Being stronger reduces your injury risk. And what's the best way to develop maximal strength? Heavy, relatively stable, full-body lifting.

There's just one problem: modern living. Today, most of us use the gym to offset an otherwise sedentary lifestyle. Seated jobs and a lack of varied movement is the norm. The gym is our only real activity.

In this common scenario, focusing only on the big lifts may be increasing our injury risk. It's a weird paradox given that big lifts make us stronger and strength decreases injury.

So why does this happen? Because our "deeper" stabilizer muscles are underdeveloped. You can get very strong on the big lifts, yet still be woefully unstable and prone to injury.

Fortunately, there's an easy way to tell if you're at risk. For every big lift there's a strength-stability test that will give you some valuable insights.

1 – Squat

Here are the common strength standards for the barbell back squat:

  • Advanced men: Can squat twice their bodyweight
  • Advanced women: Can squat one and a half times their bodyweight
  • Intermediate men: Can squat one and a half times their bodyweight
  • Intermediate women: Can squat their bodyweight

If you stand on one leg though, what can you do?

This is important because life doesn't happen symmetrically. When you move on one leg, your core and hip musculature has to be able to stabilize your pelvis and spine so you can actually use your leg strength.

This is how your body works in real life. If you have a massive barbell squat and can't single-leg squat, then you're at risk of hurting yourself. Here's the test:

Strength-Stability Test: Skater Squat

Based on the above strength standards for the barbell squat, here's what you should be able to do on the skater squat:

  • Advanced men: 20 reps with bodyweight, each leg
  • Advanced women: 10 reps with bodyweight, each leg
  • Intermediate men: 10 reps with bodyweight, each leg
  • Intermediate women: 5 reps with bodyweight, each leg

What if your single-leg squat doesn't match up to your barbell squat number? Don't stop focusing on your barbell strength. If you want to be strong, then get strong, but address the deficit in your assistance work.

If skater squats are initially too hard, follow the progression of split squats (static lunge), Bulgarian split squats, and finally skater squats in your assistance work. Get your single-leg strength up alongside your barbell strength and you'll be safer and stronger in the long term.

2 – Deadlift

The generally accepted strength standards:

  • Advanced men: Can deadlift two and a half times their bodyweight
  • Advanced women: Can deadlift twice their bodyweight
  • Intermediate men: Can deadlift twice their bodyweight
  • Intermediate women: Can deadlift one and a half times their bodyweight

Strength-Stability Test: Single-Leg Deadlift

  • Advanced men: 1 rep with their bodyweight on the bar, each leg
  • Advanced women: 1 rep with two-thirds of their bodyweight on the bar, each leg
  • Intermediate men: 1 rep with two-thirds of their bodyweight on the bar, each leg
  • Intermediate women: 1 rep with half of their bodyweight on the bar, each leg

If you can't hit these numbers because of balance and recruitment issues, then fix it. Add single-leg deadlifts to your assistance work. Do them barefoot and reap the benefits of the improved recruitment, improved balance, and improved stability.

3 – Bench Press

The strength standards:

  • Advanced men: Can bench press one and a half times their bodyweight
  • Advanced women: Can bench press their bodyweight
  • Intermediate men: Can bench press one and a quarter of their bodyweight
  • Intermediate women: Can bench press three-fourths of their bodyweight

Strength-Stability Test: Push-Up

The bench press overdevelops the prime movers relative to the scapula stabilizers and full-body stabilizers. This is a recipe for injury. The push-up, on the other hand, challenges the scapula and other stabilizers, as well as your big pressing muscles.

If you're a push-up machine, that'll go a long way to balancing out the risk from bench-press related muscle imbalances.

  • Advanced men: 50 push-ups in a single set
  • Advanced women: 25 push-ups in a single set
  • Intermediate men: 30 push-ups in a single set
  • Intermediate women: 15 push-ups in a single set

If you can't hit these numbers, you're either too fat or too unstable: both are injury risks that need to be addressed.

I'm not necessarily suggesting you should prioritize push-ups over bench press. But if you suck at push-ups compared to bench pressing, do push-ups in your assistance work instead of things like machine work.

4 – Seated Overhead Barbell Press

Here are the usual standards:

  • Advanced men: One and one fourth their bodyweight
  • Advanced women: Three fourths their bodyweight
  • Intermediate men: Their bodyweight
  • Intermediate women: Half their bodyweight

Strength-Stability Test: Standing Single-Arm Dumbbell Press

  • Advanced men: Half their bodyweight
  • Advanced women: A third of their bodyweight
  • Intermediate men: A third of their bodyweight
  • Intermediate women: A quarter of their bodyweight

If your standing single-arm pressing is out of sync with your seated barbell press, then your core stability or your shoulder stability (or both) are letting you down. That's risky. Just make sure you're super-strict with the single-arm press. Any leg drive to get it moving will be very misleading.

If your single-arm press lags far behind your seated strict press, prioritize that movement in your overhead assistance work.

One Caveat

If you're massively strong through the prime movers (when you're balanced and static), but you're less stable and strong with single-limb and bodyweight exercises, you're asking for an injury in the real world.

There's a caveat to this though. When it comes to fitness, it's possible for the pendulum to swing too far. If you test these exercises and find your that stability is lagging, don't stop your regular training. Don't completely replace your big lifts with these counterparts, just add them to your assistance work.

What If I'm Not Intermediate-Level Strong?

If you haven't hit the barbell numbers talked about here for an intermediate, you're either too fat or too weak and need to prioritize strength. By all means, do the single-limb exercises and push-ups in your assistance work to avoid developing imbalances, but make sure you focus on getting stronger overall too.

Related:  4 Tests Every Lifter Should Be Able to Pass

Related:  Test Your Relative Strength in 20 Seconds