Comparing Starting Strength, StrongLift and lvysaur’s Beginner 4-4-8 Program

Update: I updated this post from original to add more content and some additional statistics as requested by our readers. Thanks for providing the feedback.

I recently came across an interesting post on reddit by user /u/survivalnow who shared a worksheet for a workout that was created by another redditor /u/lvysaur. So like a normal redditor, I followed the link to the original post and discovered this interesting post titled, “A detailed look at why StrongLifts & Starting Strength aren’t great beginner programs, and how to fix them – lvysaur’s Beginner 4-4-8 Program” .

Apart from being curious on why these famous programs are not great, the excitement to find a workout plan that is better gave me goosebumps. As someone who has viewed hundreds if not thousands of workout plans to figure out which one works,  especially for a beginner, I couldn’t let the opportunity to compare all workouts plans through new GYMINUTES Workout Analysis tools pass by.

If you are new to strength training and looking for a workout plan, the most common advice is to start with either Starting Strength by Mike Rippetoe or StrongLift 5×5. While you are trying to find more information about these workouts, you will also read that these plans are not perfect and they needs adjustment as per your needs.

For me personally, as a beginner, I always wondered how can I adjust something when I don’t even know what to adjust for. Thats why in new version on GYMINUTES, I created an Workout Analysis tool which will tell you information about the workout BEFORE you start it. This tool cannot tell how much muscle you will gain or how good your body will respond to a given workout, but it will tell you if this is a well rounded workout and what accessory exercise you can add to bring lagging muscle up to speed.

Before we compare each workout, here is a briefly highlight of each workout so we understand what we are working with.


The workout routine is divided into 2 workouts.

Starting Strength Routine

Starting Strength Routine

Workout A Workout B
Squat 5 reps x 3 sets* Squat 5 reps x 3 sets
Press/Bench Press 5 reps x 3 sets Press/Bench Press 5 reps x 3 sets
Deadlift 5 reps x 1 set Deadlift 5 reps x 1 set

The workout routine is performed 3 days per week. This is how your week will look like

DAY 1 Workout A  Workout B
DAY 2  Rest   Rest
DAY 3  Workout B Workout A
DAY 4   Rest   Rest
DAY 5 Workout A Workout B
DAY 6   Rest   Rest
DAY 7   Rest   Rest

And repeat. For more info, please click here.


Similar routine but instead of 5 reps of 3 sets, you perform almost everything 5 reps of 5 sets. Easy to remember and easy to execute. This workout is also divided similar to starting strength.

StrongLift Routine

Workout A Workout B
Squat 5 reps x 5 sets Squat 5 reps x 5 sets
Press/Bench Press 5 reps x 5 sets Press/Bench Press 5 reps x 5 sets
BentOver Row 5 reps x 5 set Deadlift 5 reps x 1 set

The workout routine is also performed 3 days per week. This is how your week will look like

DAY 1 Workout A  Workout B
DAY 2  Rest   Rest
DAY 3  Workout B Workout A
DAY 4   Rest   Rest
DAY 5 Workout A Workout B
DAY 6   Rest   Rest
DAY 7   Rest   Rest

And repeat. For more information, click here.

lvysaur’s Beginner 4-4-8 Program

Now here is something new and fresh. Break the monotony of 5’s. Plus, the maths adds up 4, 4 and 8. Somehow the worlds seems normal. Anyway, here is the routine,


image from Ivysaur reddit post

The workout routine is performed 3 days per week. This is how your week will look like

DAY 1 Workout A  Workout B
DAY 2  Rest   Rest
DAY 3  Workout B Workout A
DAY 4   Rest   Rest
DAY 5 Workout A Workout B
DAY 6   Rest   Rest
DAY 7   Rest   Rest

Just looking at the workout, I like it. Now here are couple of reasons why I like this workout already as compared to starting strength or strongLift.

The number of sets (4) are right in the sweet spot of a workout. When I went through 2 cycles of starting strength, I often found that 3 sets were a bit less. And during stronglift, I sometimes found 5 sets to be over whelming specially when the load was high.

But Ivysaur has many reasons on why other two programs are in-efficient. To read detailed post, please click here.


