Fitness, Health & Sports, Podcast

Art of Manliness Podcast #76: Barbell Training With Mark Rippetoe Part II

In this week’s episode I continue my conversation (listen to Part I) with strength training expert Mark Rippetoe, author of Starting Strength. In this part of our discussion, I ask Mark questions submitted by podcast listeners via Twitter. Here’s a sampling:

  • Should you stretch before a workout?
  • Can you still squat even if you have bad knees?
  • Can squatting make your sprint faster?
  • Does the one rep max even mean anything?

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Quick question: I had several people complain about the length of longer podcasts, so I split this one in half. But then I had several folks chime in and say they like longer podcasts. If a podcast is an hour or longer, would you rather me split it up or upload it as a single episode? Your feedback is appreciated.

Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. In today’s episode, we pick up where we left off last time with Mark Rippetoe. In this part of the conversation with Mark, I took a bunch of questions that I got from Art of Manliness readers and took them right to him to get his input on it. Really great stuff, lot of cool insights, so if you are into barbell training and want to get more into it you enjoy this session, so let’s get started.

I solicited twitter for some questions from readers, because I know a lot of our listeners

Mark Rippetoe: Oh, all right.

Brett McKay: Are big fans of you. Can I have some specific questions that people are curious when understand I will be talking to Mark Rippetoe, so one question was should you stretch before a workout because people hear different things on that. So, what’s your take on that?

Mark Rippetoe: I’ve never, never stretch before I work out. Let me rephrase the statement, let me backup. I will stretch my hamstrings up for about ten seconds and stretching is one of these things that’s been investigated fairly effectively in the literature. Stretching is an excellent way to reduce power production and reduce force production, if you do it prior to squats and deadlifts and Olympic lifts. Here is the basic question. If you are flexible enough to do the range of motion of the full range of motion barbell exercises that comprise your training and you’re flexible enough to execute all of the movement patterns used in your sports, why do you need to stretch? You don’t, it’s a waste of time. It doesn’t help soreness, it doesn’t alleviate soreness, it doesn’t prevent soreness, it doesn’t prevent headaches, it doesn’t prevent hangovers, it doesn’t do anything if you are already of sufficient flexibility. If you are not, obviously you need stretch. If you are a Muay Thai fighter and you can’t kick high enough or you need to get where you can’t, but if you are not, why stretch? It doesn’t do anything positive it’s a waste of time so no, we don’t stretch.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I don’t stretch before workouts.

Mark Rippetoe: I never had. I don’t really know anybody that hasn’t been influenced by the fashion of it. Back in the 1980s all those posters, here we stretch if you need to do. Why do you need to do? We tried that for a while, nobody got any better, it didn’t seem to help and it added 15 minutes to the process otherwise got an extra 15 minutes and especially as it’s not accomplishing anything, why in the hell waste for time on it?

Brett McKay: All right, here is another question we got. How essential is squatting to speed development?

Mark Rippetoe: Well, that’s an interesting question. Speed in terms of a low 40 time is an expression of power. It’s an expression of the ability to express strength quickly, that’s what power is, power is force x distance over time. It’s the instantaneous peak expression of force production, peak velocity expression of force production. If you are fast, the only way to get faster really is to get stronger because of the math of the situation. F x D/T, here is the basic contentious part of that discussion. The T part, the ability to express it quickly, the ability to explode is almost exclusively controlled by the genetics of the athlete. We have a very, very reliable test for explosive capacities from standing vertical jump. The standard is the vertec device which is a little framed to the vane that stick out from side up.. that is sports type gym and you reach up and you touch the bottom of the vane and you squat down without a step, squat down, jump up as high as you can touch the vanes again and the distance between the bottom and the top of your hand reach during that movement is the standing vertical jump. This fits between your flat-footed standing at reached hand and the head of that hand at the top of the jump, it’s not the same thing as you jump up on to a box, it’s not the same thing as a running jump, it’s not the same thing as ducking a basketball, it’s the standing vertical jump and is extremely dependent on genetics that’s why it’s useful as a test because it reveals things that can’t be trained. In other words, person with a standing vertical jump of 12 inch is never going to have a standing vertical jump of even 18 inches. And I understand all the people on the internet that advertises they got their vertical jump from 18 to 36, that’s what we call oh, and doesn’t occur because the standing vertical jump in the best strength and conditioning program is improvable by 20 to 25 percent. They are outliers.

But in general, for a person who comes into an effective strength program as an athlete with a 27-28 inches vertical jump, if the coach would get him at 30 that’s really good. But nobody with an 18 is ever going to have a 36. That’s why we use the test because it tells us the genetics of the person we’re dealing with and their athlete potential. That’s why I choose them to come back. Training for the standing vertical jump test misses the point. We try to identify genetics here and the genetics of explosion. I’m not very explosive. I didn’t need to be explosive to be strong, but in order that equation F x D/T have a more positive value, the only thing you can manipulate is the force production variable. In other words, to the strength possible improves the vertical, it also improves the 40-yard dash though. But a person with a 6 – 40 is probably not able to see a fact because of the genetic nature of explosion. I hate to tell everybody but that’s one of those, because one of them deals with kind of not what we want it to be but deals nonetheless.

