep both feet firmly planted, and push them down during the press, this will keep them from rising off the ground. Also make sure to press both arms at the same speed, don't lift the bar at an upward/downward angle.
  4. Lowering the bar/pressing the bar unevenly: happens for the same reasons as the "lift one leg". One side will be stronger or more flexible, so the bar will typically be lowered farther on this side than the weak/tight side. While pressing, one side will shoot up and the other side (the weak side) gets stuck. This is a shoulder joint wreck waiting to happen. If you have issues with this, you will have to correct this with firm concentration on pushing with both arms at the same rate and not to give the stronger arm the advantage.
  5. Not tucking your shoulder blades properly - this leads to a whole host of problems:
    • If one shoulder blade is tucked and the other isn't, then one shoulder joint is stable and the other is loose. Again, this is a shoulder-joint train wreck waiting to happen.
    • If your shoulder blades aren't tucked, then your base will NOT be stable, and you will be pressing from a big pile of mush. Imagine standing on a row boat in a calm pond. If you are balanced properly on the rowboat (stable), you can jump straight up into the air without too much issue. Now imagine standing on the rowboat, but you are off balance. One side is lower than the other side. Try and jump...you can't generate any type of pressure or force when you press off of an unstable base. Your shoulder blades are the same way. If they are loose, then they can wobble around, and you cannot press properly or with any power, not to mention the rotator cuff injuries you open yourself up to with this kind of unstable position.

Should I pause while benching?Edit

Simply; no.

Pausing at the chest during a bench press is the primary technique adjustment of the powerlifter. In order to get "3 whites", the powerlifter must lower the bar to the chest and hold it there briefly until the official signals him to press. For a powerlifter, it is a necessity to pause their bench press during a contest.

During training, there are advantages and disadvantages to pausing (or not pausing). For now, those advantages and disadvantages are irrelevant. Lower the bar to your lower pectoral region, and "touch your shirt" without touching your chest. In other words, touch very lightly without bouncing. Don't worry about pausing. That is beyond the scope of this discussion.

I have a sticking point in my bench press, how do I fix it?Edit

In a normal person who is doing a standard grip bench press, the lifter will get usually stuck a few inches off of their chest. At the very lowest point in the lift, the lats and anterior delts are going to be strong relative to the pecs and triceps, which will be weaker at this point in the motion. As you press the bar from your chest, the pectorals begin to take over the motion, and eventually "hand it off" to the triceps.

People make the mistake of assuming that they can automatically determine the weak point just by knowing where in the motion the sticking point occurs. Professional powerlifters who use bench press shirts know that a poor lockout is caused by triceps that aren't strong enough (relative to the spring in the shirt and the strength in their pecs). However, in a non-assisted athlete, this determination can NOT be made without examining the technique across a full range of motion, as well as examining strength in the various muscle-specific strength benchmarks.

In other words, if someone tells you what your weak muscles are just by reading where in the bench press motion you get stuck, then they are full of shite. There is a lot more than meets the eye. Something can look like a pork chop, but smell and taste like chicken.

Regardless, your sticking point exists not because one muscle is weaker than another, but simply because you are untrained. Spend at least 4-6 months of steady, consistent pressing, both supine (Bench press) and overhead, and then we can worry about where your sticking point is.

Can I do bench presses without having my thumbs wrapped around the bar?Edit

No. There's a good reason this is called the "suicide grip."

Can I do DB presses instead of barbell presses?Edit

There are a few reasons why the barbell version is the preferred "initiation" to the supine press (as the bench press used to be called). Firstly, this is a barbell program and only barbells are used. On this movement you will be adding 10 pounds, 5 pounds and eventually 2.5 lbs per workout. This is impossible to do with dumbbells, where only ten pound jumps are usually possible. (Dumbbells go in 5 pound increments and 2 dumbbels make that 10 pound increments. No good.) Also barbell availability is much more commonplace than dumbbell availability, and this is a "minimalist equipment" sorta program.

Don't use DBs in this program. Their use is wholeheartedly and enthusiastically endorsed by Mark Rippetoe and I (and any experienced strength athlete who has used them). However, their use is not warranted on this program.

Should I do inclines instead of flat bench?Edit

The overdevelopment of the lower pectoral and the possibility of shoulder injury are not 2 things that a novice need concern himself with as long as their technique is proper.

