T Nation

Should I Keep Doing Starting Strength?

Alright guys, this is my first post here but I’ve been lurking for the last couple weeks and have found this site very informative. OK, so my backstory is that I’ve been a twink my entire life…right now I weigh 190 lbs at a height of just shy of 6’4 so I’m pretty fucking skinny, and even then I’m sure my BF is close to around 15% or so. Never played sports competitively or lifted growing up.

Well when I got to college, I wanted to change this. So last June, I started Starting Strength. I was pretty laughably weak when I first started…couldn’t squat, dead lift, or bench my body weight. Anyway, I did these lifts to the best of my ability, ate as much as I could, and I did mention to bulk up to 200 lbs for awhile.

I don’t think any of it was real serious weight, but I will say I look a little bigger than I did last year. Anyway I focused on these three lifts for the longest time, did the accessory work when I could, but mostly focused on these lifts. My best numbers, which I know are terrible, are 3x5 155 lbs on the bench(bro-lifted a bit in high school), 3x5 185 on the squat(slightly below parallel), and 1x5 235 lbs on the deadlift.

These numbers, which again I know suck, were obtained after say, 9 months of training? However, I definitely took a week or two, and in some cases as much as a month around Christmas break or between quarters, so lets say I did about 6 or 7 months of raw training. Some of the breaks might have been deserved but a lot of it was just me sucking at life.

I guess I should note that I also drank alcohol more than I should during this time - usually on fri and sat nights, occasionally on thursdays, and rarely a tuesday night or something. With the advent of spring quarter, day-drinking became the cool thing to do so I did that sometimes too. I know this isn’t good for me, and as is addressed below, I plan to stop this behavior. In any case, during the days I drank and primarily on the weekends, my diet went to shit, which explains the relatively poor gains.

Anyway, I haven’t done any of those man-lifts in at least a month because I hurt my back. I realized that I was rounding my back at the very bottom of the squat when I went too deep, and was doing a similar rounding while dead lifting. My back was definitely in pain for a couple weeks after that. So I started doing some of the stretches to help out, and I think I have a little better flexibility now.

My plan is to start squatting and deadlifting again, but I’m just going to squat to parallel, trying as hard as I can not to round my back, and keep working at parallel until I can move a decent amount of weight. While I do this, I’m going to keep working on my flexibility so that by the time I start plateauing, I can switch to A2G and hopefully make some gains there.

Anyway, summer is about to start for me, and my responsibilities include a 35-40 hour/week job, and that’s about it. I really want to make an effort to increase all of my lifts, as well as put on a solid 10 pounds of muscle(even if it means some fat) over the next 4 months or so, which I feel is definitely attainable. I can’t say I won’t drink this summer - but I’m getting tired of getting really drunk when I do go out.

So I’m going to limit my drinking to special occasions and maybe one night on the weekend - and even then I’m going to take it easy, definitely under 6 drinks, unless it’s a very, very special occasion. I do plan on smoking a little herb this summer with my friend, who is also bulking, but I’m just going to use it to aid me in eating like a madman. Anyway sorry about the long intro but I guess my question is, should I just do starting strength again?

It says that you are likely to plateau after doing this format of a program, the A/B/A 3x a week thing, for so long. And that’s the only style of lifting I’ve been doing. But on the other hand, I’m still not even repping my body weight on the squat, so isn’t this a sign I’m still a massive beginner and can still take advantages of the easy gains that SS gives to beginners?

Or, has my body adapted to this program, and should I consider a slightly more advanced split? Either way I’m fucking ready to start squatting and I’m going to fucking get it done. I don’t mean to use this as an excuse, but my 6’4" 190 bitchassy body type isn’t exactly ideal for squatting, is this maybe why I haven’t made the gains I wanted? I mean physically I think I look OK, just a little scrawny, it’d just be nice to have 20 or 50 lbs of muscle on top of what I already have. Does my slender body type have anything to do with it or was I just being a bitch and not squatting hard enough?

My summer starts in about a month, but I’m going to start lifting today after class if I can. Should I just jump right back into SS until I can at least rep my body weight on the squat pretty easily?

Thanks - any advice is appreciated.

1st) Have you been training with anyone more knowledgable? The blind leading the blind never ends well. Reminds me of when I first started lifting back in college. It was a disaster. Wasn’t until my lifting partners and myself enlisted the help of some more experienced lifters that we started to progress.

