An Ideal Beginning Strength Program

Bill Starr, Ironman 02.04.2008 One of the best beginning routines for strength training.

The majority of requests for information I receive deal with back injuries and programming. This month I present what I believe to be one of the best beginning routines for strength training, but it also holds special interest for anyone who includes high-skill exercises in his or her program. While I like to think that I’ve come up with some original programming concepts over the years, this isn’t one of them. This came from Sid Henry of Dallas. At that time, in the late 1950s, Sid was the strongest lifter in the state and one of the top heavyweights in the country, which meant the weight room was his domain. Space and equipment were limited, so if you trained at the same time as he did, you followed his program. I was eager to take advantage of his knowledge and gladly did what he told me to do, and since I was making gains, there was no reason to ponder the whys and wherefores of it. Later on, however, when I found myself in charge of coaching beginners in YMCAs in Chicago and in Marion, Indiana, I did take the time to think about the system he’d taught me and so many others. I came to the conclusion that the reason his program was so effective was that it was simple, dealt with only the basics and provided plenty of repetitions on which to hone technique on the high-skill lifts as well as ample work for back, shoulders, hips and legs. Your workload steadily increased while your form improved. Plus, you needed very little equipment and could do it in a small space. Sid was an engineer by profession and the precison of thought that science requires carried over to the way he designed routines. He calculated sets, reps, numbers and exercises for each workout, numbers that were never deviated from’the exception being when he or someone he was coaching had an exceptional day. Then they pulled out all the stops. Sid believed that breaking personal records was highly motivational and one of the keys to making continuous progress. If you were on, the sky was the limit, and he urged you to keep going. To encourage that, he built a complex record board that covered one wall of the tiny gym. There were spaces for long lists of lifts and bodyweight divisions and one at the bottom for the best lifter in each category according to the Hoffman formula, the only formula available back then. That enabled 148-pounders to compete against the heavy lifters. Sid, of course, held all the heavyweight marks, but every so often someone challenged him for one of the formula spots. Whenever that happened, his competitive juices soared, and he was very competitive. The result was that every lifter who trained there put as much effort into trying to push Sid off the formula lift as he did lifting in a contest. In many ways the gym records were even more important than winning a meet. They meant bragging rights in the weight room. Another motivational idea Sid came up with to liven up lackluster workouts was the betting board. We didn’t bet for money but, rather, half-pints of milk that you could purchase for a nickel from a vending machine in the lobby. Lifters would bet X-number of milks on a certain lift, and the results were recorded on a blackboard. The debts were never collected, just used as a bank for future bets. While it was only a game, every lifter on the team would nearly kill

At least they got to try a new weight. Each can be an effective means of helping a patient. I compare it to the science of psychology. and nearly threw him down the seven flights of stairs. When Sid smelled the smoke. you had to lift three times a week. Trying out different approaches to training is fine and beneficial once you’ve established the foundation and technique on the various lifts. and that went a long way toward their making it in the future. Sid also had rules concerning his trainees’ behavior.himself trying to complete any lift on which there was a milk bet. When Sid agreed to coach you. since there was a standing rule about the debts being collectible upon demand. and Sid’s rule reinforced my habits. particularly for beginners. snatch-grip high pulls. Anyone who’s rude and stupid enough to smoke in a weight room should be maimed. however. Sid’s workouts consisted of the three Olympic lifts’press. I shared his moral views. After a short period of time they come across another routine by yet another expert and switch over to that. that would be the last time he gave you any. There are three distinct approaches that psychologists and psychiatrists use: Freudian. and if he trained you. at the very least. and the discipline of writing down all the numbers helped you prepare for the next session. which helped me throughout my lifting career. but it most certainly is a high-skill movement when you do it as a strength event. Sid was a strict disciplinarian. Many start out using sound programs and do well. drink or use profanity. First. If for some reason you couldn’t make a scheduled workout. particularly if youngsters and ladies are present. except when someone did something that riled him. No one wanted to owe a teammate a large number of milks. clean and jerk’and included power cleans. jumping from one program to another in the formative stage is detrimental to progress. snatch. Off-color jokes and remarks and swearing were not allowed in the weight room. is the best atmosphere in which to train. you had to follow his rules. even when they weren’t successful. A devout Catholic. We did presses at every workout in order to perfect our form as much as our strength. If you went against his advice. One afternoon while we were in the middle of a session. He didn’t smoke. Since I was in my religious period. While I am painfully aware that many people who train heavy think screaming and cursing are the best ways to demonstrate that you’re a real man. It was great. plus jerks from the rack if that lift was a problem. That’s exactly how it is in strength training. front and back squats. I still believe that a more noble setting. which I happen to believe all beginners need. you had better make it up sometime during the week. a man stepped into the doorway to watch us. power snatches. spot weaknesses and make adjustments in your program. he went berserk. All of those with the exception of back squats fall into the category of high-skill exercises. nondirective and Gestalt. . you didn’t either. It enabled him to scan a recent workout. but you cannot mix them. and he was smoking a cigar. you had to do what he said in the weight room with no arguments. I was already a believer in the importance of consistency in training. then read of a program recommended by an expert and switch over to that. The therapist must select one and use it exclusively. where the rules forbid conduct that’s offensive to others. He was a mild-mannered gentleman. You may not think the press qualifies. He required his trainees to keep a training log. Second. charging at the stunned man. It proved to be the most helpful trick because it enabled lifters to move up a notch.

