SS 225 – Getting Strong is Simple w/ Mark Rippetoe

Episode 225 Show Notes

Today, Grant and Heavey are joined by Mark Rippetoe, a strength training coach and author of the books Starting Strength and Strong Enough, to name a couple. This is a must-listen episode if you’re looking to increase your strength. There’s a difference between training and exercise – find out which of the two you think you’re doing and which one you’re actually doing. It’s all about simplicity!

[04:05] The Evolution of Starting Strength

Ripp’s first edition of the book was released in 2015. They made the mistake of writing the text for coaches. They didn’t initially understand that he was actually going to be selling the book to lifters. By coaches, he meant team sport coaches who should have been interested in making their athletes stronger. Consequently, he wrote the second edition to address the trainee instead of the coach.

The third edition included some revisions and updates as a result of doing seminars all over the country. They realized what they’ve written in the second edition were wrong so they redid the whole thing from top to bottom.

Currently, the book has amassed 1,500 reviews on Amazon averaging 5 stars. Heavey praises the book in that nobody in fitness can get that sort of agreement. Ripp explains they pride themselves on logic, reasoning, and being rational with their explanations. He adds that people apparently appreciate his honesty that when he’s wrong on something, he owns up to it and explains the way it should be done. There is just no other book in print that covers the lifts in as much detail.

[11:00] Quotes Attributed to Ripp

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

This came out from an article he wrote for the Crossfit Journal several years back. And all of his articles he wrote at that time were collected in his book, Strong Enough. (It’s on Audible now too!)

[11:45] What Got Ripp Into Strength Training

As a young kid, he lost a fight and decided something needed to happen – a little crisis of ego. Ripp has a degree in Geology. Graduating from college, he moved into the strength conditioning business and bought a gym in 1984, which exists until now – making a living out of the gym business for 36 years now.

[13:20] Starting Strength on 5 Basic Movements

Ripp explains you don’t rely on exercise variation as it’s not the variable. Rather, the variable is load. You’re always going to squat or bench press or pull the deadlift or you might do some chins and triceps. The five basic barbell exercises are the base of the program, which doesn’t involve changing the exercises up. Instead, it involves adding weight to the exercises to get strong. Because if you do the exercises correctly, you don’t need exercise variation. You need to be stronger. If you do the squat correctly and take it from 135 to 405, you get stronger. If you take your correct deadlift from 135 to 455, you get stronger. And these don’t involve any deadlift styles or anything different about the deadlift except adding 5 pounds per workout. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be complicated. If it’s complicated, it doesn’t work. You don’t get strong.

[15:36] Crossfit is a Fine Exercise, But It’s Not Training

Ripp points out that people need to have a definition of terms. The guys that goes to the gym on the way home and hops on the treadmill for a bit and then uses the dumbbell rack for a couple different exercises is doing it for the purpose of how it makes him feel today. But the guy that comes to Ripp’s gym gets warmed up, looks in his training log for the weights he’s supposed to do today based on the weights he did the last time, was doing a completely different thing. The first one enjoyed his workout for the day. On the other hand, the second experience is part of a directed, designed process. Both got sweaty and tired, but the second helped you accomplish a goal that you had decided to accomplish. The other one was just punching the clock.

Hence, training is the process by which you go from a previous state of physiologic adaptation and intentionally accumulate more physiologic adaptation towards a specific performance-type goal. While exercise is just what you do on the way home to get hot, sweaty, and tired. Random activity in the gym is exercising. Training is a more complicated, programmed thought-about rational process. This was elaborated by Mark in his article The Novice Effect on his website, which he also considers as the most important article he has ever written.

[19:32] What is the Novice Effect?

It states that when you start out as an unadapted organism, it doesn’t take much to cause an adaptation. But the more and more adapted you get, the harder it is to facilitate further adaptation. It’s like a diminishing returns effect. So if an untrained person starts anything and does it for six weeks, they’re going to improve and look better and feel better. The training doesn’t even have to be very specific.

