How Strong Should I Be?

How Strong Should I Be?
Related Topics: Strength Training

Exploring the Extremes and Scientific Standards of Human Strength

Strength. We often visualize bare human strength as the burly man at the gym pumping iron or perhaps as that friend who somehow manages to carry all the groceries in a single trip. Yet, strength is so much more than mere physical prowess. It’s a cultural enigma that has captivated the human imagination for centuries, sparking the humbling question: How strong should I really be? Should you and I aspire to match the Herculean might of mythological heroes? Or is it acceptable for us to embrace the couch potato?

In decades past, strength was defined solely by physical power and fitness. Strongmen and -women, powerlifters, bodybuilders, and athletes have been archetypal examples for as long as we can remember. To be strong meant to have a body that could lift heavy weights or run long distances. Yet, we now understand that the concept of strength goes far deeper than just having bulging biceps or washboard abs.

Real human strength lies in enduring challenges and hardships, whether physical or mental. We strive for this strength, measured not by physicality but by our ability to overcome the odds. We fight against weakness, and the interplay between body and mind is crucial to conquering it.

Strength is a fascinating entity. For some, it’s quantified by their ability to hoist heavy barbells. For others, it’s measured by the resilience to withstand the winds of adversity. And here’s the fun part: physical strength is entirely subjective. What might constitute a superhuman feat for one could merely be an everyday workout for another. And guess what? There's nothing wrong with that.

We are all unique, and we all have our own aspirations. Whether your future fitness journey includes becoming a gym-goer or a yoga enthusiast, know that your strength isn’t defined by some arbitrary standard that must be compared to everyone else’s gym goals. It’s all about finding your very own best way to empower yourself and ultimately redefine what it means to be strong for your body.

A peer-reviewed study from 2011 by Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, professor of pediatrics at McMaster University, reinforces this concept. Tarnopolsky found that strength isn’t just about lifting heavy weights or having large muscles, but rather it’s about the body’s overall resilience and adaptability. His study concluded that regular strength training can help slow aging, improve bone density, and even boost mental health. This evidence supports the notion that strength is a multidimensional concept beyond physical capabilities.

Have you ever heard statements like, “Bodybuilders look bulky,” or “Girls shouldn’t lift because they’ll start looking like men?” These clichés are as tough to shatter as a world-record deadlift. Here’s the simple truth: Strength is not solely about bulging muscles or lifting heavy weights. It’s about functionality, resilience, and personal growth.

A prevalent myth suggests that strength is synonymous with a bulky, muscular appearance. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth! As Tony Ramos, professional powerlifter and member of Westside Barbell, aptly put it: “Big ain’t strong; strong is strong.” Strength training improves functional fitness, meaning it helps make everyday activities more accessible, from carrying groceries to climbing stairs. But the resulting physique can vary significantly from person to person, depending entirely on your unique body composition and genetics.

Another prevalent myth is that female athletes will develop an overly muscular appearance if they lift weights. This is a gross misunderstanding. Women naturally produce less testosterone than men, which is the hormone primarily responsible for muscle growth. As such, most women don’t develop bulky muscles from normal strength training.

Overall, we need to think of strength training as a personal journey of universal resilience and continual self-improvement, not just an isolated pursuit of physical might. The appearance of this strength can take many forms, and just like our bodies it doesn’t come in a one-size-fits-all approach. To get started, we need to realize it’s about what suits your individual needs and goals.

The Strength Spectrum: Your Journey from Couch Potato to Hercules

The strength spectrum stretches from the seasoned sofa athlete who is marathon-watching their favorite show (let’s admit it, we’ve all been there!) at one end, to the elite Olympian prepping for the 2024 games in Paris at the other end. Strength is a highly nuanced concept that manifests differently across various lifestyles in between the above extremes. For some, strength is epitomized in carrying their child, while for others, it’s about conquering the finishing line of a grueling marathon.

Strength Mindset: Snapshot vs. Progression

We sometimes like to view strength as a momentary snapshot of specific achievements in time. But strength is a process that begins when we set our minds to achieving something greater than ourselves and progresses permanently as we train and advance in our fitness journey. We invite you to join us in this perpetual process of self-discovery and personal growth. After all, strength is not about what we can do now but what we can become.

From the American couch potato to the mighty Greek god – strength is a personal and ever-evolving pursuit. The only way to traverse this spectrum of strength is to make it our own and find out where it takes us.

World Records: Exploring Human Strength

How does your strength measure up against the world records? It might seem daunting to compare our everyday feats of strength to those etched in the annals of world records. However, this comparison isn’t about undermining our personal achievements but about celebrating the fascinating spectrum of human strength.

