- Strength standards are strength benchmarks for different exercises based on your body weight and sex.
- Strength standards are useful for setting strength goals and deciding what lifts to work on the most, but they can easily over- and underestimate how much you should be able to lift.
- A good rule of thumb when setting strength goals is to try to move up to the next category on the strength standards shown below by getting stronger or maintaining your strength while losing body fat.
When you start lifting weights, your first, second, and third priority should be this:
Try to add weight or reps to every single exercise every time you step foot in the gym, and don’t worry how you compare to anyone else.
In fact, comparing yourself to others at this stage can be distracting, disheartening, and counterproductive, as most everyone else at the gym will be stronger than you.
Once the salad days of your newbie gains phase are over, though, progress slows down considerably.
At this point—usually after 6 to 12 months of lifting—it’s not enough to show up and give your best every workout. You have to create a long-term plan, ensure you’re getting stronger, and maybe even periodize your workouts to keep the wheels of the gain train churning.
The first step of long-term planning is deciding what you’re aiming for. And in the case of lifting, that means having strength standards to aim for.
Typically, these standards are generated based on what other lifters with similar characteristics can achieve.
While some people say you should never compare yourself to others, there are a few good reasons to do so as you become more advanced:
- It’s a good way to set benchmarks and goals.
- It helps you decide what are your strongest and weakest exercises.
- It helps you see how much progress you’ve made since you started lifting weights.
This is where objective strength standards can be helpful.
Typically, these charts classify your strength based on your one-rep max (1RM) and body weight.
Unfortunately, though, if you plug “strength standards” into the ol’ Google, you’ll find a hodgepodge of different charts that don’t agree with one other.
For example, according to one chart your squat 1RM might be classified as “elite,” but only “good” by another.
And you’re left wondering . . .
Where do these numbers come from?
How strong am I compared to most serious lifters, really?
Why am I so strong on some exercises and so weak on others?
The short answer is this:
Strength standards are meant to be starting places to help you set goals and focus on weaknesses, and it’s never a good idea to get too fixated on them.
The long story?
Well, that’s what you’re going to learn in this article.
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 strength standards to set realistic and challenging goals
- How to get as strong as possible
Table of Contents
Strength standards are strength benchmarks for different exercises based on your body weight and sex.
They’re often shown as tables, like this one from Mark Rippetoe:
As you can see, in this case you would be assigned to different categories—Cat l, Cat ll, Cat lll, etc.—based on your body weight in the left hand column and your 1RM in the corresponding row.
Sometimes, strength standards are 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.
And in other cases, strength standards are based on a rep-max instead of a 1RM.
For instance, a common strength standard for the pullup and chinup is 10 x body weight, which means you should aim for doing 10 reps with your body weight (a 10-rep max).
So, where do these standards come from?
Originally, strength standards were created by powerlifting organizations to rank their competitors.
Your “score” in powerlifting is the sum of your squat, bench press, and deadlift 1RM, which is referred to as your total. If you squat 300, bench 200, and deadlift 400, then your total is 900 (300+200+400=900).
Other exercises like the military press, chin-up, and barbell row aren’t used in powerlifting, but many coaches have created strength standards for those based on what they’ve learned working with thousands of athletes.
You can also find strength standards for exercises like the barbell curl, leg press, and skull crusher, although most people don’t set targets for these.
You can usually get a good snapshot of your whole-body strength by looking at your squat, bench press, and deadlift. If you’re strong on these three lifts, chances are you’re strong at most lifts.
Powerlifting strength standards are created by looking at all of the totals of all lifters in a powerlifting federation, and then ranking them based on what percentage of lifters are able to achieve different totals.
Then, different categories are created based on these percentiles.
For example, here’s what the strength standards are for the United States of America Powerlifting (USAPL) federation:
If you’re wondering why these numbers seem so high, it’s because they’re powerlifting totals—the sum of your 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, which is already made up of very strong powerlifters. You’re freaky strong if you’re Elite.
On the other end of the spectrum we have “Class 5,” which includes people who are only stronger than 10% of other lifters in the USAPL.
That still means you’re stronger than most recreational lifters, but you’re at the bottom of the totem pole in this powerlifting federation.
The numbers at the top of the table are body weights in pounds. The heaviest 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.
There’s a problem with relying on powerlifting strength standards, though:
They’re entirely based on data from people whose only goal is to squat, bench press, and deadlift as much as possible. Many of them will be genetically gifted for strength sports, and many will also use steroids to help bump up their numbers (even though the USAPL tests for drug use, these tests aren’t difficult to cheat).