Your lower pecs aren't presently overdeveloped when compared to your upper pecs. You don't have either upper or lower pecs, so neither could possibly be overdeveloped relative to the other. Both, however, are definitely UNDERDEVELOPED. With the tools at your disposal, the flat barbell bench press is the preferred introductory exercise for upper body chest pressing strength when compared to the incline press. The incline press is an outstanding exercise, and its use is encouraged as training and conditioning progresses, but the potential pectoral and strength development of the flat barbell bench press is simply higher than the incline press, and as such, use of the flat press should be thoroughly explored before making the decision to refocus your supine pressing efforts elsewhere.

As for the shoulder injury issue, the vast vast vast majority of pectoral tears occur in one of the following scenarios:

  1. The injured party uses steroids, and has developed his strength faster than his connective tissues can safely support.
  2. The injured party uses weights that are far too heavy for him, and he uses them far too often.
  3. The injured party uses poor technique, frequently bouncing the weight off his chest
  4. The injured party has poorly developed upper back musculature, which makes all supine pressing a relatively precarious event.

Assuming you do what you're supposed to do in this program, it will be years before you would ever need to even worry about a potential pectoral or shoulder injury arising from bench pressing.

Can I do hammer strength or machine or smith rack bench presses?Edit

No.

Machines of any sort are not used in this program. The basic fundamentals of balance are not learned on machines, the overall neural response is lesser, and the muscular stimulation is ultimately less.

More advanced trainees can and probably should incorporate useful machines into their training for various reasons. Machines have no place in the training of a novice, however.

If you've already been defeated by the barbells, then don't bother with this program. If you want to use machines as a novice, then go get a membership at Curves or Bally's and do whatever the trainer there tells you to do.

Additional ResourcesEdit

Bench Press Videos in The Video Section

The DeadliftEdit

The Deadlift
Edit


(Click image for full screen view)

Deadlift
The Deadlift
Tim DonaheyAdded by Tim Donahey

What are the most common mistakes in the deadlift?Edit

Look at the Deadlift Videos Section and read the excellent CrossFit article by Mark Rippetoe. You'll see what the problems are.

Do I need to deweight between reps of a deadlift?Edit

Yes. What you do as a physique athlete in future years is entirely up to you, but in order to properly learn and reinforce proper technique, you MUST begin all deadlifts from...a "dead" stop, bar on the floor, motionless. It helps to actually let go of the bar between reps.

Watch someone perform a set of 8 "touch-n-go" reps. Specifically, look at their body positioning at the beginning of the first rep, relative to the rest of the repetitions in the set. Notice how the first rep looks very dissimilar to the 2nd rep, as well as all subsequent reps? You only perform 1 proper rep this way, and 7 marginal reps. This is bad news for a novice because the motor skills learned during that 1 proper rep will get overwhelmed by the improper performance during the other 7 reps.

This won't happen in a set of 5 on the basic deadlift when you deweight between reps, unless you are pulling a load that is beyond your capabilities and you fatigue prematurely.

By deweighting, you also (intelligently) limit the amount of weight you can use, because the stretch reflex and the bouncing of the weights off the floor will not occur. This will save your lower back from potential injury.

Pull from the floor, every single set, every single repetition from a dead stop. That's why it's called a dead lift.

Should I use an alternating mixed grip or a double overhand or underhand grip during deadlifts?Edit

To promote a stronger grip, perform as many of your sets as possible with a double overhand grip using chalk. Once you get to the heavier sets, you will probably need to use a mixed grip because you will not be able to pull effectively from the floor with a conventional grip.

Never use a double underhand grip during deadlifts. This is asking for trouble, as well as a torn biceps tendon.


How close should the bar be to my shins while I perform the deadlift?Edit

The bar should damn near scrape your shins all the way up and all the way down. I have hairy legs, and I know I'm not pulling properly unless I lose some hair on my shins.

In doing this, you will help ensure a few things:

  1. Your scapula stay above the bar during the initial pull to the knees
  2. Your glutes, hams and lower back are in a better position of support
  3. You are more easily able to maintain a lower back arch

The initial pull involves a lot of leg drive, as well as what could be referred to as "shoulder drive", where you use your hips to pull your shoulders back by performing hip extension. Wondering why your lats and traps get sore during deadlifts? it's during this phase, where your traps and lats have to pull the bar back into your body, when the bar wants to try to pull you forward.

Your hips keep your torso from leaning forward (which is bad), and your traps and lats keep your shoulder girdle pulled back and in place, which, in turn, keeps the bar close to your body which, in turn, helps make life easier on your hips and lower back.