2nd) I wouldn’t even bother doing barely parallel squats at 185. Drop 50lbs. (or whatever is necessary) and start doing them right. You will get stronger doing proper squats than you will doing 1/4 squats. Don’t blame your body, that’s a cop out. You need to just do it.

Your lifts are all really low. Solid dedication (a month off is NOT a deserved break), eating enough (just don’t binge drink every night and quit eating processed junk food), and progression (add weight or add reps EVERY TIME you lift) and you will easily see gains in your lifts over the summer. I also think you need to try and get under the wing of a experienced lifter if they will let you join in with them.

Hmm well I live in a house with a lot of guys that lift and all of them for the most part are stronger than me but they are the bro-lifting type. Like a lot of them don’t even squat or dead lift. The few that do squat told me not to go past parallel as its “bad on your knees” so that kind of gives you an idea of how knowledgable they are about lifting/form even if this guy in particular doe have a 3x8 285 lb squat at 160 lb body weight. I will definitely look into finding someone more knowledgable, but it just seems like everyone at my gym is stupid and even less knowledgable than me…I see people that have much worse form.

My squats are definitely slightly below parallel…it’s not like I get close to parallel, bitch out, and then go “oh good enough”…I make sure I am 100% positive I am below before I rise. Should I still not even bother and go for the A2G? And what about my flexibility? I don’t know if I can get that low without rounding my back, I’m REALLY inflexible. Even if I were to say I was in the bottom 10% of the population in terms of flexibility would you still say I can in time gain what I need in order to do an olympic squat with correct form?

Thanks again.

  1. For squat issues, just work on hips MOBILITY (and a bit on flexibility…go learn the difference:). Search (on this site )for prying stretch and “Eight essential mobility drills”. A tip that helped me was to squat as low as I could while keeping a straight back, then pause for a good two seconds, really trying go straighten my back even more and getting a bit lower. Use it as a warm-up drill (it works even better with overhead squat…just learn it:).

  2. Seeing that you can’t get a knowledgeable training partner, do yourself a favour and get (self)educated on training: it’s not as good, but it’s better than ask the bro-lifters! Read articles on good form (here on T-Nation you have a good archive section), watch Squat RX series on youtube (an excellent tutorial series of videos), make vids of your lifts, watch them, post them for form critique.

  3. Stay on SS as long as you make gains; if you stall, check your diet first, fix it and go on…In a year or so you’ll probably need a new program; by that time, you’ll know what to do (IF you followed point 2:)

Welcome aboard!

Slightly below parallel is the same as almost parallel in my mind. You really need to get deeper. Even just doing bodyweight squats where you are going deep enough will do a LOT to help you get your mobility in better shape. Then start moving up with weight once you are used to the motion. Overhead squat with a wooden dowel (broomstick) is a great suggestion as well.

Some squatting tips. Practice with light weight, keep your head up and look up when you are pushing out of the hole. You will not start seeing real gains until you are going deep. Just keep thinking to yourself, did I go deep enough? Until you can honestly say YES, then you did not.

Also don’t forget that if your back and core aren’t up to the task your squat will in general suck. Going heavy on deadlifts did a ton to improve my squat. Lunges and split squats (single leg exercises) will do a TON to improve your squat.

Another question: Training volume. How many total reps are you doing? Were the 3x5 @ 155 bench, 3x5 @ 185 squat and 1x5 @ 235 DL your typical training volume of working weight?

For bench, dumbbells are your friend. Helped me focus less on the number of the weight and more on just lifting.

Lift heavy, lift a lot, eat and repeat. Good luck.

OK, thanks for the suggestion, I have already been doing the one squatting flexibility exercise and will look into the rest.

Yeah, those are the volumes that I did, with probably 2 or 3 warm up sets before going to my working weight, like:

1x5 95 lbs
1x5 135 lbs
1x5 155 lbs
3x5 185 lbs

for squats for instance

Thanks for the advice! I’m going to keep working on getting my squats lower and lower.

Just thought of something else (more like flashbacks to one of my lifting partners screaming at me…)

3x5 for 185

What sort of progression have you tried before you stalled out? 5 lbs. a session? What’s been your last month of lifting looked like? In other words, how long have you been stuck on your current weights?

