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Stronglifts vs Starting Strength

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Feb 27, 2019 9:30:00 AM

Stronglifts or starting strength

Stronglifts vs Starting Strength


Stronglifts is the easier program to follow without a coach. Starting Strength is better suited under the supervision of a personal trainer. If powerlifting is your main interest both programs might be suboptimal. 

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What is your goal 


Let me ask you some questions here while you are researching lifting programs:


  • Why are you looking into Stronglifts?
  • Why are you looking into Starting Strength?
  • Why are you comparing the two programs?


Is it because you can not afford or don’t want to approach a personal trainer? Is it because the trainers in your gym do not understand what you want to do? Whatever it is that you are trying to achieve it is important that you have clear goals. The clearer the goals the clearer the results. The fussier the goals the fussier the results.


In fitness, you usually find three main areas of motivation 


  • Looks 
  • Performance 
  • Health 


Depending on which group you belong to your training will look a lot different. 


If you are mainly into looks the main driver of success is diet. Your diet regulates mainly how shredded you will look and whether you make it to the cover of men’s health. Be prepared for a hard time. You will be hungry, tired and grumpy. The choices you will make will not always be healthy or help performance in your chosen sport. Who cares, if you, therefore, look like a Greek god. 


If you are in the performance camp everything circles around records. You want to beat the competition. To hold that trophy after a hard days work gives you the biggest satisfaction. In training, you will only pick the exercises that have the most carryover to your sport. Intensity is your long-term friend. Injuries occur and you know how to deal with them. Diet is only a fuel to achieve your goals. The choices you make might not always be healthy are pretty but you are happy when the competition only sees your smoke. 


The last group is mainly interested in health. The choices you make are mainly about balance. Injuries and burnouts are unlikely to occur. You will pick your exercises based on how much you can learn. How you perform in the tasks is of lesser importance. You might never make the front cover or win a trophy, but you also do not care. 


As you are comparing Starting Strength and Stronglifts you are probably in the performance camp. If you don’t know where to start this article will give you an overview. Take your time to check your motivation. It is the most important driver on your fitness journey. 




Stronglifts is one of the most popular beginner lifting programs out there. You will train three times a week using the following movements:



You will squat each session while all other exercises will be rotated. Except for the deadlift and row you start with an empty bar.  The goal is the finish 5 sets by 5 repetitions on each workout except for the deadlift. The deadlift is programmed in at 1x5 per week. 


You nice you complete 5x5 you increase the weight for the next session. If you fail more than three times on the same weight for an exercise you deload. The free Stronglifts 5x5 app does a good job at guiding you through this process.


The biggest advantages of Stronglifts are its simplicity and clear progression. You will always know what to do next and why. The app does all the thinking for you so you online have to move your lazy self into the gym. 


The biggest disadvantages of Stronglifts are its lack of specificity and marketing. If you are extremely big or small you will either under- or overtrain on Stronglifts. The marketing of the program will make you believe that you will get ripped, string and build like a bodybuilder in a year. That won’t work without proper diet and dedication. It’s not that simple. 


Starting Strength


Starting Strength is almost as popular as Stronglifts. Especially football strength coaches in the US seem to like it for their athletes. 


The program was designed by Mark Rippetoe and is aimed at beginners using linear progression just like Stronglifts. It divides in three phases. The program uses the following movements:



In all phases, you train three times a week. You will squat every day. In the beginning, you will also deadlift every day. While you will still use sets of five repetitions you will only do a maximum of three sets per exercise. The only exception is the power clean with three repetitions by five sets. 


The progression is very similar to Stronglifts. If you complete the prescribed reps at a certain weight you increase for the next workout. If you fail more than three times you take a step back. 


The biggest advantages of Starting Strength are the higher volume on the deadlift and addressing speed with the power clean. This makes it a better program for sports where speed is necessary.


The biggest disadvantages of the program are its lower volume on squats and more complex structure. Beginners will find it harder without a coach to get started And switch phases.


Should you do Stronglifts or Starting strength?


It depends on your goals and whether you have a coach around or not. 


If you have a coach and your sport is martial arts related or you are doing football you are probably better off doing Starting Strength. With the power clean and higher deadlift volume you will probably get better results for overall strength. If you are more into bodybuilding Stronglifts might be slightly better because of the higher squat volume to build your quads and the rows. 


If you have no coach around and want to get started with barbell work stick with 5x5. The structure is so easy to follow that you do not even need a coach. The only word of caution is to pay very close attention to form. The correct execution of the compound lifts gets quickly overlooked when self-taught. 


If you are aiming to be a powerlifter there is some debate out there that both programs are suboptimal. This is mainly down to the fact that both do not include autoregulation. Autoregulation means that you have one set a day where you do as many repetitions as possible. This enables you to progress faster if you are able for it. GreySkull, Wendler 531 and the Juggernaut method use autoregulation. Stronglifts and Starting Strength do not. 


Further reading 


Topics: Lift stronger, Fitness, Strength, Diet