Strength Standards Explained

“Hey dude, what do you bench?”

Have you ever encountered this question before? Or some variation of it (“Hey girl what can you deadlift?). People in the gym are constantly trying to beat their best, and ideally beat everyone around them! But is it fair to compare a 60kg guy and a 120kg guy when it comes to squats? Obviously not, as the heavier person will clearly have an advantage.

Because of this, strength standards exist. This is a way of establishing how well you are doing based on your weight and gender. Think of it like a golfing handicap which allows people of different abilities to compete against each other. A 70kg person who can deadlift 150kg is lifting twice their bodyweight while a 100kg person who is deadlifting 160kg is only lifting 1.6 times their bodyweight.

Strength Standards Explained

Strength Standards have been worked out using data from the last seventy years, mostly from weightlifting and powerlifting competitions. There is now a huge dataset to use, which has helped give a realistic review of where you are based on your weight and gender. While this is great, it could definitely benefit from being more specific. Adding in height, body fat percentage, age, and other factors would make the data more effective. However, it is very difficult to accurately ascertain body fat percentage anyway, so it is probably fine as it is. There are five main categories, which are:
  • Beginner/Untrained – If you only just entered a gym for the first time today then the following scores should be within your capabilities
  • Novice – Once you have been training for a few months you are considered a novice; you should be aiming for scores within this range
  • Intermediate – People who have been training for two or more years can consider themselves intermediate and should be aiming for these scores
  • Advanced – People who have been training for a very long time should be aiming for advanced scores
  • Elite – Are you an athlete? Then this is what you should be aiming for

Of course, it is not as straightforward as that. Some people who are naturally strong may find that they are getting advanced scores after just a few months of training. While people who have been training for decades may still struggle to get past novice scores. These strength standards should be seen as a target rather than a definitive score.

One criticism that is often aimed at strength standards is that it is not representative of the majority of the population but rather aimed at the top 10% of lifters (and we’re not just saying that after calculating our scores). 

If you picked a random gym and forced all members who had been lifting for five years to perform a deadlift almost zero of them would score anywhere near these targets. However, a powerlifting group would likely smash it.

Decide whether you want to train for strength before worrying too much about strength standards. If you are looking to lose some body fat and maybe get a six pack, then the strength standards are not for you.

However, if you are looking to get as strong as you can (and aesthetics is not a particularly important factor) then the strength standards is a great way of testing yourself and comparing your scores to other people around the world.

If you go onto the Strength Level website, you can compare your bench press with the scores of over 9.8 million people [1]. Some of the exercises that are available for testing are:

  • Bench Press
  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Front Squat
  • Military Press
  • Shoulder Press

But these are just some of the main lifts, you can also get strength standards for tricep rope pushdowns, seated leg curls, pull ups and calf raise. Not all of these are that relevant though, a maximal Pec Dec Fly for example is pretty useless information as you would never really need to perform a 1 rep max on this exercise.

That’s the important thing to remember when it comes to strengths standards, unless you are training for a competition these scores really shouldn’t influence your life too much. Even if you do pay attention, the three big lifts are by far the most important (the deadlift, the back squat, and the barbell bench press) as they are used in powerlifting. Alternatively, if you are into Olympic Weightlifting you may want to compare Snatches, Clean & Jerks etc.

Try not to train for your 1 rep max too often either, while it can be useful for strength standards and for calculating submaximal lift targets the actual process of testing for a 1 rep max can increase your risk of injury (either through muscular injury or from making a mistake). Once every 12 weeks should be more than accurate and would tie in nicely to most strength training programs.

There you have it. These are your strength standards explained. Check out strengthlevel.com or similar websites and find out where your best lifts rank among fellow lifters. If you’re in the elite then enjoy the adoration of your peers (well that’s not too likely, it is the internet after all), if you’re in the beginner section then you can use it for motivation to increase your lifts sharpish. But don’t obsess over your score, life’s too short for that.

Written by Mark Greene

Mark Greene is writer and life coach dedicated to helping men to perform at peak level. He shares dating advice, style tips and strategies for building wealth and success.