Also I sent you a PM.

Well I hit 185 about two months ago and that’s when I hurt my back. I could tell I was doing something wrong because I was starting to feel the squats in my lower back more than my legs, and after waking up one morning, my back felt out of place and almost crooked or something, so I stopped doing any sort of squats or dead lifts from then till about 2 days ago, which is when I had my first real workout again.

In the time between those two workouts, I did a lot more cardio and played a lot more basketball, and the lifting I did do was a lot more bro-lifting type stuff…like bi’s and something else one day…shoulders and traps another day…chest and tris another day…stuff like that. But now I’m more committed to taking this seriously and making some actual gains.

A bunch of videos of people squating and riptoe critiquing them.
Thing that helped me learning to squat is when going down you should be spreading your knee’s.

Keep doing SS until it stops working. Eventually you will not be able to recover between training days.

Alright, so I’m now 3 workouts in…and I keep increasing my weights every time. The lifts are still pretty easy as I know I can do more but I’m slowly increasing my big lifts 10-20 lbs a workout and my smaller lifts 5-10 lbs. I had a little too much fun this weekend, getting a little more than a social buzz on thursday and friday and then getting pretty drunk last night(my band played a show). I realize that’s not going to help me, but I’m getting better, in the past I probably would have gotten hammered every night on the weekend. Anyway, I dragged my hungover ass to the gym, lifted as hard as I could, and after eating a monster meal and showering I feel GREAT - so glad I got my ass to the gym. It’s motivating me too - I’m not going to drink at all until next Saturday which is when I have a formal and a hot date to go with. My diet wasn’t the best this last weekend but I was eating big last week, and it’s only going to get better this week.

Now some questions:

OK, first off with squats. I’m feeling better about my form now, I’ve been doing the prying stretches, going up and down, to increase my flexibility. I feel like I can get below parallel, and if I look sideways into the mirror, it appears as if I am keeping my back arched. This is kind of hard to explain, but can I arch my back TOO much? Like, I’m so worried about rounding my back that I’m trying to do it as much as I can, do I need to worry about this? Like, I can’t say my lower back was sore after squatting(a bitchy 3x5 @ 135 lbs today) BUT I do remember it felt a little worked at the end of it. Is that normal? Also, I’ve been told to keep my elbows in front as much as I can but after one set that kind of left my arm feeling a bit weird: will it just take some time to develop that flexibility?

Next off is bench, can someone explain what flaring/tucking the elbows actually means? I’m really confused. I’m at a low enough weight now that it hasn’t affected me much but I want to get my form up to par so I can really make some progress here, as I’ve been benching around the same weight for the last year.

Deadlift I’m not feeling good about. It just feels awkward. Like, my legs shake and burn a lot when I crouch down before I even begin lifting the weight…it’s uncomfortable, probably because my legs are weak and because I had just squatted 10 minutes before. Either way I still just don’t feel that good about this, I tried doing everything the guide on this site says…leaning back on the heals, extending the hips and knees equally, mixed grip, arms straight…and yet it’s still that hard for me to deadlift 155 lbs when I weigh 190 lbs? I mean I know I’m a pussy but that isn’t right is it? I’m really going to try to get a video, I’m just not sure how to go about it as I don’t have a video recorder or a phone with a recorder.

Next question is dips…when I get to the bottom of them my shoulders kind of hurt. Will it just take me awhile to develop that flexibility? I feel like I could do more of them if there wasn’t a pain in my shoulder - and it’s ONLY in my left shoulder.

The ab part of starting strength is fine but when I do weighted situps I guess I don’t feel them in my abs that much? It’s almost like it’s more my back and the back of my legs getting worked rather than my abs. Can I do other ab exercises to replace these?

Finally…hyperextensions. Is one’s back supposed to kind of hurt towards the end of the set? I only used a 10 lb weight…went super slow, slouched my back at the bottom of the rep(good idea or bad idea?) and then straightened my back out as much as I could and went up. IT’s hard, but when I get to rep 6, 7, and 8 it becomes almost painful, and I can’t tell if it’s just my back muscles being worked or if I’m doing them wrong. Do I need to worry about this or not so much, I mean it can’t be that hard to fuck these up, right? And when I got done with them I noticed I could definitely feel the soreness in my lower back for the next 10 minutes. Is this a sign that I’m doing something wrong or just that I’m giving it a workout? It doesn’t really feel sore or tender right now as I sit down and type this, and I haven’t thought about it since over an hour ago when I was working out.

