People like to know how they measure up against some standard. For some, that means trying to be the strongest person in their gym. For some, that means trying to attain a certain placing at a high-level meet. For others, that means pursuing records.
Perhaps the two most common standards people use are strength/bodyweight ratios (which are pretty bad standards. You can read more about that here), or comparing their lifts to those on Strength Standards tables. There are a few different strength standards tables. This one is probably the most popular, but a few more have cropped up (one, two, three, four, five).
There are a few problems with these strength standards.
- Most of them aren’t based on any actual data. They’re pretty subjective – just different peoples’ opinions about what folks of varying strength levels should be able to lift. There are two exceptions. This one is roughly based on world records from drug-tested federations, but since it was made in 2013, it’s gotten pretty outdated. This one is based on self-reported user data, which runs the risk of a polluted data pool (probably unintentionally; I put in some dummy numbers just to see how it would rank them, and they’re now in the data pool. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who’s done that).
- They don’t take height into account. This isn’t a major issue for people who aim to compete in powerlifting, but (at least as I see it), a major function of “strength standards” is to get an idea of your skill as a lifter. If two people weigh the same amount and lift the same amount, but one is 160cm tall and the other is 180cm, the taller person is a more skilled lifter. If you’re highly skilled but not as competitive as you’d like to be, you likely need to focus on building more muscle, and if you’re less skilled, you likely need to either get leaner or get in more quality practice. I made one table to give you a snapshot of your skill right now, and another that shows how you stack up against the best of the best.
- Most don’t have standards for women.
So, to rectify these issues, I’ve made my own tables. The first is based on the relationship (discussed in the last three articles; one, two, three) between strength and fat free mass per cm. Based on your height and weight, we can get an idea of how much you’d lift if you had the same skill and body composition (about 12% body fat for a male, and about 20% for a female) as world-class lifters.
“Ridiculous” is 10% above the strength level predicted from the FFM/cm relationship. Outstanding is what would be predicted from the FFM/cm relationship. Formidable, solid, not-too-shabby, needs some work, and novice are 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, and 50% below those predictions, respectively.
I also adjusted the women’s numbers a bit to be more feasible, based on current records. Keep in mind, the equations are based on data from male competitors, so the female predictions are bound to be a bit less accurate.
Additionally, remember that these are based on skill and body composition. Carrying more body fat than is necessary will negatively impact your ranking here just as much as low skill as a lifter. I discussed the impact body composition has on relative strength in the last article.
To get an idea of lifts you should be aiming for when you’re approaching your maximum muscular potential (discussed in the first two articles of this series; one, two), you can use the calculator below to get the bodyweight to plug into the calculator above.
So, that’s the first table: calculating your skill as a lifter. We know that among elite lifters, the squat, bench, and deadlift scale linearly with fat free mass per cm. Based on your height and weight, we can get an idea of how skilled you are at picking up heavy stuff with the muscle you currently have.
The second set of calculators gives you an idea of how good of a lifter you are compared to the best of the best. The standards I’m using are the top allometric scaling scores of all-time for each lift, and for each manner of competing (with or without wraps, and with or without drugs).
The only all-time record I’m “throwing out” is Andrezej Stanaszek’s 290kg/639lb squat at 56kg/123lbs because, quite frankly, his dwarfism gave him such an extreme advantage in the lift. If I included him in the calculations, every other squatter (including the rest of the world record holders) in the history of the sport would look like drunken toddlers. That’s only a slight exaggeration.
Any score over 100% means you’re the best of all time. If that happens, let me know so I can update the calculator.
Any score over 90% puts you among the best in the world.
Scores in the 80% range are truly exceptional. For example, a drug-free male squatting 295kg/650lbs at 100kg/220lbs without knee wraps, or a drug-free 70kg/154lbs female benching 120kg/264lbs, or a 90kg/198lb male on drugs deadlifting 315kg/695lbs.