If you’re interested in powerlifting then by all means use strength standards for powerlifting. If you’re a recreational lifter who simply wants to be healthy, muscular, and strong (and natural), though, then I recommend you stick with strength standards that are based on data from lifters like you, which we’ll get into next.
Summary: Strength standards are strength benchmarks for different exercises based on your body weight and sex. Most strength standards for powerlifters are going to give you unrealistically high numbers, so it’s best to use strength standards based on recreational lifters.
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There are three kinds of strength standards you can follow:
- Tim Henrique’s strength standards, which are based on multiples of your body weight.
- Mark Rippetoe’s strength standards, which classify lifters into five categories ranging from weakest to strongest.
- Powerlifting strength standards, which will generally be much too high for recreational weightlifters.
Personally, I recommend you start with the first option.
Although it’s not quite as precise as Mark Rippetoe’s strength standards, all of these standards are just estimates anyway. You’ll quickly find that some of the numbers might seem high and others low based on your current strength.
Tim Henriques is a powerlifter and powerlifting coach who’s worked with thousands of athletes and coaches over the past few decades. He’s also a writer and the author of All About Powerlifting, one of the best books on the topic to date.
He came up with these strength standards to give his athletes simple targets they could use in their training.
Henriques divides weightlifters into three categories:
Decent, which is what you should be able to achieve after around 6 to 12 months of consistent strength training.
Some genetically gifted people may be able to reach these standards without any strength training, but almost everyone should be able to reach them within a year.
If you’re Decent, you won’t be “strong” by weightlifting standards, but you’ll at least be “not weak.”
Good, which is what you should be able to achieve after around 1 to 3 years of consistent strength training.
Some genetically gifted people may be able to reach these standards within a year, but most will take closer to 2 to 3 years. Others may take up to 5 to 10 years if they’re dogged by long breaks from lifting, injuries, flagging motivation, and the like.
If you’re Good, you’ll probably be one of the stronger people at your gym, and much stronger than the average untrained person.
Great, which is what you may be able to achieve after 5 to 10 or more years of consistent strength training.
If you have average or above average genetics for strength and muscle gain, a strong work ethic, and don’t get sidelined by injuries, overtraining, or other extended breaks from lifting, you likely can become a Great lifter.
If you have below average genetics, a lacklustre worth ethic, and take many extended breaks from lifting, you’ll likely never become a Great lifter.
Keep in mind that Henriques defines Great relative to the average lifter. Although a 455 pound squat wouldn’t be considered “great” among many powerlifters, it’s jaw-droppingly strong to people in most gyms.
You’ll also notice that Henriques provides standards based on either an absolute weight or a multiple of your body weight. For example, a Good squat for a female would be 155 pounds or 1.25 x body weight.
Feel free to use either standard, as they’ll generally be close for most people of an average weight or height.
The reason he provides both options, is there aren’t established standards for many exercises. For instance, while it’s generally agreed upon that a 2.5 x body weight squat is a good benchmark for an advanced male weightlifter, there’s no such standard for an exercise like barbell rows or biceps curls.
In these cases, an absolute number makes more sense as a strength standard instead of a body weight multiplier.
So, with that background out of the way, here are Henriques’ strength standards for Decent, Good, and Great lifters:
Rippetoe has worked with tens of thousands of weightlifters, weightlifting coaches, and athletes, and he used his extensive experience to create realistic strength standards based on the performance of natural, recreational weightlifters.
These standards have proven to be extremely accurate for most people over the years. They also have the advantage of including five categories instead of the three in Henriques’ strength standards, which means you have more opportunities to “level up.”
That is, it might take several years to go from a Good to Great lifter in Henriques’ system, but it might only take 6 to 12 months to go from a Cat lll to Cat lV lifter in Rippetoe’s system.
Rippetoe divides weightlifters into five categories as follows:
- Cat l
- Cat ll
- Cat lll
- Cat lV
- Cat V
Technically, someone with good genetics could be a Cat lll weightlifter even if they’re just starting out, and someone with poor genetics, programming, or discipline could be a Cat l weightlifter despite training for several years.
That said, Rippetoe’s categories can generally be translated as follows:
- Cat l = Beginner (0 to 6 months of weightlifting experience)
- Cat ll = Novice (6 to 12 months of weightlifting experience)
- Cat lll = Intermediate (1 to 2 years of weightlifting experience)
- Cat lV = Advanced (3 to 4 years of weightlifting experience)
- Cat V = Elite (5+ years of weightlifting experience)
Rippetoe’s strength standards have the advantage of being in table form, which shows you exactly how much weight you should aim for based on your body weight and sex.