If the bar drifts out away from your shins during the deadlift, you increase the distance between the "puller" (your hips) and the "pull-ee" (the bar). As a result, you are leaned over more (torso at < 45 degrees above parallel), and this is a far less powerful position to be in than the one where you are sitting back slightly (torso > 45 degrees above parallel)

Keep the bar close, and you will use more weight and you'll do so in a safer manner. Keep the bar farther away from your body, and you will use LESS weight, but it'll be MORE dangerous.

The choice seems simple enough to me. Lift more weight safely, or lift less weight and possibly end your lifting career. Deadlift Videos in The Video Section

The PressEdit

How do I properly perform the press?Edit

First, go here and watch the videos. Take note of the following things:

CLTRipPress1
Full Lockout of the Barbell at the top
Tim DonaheyAdded by Tim Donahey
  1. The "elevated" chest position throughout the exercise.
  2. Neither the upper nor lower back round during execution. They stay tight and supportive throughout. The entire body is a direct part of the kinetic exercise chain (the path of energy from the bar to the ground), and as such, he maintains his entire body in proper alignment and proper tightness throughout the exercise. Much like the "tight upper back and shoulders" through which you push the bar in a bench or squat, the body serves as the "strong base" from which you press. Keeping a tight core means contacting everything from the ground up, especially squeezing the quads, butt cheeks, back and abs.
  3. ONLY THE HEAD leans back with some hip extension, and just slightly, until the bar clears his head, then he presses upward and allows his head to come forward so that the bar is directly overhead
  4. There is NO BACK LEAN. This is not a standing incline press, this is the standing barbell press with no backward lean.
  5. Note that at the top, at full extension that the barbell almost appears to be behind the head? That is because the bar should, at the top, be aligned with the spine. Guess where on the body the spine points? it points straight up through the BACK of the head.
  6. There is NO LEG DRIVE. This is a shoulder press, not a push press.
  7. A quick breath or two can be taken at either the top or the bottom, but you will find it most beneficial to breathe at the top and thus take advantage of the "stretch reflex" you get at the bottom. Hold your breath using the valsalva manuever while the bar is in motion.

Grip should be close, just outside of shoulder width. Elbows should stay just in front of the bar throughout the exercise for optimal drive. Again, DO NOT LEAN BACKWARD.

If you have a weak set of abs or a weak set of spinal erectors, you will find out rapidly during the execution of this exercise.

What are the most common mistakes in The Press?Edit

A common mistake that occurs is placing the hands too wide or too close for a grip. An easy way to find a good grip placement is to stand back from the bar, let your arms hang down naturally and simply swing them forward to the bar. Generally, wherever they land should be a comfortable place to grip and will be just outside your shoulders, as is recommended.

It is also important to keep the bar as close to the wrist as possible to help prevent the bar rolling back into the hand and putting strain on the wrists. Not only does this spare your wrists but it is also the optimum position from which to press.

An underlooked but key factor in pressing evenly and efficiently is the shoe. A pair of chuck taylor's or squat shoes will aid in pressing as the sole is much flatter than a running shoe or cross trainer. "Squishy shoes suck" is a line to remember.

To get the most out of the press and the most muscle involved, trainees should also remember to squeeze up and "shrug" up at the top. It's important to remember to squeeze everything up in order to complete the press, otherwise the range of motion could start to suffer as the weight increases.

What about DB, Seated, Smith rack, Hammer, Behind-the-Neck or Push-Presses?Edit

The answer is going to be "no" to all of the above...however:

  1. DBs are an outstanding tool to use, as are seated presses, and push presses. Refer to the section on the bench press for the reasons behind not using DBs.
  2. Seated presses are an outstanding exercise to develop specific deltoid musculature, but when starting off, the extra added benefit of balance, proprioception, core stabilization and CNS stimulation is pretty tough to beat with the standing press. Use the seated press "later on down the line", but for now, stick with the standing version. You will benefit immensely for the reasons stated above.
  3. Push presses are an outstanding exercise which will develop power and strength throughout the deltoid/trapezius/upper back complex. Unfortunately, because it potentially involves a large degree of hip and leg drive, large weights can be used, possibly more than the novice really has any business using at this stage in his training. As such, it will not be used until the trainee advances more. In fact, in Practical Programming, Rip demonstrates the "Volume-Recovery-Intensity" method of training using the push-press and the basic press as his template. He considers this to be an "intermediate" assistance exercise.
  4. Smith/hammers....do you really have to ask? Use them later. Stick to the free weights and the barbells for now. Move onward to machines and such once you have developed a solid base of strength and training competency using the free weight barbell versions
  5. Behind-the-Neck - The BTN is murder on the shoulders.

