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Book Review: Starting Strength – Basic Barbell Training

starting strengthStarting Strength was one of the first strength training books I ever read. It was also one of the first weight training books that I ever ignored. I read it back when I thought I was interested in lifting, but was actually only interested in reading about lifting. I came back to this book about ten years later and loved it. Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore have a lot to say about the squat, bench press, power clean, barbell overhead press, and deadlift. Men after my own heart! This is a manual for anyone who wants to get strong with barbell training. Hence the teaching of the big barbell lifts.

And getting as strong as possible is nearly synonymous with barbell lifting. Can you get strong using kettlebells? Sure! Can you get as strong as guys who use Russian kettlebell in addition to heavy barbell deadlifting, cleaning, overhead pressing, and squatting? Probably not.

When I reviewed the book Strength Training Anatomy by Frederic Delavier, I was amazed at the amount of detail that had gone into the artwork. And I’m embarrassed to say I had no idea just how many things were happening in the body during a movement as small as a bicep curl.

I feel the same way about the in-depth examinations of the lifts in Starting Strength. If you say you want to read up on the squat, you better be serious, because you’re going to get enough material to make you beg for mercy. Now that I am training with Gym Movement, my goal is always to make things as simple as possible, reducing lifts to point A and point B whenever possible. But I see tremendous value in knowing exactly what happens in the body during a lift. Rippetoe’s and Kilgore’s book gives me that. I find myself referring back to it quite frequently, both to look for new things to test and for the writing as well.

Mark Rippetoe has always made me laugh. He says exactly what he thinks and doesn’t care what anyone says about it. Starting Strength is not a good representation of how funny he can be. It’s a serious book for coaches and strength enthusiasts who are looking for training advice, not a laugh. And because I haven’t got around to mentioning it yet, yes, there are programs in this book that are bare-bones approaches to getting strong and nothing else.

However! If you want a laugh and/or additional examples of Mark Rippetoe’s personality and passion, I would recommend checking out my book review of Mean Ol’ Mr. Gravity Conversations in Strength Training. Good stuff. I personally feel that Mark is at his best when he is demonstrating that he does not suffer fools gladly.

Highly recommended for anyone who loves to read about lifting weights, or even better, someone who loves to read about it and actually does some lifting as well. There is something here for everyone, from every type of system.


PS: These remarks refer to the latest edition of the Starting Strength book, Basic Barbell Training, which was greatly expanded over the original.

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  • Ray October 4, 2010, 2:01 pm

    I’m a huge fan of Rip’s. I think his Starting Strength is in the top 5 strength books and the wit, wisdom, and humor of Strong Enough makes for a great read as well.