Ask Rogelio – The Strongest Shall Survive

Dear Rogelio,

I am a curly dude who has been gym training for the last 10 years. While I have a body that I am proud to have built, I am lacking in the strength department and I have always wanted to be much stronger than I am. I am currently on my 6th week of your Manly Strength training program and I am making some wild gains already! Congrats on such a quality training program.

I have read you referencing Bill Starr many times in your articles. I did a quick google on him and saw that he has a strength training routine that is also very successful in getting people stronger. I would like to ask you about this training routine as you are always recommending this coach.

Thanks buddy, you put up some great content!

Cheers

Tom, Maryland

 

Dear Tom,

Thanks for the kind words. I am glad my advice is of use to you in your quest for strength, health and a manly mane of curls.

I am an admirer of Bill Starr and quite likely do a lot of PR work for him unintentionally and for free! Coach Bill Starr has been one of my references ever since I started training with weights: he is one of the best strength coaches in the US and, what is more, his advice, as old as it is, still stands to this day. Bill Starr was an advocate of strength training with frequent full body workouts comprised of squats, presses and power cleans, back in the 70’s when the weight training community was being misled by guys interested in selling you machines and supplements, disguised with silly pseudo-scientific words and hiding the use of steroids. The beauty of his training methodology was that it was very simple to follow yet produced astonishing results. Bill Starr, himself a former Olympic weightlifter and powerlifter, walked the walk and later decided to go on a successful football and strength-training coaching career.

Bill Starr’s influence on the world of strength training is very palpable even in this day: he has influenced most present-day strength coaches and football strength training methodologies. I attribute part of my training knowledge to him; my Manly Strength training program is based on much of his advice and the advice of other Olympic coaches I have been fortunate to be under the wing of (plus many years of being my own guinea pig!). It is no surprise that his template routine provided in his great book “The Strongest Shall Survive” is the basis for many other strength training programs such as Mark Rippetoe’s “Starting Strength” or other programs incorporating the 5×5 set/rep format. Starr emphasized the use of 5 sets of 5 reps in all compound exercises, recommending the use of 5 reps as the sweet spot for strength and muscle mass gains. Having said that, this rep/set format was even older than his advice in the 70’s and was used in the 40’s and 50’s by the likes of US bodybuilder Reg Park and Olympic coach Bob Hoffman of the York Barbell club (which produced the best US Olympic weightlifters). As a nice guy as coach Bill Starr is, he has always given credit where credit is due (unlike many other strength coaches using his template routine to sell their own programs) and the use of the aforementioned “as-old-as-the-wheel” 5×5 format has produced great strength athletes and even bodybuilders (known as physical culturists before the rise of bodybuilding’s popularity in the 70’s). I, for one, have seen the phenomenal benefits obtained from following such a rep/set format and coach Bill Starr’s training knowledge.

 

 

Coach Bill Starr is known for his humility, gentleman’s approach and down-to-earth advice (which is why I am always keen to recommend him), as opposed to the primadonna persona of many of today’s strength coaches who sell a reinvented version of his program while claiming to teach lifts, such as the Olympic lifts, which they have never even practised at any decent level. Since The Strongest Shall Survive’s main routine can be found online at his discretion, I will put it here for you and the rest of my readers’ benefit. I highly recommend you to buy his book as it goes in depth into the training program, offering different program spin-offs, and also teaches you the lifts. Moreover, his book is full of black and white pictures which brings the nostalgia of the 70’s and you can find many small gems in the form of training, nutrition and supplement advice which is as applicable today as it was back when everyone and their uncle would grow moustaches like it was business. The book is very good value for money (read, cheap!) and is pretty much all purchased literature you need to get strong (complement that with reading Manly Curls and you are golden!).

Coach Bill Starr’s “The Strongest Shall Survive” strength training program was:

Day 1:

Power clean: Work up to a heavy set of 5 reps in 5 sets of 5 reps.
Back Squat: as above
Bench press: as above
Hyperextensions: 1×20
Leg raises: 1×20

Day 2:

Rest

Day 3:

Power clean: work up to 80% of Day 1’s final set in 5 sets of 5 reps.
Back squat: as above
Bench press: as above
Hyperextensions: 1×20
Leg raises: 1×20

Day 4:

Rest

Day 5:

Power clean: Work up to a set of 3 reps with 5lbs more than the weight used on the final 5th set of Monday.
Back squat: as above
Bench press: as above
Hyper extensions: 1×20
Leg raises: 1×20
Bicep curls: 2×8
Calf raises: 2×20

Day 6:

Rest

Day 7:

Rest

So simple and beautiful, it almost makes me shed a tear. You can read plenty of books and online articles about super duper training methods promising you big biceps in 28 days and other entertaining literature which a 5 year old could write but, in reality, all you need is a solid strength training method with a basic yet proven foundation, enough food to have the PETA guys camping outside your house and as much sleep as a baby. “The Strongest Shall Survive” delivers the training aspect, the rest, I leave up to you.

