Starting Strength Workout App: Review & Alternative

A Critical Review + A Better Workout App Alternative

Starting Strength workout app home page

If you've been in the strength game for any length of time, you know of Starting Strength.

It's one of the most popular strength programs ever that has steered thousands of young lifters to strength.

Well, now it has an app.

That said, is the app really the best choice for you to gain strength? Further, does Starting Strength deserve all its praise in the first place? Or, is there a better Starting Strength workout app alternative?

After researching for my review of Starting Strength, I found that the majority of reviews are highly positive. While this is what an app obviously wants, it's always a red flag when no negative feedback is given. To be clear, there is poor feedback that exists but it's centered around the functionality of the app rather than the actual training program. Of course functionality is important, and I will touch on it, but I wanted to really examine Starting Strength from the eyes of your average consumer.

I am going to lay out why I don't believe Starting Strength is the optimal choice for a large majority of lifters, especially if you're looking for muscle growth. I'm also going to tell you what I believe is a far superior strength and bodybuilding app.

Who I Am: Why I'm Qualified To Write This

My name is Garett Reid and I have been in this industry for over well over 10 years. I have earned my Masters in Exercise Science as well as hold several high level certifications. I have my NSCA CSCS, and CISSN.

Further, I’m also an Executive Council Member of the NSCA Strongman SIG. To be clear, I have been in the gym for over 20 years and have seen the rise of this industry which includes both the good and bad.

During this time, I learned how to train the old fashion way; trial and error. When I first began lifting, we didn't have apps and Youtube was in it's infancy. I was there for the birth of fitness apps and can atest to their usefulness, if they even are.

In addition, I actually ran Starting Strength a couple times so I have first hand knowledge on it's effectiveness. I can point out it's benefits while also personally addressing it's shortcomings. This ability has only become more profound as time goes on and I learn more about proper training.

Starting Strength: An Honest Review & A Better Alternative: In A Nutshell.

In case you’re in a hurry, here are the highlights of my review: Starting Strength is a very popular strength program for beginners known for it's simplicity. Using only 4-6 exercises throughout the entire program, it focuses solely on your basic movements. However, I believe that in doing so, it emits several extremely important principles that should be included in every program. In addition, it lacks the ability to adapt to a person's specific needs. On the other hand, I believe that Dr. Muscle is much superior program to use for long-term development.

What Makes My Review Different

As hinted at above, many reviews for Starting Strength online don't touch on many of it's short comings. Perhaps it's due to it's status but it's difficult to find a truly critical review.

In addition, many of the reviews come from a very specific population; serious strength lifters. As such, it doesn't adequately represent the opinions of society as a whole. In other words, many people who use Starting Strength are aware of what it is and are a smaller portion of the lifting community.

Starting Strength App: A Quick Overview

The Starting Strength app is the companion to the ground breaking strength program of the same name. Built by a legend in the strength game, Mark Rippetoe, the original program was revolutionary in it's design. Apart from his polarizing persona, the original program broke through all the crap that plagues some training plans and leaves only the essentials for a no-fuss strength training plan.

Starting Strength is a 3-day workout program that alternates between two different workout plans. Each workout plan will have just six different exercises that you will eventually use as you progress among three different phases.

You will only utilize a total of six different exercises as you train through three different phases. The three phases look like so:

Phase 1

Day ADay B
Squat 5 reps x 3 sets*Squat 5 reps x 3 sets
Press/Bench Press 5 reps x 3 setsPress/Bench Press 5 reps x 3 sets
Deadlift 5 reps x 1 setDeadlift 5 reps x 1 set

Phase 2

Day ADay B
Squat 5 reps x 3 setsSquat 5 reps x 3 sets
Press/Bench Press 5 reps x 3 setsPress/Bench Press 5 reps x 3 sets
Deadlift 5 reps x 1 setPower Clean 3 reps x 5 sets

Phase 3

Day ADay B
Squat 5 reps x 3 setsSquat 5 reps x 3 sets
Press/Bench Press 5 reps x 3 setsPress/Bench Press 5 reps x 3 sets
Deadlift 5 reps x 1 set/Power Clean 3 reps x 5 setsChin-ups
Figure 1- Starting Strength Template

Drawbacks With Starting Strength

As mentioned numerous times in this piece, we believe that there are numerous drawbacks to Starting Strength. While some of these may be able to be explained away (which we'll address), the real question is why must they exist when there is a better option. With that in mind, here are the major setbacks we see with running this program.