Now as program introduction is out of the way, lets compare these 3 workouts face to face. I will not compare these workouts based on results that individuals have got from performing these workout routines. As every individual who performed workout is different, trained in un-controlled and un-monitored environment, and performed workouts for varied cycles and duration, it is impossible to provide an true comparison.

So we will be comparing each workout based on following parameters:

  1. How many Sets and Reps (total and average) are performed during each workout.
  2. How long it takes on an average to perform each workout.
  3. How does overall, front-to-back, and upper-to-lower muscle distribution looks like for each workout.
  4. Some additional exercise statistics.

During our comparison, we are making following assumptions to simplify the math.

  • Each working set is performed for a duration of 45 seconds. For a 8 rep set, this comes out to be roughly 5 seconds per rep.
  • Rest between each set is taken as 120 seconds. The recommended rest time between sets is 90 – 120 sec. We took 120 sec assuming that you add additional weight to the bar during that time.
  • Rest between each exercise (not set), is taken as 90 seconds. This is based on time it will take to re-rack equipment, move and setup for next exercise.
  • Only primary muscle group of each exercise is considered for muscle distribution calculation. All compound movements involve lot of secondary muscles that get activated during the lift. To identify the percentage by which each secondary muscle was stimulated is hard to calculate.

Thats it. The numbers used above for workout duration calculation can be changed in GYMINUTES Workout Analysis calculator. If you feel like you take less or more time during your workouts, you can calculate them by changing it in GYMINUTES app. Now lets dive in.


First lets, see how all 3 workouts look side by side when created in GYMINUTES app.


Starting Strength Routine

Starting Strength Routine

StrongLift Routine

StrongLift Routine

Ivysaur 4-4-8 Routine

Ivysaur 4-4-8 Routine

Ivysaur 4-4-8 Routine

Ivysaur 4-4-8 Routine

* If you pay close attention, Ivysaur has last set on Day 3 as AMRAP (As many reps as possible). Instead of creating a separate workout, I made it 4 sets with 8 reps. As there is no upper limit on number of reps in AMRAP, the timing calculation was getting unbounded. You can still do AMRAP. Thus is just for analysis purpose.


First thing first, lets compare sets and reps. After all 2 out of 3 workouts have sets and reps in their name.


As there are bit more text above, lets draw some charts. After all, who doesn’t like a chart.

First lets compare Routine Stats


Starting Strength Routine Stats

Starting Strength Routine Stats

StrongLift Routine Stats

StrongLift Routine Stats

Ivysaur 4-4-8 Routine Stats

Ivysaur 4-4-8 Routine Stats

Now just by looking at above cards, it is obvious that Ivysaur workout is high on volume. However, as the “Routine stats” cards says, its the Total Reps of the full routine i.e. sum of all workouts inside that routine. Ivysaur routine contains 6 workouts. 3 workouts for Week A and 3 workouts for Week B. So the “Total Reps” is 148 for 2 weeks. As Starting Strength and StrongLift only have 2 workouts in routine but are performed 3 days per week, lets adjust them to two weeks as well.

Here is the new adjusted table for workouts performed over 2 weeks period.

Starting Strength* StrongLift* Ivysaurs 4-4-8
Total Reps 84 90 148
Total Sets 54 78 96

* For SS and SL each workout A and Workout B will performed 3 times over 2 weeks period. As first card is total reps and sets of workout A and workout B, we multiply the number by 3 to get total reps and sets performed over 2 weeks. For Ivysaurs, each workout is performed only once in 2 weeks, so we don’t need to multiply.



Its evident now that Ivysaur routine means business. The total and average number of reps are roughly 75% more in Ivysaur routine when compared to SS and SL. The total and average number of sets is 77% more compared to SS and 28% against SL.

But what does this mean? Is more, better?