I don't like doing overhead presses, can I do DB front raises instead?Edit

No. DB front raises serve 2 purposes.

  1. To allow powerlifters to get some additional anterior delt work without having to do MORE heavy presses
  2. To allow physique athletes to "touch up" an area which is rarely a problem spot for anyone.

DB front raises are "nice", but like DB flyes, they aren't going to be necessary unless you are training for a physique contest or simply want to get some front delt work without stressing your shoulder joint.

Additional ResourcesEdit

Press Videos in The Video Section

The PowercleanEdit

What is a Power Clean?Edit

The power clean is a derivative of the Olympic Lifts and inherently explosive by nature. In other words, it can't be done slowly. "Power," in this instance means it is an abbreviated form of the Olympic or Squat Clean. "Clean" because it starts from the floor and is "clean" heaved directly to the shoulders. The power clean is the most technical of the lifts in Starting Strength, and being such requires the most practice. Don't be alarmed if you don't progress past using a barbell for the first few workouts.

The benefits of this lift are many. Explosive Olympic lifts create the highest level of Central Nervous System activation. The result is that they recruit the highest percentage of muscle fibers. Because they are a highly skilled lift, they require a high degree of fine motor control. The combined effect is an improvement in speed, balance and overall coordination. Speed and correct form are more important than weight with this lift. Done correctly the lift occurs in the blink of an eye and therein lies its Power. Speed x Strength = POWER.

As stated above this (plus the squat) is the hardest lift to master. This exercise alone is given 40 pages of detailed instruction in Starting Strength 2nd Ed.

Powercleans are great for:

  1. Incredible traps
  2. Great explosiveness which helps in deadlifts and squats
  3. Grip and forearm development
  4. Deltoid development
  5. Deadlift assistance
  6. Variety

How do I properly perform a power clean?Edit

Mark recommends actually learning the movement from the top down. Too many trainees who start their training from the bottom lose precision and the lift quickly becomes an upright row/reverse curl. In fact forget right now about using the muscles in your arms to move the barbell in this lift. Your arms' sole function is to transmit the energy from your ankles/hips/and knees (triple extension) to the bar. In other words, your arms become like straps, only intended to tether your shoulders to the bar.

First let's go over some terms:

The Key PositionsEdit
The Rack PositionEdit

Rack Position

  • Grip is about half an inch or less outside shoulder width
  • Stance is neutral. Similar to deadlift.
  • Bar rests on front deltoids (not hands or neck or collarbone),
  • Elbows are high pointed straight ahead at the wall.
  • Should feel stable and pain-free.
  • This is where the power clean finishes
The Hang PositionEdit

Hang Position

  • Arms extended and taut (think straps), bar touches thighs, legs straight, chest up.
The Jumping PositionEdit

Jumping Position

  • From the hang position, stick butt back and lower knees,
  • Bar stays in contact with the thighs,
  • Lower to about 1/3 to halfway down your thigh.
  • Arms are still straight, shoulders are slightly ahead of the bar


Performing the Power CleanEdit
The Slow BitsEdit
  1. Grab a barbell and get in the Rack Position, focus on flexibility. If your wrists aren't quite bendy enough to completely rest the bar on your delts, don't worry. After a few more workouts and some additional weight on the bar, you'll be there.
  2. Now get in the Hang Position using the same grip you found in the Rack Position
  3. Get in the Jumping Position. Practice going from the Jumping Position to the Hang Position: Unlock the knees/move hips back->move hips forward/lock the knees->unlock the knees/move hips back->move hips forward/lock the knees. Get comfortable with this back-and-forth movement. Chest remains up, back is locked, barbell stays in contact with the thighs as it slides up and down.
  4. Now do the exact same thing again, but instead of beginning from the Jumping Position, start lower at the base of the knee. Practice this transition a few times.
  5. Keep practicing your transition, going lower each time, all the way down to mid-shins. Focus on keeping the bar on the thigh, keeping your chest up, arms straight and taut, and bringing your hips backward and forward once they pass the knee. Hips lower the bar to the knees and knees lower the bar to the floor.
  6. Yes, you've basically been doing a deadlift. That's the first part.
The Explosive BitsEdit

Now for the fun part. Getting the bar to the shoulders:

  1. Get back in the jumping position.
  2. Jump and catch the barbell on your shoulders. Are you in the proper Rack Position (elbows up!)
  3. Repeat step #2, but land in the correct Rack Position. Get those elbows ALL THE WAY around.
  4. Repeat step #3 and touch your shirt with the barbell on the way up (Don't let me catch you using your arms!)
  5. Repeat step #4 and stomp your feet on the catch. (Was the bar still touching your thighs? and your shirt?)
Triple ExtensionEdit