Must Pay Before You Can Download

I wanted to put this one first as it also allows me to put out a disclaimer; I did not actually download the app. Not because I didn't want to but because I had to pay $34.99 just to download and try it.

However, I did study enough reviews to understand that it's pretty much just a companion piece to the lifting program. In addition, I'm very familiar with the actual training plan. Therefore, while I consider my review strong, it is a bit of a bummer to have to pay full price before you can even download.

No Pulling Exercises Until Phase 3

All quality training programs should contain at least 1 exercise to address the 6 basic movement patterns:

  • Vertical Pulling  
  • Horizontal Pulling
  • Vertical Pushing
  • Vertical Pulling
  • Squat
  • Hip Hinge

Note that there are other movement patterns that should also ideally exist i.e. the lunge, but these 6 are the bare minimum. This is one of the most fundamental parts of program design.

Unfortunately, Starting Strength doesn't use any type of  upper body pulling exercise until Phase 3 of the program. At this point, you will only perform chin-ups which are vertical pulling exercises.

This means you may not perform any upper body pulling for months depending on your progress.  Being that there are only 3 exercises per day and you do squats every day, it doesn't make sense why you would completely ignore this movement when you can simply add one.

No Horizontal Pulling Exercises Ever

In addition to not having vertical pulling until Phase 3, you NEVER have horizontal pulling such as the bent-over row. What this means is that you will never work this movement pattern.

An excuse might be that you do the deadlift. While the deadlift is a great back exercise, the muscles work in an isometric fashion. This is not an appropriate alternative for concentric and eccentric contractions.

Again, what makes this matter even worse is that there are so few exercises. It would be very simple to add in a few sets of rows but it was decided those aren't important.

Disproportionate Squat To Deadlift Ratio

Another glaring issue is the difference in volume trained for the squat and deadlift. As you see, you perform 3 sets of the squat every single session. That means that you perform 6 sets in one rotation of the two sessions.

In terms of the deadlift, during Phase 1, you perform it every session as well. However, you only perform 1 set which equals a total of 2 sets during one rotation. This means you perform the squat 3 times more often!

During Phase 2, you alternate sessions while performing the deadlift while you still perform 1 set. This means you only perform 1 sets during a rotation while you're still performing 6 sets of squats; that means you perform the squat 6x more often!

But it gets worse. Once you get to phase 3 you start alternating the deadlift with the power clean on one session. Now, you only perform 1 set of deadlifts every two rotations (four sessions). How about the squat? You will perform 12 sets!  That's 12x more volume!

Starting Strength addresses this saying that it would be too much stress to perform both squats and deadlift with 3 sets every session. While this is a safe assessment, the obvious choice would then be to train the squat just one session and train the deadlift the other.

Again, it doesn't make sense to squat every session, to barely deadlift and then skip out on so much pulling exercise. As a whole, the program seems very lopsided.

No Isolation/Core

This isn't necessarily wrong as studies show that isolation movements do little, if anything, for beginners in terms of hypertrophy (Gentil, et al. 2017) However, at the same time, throwing in a couple sets of arm flexion doesn't take much time and it still provides other benefits. As it can help strengthen the tissue and ligaments around the joint from an injury preventative angle, I still think you should include at least one.

However, when looking at compound movements, we realize that there's very little arm flexion at all, especially when compared to elbow extension.

we then consider that you perform very little elbow flexion anyways even when considering compound movements. In fact, you perform elbow extension more than twice as much! Why is this ignored?

Limited In Exercise Selection

While the entire point of Starting Strength is to get back to the basics, it offers very little in terms of alternative exercises. This is unfortunate for lifters who have limited access to equipment or have limited mobility or an injury. While the basics are awesome, having some variety or choices is a very wise decision.

Many May Find It Boring

While technically speaking, a programs level of "fun" has little impact on how effective a program is. That said, in real life, many people are significantly more consistent if their program is interesting not to mention they will usually train harder if something is "fun"

Unfortunately, Starting Strength is about as basic as it comes. Again, this is the point of the program and so this may appeal to a small percentage of lifters. However, the majority of gym goers, including top level and serious lifters, like to have a little fun in their program or spontaneity.

While a programs' level of fun shouldn't affect it's worth, the fact is that the effectiveness of a program is meaningless if people aren't excited to follow it.

Short Time Frame: Only Tracks Linear Progression

The last issue is that the Starting Strength can only be run for a few months until you need to move on. Again, this is part of it's design as it's solely a beginner's workout plan. In this aspect, we can't criticize it outright.