In essence, Day 1 is your heavy day. Work up to a heavy set of 5 reps (last rep being a grinding rep) in 5 sets of 5 reps. If you can squat 300lbs for 5 reps as a max, you may go about your sets like this:

135×5, 185×5, 225×5, 265×5, 300×5.

Apply this to the three main exercises, finish with the prescribed mid-section work and you’re done. Day 3 is a light day in which you will instead work to only 80% of the weight you used on Day 1 but still in 5 sets of 5 reps. Thus, your last set of 5 is done with 80% of the weight used on the final set of Day 1. I leave it up to you how you work up to the final set of 5 but you may do:

135×5, 185×5, 200×5, 225×5, 240×5 (80% of 300)

Abiding by the 80% of Day 1 is very important so don’t screw it up. Yes, it feels light and that is how it should feel! Apply as much power in all sets and rest as little as possible between sets and exercises. Do more mid-section work and call it a day.

On Day 5, you still do 5 sets but the last one should be a set of 3 reps and not 5 reps. You will now use 5lbs more than you used on your final set of Day 1 and only do 3 reps:

135×5, 185×5, 225×5, 265×5, 305×3.

There. Now go home, eat a big meal and get some sleep. Day 6 and 7 are rest days. By all means, use these two days at your discretion but I will tell you that partying until 3AM while playing strip poker with some hot babes and downing tequila shots like there is no tomorrow will not help your strength and muscle gains. Bill Starr is OK with having one of the rest days to have a few beers and do a bit of partying but avoid going bonkers. It is during these two days of rest that your body will get stronger (supercompensate) so as to bounce back stronger for the next week so don’t ruin your scheduled rest days.

Once the two rest days are over. Repeat the cycle and do your Day 1. You will now do the final set for this day with the same weight you used on your final set for day 5 (305lbs) but instead of 3 reps you will do 5 reps. Thus, following on the above weight example for the squat , you’d do on your Day 1 of the second week:

135×5, 185×5, 225×5, 265×5, 305×5.

Note that you use the same weights as the previous week for your working up sets (first four sets) and it is the final 5th set that is solely upped by 5lbs. Apply this weight incrementing scheme to the three main exercises: power clean, back squat and bench press. Referencing the illustrated example above, last week on Day 1 you only did 300×5 for your final set and now, on Day 1 of the second week, you have done 305×5 hence you are 5lbs stronger. Such small yet steady increments in strength are sustainable long term if you follow the program to the T (including rest days), which is why this program can be used for long periods of time. Ideally, using The Strongest Shall Survive training program, you’d want to be squatting 400lbs x 5, benching 300lbs x 5 reps and power cleaning 265lbs x 5 reps before you look into other strength training routines.

Let me know how it goes.

All the best,

Rogelio

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Rogelio

Rogelio is the go-to guy when it comes to men's hair. Having embraced his natural curly hair for over a decade while living in 5 countries, Rogelio has learnt a thing or two along the way. Rogelio is the author of the two bestselling men's books "The Curly Hair Book" and "The Men's Hair Book", and his motto when it comes to hair is, "Gentlemen, having a good head of hair should not cost us our testosterone".

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16 comments for “Ask Rogelio – The Strongest Shall Survive

  1. Aaron
    June 14, 2014 at 1:03 am

    Hi there,

    Great article, and you’re right, Starr is absolutely the man at coaching people and his programs are great for building strength as well as good amounts of mass (and who the hell doesn’t want that right?). TSSS has been instrumental in my weightlifting career to date.

    Keep up the great work Rogelio, I’ve absolutely become an avid reader of your posts, nice to see someone else promoting the use of progressive, basic strength programs. I’ve grown quite sick of hearing people claim that programs have to be tailored to “the individual”, as if everyone is a special, unique snowflake when it comes to strength training. Lets face it, the Squat, Bench, Powerclean, Press and Deadlift are training classics for a reason and no matter who you are, if you work these movements hard, and intelligently, you’re going to get stronger, and bigger.

    Kind regards

    Aaron, United Kingdom

    PS: One minor mistake, Reg Park was a British (UK) Bodybuilder ;) .

  2. Aaron
    June 14, 2014 at 1:02 am

    Hi there,

    Great article, and you’re right, Starr is absolutely the man at coaching people and his programs are great for building strength as well as good amounts of mass (and who the hell doesn’t want that right?). TSSS has been instrumental in my weightlifting career to date.

