Strength Standards: Are You Strong Enough?

I’ve always been a fan of standards when it comes to training.

I love them as a motivational tool. They give you a goal, something to shoot for. It almost adds a bit of a competitive element to training and I consider that a bit of a psychological advantage.

In this article, I’m going to answer the following

  • What strength actually is
  • What my strength standards are
  • Why strength standards aren’t an exact measure
  • Can you get too strong
  • Why symmetry in strength matters

What Is Strength?

Simply put, strength is the ability to produce force in a movement pattern.

I like to measure strength in the essential movement patterns of squatting, hinging, pushing and pulling.

For more on movement patterns, check out this article.

Strength is NOT performance of a specific lift or exercise.

You don’t HAVE to back squat to be strong at the squat pattern.  You can get strong in the squat pattern by training the front squat, Zercher squat, kettlebell front squat, etc.

You don’t HAVE to bench press to be strong at the pushing pattern.  You could get strong at pushing by training dumbbell bench, weighted push-ups, etc.

Strength is also the foundation for power. The ability to produce force (strength) is a precursor to the ability to produce force quickly(power).

Strength Before Power

Strength Standards

My strength standards are based off a few things

  • The strength standards established by veteran coaches
  • Powerlifting strength standards and data collected over the years on these lifts
  • My experiences in my own training and others I have trained

Male and Female Strength Standards

To use the relative bodyweight standards, all you need to do is multiply your current weight by the percentage listed.

Example: 200 pounds (current weight) * 150%  (strong back squat percentage) = 300 pound back squat

This means, at a bodyweight of 200 pounds, a 300 pound back squat would put you in the strong category.

An important note, the pull-up measurements would include your bodyweight.

Strength Standards Aren’t EXACT

Just like any lifting standard that I’m aware of, these are estimates at best.

If you are tall or weigh more than the average male/female, these standards may be a bit high. If you are small or weigh less than the average male/female, these standards may be a bit high.

Your anatomical makeup will matter as well. Different lengths of joints can give you a mechanical advantage or disadvantage to performing some of these lifts.

You’ll also find others who define their standards entirely different than mine. No biggie! There is no “right” answer here.

Strength Standards in Other Lifts

As I mentioned before, strength isn’t tied to a certain lift.  You can get strong in the essential patterns using any number of lifts.

Maybe you prefer to do weighted pushups or dumbbell bench instead of bench.  No problem.

You can come up to with a standard for any lifts by establishing a correlation to the lifts in the chart above.

For example. If you wanted to find a standard for dumbbell benching, you just need to determine the percentage difference between that lift and your bench press.

If your max bench is 100 pounds and your max dumbbell bench is 50 pounds, this would come out to about 50%.

Just take that 50% and apply it to the percentages above. 110% x 50 = 55%

The “Strong” standard in the dumbbell bench would be 55%.

Can You Be Too Strong?

Not really.

But, once a certain level of strength is reached, there is diminishing returns. Meaning, the effort it takes to obtain higher levels doesn’t justify the benefit it provides.

For example, if you squat 2x your bodyweight, adding another 10 pounds to that lift may take months of work, but would only improve your performance slightly or maybe not at all.

When you reach this point in your training, Dan John would say “strength is not your issue”. It may make more sense to focus on other areas of training, such as power or endurance.

I usually draw the line when an individual surpasses the “very strong” standards.

Obviously, there are exceptions to this, particularly if you are pursuing high-level athletic goals.

Symmetry In Strength

For performance and durability reasons, symmetry in strength matters. You don’t want to be exceptionally strong in one pattern and weak in another.

This is of particular importance when we look at posterior chain (back side) vs anterior chain (front side) exercises and upper vs lower exercises,

It’s not ideal to have:

  • High levels of strength in your squatting pattern (back squat, front squat), but low levels in the hinge pattern (deadlift). This would represent an imbalance between posterior and anterior.
  • High levels of strength in your pushing pattern (bench), but low levels in your pulling pattern (pull up).
  • High levels of strength in your upper body patterns (pushing and pulling), but low levels in your lower body patterns (hinging, squatting)

The inverse of these statements may not be true.

I rarely see a case of someone getting too dominant in posterior chain exercises (hinging, pulling) or lower body exercises (squats, deadlifts).Usually, if you have a strong posterior chain, your anterior will be just fine and if you have a strong lower body, your upper will be fine.  I’d be interested to hear of a situation where this wasn’t the case?

Conclusion

Big takeaways from this article are

  • Strength is the ability to produce force. It is the foundation of power
  • Strength standards are best measured in the primary pattern of squatting, hinging, pushing and pulling
  • Strength standards aren’t a precise tool. They can vary based on height, weight, etc
  • Strength standards can be converted to other lifts that are of a similar nature. They don’t have to be the big power lifts.
  • You can never be too strong, but there is a point of diminishing returns in strength training. This is very goal dependent.