Setting Strength Standards

It seems every fitness website has strength standards of some variety, and they come in various forms. 

Most revolve around the athlete's body weight. Move "x" amount of weight in a percentage based format which is relative to body weight. For example - if I weigh 205 and the strength standard is 2x (or 200%) body weight for the Back Squat, then I'm shooting for a 410lbs Back Squat. 

This would be a test of maximal strength - the absolute max weight I can move in the standard range of motion for the exercise. 

Others look at the ability to move weight for a goal number of repetitions at a prescribed weight that is relative to the athlete's body weight. 

An example might be the Back Squat with a load at the athlete's body weight, with the standard being 15 reps. 

This tests muscular/strength endurance, and may also indicate a rough estimate of maximal strength.

The issue with either of these examples is the variability of the athlete. Some athletes may be predisposed to having a higher capacity for strength endurance. Some may be able to generate an incredible amount of force for one rep, but bomb out quickly beyond that. Your genetic makeup and training history has a big part in this. 

Another variable in the athlete is the makeup of the skeletal system. Tall folks with long legs (specifically the femur) will have a tougher time generating force in the Back Squat due to the basic mechanics of the lever. Shorter, stockier builds will be able to generate greater force in comparison. 

If a strength standard requires me, at 5'11 with a stocky lower body built to lift 2x bodyweight, and the 6'4 athlete at the same body weight is held to the same standard, we will likely have some discrepancies. 

At Line of Departure Athlete, we're most interested in methods of transferring the gym based physical attributes to the outside world. If you're a competitive weightlifter, powerlifter, or strongman, these standards don't apply to you.

In addition, these standards would not have any assistance gear... no bench suits, knee wraps, etc. Lifting belts are fine and recommended at maximal efforts above 85-90%.

I've picked several examples from gyms across the country that have a similar training focus, as we begin to develop our own standards and assessments. 

Strength Standards to Consider

Mountain Tactical Institute

Full disclosure - this is where I work. The founder, Rob, has played with these over the years. We have also developed other strength assessments, such as the Relative Strength Assessment, as a means of charting and analyzing strength requirements.

They are broken down into two kinds of athletes. Tactical refers to military, law enforcement, fire/rescue. Mountain refers to climbers, skiers, mountain guides, etc. 

Tactical athletes have a higher standard due to the load consistently carried. Turnout gear for the firefighter can weigh up to a 100lbs, and the ever-hated ruck can get up to 120lbs for the military athlete. These guys and gals need to be strong to move with that weight and remain durable over a long career. 

Dan John

Dan John is a well-known strength and conditioning coach who has probably been in the field as long as I've been alive. His focus is on strength and weightlifting. When he talks, I definitely listen. Below are his standards.

The most interesting note about Dan John's standards is the 'Game Changer' level of strength.  If a athlete is at at the 'Game Changer' level and participating in non-lifting sports, he recommends that the athlete should now focus on sport specific training. Essentially, the foundation of strength has been achieved and is likely maintained, therefore... stop focusing so much on lifts and get back to the technical aspects of your sport. 

Gym Jones

Gym Jones started with Mark Twight, an elite alpinist, and has evolved into a pretty hardcore gym-based fitness method. They've built the impressive physiques of the actors in "300" and other superhero movies. Below are the standards.

Gym Jones has broken it down into two modes of strength - maximal strength and strength/muscular endurance. We start to see a trend when it comes to maximal strength - 2x bodyweight for the deadlift, 1.5x bodyweight front squat, clean at bodyweight. They don't have what I would consider a upper-body pushing standard due to the hip extension/power requirements of the jerk... not to mention the level of technical skill involved in the movement. I'd be interested to find out the rationale. 

Regardless - I think they are on to something in establishing standards for maximal strength and strength endurance. 

Atomic Athlete

Atomic Athlete is a strength and conditioning facility in Austin, TX. They began as a off-shoot of MTI, and have since developed their own methods and standards.

I really like what they've done by breaking down job/sport specific strength demands. Similar to Dan John, the author points out that going far beyond these standards may have a negative effect on other physical attributes such as endurance and work capacity. 

The strength demands by profession/sport is a important distinction to make. I've found that male athletes, regardless of sport, generally want to get bigger and stronger.

I coached a young professional soccer player recovering from an ACL surgery. He wanted to get jacked. It took some persuading that yes, we're going to get you strong, but not as the cost of sport specific skills like speed, agility, or endurance. 

LOD Athlete strength standards

These examples provide a solid framework for developing our own standards. We are still researching and working through it, but here's some of the early criteria

  • Low Body Knee Driven Movement - I'm leaning towards the Back Squat, preferably with the Low Bar technique. The Low Bar Back Squat has a greater posterior chain demand compared to high bar or Front Squat. It's also has less ankle mobility demand for the creaky, old guys. 
  • Low Body Hinge Movement - Deadlift for the win. In terms of lower body strength, I don't think anything beats standing up a heavy barbell. 
  • Upper Body Push - Bench Press, Military Press, or Push Press? I'm not quite sure yet. 
  • Upper Body Pull - A weighted Pull Up would be the best measure, but it can be challenging to scale and standardize the movement (no kipping, no kicking, no flailing). Perhaps a 3RM measuring max weight, or max reps at 10% of the athlete's body weight.
  • Power - This is where we start to get in to more technical lifts. The snatch is probably the best measure of power, but it's such a technical lift that for most folks, it just doesn't make sense. The Power Clean seems like the best option, as it's less technically advanced yet still requires explosive, triple extension. In terms of athletic application, perhaps a max vertical or broad jump is a better fit. Timed sled pulls or push might also work. I'm not sure yet.

Maximal Strength & Strength Endurance

These are important distinctions in testing. I intend to develop a standard which requires testing for both modes of strength.

A important factor to balance in testing strength endurance is the metabolic demand factor. Ever tried to do a 15x Push Press' at a heavy load? It becomes a conditioning circuit, not a strength test. The load and reps must be carefully considered. 

Sport and Job Specific Standards

Strength requirements differ depending on the athlete's pursuit. The Police SWAT Officer needs to be stronger than the competitive Stand Up Paddleboarder. The collegiate football player needs to be stronger than the track and field high jumper.

We can break this down so that athletes of all varieties have the appropriate standards to ensure sport specific success, not gym-based success. 

Stand by for more on this. Something to add to the conversation? Feel free to post below in the comments or email Make sure you sign up for the newsletter below and standby for the release of the LOD Athlete Strength Standards.