Still having trouble? It takes practice! It's hard man, but you rock for doing them. Some things that will help you get explosion (hereafter referred to as "The Triple Extension") are:

Hip Extension: thrusting your hips forwardEdit

Here's an awkward illustration. Imagine you have no arms. They were taken from you by the man standing right on the edge of that cliff over there. Now imagine you walk up directly behind him and you shove him as hard as you can with your pelvis. That's how hard you want to be thrusting your hips forward. (Yeah, I said it was awkward... but what hip thrusting analogy isn't?)

Power ShrugEdit

Explosively shrugging your shoulders up to your ears. Imagine trying to touch your shoulders to your ears as fast as you can.

Foot StompEdit

Stomp your feet on the landing. If you're wearing weightlifting shoes it should sound like a gunshot.

Putting all the bits togetherEdit
  1. Transition the slowpart (the slow deadlift) to the top of the knee and explode the bar up onto your shoulders.
  2. Repeat step 1 but only while remembering everything else that you diligently practiced from above.
  3. Repeat step 2 and make the transition smooth. There is no break between "the deadlift" and "the triple extension." You go from slow (first pull) to fast (second pull) in one fluid motion.

It's a lot to think about, but you'll get there. To start out use 3 sets of 5 reps while you're still learning the lift. Later use 5 sets of 3 reps once you have mastered correct technique and the load becomes heavier.

Power Clean 2

(Click image for full-screen view.)

Be sure to take advantage of these extra resources!

What are the most common mistakes in The Power Clean?Edit

What if I don't want to/can't do Power CleansEdit

Try the Practical Programming Novice Program instead. No power cleans at all. It's too bad that you'll be missing out on one of the most outstanding, challenging and fun exercises of all-time.

Usually, people just feel intimidated by anything that resembles a technical exercise and just would rather not do them. This is just being a pussy, and sets a bad precedent for the management of both training and life. I think the Starting Strength includes an understandable method for learning to power clean, and just in case it's not simple enough I rewrote it for the new book so that it is even simpler. You don't really need bumper plates to do them if you don't have access, so that doesn't wash either. They are in the program because an explosive movement is a valuable contribution to power production, and they make deadlifts get stronger faster.

Okay, you don't need a coach to learn power cleans, because we fixed things up so that you can learn them out of the book. And what exactly is the downside of trying to learn them and failing? Firing squad? The fucking bodybuilders making fun of you from the safety of the dumbbell rack? Loss of wages? Just try them before you decide you can't learn them without a coach.

Mark Rippetoe

Will I have to drop the barbell on the floor?Edit

No. You can "catch" the barbell on your thighs and lower it to the ground from there. Adds an extra component of difficulty and fatigue so definitely be doing sets of 3 when you're employing this technique. Eventually, yes, it will get too heavy to drop on your thighs... and you'll need to drop it on the floor,don't worry, it'll be a while before you need to buy those bumper plates. Indeed you could continue for a very long time in this method, however after a time the risk and fatigue accumulated from lowering the weights that can be used for this exercise begin to outweigh the advantages.

What are bumper plates?Edit

The answer awaits you here. Bumper plates are solid rubber plates that feature some sort of metal ring or 'eye' in the middle. They usually start at 10kg (22lbs)and go up to 25kg (55lbs) and are the same height as a 45lb iron plate. Because they are the same height as a 45lb plate, you can load them first on either side of the barbell and then add iron plates that are 35lbs or smaller, thus allowing you to drop the barbell without damaging your iron plates.

Should I use a hook grip?Edit

HookGrip

The hook grip enables you to hold the bar more securely. It'll hurt at first, but I suggest you start training with it as soon as you have your technique down pat. Before you know it, you'll be hooked.

What kind of clean should I do? Power clean, hang clean, or squat clean?Edit

Stick with the basic power cleans. It is the best choice for overall force and power development for the novice and beginner trainee. For now, leave the other power based variations to intermediate, advanced and Olympic athletes.

Additional ResourcesEdit

These additional resources are essentially valuable. Read and watch them all!:

The Accessory ExercisesEdit

The Front SquatEdit

The front squat is an outstanding variation of the squat, except that it is performed with the barbell resting across the FRONT of the shoulders, in front of the neck. It is a variation which will maximally stress the quadriceps, but can be very difficult to perform from a mechanical perspective. If possible, front squats are added in the Wednesday workout once more advanced periodization and exercise selection is necessary for the trainee.

