how strong should one aim to be?

strength is an attitude

If you think you are only strong if you can lift a certain number, whatever that number is, you will feel pretty weak most of the time. Strength is not a data point; it’s not a number. It’s an attitude.

– Pavel Tsatsouline

For regular folks like us, it is never going to come down to "Add 10 kilos to your bench press numbers and see your discus fly further" or any such thing. From the world of weights, we are looking for general physical preparation (GPP). We want to be able to do most things that life throws at us. For example,

  • carry our suitcases when we are travelling
  • put some of our suitcases overhead
  • move some furniture around the house
  • carry and walk around with our kids for extended durations
  • maybe do some/all of this while walking up the stairs
  • play some sport
Model: Selina Selke
Photo by Sven Mieke / Unsplash

So, chasing numbers, while totally fine is also arbitrary. It helps us provide focus and a smart way to train, and of course, it helps you answer the question of whether you are spending time usefully at the gym or just faffing around.

But when do we stop?

when we do we start?

Before that, let's begin at the beginning. If you are going to get into strength training, you need to get to a baseline standard first. These might take you a month or a year. It does not matter. This is the time where you can start to fix a few things.

  • make your fitness activity a part of your day, rather than something that you struggle to get into.
  • start to pay attention to what your eating habits are.
  • ensure you are sleeping well.

Once you have these going and your baseline standard, you are ready to do some heavy lifting.

For ease of reading, I've attached them here. For men,

And for the women.

If we are unable to get to our baseline standards, that's the first goal. For a lot of us, a lifestyle issue might be stopping us from getting to these.

why do we need to stop?

When you have your ducks in a row and you start being consistent to the gym, results will keep coming in. You will keep getting stronger, and your work capacity will keep improving. It feels wonderful.

What happens is we might set arbitrary targets of where we want to go. Arbitrary because we lack the sufficient knowledge to set these targets beyond a certain point. Plus, it will mean we sacrifice form and technique for a slightly inflated number when we do our workout today. I get it. I've been there.

Or as Pavel says, if we are after a number then it will constantly drive us crazy. Either we hit that number and we want a bigger number. Or we don't hit that number and we keep ignoring all the good work we are putting in.

Plus, the law of diminishing returns says that you will soon stop seeing results. So, before you get annoyed with everything, it is wiser to stop.

So, having a reasonable "let's stop around here" is a great option.

when do we need to stop?

For those of us who are diligent about our training and are rather serious i.e. you can get to the gym 3-5 days of the week, you follow a training plan religiously and your form and technique is top-notch, here's a good place to stop and take stock of what you want to do next.

This applies to

  • 30-50 years old
  • busy at work and/or with kids and family
  • diligent about training and will always put in the work. Not year- round but for the most part
  • have been training regularly for 3+ years
StrongEnough for men, 30-50 years old

If you are able to do this, I'd argue you are in a great place. You can continue working on getting stronger at the gym because you enjoy it but for most of the things you are gonna do in life, this is a happy place to be.

And once you are here, it is easy to maintain this as well with a minimum effective dose. Most of our students at The Quad who've been training for 1+ years can hit these standards. The pull-up might be a glitch for most people but once our health goals and our nutrition habits are on track, that comes through as well.

Let's see how it looks for women.

stop strength training once we go there?

Not at all.

If lifting weights is your jam, then you might enjoy putting in serious work to get stronger. You might enjoy training 3 days a week, doing the same lifts and just greasing the groove. And you might enjoy the occasional spurt where you go heavy and set up a new personal record.

In that case, you can set your ceiling a bit higher. Here's a suggestion.

And how this looks for the women is below.

Sure, one can keep going higher and higher - a triple bodyweight deadlift, for example. But for most of us, these 2 places are ample and then some. Even the second one is more about vanity than about function. But then, who doesn't like to indulge in something?

what next?

Once you hit your StrongEnough mark, whatever you choose to define it as, your world can open up some more. You can dabble in sports, in endurance events, or enjoy the hour of strength & conditioning work you put in and get on with your life. There's no right or wrong - all work.

Don't keep chasing numbers though, it can get boring real quick.

Instead, keep being a student of strength and hone your skill and keep doing the work and enjoying the journey. Your strength will continue to evolve and you can keep learning new skills as well in there.

a few caveats

  • if your primary strength training is via barbells, then you can figure out comparative numbers based on these.
  • these are based on the observations and testing we've done at The Quad. But it is never so simple as "anyone should be able to hit these numbers".
  • For those of us who are older, aiming for 66-75% of the numbers will be how you recalibrate and make this usable.
  • Only the baseline numbers are valid for all. The other numbers are purely for those of us for whom going to the gym is not a problem i.e. consistency is a given.
  • This does not take into account the size of a person i.e. tall/short and how heavy they are. These numbers work well for men about 60-75 kilos and for women in the 52-70 kilo range. Adjust accordingly based on your height and weight.
  • I am a big believer in health and a healthy waist-to-height ratio. If that's not at 0.5, that's the first focus. Forget everything else except that and the baseline standards.
  • If you have been putting in the time and effort but are not hitting these numbers, talk to your coach. It is almost always a combination of a health issue and/or a technique issue.
  • These are not magical numbers. They are simply "good enough" numbers based on my experience coaching and observing. I will definitely keep tweaking these numbers over the years and refine them.
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