For instance, if you’re a 180-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 128 pounds.
The downside of this system is that finding exactly how much you should be able to lift for each exercise and at each body weight is a little annoying. Additionally, it only provides standards for the military press, bench press, squat, and deadlift, whereas Henriques’ system provides standards for those exercises and eight others.
As I mentioned a moment ago, which system you use mainly boils down to personal preference.
Here’s are Mark Rippetoe’s strength standards:
Before we get into setting strength goals, it’s important to maintain the right perspective of strength standards.
Summary: The two best sets of strength standards are Tim Henriques’ strength standards and Mark Rippetoe’s strength standards. Which one you choose mostly depends on personal preference.
All else being equal, the more muscle you have, the more you should be able to lift.
People with more muscle generally weigh more, too, 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:
- Your anatomy.
- Your age.
Let’s look at each of these.
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 where your tendons attach to your bones.
Your tendons link your muscles to your bones, and where they attach can increase or decrease how much weight you’re able to lift.
For example, if your biceps tendon attaches a few millimeters further away from your below, this improves the biceps’s leverage, which allows you to lift more weight.
If it attaches a few millimeters closer to your elbow, though, this decreases the biceps’ leverage, which reduces the amount of weight you can lift.
This is true regardless of how much muscle you have. It’s possible for one person to be weaker than another despite being more jacked due to having less ideal tendon attachments.
The effects can be huge, too.
Another key anatomical feature that can affect your strength 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 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.
For example, 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.
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 and tendon attachment points, 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.
Summary: Strength standards provide a ballpark estimate of how much most people should be able to lift at various body weights, but your numbers may vary considerably thanks to unique differences in your anatomy.
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.
Take a look at this chart of record strength totals for lifters of different ages:
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.
At this point, you’re probably itching to know how to use strength standards to set goals.
So let’s get to it.
The strength standards I showed you at the beginning of this article, and the ones you’re going to use to set your strength goals, are adapted from the ones developed by Dr. Lon Kilgore and introduced by Mark Rippetoe, author of Starting Strength.
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.
They created these strength standards using the same process I described a moment ago, but instead of using data from powerlifters, they used data from recreational lifters—serious lifters but not the genetic elite.
You’ll also find strength standards that are based on self-reported data, like these from Strength Level. While allowing many different people around the world to contribute to the data allows you to gather a lot more information, there are a few problems with this as well:
1. People often exaggerate their strength.
Sometimes they’ll outright lie, but in most cases it’s simply a matter of poor technique. It’s not uncommon for someone to claim they’ve benched 315 pounds . . . without mentioning the fact the bar never touched their chest.
This braggadocious behavior corrupts the data in strength standards charts.
2. People often enter incorrect data because, well, it’s the Internet.
Many people enter incorrect information in online surveys just for the lolz, and there’s no reason to think people wouldn’t do it for their one-rep maxes, too.
That’s it’s probably better to rely on strength standards that are based on data collected by a scrupulous third party, like the ones generated by Lon Kilgore.
You can also find strength standards based on national or world record one-rep maxes from powerlifters, but I don’t recommend you use these for the reasons mentioned earlier:
- They’re the genetic elite, not the norm.
- Many of them have used or currently use steroids.
The only reason to use powerlifting standards is if you want to compete in powerlifting. And if that’s the case, you’ll need to look at the strength standards for whatever federation you want to compete in, as they can vary from federation to federation.
Here are links to the two most popular sets of powerlifting strength standards:
Otherwise, I recommend you stick to the Starting Strength standards in this article.
So, with that out of the way, 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.
Strength standards are based on your one-rep maxes, or the maximum amount of weight you can lift for a single repetition through a full range of motion with proper form with a given exercise.
If you don’t know your true 1RM off hand or haven’t tested it in the past 12 weeks, use the calculator below to estimate your 1RM based on how many reps you can get with a lighter weight.
If you want to learn more about how to estimate your one-rep max, and why it’s important, check out this article:
First, decide whether you’re going to use Tim Henriques’ strength standards or Mark Rippetoe’s. Which one you choose depends on your personal preferences, but I like Tim Henriques’ standards the most.
Regardless of which strength standards you choose, make sure you use the strength standards for your sex.
If you’re a man, use the strength standards for men. If you’re a woman, use the strength standards for women. If you can’t decide what you are, just make up numbers since they’re fake anyway, like math and triangles.
