Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Big Three and The Important Others - Bill Starr

Before you get started reading, here's a nice little piece of history.
Ken Leistner's original review of Bill Starr's book, The Strongest Shall Survive.


Okay then . . . 

The Key is Simplicity

The key to any successful strength program is simplicity. Football coaches are invariably pressed for time, space, and equipment. They simply do not have the time to learn a dozen or so different different exercises no matter how important they might be. They cannot spend two hours a day supervising weight training activities and they cannot appropriate thousands of dollars to this segment of conditioning. 

By utilizing the knowledge of strength building that has been accumulated over the past 20 years in the sport of competitive weightlifting and by applying that knowledge to the particular needs of the sport of football, "The Big Three" have been chosen as the core of my strength training program. The Big Three consist of: 

the Bench Press, 
the Squat, and
the Power Clean.

There's a further (newer!) article on The Big Three by Bill Starr here:
These three simple but effective exercises meet this all-important criteria of total simplicity in all ways. 

Rationale Behind the Big Three

The rationale behind choosing these three exercises over all the others available was really quite basic and simple once the problems of strength training were thoroughly analysed.These are the three basic exercises used by weightlifters to increase their strength. Competitive weightlifters add to them, naturally, bringing in various movements to strengthen weaker points, and they also practice skill movements such as the snatch, and the clean & jerk so that they can apply the power to the sport.

The same general rule, it was theorized, should apply to football players. They, too, need overall body strength and they, too, need to practice the skills inherent to their particular sport. It was realized that the football player, like the competitive weightlifter, must work for overall body strength as opposed to specific strengthening exercises - unless, of course, the football player is trying to build up a weak muscle or overcoming an injury. In other words, the athlete should be building total leg strength rather than just stronger hamstrings. He should be seeking overall strength in the entire shoulder girdle rather than just stronger deltoids.

It was obvious that the football player must have exercise that would not limit his other athletic attributes, such as speed, flexibility, and coordination. This is not a foreign problem to the competitive weightlifter as anyone could testify who has watched the Olympic weightlifter in action. He, too, must increase his strength while at the same time, increase those before-mentioned qualities through the use of weights. So, by taking the principles available from the sport of weightlifting, it was felt that this goal could be accomplished.

Why Only Three Exercises? 

The question often is often asked, "Why only three exercises? Isn't the bentover row a good exercise for the back?" Or, "Isn't the curl great for upper arm strength?" Since these same questions may be on the reader's mind, they will be answered up front. Of course these exercises are good. There are terrific individual movements for each and every muscle in the body, but again, simplicity is the key to success in a systematic strength program for athletes. A program that attempts to cover every body part by way of specific individual exercises is more difficult to put into effect in a school situation. This is why this program (Starr's original Strongest Shall Survive layout) is built around three basic exercises.       

Note: Here is a pared down recap of that original program:

Thrice a week full body workouts, using the Squat, Bench Press, and Power Clean. A straightforward Heavy, Light, Medium approach is used.

Monday, the Heavy day, is 5 sets of 5, pyramiding the poundage up in all Three lifts
for example - 

135 x 5
185 x 5
205 x 5
225 x 5
255 x 5 (top set) 

Wednesday, Light Day, 4 x 5. Stop adding weight at set 3 and repeat it for set 4 
for example - 

135 x 5
185 x 5
205 x 5
205 x 5

Friday, Medium Day, 4 x 5, 1 x 3, 1 x 8 (backoff set) Weights as Monday, but a slightly heavier poundage is used on the 5th set for 3 reps. 
for example - 

135 x 5
185 x 5
205 x 5
225 x 5
260 x 3
205 (third set weight) x 8

The next Monday, take Friday's 5th set weight (260) for 5 reps. 

He also listed some "beach work" - 2 or so sets of arm stuff in sets of 8-10, nothing too strenuous, and a bit of low back and ab work to warm up (you know the drill, situps, hyperextensions or similar). But it's the Big Three Movements that are focused on, and if you do the program for any length of time you'll understand that the point is to get your weights higher and higher in those while keeping clean form. As time goes by, it ain't easy by any stretch! From there, well, don't even think about it until you get to where you're taking long rests before the top 5 sets and still busting yer ass to take those poundages captive. At that point look to the next step in programming your strength program. 

Okay then. Let's continue with the original thing . . . 

The pure researcher lends support for selecting these three over all others. Through various studies, it has been shown that in order to increase strength, an individual has to overload the muscles involved for a short period of time. Once the individual muscle group has been worked thoroughly and sufficiently, then more work not only does not help, it actually detracts from progress. Too muchy work, then, on a particular muscle group literally weakens rather than strengthens. 

The Big Three stimulates all the major muscle groups in the body without overly tiring any of them. The bench press involves the triceps, deltoids, pectorals, and to a lesser degree, the lats. The power clean brings into play the legs, hip girdle, lower, middle and upper back as well as the biceps and deltoids. The back squat: all the muscles of the leg, hip and lower back. Only the abdominals have been missed and these are exercises in the pre-workout warmup. So it is contended, if these three exercises can do the entire strength-building job, why do more? The only answer lies with variety and there are provisions for that variable further along in the program. But the Big Three can get the job done and it meets the basic criterion of simplicity very nicely. 

For a whole lot more . . . go here:


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