Over the last few years, the Starting
Strength brand has been growing at an incredible rate. Driven largely
by the launch of franchise gyms, there are now 19 locations open and
a dozen more in the pipeline. I suspect it won’t be long until most
people who are serious about their training will have one of these
gyms to visit on a regular basis.
The reason for the rapid growth is
simple: this stuff works to get people stronger, and it works better
than any other method out there. Rip has laid out a blueprint for
performing the major barbell exercises for long-term, even life-long
increases in strength. People recognize its value and the
science-driven body of work that comprises the method, and these gyms
are busy. All of them.
Outside of the franchise locations,
there are a small number of additional facilities where trainees can
have access to a Starting Strength Coach, excellent equipment, and do
the program in a fantastic training environment. There are 13
Starting Strength Affiliate Gyms in operation and, as you might
expect, the vast majority of these are in the United States. All of
them have one or several SSCs on staff, and like the franchise
locations, they are also busy.
Outside of the US, the only three
affiliates are in Mexico, Singapore, and Belgium, and I am fortunate
enough to own the latter.
My business partner and I opened
Brussels Barbell in the summer of 2021, making it the first ever
Starting Strength Affiliate Gym in Europe. The city was and still is
packed with facilities that do just about everything except
get people stronger. There are commercial gyms, “functional
training” and kettlebell gyms, Body Pump classes, and of course,
CrossFit. Simply put, if you want to waste your time and money at a
gym, Brussels is a great place to do it. Everywhere you look you can
find fitness white noise, confusing messages, and unqualified
professionals having clients squat on Bosu Balls or roll around on
the floor. I have even come across a studio that advocated
“deadlifting” with up to 8 different stances, including staggered
and front-foot elevated with a trap bar. Seriously, this is a thing –
I can’t make this stuff up.
Our motivation for opening the gym in
Brussels was two-fold. Firstly, we wanted to create a place where
people could cut through the bullshit and specifically train for
strength. Secondly, we wanted to spread the Starting Strength method
as much as possible. I’ve spent my entire life in gyms and tried
just about everything you can think of, and nothing came anywhere
close to getting me as strong as Starting Strength has. It works. It
works every time it’s applied correctly, and I have seen this with
literally hundreds of people who have walked through our doors.
Our results speak for themselves. Every
person in this gym is considerably stronger than when they first
arrived, and are now able to do things that seemed unfathomable to
them on day one. But here’s the thing: these things only seemed
impossible to them. We knew this would happen, we told them it
would, and we cheered along as it unfolded. That’s the best part
about doing this! The results are predictable, and happen for
everyone, every time.
From the first day we opened, not one
week has gone by where an email or call hasn’t come in from someone
living outside of Belgium, willing to make the trip to Brussels.
Every time they do, it’s always some version of the same line:
“Finally, there is an SSC in Europe!” Some are absolute beginners
who are looking to learn lifts, while others are already training and
want to come in for a form check. Regardless of their motives, one
thing never changes: they know about Starting Strength and their
understanding of its value motivates them to hop on a plane or get in
their car to travel to the capital of Europe.
I want to stress that these visits
rarely, if ever, have anything to do with me individually as a coach.
Sure, I earned the credential, but in this case, we win by default.
Anyone in Europe who is looking for help from a Starting Strength
Coach must come to Brussels. The reach of this method is more
expansive than most of us probably realize, and my colleagues who
work remotely can attest to that.
From our first day as a new gym, I was
confident that people who were familiar with Starting Strength, and
even those who had randomly come across it on the internet, would
stop by to train with us. While the most serious would plan family
trips around our availabilities to host them in our gym, again, we
can take absolutely no credit for this. That is the strength of this
brand and how it has become the most widely known strength training
method on the planet. What I was more curious about, however, was how
the people who came to us with no knowledge of this would react to
starting the program.