The reason there are different tables for men and women is that men are more muscular and stronger than women on average, and so both sexes require different standards.
Here are the strength standards again:
Tim Henriques’ Strength Standards
Mark Rippetoe’s Strength Standards
If you’re using Henriques’ standards, either use the numbers provided or the body weight multipliers.
For example, my best squat is 405 pounds, which would classify me as Good according to Henriques’ standards. I currently weigh 180 pounds, so I could also multiply my body weight by two (180 x 2 = 360) and use that as my strength standard.
Which method you use is up to you, but I suggest picking whichever is closest to your current 1RM. In my case, I’d just use 405 as my standard for Good.
If you’re using Mark Rippetoe’s strength standards, first pick which exercise you want to look at. I’ll use my bench press as an example.
After locating men’s bench press chart, I would locate my body weight in the far left-hand column. If your weight isn’t listed, use the category that’s closest to your weight.
For example, I weigh 180 pounds, so I would use the strength standards for someone who weighs 181 pounds.
Next, follow that row to the right until you find the number that is closest to your 1RM.
If the number is bigger than your 1RM, use the number to the immediate left of it. If the number is smaller than your 1RM, then use that number.
You always choose the lower number because each number indicates the minimum amount of weight you need to lift to reach that category. For example, if I bench pressed 260 pounds, I’d still be in the Intermediate category, because I didn’t quite get 275 pounds (which is the minimum for entering the Advanced category).
Once you’ve found the correct number, follow that column up, and you’ll find your strength category.
For instance, my 320-pound bench puts me in the Advanced category.
Repeat this process with all of your lifts.
Now, if you’re annoyed that you haven’t quite broken into the higher categories for all of your lifts, don’t worry.
Remember that you probably will have one or two lifts that slightly lag behind the others (for me it’s the deadlift), and that’s fine. The whole point of these standards is to find what you need to work on the most and to set goals for your future progress.
Let’s do that next.
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 press and deadlift are both in the Intermediate category, but your squat puts you in the Beginner category. In that case, you need to stop skipping leg day and 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.
You should also consider what parts of your physique you want to improve the most as well. Remember that strength and size are closely correlated, so the muscle groups most involved in whatever lift you focus on are also generally going to 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 it makes sense to focus on improving your bench versus your squat, deadlift, or overhead press.
Once you’ve decided what exercise to focus on, 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 10 pounds to my bench.”
The closer you get to your genetic potential for strength and muscle gain, the harder it will become to gain strength and muscle, so you’ll need to adjust your goals accordingly. Once you reach the Intermediate level, plan on setting a new personal record (PR) every three or so months.
If you reach the advanced level, plan on setting a new PR every year, and plan on that PR being a much smaller improvement over your old one.
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 category.
For example, let’s say you weigh 148 pounds and can overhead press 95 pounds, putting you in the Novice category.
If you were to lose 16 pounds and get your body weight to 132, you’d only have to add 10 pounds to your overhead press to bump yourself up to the Intermediate category.
So, what’s the best way to get stronger, you wonder?
One or more of your lifts is probably lower than you’d like.
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:
Strength standards are strength benchmarks for different exercises based on your body weight and sex.
Although your first priority when weightlifting should always be to get stronger, strength standards help you decide what lifts you should focus on the most as you become a more experienced weightlifter.
The downsides of strength standards, though, are that they can over- or underestimate your strength because most don’t factor in your anatomy or age.
You can find many different strength standards online, but many of them are either based on self-reported data from random weightlifters or powerlifting records, both of which can be skewed due to various factors.
Instead, I recommend you stick with the strength standards created by Tim Henriques or Mark Rippetoe.
When deciding what exercise you want to improve the most, here’s what I recommend:
- Focus on whatever exercise is your weakest (ranks lowest according to the strength standards).
- Focus on whatever exercise trains the muscle group you want to grow the most (bench press for chest, squats for quads, etc.)
- Try to get stronger on all of your exercises if possible.
At the end of the day, 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:
- Follow a well-designed training plan.
- Eat a healthy diet that supports your training.
- Get plenty of sleep.
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.
+ Scientific References
- Delp SL, Maloney W. Effects of hip center location on the moment-generating capacity of the muscles. J Biomech. 26(4-5):485-499. doi:10.1016/0021-9290(93)90011-3
- Trezise J, Collier N, Blazevich AJ. Anatomical and neuromuscular variables strongly predict maximum knee extension torque in healthy men. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2016;116(6):1159-1177. doi:10.1007/s00421-016-3352-8