Well lets walk through whats going on. As we know, if the number of reps (volume) goes up, the weight (intensity) of set goes down. With starting strength and strong lift, the reps are low. This helps in keeping the intensity (weight lifted) high. However, Ivysaur makes a great point in his post about role of Volume in muscle building. Here is quote from his post

Lack of Volume: Increase in muscle mass trends logarithmically over time, meaning beginner lifters can gain the most muscle in the least amount of time. This is important even if you’re only interested in strength, because increasing your muscle mass is the best way to increase your strength (4). Researchers recommend a minimum of ten weekly sets for each muscle to see good results (8)- SL gives you 7.5 for pecs, shoulders, and biceps, and 1.5 for hamstrings. This means increasing sets (5) and reps per set (6) are the best ways to maximize both aesthetic and strength progress

Fix: Do more sets and more reps when possible.”

If we go by the research that is quoted, then the increase in reps will definitely result in some muscle gain.


Although above chart is pretty clear that Ivysaurs workout has more sets, it doesnt tell us how much time does it take on average to finish a workout Basically the “Workout Time”

The average estimated workout time for each workout (rounded up) is as follows:

Starting Strength: 30 mins [(24 Workout A + 35 Workout B)/2 mins]

StrongLift 5×5: 40 Minutes [(46 min Workout A + 35 min Workout B)/2]

Ivysaur’s 4-4-8: 50 Minutes [Roughly each workout is 50 mins]

Note: We assume that amount of time you take to warm up and cool down is same in each workout, thus we exclude them from workout time calculation.

Even though starting strength seems to be the shortest workout on both days A and B, this is just an estimate.  But its no doubt that Ivysaur is the longest of 3. However, it is usually recommended that a lifting session should last somewhere between 45 – 60 minutes. And based on that, Ivysaur fits right in.


Next, lets compare muscle stimulation. After all, all this work is for building muscle and gaining strength. If thats not happening, we may just sit and relax.


Starting Strength Muscle Distribution

Starting Strength Muscle Distribution

StrongLift Muscle Distribution



Ivysaur 4-4-8 Muscle Distribution



Lets look at first set of cards in the image above.

Muscle Distribution (Estimated)“.

Its a well known fact that both, Stronglift and starting strength favors squat. Thats obvious from above chart as well. The green color represent Legs muscle. As SS has both squats and power cleans (major muscle is hamstring), the muscle distribution is pretty high for legs. In our SL workout, we did not include power clean but if we did, it would be similar to SS. However, with Ivysaur, we don’t have power cleans or lot of squats and here he explains why.

Poopoo lower body programming: If you’re mainly interested in aesthetics, SL is probably a bit squat-heavy for you. If you’re mainly interested in strength, 1×5 deadlifts three times every two weeks is a bad plan. Taking the time to warm up and load the bar, only to perform one serious set is not an efficient way to spend your time. The idea that you should only do 1 set because CNS fatigue is silly. SL is made for beginners using light weight. CNS fatigue is not an issue for them. The idea that you should only do 1 set to avoid form breakdown is flawed as well. The programs are designed to eventually push you to form breakdown regardless of how many sets you’ve performed, so that’s inevitable. On top of all of this, Deadlifts are really the only exercise in the program that hit your hamstrings (no, Squats don’t to a significant degree [9])- why give them a measly 3 total sets every two weeks?

Fix: Squat less, Deadlift more. The increased leg work from Deadlifts will make up for decreasing Squats.”

This is a valid explanation and I am pretty satisfied with it. So to confirm, if you look at Ivysaur Muscle Distribution and add “Back 25%” and “Lats 12.5%”, you get a total of 37.5% back stimulation vs 33.3% compared to Stronglift and Starting Strength. But remember this is estimated values. When you are actually performing a workout, they may look different as you may fatigue and not complete or partial complete the set. But in any case, there will be more back stimulation.

Front-to-Back Muscle Distribution

Following same explanation as above, we see that back has 4% more stimulation with Ivysaur as compared to other two.

Upper-To-Lower Muscle Distribution

Look at the perfect 50-50 distribution in Starting Strength. This is why this is the most recommended beginner workout. But we already know that. The upper-to-lower distribution at first caused me some concerns but then above explanation came to rescue. Increase in back stimulation is actually taking away from squat or lower body muscles. Thats why Ivysaur pie chart for lower body is less compared to other routines.


Finally, lets compare some exercise stats.