Let’s start with the average person’s strength. The National Strength and Conditioning Association discovered that the typical adult male can bench press 135 lbs, squat 125 lbs, and deadlift 155 lbs. For the average adult female, these numbers are 64 lbs for the bench press, 72 lbs for the squat, and 93 lbs for the deadlift.

Now, let’s compare these figures to the mind-boggling upper echelons of human strength. The Guinness World Record for the heaviest deadlift is held by Hafþór Bjornsson, who hoisted an 1,104.5 lbs in 2020. In 2021, Julius Maddox bench pressed a record 782.6 lbs. And as recent as 2023, David Hoff squatted a colossal 1278.6 lbs.

These prodigious feats demonstrate the upper limits of human strength. While they seem far removed from our everyday experiences, they are a testament to the potential strength that we humans can achieve. It’s important to remember these world record holders train intensely for years, pushing their bodies to the absolute limit while being supported by training partners and coaches. Comparing our personal benchmarks to these world records is not to generate feelings of inadequacy, but to inspire us. They can remind us of the vast potential humans possess and the astonishing heights we can reach with determination, perseverance, and proper training.

In the grand scheme of things, strength is highly personal and subjective. What matters most is not how our strength measures up to world records but how it contributes to our quality of life, personal fulfillment, and overall health. It’s all about being stronger than we were yesterday and continuing to grow, improve, and reach new personal bests. Remember, every giant leap in strength starts with a small step, and every world record was once a personal best. So, embrace your strength journey, keep pushing your limits, and who knows - you might surprise yourself with what you can achieve.

Do I Need to Lift a Car? Deciphering Strength Goals

Setting realistic and meaningful targets is pivotal in defining our strength goals. While many of us stand in awe at remarkable feats of strength, such as deadlifting a car, we must remember that these are not mandatory benchmarks for obtaining fitness or health.

In pursuing personal well-being, the emphasis should be on sustainable and achievable milestones rather than simulating extreme performances. This approach promotes safety and continuous progress and aligns our efforts with actual health outcomes. Focusing on tailored and sensible goals, we position ourselves for genuine, lasting success in our strength journey.

The Importance of Realistic Targets

The common theme in this article is that it is inherently human to admire strength. It represents power, resilience, and sometimes even status. But while it's natural to be awed by such displays, it's vital to separate entertainment and aspiration. Here are some tips on why realistic targets are important and how to craft meaningful strength goals:

  1. Personal Safety: Pushing ourselves beyond our limits can lead to injuries. For instance, training to lift a car requires specific techniques, equipment, and conditioning. For the average gym-goer, attempting such feats without the proper preparation can result in strains, sprains, or worse.
  2. Maintaining Motivation: Setting unachievable goals can lead to frustration and disillusionment. When we constantly fall short of our targets, it's easy to become demotivated and question the value of our efforts.
  3. Holistic Fitness: Strength is just one facet of fitness. Flexibility, cardiovascular health, and mental well-being are equally important. Focusing solely on Herculean strength feats can divert attention from these other crucial areas.

Setting meaningful goals is a two-fold process:

  1. Self-assessment: Understand where you currently stand. Knowing your limits ensures that your goals are both challenging and attainable.
  2. Define Your 'Why': Determine what you hope to achieve. Is it better overall health? A toned body? Improved athletic performance? Recognizing your 'why' ensures your strength goals align with your fitness objectives.

Strength Standards: How Do You Measure Up?

In strength training, benchmarks often center around an individual's proficiency in foundational exercises like the bench press, squat, and deadlift. Though generalized, these standards categorize trainees by body weight, providing a foundational comparison across a diverse range of body types.

At Westside Barbell, our approach to strength is distinctive. We tailor our standards based on an athlete's chosen sport, weight, and collective insights from countless athletes and coaches who've visited and honed their skills at our facility. These criteria serve as a starting point, sketching out what Westside expects regarding foundational strength.

Westside Barbell's Standards for Powerlifters:

  • Squat: 800lbs
  • Bench: 600lbs
  • Deadlift: 800lbs
  • These benchmarks, set by Louie Simmons, stood firm until March 2022. After Louie's passing, with respect to his wishes, the in-house powerlifting team at Westside concluded its chapter. It's crucial to note that these figures were merely a starting point for aspiring members, given the impressive strength of the established team. The shared goal? Pursue the zenith of strength.

    Athlete Standards for 2023: While powerlifters at Westside chase absolute strength, the athletes adopt a balanced approach. Their regimen not only focuses on strength but also incorporates elements pivotal to their sport — refining skills, boosting muscle endurance, enhancing agility, or mastering other disciplines.