[20:50] What is a Performance Objective?

You have to know what your performance objective is in order to decide how to train for it. If you’re going to a powerlifting meet, the process will be different in preparing for that than if you’re going to run the Boston marathon. Both require training and during the process of doing that, you are accumulating changes in your physiology and those changes are specific to the training that you do, which should be specific to the performance you want to achieve.

[22:30] Training for Aesthetics

What many people fail to understand is that a man with 5% body fat, 5′ 8″ and weighs 145 pounds, in his clothes, looks exactly like somebody that doesn’t train at all. A man that is 5′ 8″ and weighs 205 pounds at 15% body fat, that’s deadlifting 550, has got big traps, big arms, and a big neck, and he looks muscular. To most people, the bigger guy looks better than the little skinny guy. What it boils down to, is that unless you’re a big, fat, morbidly obese guy, then it doesn’t make any difference if your body fat is 15-18%. Ripp adds that women don’t care about your abs.

[24:14] Training Women

Ripp clarifies that he doesn’t train anybody for aesthetics. He’s not a bodybuilding coach. Rather, he trains everybody for strength performance. That said, everybody that follows their system is much more concerned about their squat than their abs. Nor is Ripp a diet coach or a nutrition coach. He’s not concerned about diet. His job is to teach you how to get big, strong muscles. Ripp reveals that a lot of people interested in nutrition have some kind of an eating disorder or OCD about macros. Ripp says it’s possible to indulge your OCD on the internet with nutrition nowadays when you didn’t have the option 30 years ago. People are actually missing out on the fun since they won’t have a glass of whiskey!

[26:23] How Long Do You Add 5 Pounds For?

For instance, an 18-year-old kid, 5’10 and weighs 155 pounds and comes into the gym. He’s underweight. You take him up to about 115-125 lb. squat. When he comes in Monday, Ripp would teach him how to do the movements with an empty bar then go to 55 and then to 85, to 105, and up to 115. He’d probably have him do 3 sets of 5 at 115.

The next time he comes in on a Wednesday, he’ll go up to 135 and then Friday, he’ll go up to 145. Then Monday, 155 and Wednesday 165, Friday 175. Then he’d start jumping it to 5 pounds. He can do this for five months and he will have to go eat. At the end of five months, that 155-pound kid will weigh 185 and he’ll be strong. So if he’s squatting 315, his deadlift is 365 and press at 165. He’s going to look completely different. All he has to do is not miss workouts, go up the prescribed number of pounds on each one of the lifts. Do this and you could go along in a completely uncomplicated application of this novice effect and be strong for a long time. It doesn’t get complicated for 9 months. However, Ripp admits, complexity is just too much fun!

[30:35] Maintaining the Discipline and the Process of Accumulation

Ripp admits that most of the time, you’re going to lose people to the complexity (and this is where the internet comes in) as they would start reading and they think they know more about it than you do and they’re just going to start adding things. Then they worry about whether they did enough reps this week when all you needed to worry about is did you go up five pounds on your 3×5. But that seems too simple for people. So if you look at the disasters that occur in professional sports weight rooms all over the country, those compounding variables coming in from college strength coaches that hide behind the genetic freakiness of their recruits, who will get strong doing anything, so it’s hard to stay to the course.

Instead, just doing the 5 pound jump and do all three sets of them and then do them again Wednesday and Friday, then amazing things happen. The process is just obvious and logical. You stress the body in a prescribed, intelligent, rational way. You facilitate the recovery from that stress. You go to sleep, eat enough protein and calories. As a result of the stress and recovery from the stress, you have adapted to the stress imposed on yourself. Then you impose another stress on yourself. Thereby, you have started the process of accumulating an adaptation.

[32:29] The Good and the Bad About Crossfit

Because you don’t just get the accumulation with just one try, this is what’s wrong with Crossfit since you’re not accumulating anything. You’re not exposing yourself to specific stress frequently enough to make it adept. So how is adaptation supposed to take place?

