Starting Starting Strength

From Chris . . .

As promised, here's a supplement to our fitness episode (03). Consider the episode to be the why and this post will be the how. We didn't have time to go into the minutiae of what we each do for our workouts currently, so we wanted to dedicate an entire post just for that. This is a long one because we're both going to offer our POV's. 

I started training because I began to have lower back pain in addition to the constant shoulder pain from being hunched over at a desk all day. A co-worker of mine at the time is a competitive power lifter and an another friend had gotten into the barbell lifts as well. Sometimes having an example is the best motivation to get started. 

Upon both of their recommendations, I bought Starting Strength. It's a program you can run from anywhere between 3 - 6 months and once you complete it you'll feel confident enough in the gym to handle other programs; I moved on to the Texas Method (found in Practical Programming) and along the way I did 5/3/1. Starting Strength is a great place to begin. It truly is for someone who is just starting. If you don't happen to have a knowledgeable friend to train with, there are plenty of Starting Strength resources online. See the bottom of this post for some of those. 

It's important to say here that my aim was not to look better. My aim was to feel better: stronger. Strength is the fundamental fitness discipline. People can disagree with this all they want, but the fact is that without strength you cannot perform aerobic activities nor can you "get toned." All other things being equal, given two athletes, the stronger one will always be better.

With that out of the way, let's discuss what Starting Strength looks like. There are five lifts: squats, overhead press, deadlift, bench press, and power cleans, and two workouts (A and B). As I mentioned in the episode, the barbell squat is the single best exercise you can do, and it's central to the program. Each training day, you'll be doing three sets of five squats after your light warm-up. 

Workout A Workout B
Squat 3x5 (three sets of five) Squat 3x5 (three sets of five)
Overhead Press 3x5 (three sets of five) Bench Press 3x5 (three sets of five)
Deadlift 1x5 (one set of five) Power Clean 5x3 (five sets of three)

In week one, you'll do Workout A three days a week and Workout B twice a week. In week two, alternate. So if you work out Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, you would do Tuesday: A, Thursday: B, Saturday: A. Then the next week, Tuesday: B, Thursday: A, Saturday: B. 

As mentioned above, there are many great resources for learning the lifts. Don't let lack of a coach deter you. The book thoroughly explains the lifts, and the Starting Strength coaches have put out many great videos explaining the lifts. You can also take a video of your lifts and get a form checks on the forums via digital coaching, which is free. I do this and it has been helpful. 

The workouts alternate each training day, and you workout three times per week. You will add weight every time. You may be thinking "That's a lot of squatting." It is. You will adapt. You also might be thinking "How can I possibly keep adding weight?" You will. Again, that's part of what makes the program so good. Finally, you might be thinking "But where's the cardio?" Ask again after you've done the program for a couple of weeks. I think you'll find that you're getting plenty of cardio vascular exercise. For reference, without doing any cardio, I was able to run a six minute mile on a bet. 

From Indiana . . . 

I hate working out. Hate. It. But after watching Chris' transformation and meeting a number of other women who extolled the virtues of barbells (vs. the mass amounts of cardio I was doing), I decided it was worth investigating. I read The New Rules of Lifting for Women, and honestly, the exercises seemed a little too complicated for me and darn right intimidating. However, the book itself, the reasoning behind why women should do strength training is worth the read. I hope that once I complete Starting Strength (over the next six months) that I can try the NROL4W program as outlined in the book. I have just restarted Starting Strength, so I'm still at the very beginning of the program. I think the Starting Strength book is incredibly snoozy, so I don't know if I'd recommend buying it per se.

Nonetheless, I am a beginning beginner. Keep in mind: previously a workout for me was a 50 minute Zumba class and some light treadmill jogging. I literally could not lift the 45 pound barbell when I first started. I don't know if it was the weight of it or the awkwardness of trying to raise it and keep it balanced, but when I first started I had to start with a very small barbell to do squats. I still can't power clean and have to do assisted chin-ups on a machine to work my shoulders. 

