I’m sick and tired of “strength standards”.
The reason why? They mislead average lifters into thinking they’re not “good enough” or “strong enough” to sustainably succeed if they don’t hit these numbers.
They also make lifters think that elite levels of strength are the only goal that should be pursued. It happens to the best of us.
What is an Average Lifter, Anyway?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not about to write an article that says settling for mediocrity and passing a high school gym class pushup test is the new gold standard for your physical fitness. That’ll have you walking around looking like most Americans who think they’re fit because they’re above “National Guidelines”.
In my book, if you don’t compete and you have a fulltime job, you’re average. You train recreationally, for the fitness and the health benefits as part of a healthy lifestyle. Despite what you may think, you probably fall under this category. In fact, most people do.
You may have been at this for a long while and you’re likely stronger than 90% of people you come across in everyday life. It’s just important to recognize any limitations or differences that could affect your training if disregarded.
If you want to be in this for the long haul, with great overall capabilities in and out of the weight room and free of injuries, you should be applying every last one of the following tips in your program, today.
Tip 1: Respect your Schedule, Respect your Body
Like I mentioned above, you don’t compete in any capacity and don’t have training as your full time priority. As a track athlete, being at the track centre for 4 hours per day on top of classes was more than enough for one person, let alone adding a part-time job into the mix (which we all had to do anyway).
For that reason, it’s important to remember to make allowances for things like poor recovery, less hours spent in the gym on a weekly basis, general stress, and irregularities with nutrition habits.
A 39 year old family man with a 50 hour work week won’t have the same demands or expectations as a 22 year old discus thrower or Olympic lifter. This is where the complicated topic of overtraining can be viewed through a new lens.
In theory, there shouldn’t be a problem with a body doing 5, 6 or even 7 weekly workouts as long as the correct guidelines are followed regarding rest, nutrition, intensity, and recovery.
In my opinion, a busy executive with an active social life, outside stressors, and a focus that isn’t geared towards training could be pushing the envelope on even four workouts per week. Especially if his lifestyle isn’t conducive to procuring benefits from doing so.
Do your best to keep your lifestyle in harmony with some solid training, but don’t overestimate yourself. Think long term.
Tip 2: Add Supplementary Moves to the Mix
I hate seeing coaches and lifters set up camp in one faction of fitness training. It may happen in the best of intentions, but it’s harmful.
We all know that primal movement patterns like deadlifts, squats, pull ups, overhead presses, and rows are of supreme importance to any human building a well-rounded physique. With that said, it doesn’t mean that any deviation from these movements is the devil in a blue dress.
Simply put, there are times where doing certain movements from the above list would create minimal added value for your particular goals.
Especially if you’re an experienced lifter who’s after size and has a good foundation of strength. It would behoove you to know that accessory movements definitely deserve their place in your routine and can prove to be just as important as the big stuff.
Also, lateral plane movements, split stance movements, and single-arm movements can create plenty of benefits that may not match the overall “bang-for-the-buck” bigger movements, but can still be worth their weight in gold for general physical preparedness.
Tip 3: Stop Testing Strength, and Start TRAINING Strength
The funny part about the training game is most people who aren’t powerlifters train for a max effort more frequently than the powerlifters themselves. There’s an allure attached to seeing just how well your training has been working by way of testing your 1RM max.
The problem is people usually take this too far and forget to go through an appreciable phase of training to make max testing a useful endeavor.
Many popular training programs developed by powerlifters are also well intended, but many consumers miss the message these great coaches are trying to send. They simply don’t recognize that the program’s purpose is typically geared towards achieving elite numbers in the big lifts.
That’s all fine and well, but these programs can also eliminate lifts that may not have as much direct influence on your squat, bench, or deadlift strength (despite having a huge influence on your joint health, ROM, or mobility).
Remember, such programs are meant to train the big lift strength of anyone from an average Joe right up to an aspiring or active competitor. So, it’s safe to say that they’re going to have a slightly different angle in their construction and viewpoint - and that’s what makes them so great for what they are.
A good thing to take away from this, however, is the fact that these programs don’t train absolute max tests on a frequent basis. Even when a 95 or 100% prescription is made, it’s often based on rates of perceived exertion, training effect, and cumulative load volume for the day, week, or training cycle.
There’s a method behind the madness. You’re still “strength training” if you lift in rep ranges of 3-5.
In my opinion, working to improve lifting form and rep quality during heavy triples will have more substantial long term strength benefits than reattempting ball-busting heavy singles that elicit poor form every 2 weeks.
Tip 4: Train Movements, not Muscles
This may seem to contradict what I’ve said above, but it doesn’t. Sure, deviating from the big lifts isn’t as outlawed as it’s viewed by primal die-hards. But as long as you’re still looking to get strong, you should be focused on loading a movement, not moving a load.
The better coordination you can have amongst many muscles, the stronger you’ll get, and the greater your training effect will be. Treating the squat as a “quad exercise” can skew your mindset towards the movement, which counts for a lot. Your entire body should be somehow involved in your big lifts while maintaining good form to do them.
From a general health perspective, it’s a smarter move to focus on maintaining fluidity and full ROM of all your key movements. By choosing one large movement pattern and making that pattern the title of your workout day (i.e. “vertical push”, or “hinge”), you’ll be able to hone in on your skills and make a very effective strength workout in the process.
Tip 5: Master Advanced Lifting Methods with Lower Percentages
As an “average lifter”, I currently have a 230 Overhead press, a 365 bench, a 435 squat, and a 550 deadlift. Those numbers sound pretty good for an everyday person. Funny enough, I don’t think I’m “strong”. Here’s why.
In many regards, conventional lifting is very much a game of timing, rhythm, and tempos. The amount of absolute strength required for a movement is not only very specific to the movement in question, it’s also a value that changes as the rep goes on.
Some of this can’t be touched; it’s just the way it is with isotonic training methods. But get most gym rats with a 500 pound max back squat that they perform traditionally, ask them to modify things with even 60 percent of that weight, and you see them get floored.
In my book, the ability to “own” lighter loads is a true testament of strength, and one that 9 out of 10 lifters are sorely lacking. It’s a real benefit to your training if you can take a submaximal load and make it feel just as heavy as your max without using more reps to do it.
That shows true mastery of your lifts and takes you out of having 95% of your max on your shoulders day in and day out. Diversifying your approach to strength training is as easy as a 4 second negative rep, a pause at the bottom, or a 1.5 rep set.
Tip 6: Stop wearing all that Gear
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you’re a powerlifter who’s got a high volume of heavy efforts on deck for the day, or you’re trying to minimize the neural output by lessening grip involvement, you get a bye. But when an average lifter walks into the gym for his basic general strength workout strapped up like G-Unit, I have a problem.
Given you’re healthy and have no preexisting issues that require the use of a fat belt, straps, knee wraps or the like, don’t wear them. You don’t need to.
Using accessories for safety to bolster your lifts definitely has application and usefulness, but the concept gets blown out of proportion and people begin to rely on them during every workout. This does nothing to train the strength of the muscles that surround the spine. Lighten the weight and focus on those muscles. It may mean a reduction of a few pounds, but in the long run it’ll be well worth it.
Learn to get comfortable lifting raw.