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These Are the Best Strength Standards on the Internet

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These Are the Best Strength Standards on the Internet

If you want to know what strength standards are, and how to use them to see how strong you are compared to other lifters, then you want to read this article.

Key Takeaways

  1. Strength standards are benchmarks that show you how you stack up against other lifters.
  2. Many strength standards over- or underestimate how much you can lift due to your age and anatomy.
  3. Strength standards are not an exact science, so look at them as general guidelines for learning where you can improve.

When you first started lifting, it seemed like you could touch a barbell and get stronger.

Day in, day out, you added 5-10 pounds to every lift.

You were getting stronger so quickly, in fact, that you didn’t care what other people were doing. You were just happy to be making progress.

Now that you’ve been lifting a few months, though, you’ve realized two things:

  1. You’re much stronger than you were, and stronger than many of the other people in your gym.
  2. You aren’t sure how strong you are compared to, well, anyone else.

You just want to know, “Am I strong or not?”

When you look online for an answer, you find a hodgepodge of various charts and equations, all of which seem either overly simplistic or complicated.

And you’re left wondering, “Where do these numbers come from? Why am I so strong on some exercises and so weak on others? Isn’t there a better way to calculate this stuff?”

Well, yes, there is, although it’s still far from perfect.

Strength is determined by many different factors, and it’s impossible to account for all of them in a single formula.

That said, there are several reliable strength standards you can use to estimate how strong you are compared to others.

By the end of this article, you’ll know what strength standards are and how they’re calculated, the best strength standards for both men and women, how to use these standards to set realistic and challenging goals, and how to get as strong as possible.

Let’s start at the top.

What Are Strength Standards?

Strength standards are objective guidelines that show you how your numbers stack up against a larger group of lifters.

They’re often shown as tables, like this one from Mark Rippetoe:

strength standards

Sometimes, they’re also shown as multiples of body weight, like this:

Squat: 2 times your body weight.

Bench: 1.5 times your body weight.

Deadlift: 2.5 times your body weight.

You can find many different versions online, but they all show you roughly how your strength compares to other people of the same sex and body weight.

So, where do these numbers come from?

Typically, strength standards are set by powerlifting organizations to rank their competitors.

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

Other exercises like the military press, chin-up, and barbell row aren’t used in powerlifting, but many coaches have created standards for those based on what they’ve learned working with thousands of athletes. In this article, we’ll stick with the squat, bench, and deadlift.

Powerlifting strength standards are set by starting with the heaviest weight anyone has been able to lift at a certain body weight—typically a national or world record. Then, categories are created based on how many people are able to get within a certain percentage of that number.

Here’s what this looks like:

strength standards powerlifting

(If you’re wondering why these numbers seem so high, it’s because they’re powerlifting “totals,” which are the sum of your best squat, bench press, and deadlift.)

“Elite” in this case means you’re in the top 2.5%. In other words, you’re stronger than 97.5% of the other people in this group.

On the other end of the spectrum we have “Class 5,” which includes people who are only stronger than 10% of other lifters.

The numbers at the top of the table are body weights. Heavier people are generally going to be the strongest, so most strength standards are based on relative strength, or how much you can lift at a given body weight.

In other words, how strong you are pound-for-pound. 

Now, you may have noticed that some of these numbers seem shockingly high, and that others seem modest compared to the kind of weights you’ve seen people throw around on social media.

Well, there are good explanations for that, too.

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Why Strength Standards Can Be Misleading

strength norms

All else being equal, the heavier you are the more you should be able to lift, which is why strength standards are higher or lower for heavier and lighter people, respectively.

The problem is that “all else” is rarely equal.

There are two main variables that can throw off your estimates:

  1. Your anatomy.
  2. Your age.

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

How Your Anatomy Affects Your Strength

It’s possible to have anatomical features that make it easier or harder to get stronger on certain exercises, regardless of your body weight.

The main wildcard here is your skeletal proportions.

We all have the same muscles and bones in our bodies, and they’re all located in the same general areas, but there can be differences in how long or short our bones are.

