How Strong Should I Be For My Age, Size, Height, Weight & Gender?

QUESTION: What do you think would be considered “strong” for my age and size? I’m male, 21 years old, about 5’10, 170lbs and I’ve been working out consistently for about 4 years.

How much weight do you think I should be able to bench press, squat and deadlift at this point? What would you consider “good?”

The reason I ask is because sometimes I see guys in my gym who are a lot bigger than I am, but they lift a lot less weight than I do. But then I see guys on forums who are about the same age and size as I am, but they’ve barely been lifting for a year and are already much stronger than I am. How is this possible?

ANSWER: I get some form of this question every so often. Someone runs down their stats (age, height, weight, experience level, etc.) and their major lifts and asks something along the lines of “is this good?”

I’ve seen this kind of thing come up on various training forums all the time, too.

It seems many of us are overly concerned about our current level of strength on lifts like the bench press (guys especially), squat, deadlift, overhead press, pull-ups, rows, etc.. Hell, I’ve even had people ask me about their bicep curl strength before.

Sometimes it’s because they want to gauge their own progress or lack thereof. But most of the time it seems they want to compare their strength levels to that of other people of the same gender, age, size and experience level and see how they stack up.

Are their numbers considered good or bad? Would they be considered strong or weak? Are their lifts impressive or unimpressive? Do they lift more or less weight than other people?

Before I give you my all time favorite answer to this question, I want to first show you why it’s not always the best question to be asking…

The Problem With Comparing Yourself To Others

Simply put, a lot of what you see and hear from other people isn’t exactly as it seems. This is likely true in most aspects of life. Strength is just one of them. Here’s a few examples of what I mean…

Steroids and/or amazing genetics.

Steroids, amazing genetics or a combination of both can completely throw off any kind of physical comparison you’re trying to make between yourself and someone else, and you won’t even know for sure when it’s happening.

For example, someone using drugs (and/or with amazing genetics) will grow quite well, even if their training isn’t all that great. In fact, steroid users can apparently grow just fine with no training whatsoever. This is one of the reasons you’ll sometimes see fairly big, muscular people lifting surprisingly low amounts of weight.

My old gym used to be filled with people like this. Guys who took a bunch of drugs and then showed up at the gym to spend 2-3 hours doing various high rep/light weight “pump” training nonsense while flexing in the mirror before/during/after each set.

When you look at someone like that and see they look amazing compared to you but yet you’re somehow stronger compared to them, it makes you wonder if you’re lifting heavier than you should be (more about this in a minute).

Then of course you have people who DO train hard and intelligently. And when take someone who trains like that and add elite genetics and/or steroids to the equation, they are going to make progress that can at worst be just fantastic, and at best be so damn amazing it’s not even remotely realistic or attainable for the rest of us.

If you try to compare your strength to someone like that, it’s just laughably unfair. It can make you feel terrible about your own progress, or just make you chase goals you’ll never actually meet.

I’ve already covered this in detail before in terms of the unrealistic muscle building expectations steroid use creates. But, it applies to strength just the same.

Some people are just stronger or weaker than others.

For a period of time early on, I was making decent strength gains. But rather than feel good about it, I’d look around my gym at guys bigger than me (many of which fit into that previous group) and sometimes see them lifting less than me.

This made me question my strength. I mean, it didn’t make sense that I’d be able to lift more than people bigger than me, often significantly bigger than me. It made me think my form must be bad or I must be cheating or something somewhere just clearly wasn’t right.

And so I’d actually reduce the weight I was lifting on certain exercises and work back up assuming I must have been doing something incorrectly.

I’m not gonna lie. In many cases, there’s a really good chance that your form is total crap and you are indeed lifting (or really, attempting to lift) much more weight than you should be. But, that’s NOT the case every time.

Turns out that some people are just naturally weaker, and some people are just naturally stronger. Sometimes at everything, sometimes just at certain exercises or certain types of exercises.

For all you know, you may very well be one of the strong ones. Or, you may just be surrounded by a bunch of the weak ones. Or both.

That’s why comparing yourself to others is kinda silly, and putting limits on yourself based on what other people of a similar age/size appear capable of can be a terrible idea.

Not to mention, the average person in the average gym is clueless, effortless and goalless. Is that really who you want to use as your progress measuring stick?

Miscellaneous

Two examples of many…

  1. The average person training pretty hard should probably deload every 6-12 weeks, sometimes more frequently depending on the person and the program. One common deloading approach is to reduce the weight you’re lifting on every exercise by some significant amount (e.g. to 80% of what it usually is) for a week or so.
  2. A few years ago, after a shoulder injury prevented me from overhead pressing for over a year, I slowly worked my way back into it. I think I started with 15lb dumbbells and gradually increased the weight in small increments each week.