How do I properly perform The Front Squat?Edit

Squat Bar Placement

What are the most common mistakes in The Front Squat?Edit

Pullups/ChinupsEdit

How do I properly perform chinups and pullups?Edit

Pull-Up

The pullup can be performed with any of a variety of hand spacings, from wide to close, overhand grip (pronated, frequently called "pullups"), underhand grip (frequently called "chinups").

Start from a dead hang, so that your shoulder blades are stretched, but do not go limp. It is important that you maintain tension by keeping "active shoulders." This means actively pulling your shoulders into the socket and to maintain this throughout.

In a smooth motion, pull yourself upward in a manner commensurate with your hand spacing. If you have a wide hand spacing, your elbows will travel out to the sides of your shoulders. If you have a close hand spacing, your elbows will pass in front of your body. At all times, try to think of "pulling your elbows down" rather than pulling your body upward. This tends to help people develop that elusive "mind-muscle connection", which tends to be very difficult for some people to develop for the posterior of their bodies, especially the lats.

Go as high as you can, at least to your neck and ideally to your chest, and then lower yourself under control. Again, think of allowing your elbows to go up, rather than thinking of your body as lowering.

Should I do pullups or chinups?Edit

Doesn't matter, really. Use whatever you're strongest at. The delineation between chinup and pullup is overemphasized in importance. Most newbs will be strongest with a grip that is parallel (i.e. hammer grip), with a hand spacing just closer than shoulder width.

Whatever you do, pick one and stick with it and add weight once you can hit 10/12ish reps in a set. Go hard on these, don't be afraid to use a little kick on your last rep, and have fun.

What kind of grip should I use on these?Edit

Doesn't matter. Don't obsess over whether you should do "chinups" or "pullups" or "behind the necks" or "wide grip front" or "medium grip" blahblahblah

just pick a grip and get better at it in a progressive manner. No, chinups aren't cheating. No, chinups aren't all biceps (can you REALLY curl your entire bodyweight?) Do whichever hand space variation allows you to work hardest and get the most reps with.

Mainly it depends on your goals. I think it's worthwhile for many of us to train as many grips/variations as possible, like thickbar pull-ups, rotating bar pull-ups, ring pull-ups, towel pull-ups, kipping pull-ups, L-sit pull-ups, prone/supine/neutral grip pull-ups, one arm pull-ups, wide, narrow, etc! I don't believe there is any one "best way" to pull our bodies up from a hanging position given the variety of physical obstacles that could fit the bill. These range from tree climbing, to wall climbing, to rope climbing, to sport climbing, to anything climbable. I relate this to the variety of ways that an object can be picked up off of the ground. Sure it would be nice to always lift things up with a straight back, but that isn't always practical, so it makes sense to train with a rounded back too. Ultimately it needs to meet your goals though. So if you just want big strong biceps, do chins, but if you want to compete in Ninja Warrior or scale the Eiffel Tower, better train them all. And if you never have any ambition of climbing a tree or using gymnastic rings there's nothing wrong with that either.

Rippetoe seems to advocate the supine grip chin-ups as his de facto choice of grip.

Here are some possible variations that you could incorporate.
(NOTE: He is not getting full range of motion on these, you should be going down until arms are fully extended.)


I'm not strong enough to do chinups or pullups. What should I do?Edit

Rack chins are an outstanding way to get stronger at pullups, and they also make for a fantastic way for a bodybuilder type to learn how to hit their lats more directly with the various pullup grips.

Always strive to use full bodyweight, but rack chins can certainly be used if you are unable to do regular chinups. The primary suggestion is to add 2-5 reps per set, because they are easier. i.e. instead of doing about 8 reps per set, try to get 10-12 per set if you do them rack-style. Be very wary of the angle of pull. Don't allow this to turn into a swinging body row-up. Do these VERY VERY STRICTLY. There is no excuse for cheating on this exercise.

Jumping pull-ups and band assisted pull-ups are another alternative. And you can even incorporate slow negatives into them also, but continue to strive for that bodyweight pull-up. Go easy on the negatives at first, these can leave your arms tender and stiff for days to come.
Rack chins:



Jumping pull-ups:


Band assisted pull-ups:


I don't want to do pullups or rack chins, can I just do cable pulldowns instead?Edit

No.

