How To Make The Program Starting Strength Work For Aesthetics (Don’t get FAT)

| November 27, 2017 by Truth Seeker |

Harry The BicepsFlexKilla woke up with that gnawing, almost corrosive feeling of imperfection that now and then captures the blood pump of every human, shakes the homeostasis and installs a pernicious grimace mixed with bewilderment on the face of the victim.

Harry had been fighting against the inadequacy and incompleteness in his heart for a long time, but ironically, his resistance was draining him while making the enemy stronger than ever. Muting the source was no longer working. Harry’s soul was struggling from the darkness of his current state to the frightening future which seemed infected with the kind of fear and uncertainty that remind us strongly of our inherent human weakness and the coldness of the universe deaf to our screams.

”Ok. Ok. I’m going. And yes, I will squat too. Just go back to where you came from,” said Harry to the intrusive voice in his brain, completely aware of the fact that similar monologues were reinforcing the belief of others that he is a mentally deranged man.


He took his backpack in a hurry and left the apartment. Each step towards the gym felt like a drop of anesthesia calming his mind with daydreams.

The barbell routine Starting Strength was the path to salvation chosen by Harry.

He delivered – in the gym and in the kitchen. His bodyweight exploded and so did his barbell squat.

Three months later, people were thunderstruck by his transformation.

”They should fear me. I am strong now,” Harry thought while racking the weight.

The next day, Harry opened the fridge to get his daily dose of milk – the ultimate source of macro-nutrients and IGF-1. It was gone. ”Impossible, said Harry and looked again. No success.

”Mom, where’s the milk,” asked Harry with a voice backed by an army of angry soldiers.

”I didn’t buy milk. You are getting fat, my dear.”

The last word ”fat” started repeating like a persistent echo in Harry’s cranium.

FAT-FAT-FAT-FAT-FAT-FAT-FAT-FAT-FAT-FAT-FAT-FAT-FAT-FAT-FAT-FAT-FAT-FAT-FAT-FAT-FAT

”But, mom! I am not fat. I am a useful human being now. Starting Strength made me one. I squat 300 for 4 reps, mom.”

”You what? What’s a squat? Are you on drugs. Is squat 300 another way of saying 420, son?”

”No, mom. I am strong now.”

”You just look fat to me.”

”No! Strong.”

”Fat”

”Strong”

”Fat”

”Strong”

”Fat”

”No, said Harry, took his shirt off and did a most muscular pose. He squeezed his pecs as hard as he could and looked at his mother hoping to discover repentance. The only thing he found in her eyes was a deep repulsion inspired by his newly acquired body sharing extreme similarities with a well-fed swine.


I dedicate this post to the thousands, if not millions of kids, candidates to take Harry’s place and join the army of fat Starting Strength soldiers trying to make the world a safer place with squats and milk.

I am not promising you shredded 16-inch arms. I will just show you what it actually takes to make a routine like Starting Strength work for you without sacrificing your physique in the chase of arbitrary numbers.

15 Tips To Make Starting Strength More Aesthetic

1. Stop low bar squatting immediately

The low bar squat is not a squat. It’s a squat-morning (a combination of a barbell squat and a barbell good morning).

Since the bar is positioned lower on the back, the stress is on the hips (glutes) and lower back. Subsequently, the squatter can lift more weight while performing a movement that looks like a squat, but in reality, is not really a squat. There is nothing ”natural” about low bar squats.

Incredible stress on the hip joint

The low bar squat is a hip destroyer of the highest order, especially if you chase numbers and overtrain – an addiction that often starts with Starting Strength.

It’s not uncommon for retired powerlifters to replace their hips with artificial ones because the two main lifts (low bar squats and deadlifts) are hip focused movements. Obviously, this is not going to happen to a healthy beginner doing Starting Strength, but it shows how incredibly hip dominant the sport of powerlifting is.

Another side effect of this hip hegemony are the bubble butts coupled with quads that often look like malnourished kittens.

And by the way, once you have a big rear – it’s with you forever. Congrats! You spent the little natural potential that you had on your glutes. Be proud, son.