This was my 3rd SS workout…I should probably mention I’m doing a modified version which has a squat/bench/deadlift/dip/ab/hyperextension day which is what I did today and also a squat/press/clean/pullup/ab/hyperextension day as well which I plan on doing on tuesday. Even though some of these questions are discouraging I’m really starting to get motivated to lift some fucking weights!

Thanks in advance for the help.

  1. Deadlift: If you’re still working on learning deadlift technique and your exhausting your back and legs from squats and worried about injury, I suggest breaking them into two separate days. I was doing them both on the same day and had trouble moving up in weight on my deadlift. When I broke them into two days, my deadlift went up (225 to 275 for reps).

Also, with your height and lower back issues, maybe start off with Sumo style first. Then, as your back gets stronger you can try shifting to conventional. I also had a weak lower back when I started deadlifts and my conventional technique sucked. I did sumos for a couple months and got stronger fast. When I tried conventional again, I found my lower back was strong enough to support good form. When you think your lower back can handle it, throw squats & deads back together on the same day.

  1. I’ll also emphasize starting deep squats. I was squatting up to 275 (for 2 reps) to a bench and decided I needed to suck it up and go deep. I had to drop to 185 to get ATG. Basically, besides feeling the heavy weight on my back, 275 to a bench didn’t help when I decided to squat deep. The bottom of the squat will be your sticking point and you’ll need to drop weight to get through it initially. Focus on your form and going deep, even if it means squatting low weight for a while. If you continue to squat high, that low point will always be your weakest.

  2. You’re still young, focus on building good technique and nutrition habits now to carry you through to 10 years from now (and beyond) when you have a sedentary job and are surrounded by out of shape, doughnut eating fat-asses.

If dips hurt, try focusing on keeping your shoulder blades back (tucked together) and down; if they still hurt, reduce ROM (don’t go too low); if they still hurt, stop doing them!


  • “flared elbows” means they are at 90 degrees to your torso (if seen from above, you look like a T); if benching this way, you end up with the bar above your face;
  • “tucked elboows” is when you keep them at 45-60 degrees to your torso, and you lock out with the bar above your shoulders;

The second way is safer on shoulder joints.

Squat: yes, push your elbows forward; yes, your lower back works when squatting.

DL: you’re right, man: they’re hard! Just do as much as you can, with good form.

Hyperextension: try to keep your lower back straight all the time; they are supposed to give a “burn” on spinal erectors, not actual pain. Don’t hyperextend your spine: just go up 'till back is in line with your legs, then go down bending at the HIPS (not at your lumbar vertebrae!!!).

Sit-up: chances are you’re using your hip flexors (ileo-psoas) and lower back, probably 'cause your abs are weak. Do them without weight, and do only painfree reps (if it hurts, stop!); search for some “core training” article and do something else, if discomfort subsides.

Don’t go atg if your back rounds. If you can’t even go close to parallel without rounding your back, go down just short of where your back begins to round. From workout to workout, try to squat a little lower than the previous point with the same weight until you’re at parallel. If you can’t squat your body weight, don’t even fuck with atg. You want to gain size right? Well, at your level, going parallel or to the point your back rounds is plenty deep. You’ll have to use lighter weights to go any deeper, thereby making it more difficult to build up a basic reservoir of strength.

Just keep everything basic for now. ATG squats are definitely too advanced for you at this point. Concentrate on a slow eccentric portion of the lift (lowering) and an explosive concentric portion. The key to getting strong is simple: lift heavy weights. You can squat more than you can front squat, so do regular squats most of the time. You can barbell bench more than you can dumbbell bench, so do barbell bench, and you can deadlift more with straps than you can romanian deadlift without straps, so do heavy deads with straps. And 3 sets of 5 isn’t enough. Do a couple of warmup sets and then do 6x4 or 5x5 or even 8/6/5/4/3. Right now you may even be better off with 4x10. Studies have shown that hypertrophy occurs the greatest in beginners with a rep range of 10-15. With this rep range, you’ll also be able to get more quality reps in which will help build muscle memory and instill better form in each movement.