Ripp describes Crossfit athletes as exceptional but they’re not training WODs every single day. They are specifically training for the games in a completely different manner than most people that are going to Crossfit gyms do.

Crossfit has introduced a huge chunk of the population to barbell training, which is the most important way you can do fitness because it works better than everything else. Many people wouldn’t know about this if it wasn’t for Crossfit.

Secondly, Crossfit got everybody used to the idea that you ought to expect to have to pay to be taught how to train. This created the market.

[35:30] Going Back to the Exercise vs. Training Argument

Although good things have come out of it, people have missed the whole training vs. exercise argument. Heavey adds that participants confuse the idea of being there to feeling good or there to improve. If you want to be more intentional, then you could probably find more discipline and progress by adding 5 pounds to your lifts every training session.

Ripp thinks that a lot of people in Crossfit have decided that they’re there to get sore, not strong. They don’t understand the difference between the two things. Getting strong is a bit more complicated and requires more thought. People get sore all the time and they even wear injuries as badges of honor. You do that and you fuck up your training for the next two weeks because you can’t hold on to a barbell. Then, you haven’t accomplished anything.

[37:45] Looking Into Form

In Crossfit, they throw form out to the wayside to get more reps. If you’re working “hard enough” they expect your form to break down. But Ripp doesn’t want your form to break down because he doesn’t want you to break. More importantly, he doesn’t want your form to break down because he’s using correct techniques to drive a movement pattern adaptation. That specific way to squat makes you stronger because it allows you to handle heavier weights than any other way you can squat. So they teach a very specific form of the squat so you can handle the most weight and do that over the longest, effective range of motion so you get strong.

[39:10] What the Bottom of Your Squat Should Look Like

Ripp teaches a position anywhere from a quarter of an inch to one inch below parallel (knees to hips). They found that almost every human being will be able to generate a stretch reflex off of the posterior chain musculature at that degree of depth. If you don’t go down below parallel, you’re not using all your muscle mass and you’re performing a primarily quad-dominant movement. But if they take you down just below parallel, most people illicit a good strong stretch reflex out of that movement. Moreover, if you go 8 inches below parallel, you have to relax a whole bunch of things to get there. Really though, you don’t want to relax, since you’re there for the contraction and the strength. Alternatively, there is no case to be made for a squat an inch above parallel unless you’ve got a prosthetic knee or hip done incorrectly.

[41:10] What is Strength?

Strength is the ability to produce force against an external resistance. The higher the resistance, the stronger the force that has to be produced against it. It is a direct measurement of your force reduction ability.

[41:35] Supplemental Activities: Should You Do Them?

If you just want to be strong, there’s no reason to do just yoga or pilates or anything else. But not everybody wants to be strong. But for some motivated individuals, this is not enough.

For the novice who just started strength training, you’re not going to get stronger if you jog, do pilates, or yoga or stretching. You need to add 5 pounds to your squat for as long as that process takes. It will work for 6 or 7 months and for that period of time, you just need to do the program. And later, when you’re all strong and want to do a yoga class, go ahead and do a yoga class. But don’t water down the effect of this simple training when you first start doing it because watering down the effect wastes the efficiency of the movements. You’re only a novice once, be a good one!

[46:15] You’re Never Too Old to Train

Ripp co-wrote The Barbell Prescription: Strength Training for Life After 40. They drill down the benefits of strength training, why, how, and what you should do and not do, etc. Find out why people shouldn’t be running, and instead should be lifting and strength training. Older people need to find a way to stop losing their muscle mass and bone density. You’re never too old to start strength training.



Get to know more about Ripp on Starting Strength

Ripp’s Books:

Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe

The Barbell Prescription by Mark Rippetoe, Dr. Jonathon Sullivan, and Andy Baker

Strong Enough by Mark Rippetoe (Also available on Audible)
Read Mark’s article The Novice Effect

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