These differences tend to be small, only a few millimeters, but that can translate into huge differences in strength.

Your bones function as levers, and how long or short those levers are can drastically affect how much you can lift.

The effects can be huge, too.

Thanks to these small anatomical differences, one person could lift 25% more than another even if they had the same amount of muscle mass.

For instance, if someone has longer than average arms, they have to move the bar further to complete each rep of bench press. All else being equal, they won’t be able to bench press as much as someone with normal length arms.

That same disadvantage can be helpful for other exercises, though. Long arms make deadlifting easier, because the bar doesn’t have to travel as far when you stand up.

There are some other anatomical differences that can make you stronger or weaker as well, like where your tendons attach to your bones, but bone length is the big one.

So, if small changes in your anatomy can have such a drastic influence on your strength, why bother looking at strength standards?

Well, by definition most people have average length limbs, so strength standards can still give us a ballpark estimate of how we compare to others.

That said, just keep in mind that if you’re significantly weaker or stronger on some lifts, it could be that your anatomy is just better suited to some exercises than others.

How Your Age Affects Your Strength

strength standards by age

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.

Take a look at this chart of whole-body strength records for lifters of different ages:

weight lifting percentage chart

As you can see, 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’re over 40 and your numbers aren’t as good as you expected, that’s why. And if you’re in your teens and early 20’s, well, you’ve got 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 3 Simple Steps

strength standards deadlift

At this point, you’re probably itching to know just how you stack up against other lifters.

So let’s get to it.

The strength standards you’re going to use are based on national records from USA Powerlifting, one of the largest drug-tested powerlifting organizations in the world. I picked this group for two reasons:

  1. All of the athletes go through mandatory drug-testing, which reduces (but doesn’t rule out) the chance that some these people were using steroids.
  2. It’s one of the biggest data samples of lifters in the world.

The downside of comparing yourself to these people?

They’re the genetically elite, and chances are good that you’ll never be as strong as these athletes.

These people were born to squat, bench, and deadlift, and they also have the time, inclination, and desire to spend thousands of hours getting lifting weights.   

If you can get even 70% as strong as these people, you’re probably going to be one of the strongest people in your gym.

That’s why the categories are organized like this:

Elite: National record holders.

Advanced: 70% of the national record.

Intermediate: 60% of the national record.

Novice: 50% of the national record.

Beginner: 40% of the national record.

To see which category you belong to, you first need to estimate your one-rep maxes.

Step #1

Estimate Your One-Rep Maxes

Strength standards are based on your one-rep maxes, or the maximum amount of weight you can lift for a single repetition of a given exercise.

If you generally train using higher reps, the fastest way to estimate your one-rep max is to use a calculator, like this:

Weight Lifted: lbs.  kgs.

Number of Reps:

95% 1RM90% 1RM85% 1RM80% 1RM75% 1RM70% 1RM65% 1RM60% 1RM
Estimated Reps and Weight Based on One-Rep Max
Reps123456789101520
Brzycki
Baechle
dos Remedios

If you want to learn more about how to estimate your one-rep max, and why it’s important, check out this article:

A Simple and Accurate One-Rep Max Calculator (and How to Use it)

Step #2

Compare Your One-Rep Maxes to these Strength Standards

Find the table for the exercise you want to look at. There are different tables for men and women, as men are more muscular and stronger than women on average.

Male Strength Standards

male strength standards bench press

male strength standards squat

male strength standards deadlift

Female Strength Standards

female strength standards bench press

female strength standards squat

female strength standards deadlift

Locate your body weight in the far left-hand column. If your weight isn’t listed, use the strength standards for the next highest weight. (If you weigh 155 pounds, use the strength standards for someone who weighs 160 pounds).

Next, follow that row to the right until you find your one-rep max.

If your one-rep max is between two numbers, use the column on the left (the lower number). You round down because each number indicates the minimum amount of weight you need to lift to reach that category.

Follow that column up, and you’ll find your strength category.

