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September 10, 2021 9 min read

Strength standards are simply strength benchmarks for different exercises based on your body weight and sex. As you learn more about strength standards, you will find them to be useful ways of setting strength goals and determining what lifts you should be working on the most.

First, watch this helpful video to get a good overview of what strength standards are all about.

Thinking About Your Strength Goals

Strength standards can certainly be useful ways to set strength goals and to help you decide what lifts to work on the most, but they can easily overestimate or underestimate how much you should be able to lift.

When setting your strength goals, try to move up to the next category on the strength standards list by getting stronger or maintaining your strength while also  losing some body fat.

The first step of long-term planning is deciding what you are aiming for. When it comes to lifting, that means having strength standards. These standards are often generated based on what other lifters with similar characteristics can achieve.

Here are a few good reasons to compare your performance with similar lifters:

  • It can be a good way to set your own specific benchmarks and goals.
  • It can help you determine your strongest and weakest exercises.
  • It helps measure your overall progress since you started lifting weights.

This is where objective strength standards can be helpful. Strength standards are great starting places to help you set goals and focus on weaknesses, but try not to get too fixated on them. It is enough to know about strength standards and how they are calculated, the best strength standards for men and women, how to use strength standards to set realistic and challenging goals, and how to get as strong as you can.

Common Strength Standards

Originally, strength standards were created by powerlifting organizations to rank their competitors. 

Powerlifting is a sport based on getting as strong as possible on exercises like the squat, bench, and deadlift, which are considered some of the best indicators of your whole-body strength.

a powerlifter getting ready to squat

Other exercises like dumbbells, the military press, chin-up, and barbell rows might not be used in powerlifting, but strength standards have also been based on those exercises. A common strength standard for the pullup and chinup is 10 x body weight, which means you should try to do 10 reps of your own body weight.

You can also find strength standards for bodybuilding exercises like the barbell curl or leg press. You can usually get a good idea of your whole-body strength by looking at your bodyweight squat, bench press, and deadlift. As mentioned above, if you are strong on these three lifts, your level of strength will probably be high for most lifts.

Powerlifting strength standards are entirely based on data from those extreme lifters whose only goal is to back squat, bench press, and do deadlifting as much as possible. Many of those types of lifters will be Olympic athletes who do Crossfit and who might be genetically gifted for strength sports, and many of them might also be using steroids or other drugs to skew their numbers unrealistically.

If you want to be healthy and  avoid pain as much as possible, it is better to use the strength standards that are based on data from lifters in the general population who are the most like you. Most strength standards for powerlifters are unrealistically high, so don’t take those standards and think that you should be meeting them.

The Best Strength Standards for Every Weightlifter

There are three kinds of strength standards that you can follow: 

  • Tim Henriques’ strength standards (based on multiples of your body weight). 
  • Mark Rippetoe’s strength standards (these classify lifters into five categories ranging from weakest to strongest).
  • Powerlifting strength standards (these are generally much too high for recreational weightlifters).

Tim Henriques’ Strength Standards

Tim Henriques is a powerlifter and powerlifting coach who has worked with thousands of athletes and coaches all over the world. He is also a writer and the author of  All About Powerlifting, one of the best books on this topic.nHe came up with these strength standards (decent, good, and great) as simple targets for training.

Decent is the level you should be able to achieve after around 6 to 12 months of consistent strength training. Good is the level you should be able to achieve after around 1 to 3 years of consistent strength training. Great is the level you may be able to achieve after 5 to 10 or more years of consistent strength training.

Mark Rippetoe’s Strength Standards

Mark Rippetoe is a strength coach and writer, and as the author of  Practical Programming for Strength Training, he has worked with professional weightlifters and other athletes to create realistic strength standards based on the performance of natural, recreational weightlifters.

These standards have proven to be very accurate for many people. They include five categories instead of the three in Henriques’ strength standards, which means you have more opportunities to go up to the next level. 

In other words, it might take several years to go from a Good to a Great lifter when you are following Henriques’ system, but it might only take 6 to 12 months to go from a Cat lll to Cat lV lifter when you are following Rippetoe’s system.

Rippetoe divides weightlifters into five categories as follows:

  • Cat l = Beginner Level (0 to 6 months of weightlifting experience)
  • Cat ll = Novice Level (6 to 12 months of weightlifting experience)
  • Cat lll = Intermediate Level (1 to 2 years of weightlifting experience)
  • Cat lV = Advanced Level (3 to 4 years of weightlifting experience)
  • Cat V = Elite Level (5+ years of experience with heavy weights)

Rippetoe’s strength standards are listed in table form, which shows you exactly how heavy your weights should be based on your body weight and sex. For instance, if you are a 182-pound adult man who’s been lifting for six months, you can look at the table and know you should be able to bench press at least 130 pounds.

One of the problems with this system is that it only provides standards for the military press, bench press, squat, and deadlift, whereas Henriques’ system provides standards for those exercises as well as eight others.

Why Strength Standards Can Be Misleading

In general, the more muscle you have, the more you should be able to lift. People with more muscle generally weigh more, and that is why strength standards are higher or lower for heavier and lighter people, respectively. The problem is that individuals don’t often have the general characteristics. There are two main variables that can affect your estimates: your anatomy and your age. Let’s look at each of these.