Back ExtensionsEdit

What are some other exercises I can do in place of back extensions for additional lumbar area work?Edit

  1. If you have access to a reverse hyperextension machine, then do a ton of reading at various Westside barbell training sites. You can use the reverse hyper to actually help rehabilitate and facilitate the recovery of your spinal erectors, but that is outside the scope of this discussion. This exercise is an outstanding replacement for the back extension.
  2. If you have access to a proper Glute-Ham Raise, then you can fiddle with this apparatus until you get the hang of nailing your hamstrings hard. These, when done properly, only mildly stimulate the lower back area, but NAIL the hamstrings hard. You will have to gauge your own hamstring recovery in order to know if these are necessary.

You can also do "ghetto" GHR, but these are DIFFICULT. Your hamstrings probably aren't strong enough yet.

I HIGHLY recommend the use of the GHR and/or the reverse hyper.

An additional exercise which might be considered for use by an intermediate athlete would be the pull-through.

This is one of the only cable exercises you'll ever see me recommend because there is no real free weight alternative. Grab an attached rope and face away from a low cable, squat down a bit and spread your legs, reach all the way through your legs (see thestart position). Slowly pull your upper body back through your legs until you are in an upright position, like so

Can I do SLDL or GMs instead of the back extensions?Edit

This is an absolute no-no. Unless you are a mutant with a set of spinal erectors that recover insanely fast, you CANNOT do good mornings (GMs) or stiff leg deadlifts (SLDLs - or Romanian deadlifts - RDLs) in place of hyperextensions. GMs and RDLs/SLDLs are DEADLIFT REPLACEMENTS, not hyperextension replacements.

Read that one again....RDLs, SLDLs, and GMs are HEAVY CORE and CORE ASSISTANCE EXERCISES, not accessory work. They should be treated and trained as such.

The vast majority of trainees won't even need to do hyperextensions until at least the 2nd or 3rd month of training, many won't really need to do these for QUITE some time, and at that point, they should be moving heavy enough weights in the deadlift and squat that good mornings and SLDLs would be counterproductive to recovery if added in.

Even if you "just go light" on these exercises, they are not appropriate substitutions for hyperextensions. Hypers, reverse hypers, glute-ham raises (GHRs) are the only acceptable substitutes within the Onus Wunsler program. GMs and/or SLDLs in addition to squats and deadlifts will most definitely get in the way of progress for the novice and most intermediates.

heck, there are tons of advanced athletes who can't do GMs and SLDLs after conventional heavy deadlifting without requiring close to a week to recover.

If you know for a fact that you can do GMs and/or SLDLs along with regular heavy deadlifting (up to twice weekly) and squatting 3x weekly, then One or more of the following is true

  1. You are an advanced-elite athlete
  2. You are a mutant
  3. You are on steroids
  4. You are Spytech (which goes hand-in-hand with #1 and #2 above)
  5. You train with Frank Yang (who is crazy.)

Glute-Ham RaisesEdit

Ab WorkEdit

Do I need to do ab work? Some say the program as-is provides plenty.Edit

It's true, the squat, deadlift, powercleans, pull-ups, and especially the standing press provide tons of core stabilization. If you think this is true for you, then go ahead and skip ab work. Most people, especially most novices, could do pretty well if they do a few sets of abs 3x per week. It certainly isn't going to kill you and generally will help 99% of most novices, who have flabby bellies, even if their midsection isn't large.

Remember, your midsection is responsible for keeping your spinal column tight and in proper alignment, along with the muscles of your lower back. If your lower back fatigues, whatever "slack" is created by the weakened lower back muscles will need to be taken up by your abs. As such, it is much better to have abs that are "too strong" than "not quite strong enough", because "not quite strong enough" may very well lead to a back injury, which is horribly un-anabolic, as well as painful and aggravating (and chronic)

What ab exercises should I do, and how should I do them?Edit

Volumes have been written on this subject, so I will briefly explain a few good ab exercises

  1. NS Situps - (NS = Needsize, the creator of this exercise) - lie on a slant board, start at the up position, lower yourself until your upper body is parallel to the ground, hold for 5 seconds, return to the top. Add weight to your chest (i.e. hold a plate or DB or a sandbag across your chest)
  2. Leg raises from a chinup bar
  3. Leg raises on a slantboard
  4. Ab pulldowns

A few points:

  • Start off easy so that your abs aren't trashed for days.
  • Try to keep reps lower. Over 15 is unnecessary in most cases, add weight to increase resistance. Strong abs produced by weight are going to be better able to stabilize you during a squat or pull than skinny abs that have been eroded by 1908432-rep situp workouts
  • Do these AFTER weight training, not before, and not on your off-days. Sore abs can wreck your back if you aren't careful when doing squats and pulls, so just do the ab work right after your workout.