Why am I telling you this? Because these are just 2 examples of perfectly good reasons for why you may see someone in the gym lifting less than you’d think they’d be capable of.

So if you happen to be making your pointless strength comparison between yourself and that other person during an instance like that, it wouldn’t be as accurate as you think it is.

Lies, lies and more lies.

Do you know how many people lie about how much they lift? Especially online? It’s gotta be like… 99% of them. And that’s probably an underestimate.

Unless you’ve seen video to back up a person’s claimed levels of strength, I can almost guarantee you’re being lied to by damn near everyone. At least a little.

Some people will claim to lift WAY more than they can, while others will just throw a few pounds on top of what they actually lift just to pad their stats a bit and make themselves feel a little better about themselves.

I mean, if you bench 190lbs… might as well say you bench an even 200lbs. Actually bench 200? Might as well say you bench 300lbs. Seriously, who the hell is gonna know? Might as well make it 400lbs.

Just like how every short guy adds a couple of inches to his height, every slightly overweight girl takes a few pounds off her weight, every old person says they’re a few years younger, and there’s somehow not a single guy walking the Earth with anything less than a 10 inch penis, people just lie about themselves.

Here’s another point I love to make in this conversation. You know when you’re at the gym, you often see someone load up the bar with a bunch of weight and then proceed to do the most pathetic reps you’ve ever seen?

Maybe they’re using a ton of momentum. Maybe they’re not even going half way down. Maybe their spotter is lifting the majority of the weight for them. Maybe all of the above.

Well, guess what? If you asked this person how much they lift on this exercise, they will respond with the amount of weight they use in the above “pathetic reps” scenario.

I want you to think of this person every time you see someone claim to lift some amount of weight on some exercise, especially online.

Granted, they very well might. Then again, they could just as easily be the person we all laugh at for doing pathetic reps with 10 times more weight than they’re actually capable of using.

So How Strong Should You Be? Here’s My Answer…

With all of that out of the way, it’s now time to answer the original question.

How strong should you be for your age, size, height, weight, experience level, gender, hair color, eye color, sexual orientation, blood type, shoe size and whatever other personal characteristic you can think of?

The best honest answer I can give you is this: stronger than you were last time.

Seriously.

I wouldn’t compare your current strength levels to anyone else’s.

I wouldn’t compare your current strength levels to a percentage of your body weight (e.g. 1.5 x body weight bench press, etc.).

I wouldn’t compare your current strength levels to what someone claims they should be for you at this point.

The one and only thing I’d compare your current strength levels to are your previous strength levels.

Are you stronger now than you were 3 months ago?

2 months ago?

1 month ago?

1 week ago?

1 workout ago?

For most of us, that’s the only comparison actually worth making.

48 thoughts on “How Strong Should I Be For My Age, Size, Height, Weight & Gender?”

48 Comments

  1. Again, another great article. It is so easy for a thin guy like myself to get into that frame of mind. My younger brother, who is several inches shorter is a beast. He was just born that way. He does a couple push-ups and the guy looks like he’s been working out for months. Me on the other-hand I actually have to workout for months before I see even the slightest bit of difference. I can’t compare myself to him I just got go in and put up a litter more weight than the week before. Just as he does. Thanks again for your continued straight forward article. Have a great one! ~Cheeseman

    • Glad to hear it dude. And yup… one of the few benefits of being short. Shorter limbs = shorter muscle length = bigger muscles. Also why a guy who’s 6’4 shouldn’t compare his squat strength to guy who’s 5’7.

  2. Hi Jay!

    This article is great!
    Honestly, i was waiting for a response, like, “you should be lifting your own body weight, at least or so”.
    But you made a great (and better) point on focusing on being stronger than 1 week, month & year ago. That’s how we really can compare & meassure our stats and progress.

    Thank you!

  3. And there is also the opposite of what you said regarding form. If your squat, as an example, is to an inch or so below parallel and you’re comparing the weight you’re squatting to that of someone who is doing 1/4 squats, then you’re comparing to the wrong person. I used to be 1/4 squat guy, and then I started over and began using an 11″ tall plyo box to squat to to enforce good form. And my new squat totals started out less than 50% of my former fake squats.

    One of the biggest problems I see at the gym among males is this need to compare. It creates competition, which can be good, but the dark side is that the testosterone-fueled competition almost always leads to increasing weight too fast and sacrificing good form in the process. That was me for at least 15 years.

  4. Also, I keep a log, and in the log I keep three or four months of history. It is an awesome feeling to look back a few months to actually SEE your strength gains on paper.