I want to be upfront about some of the discouraging things because I feel like if you know them at the get go, you'll be mentally prepared for them and will not let them thwart you from your goals. These things were enough to make me quit for short periods of time. 

First: lifting when you're a n00b, especially a lady newbie is awkward, and there aren't a lot of women in the gym doing free weights, so it's hard to find someone who can help you / spot you / give you feedback on your form. It gets less awkward over time. 

Second: DOMS will happen at the beginning. Even if you are lifting tiny Barbie weights, you will experience the nightmare of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness if you haven't been lifting weights at all before. Chris says his DOMS felt like his legs were rubber bands for a couple days after. Me? I was in so much pain in my chest and shoulders that I cried and begged Chris to take me to the hospital! I literally thought I was dying.

INDIANA: Chris, I'm so sore! You need to take me to the ER! I think I stretched my heart muscle! My chest! Ouch! Owwww!
CHRIS: DOMS. Delayed onset muscle soreness. You'll be okay in a couple days.
I: Delayed what?! Why didn't you tell me about this? I'm dying! I've had a baby without pain meds and I cannot handle this for another "couple days". 
C: You're going to be fine. Want me to teach you how to foam roll

My advice for you when you get DOMS? Take some Advil, pop in your favorite girly movie, and moan about on the couch for a while, but get back to work on your next scheduled workout day. Don't skip a workout because you're sore. It will go away, and I promise it will not happen every time and better yet, it likely won't be as bad as the first time if you get it again after a big break between training.  

Third: Get a grip of the mental part of the game. Here's the thing: every single workout, I am adding five more pounds to my lifts. Five more pounds to a lift that the previous training day I was certain that I could not lift. When I was very new, I would think as I was loading my plates, "I don't think I can do this. I could barely do it last time! There's no way I can add five more pounds today!" and it was much harder. But once I started seeing the pattern-- the accomplishment of being able to add five pounds each day and not die-- then my mental state flipped. It became, "I am getting stronger every day. I am going to add five more pounds to this and rock it out. I am going to accomplish something that I could not have accomplished two days ago!" And when that's my mental state, it's still hard, but not as hard. Plus it feels more like a celebration of strength every day instead of relief from simply avoiding death. 

Fourth: Ladies, especially at the beginning, don't worry about the scale or mirror test. Remember, you're in this for the long haul. Lasting change takes time... usually longer than you want. But make no mistake about it: with Starting Strength, you're getting stronger every single day, and in the long run, you'll see pleasing results in the mirror.

My lifting workout is essentially the same as above (sub assisted chin-ups for power cleans on workout B), but I love a good dance class and sleep better when I do yoga, so a typical week may look like this for me: 

DAY Mandatory Training Optional Class
Monday Workout A yoga
Tuesday -- Dance Battle Build or Barre
Wednesday Workout B yoga
Thursday -- DBB or Barre
Friday Workout A yoga
Saturday -- power yoga
Sunday -- --

I option to do DBB or barre on my "off" days when I haven't been eating as well or know that I'll be going out to eat and having some extra indulgences. I'm a class gal. I really like the camaraderie of class, and I enjoy a good dance class, so sometimes I just go for the fun of it. Usually I'll hit up two classes a week on my off days. On weight training days, I sometimes do a yoga class because I'm working on gaining some of my flexibility back and seeing how my strength training helps me with some of the poses I can't yet achieve. It's been a neat test, and one of these days I'll be able to side plank

This blog post is way longer than we had planned so let me wrap up by saying that, besides the weight lifting equipment, I think you only need two things to get started: 1- a pair of weight lifting shoes. Converse All-Stars work well because they have a thin sole and you don't want squishy shoes when you're lifting, but weight lifting shoes are better, and 2- regular encouragement. Get people in your corner to remind you that this is worth it and when it gets hard they'll be there checking in with you and telling you to keep it up and that they're proud of you. 

If you have any questions, we're not experts, but we're happy to help and encourage! I'm on My Fitness Pal under @indianaadams and Chris says he can answer questions in the comment section. 

Resources and recommendations: