27 August 2008

Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore

Many people on the internet have recommended the book Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore. I recently bought and read the book. It is a beautifully written, carefully researched, and meticulous in all aspects of barbell lifting technique. The book covers the main, full-body lifts including the squat, deadlift, bench press, (overhead) press, and power clean. Starting Strength answers almost any question you can think of including biomechanics, head position while lifting, breathing, equipment, why the lifts in the book are the most efficient for building strength, etc. I wish more people would write books like this, to explain the technical aspects of other sports (for instance, ice skating), but most people probably don't have the brain and if they did, they would rather spend the time coaching and making more money as opposed to publishing a book.

I won't go through the contents of the book (if you're serious at all about weightlifting, you should read it), but I note some surprising and interesting things I learned.
  • You bounce off the bottom of the squat by bouncing off your adductors and hamstrings, not your quads. This technique protects your knees.
  • You ascend from the bottom of the squat by driving your hips (a cue for this is "driving your butt up"). This technique keeps the tension on your hamstrings and also protects your knees.
  • You use a thumbless grip (thumb on top of bar) in squat to keep your wrist neutral. Up until now, I used a thumbs-around-bar grip. You can get away with the thumbs-around-bar grip for a while, but unless you want to kill your wrist, it won't work for heavier weights. There is absolutely no need to use a thumbs-around-bar grip because you are supporting the bar on the back muscles. Your arms just hold the bar in place.
  • Hold your breath for entire rep (for the squat and deadlift). Holding your breath extends and protects your spine during heavy lifting.
  • I had no idea that the press was a good upper-body lift. I hardly ever see anyone do overhead lifts with barbells. Most people use dumbbells.
  • I learned about the glute-ham raise. Unfortunately, most gyms don't have a glute-ham bench. One can do a glute-ham raise on the floor, but Mark Rippetoe doesn't like it because this so-called "natural" glute-ham raise is basically only the upper-half of the raise done on the glute-ham bench. A raise on the glute-ham bench will involve multiple joints and body parts (half the movement looks like a back extension and the other half is the "natural" glute-ham raise), so Rippetoe thinks it's a better exercise.
I note some supplemental resources to the book. Mark Rippetoe (the man himself!) does a little digital coaching in a Q&A forum at Strength Mill. There is also a nice wiki based on the book called Starting Strength Wiki. It includes the bodybuilding.com forum FAQ on Starting Strength and a collection of short instructional videos, some starring Mark Rippetoe.

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