    Westside Barbell recommends the following average benchmarks for athletes:

  • Bench Press: 1.5 x Body Weight
  • Squat: 2 x Bodyweight
  • Deadlift: 2.5 x Bodyweight
  • Bent Over Row: 1.5 x Body Weight
  • Overhead Press: 1 x Bodyweight
  • Box Jump: 50 inches
  • Sled Drag: 225lbs across ten sets, each covering 60 yards.

    Recommendations for the General Population: For those outside the competitive sphere but passionate about maintaining robust physical fitness, Westside recommends:

  • Bench Press: 1 x Body Weight
  • Squat: 1.5 x Bodyweight
  • Deadlift: 2 x Bodyweight
  • Box Jump: 36 inches
  • Sled Drag: 90 lbs across a single 400-yard stretch.

    While these standards furnish structure, they should be perceived as guidelines. Everyone possesses distinct capabilities and goals.

    The Quest for Strength: How to Get Stronger

    Increasing strength requires dedication, consistent effort, and patience. One must employ proven training methodologies, such as the conjugate system, to truly excel. This system strategically balances varied exercises to optimize muscular development and power.

    Here's a basic outline of how the system works:

    1.  Multifaceted Training Approach:

    - The system doesn't solely focus on one training method; instead, it combines maximal, dynamic, and repeated effort methods.


    1. Maximal Effort (ME) Method:

    - Focuses on lifting maximal weights (90-100% of one's 1RM).

    - Typically dedicated to one day for the upper body and one day for the lower body.
    It helps in developing absolute strength.


      1. Dynamic Effort (DE) Method:

      - Focuses on lifting submaximal weights (around 50-70% of one's 1RM) at maximum speed.

      - Emphasizes speed and explosiveness.

      - Utilizes bands and chains to vary resistance and further develop power throughout the entire range of motion.


        1. Repeated Effort (RE) Method:

        - Emphasizes lifting a submaximal weight to failure or near failure.

        - Focuses on hypertrophy and muscular endurance.


            1. Rotating Exercises:

            - Exercises change frequently (often weekly) to avoid stagnation and adapt to various strength curves.

            - Prevents overuse injuries and plateaus.

            - Ensures all muscle groups and weak points get adequate attention.


              1. Accessory Work:

              - Tailored to address an individual's specific weaknesses.

              - Ensures balanced development and reduces injury risk.


                1. Recovery:

                - It incorporates active recovery methods like sled dragging, mobility work, or light pumping exercises to improve blood flow and accelerate recovery.

                - Ensures muscles and the central nervous system get ample time to recuperate between intense sessions.


                  1. Conjugate Periodization:


                  - Unlike traditional linear periodization, the conjugate system integrates multiple training stimuli simultaneously. This approach allows for constant adaptation and progress.


                    B​​y systematically integrating these elements, the conjugate system offers a comprehensive training regimen that promotes continual progress, reduces the risk of plateaus, and addresses individual weaknesses, making it a favored choice for many strength athletes. It is the cornerstone behind our success at Westside.


                    How strong is the average person?

                    The question of how strong the average person is can be intricate and subjective, largely dependent on the definitions of "average" and the chosen metrics for evaluating strength. For many, the accurate barometer of strength is not within impressive lifting statistics but in the ability to perform day-to-day tasks without restriction or discomfort.

                    Regardless of these variances in measurement, a universal truth remains consistent: strength training, especially as we age, is paramount. Engaging in regular resistance exercises ensures the preservation of muscle mass, enhances mobility, and can significantly extend the number of healthy, active years in one's life. This perspective is supported by research, as noted by the National Institute on Aging, emphasizing the profound health benefits of sustained strength training throughout aging.

                    What are some realistic strength goals?

                    Strength goals need to be highly individualized and aligned with your fitness needs and lifestyle to become achievable. A good starting point for anyone is to aim for lifting a weight equivalent to your own bodyweight in bench press, 1.5 times your bodyweight in squat, and 2 times your bodyweight in deadlift. Researchers like Mark Rippetoe (2014) point out though that reaching these goals will take time, and progressing towards them will require consistent training, adequate recovery, and a balanced diet.

                    How do I measure my own strength?

                    Assessing one's strength often raises the question: "What is the best method?" At Westside Barbell, we advocate for the precision of the one rep max (1RM) test. While various formulas and methods attempt to project strength based on repetitions performed at specific weights, they remain estimations.

