Standards of Strength

People often wonder how they stack up against others in the gym. They want to know what lifts are good, if they have weaknesses or not, and if so where they are. So I thought it might be useful to compile some standards of strength to serve as a reference point.

Whenever any sort of standards are put forth, there will invariably be some disagreement about them. I'm fine with that. Normally the disagreement will be on both ends. Some people reading this will look at the standards I'm about to present and say they're too low. We tend to define strong as being able to lift a little more than we can currently lift. While that might help motivation, if you're already stronger than .01% of the population then you are strong and you might need to compare yourself to a different set of standards.

On the flip side, some people might look at this chart and feel the standards are too high and out of reach. I don't believe they are, assuming you're a healthy, uninjured adult. I don't know what more to tell you. If I thought they were too high I'd lower them.

If you really end up disagreeing with these standards, then I'd suggest you put together your own set of standards, either for private or public use. It's a good learning experience and will serve as a benchmark for your own performance, if nothing else.

How did I come up with these standards? Honestly, I just thought about them and tried to come up with what felt right. It wasn't the result of a specific scientific study but simply the end result of literally tens of thousands of hours spent in a variety of fitness type settings: commercial gyms, private training studios, powerlifting competitions, recreation centers, athletic training facilities, etc.

If you wish to dismiss this simply as one man's opinion then you may, but the students and clients I've shared this with in the past have often commented that the following classifications have helped push them to achieve a greater level of fitness. I hope it does the same for you.

Decent, Good, Great

On the following chart I've broken down the levels into three categories: decent, good, and great. I realize those terms aren't purely objective but they seem to fit the amounts well. Let's take a closer look at each.

Decent

Decent is another way of saying "not bad." I define a decent level of strength as meaning that the person probably works out to achieve that level of strength, but some naturally stronger people will be able to achieve that level with no training. A person is strong enough so that their strength doesn't limit them in their everyday life.

Decent wouldn't be considered "strong" in hardly any strength training circles. I believe that almost all people can achieve the decent level of strength through training. My guess is that most people would achieve this level after 6-12 months of training. Some would achieve it earlier, and it might take a select few several years or more to achieve.

The decent level of strength is a good milestone to shoot for as a beginner. I'd also classify failure to lift 50% of the decent level of strength as being weak in that exercise.

Good

Good is the category above decent. I define a good level of strength as meaning that almost all people need to work out to achieve that level of strength; very few people are that strong without any formal training.

Reaching that level, most regular people would begin to classify that lift as "strong." Most people can achieve the good level of strength with hard training. It may only take a year for some and ten years for others, but most people can do it.

The good level of strength is a good goal for most intermediate level lifters to aim for.

Great

Great is the final and highest category of strength on this standard. The word "great" is used as a comparison to average people; it is not a comparison to other athletes. So while I classify someone who has a 455 squat as having a great squat, that doesn't mean they're a great powerlifter, just that they're lifting much more weight than the normal person.

Achieving the great level would put your strength above 99% of the rest of the general population. I don't believe that all people are capable of achieving the great level of strength, but the only way to find out is to work hard toward that goal. Almost no one is capable of the great level of strength without significant formal training.

If you find yourself lifting above the great level of strength, first, congratulations! Second, if you wish to continue to make comparisons then you need to seek out state, national, and world records for powerlifting in the big three, gymnastics guidelines, and records for bodyweight exercises. Then see if you can find out what the strongest bodybuilders and strength athletes are doing on the other exercises as a comparison. In essence, this chart is no longer for you.

Strength Standard Chart

  Male Female
Exercise Decent Good Great Decent Good Great
Squat 315 or 1.5 x BW 405 or 2 x BW 455 or 2.5 x BW 95 or .75 x BW 155 or 1.25 x BW 205 or 2 x BW
Bench Press 225 or 1.25 x BW 315 or 1.5 x BW 365 or 2 x BW 65 or .5 x BW 105 or .75 x BW 135 or 1 x BW
Deadlift 315 or 1.5 x BW 405 or 2 x BW 495 or 2.75 x BW 115 or 1 x BW 185 or 1.5 x BW 225 or 2 x BW
Standing Military Press 105 165 225 45 65 95
Leg Press 410 720 1000 180 360 450
45 1/4 Bent Over Row 225 275 315 65 105 135
Push-ups 30 60 90 5 25 50
Dips 20 40 60 1 15 30
Pull-ups 10 20 30 1 5 12
EZ Bicep Curl 80 135 180 40 60 80
Skull Crusher 70 115 150 35 55 75
Elbow Plank 1:30 3:00 5:00 1:30 3:00 5:00

Note: All lifts are done with free weights, good form, no supportive gear other than a belt, and drug free. They are all for a one-rep max unless otherwise noted, and the weight of the bar is included in all of the exercises when applicable. If both a weight and a bodyweight level are given, you may use whichever number is lighter for you.

A brief explanation of the exercises:

Squat: Basically a powerlifting squat; the top of the thigh should be parallel to the ground or below.

Bench Press: The bar must touch the chest (pause isn't necessary); butt must stay on the bench.

Deadlift: Any form is acceptable; no straps allowed.

Standing Military Press: Standing with a barbell, a strict press from the front above the head. No kick or push press is allowed. Feet may be staggered or symmetrical.

Leg Press: The leg press I had in mind is the Cybex plate loaded leg press, but most any will do. Bring the knees to the chest or until the femur is parallel with the platform. ROM (range of motion) is a common problem.

451/4 Bent Over Row: Take a barbell with any grip, bend over 45 degrees, and row it to your waistline. Some slight, but not excessive, kick with the legs is okay.

Push-ups: Military style (on the toes) for both men and women. No specific time limit but you can only rest in the up position, maintaining push-up position, for a max of 10 seconds or so. Chest should either touch the ground or come within a fist's distance from it. ROM is a common problem with this one, too.

Dips: Lower yourself until the humerus is parallel with the ground, push back up to full or near full extension. Same form for men and women.

Dip

Pull-ups: Pull-ups are pronated grip (overhand) only for men. Women may do pull-ups or chin-ups (supinated). Start with a full or near full extension of the arms; chin must go above the bar for it to count. A slight kip (body English) is okay but not excessive. Resting in the bottom position while still supporting your weight is permitted.

EZ-Bar Curl: Bring the bar to the chin with minimal swing in the body. A barbell may used if preferred.

Skull Crusher: Lying triceps extension. Lower the bar to the hairline, then extend the arms straight, using minimal movement of the humerus to cheat. Use an EZ-bar (most weigh 15 or 20 pounds, not 25 or 35 as often thought. Weigh yours if you want to be sure).

Elbow Plank: The yoga position, a test of core strength and endurance. Hold yourself on your forearms and toes for the time listed with no movement. This is an isometric exercise.

Elbow Plank

Note: Don't test these all in one day. Test them when you're fresh and feeling good.

I chose these exercises because they're very common and already somewhat standard. This is a strength assessment so there's no cardio, flexibility, or other component of fitness tested. I didn't include the Olympic lifts because quite frankly I'm not as familiar with those lifts and I'm sure others are more qualified to give guidelines for those exercises.

Where Do You Stand?

I hope after looking at this chart you have an idea of where you are strength-wise. I also hope that this chart is able to motivate you to push yourself to a level beyond what you've previously reached.

If you're trying to "make the gym your sport," see if you can get every lift up to the decent level, then the good level, and then finally the great level. If you can do that, your fitness level will be truly high. Remember, as your performance changes so too does your physique!