Starting Strength For Women – Review

Starting Strength is one of the most popular lifting programs online and one of the most popular fitness book. It is also the #1 best seller on Amazon in the Weight Training category. The second edition sold a total of 80,000 copies. The book is authored by Mark Rippetoe. a strength and conditioning coach with years of experience.

Can women follow Starting Strength? Most definitely. The program covers compound lifts which work the entire body and will give you the biggest bang for your workout. Isolation exercises such as “tricep kickbacks” are generally not needed for beginners. The bench press, a major compound lift, will work your chest, shoulders, triceps and even the core muscles are used to stabilize the bar. Compound exercises enable you to to cover all muscle groups with a few exercises.

The program consists of two workouts that are used alternately.   Workout A consists of squats, bench and a set of deadlifts.  Workout B consists of squats, overhead press and power cleans.  Each exercise is performed 3×5 (3 sets of 5 reps) except deadlifts which are performed 1×5 (one set of five). 3 sets of 5 may seem deceivingly easy at first but trust me, it gets very challenging once you get to heavier weights.

Most beginners start out with an empty olympic barbell (45 lbs). The book offers alternatives to those who may not be able to complete the lifts with an oly bar initially. With every session 5 lbs is added to all of the lifts except for deadlift which is increased 10 lbs at a time.  I’ve found it easier to progress by adding just 2.5 lbs at a time on bench and OHP by using microplates; these have been a lifesaver when 5 lb increments became too much on upper body lifts.

For women following Starting Strength I highly recommend using microplates on upper body lifts. Women may also stall out on upper body lifts sooner but there are ways to overcome barriers such as by working in triplets instead of sets of five. Doing paused reps can also help to build strength and overcoming plateaus.

The Starting Strength book offers a very scientific and technical approach with all of the lifts explained in detail including the biomechanics of each movement. Nothing is left to chance. For example, when it comes to the “low bar” squat you will learn everything from correct bar placement to hand placement, thumb placement, how to unrack the bar, how to brace the core with a vasalva maneuver for stability, how to push the knees out and much more. The book features a large number of illustrations and diagrams which can be useful when explaining form.

Rippetoe covers every aspect of each lift including the breathing, stance and neck position etc. It’s by far one of the most detailed books I’ve read when it comes to lifting.  The book also covers how to warm up, proper nutrition and how to deal with soreness and injuries.


The book is the most detailed and comprehensive books ever written about barbell training. Starting Strength offers women the quickest way to build strength. Hitting the big lifts 3x a week with an increase in weight every session ensures maximum progress.

Another plus of the program is the active community of the Starting Strength forums where you can find Rippetoe himself posting at times.  The forum allow you to post a video of you performing any of the lifts for a “form check” from other members or even the Starting Strength coaches. This can be very useful if you want to make sure your form is correct. It’s also a way to connect with other women following Starting Strength and and address any concerns or questions.

The health benefits of a strength program is immense. You’ll feel much stronger in day-to-day tasks; loads which used to feel heavy will feel much lighter. Starting Strength is the program I would recommend if your goal is to increase bone density and decrease your chances of osteoporosis.


Some people may find the book a bit “dry”; it covers anatomy extensively and how your body parts move during the lift. It’s a very technical book but you will learn why Rippetoe prescribes to do the movements in a certain way.

Others may be offended with some of Rippetoe’s writing, for example, he comments “If you insist on using gloves, make sure they match your purse”.  It doesn’t happen frequently by any means but it can be annoying. If you are serious about wanting to weight train then I would suggest not to let these comments to dissuade you from getting the book.

I would highly recommend this book to any woman who wants to strength train.


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Jackie C
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