The ONE single UNO sole MAMMOTH super MASSIVE reason I wouldn’t be caught DEAD doing Starting Strength (again)… and what I’d do instead

Starting Strength is a book, but most people know it as a program — one often recommended to confused noobs that wanna get stronger and build muscle.

I would know. My old mentor referred it to me back in 2007. I used to pepper him with T-R-B-L turrable questions.

Five reps or four reps? How many sets? What’s the best program? What’s your experience with butt secks? Should I have a 401(k) or a Roth IRA?

He gave me personalized answers to every question I asked… for the first few weeks. Alas, my hyperactive forebrain eventually sunk his titanic morale. Too many questions on board, not enough towing capacity.

“Just buy Starting Strength,” he said.

So I did.

And my life was never the same.

After buying Starting Strength

Starting Strength transformed my approach to strength training. In hindsight, this might not have been that big of an accomplishment because, at the time, my approach to strength training was akin to teaching abstinence for birth control.

Alas, I wouldn’t be where I am today without my Starting Strength backbone. I owe many beers to Rippetoe and Kilgore. They’re welcome to cash in whenever they please.

And yet.

And yet.

If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t do Starting Strength. And, if you’re reading this, there’s an above average chance you shouldn’t do Starting Strength, either.

The Starting Strength program

In order to understand why I wouldn’t do Starting Strength again, let’s take a superficial look at the program itself to anchor what follows. Below comes from

Day A

  • Squat 5 reps x 3 sets
  • Press/Bench Press 5 reps x 3 sets
  • Deadlift 5 reps x 1 set

Day B

  • Squat 5 reps x 3 sets
  • Press/Bench Press 5 reps x 3 sets
  • Deadlift 5 reps x 1 set

This is considered phase one. You train three non-consecutive days per week, you alternate between Day A and Day B, and you add weight to the bar for every single exercise every single training session. This is all you need to know about the program for now.

Where’s the beef?

Are the exercises dangerous? Will they injure you? Will they give you hemorrhoids? Will they turn your firstborn into a flat earth theorist?

No. No. No. MAYBE.

My hatred of Starting Strength is (admittedly) superficial and shitty. In other words, how every girl treated me in high school — that’s how I’m treating Starting Strength.

I’m not bashing Starting Strength on the whole. There is a large group of people for which Starting Strength is nothing but unicorns, marshmallows, and Preparation H.

But, for me, it wasn’t. And isn’t.

Because it’s easy to see (unless you have a potato for a brain) that Starting Strength is a powerlifting program. And this makes all the difference.

Powerlifting for sport

Powerlifting is a sport. Powerlifting athletes compete across three different exercises: the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift. These three lifts are often referred to as the “big three.” The athlete that totals the most weight across all three lifts wins the powerlifting competition.

The stock Starting Strength program contains four total exercises: the back squat, the bench press, the overhead press, and the conventional deadlift. Three of these four lifts are the big three, which is all the evidence I need to support my claim of Starting Strength being a powerlifting program.

It should also be all the evidence you need to believe me, unless you’re of the aforementioned potato brained ilk. And we’re not talking about those cool purple Hawaiian potatoes. We’re talking about shriveled, shitty, sprouting Idaho baking potatos.

Why does powerlifting matter?

This whole “powerlifting” detail matters for one supremely simple reason: I’m not a powerlifter. The only thing a powerlifter cares about is squatting, benching, and deadlifting more weight. That’s the life they sign up for. That’s the problem they choose to solve.

The only thing LeBron James cares about is basketball. You’d only live in LeBron’s shoes if you wanted to ball, right? Well, I mean, I guess you’d also wanna live in his shoes if you wanted to be a multimillionaire and a celebrity.

My point is that, if you wanted to be a powerlifter, you wouldn’t do what LeBron does. Just like LeBron wouldn’t do what a powerlifter does. Different problems requires different solutions.

Logic says the only reason to go on a powerlifting program is if you (a) share the same powerlifting “problem,” or (b) have a problem that will be solved as side-effect of solving the powerlifting “problem.”