The solution is extremely simple – just do strict, upright high bar squats – the kind of squats that inhabit the nightmares of Mr. Rippetoe.

The high bar squat offers the following benefits:

– a shorter learning curve for most people (it’s a more “natural” movement)

– more quad stress and consequently more balanced leg development

– less pressure on the shoulder girdle (holding the bar in the low bar position is the equivalent of bad voodoo for your elbows, shoulders and wrists)

– you don’t look like a moron humping the air when you do them

– greater range of motion

– greater carryover to the conventional deadlift

The low bar squat obviously helps the deadlift too, but the high bar is better since it also strengthens the start of the lift, which is quad dominant, whereas the low bar focuses only on the lockout.

– greater carryover to the Olympic lifts and front squats

Any Olympic weightlifter will tell you that low bar squats are pointless for the sport because they don’t allow you to get low – a requirement to catch a clean. Only injured Olympic weightlifters do low bar squats.

FAQ

But won’t high bar squats leave my posterior chain weak?

Honestly, I am tired of the posterior chain fetishists. ”Muh hamstrings, muh glutes”

Who installed this peculiar hatred for the quadriceps in your head?

The high bar squat trains your posterior chain. And yes, your hamstrings have to work too, albeit not as much as they do during low bar squats. Nevertheless, they are still in the game. Besides, you are also deadlifting anyway. The deadlift is a better hamstring exercise than any form of squatting.

Don’t let the glute-worshipers take you in the whirlpool of the low bar squat. Don’t abuse your hips.

High bar squats + deadlifts are a more balanced combination than low bar squats + deadlifts.

But the low bar squat allows me to lift heavier weights and prolongs the linear progression…

Cool. Tell someone who cares. You lift more because you perform an exercise putting you in a position to do so. If your goal is to do an endless linear progression, try quarter squats (sarcasm).

But Rippetoe says that the low bar squat works more muscles…

He is wrong. The low bar squat just shifts the stress to the hips (glutes) at the expense of the quads. It does not work more muscle mass overall.

But Rippetoe says that the low bar squat is better because hamstrings…

Cool. But let me introduce you to a stranger – the quadriceps a.k.a. the huge boy at the front of your leg the most important muscle for leg aesthetics. You need to work it hard. And low bar squats, when done correctly, do not hit the quadriceps as much as possible. Any powerlifter will tell you that if you are feeling the low bar squat mostly in your quads, you are doing it wrong.

I don’t know why, but Rippetoe and his fellow posterior chain activists seem to hate the quadriceps as much as they despise visible abdominal muscles.

2. Past the initial stage stop squatting three times a week

Why are you squatting three times a week? Because he told you so. It’s pointless… unless you want to become a centaur.

The CNS needs time to recover from your squat-mornings. The weight may not be heavy in the beginning, but you are adding plates to the barbell every other day. Before you know it, squatting will become a scary adventure, and you will hate those 3 sets of 5 more than death. 

But if I switch to high bar squats and later reduce my squat days to just two, Rippetoe will say that I am not doing the program?

He would be correct. You are not doing the program. So, what?

Please, stop occupying the squat rack for an hour or two every time you go to the gym? Ok?

I need a place to do my curls (Kidding. I use dumbbells, bro)

3. Don’t overhead press with a humping motion

I don’t know why, but at one point Rippetoe changed the press, which was the most beautifully explained lift in the whole book. He replaced it with a humping variation. He calls it hip drive. I call it humping.

Don’t hump your overhead press. Stick to the original. No hip motion! Just remain as tight as possible and let the upper body lift.

4. Add biceps curls and chin-ups

Don’t be one of those delusion creatures who think that 3 sets of biceps curls will drop their squat numbers.

Biceps curls are one of the best exercises in the whole universe. They work the arm flexors better than any back exercise. Do them unless you want to be like the ”comrades” relying on the squat, deadlift and bench to fix everything in this world.

5. Don’t do power cleans or power snatches

What’s the point? To break someone’s teeth in a busy gym?

Seriously. If you want to learn the Olympic lifts, go to a weightlifting club.