before Sid got there. with no warmup sets necessary. Sid’s trainees did snatch-grip high pulls at least once a week. taking it for granted. mostly because the press was the first lift contested in meets. Here are two key points that make it work: 1) You increase the work weight by only five pounds regardless of whether the previous five sets of three were easy. and did back squats for sets of fives. Should you get sloppy on the second work set. We did no auxiliary work at all. If there was a bet on. three to five sets. then five reps for the first three warmup sets. That emphasis on technique gave us a distinct advantage in competitions because we knew if we locked the bar outside overhead. There were no fancy gimmicks’no partials. 135 and 155 for five. If you bent your arms too soon on a snatch or clean or rounded your back. negatives. for example. each session consisted of presses or jerks’and sometimes both’two pulling exercises plus front or back squats. the lift didn’t count. except you did fewer warmup sets for power cleans. Next came either power snatches or power cleans done in the same manner. They’re anxious to pile on more weight. whether it’s the third or the final set. We didn’t need it. then followed that with five sets of three with the same weight. If you were successful with your five work sets at 175 on the press. which I could have done by training early. Since Olympic weightlifting is based to a large extent on technique. While that may seem like a simple. Sid was a stickler about form. three sets of five and five sets of three. then you pay the price. your next press session would look like this: 115. it didn’t count. depending on how you felt. just as life outside the weight room does. 2) This one is perhaps more important: If you fail on any of them. with the three judges rendering the final verdict. 135 and 155 for five. since you’d already done quite a few cleans with the presses. I stayed with the same work weight for a month. 115. On other days full cleans or full snatches followed the opening presses. . What made the program so effective was the progression. It rewards success and penalizes failure. even when they’re struggling with lower poundages. You did one clean. If a jerk wasn’t locked out properly. you have to use that same amount of weight for your work sets the next time you press. right behind the full movements or the power cleans and power snatches. If you started showing signs of fatigue. On more occasions than I care to admit. you stopped at three sets. and it was very frustrating. You had to do the three Olympic lifts in strict accordance with the rule book. As I indicated above. I would have hit a wall and not been able to break through. you had to be precise. then five sets of three with 180. Had I cheated on the basic plan. rubber bands or chains’just lots of concentrated work on full-range technical exercises. logical concept. it’s extremely hard for competitive athletes to hold back. then five sets of three reps with 175. Keeping your increases small ensures that you establish a solid base. especially youngsters. performed with the same formula of sets and reps. Having to succeed with every rep forces you to pay close attention to every set. I finally broke through and moved on ahead again. You followed the same pattern with front squats and jerks from the rack.Workouts always started with the clean and press. it would be passed.

not just for beginners. We learned to work fast. On occasion you may have to follow yourself on the platform with only a few minutes’ rest between attempts. Bednarski. It was his amazing ability to handle big weights in a contest even though his lifts going into the meet were way below his expectations. Garcy. One time we were getting ready for the Lone Star Invitational. which took its toll on his training. while Sid usually made up the necessary ground in the quick lifts. I’d like to mention what impressed me the most about his lifting. whom I consider great lifters. was a huge fan of Sid’s He once stated that Sid was the ideal role model for any young weightlifter. Then the pace slowed somewhat for the final work sets. Three years after I started training with him. Since this is obviously a tribute to my first coach and friend Sid Henry. but none of them could match Sid’s ability to get himself ready when his premeet training was subpar. who admired moral character in lifters even more than their ability to move big weights. He made it with ease and completed his final two attempts. Editor’s note: Bill Starr was a strength and conditioning coach at Johns Hopkins University from 1989 to 2000. Sid’s program proved to be perfect for any level of lifting. We did the warmup set and the first couple of work sets quickly. Emrick. I could go through the workout in an hour and 15 minutes. Puleo and Patera. He’s the author of The Strongest Shall Survive and Defying Gravity. I wholeheartedly agree and consider myself fortunate to have met him in the formative stage of my lifting career. Look for his available books at . Nat was an exceptional presser. then do token workouts one other day before the Saturday meet. missing 305 three times before grinding up a rather ugly lift. At his final press workout on Monday he was really struggling. but in the Dallas Y weight room we often had eight lifters doing it. unloading and reloading for the next lifter expeditiously and leaving any socializing for after the workout. So did Sid. And I continued to use his methods after I became a member of the York Barbell Club. with little rest between them. which Sid promoted. He knew about them in the early ’60s but refused to take them on ethical grounds. Try his program. he won the Senior National Olympic Championship and became one of the few Americans who ever defeated the great Norbert Shemansky in his prime. He had a spirited rivalry with Nat Heard of Houston.When I trained alone. and that took longer. All who were watching him figured Sid would start conservatively. He was spending a great deal of time and effort publicizing the contest. Peary Rader. So I was stunned to see him open with 355. Over the years I had the opportunity to train with March. and knowing how to do that is extremely useful if you ever plan to lift in a contest. and he benefited from it. It works. Moving at a fast rate helps build a different sort of strength. Gerald Travis was a seasoned veteran. And Sid never took steroids. The common routine for nearly every lifter prior to a contest was to work up to his starting poundages on Monday or Tuesday.

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