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How Our Strength Program Differs From the Rest

How Our Strength Program Differs From the Rest
June 14, 2017 Dan Raimondi

Raimondi Strength and Conditioning utilizes the principles and methods as described in Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training (3rd Ed.) The basic barbell movements are the foundation of an efficient and effective strength program, especially for those first starting out with us.Unlike most gyms and trainers who are focused on performing lots of different exercises with the intention of making you hot, sweaty, and tired, our mission here is to focus on just a handful of major barbell movements that provide the most return on your physical investment. So how does our strength training program differ from the rest? Well, it differs in that we don’t chase exercise variety. Here’s the program, listed below:

Workout A:

Workout B:

Squat: 3 x 5 reps

Squat 3 x 5 reps

Press: 3 x 5 reps

Bench Press: 3 x 5 reps

Deadlift 1 x 5 reps

Deadlift: 1 x 5 reps

 

Seems too simple to work, and in fact, when properly coached and trained, this program( and the slight modifications we make along the way), works every single time. Here’s why:

Adaptation 101:

I first read about a doctor by the name of Hans Selye in his book, The Stress of Life, published in 1956. In the book Selye discussed what he called the General Adaptation Syndrome in which he noted a 3 part process by which animals adapt to stress(Alarm-Resistance-Exhaustion) . Flash forward to today, and we have a model of how humans adapt to stress and it looks something like this:

  • Stress: A stressor is applied(i.e. the training session) to which the body is unadapted.
  • Recovery: Your body recovers (hopefully, via mainly sleep and proper nutrition)
  • Adaptation: You grow stronger, assuming the stressor was from strength training.

This is a simplification, but the principle remains (Note: For a great read on stress and adaptation, check out Robert Sapolsky’s book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers). You don’t adapt to stress which you are used to because adaptation is costly, and your body would rather not devote the resources to recovery if it doesn’t have to. As Einstein said best, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” How many people have you seen in the gym grab the same dumbbells (or load the same barbell) with the same weight and do the same reps for the same sets every time they go in the gym? Will they ever improve? The main parameter we therefore manipulate to increase strength is the weight on the barbell, as it gives us the clearest idea of whether or not we are getting stronger.

The Exercises

There’s not much exercise variation in this program. For those who need that constant change in exercises, our program is probably not going to appeal to you. Our focus is improving just a handful of movements( we will change the program slightly once you get stronger) for a few reasons:

  1. Technical mastery: if you’re changing exercises every session, what sort of proficiency have you developed? Sure you might enjoy new things each time, but what happens if you go and train without your coach? My job is not only to make you stronger, but to make you self reliant. You should walk away from our sessions and be prepared to go into a gym by yourself and know exactly what to do and how to do it.
  2. Compound, multi-joint movements: Our philosophy in Starting Strength chooses exercises that utilize the most muscle mass, over the greatest effective range of motion, with the most weight. The result is more strength! Doing movements that adhere to these criteria allows for efficiency and effectiveness in the program. For example, instead of having a client do leg extensions, thigh ab/adduction, and leg curls, we will simply teach them to squat. In doing one movement we can train the body as a unit, rather than in piecemeal fashion. And because these movements are inherently more complicated than leg extensions and leg curls, they require focused coaching and practice more frequently.
  3. Training versus exercise: The program is designed to get people strong fairly quickly. This is what we call the “novice effect”, and it’s what most people starting a strength program experience. You are able to come in Monday, squat/press/deadlift, and by Wednesday, your body has sufficiently recovered to allow for more weight to be handled. This is a goal oriented process, with each session building upon the last. We have a goal. We have a plan. Exercising is what most other people do in the gym. It’s random, unplanned, unfocused, and only focuses on what you’re doing that day. You go in, walk on the treadmill for a bit, do some curls, get a little sweaty, and go home. For some, exercising is all they want to do; when you decide that you want to be stronger, decide to train.

But, ultimately, author of Starting Strength:Basic Barbell Training Mark Rippetoe sums it up best:

“You do not need to do many different exercises to get strong – you need to get strong on a very few important exercises, movements that train the whole body as a system, not as a collection of separate body parts. The problem with the programs advocated by all the national exercise organizations is that they fail to recognize this basic principle: the body best adapts as a whole organism to stress applied to the whole organism. The more stress that can be applied to as much of the body at one time as possible, the more effective and productive the adaptation will be.”

Bonnie learns the press for the first time

The Sets and Reps:

So at this point, you’re starting to believe that strength is critically important, and that doing a handful of movements with near perfect execution and increasing amounts of weight is the right way to stress the body and get stronger. But why 3 sets of 5 reps(or 1 set of 5 for the deadlift)?

Strength is a general adaptation when it is applied the way we will train it (i.e. lots of muscle mass functioning together). For a general adaptation like strength, we need a general rep scheme. A 1 repetition max would be a very specific strength adaptation, with more stress being applied to certain energetic pathways and the neuromuscular system. On the other hand, something like a set of 20 reps would be too far shifted to the other end of the spectrum, and focus more on endurance. Cutting the difference in the middle also won’t work, as a heavy set of 10 more resembles (from an energetic requirement standpoint) a heavy set of 20. We settle in on the 5 rep set, a perfect blend of both strength and muscular hypertrophy that allows the trainee to practice the movement and receive useful feedback on each rep.

Performing 3 sets comes from our personal experience. For novice trainees it is the right amount to induce a stress, without going overboard to the point where recovery is compromised. The deadlift only utilizes 1 working set because it generally uses more weight and thus can be harder to recover from. It also doesn’t usually require as much practice as the squat, and thus we can generally stick to 1 set for quite some time.

Most muscle mass + greatest effective range of motion + most weight = Most strength!

Okay, so you’ve read this far and you’re still unsure that this can work(or you’re sure it’ll work but will just be really boring). Our novice progression is designed to get you stronger in a  fairly fast amount of time (most usually can run through the novice strength program in 3-4 months, depending on age, previous training history, nutrition/sleep, etc..). Once this phase has finished, we move on to more intermediate style programming, which usually requires weekly manipulation of variables (as opposed to simply adding weight each session). In practice, a 2 week snapshot of the novice progression looks like this:

Week 1:

Monday

Wednesday

Friday

Workout A

Workout B

Workout A

 

Week 2:

Monday

Wednesday

Friday

Workout B

Workout A

Workout B

 

Each session we alternate between the 2 workouts, so that one week you’ll press overhead twice and bench once, and vice versa the following week. Along the way we make changes to the program, depending on where you are in your training, your age, weight, etc.. For example, for some individuals, we will add in power cleans and chin ups to the program. It is important to note that one of the things that separates a Starting Strength Coach from others is our ability to individualize and coach these movements. So yes, while the back squat is one of our primary lower body exercises, for some older/weaker individuals the progression may begin with a leg press(or box squat, set to varying heights). A good coach will modify the exercises where needed to match your ability. For those who enjoy seeing measurable, objective improvements each time they come into the gym, the novice progression is the place to begin. If you’re ready to train, find a coach, and begin the process. It doesn’t take very long, and can truly change your life!