A guy I know considers himself “strong” because he can carry a 45-lb bag.
Then again, a buddy of his thinks he’s “strong” because he can ski for nine hours straight.
That’s the problem: everyone seems to have their own yardstick for what “strong” means.
So if we want to get properly strong and bulletproof, we need to be a lot less subjective about this.
Otherwise we can end up setting our sights too low for a whole bunch of different reasons:
• Perceptions of what’s possible for guys our age
• Ill-founded beliefs about our own ability (or lack of)
• Perceptions of what “heavy” means
Put it this way, if you’ve conditioned yourself to thinking a 45-lb suitcase is “heavy”, a 135-lb deadlift sounds impossible, right?
And a 225-lb deadlift? Forget it.
But I’ve got faith in you, and I know you’re capable of all this and more.
So here’s the kind of strength level that guys like us should be shooting for.
Ignore the Outliers
First off, the health and fitness industry loves guys who are abnormal.
You know the type I’m talking about: wide shoulders, a tiny waist and perfectly symmetrical 6-pack abs.
The industry then holds up those guys as shining examples of what can be achieved by average Joes.
So long as we use the special supplement, do the “black-ops” training program or buy whatever it is they’re selling.
And you know what? This stuff has been going on for over 100 years!
All the way back to the time of Eugen Sandow and his big fitness secret.
So let’s forget that Mike Tyson bench pressed 250 lbs ten times at 13 years-old, having never previously touched a weight.
Or that Olympic track cyclist Sir Chris Hoy squatted 500 lbs at a bodyweight of only 200 lbs.
In their own way, those guys are as much outliers as a 7’6″ basketball player.
They live in a different world to us.
Which means we need to be a bit more realistic with our expectations, while not selling ourselves short.
Enter Professor Lon Kilgore, PhD – one of the top people in the world for putting this into numbers.
Lon has competed in sports as diverse as weightlifting, rowing, powerlifting and golf, lectured at the US Olympic Training Center, and co-authored books with strength coaching legend Mark Rippetoe.
He has also coached everyone from complete newbies to Olympic athletes, so he knows what’s achievable for the average guy.
Here are the age-adjusted strength standards that Lon has come up with:
Now, these aren’t some magical “wouldn’t it be amazing someday if I could get close to” numbers.
They are typical strength levels achievable for an average 198-lb man who has engaged in regular training for up to two years.
To me, these are decent initial goals to set, then massively exceed.
Simon R. hit these numbers in less than 6 months of training, and Paul S. hit them in only around 12 weeks!
And remember, these guys weren’t in their 20s or 30s – they were both early 50s.
Maybe I’m a hair on the outlier side of average, but at 44 years-old I’ve squatted over 360 lbs, bench pressed over 250, and deadlifted 440.
If you’d told me that 10 years ago, I’d have said you were crazy!
Why those Exercises?
Now here’s something interesting – notice how Lon doesn’t use “carrying a heavy bag” or “skiing for x hours” for measuring strength.
Exercises like the squat and deadlift are best for developing strength, and for measuring it too.
After all, they’re really nothing more than normal human movement – squatting down, picking something up – performed under a scalable load.
So if you can deadlift 315 lbs when six months ago you could only do 225 lbs, you know you’ve gotten stronger.
And here’s something really awesome: you’ll also be able to ski longer and harder, and lift a heavier bag as a result!
When you’re strong, everything is easier.
Even by young guys who have the ability to be much, much stronger than that.
Just because nobody else is in there lifting the kind of weights Lon’s talking about, doesn’t mean those numbers are out of reach.
What it probably means is that those young guys:
1. Don’t want to get stronger (unlikely)
2. Don’t believe they can (more likely)
3. Don’t know how (most likely)
The bottom line is that guys our age are capable of getting strong and lifting weights that would turn heads in almost any gym in the world.
Not that we’re doing it for the attention – it’s just showing what’s achievable.
Just take a look at this video of 165-lb George Leggett pulling a 180 kg (397 lb) deadlift at 80 years-old!
Now all this is awesome news for us.
Why? Because it helps put things into perspective and allows average guys to shoot for bigger numbers than they ever thought possible.
Work steadily toward them, and improved resolve, self-belief and tenacity come along for the ride.
So, just because you’re a week or two into your program and things are starting to feel “hard” doesn’t mean you’re hitting the limits of your genetic potential.
Accept the fact that the weights will never feel light or easy, and get used to “squat dread” and “dead dread” rearing their heads from time to time.
Overcoming that is a key part of forging mental toughness.
But rest assured that what felt heavy today will be an easy warm-up weight just a few months down the track.
Now that’s progress.
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References: Strength Standards