  5. Had to read this one. After buying your book I wasn’t expecting a complicated chart with age, weight, height, exercise indexed to what your one rep max should be.

    In the past I was going for low reps and strength. At 6′ 0” and 170 lbs I was working out with 280 at 4 reps. Okay, more like 5′ 10” and 220 at 4 reps. Anyway, my body was conditioned to heavy workouts and yet I found it hard to do things like cut the grass. My wife never knew what I could lift, but knew when the grass wasn’t cut.

    I do all my upper body exercises alone at home and go to the gym to use the squat machines and cardio stuff. I don’t want to get caught up looking at what other people are lifting like I did in the past. Although it’s interesting seeing skinny guys lifting an insane amount of weight and those huge people making all that noise that says “hey everybody look at me I’m strong”.

    Yea, no one should set their goals on what other people can lift, but have goals of your own. But, at 21 years old he might have Olympic goals in mind which might deserve an answer…probably find out he has a lot of work ahead of him.

    And after lifting weights for over 40 years I think I finally found out what lifting weights is all about. For us nonprofessional athletes is about keeping fit. And if your neighbor has a better lawn then you need to reevaluate your routine.

    • Yup, there are some people who lift competitively against others, and those are pretty much the only people who may need to care what someone else is lifting. But out of the entire population of people who lift, that’s a very tiny minority.

  6. love this website, such awesome info!!

    Im an introverted accountant and i love spreadhseets.
    I have been working out for almost a year now.
    At first i did compare myself to everyone else at the gym, because lets face it, like most accountants i was a weedy little nerd, lol.
    After realising my folly i turned to what i knew best and started logging everything, my weights/reps, days, body weight ect.
    At the end i had a nice amount of data to create quite a spectacular spreadsheet complete with fancy coloured charts showing that i had indeed made a nice steady progress, with the usual expected plateaus.
    Perhaps this is something that others could do? maybe not as extreme as i did though…

    • I’m in a similar situation. I’m an Engineer and like data and enjoy speadsheets, sad I know!

      I find that when I’m down about my progression or comparing myself to others, I update my spread sheets based on hand written log and find that I’ve made some degree of progress in relation to weights, reps etc.

      I think the ke point is that you write down waht you do EVERY workout.

      • Dude, there is nothing sad whatsoever about liking/tracking data. Diet and training are key, but tracking that data is the key to ensuring any of it actually works.

    • I’m all about the spreadsheet. The data is what motivates me. I have had to do a reboot though as some of my form was pretty garbage so I am building up again with serious attention to form. Who cares if I look like a weakling squatting only 60kg ass to grass, way better than the stupid weight I used to load on and barely make parallel.

  7. Nice article Jay.
    Since reading your steroids article, when I go to the gym, I assume every amazingly strong person in my gym is using steroids. While it may not be true, but it helps me not compare between myself and them. Besides, I have this weird strength/weekness formula, as when I’m pushing I suck, but when I’m pulling I’m a beast.
    If you keep dwelling on others and how much weight they’re lifting, you might end up either increasing weight and sacrificing on form or decreasing wieght and losing muscle mass/strength. So, do what the all-knowing man who wrote this article says.

  8. What do you think about Dorian Yates Upper/Lower+Arms? Wouldn’t it allow more weight to be used than if done at the end of Upper days? 3 times a week, MWF, allowing the arms to recover from the Upper workout.

    • Upper/Lower+Arms is another split I like. It has some pros (arms are fresher since there was no compound pushing/pulling before they were trained), but some cons as well (one extra day of stress on the elbow joints/tendons, which can be problematic for some).

  9. Only way to even come close to doing it would be:

    Beam length, time under tension and the body strapped to the bench.

    Yup plenty of bs out there and yes some people can squat 400 lbs but what they don’t do tell you is that they can only do one rep..

    Take a look at the following:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Db3camGmPcE

    Impressive in a way but not really in another. They are done very fast and not in the full range of motion. I would say between 1/2 and 3/4

    So if he were to go down slowly and all the way down he probably would not do half ofwhat he is doing in the video.

  10. Hi Jay. I am 50 years old, have lifted the “pink” dumbbells in classes at the club for many years, with no noticeable increase in strength or tone. Getting older, aware of the changes other women have gone through, and want to keep fit as I go through them hopefully without the roll around my stomach. I stumbled on your site while looking for information and started your beginner’s workout. I never enjoyed lifting before, but am loving lifting heavier weights. My back feels so strong even though I just started a couple weeks ago. My question is, I didn’t see when I can progress to intermediate/advanced. No hurry, just want to check. Thanks for all the info.

  11. Best way to know your progress is to keep a log. I have this small notebook about the size of my phone I take to every workout, in fact it lives in my gym bag. Before each workout I start a new page, I write what type of day it is “Push, Pull, legs”, the date and my current weight on the scale.