    Keep up the great work Rogelio, I’ve absolutely become an avid reader of your posts, nice to see someone else promoting the use of progressive, basic strength programs. I’ve grown quite sick of hearing people claim that programs have to be tailored to “the individual”, as if everyone is a special, unique snowflake when it comes to strength training. Lets face it, the Squat, Bench, Powerclean, Press and Deadlift are training classics for a reason and no matter who you are, if you work these movements hard, and intelligently, you’re going to get stronger, and bigger.

    Kind regards

    Aaron, United Kingdom

    PS: One minor mistake, Reg Park was a British (UK) Bodybuilder ;) .

  3. Ian
    April 25, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Love your stuff…could you please explain how the ramping sets might increase. After a few weeks wouldn’t the jump from set four to set five be too much? Thanks again, great aricle.
    Ian

  4. Philipp
    August 23, 2013 at 4:54 am

    Hi Rogelio,

    I’m lurking your website for a few weeks now, appreciate your input here very much!
    I’ve got a bit curly hair, too, so I’ll be looking into your book in the future.

    On this topic and the evaluation of other strength programs in general:

    I’ve always read(also from you somewhere on an article) that the prefered rep range for the Power Clean is 3 reps ?

    Maybe you can help me here. Thanks for the info.

    Philipp

    • Rogelio
      August 23, 2013 at 10:52 am

      Hi Philipp,

      Correct, never go above 3 reps on the power clean, preferably only do doubles. Bill Starr recommended this scheme too although in the book he does base the program off 5×5 for the power clean. We have to remember that coach Starr wrote the book in the ’70s and was the pioneer of using the power clean in the sports field; he probably did the 5×5 only because it was somewhat popular at the time with Reg Park and the Olympic athletes of the time. But, like I say, Bill Starr has recommended 2 or 3 reps in the power clean and so do I (and so do the number of international coaches I’ve had).

      Hope that helps!

      Best

      • Philipp
        August 23, 2013 at 6:09 pm

        Thanks for the answer.
        In about ca. 2 months I will be at the point to start an intermediate routine.
        I won’t worry about the 5 rep range now when trying this program.

        Though, in your experience, will sets of 3 for the power clean (on day 1 & 2) also do the intended job in this program?

        ATB Philipp

  5. Sam
    February 3, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    Thanks for the article. What if I don’t have access to a hyperextension machine and a calf raise machine? Can I still do this program?

    • Rogelio
      February 6, 2013 at 5:37 am

      Hi Sam,

      Leave out the calf raises and for hyperextensions, place a barbell on your shoulders (like a back squat), and bend at the waist until your torso is parallel to the ground. This exercise is known as the “good morning”; perform the same sex/rep schedule as for hyperextensions, the good morning is a good replacement exercise.

      All the best.

  6. MW
    September 23, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    Is there a place for the overhead press in this program? I’d really like to improve my presses (both overhead and bench). Thanks!

    • Rogelio
      September 27, 2012 at 2:31 am

      Hi,

      The Strongest Shall Survive was meant to use presses instead of bench pressing for the big 3 lifts although Bill Starr changed it as the press was not deemed a safe lift back in those days (not that it isn’t at present).

      On Day 2, do the military press for a top set of 5 reps ramped up in 4 sets, just like you would do for bench presses on Day 1.

      All the best.

      • Billy
        March 2, 2013 at 9:53 am

        Hi, great stuff! I’m interested in this program, as well. By Day 2, do you mean adding OHP on literally “day 2” or the second workout? (i.e. during 80% day)

        Also, could I add deadlift once a week? Where could I add it? And would I just add 5lb a week on it for the progressive overload? Any tips on how I could add these two exercises would be awesome–Thanks. :)

        • Rogelio
          March 3, 2013 at 1:12 pm

          Hi Billy,

          Yes, only do the overhead press on Day 2.

          If you introduce the deadlift, you distort the program too much. In any case, the deadlift handles much more weight than the power clean so I’d insert it on Day 1.

          Yes, 5lbs is a good weekly increase. It is always better to aim for less than more, as adding too much too soon will cut your strength gains.

          All the best.

  7. Matt
    October 3, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Great article but I’d like to ask the following:

    Can power cleans be replaced with any other exercise?

    Thanks!

    • Rogelio
      October 4, 2011 at 12:27 pm

      I recommend you to try to have the power cleans. read my power clean tutorial and apply it.

      If power cleans are not an option, do deadlifts instead. Don’t change anything else as otherwise it will not work as intended.

      All the best.

  8. Victor
    October 2, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    Ive been hearing about this program for ages and the fact that you have dedicated an article to it is very appreciated.

    • Billy
      March 2, 2013 at 9:24 pm

      Yeah! Very appreciated.

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