                    The irrefutable evidence of one's strength emerges when testing the 1RM in staple lifts like the bench press, squat, and deadlift. However, if a swift and repeatable assessment is required, tools such as hand grip dynamometers offer a feasible alternative. These devices deliver instantaneous strength metrics that, while less comprehensive than a 1RM, can be valuable in specific contexts.

                    How often should I test my strength?

                    "How often should I check my strength?" is a common question among athletes. Westside uses the conjugate system, allowing our athletes to measure their strength weekly without overtraining. Doing this helps us see if our training methods are working well.

                    In addition to this weekly check, we have more formal strength tests done at least twice yearly but not more than four times. By doing these tests, we can track progress and ensure our athletes are moving in the right direction while giving them enough time between tests to recover and improve.

                    How can I increase my strength?

                    Building strength is both a science and an art, blending biomechanics with hands-on experience. One must consider the principles from a biomechanical standpoint and practical strength training methods to increase strength effectively.

                    1. Specificity & Variation: While training specifically for your strength goals (be it powerlifting, sport, or general fitness), it's also crucial to rotate exercises frequently. Doing so avoids adaptation, which can lead to plateaus.
                    2. Maximal Effort and Overload: Pushing the body to its limits, either by lifting the heaviest weight possible for one rep or by gradually increasing the load over time, ensures that muscles adapt and grow stronger.
                    3. Dynamic Effort: It's not just about lifting heavy. The speed at which you lift plays a critical role in developing explosive strength and improving the rate of force development.
                    4. Recovery: Just as muscles adapt to the loads placed on them, they also require time to recover and grow. Active recovery techniques, proper nutrition, and rest are as essential as training.
                    5. Weak Points Training: Focus on areas of weakness, be it certain muscle groups or aspects of a lift. By strengthening these weak points, overall performance improves.
                    6. Conjugate System & Periodization: Combining multiple training methods and strategically planning training cycles ensures consistent progress and avoids overtraining.
                    7. Education & Adaptation: Always learn and adapt. Whether it's from biomechanical research or hands-on powerlifting experience, be open to refining your approach based on new information and personal experiences.

                    Remember, strength is multifaceted. It's about the absolute force one can generate, how quickly one can produce it, and how well one can sustain it. A combined approach that factors in the teachings of biomechanics and practical strength training ensures a comprehensive strength training program.

                    What factors affect my strength gains?

                    Strength gains are a multifaceted journey shaped by empirical experiences and underlying physiological principles. In general, we have identified 10 key components that will answer this question:

                        1. Training Approach: The methodology of your training is paramount. A system like the Conjugate Method, which emphasizes variety, hits different weak points, and ensures consistent progress while also adhering to biomechanical principles.
                        2. Neural and Muscle Adaptations: Early on in training, much of your strength gains come from better muscle coordination and increased activation of motor units. As you progress, muscle hypertrophy becomes a more dominant factor.
                        3. Dynamic and Max Effort: To achieve comprehensive strength, one must harness both speed and raw power. Max Effort pushes your absolute strength limits, while Dynamic Effort improves your speed-strength.
                        4. Individual Weak Points: Personal weak points, if left unaddressed, can be barriers. It's crucial to identify and target them specifically in training.
                        5. Recovery and Nutrition: Every intense workout causes muscle breakdown. Proper nutrition and recovery techniques, from rest to more advanced methods, support muscle repair and growth.
                        6. Equipment and Varied Resistance: The strategic use of equipment like bands and chains can add different resistance profiles, aligning with the principle of training specificity and variety.
                        7. Mindset and Psychological Factors: The mental component of strength training is as vital as the physical. A motivated and focused mindset can drive one past barriers, both perceived and real.
                        8. Consistency and Experience: There's no replacement for time under the bar. Both the body and mind learn and adapt, refining techniques and strategies over time.
                        9. Environment and External Influence: The company you keep in training can uplift or drag down your performance. A community that pushes, motivates, and supports is invaluable.
                        10. Physiological Factors: Hormonal balance, muscle fiber types, and genetic predispositions play roles in the rate and magnitude of strength gains. Understanding these can help tailor training more effectively.

                    Remember, the pursuit of strength marries both science and relentless practical application. By leveraging deep physiological knowledge with tried-and-tested training techniques, one can optimize their path to greater strength.


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                    Tom Barry

                    Tom Barry

                    Tom Barry is a seasoned strength and conditioning coach with over 16 years of experience. He has honed his expertise by closely collaborating with elite athletes from various disciplines, including the NFL, UFC, Track and Field, Jiu-Jitsu, and Wrestling.

                    Read more articles by Tom

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