6. Don’t replace power cleans with barbell rows

Barbell rows are a fine exercise, but I know you will cheat. I also know that your lower back is tired from all that squatting and deadlifting. Do one arm dumbbell rows or chest supported rows instead.

7. Don’t bulk

When you eat a lot as a natural, you get bloody fat.

The solution is simple – consume less food.

Rippetoe’s dietary advice produces swines. Don’t believe me? Just google Zack Evetts or simply go to this link. Rippetoe made him fat as hell while claiming it was all muscle. I don’t care about the measurements produced by Rippetoe’s magic calipers. Zack got super fat. I won’t upload the pictures here because I don’t want this kind of imagery in this article.

And while you are at it, google ”starting strength before and after photos” to see what you can expect from becoming a bulking machine on a low volume routine and without taking steroids.

FAQ

But I am 6’1” 150lbs. Rippetoe says I should gain 100lbs and drink milk like baby mammals do…

The bodyweights that Rippetoe and his crew use as a reference point are extracted from their wet dreams inhabited by retro powerlifters from the 70s. I would like to gain 100lbs/45kg of bodyweight and become a 250lbs/113kg muscle monster at 6’1”/185cm too, but it’s not going to happen because I don’t inject roids.

Men like Mark Rippetoe, Marty Gallagher and Jim Wendler will tell you that you need at least 3 pounds per inch of height (if you are 6’1” this equals at least 219lbs) to look like you lift and be competitive in the strength sports. They will also present you retro powerlifters who answer those requirements. What they will ”forget” to tell you is that those men were/are using large amounts of anabolic steroids to become so massive. Consequently, when a natural beginner tries to match the bodyweights of powerlifters on steroids, he simply gets fat and pretty weak for his bodyweight since fat does not help in lifting as much as pure muscle mass does.

This misleading behavior is no different than the brainwashing concepts found in the mainstream bodybuilding media selling pump routines, whey protein powder and creatine to the unaware crowd. The only difference is that the bodybuilders in thongs are replaced by strong and not so lean powerlifters.

But Rippetoe says that once I gain 50 or so pounds of muscle my metabolism will speed up and it will be easier to lose the extra fat? He also says that you need 5k-7k calories to get big and strong.

Where do I begin? You would be lucky to gain 10-15lbs/4.5-7kg of pure muscle in your first year. Secondly, 10-15 pounds of muscle will not ”speed up” your metabolism nearly as much as you think. Moreover, nobody needs 5k to 7k calories to perform a routine like Starting Strength.

Sometimes people wrongfully associate fatigue with energy expenditure. If you do a heavy deadlift, you may feel drained for days, and yet the whole session wouldn’t burn as many calories as wandering in Ikea for an hour.

The Starting Strength maniacs will tell you that you need those calories to recover, but this is only partially true and an excuse to get fat. If you are adding fat cells to your body, your organism is receiving excess energy that cannot be utilized at the moment and is therefore stored for later. It’s not used for recovery.

Furthermore, cutting weight and maintaining decent levels of leanness is not easy, especially when you have strong bulking habits. If it was, Rippetoe would be lean.

A vast majority of the humans who do Starting Strength overestimate their body fat levels by as much as 10%. I am serious. In the past, some lifters on the forum were legit 30% body fat claiming to be 17%.

8. Never forget that Rippetoe and his crew ignore the existence of skinny-fat people

Rippetoe often condemns beginners for their fear of becoming lard collectors. He says that ”novices” should forget about their razor sharp abs and just bulk up until they transform into ”useful human beings”, but in the real world, most skinny beginners DO NOT have razor sharp abs when they start training due to a condition known as skinny-fatness.

When people hear numbers such 160lbs/73kg@6’2”/188cm, they assume that the person in question is extremely skinny and thus could go on a perpetual bulk. Rarely, however, we are talking about a truly lean individual.

Skinny-fat people often carry a small bone structure/frame which creates the illusion that they are skinnier than they are even though their body fat percentage may be high.

When those guys become a milk processing factory, as required by ”the program”, the end results are skinny-fattier bodies and wrecked hormones.