For example, let’s say you’re a 175-pound man and you can bench 245 pounds.

First, you’d find your body weight in the left hand column, and round up to 180 pounds.

Next, follow that row to the right until you find your one-rep max. In this case, it’s between 210 and 250 pounds.

Now, since you haven’t quite benched 250 pounds yet, you’re still in the “novice” category. Remember, 250 pounds is the minimum you need to be considered “intermediate.”

Repeat that process with all of your lifts.

Now, if you’re annoyed that you haven’t quite broken into one of the higher categories, don’t worry.

These categories are all somewhat arbitrary, and what’s considered “novice” according to one set of strength standards might be an “intermediate” on another. The whole point is to use these standards to see roughly how you compare to others, and then use them to set goals.

Let’s do that next.

Step #3

Set Reasonable, Challenging Strength Goals

Now it’s time for the fun part—deciding what you want to improve.

There are a few ways to go about this, but the simplest is to focus on whatever you’re worst at.

Let’s say your bench and deadlift are both intermediate, but your squat puts you in the “beginner” category. In that case, you need to work on your squat.

Or, maybe you’re decently strong on all of your lifts. What do you do then?

Well, you can pick whatever you want to work on most, or get stronger on everything.

It’s really up to you.

A good rule of thumb is to try to move up one category from where you are now. Once you reach the next category, move up again. If you reach the advanced category, though, you may want to set smaller goals such as “add 20 pounds to my bench.”

So, what’s the best way to get stronger, you wonder?

How to Get Stronger

strength standards weightlifting

One of your lifts is probably lower than you’d like.

To fix that, you’re going to need to follow a strength training plan that allows you to progressively overload your muscles.

That is, you need to organize your training in such a way that you can consistently add more and more weight to the lift you want to improve.

If you want to learn the best ways to do that, check out these articles:

The Bottom Line on Strength Standards

Once you’re past the “newbie gains” phase of weightlifting, it becomes harder and harder to judge your progress.

Some days you’ll be able to add weight to every exercise with ease. Other days, you’ll struggle to get a single rep with a weight that felt easy the week before.

That’s why it’s helpful to have an objective benchmark of how you compare to other people.

At the end of the day, though, the only strength standard that really matters is your progress over time.

Are you stronger this month than last month? Are you stronger this year than the previous one?

If so, you’re on the right track.

If not, you need to make some changes.

So, while it’s fun to see how you stack up against others, focus on the things that are in your immediate control:

Do that, and you’ll get stronger.

What’s your take on strength standards? Have anything else you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below.

armilegge Armistead Legge is the Director of Content for Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics. He has completed over 100 triathlons and cross-country, cycling, and adventure races, and has researched and written for over a dozen organizations, including the National Institutes of Health. When he isn't helping people get into the best shape of their lives, he's lifting weights, riding his bike, hiking, camping, reading, and making delicious food.

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  • Christine Laing

    This is really depressing. I am well below beginner in all categories, and I’ve been trying to get stronger for about 30 years. The usual response is to tell me that I must be doing something wrong, but I’ve spent an awful lot of time and money trying to do it right.

    I guess it’s my own fault for reading so many of these articles.

    • Anne-Marie

      Hey Christine, don’t feel bad about it! I’m in a similar position – just read the above and felt quite depressed because I know I’m stronger than most of the girls I know, and fitter, but I also am also not even in the beginner category after years of lifting. When I looked back though, I can see why. I am telling myself to be patient while I work on fixing problems I have (knee, shoulder etc) and things that have set me back. In the meantime you have to tell yourself that you’re at the gym and that’s a bloody good thing regardless of how we sit against other standards. In the very least, even if we’re not strong, we’re fitter than we ever would have been of we hadn’t bothered. So let’s both try to keep it up! Strength will come, especially following MM programs, it really will.