Starting Strength Exercise Stats


StrongLift Exercise Stats


Ivysaur 4-4-8 Exercise Stats



Again looking at first cards of all three workout routines, we can see how many sets are there for each exercise. As you can see that for both starting strength and stronglift, Squats dominates the number of sets but on Ivysaur, they are not that high. To my surprise its bench press and overhead or military press. Ivysaur explains this as well in his post.

Lack of bicep involvement: Rows and cleans alone aren’t great at growing biceps. Your biceps are only secondary muscles involved in the movements, meaning they won’t really be taken anywhere close to failure. Since number of sets near muscular failure is the primary factor when inspiring protein synthesis (6), your bicep development will be subpar if you don’t fix this.

Fix: Ideally, add Chin-Ups. Not only do they hit the biceps hard, but the extra back work will balance out your increased benching. If you can’t do Chin-Ups, do 30° Bent-Over Rows with supinated grip, which shifts emphasis to the biceps (7).”

The charts are definitely inline with the observation stated above.

In our current comparison, the other cards don’t provide much information because most of the exercises are performed using barbell.


Ivysaur has done a great job in highlighting the short comings of SS and SL in his post, so I will not repeat them here. But for completeness sake, here are the cons in bullet points

  • Lack of frequency
  • Lack of Volume
  • Lack of bicep involvement
  • Poopoo lower body programming
  • No periodization
  • Boring start

In my opinion, Ivysaurs workout routine also suffers from few drawbacks:

  1. COMPLEXITY due to “periodization” introduced by Ivysaur. This resulted in 6 different workouts that spread over 2 weeks. It will be hard to remember what exercises and how many sets and reps of each exercise you have to do. And on top of that, if you want to progress, keeping track of all weights you performed last week is impossible. You can try writing down all this workout in a notebook but I am sure you will have hard time flipping through it trying to find last time you performed the exercise.
  2. OVER-WHELMING. Even though SS and SL have slow boring start for new lifters, it is safe route to adopt into lifting lifestyle. If a beginner starts with Ivysaur, they may get overwhelmed with doing too much and trying to keep track of too much information.

But you are in luck. Just to deal with these problems, we built GYMINUTES. You can create Ivysaur’s workout in less than 3 minutes and never worry about flipping through your fitness notebook ever or getting over-whelmed with all the data. If you area begineer who is starting on fitness journey, use GYMINUTES to do heavy lifting of tracking workouts while you focus on lifting heavy weights.


After dissecting all 3 workouts in great detail there is one thing we can say for sure. Ivysaur workout is an enhanced strength training routine thats worth giving a try. Specially for a beginner lifter who is just starting into fitness, this workout is something worth exploring.

Does this mean that Starting Strength and StrongLift 5×5 are not good workouts?

Of-course not. They are great workouts. People ranging from beginner to expert have performed them and got results. Moreover, all these workouts are there to give you direction and something to start with. For an beginner who still hasn’t mastered the proper form of major lifts, Starting Strength is a great workout. The low reps and sets allows one to focus on the form and get good at it. Similarly StrongLift is a great program if you are trying to get good at major lifts and don’t necessarily care about biceps and other secondary muscles. Both Starting Strength and StrongLift were made for people to get strong and not aesthetically jacked.

Ivysaur on the other hand provide a good mix for both Strength and Aesthetic while still being lob sided towards strength.


There is no shortage of success stories of people who have tried Starting Strength and StrongLift. However, apart from Ivysaur himself, we are yet to see other folks who have got amazing results before we declare Ivysaur’s 4-4-8 as a worthy contender for beginner strength training workout. Once we track Ivysaur’s workout with GYMINUTES, we would then be able to analyze this workout in great detail.

So if anyone out there wants to volunteer to be part of Ivysaur’s 4-4-8 workout trial, please follow these instructions

  1. Download the GYMINUTES app,
  2. Create Ivysaur 4-4-8 workout
  3. Message us at “” and we can make you part of blind workout trial.

Once we have some results, we will share with everyone on this blog.


The above 3 workouts were created on GYMINUTES app, available to download for iPhones free of charge. Android is coming soon. If you like to know more about the app, please visit

If you have any questions, please email us at gyminutes at. or leave a comment below.