Try incorporating some ballistic and explosive movements after a couple of months. Explosive crossover pushups with a medicine ball, jumping squats, jumping lunges, and a variety of medicine ball throws will all help your force output tremendously. Use 10-30% of your 1rm for the ballistic version of an exercise (squat 200, jump squats with 20-60 lbs.) and do 6-8 sets of 2-4 reps every day for 2-3 weeks. Try this:

  1. jumping squats 8x3 with 20% of 1rm
  2. explosive crossover pushups with a medicine ball(start with one hand on the ball, explosively push up off the ground and switch hands and go back and forth) 6x4
  3. jumping lunges with 10% of 1rm 8x4
  4. medicine ball slams (hold a heavy medicine ball over head and slam straight down as hard as possible) 8x4
  5. medicine ball throws (hold it between your legs and throw it as high over your head as possible while standing several feet in front of a wall) 8x4

When you hit a plateau or get a little bored, do this for a couple of weeks and do it 5 straight days each week. The volume isn’t low enough to make you sore if you’ve already been lifting and learning how to recruit fast twitch muscles for an explosive movement can be achieved by repeating the movement over and over, like practicing a golf swing. You don’t hit 500 balls once a week, you hit 100 balls a day five straight days. Proper fast twitch/motor recruitment learning will help your muscles get used to applying maximal force output and help you get maximally stronger without having to use weights very close to your 1rm, thereby avoiding possible injury from using heavy weights on an exercise like squats or deadlifts with improper form.


These two articles will give you more than enough info to get bigger and stronger. Oh yeah, and don’t worry about how much you drink. You’re young, you’re in college, have some fun. There’s nothing more pathetic than listening to some skinny motherfucker telling his friends he can’t have that 22nd beer because he’s gotta work out the next day and the calories and empty carbs are hurting his gains. You’ll sound like a sorority chick drinking Mike’s Hard Lemonade while fretting about her weight. Run a mile or two every few days at a brisk pace if you want to stay trim without burning off any muscle gains. Or run short sprints.

Your low point will always be your weakest, no matter what. The muscles are weakest when they are stretched out and the fibers are not attached to each other on a microscopic level. It’s like this for every lift. At the bottom of a bench press, you’re the weakest because your pecs are stretched out.

For squats, the lower you go, the more stretch is created in your glutes, hams, and quads, making the fibers less able to grab each other and create an efficient application of force. Your weak point right now is when your back rounds. ATG is a great way to build strength, but if you cannot squat your body weight to parallel without rounding your back, you’re nowhere close to being ready for ATG.

It’s really simple: don’t do an advanced exercise if you are still EXTREMELY weak at a basic exercise. Let’s not sugarcoat it; you are very weak at squats right now. If you want to build size and strength and you are having trouble making size and strength gains with regular squats, what makes you think you’ll get bigger or stronger doing a harder move that will require you to use significantly less weight in order to do it properly?

Here’s another thing to think about: ATG squats aren’t for everyone. At 6’4" you have long femurs. Even Arnold himself admits that long femurs make it harder to get deep without leaning forward. From a physics standpoint, that’s just how it is. Shorter people with shorter femurs will always be able to squat deeper than taller people with less difficulty.

Forward lean at the bottom of a squat will apply shear force to your back and lead to severe injury. Very moderate forward lean is okay, but the further down you go, the more you’ll lean, especially at 6’4". Going ATG will force you to lean forward more regardless of your height, but in shorter people, the lean is very moderate, whereas someone at your height will lean forward much more.

The lean will happen before you get to the bottom of the movement, somewhere around parallel. Given that you’re legs and lower back are already somewhat weak and you round your back well short of ATG, you are begging for injury to your lower back if you do ATG squats.

Unfortunately, you may never be able to do heavy ATG squats, unless you make performing them the sole focus of everything you do in the gym. You can build plenty of size and strength going parallel, so why even risk performing an exercise that is very likely to injure you based on your strength level and body type that won’t even be the best option for size gains at this point in your training? It doesn’t make sense.

[quote]alexdude777 wrote:
Should I Keep Doing Starting Strength?

No, probably not…

Wait, so I shouldn’t keep doing SS? Thanks again for all of the feedback.

I’ll keep the hyperextensions/ab stuff in mind when I work out again tomorrow.