      • Matthew Boux

        I know how you feel! I’m 17 and I trained wrong for 2 years and got absolutely nowhere. So I finally got on a proper progressive overload program and my strength progress has been impressive. I’m still not even in the beginner category on any of my lifts ( lol ) but considering I started squatting a pathetic 85lbs in July and am now up to 195lbs for 5 reps. That’s pretty damn awesome improvement. I started out horrible weak but I doubled most of my lifts in just 2 months! I can’t wait to see where I’ll be when I’m 20!

        • Great job on the progress, Matthew! Keep up the good work!

      • Hey Anne-Marie, thanks for the response!

        You’re absolutely right.

        First of all, just being in the gym and lifting weights at all makes you stronger than about 95% of the population.

        Second, these numbers are based on the absolute best lifters around right now, so we have to keep that in mind when seeing how we compare.

        The whole point of these is just to have something to shoot for, not necessarily to reach the top.

    • Hey Christine, it really depends on what sort of routines you’ve followed in the past. The best way to gain strength is to follow a strength routine. Check this out:
      https://www.muscleforlife.com/female-muscle-growth/

      • Christine Laing

        Thank you for responding Mike. I really enjoy your articles and podcasts, but the truth is that I’ve been following strength routines for decades. I haven’t followed yours as I am currently working with a trainer 2x a week, but I have done many similar routines, including some of the others you recommend. My bookshelf is full of books of varying quality; I think I’ve read every damn thing on the Internet, I’m paranoid about form, I log everything I eat, etc. Seriously, if I’ve heard about it and it seemed scientifically sound, I’ve done it.

        Currently I’m at 147# and 22% bodyfat, which is actually really muscular and (dare I say it?) bulky. I’ve cut down to 19% but couldn’t maintain it. It’s limiting enough to maintain 22%, and I’m still pretty large. I certainly don’t want anymore muscle. *Those* numbers are off the charts for a woman my age. I’m in the 1st percentile for percentage of body fat for a 55 year old woman and in the 80th percentile for lean mass! While I can’t say I’ve made *no* strength gains, I am still about 75% of “beginner” across the board. There are other standards out there that claim I should have blown away my personal best *on the first day I rolled off the couch and went to the gym.*

        Needless to say, I put in a hell of a lot of work for someone with such unimpressive numbers.

        • Gotcha. Well, everyone is different, and it’s certainly possible that your particular anatomy limits your strength/force production compared to other women with similar muscle mass.

          The one thing to keep in mind with these strength standards is that they’re based on the absolute best of the best, so that’s going to skew the numbers. I’ll likely update this article with standards that are based on a more typical selection of avid lifters, who aren’t genetic freaks.

          It sounds like you’re still very, very strong and in great shape, so keep it up!

  • Dan

    I know IPF and APF also use age grouping, which means the data exists for strength standards by age. I’m 58, started BLS about 1.5 years ago, and am in the advanced category for squat and deadlift, getting close for Bench. But by age group, I’d be curious to know where I sit. I’m working Texas method now, still making steady progress. Of course, I’m bummed I didn’t realize I had a thing for this when I was younger… But seriously considering getting on the platform and competing as an old guy.

  • Malcolm Breadmore

    I’m 50 yo and have been following your process for 18 months now (before that I did a year of newbie gains anyway). I nearly get a PBs every day I’m in the gym. I am very please with my results and of course my physic. Being 50, is there a compensation factor to the above tables?

    • Hey Malcolm, it’s great you’re making such good progress! Keep up the great work!

      We actually will be updating the article/calculator to take age into account. A good rule of thumb is to subtract 15% from the standard for every decade past 40. I hope this helps!

  • Oldog94

    I think when it comes to power in the form of one rep max the type of muscle fiber matters too. I know that people that have a higher proportion of fast twitch muscle fibers are usually more powerful lifters. In addition to muscle attachments and skeletal differences mentioned above. In high school I had a very high vertical naturally and was pretty fast. I could naturally lift heavier in the bench and curls than guys that were a lot bigger than me. I’m now 41 and just started lifting (been 18 years since I lifted last) and age has happened unfortunately but I am progressing at least.

    • Yep, your anatomy can have a huge effect on your strength, and how quickly you can get stronger.

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