Brett McKay: So, it can help to an extent to your genetic.

Mark Rippetoe: To the extent you can help, you get stronger.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Rippetoe: I have to be repetitive but.

Brett McKay: Sure, yeah just to clarify though.

Mark Rippetoe: It’s stronger is better.

Brett McKay: Okay. So, here is another question we had related to squatting. What if you had bad knees? Should you still squat?

Mark Rippetoe: What do you mean by bad knee? A bad knee can come in three or four different forms.

Brett McKay: I got a crepitus into my right knee, can I still squat heavy?

Mark Rippetoe: Oh! You have been, crepitus didn’t mean anything except your knees are noisy. A lot of people have noisy knee. I’ve trained people with it, I ducked and stand to be there on the platform as its noise made me sick. It’s got that tendon sound but they are fine. It didn’t hurt, it’s just a way the knee sound it. Yes, that sound as accompanying back pain that’s probably indicative of a problem we need to investigate. But it’s been my experience that the only people that really honestly don’t need to be squatting are people whose knees are bone-on-bone, if your meniscus is gone, you might as well just go ahead and make up your mind that you are going to get a knee replacement so that you can get back to your training. That a bone-on-bone, in the absence of a meniscus, I don’t think a person needs to be squatting but I know people would do it but I don’t recommend that. If you got some tendonitis in your knees 99 percent of the time you produce it with your training. You are doing something wrong, correct technique once again is critical. Remember, the squat is a hips movement not the knees movement. Most people have an idea in their mind, the picture in their mind of a fault squat, which is in fact the knees movement. But our squat, the one we use is a hips movement. Most of the stress is on the hips, not on the knees. So, if you are allowing your knees to creep into the squat when they shouldn’t be that has the potential of causing knee pain some tendonitis. It won’t destroy your meniscus; it won’t destroy your knee, just makes things unpleasant. But again that is a tubular technique issue.

Brett McKay: Okay. Here is another question we have from someone. Does the one-rep max really mean anything, and if so, how do you say….

Mark Rippetoe: Not unless you are to powerlifting meet.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Rippetoe: We never test for a one-rep max unless for the meet, we just don’t do it, because it didn’t tell us anything we need to know. This is better argument I have where the conventional process strength and conditioning, what everybody wants to do is bring an obvious into gym, test him on a one rep max the first day the first day and then based a whole month for the programming on that one-rep max. Well here is the problem with that. A one-rep max for a knowledge doesn’t tell you anything about the knowledge. I will show some kid how to do a squat, first day he done the squat and I work you in about one-rep max (a) what it’s going to look like, is it going to be a correct squat, well, no it’s not going to be a correct squat because he just learned how to do the damn thing. Okay, and if you are run him up to his heavyweight as he can do, what’s going to happen to this technique. All that instruction goes down to toilet, isn’t it, because you just allowed him to do something with incorrect technique. (b) You are the person that has learned the movement today, going to be able to accurately display his one-rep max strength on that movement. What with neurological inefficiency and all the other constraint to display a one-rep max of maximum absolute trick, no you can’t. Once again bad data but here is probably most important consideration. If I have a person that is never trained before go up to one-rep max squat even if I managed to have him do it correctly, what is the one-rep max effort going to do to the guy. It’s going to make him stronger, isn’t. It’s going to function as an adaptive stress in other words 48 hours later the guy is stronger than he was, when you tested him two days ago and now your date as well. Well there is three or four lines of listening that mitigate against the use of the one-rep max that tell didn’t tell you anything. What we are going to do anyway is we are going to go up to sets of five, we are going to find out what it do for sets of five, and then at the next workout we are going to increase five pounds. We don’t care what is one-rep max is, that’s not the way we trained, we are not trained for one-rep max, so we don’t need the data.

Brett McKay: Another question we got was a very experienced weightlifters they have been lifting for a while on a limited budget which book of yours, do you recommend they pick up?

Mark Rippetoe: Experienced weightlifters?

Brett McKay: Yeah. That’s a self-describe experienced weightlifter.

Mark Rippetoe: A self-describe experienced weightlifter is probably doing the least of all. The most important resource we got is Basic Barbell Training.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Rippetoe: The blue book. Practical programming is a different type of book. Practical Programming for Strength Training is also in its third edition. It’s the most detailed book on the nuts and bolts of programming resistance training that’s ever been written; it is a gigantic expansion over the second edition. And it goes into a lot of detail about the biology of adaptation, physiology of adaptation, it doesn’t talk about the lifts. It talks about everything that causes the body to change and have that change take place and how you can use those facts to assemble the correct type of training program for your particular level of training advancement because the programming like we talked earlier is dependent on how far a long you are on that path towards your ultimate level of adaptation, programming must vary according to that and this is the only book of its type that goes into this types of analysis and detail; there’s just nothing in its class but it’s not a book for entry level people. It’s a book for people who specifically need to know how to design strength training programs. It doesn’t sell out nearly as well as blue book does, because it’s audience is not nearly as broad. It’s a very important book but my first recommendation would always be for starting strength basic barbell train.

