What is a good strength level?
The concept of ‘strength’ can be quite subjective.
Considering someone to be strong can often depend on your own strength. For example to a person who has never touched a weight in their lives picking up 100kgs may seem impressive, but to an experienced lifter it could be barely a warm up.
Similarly you might think that squatting 160kgs after a few years of training is pretty strong, but in the elite lifting world there are people overhead pressing that kind of weight.
Evidently people also come in all shapes and sizes- a big person is likely to be able to lift more, or naturally have more strength just from having to carry around a larger bulk all the time.
So how can you judge whether you are strong?
Just like in boxing with different weight classes, generally when people talk about strength it is about pound-for-pound strength, or the amount that person can lift relative to their bodyweight. This helps create an even playing field in terms of benchmarking your progress against others- instead of numbers you use percentage of your bodyweight.
From my own experience, having trained in a lot of different gyms and from having trained with others of a similar level the table below is what I believe to be generally achievable and realistic average, good and excellent levels of strength in the big three lifts of bench press, squat and deadlift, for men for a 1 repetition max.
Bear in mind these ratios are for natural, non-professional lifters.
|Benchpress||1.0 x bodyweight||1.25 x bodyweight||1.5 x bodyweight|
|Squat||1.5 x bodyweight||1.75 x bodyweight||2.0 x bodyweight|
|Deadlift||1.75 x bodyweight||2.0 x bodyweight||2.5 x bodyweight|
So for a man of average weight of 75 kgs, excellent lifts would be
Benchpress: 112.5 kgs
Squat: 150 kgs
Deadlift: 187.5 kgs
As you read this you probably fall into a few different camps. If you have been training for a short time hopefully you’ll be thinking, “those seem quite impressive but attainable,”. Alternatively you may be thinking, “really?? There’s no way I could get those numbers!”.
If you are in this latter category please believe me that the excellent numbers are definitely possible, although as an average natural trainee to get there will take quite a few years of dedicated training.
It may also depend on your individual genetics, as it is possible to be ‘built’ for certain exercises that you will feel naturally good at.
For example if you have short legs and long arms you will likely find the deadlift a good lift for you; these characteristics mean the bar has less distance to travel and you probably have better leverages.
Related article: Why your goal should be strength, not muscle
At the other extreme when you see this table you’ll be thinking, “those numbers are nothing! There are loads of people who can benchpress 140 kgs! I was squatting 180 kgs after 2 months of lifting!” and so on.
Frankly a few years ago I would have had a similar reaction. I would have thought those ratios a bit on the low side to be considered excellent.
I mean, you read any gym-related forum these days and they are full of 16 year old genetic freaks who walk into a gym and start throwing around 180 kg benchpresses and 600 lbs deadlifts.
Then you go on YouTube and watch power lifitng guys doing 1000 lbs squats and 800 lbs deadlifts. Next thing you know you are reading a media article about how Hugh Jackman was throwing up 140kgs on the bench in preparation for Wolverine.
False expectations, as usual
As I keep stressing the fitness world is increasingly a façade.
It is not realistic for those who are natural.
As I have covered in my post on the prevalence of PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs) you shouldn’t be surprised at how widespread they are. 99 % of people who are paid to look good for a living (i.e. fitness models, bodybuilders, movie star action men) are ‘juicing’ i.e. on steroids whilst claiming they are just eating chicken breast 5 times a day and getting more sleep.
Those internet warriors on the forums are plain lying, or seriously deluded; note how most don’t post videos of their lifts or photos of their physiques.
Those powerlifters are on cocktails of PEDs to lift that big. Movie stars are taking PEDs to get into superhuman shape. I mean, take Wolverine or Hercules- in the books these guys are superheros or demi-gods. So how can a human being look like them just by eating chicken and rice? People won’t pay to watch an average sized guy portraying a super being, they want to be awestruck by the physiques and the physiques help them believe in and enjoy the story.
Drugs are a part of society
Let’s be real, in today’s society people will without hesitation take pills for headaches, pills for indigestion, drink coffee to boost their alertness or drink alcohol to get them in the mood to party. Not to mention the recreational drugs that are in widespread use.
It is a drug culture. Is it really that hard to believe that sportsmen and movie stars making millions are not willing to take substances to boost their performance or looks?
In reality if you meet a guy on the street who can legitimately hit the excellent ratios outlined above they will without a doubt have a well-built physique.
Not out of this world, but impressive. I’m not trying to ruin your expectations or set your sights low but I think a reality check is needed in counter to the Men’s Health articles claiming you can add 10% to your bench press in 3 weeks by following Daniel Craig’s routine for Casino Royale.
I’m not actually against PED use: I would never do them because the side effects are in my opinion not worth it but it is a personal choice.
And for a movie star making $20 million a film I can totally see why you would make that choice. But the damage occurs when the industry wants you to believe you can achieve the same results just eating rice and taking protein shakes, so that you buy more products and buy more into the idea of ‘anything is possible’. Sorry, but limits are a law of nature.
Related article: How to look like Hercules?
It is this skewed perspective that I want to try and make clear; know what is realistic and achievable as a natural and be able to set yourself achievable targets.
Then once you hit them you can be satisfied that in reality you have achieved a great level of strength, whilst in the knowledge that as a natural you are going to be able to keep that strength and let it contribute to a healthy life.
Lastly, don’t obssess over strength levels.
For one, gym strength doesn’t necessarily translate to real-world strength.
Two it is always better to have healthy joints and good form that keep you healthy and training for longer.
Remember training is a long journey. If you stick at it and train right you’ll progress and get stronger in due course. Train for yourself and get to know your own limits and your own body and the strength will come.