Contrary to popular belief, if you are a classic skinny-fat specimen (big belly, low overall weight), you will have to lose a little weight first by eating at a small deficit or at least at maintenance.

But since this goes against the principles of Rippetoe’s church, skinny-fat people bulk up and get from 15% body fat in a skinny-fat condition to 25% bodyfat, or even 30%, in a fat-fat condition.

If you want to do that, say goodbye to aesthetics and hello to man boobs and hanging love handles.

9. Get strong but forget about the numbers

Doesn’t make sense, does it?

Let me explain.

Your goal should be to get strong, but not at the expense of getting fat in order to hit some nonsense numbers.

It’s better to be 160lbs/72.72kg with visible abs and finish Starting Strength with a 240lbs/110kg squat than bulk up to 200lbs/91kg while getting to 25% body fat in the process only to squat 300lbs/136kg.

Ask yourself this – is it really worth it to get fat just to create the illusion of higher strength levels?

If you are lifting to look good, this strategy makes no sense.

If you are lifting for a sport other than sumo, this strategy still doesn’t make sense.

Are you lifting weights to feel and look good or are you doing it to satisfy men on the Internet – the place where everyone is a millionaire, squats 400lbs, benches 300lbs and deadlifts 600lbs after a year of training, naturally, of course?

Come on. Get serious.

10. Don’t use a belt unless you need it for medical reasons

Rippetoe and his crew of sycophants always find a way to justify their ideas. Back in the day, they used to express the belief that a belt actually makes your abs stronger because you have something to push against. Cool. Except that every professional weightlifter will tell you that a belt is a crutch. It’s like a wrist wrap for your entire waist.

Why do you think men like Konstantin Konstantinovs take great pride in lifting heavy weights without a belt? Because they know that a belt helps, and lifting without one equals raw strength.

If you have to use a belt for medical reasons, so be it. Nobody cares. But don’t rely on it to artificially increase your numbers. There is no point. Train your core instead.

11. Stop doing 3×5 in Phase 2

3 sets of 5 are easy in the beginning, but once the weight gets heavy, the experience transforms into a brutality.

At that point, it’s better to switch to 1×5 (one working set) or 2×5 (two working sets) and add 1-2 back-off sets for 8 reps with a lighter load such as 80% of your work set(s). This will spare your CNS while keeping the overall workload and tonnage high.

12. Don’t be afraid to deload

I don’t know what the current law on StartingStrength.com says, but back when I was in town, people were not really big on resets.

Why? The ego of the fat man. If you stall, reduce your weights slightly and build back again. Never sacrifice form. Never go to failure. It’s pointless. Be honest with yourself.

13. Train Your Abs

You can safely add weighted crunches, cable crunches and/or planks to your routine. Contrary to popular belief, they will not interfere with progress and will be helpful in the long run. Having strong abs is incredibly important for deadlifting and squatting. However, don’t go crazy.

14. Don’t stay with Starting Strength for too long

Properly performed, Starting Strength ends in 3-5 months. After that, you should switch to more advanced programming. Yet many people stay with the program for too long in order to reach some arbitrary numbers. It’s better to think in terms of strength-to-weight ratio.

For most people (not all), Starting Strength ends around the following stats:

Note: BW stands for bodyweight. A 1.5 BW squat for someone who weighs 160lbs is 1.5 x 160 = 240lbs.

squat – 1.2-1.5BW

bench – 0.9-1.2BW

deadlift – 1.8-2.2BW

overhead press – around 60% of your bench

The higher numbers are for people carrying good proportions for the lift in question.

Example modification

Initial Phase – Alternate Day 1 and 2 

Week 1: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 1
Week 2: Day 2 | Day 1 | Day 2

Day 1

High bar squat – 3 sets of 5

Press/Bench Press – 3 sets of 5

Deadlift – 1 set of 5

Bodyweight pull-ups – 3 sets of as many as you can with good form

Weighted sit-ups – 3×7-10 (add weight when you can get all 10 reps with good form)

Day 2

High bar squat – 3 sets of 5

Press/Bench Press – 3 sets of 5

One arm dumbbell rows – 3×6-8 +2×10-12 with a lighter weight

//Once your first three sets get to 10-12 reps, and your second sets to 15-20 – add weight

Weighted sit-ups – 3×7-10

EZ-Bar biceps curls – 5×10

//Start with just the bar and add 1.25kg/2-3lbs every week until you are down to 3 sets of 8. Then, keep the load the same until you can do 3 sets of 12 reps and only then add more weight.

