You need some achievable strength standards so you have realistic goals to work toward and know when you are strong enough and when to back off and avoid injury.
I have suffered a lot of injuries over the years as a result of weight lifting. Mostly strains. Upper and lower back, knees, shoulders, elbows and wrists. Some of these strains have been so severe I had incredible pain and could barely function. Lifting was out of the question for months.
I have never competed so never felt the need to go totally all out to make a particular single rep lift and suffer the muscle tears or extreme ligament damage that competition brings.
But I have had my share of pain revolving around ego lifting and pushing myself beyond what was appropriate for me. Even now I still am trying to recover from an elbow strain.
But luckily I never blew out a knee, broke a bone, or tore a muscle that required surgery. My hernia's were probably exacerbated by lifting but not caused by lifting.
These strength standards are not for singles. Singles are for competition. These standards are for 3 to 5 repetitions using good form. This would be the set you do as part of your normal training. You would be working up to this higher number over a number of weeks, months or even years.
The good thing is that once you have acquired this strength, you can generally be considered quite strong and should be able to maintain close to these numbers over time.
All weights are in pounds and for 3 to 5 reps unless noted otherwise. Five reps seem to be best, but three is good too. As you age and if you have some old injuries, sometimes 5 is too many. In those cases, work toward 3 reps.
Bench Press Strength Standards
My best bench press was 275 pounds in college. I weighed around 245 pounds. I had terrible form back then with my arms perpendicular to my body. My shoulders ached so bad I could hardly write to do my college homework.
Now I have learned the proper form, with arms at about 45 degrees to my body and my scapula retracted. I have done 235 for the 5 reps. I'm 53 years old. I did not lift for more than 10 years due to wife, career and family. My body is in rough shape. So I consider this pretty good.
I've recently got my bench up to 260 pounds for 3 reps.
I see no reason that I cannot get up towards the high 200's in
the next year or so. I realize it will take time. I took off lifting
for 2 months for my hernia surgery. I was also lifting at a very reduced
rate and effort due to my elbow problems this past year.
Overhead Shoulder Press Strength Standards
This is the standing barbell overhead press as taught by Mark Rippetoe in his Starting Strength method.
Doing this lift will really make you strong all over. You will feel strong too and look like a powerful guy.
As Mark explains, properly doing this lift is not harmful to your shoulders.
I find it very difficult to do 3 heavy sets of 5 across (with the same heavy weight). I prefer to work up to ONE heavy set of 5, sometimes 3 reps if my elbow is bothering me.
Squat Strength Standards
is the squat where you hold the bar on your back. I have been using
the low bar squat method as explained in the Starting Strength method. I
used to do a high bar squat. It's very difficult for taller men to go
deep enough with a high bar squat.
Shorter guys seem to be able to use any method. Taller guys should use the low bar method.
I can remember doing 2 sets of 20 reps with 315 pounds (3 plates on each side) in my mid twenties. I was really a beast back then.
I recommend you only do ONE heavy work set on squats as you get older. I hurt myself quite severely last winter on my second heavy set of squats. I know the experts advise 2 to 5 work sets, but that seems to only work for younger men focused entirely on lifting.
I've recently worked up to 3 reps with 305 pounds. I mistakenly tried 3 sets of 3 and hurt my knee on the last rep of the third set.
and ability to push yourself mentally is far stronger than your body.
Your mind will always want to do more than you should.
Deadlift Strength Standards
I did a 500 pound single with a smooth bar as a high school senior after a month of training. I was football and farm work strong at that time. I weighed about 215 pounds.
My hands are not strong enough now to do that much. Neither is my back without seriously hurting myself.
I've recently done 345 pounds for 3 reps.
careful with deadlifts. You should never do more than ONE heavy work
set. You should consider only deadlfitng once every 2 weeks or once a
month. This lift is very hard on your body and recovery ability. Some
people recommend lifting off blocks so you don't pull as far.
Rack pulls are fun because of the ability to use such huge weights and the effect on your upper back, traps and entire body.
Heavy shrugs help to develop the big traps and neck that are the sure sign of a strong man. You will need to use straps.
like to do shrugs and rack pulls on my deadlift days. On the days I
don't deadlift, I can go heavier and more volume on these.
Curls are not a power lift. But you do want strong arms. It's best to not be overly concerned with the weight you curl because heavy curls will hurt your wrists and elbows. Moderate weight, somewhat higher reps, a bit more volume and a variety of curl variations seem to be the key to bigger biceps.
I struggle with a straight barbell curl. It is very hard on my wrists and elbows. I mostly need to stick with moderate weight dumbbells. I've done reps with 40 pound dumbbells recently.
Leaner guys who work manual labor jobs seem to develop huge biceps more easily with either that massive veins or a bunch of veins. I am always envious of guys like this.
Close Grip Bench
The close grip bench press will not be that much lighter than your normal bench press. If you do it properly with your hands placed properly and your set up with retracted scapula the same as a regular bench press.
Triceps should be worked with more volume than the biceps because they are a larger muscle group.
Triceps respond well to different types of extensions. But be careful as it is easy to strain your elbows with extensions.
Your bent row weight should be close to your bench press weight. It's hard to get to your bench press weight because of bending over and the stress on your lower back.
I just did 245 pound bent rows for 7 reps. My back feels great.
This is using the 45 degree angle leg press sled where you pile on plates. Leg press machines are normally not very good for getting big weights. Plus they stress the hell out of your knees.
I like the leg press for developing extremely strong legs even if your back is tweaked and you cannot squat. Some trainers recommend using leg presses in addition to squats.
If you want to develop bigger legs, you should focus on leg presses. On the flip side, if your legs are too big, you should back off the leg presses.
Here is a little more about me so you can see where I'm coming from and adjust your standards up or down.
From Starting Strength
Favorite quote -
The muscle mass that is the hallmark of physical strength is the key to longevity, to health, and to the maintenance of physical function.
If you are young and if you are not on steroids, you can get to these lifts, most likely by focusing on one at a time for a period of months and maybe a year or more. Go hard on one lift. Go moderate to easy on every thing else. Sleep a lot. Eat properly. Take supplements. Revolve your life around it.
If you are on steroids you will be able to easily surpass all these lifts.
If you are a natural athlete, you will be able to easily surpass some of these lifts in the areas you are most suited for.
You'll find that as your strength increases, your muscles will get bigger and harder. Your belly will flatten if you don't go overboard on the eating. You will need to eat quite a bit to keep increasing your strength.
One way to increase your strength significantly is to lift hard, of course, and eat like crazy. Big meals, snacks, lots of protein, lots or carbohydrates and lots of junk food. You will get bigger, stronger and your belly will get much bigger too. It's not called dirty bulking for nothing.
But for the normal man, if you eat normally, lift to increase your strength and eating a reasonably clean diet, your belly will get flatter.
I hope you can use these strength standards as motivation along with a realistic view of what is possible.
If you just keep lifting, staying as strong as you can, you will always be strong.
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