    Then I write out my routine, regardless of the exercise day I list the exercises, rep range, sets and rest period in blue pen. Then, I head to the first exercise to warm up. While I am recovering after warm up I look at the previous time I did this exercise or even one before that and see what I lifted and if I made any notes. I will usually put a checkmark or some note that says if I used a different lift or machine or if the weight was heavy or just right. I will also see the reps I did and determine how much weight to start with based on that.

    With those notes, I can go back over the past year and see my progress. I also have a baseline week to week of what I lifted and how I lifted to use.

    The biggest surprise? Some days are just bad days, you do not do the same weight or same reps as the last time, some days are great days, you jump up in weight and reps and generally, you maintain and see small pogressive builds over time.

    Point is, if you need to benchmark, as Jay said, benchmark yourself and the best way to do it is with a logbook.

    • Exactly right.

      The added benefit is that there is really no better source of training information than your own log. If you take good enough notes and pay close enough attention, everything you need to know about what works best/worst for you can be learned by watching your own progress and adjusting accordingly.

  12. Hi
    I am 38 female. I Workout about 6-10 hrs a week for years. Hadnt weight lifted in a while except for classes like boot camp, trx etc… Max 15 pound bar, 7 pound dumbbells. Anyways i hadnt been able to exercise for 4 months due to eye surgery my health is otherwise just fine. I am able to workout again fully. In any case i was going to start the beg workout cause the muscle in my legs seems to have vanished in my 4 months hiatus. I am at a loss as to what weight to start with in some of the exercises. I has a trainer about 5 yrs ago and my muscle mass was good. My arms are toned. My legs and my buttocks are not as defined or as strong as they used to be so how do i know where to start. I have an idea for biceps and triceps etc but no idea for bigger muscles or exercises like deadlifts. How can i gauge myself of where i need to start.

  13. Great article and very true you can also be strong in different muscle groups. There’s also a difference between one rep strength and endurance. When I first started with my trainer he got a baseline for me and my legs were way above what they should be considering id never weight trained but my biceps are pretty weak . Also shoulders etc my single rep strength is good but give me lighter weights and ask me to lift for a period of time and I was useless. We did lots of work on increasing my endurance and this helped me lift heavier weights for longer periods when I went back (I should say my goal was fat loss so lots of high intensity weight training sessions both heavy and light). Bottom line learn what your body is capable of and work on areas of weakness to keep a balance

  14. The points made in this article were simple and yet profound. Such a centered state of mind helps in many different aspects of life. I am an athletic female who just started weight lifting. I am embracing the realization that I can shape my body to my liking. I have always been strong and notice that some men seem to feel inadequate when I am incline benching 45 pound dumbbells or repping out my deadlifts with 135 lbs. Btw those are accurate numbers. lol.

  15. I know what you mean about the heavy weight, horrendous form dude. There was a guy in the gym who racked the cable pull down machine and would swing his entire body off the seat in order to get the contraction. I just shook my head and thought to myself ‘what the hell are you doing buddy?’

    Of course he may be a power-lifter who doesn’t care about proper form, right?

  16. I’ve only read a few of your articles, and it’s obvious that you’re an intelligent, functional, productive, pleasant, and well-rounded person. You don’t often get all that in one person, especially not on the internet, so thanks for being awesome. 🙂

  17. Do you think there is an age when we can’t make any more gains? At 67 I’m no there yet, but just wondering if you have seen any research on strength gains for people who have been training all their lives (since my 20’s). I realize 70-year-old guys who sit around on their ass can get stronger, but just wondering what’s the case for someone who works out 4 days a week just about every week just about ever month and just about every year. Has anyone done any research on 80-90 year old lifters? Really enjoy your blog; thank you for making the effort to keep things straight.

    • No research like that comes to mind, but my assumption would be that if you’ve been lifting consistently (and intelligently) for years and years and years, there will come an age that you hit where additional progress becomes less likely of a goal and maintaining the progress you have becomes the new goal.

  18. 10 inch penis lmao. I got 15 but that’s just me bein 15 🙂

    Jokes aside, if there ever were to come a time where one starts to get pretty advanced, are there any special training techniques that actually work for plateau-busting? Also, no matter how slowly it may come, is it possible to make gains infinitely? Cause that would be pretty sick.

    • Yup, there are a handful of advanced training methods/adjustments that become needed once a person reaches that level. Needs a full article to properly cover, though.

  19. Oh, Jay, I hope I’m not being an annoying dumbass, but what are your best lifts? And just wondering, would you ever post pictures of yourself while keeping the face censored?

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