Initially, day 1 and 2 alternate, but this is not going to continue for a very long time.

During phase 2, I offer the following changes:

  1. Reduce the squat days to 2 (this will prolong your progress and give your CNS time to rest from the exercise.)

  2. Reduce the deadlift days to one.

  3. Don’t deadlift on squat day. Move the deadlift in the middle. Deadlifting with a tired back from squatting is not fun.

  4. Add bodyweight dips (or push-ups) and chin-ups.

  5. Bench on day one. Press on day 3.

Phase 2

Day 1

High bar squat – 1-2×5 (working sets) + 2-3×6-8 (back-off sets) with a lighter load

Bench Press – 1-2×5 (working sets) + 2-3×6-8 (back-off sets) with a lighter load

Weighted sit-ups – 3×7-10

Day 2

Deadlift – 1 set of 5

Bodyweight dips/Deep push-ups – 5 sets of as many as you can with good form

Bodyweight pull-ups – 5 sets of as many as you can with good form

Weighted sit-ups – 3×7-10

Day 3

High bar squat – 1-2×5 (working sets) + 2-3×6-8 (back-off sets) with a lighter load

Press – 1-2×5 (working sets) + 2-3×6-8 (back-off sets) with a lighter load

One arm dumbbell rows – 3×6-8 + 2×10-12 with a lighter weight

EZ Bar curls – 5×10 (continue your progression from before)

Weighted sit-ups – 3×7-10

How Should I Eat

If you are fat and want to lose weight, eat at a caloric deficit. The fatter you are, the larger the caloric deficit could be.

If you want to maintain your weight, just eat as many calories as you have been consuming prior to starting the program. This is a good choice for skinny-fat beginners, although if you are more fat than skinny a small caloric deficit (400-600 calories) will work too.

If you want to gain weight, add 200 calories to your maintenance on rest days and 400 calories on the days you train.

In all cases, try to eat clean whenever possible and consume between 70-100 grams of protein every day.

Don’t fall for the GOMAD drama. It doesn’t work. GOMAD simply makes you fat, bloated and wrecks your stomach. Forget it.


P.S. Potential: How Big Can You Get Naturally is out.

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37 comments

  1. Stanley

    Dude nice post.Been follow nattyornot since 2014.
    May I ask a question ,are you also the owner of the rookie journal .Found the writing style pretty similar. Cheers

    1. piscontino

      Rookie Journal and Iron Gansta I Think were his first steps in the blog comunity… you can see how much he has imoproved his writting skills also his not an English native speaker… Its all I can say. But nothing 100% confirmed.

  2. Klitschko

    Useful post, but don’t you think that these strength focused programs almost always require you to eat more. Past a certain threshold i stall on my lifts if i only eat at maintenance which i have to, because i tend to get fat if i eat more. Would like to hear your views on that.

  3. me

    You mentioned few times about cycling volume and intensity, so that means one can make gains without weights? Lets say i set a goal of 100 reps pullups per session in however may sets it takes. If i increase that total volume to 200 reps, will i make gains?

    1. Artifically Natural

      K. Now it’s time to discuss the 2 plate / 3 plate / 4 plate “intermediate” standard that some Youtubers say are the numbers that BEGINNERS should hit in 6-12 months. Now the strength standard charts say these numbers are 1RM Intermediate level for people who are 200+ pounds, but no, all of these YouTube guys say “if you are on a good program” – and they reference Starting Strength, StrongLifts 5×5, etc… “you eat right and rest right, you should get there and hit 2/3/4 for 5 reps”. Blaha has been saying this for years and AlphaDestiny probably lifted these weights with his penis when he was 4 yrs old…. they are simple for a person who lifts for 1 yr… “bro, you can look like Ronaldo in 4 months”