It's primary purpose is to track what's called linear progression. This is a simple method of training where you simply add a little bit of weight to the bar to progress. By doing so, it implements progressive overload which is imperative to improve.

Unfortunately, you can only follow a linear progression for a minimal amount of time before you will stall. At this point, you must utilize different methods of progressive overload such as daily undulating personalization (we'll talk about this below).

With this in mind, consumers need to be aware of this drawback. When you buy Starting Strength, you can not use it for a lifetime. In fact, this "surprise" is discussed among many of the real reviews as being an issue.

Starting Strength For Bodybuilding

One aspect that I want to make clear about Starting Strength is that it is NOT a bodybuilding app. I understand that many people are looking for a bodybuilding app and assume that any weightlifting app can work. They don't.

Starting Strength is purely interested in building strength. While there is definitely some overlap between strength and muscle size, they are actually two different physiological adaptations. A muscle can get stronger without getting bigger and vice versa.

The point being that if you are a bodybuilder, you definitely need to look for a different app. This is another reason I like Dr. Muscle as you can choose what you want to acheive with your lifting. Bigger muscles? Stronger muscles? Fat loss? Dr. Muscle can be set-up to do it all.

Verified Reviews for Starting Strength

Summing Up: Starting Strength App Review

Reviewing Starting Strength is bit difficult due to it's design. Even if I didn't have the issues that I do with Starting Strength, I'm still not sure the app is even worth it.  

The program is so easy to follow, having to pay to get an app to track your weights seems overkill. I mean, you only track 6 exercises while using straight sets and linear progression with. In other words, the numbers don't fluctuate apart from raising it 5-10 pounds every once in a while. I would just tell someone to use their phone or a notepad.

Per the program, I wanted to like Starting Strength but I've started to feel maybe that's because of it's legendary role in strength sports. At the same time I have learned a lot from reading Rippetoe's textbooks (however they are very dry) and am forever grateful of what I've learned. Regardless, I find that when I do recommend Starting Strength to a client, I ALWAYS do so with the alterations I spoke about above (i.e. add bent-over row).

All things considered, I do not see myself ever recommending someone download the app. In summary, this is due to:

A Superior Alternative for Serious Lifters

To be clear, I recognize Starting Strength as a revolutionary program in the world of exercise and fitness. Further, it does work if you follow it even of it's only for a few months.

With that in mind, I do not think it's an optimal training app for the numerous reasons above. The best way to illustrate this is by comparing it to what I believe is the superior app; Dr. Muscle.

Build A Program Based On Your Needs

Starting Strength is basically a "cookie cutter" training plan as everyone gets the same exact plan. While it does work, it doesn't take any sort of nuance into consideration.

On the other hand, Dr. Muscle runs you through a questionnaire when you sign up. It basically asks the same questions I would ask my clients which includes questions such as:

  • Training age
  • Training goals
  • Biological age
  • Injuries or mobility issues.

After it collects all of the necessary information, it processes the answers and constructs personalized program. When I say "personalized" I mean it's similar to an actually program I would write. In other words, it's actually personalized to meet your needs.

What's awesome is that if I change some of my answers, the program will make the necessary adjustments.

This occurs as you progress as well. In other words, Dr. Muscle will change your program when needed meaning that you never

Huge Database Of Exercises

Unlike Starting Strength that gives you just 6 exercises, Dr. Muscle has an entire database of exercises. In fact, there are more exercises than you would ever use so monotony will never be an issue. More importantly, they all have detailed instructions.

That said, don't think you will need to go and choose what exercises to do (but that's an option too!) Dr. Muscle will still program what exercises to use. However, if you don't like an exercise or have any other issue, you can easily swap.

Plus, the database has a search engine. Let's pretend you want to do a chest exercise but your not sure what to do. You can click on "chest" and "compound" and the Dr. Muscle app will list all of the exercises and allow you to browse.

Will Consider Your Special Needs

In addition to personalizing your plan to reach your goal, the Dr. Muscle app will also consider special needs. This includes:

  • Working around injuries
  • Concentrating on special body parts
  • Training around injuries.

For example, if you have a body part you want to focus on, it will add volume to that specific muscle. On the other hand, if you suffer from a knee injury, it will provide knee-friendly lower body exercises.

Uses Daily Undulating Periodization

A very important difference is that Dr. Muscle uses a form of periodization known as DUP (Daily Undulating Periodization). In contrast to the linear periodization that Dr. Muscle uses, DUP alters the intensity and volume of your exercises on a daily basis.