You must understand that when people
first hear about what we do after being in commercial gyms or
CrossFit boxes for years, it can be a hard sell. Trying to explain
that three sets of five is all they need at the beginning
raises every eyebrow in the room. The skinny gym bros who are used to
two-hour leg days are skeptical (to say that least) that the goals
they seek lie not in sets of 12-20 on eight different exercises, but
simply 15 hard reps of a correctly performed squat, 5 lb heavier than
Typically, females aren’t sure why we
tell them that they can and should lift heavy, just like the guys in
our gym. When it’s been drilled into fitness culture for decades
that light-weight high-rep isolation work is more appropriate for
them, it can take some convincing on our part and a lot of trust on
theirs. Older people are often terrified of doing anything hard and
heavy because they’ve been told that walking will suffice as they
continue to age. They’re understandably afraid of getting hurt, and
old backs and cranky knees can be major roadblocks to taking the
plunge and getting started.
We’re fighting an uphill battle, but
once we get them started and they stick with it for a few weeks,
we’ve enjoyed the same results with everyone, every time. Across
the board, and no matter where or when they started, every person in
this gym feels better and looks better when they get stronger. It
doesn’t matter how they found us or what their motivation was for
first walking through the door, they all come back saying the same
They start to appreciate the decision
they’ve made to voluntarily do hard physical tasks every week. They
appreciate the logical nature of the process and the accountability
their logbooks (which we make them keep) provide to them. They fall
in love with the process that they have complete control over,
because they can always choose to show up and get under the
bar. Bad backs don’t hurt anymore, poor posture is remedied, and
sore knees feel better after doing what seems so counterintuitive to
them; they squat, press, bench press and deadlift.
It’s not because they’re
stretching, foam rolling, getting massages, or working their “core,”
but rather because they’ve gotten their bodies stronger than
they’ve ever been before. They are now able to produce
significantly more force and do things they previously couldn’t do.
All we did was show them how to move correctly, loaded these
anatomically normal movement patterns with a barbell, and added a
little more weight each time. These small jumps in weight, over time,
produce enormous gains in strength – and it changes, quite
literally, everything about that individual.
There’ve been an increasing number of
signals that we’re on to something with our gym and with Starting
Strength in Europe. First and foremost, in December 2022, we were
able to expand our gym and double the floor space. We’ve gone from
five racks to nine, and have been able to add a space for general
conditioning when it becomes appropriate. Expansion after just 16
months is something we can certainly be proud of, and we’ve worked
very long days to make this happen, but the key to what we’re doing
is the product and environment we’re providing to our lifters.
We’ve also hosted four Starting
Strength training camps and each one has sold out. Again, we win by
default, but the speed at which the spots sell lets us know that a
lot of people around Europe are hungry for strength training, are
eager to learn and are willing to travel long distances to get proper
coaching. On top of that, more and more coaches around Europe have
started contacting us about potential apprenticeship opportunities.
As Visa requirements for foreigners in the US can be tricky and
time-consuming, and spots at a franchise gym are hard to come by, our
gym is the next best option.
Brussels Barbell is full of lifters of
different ages, abilities, demographics, and anthropometries that can
substantially increase the learning curve of potential coaches. Our
three current apprentices (one Portuguese, one German, and one
Bulgarian) are seeing and coaching hundreds of reps from dozens of
lifters every day. They are all getting better at a markedly faster
rate than they would have working one-on-one as personal trainers on
The first year and a half has been a
bigger challenge than we anticipated, but also a far more rewarding
one than we imagined. There is now a community of people from all
over the world who convene at Brussels Barbell to train for strength,
forge new friendships, and cheer for each other’s accomplishments –
often outside of the gym too! We promised them all that we would
teach them a method of strength training that delivers results. All
we ask them to do is show up, get under the bar, and give it an
honest effort. This has taken all of the guesswork out of the
equation and given them a clear path to continual progress. We’re
not messing around with the latest fads and trends or making promises
that we can’t keep. We know Starting Strength works because it
always has and always will. Very few people in Brussels knew about
Starting Strength, but that’s changing – quickly.
Starting Strength is now firmly planted
in Brussels and just yesterday, a 14-year-old teenager high-fived the
64-year-old for her new deadlift PR. Seriously, how cool is that?
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