How Your Anatomy Affects Your Strength

Some anatomical features make it easier or harder to get stronger on certain exercises, regardless of your body weight. An example is where your tendons attach to your bones. Your tendons link your muscles to your bones, and where they attach can increase or decrease the amount of weight you can lift.  For example, if your biceps tendon attaches a few millimeters further away, this can improve the leverage of your biceps leverage, which might allow you to lift more weight.

If it attaches a few millimeters closer to your elbow, though, this can decrease the leverage of the biceps, which can reduce the amount of weight you can lift. This is true regardless of how much muscle you have. One person might be weaker than another despite being more “built” due to having less ideal tendon attachments. The effects can be huge, too. Thanks to these small anatomical differences, one person could lift 25% more than another even with the same amount of muscle mass.

Another key anatomical feature that can affect your strength is your skeletal proportions. We all have the same muscles and bones in our bodies in the same general areas, but there can be differences in how long or short our bones are and where our tendons attach to them. These differences tend to be small, only a few millimeters, but that can translate into noticeable differences in strength. Your bones function as levers, and how long or short those levers are can drastically affect how much you can lift.

How Your Age Affects Your Strength

The second problem with strength standards is that most of them don’t take age into account. Logically, someone who’s in their 20’s is going to be able to lift more than someone in their 60’s. The idea that you can’t gain strength or muscle past a certain age is wrong, but it does get harder, and you will begin to lose strength and muscle mass past a certain age as well.

Most people can keep getting stronger up until about 40. After that, you’re doing well to maintain your strength, much less set new personal records. This natural decline in strength is caused by a number of physiological changes, and you can minimize it by avoiding injuries, eating a healthy diet, and training intelligently, but your strength will drop as you get older regardless of how much muscle you have.

So, if you are over 40 and your numbers are not as good as you like, that might be the reason why. If you are a lot younger, you have plenty of time to get stronger. With those two things in mind, let’s look at how to use strength standards to set weightlifting goals.

How to Set Strength Goals in Three Simple Steps

At this point, you might be ready to start using strength standards to set goals. The strength standards described at the beginning of this article, and the ones you are going to use to set your strength goals, are adapted from the ones developed by Dr. Lon Kilgore and introduced by Mark Rippetoe.

Together, these two have coached, spoken to, and analyzed more data from lifters than just about anyone else on the planet, which is why these strength standards are considered some of the best around. Instead of using data from powerlifters, they used data from recreational lifters. 

Let’s get into how to set strength goals using strength standards. You first need to estimate your one-rep maxes for the squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press.

Step #1: Estimate Your One Rep Maxes

Strength standards are usually based on your one rep maxes, which is the maximum amount of weight you can lift for a single repetition. This only counts if you have a full range of motion with the proper form for any given exercise.

If you do not know your true one rep max off hand or haven’t tested it in the past 12 weeks, use a one rep max calculator to estimate your numbers based on how many reps you can get with a lighter weight. Then you can also estimate your numbers for your squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press.

Step #2: Compare Your One Rep Maxes to the Strength Standards

First, decide whether you’re going to use Tim Henriques’ strength standards or Mark Rippetoe’s. Be sure you use the strength standards for your sex. If you are a man, use strength standards for men. If you are a woman, use strength standards for women.

man getting ready to deadlift

The reason there are different tables for men and women is that men are more muscular and stronger than women on average (they have higher relative strength), and that’s why there are different standards. The point of the standards is to find out what you need to work on the most and to set reasonable goals for your future progress.

Step #3: Set Reasonable, Challenging Strength Goals

Now it is time to decide what you want to improve. There are a few options, but the simplest is to focus on whatever you are worst at. You should also consider what parts of your physique you want to improve the most. Because strength and size are closely correlated, the muscle groups most involved in whatever lift you focus on will generally grow the most.

For example, if your bench press is your best lift according to the strength standards, but you still want your chest to grow more than your legs, back, or shoulders, then you might want to work on improving your bench press instead of your squat, deadlift, or overhead press.

How to Get Stronger

Strength standards are strength benchmarks for different exercises based on your body weight and sex. Although your first priority when you are weight training should always be to get stronger, strength standards help you decide what to focus on the most. You can also boost your rankings as a lifter by gaining a small amount of strength while losing body fat and dropping into the next weight class.

Always remember that strength standards can misrepresent your strength if you don’t take into account your anatomy or age. You can find many different strength standards online, but many of them are either based on self-reported data from corrupt and inaccurate weightlifters or powerlifting records.

The Bottom Line on Strength Standards

A good idea is to simply stick with the strength standards created by Tim Henriques or Mark Rippetoe. When you are trying to decide what exercise you want to improve the most, focus on whatever exercise is your weakest. Focus on whatever exercise trains the muscle group you want to grow the most. If you have enough time, try to get stronger on all of your exercises if you can.

Overall, what really matters is your general progress over time. Do you feel like you are stronger this month than last month? Are you stronger this year than you were last year? If so, you are following a suitable training program. If not, you need to make a few changes and possibly incorporate  some type of supplements into your training program.