For example, you may train hypertrophy on Monday, strength on Wednesday, endurance on Friday, etc. This effectively trains different mechanisms of the muscle and allows for more consistent growth due to the variety. Studies have shown that when compared to other periodization models, DUP holds advantages in terms of muscular adaptations (Zourdos, et al. 2016)

In addition, having daily variety can add an interesting dynamic. This can be enough to keep things interesting for a lifetime.

Can Be Used For Lifetime

Perhaps the most important factor is that you can use Dr. Muscle for life! Since it does use DUP and alters to your needs, there's no reason to use any other app. Ever!

You're able to alter your:

  • Frequency
  • Intensity
  • Goals
  • Targeted Muscle Groups

As such, no other app can offer anything that Dr. Muscle can't. And if it does, you probably don't want it. Dr. Muscle's system is based on science and was built by actual scientists. Therefore, it only offers science-backed training advice.

In comparison, if you were using Starting Strength, you'll need something something new in just a few months; in fact you may have to switch over to Dr. Muscle so you might as well start with it!

Starting Strength Vs. Dr. Muscle: Side-By-Side Comparison

Chart 1- Comparison of Dr. Muscle and Starting Stength
Dr. Muscle Starting Strength
Exercise demos? Yes Yes
Who is it designed for? Trainees who are looking for a quality program that they can follow to build muscle and strength while improving body composition. Trainees specifically interested in strength training.
Set-Up Time Simple and straightforward Takes less than 5 minutes. Everyone runs the same exact program so there’s no time to spend on personalization making it fairly easy.
Program Design AI designed by leading muscle building researchers creates a baseline program from your information including training experience.

Monitor each exercise using your effort and ‘reps in reserve’ to adjust loads depending on actual performance.

Suggests adjustments and rest ‘de-loads’ based on your individual progress.

Can run forever
Runs it’s basic 5X5 program

Cookie cutter as everyone runs the same program

Uses a 3-day training split and trains three exercises each session

Uses linear periodization so you add a little weight every session
Home workouts available? Yes No

Starting Strength Vs. Dr. Muscle: Summary

Starting Strength helped pave the way for proper strength training to become part of mainstream fitness. It taught the principle of progressive overload to lifters which is a huge achievement in it's own right.

That said, after considering everything, Dr. Muscle is clearly the better option. Dr. Muscle delivers a highly effective  training program that's designed on your personal information and needs. Further, it monitors your progress tells you exactly what to do and makes alterations when needed.

In reality, you don't even really need to buy the Starting Strength app as it simply runs you through the Starting Strength workout program. In this light, it merely acts as digital training log and tells you what weight to use. That's it.

In comparison, Dr. Muscle is basically like having a trainer in your pocket. It truly delivers a personalized program depending on your needs and goals while monitoring your progress.

These two training apps are worlds apart in terms of use and effectiveness. Starting Strength can while Dr. Muscle can literally be used by anyone for a lifetime. Head over to Dr. Muscle today for your free trial!

Verified Reviews for Dr. Muscle

For more reviews and videos, check out customer feedback

My Final Take On Starting Strength

Starting Strength is a classic strength program that will always remain a foundational program in the strength community. However, after scrutinizing it with fresh eyes, I have many questions regarding if it's design is really that ideal.

As the Starting Strength app only runs the Starting Strength program, my same beliefs therefore apply to it as well. I'm sure some people will be able to use it as a stepping stone to their ultimate goal in the strength world. However, I don't see how the average lifter is going to benefit from buying the app due the many reasons stated above.

I feel that those looking to build muscle and strength long-term in a scientifically backed manner are much better off using Dr. Muscle. If that's you, I highly recommend you give Dr. Muscle a shot.


Is Starting Strength good for beginners?

Yes. In fact, Starting Strength is specifically for beginners and should only be used by beginners.

Is Starting Strength good for hypertrophy?

While you will grow some muscle, Starting Strength is specifically for strength training.

Is Starting Strength a good program?

This will obviously depend on who you ask and what your goals are. Starting Strength is one of the more popular programs used by strength athletes but is not meant to be run for a long period of time.

How much does the Dr. Muscle workout app cost?

Learn more on the app’s free trial page.

Can I cancel anytime?

Yes, there is no contract so you can cancel whenever you want.

Is there a free trial?

Absolutely! Dr. Muscle comes with a 2-week free trial that gives you full access to all of its features