      1. me

        I know right? Relative strength is better indicator. 150 lb guy benches 225 is 1.5 bw, while 200 lb fatty can bench almost 3 plates. (still 1.5bw) Guys will think the fatter guy is more impressive, but girls will think otherwise…Depends whos opinions matter to you lol

      2. Fatman

        These mostly depend on your leverages. Short arms – 2 plate bench inside 1 year is doable. Long arms – I’ve seen people with zero training experience deadlift 4 plates (and one time, 5 plates) the first time they tried the lift. Squats usually take some time to develop, even with favorable body structures.

        2/3/4 plates are a good intermediate goal. 3/4/5 plates are a good “lifetime” goal. Take as long as you need to hit those goals.

  4. Fatman

    Good call on the programming and diet. Rippetoe means well and his book is great on powerlifting technique, but his dietary advice is so bad it should be illegal.

    One internet guru whose training/nutrition advice I find useful is Paul Carter. He recommends starting off with maintenance calories (bodyweight x 15), then making small adjustments based on the results you see. E.g. for some, even the BW x 15 baseline may be too high.

  5. ILoveTRT

    Hi TruthSeeker. I really appreciate your articles. I would like to learn more about strength training. Do you have any book recommendations?

  6. Gareth

    Great article i have been following the last naturals routine of youtube have you checked him out he gives no nonsense advice pretty much like yourself?

    currently at 82kg 15-16% bf due to just eating over maintenence for 6 or so months desperate to cut soon

    bench has just hit 80kg and i think will stall completely around 90kg

    Squat 125kg lots left in this lift when i play about 140kg for 3 is easy

    Deadlift slogging away at 152.5kg this is feeling really heavy but some days it feels like its easy would like 180kg ouf of this but it may be in the future, will wraps help me ?

    OHP 55kg micro loading my way to 60kg

    all are a 3×5 except deads, im going to use your idea of 1-2 sets then back off sets to conserve more energy, anything else you can reccommend?

          1. Truth Seeker Post author

            You are intermediate. I would personally just focus on training cycles and aim for 5kg PRs every 8-10 weeks.

  7. LD

    “Another side effect of this hip hegemony are the bubble butts coupled with quads that often look like malnourished kittens.

    And by the way, once you have a big rear – it’s with you forever.”

    According to author’s book, he has a permanent bubble butt. Don’t doubt this statement.

  8. Glove

    some thoughts concerning point 1 squats:
    powerlifters and olympic lifters each have their good reasons to squat as they do. They way they squat brings the best results for them. The highest weights. Whether this kind of training is very healthy on long term is a different question.
    BBler are not bound to these strict requirements. They have a big number of exercises they can do for each bodypart. Good routine, bad routine? I doubt. As an example the squats: before you decide whether low or high bar squatting is better for you you have to learn the strict execution of these styles. If you can see and feel the difference you have made your own experience. Before you have done that you take over experiences from other people.
    All these matters, which exercises, how many sets, how many reps, how many exercises, how long rest between sets, how long rest between training of the same bodyparts depend individually from person to person.
    Maybe it sounds complicated but it isn´t. Listen to your body.

    1. Victor

      Yes, people sometimes take this low vs high bar discussion out of proportion.
      They are not that different when you consider how most powerlifters in ipf do the low bar squat. Most don’t do like Rippetoe recomends, leaning that much foward, almost a goodmorning.
      For sports or muscle building proper bar position is the one that allows one to hold the bar confortably while reaching a good ROM, without caring much if its considered low, high or something in the middle.

  9. Sawaad

    Hey Truth Seeker,
    Nice article wish I read it years ago when I was doing it this kind of shit. I only do calisthenics now, because I enjoy it and don’t want to go to a gym lol.

    I have a question, you mentioned wasting natural potential on glutes. There’s no reversing that? Even if I stop training my lower body as much, and the muscles get smaller, I won’t get it somewhere else?
    If that’s true, is that why young wrestlers have such huge necks, and I can’t seem to get a huge neck for the life of me?
    What do you think?

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