Brett McKay: Yeah, because you can always learn something new even if you have been lifting for a while. I’m sure.

Mark Rippetoe: People tell me that they’ve read the book four times and that they always pick up something new is very, very dense. In fact the only negative reviews we get on amazon is that it’s too detail. It’s too detail, I didn’t need this much information. I’m going to give it three starts because it’s just too much here.

Brett McKay: It’s funny.

Mark Rippetoe: I got too much for value for my money and I don’t like that.

Brett McKay: People will find a reason to complain about anything, huh?

Mark Rippetoe: People are interesting, aren’t they?

Brett McKay: Yeah, here is the last question I got. What’s your take on using bodyweight exercises just for strength training or is it just for conditioning?

Mark Rippetoe: Let’s backup body strength. This really met up if you remember my early discussion, strength is the ability to produce force against an external resistance, right?

Brett McKay: Right.

Mark Rippetoe: And if you are going to increase strength you must increase force production. So, unless your bodyweight is increasing then you can use bodyweight exercises to increase force production beyond a certain point, because by the time you are doing body pushups, do you get stronger by doing 21 pushups and then 22 pushups. If you want to get your pushups up with most effectively way to do is get your bench press up because that makes your bodyweight more submaximal relative to your strength level. In other words, a guy with a 500 pound bench doing his own bodyweight for pushups is not much of a joke.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Mark Rippetoe: If it’s possible to get strong doing bodyweight exercises then why shouldn’t you just, you know, sitting in a chair and had never done any other training. When a novice first start doing exercise, a person who is completely on adapted exercise we’ll obtain an adaptation to literally anything that act as stress that process rapidly peters out of course and I’ve got an excellent article that I wrote, in fact I wouldn’t normally brag on my articles, but my article on my website called The Novice Effect is I think one of those important ones I’ve ever written. It detailed why people think that P90X and CrossFit work so well. For a novice anything works. For a novice, riding a bicycle makes the bench press go up, but didn’t work for very long. But for someone who is completely untrained the first six weeks of doing bodyweight exercises will make him stronger. But I’m not concerned about that, I’m concerned about the long term process of getting strong and no, you can’t do air squats and get strong. It’s your way and your only way of what, about 55. So, if the production of force against the external resistance is strength then that’s what you need to know.

Brett McKay: Okay, and in relation to conditioning, would bodyweight exercise play a role in there?

Mark Rippetoe: Bodyweight exercise can be used for conditioning. One of the problems with using bodyweight exercise is that have a large eccentric component is the fact that they make you sore. If you ever done a hundred air squats, you will note that you aren’t very heavy that’s why you can do a hundred of them, but they sure as hell made you sore. So, the net effect was you got real sore and you didn’t get stronger that doesn’t sound good to me. So, my favorite thing for conditioning is the prowler, pushing a sled because there is no eccentric component to it, it doesn’t make you sore, remember soreness is an inflammatory process and systemic inflammation is not good. So, the prowlers it seems to me to be a best compromise, because there’s not eccentric component, you do it all you want to, it wouldn’t murder you. You do it as hard as you want to but it didn’t make you sore and it didn’t really interfere with your training, the rest of your training like a soreness producing bunch of other types of high-rep squats will just make you sore, it get you out of breath. But they are not going make you stronger, they will produce a conditioning effect but they also interfere with your strength acquisition.

Brett McKay: Longtime ago I did like a bunch of lunges like football linked amount of lunges and really sore for like three days. I couldn’t not bend my leg.

Mark Rippetoe: But not any stronger.

Brett McKay: Yeah. All right, those are the questions we got. That was some great stuff but before we go, where can people go to find out more information about your work.

Mark Rippetoe: Well, I have a, I’m easy to find. You just google Mark Rippetoe or we have a great big website over there. We’ve got archived articles, we have a great big giant bulletin board discussion going on with 15 or 20 different forums going at all times on all kinds of interesting topics, not just like question and answers, but the delicious political discussions down and ancient pieces, the food and drink discussions down, we have the big bourbon discussion going all the time. It’s a nice website. We worked very hard to keep it interesting and cleaned up, we don’t have any ads on it. In fact, probably should, but we don’t. So, it’s not a clutter and it’s a good place to go. Our brochure is available there, they are available at amazon and from various distributors around the country.

Brett McKay: All right, very good, well, Mark Rippetoe, this has been a fascinating discussion. Thank you so much for your time, it’s been a pleasure.

Mark Rippetoe: Thank you Brett, I appreciate you calling. Let’s hope again.

Brett McKay: Our guest here was Mark Rippetoe. Mark is the author of Starting Strength now on its third edition. You can find that on, definitely recommend if you want to get started in barbell training to go pick that up and you can find more of Mark’s writings that

That wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at and if enjoy this podcast, you are getting something out of it, I really appreciate it if you’d go and give it a rating on iTunes, Twitter or whatever you use to listen to a podcast, that holds it a lot. Until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

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