Scores in the 60-75% range will be very impressive in almost every gym, and will probably place you in the top 20 in your weight class at any major national meet.
A score between 50-60% generally means you’ve put in some serious time under the bar and you’ll turn heads at most gyms, but you still have plenty of room for improvement.
Anything below 50% just means you need to keep grinding. Somewhere around 40-50% is where most people will start hitting their first plateaus. When that happens, it’s time to increase training volume and put more focus on proper sleep (one, two), stress management, and nutrition.
I want to make sure these calculators don’t get outdated like others have, so when a world record is broken, help me out by plugging it into the appropriate calculator above, and shoot me an email if it scores over 100 so that I can update the formulas.
To wrap up this series, I just want to make a few notes about expectations.
Throughout this entire series, most people have responded in one of four very distinct ways:
- The Defeatists: People who are a long way from their predicted muscle and strength potentials, who cried foul. Either they had a long road ahead to gain as much muscle as Dr. Butt’s calculations predicted, or their current strength levels were noticeably below what would be predicted by their current muscle mass.
- The Realists: People who were a long way from their predicted muscle and strength potentials, who were excited by the predictions. They realized that, though they may be getting away from the “easy gains” portion of their training life and transitioning into “the grind,” they had a lot of room to get more jacked and set new PRs if they put their nose to the grindstone and kept working.
- The Nihilists: People who were nearing their predicted muscle or strength potential, and took it as a cue to take it easy. As they saw it, since they didn’t have much more room for improvement, there was no point in continuing to grind.
- The Optimists: People who were nearing (or who had exceeded) their predicted muscle or strength potential, but who were still confident they had plenty of room for improvement and weren’t nearing a wall.
One thing I noticed was a pretty even division between Defeatists and the Realists among people who were predicted to have plenty of room to grow. About half were pleased by the news, and about half called bullshit, confident they’d never exceed mediocrity.
The other thing I noticed was that Optimists vastly outnumbered Nihilists. Almost everyone within spitting distance of their predicted muscle or strength potential was confident the models were lowballing them.
I think those trends are telling.
Of course, it’s impossible to unravel cause and effect here. It could be that the most gifted people had come to expect continued progress, while a sizable portion of the less gifted people had come to expect stagnation, based on their prior experiences. However, it could also be that the people with the best outcomes were more likely to have the proper frame of mind on the outset. Or, most likely, both of those factors are in play. You can read more about how high expectations lead to high achievement, and self-limiting beliefs set you up for failure here and here.
Belief in yourself and your potential is a two-edged sword.
On one hand, if you believe you have high potential, you’ll almost certainly achieve more than you would if you had less flattering beliefs about yourself and your potential. However, such beliefs set you up for greater disappointment if you fail to live up to your expectations. High expectations almost inherently go hand-in-hand with an internal locus of control; you revel in your success (and you’re more likely to be successful), but you also place the weight of your failures squarely on your own shoulders.
On the other hand, if you believe you have low potential, you’ll almost certainly achieve less than you would if you had elevated beliefs about yourself and your potential. However, such beliefs also give you a safety net when you fail. Low expectations almost inherently go hand-in-hand with an external locus of control; you derive less joy from your victories (of which there will likely be fewer), but you’re not as negatively impacted by your failures, because you write them off to factors outside your control.
At the end of the day, locus of control is something that’s multifactoral; it’s partially innate, partially influenced by your environment, and partially based on personal decisions. To some degree, you have a choice concerning your beliefs about yourself.
Either you choose to aim high, set yourself up for success, but be more open to disappointment, or you choose to aim low, place a shallow ceiling on what you’ll achieve, but feel better about yourself when you fall short.
This series has equipped you with the necessary information to get an objective idea of what you can achieve. Maybe your potential is a little lower, or maybe it’s a little higher, but the information in this article series should be enough to put you in the right ballpark.
What you do with that information is up to you.
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