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12 Vital Strength Training Lessons from Mark Rippetoe

Mark Rippetoe, founder of Starting Strength
Credit-Starting Strenght/Onnit

If you consider yourself a serious lifter, you should be familiar with Mark Rippetoe.  A competitive powerlifter for 10 years, the Starting Strength author is known for preaching the importance of compound barbell exercises.

Rippetoe’s book Practical Programming for Strength Training provides a comprehensive outline of the theories and practices involved in creating a proper strength program.

Whether you just learned to squat, or have been competing for many years, the book is rich with information that every lifter can benefit from.

Here are 12 major takeaways from Mark Rippetoe’s training philosophy.

1.) “Exercise” and “Training” are two completely different concepts.

Exercise is a physical activity performed for the effect it produces right now (i.e. burning calories, breaking a sweat, getting a “pump”, etc.)

Training is a physical activity performed for purposes of satisfying a long-term goal. It is about the process that results in metabolic changes that, over time, causes a physiological adaptation (i.e. strength, endurance, etc.).

2.) Modern “fitness clubs” are designed for exercising, because training is far less profitable.

Roughly two-thirds of floor space is dedicated to cardio and exercise machines. These are easy to teach, easy to use, and “easy to vacuum around” as Rip points out.

Most gyms are sales organizations whose goal is to get you to sign up for a membership. Beyond that, it is of little concern whether you continue to show up or not.

vital strength training lessons
Credit-Justyn Warner

3.) Stress + Recovery = Adaptation.

In the case of strength training, stress is produced by your use of the barbell. After one workout, you must take sufficient time to recover before your next workout.

Adaptation is your body’s physiological change to compensate and survive under these new conditions (i.e. heavier weights).

4.) There are 3 different levels of trainees — Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced.

Each level describes the amount of time it takes for recovery from training. These terms are not used to describe a trainee’s strength or athleticism.

Since a novice has never followed a strict regimen designed to drive progress, he/she can add weight to his/her work sets every workout for the duration of the novice phase.

On the other hand, an advanced trainee is working relatively close to their ultimate physical potential and thus takes a much longer time to continue to produce an adaptation.

5.) There are no unsafe levels of protein consumption.

Unless, of course, you have active kidney disease. Rip explains that there is no evidence to support the notion that “excessive” amounts of protein are harmful to normal kidneys, despite what most health-care professionals will tell you.

vital strength training lessons
Credit-Christian Wiediger

6.) Whey protein and other supplements should not be the staple of your training diet.

You should be taking supplements in addition to a well-rounded, nutritious diet. If a high supplement intake is necessary to meet your protein requirements, you should reexamine the rest of your diet.

7.) Drink when you are thirsty.

You don’t need to carry around a gallon of water all day, sipping on it every 5 minutes to stay hydrated.

8.) If strength gains are your primary objective, rest of 2 minutes or more is absolutely necessary.

You shouldn’t let the clock dictate when you perform your next working set. Complete recovery between sets doesn’t occur for several minutes, depending on various individual factors (intensity of set, fatigue, nutrition, temperature of the gym, etc.).

vital strength training lessons
Credit-Victor Freitas

9.) Sets of 5 have proven to be the most useful number of reps per set for strength training.

Different numbers of repetitions per set produce different types of adaptations. The fastest muscular hypertrophy any trainee will experience is during the initial novice progression where he/she uses sets of 5 reps to get strong as fast as possible – and therefore to get bigger as fast as possible.

10.) Squats & Deadlifts have the potential to add more muscle mass than any other exercise.

Squats and deadlifts are compound lifts that recruit a large number of muscles, resulting in much faster gains in strength than upper body exercises such as the bench press.

To help your grip on those deadlifts, I recommend Black Widow Liquid Chalk.  It’s easily the best chalk on the market.

11.) Do the most important exercises first.

Big lifts like the squat and bench press should be done at the beginning of your workout. Assistance work, such as chin-ups, should be done after your primary exercises.

12.) “Strong people are harder to kill than weak people and more useful in general”.

If this quote from Rip doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what will!

Hopefully, these lessons help give you direction in your quest to build strength.

Remember, there is no perfect program. Even the best powerlifters and bodybuilders in the world are making adjustments every day.

Use these teaching points as a foundation, but always experiment with what works best for you.

For more from Mark Rippetoe:

  • You can listen to his podcast here.
  • You can read his forums here.
  • And you can purchase his books here.
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