I should probably note that I’m only going as far down on squats as I can before I think I’m rounding my back - just below parallel, I’m not going ATG yet although at some point in the future I do plan on doing an ATG cycle to vary my training.

I was just doing 3x5 with a few warm up sets because that’s what SS recommends, should I focus on doing 10 reps with all of my exercises?

I’m going to look into the sumo deadlift…

Tomorrow is my power clean day, and if I’m having this kind of trouble with squatting and deadlifting just imagine how ugly my clean form probably looks… I’ll keep at it

THanks again for the advice!

For squats, make sure you work on your stance if you want to go deep. The width of your stance is determined by your femur/shin length ratio. look up the ‘prying’ stretch. while doing it, find the most comfortable spot for your feet, where there’s no twisting pressure on your knees or hips. Also do hip flexor and extensor stretches, and do them right.

artw, the weakest point of any lift is not at the bottom… if you’re doing it right. It depends on the leverages involved in the lift. I have yet to meet anybody who stalls at their chest with a near-max load for bench press… it’s always 3-5 inches above it.

Alright, today was good overall.

I did 3x6 @ 140 lbs on my squats, with every rep at just at or below parallel. I experimented with stances and the wider my stance the easier it felt to not round my back, so I took a pretty wide stance, probably a couple inches from each side of my shoulder with my feet pointing out at an angle. I have reasonably wide shoulders so this felt like a pretty wide stance for me. I keep on doing the stretches and keep feeling better and better about squats - I feel my back/lower back being worked when I do them but there is little to no soreness afterwards, so that’s a good sign, right? Also, how much forward should my elbows be? Like should they be even with body, in front of my body, slightly behind my body, etc.? If I keep them in front of my body it can feel uncomfortable.

How wide should my grip on the bar be? Right now I’m doing just a couple inches wider than shoulder width, but I see a lot of people in the gym with much wider grips they also keep their elbows back pretty far too, is this wrong?

Military press went good. I tried to up my reps to a 3x6 @ 85 lbs range but ended up only getting 6, 6, and 4 because I kinda bitched out on the last set. How wide of a grip should I use on this? I’ve also been doing this just a couple inches wider than my shoulders. Is it normal to feel this in my back? Like sometimes when I really have to push to get up that rep I feel like I use my back somewhat and that also I lose my balance just a little. Is this normal?

Power clean was a mess, as I expected. When I do the jump part, I just can’t seem to get down in the squat position for some reason. Like I might slightly bend my legs but I’m definitely not getting down. I’m doing 115 lbs, am I just not doing enough weight to force myself to go under or what? 115 lbs seemed pretty hard, and the one time I made an effort to get down while exploding I hit my head with the bar…it wasnt painful or that big of a hit but I felt it. I felt like a retard. Any advice on this? This seems like such a rewarding lift, I really want to start clean and jerking someday.

Pullups felt good, did 3x10 @ 12 assistance.

I kept the hyperextension thing in mind…tried to keep my back as straight as I could but this SEVERELY limited my ROM…is this normal?

I didn’t do abs today…by the end of this workout I was just fucking beat.

Thanks for the advice again.

Grip on squat is a shoulder flexibility issue; since you want to tighten your upper back as much as possible, a narrow grip (hands just outside shoulders) is fine. Big powerlifters with limited shoulders flexibility (and a low-bar on back position) squat with a very wide grip, but it’s not your case.

Elbows forward will help you keeping your upper back straight (thus helping global posture); don’t go to a point of discomfort, however.

Your grip on MP is fine. Yes, upper back and lats get a bit of work with MP. For a couple of good tutorial vids, go here: http://www.crossfit.com/cf-info/excercise.html

Watch this video about Power Clean http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TlbDQUWs0s , and try to be a man enough to do like this girl :). Don’t worry, Cleans are a technical lift, they’re a bit hard to learn.

ROM on hyperextension doesen’t really matter, just try to set the pad at mid-tigh (mispelling it?), so that you can rotate at hips.

I’ll try and attach a nice pic of a good squat, if I can find one… http://www.tmuscle.com/img/photos/2009/09-082-bodyrepair/03.jpg ; this one isn’t that bad; just keep your wrists straight (thumbless grip may help), don’t use any belt (unless you’re squatting more than this guy!), and don’t hyperextend your neck (keep it in line with the rest of your spine).