Starting Strength is a systematic approach to barbell training. The methods in it are not particularly original, since lifters have used the basic barbell lifts for years, although the explanations of the lifts are unparallelled in their accuracy and reliance on physics. The teaching progressions for the lifts are works of genius. Mark Rippetoe has become a public figure of sorts, and thus is caricatured, but if you’ve ever watched him coach, he’s brilliant. Get The Book to read more. In my opinion, however, one of the greatest contributions Rip has made is to distinguish between Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced trainees.
Take a look at the cover of Practical Programming:
The graph shows the increasing strength, the rate of adaptation, and the program complexity. As a novice, your rate of adaptation is very high, and you can get stronger very quickly. As a result, you can put more weight on the bar every time you go to the gym. Let me put it more strongly: Every time you go the gym, you must put more weight on the bar.
Novices make many mistakes, the most common being that they don’t add any weight. If you don’t ask your body to adapt, it won’t. The next most common mistake is quitting their linear progression too soon. Eventually the weights get heavy, and it gets hard to squat 3x5 three times a week. It takes determination, and builds character. But building character sucks, and people tend to like easy things. They read about a fancy intermediate program that some famous lifter uses, and they get tempted. “I’m an intermediate now, and I should do program X, which is scientific and awesome, (and which allows me not to squat 3x5 three times a week).”
Resist this temptation! Novices get stronger every session. Intermediates get stronger every week. Advanced lifters get stronger every year. You want to be a novice. Being an intermediate/advanced lifter sucks. On the plus side, you’ll be really strong, but on the minus side, PRs will be few and far between. Cling to your novice gains as long as you can. Eat well, sleep, and follow the novice progression through the advanced novice stage until it stalls hard. Then, and only then, you may choose an intermediate program.
Perhaps Rip should have chosen different terms. Instead of Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced, he could have chosen Happy, Grumpy, and Desperate. Stay a happy lifter!
One more point: Novice does not refer to your strength. You can be a very strong novice. I know of lifters that have finished their squat linear progressions close to 500lbs. I have coached a lifter who is still doing a novice progression on squats, and he’s at 480x5x3. You may not get this strong as a novice, but you might. Wouldn’t it be great?