The problem(s)

I suppose now would be a good time to talk about the problem I was trying to solve. Back when I was referred to Starting Strength, I was skinny-fat. I hated my body. I hated my narrow shoulders. I hated my toothpick arms. I hated my wide chubby belly.

It was built opposite of the way I wanted to be built. I wanted comically broad shoulders that funneled into a narrow waist. (What can I say, I watched a lot of anime.) I never wanted to be bodybuilder, or random blobs of muscle.

I didn’t know it at the time, but building an x-physique (as I now call it) was my problem. I looked like Spielberg’s E.T., and I didn’t want to. I would have done anything to solve my problem. I was solution apathetic. If there was a pill that would have changed my body overnight, I would have taken the pill.

Powerlifting and x-physiques

Let’s return to something I mentioned earlier.

Logic says the only reason to go on a powerlifting program is if you (a) share the same powerlifting “problem,” or (b) have a problem that will be solved as side-effect of solving the powerlifting “problem.”

Do I share the same problem as powerlifters? No. As mentioned, I didn’t care about squatting, benching, and deadlifting. To me, it didn’t matter how I fixed my body, as long as I fixed my body.

Onto the second part… Would my problem be solved as a side-effect of chasing the solution to the powerlifting problem? In other words, if I set my inner Death Star towards getting as strong as possible on the squat, bench, and dead, would I end up with an x-physique?

The answer is no. Not many x-physiques are built as a byproduct of bettering the big three and only the big three, especially if you have a skinny-fat body as a starting point.

Two problems with Starting Strength

I have to take a few steps back, for context. Starting Strength is the frame of reference, more so than “bettering the big three.” But my point still stands. Starting Strength won’t build many x-physiques.

Having a broad, thick, and muscular back is arguably the most important aspect of an x-physique. The back responds best to upper-body pulling exercises (like chin-ups and rows), but there isn’t even one single upper-body pulling exercise in Starting Strength.

Also, most skinny-fat dudes have whack chest proportions. Their lower-chest holds most of their muscle mass, as opposed to their upper-chest. Given this, most skinny-fat dudes need to focus on growing their upper-chest. Unfortunately, the flat bench press prioritizes the lower chest. (Read more on this here.)

Why I wouldn’t do Starting Strength

The one mega super awesome unfathomable reason I wouldn’t do Starting Strength again (nor would I recommend Starting Strength to skinny-fat noobs) is because the problem Starting Strength is designed to solve is NOT our problem.

Doing Starting Strength if you want to build an x-physique is sort of like saying, “You want to be good at baseball? Sweet. Well, here, grab this golf club. Go to the driving range every day for the next six months. Work on your swing. I’m sure you’ll be able to hit Blyleven’s curve afterwards.”

Only minor differences

Starting Strength is a flat-blade screwdriver. Works excellent for slotted screws. But I’m a crosshead screw, which means I need a cross-recess screwdriver. They are different, but, In the end, there are more similarities between the two than there are differences.

The solution to my problem is similar to the solution to the powerlifting problem.

Half (more than half, really) of Starting Strength is exactly what you need if you wanna build an x-physique: you need to get strong, especially if you’re a noob. You just have to get strong on the exercises that’ll increase the odds of an x-physique output.

Farting Strength

I’m not creating this divide between me and Starting Strength for publicity, nor am I trying to be a genius and reinvent the wheel. In other words, I’m ssooooooo not afraid to steal the  programming principles that create Starting Strength‘s infrastructure for my own diabolical use.

If you happen to be a skinny-fat noob and you were thinking of going on Starting Strength, here’s something you should know.

I created a mod of Starting Strength. A program that’s designed to be a little more skinny-fat (and x-physique) friendly. You can check it out here.

Trying to lose fat, build muscle, and build a body you’re proud of?

Maybe you’re a little lost right now.

Maybe you don’t have much motivation.

Maybe you don’t what program or diet to use.

I don’t know…

But what I do know is this:

Everything you need is inside of you.

You’re capable of more than know.

You just have to open your eyes.

My weekly column can help.

Just a small little honest note from me sent every Sunday.

Unless I’m hungover.

And then it comes Monday.

What I’m trying to say is that it’ll come Monday.

(These weekly columns don’t get posted to the site.)

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