I have heard of Standing Ab Pulldowns. Should I do these instead?Edit

Standing ab pulldowns are a very good exercise that is frequently performed by powerlifters. Because the squat and deadlift (2 primary powerlifting exercises) are taxing on the midsection, and both require you to stand up, the train of thought is that doing ab work in a standing position will have better carryover.

Here and here are a few pics of the standing ab pulldown. You attach a towel or a strap or whatever to a lat pulldown machine, face away from the machine, hold the straps on either side of your head, and use your abs to pull you down.

If you prefer those over situps or leg raises, then go for it! Be smart, start out easy, and gradually increase volume and/or intensity. Keep reps per set relatively low again (no 30-rep marathon sets)


I want to cut up for the beach and get a 6-pack. Can I get a 6-pack from this program?Edit

The "6-pack" is a result of 3 things

  1. Muscular development of the abs
  2. Low bodyfat
  3. Enough muscle all over the body so that the skin is stretched thin enough across the abs to demonstrate them

Some people who are barbell novices may have abs, but usually they are involved in some type of strength/endurance sport, such as soccer, hockey, track, and especially martial arts and wrestling, etc. These individuals may be naturally muscular and lean, and probably have developed a good bit of muscle via their sport. As a result, they may not have significant muscle mass as compared to a bodybuilder, but they are still well developed compared to the untrained individual.

This program builds muscle mass. Diet and cardio are used to burn bodyfat. If your bodyfat is low, then you may very well find that the muscular development you get from this program is enough to help your abs show, especially if you eat a very clean, well-balanced (for muscle building) diet.

If you don't have abs now, and you are a chubby, NO weight training program will get you a 6-pack without dietary adjustments and cardio. As a newb to weight training, your best bet is simply to clean up your diet, maintain a strict food log, and monitor your calorie intake and morning post-take-a-dump bodyweight. Don't try to lose weight (unless you're pretty fat), try to maintain. This will allow your body to burn bodyfat for fuel while building muscle. This is ESPECIALLY effective for chubby teenagers and out-of-shape older guys who used to be athletic/lean and can use muscle memory to help them get back in shape.

Take 6 weeks and focus on eating a maintenance diet and developing your strength. Monitor your progress and THEN start tweeking.

Lots of Rippetoe quotes about ab workEdit

"An ab wheel can be used as an ab exercise, and it's actually not a bad one. L-pullups are better, but any hard isometric ab exercise is more functional than a situp. Incorporate them into your workout like you would situps, only do them instead."

"I like weighted situps, knees-to-elbows, and L-pullups. These 3 cover all the bases."

"I use situps and other resisted abdominal flexion exercises in training because they are a good way to make those muscles stronger, but all the trunk muscles function primary as isometric stabilizers AND as active movers, but they actively move things over a much shorter range of motion in sports and work than we typically use to train them."

"If you do a few situps and do some of your pullups in an "L" (hold your legs straight out in front of you) you'll get plenty of ab work."

"But then again, if you are strong enough to do a plank you probably don't need any more ab work than you already get."

"Situps I like to do to failure, with a load that produces failure in under 20 reps."

"I seldom do situps anymore myself. I like to do a few reps of L-chinups when I chin to get the work done, but it's been a long time since I regularly incorporated situps into my training, and my abs stay strong from the other work. There are many ways to do situps, so try them all if you want to and see which make you the most sore/strong."

"I don't really have a preferred ab routine. I think you should just do a few sets of weighted situps and add more weight every time, just like we do with everything else. In other words, don't endurance-train your abs while you strength-train everything else."

"I like weighted bent-knee situps, or Roman chair situps. L-pullups are very good, L-sits as well. But if your presses are heavy, your abs will be strong. Oh yeah, I forgot that I like knees-to-elbows too."

"The function of the trunk muscles is neither concentric nor eccentric, but rather isometric -- their job is to maintain constant stable intervertebral relationships under a load. So the concept of full ROM for the lumbar muscles in terms of their normal function is rather squishy. The erectors and abs can be worked with extension/flexion exercises like back extensions and situps, but their normal function is that which is manifested in the squat and deadlift. Direct ext/flex work is useful for injury rehab or light day work for intermediate/advanced lifters. Machines for this purpose are just made to sell club memberships to novices."

Other Useful Accessory ExercisesEdit

Since these are outside the scope of the original "Starting Strength" programs I have put these on a separate page. You can find them in The Exercise Glossary.

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