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Barbell Logic

Nov 5, 2018

Many people unfamiliar with Starting Strength and strength training in general confuse barbells with powerlifting. Similarly, powerlifters often criticize Starting Strength as a “bad” program for powerlifting. A misunderstanding of the core principles of Starting Strength and the Three Criteria especially, lie at the heart of this confusion.


Starting Strength’s stated goal is to help regular people become generally strong and harder to kill. The goal of powerlifting—the whole point of the sport—is to lift the most weight possible within the rules. Clearly, the two are intended for different audiences, with different goals. Though the process for each look similar, but the goals are different, and so are the reasons.


The Three Criteria for exercise selection (and by extension, lifting technique as well) in Starting Strength are:

1.) lift the most weight possible

2.) using the most muscle mass possible

3.) using the greatest effective range of motion


Starting Strength and powerlifting share #1, but they begin to diverge on #2 and #3. It’s clear to see with, say, a wide grip bench press. A wide grip shortens the ROM of the press, allowing the lifter to lift more weight than a standard, vertical forearms (evaluated at the bottom of the ROM) grip prescribed by Starting Strength. This satisfies criterion #1. The wider grip trades ROM for muscle mass however, and does not involve as much of the pec and deltoids, so it violates #2. It also violates #3, as it aims for the shortest possible ROM instead of the most effective (for strength).


At the end of the day, powerlifting is a sport that demands its own approach, whereas Starting Strength is a training modality aimed at the general public.


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