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Building an aesthetic physique by lifting weights is a great idea. However, strength should always be of some priority. Not only will it ensure that you’re healthy, but that the muscle you’re building will last. If nothing else, you’re building some of the “go” to back up the “show” of your newly built musculature. But how do you know if you’re strong enough? Below are seven strength test markers to shoot for.
There are differing opinions on if a strength test should be “relative” or “absolute”. The former is in relation to how much you weigh, while the latter is just an out-and-out measure of overall strength. Goblet Squatting half of your bodyweight for 25 non-stop reps is a relative strength test.
The goblet squat (using either a dumbbell or kettlebell) is a great choice for more novice lifters as the technique is much easier to learn compared to barbell squat variations. As a result, performance can increase that much more quickly. By using 50% of your bodyweight, you’re making sure that you’re building adequate strength compared to your current body size.
This is helpful as it can be an indication of what your true need is. For example, if you’re skinny and simply just weak, then getting stronger needs to be your main priority. However, if you’re grossly overweight, while getting stronger still needs to be a focus, you’ll likely be better served targeting primarily fat loss.
By comparing strength to bodyweight, you’re ensuring that not only are your muscles’ capacity growing, but that your body is healthier overall. And by shooting for 25 reps non-stop, you’re proving that you have adequate work capacity, too.
If you’re no longer a novice and the above goblet squat strength test is easy, it’s time for you to bump up the difficulty. Barbell squatting 2x your bodyweight for a 1RM will ensure that you not only have a high amount of relative strength, but that your overall absolute strength is up there, too. Read about the different types of strength training here.
However, do know that this isn’t a goal that everyone achieves, and those who do usually achieve it quickly. It could take as long as a few years to squat this much, so think of this as a long term strength test goal. Start off by endeavoring to barbell squat your bodyweight, then 1.5x your bodyweight, then eventually 2x your bodyweight.
While many wouldn’t necessarily think of the pushup as a strength test, it very well should be for inexperienced lifters. Not only is it a great compound exercise for the chest, shoulders, and triceps, but it’s yet another way to evaluate your relative strength. Remember that this can point out if muscle gain or weight loss is more important for you in the short-term.
Maybe more importantly, it’s a measure of if your body can work as whole or not. Your core has to keep your body straight, elbows have to not flare out, shoulders stay in line with your torso, and so on. Provided you’re not significantly overweight, being able to do 10 good pushups in a row shows you’re on the right track.
Just like the goblet squat strength test was a good precursor to the barbell squat, pushups are a good precursor to bench pressing. And like the barbell squat above, your target bench press figure should be in relation to your bodyweight. Being able to bench 1.5x your bodyweight will not only show more than adequate relative strength, but a fair amount of absolute strength, too.
Again like the barbell squat above, keep in mind that this won’t happen overnight. Bench pressing 1.5x your bodyweight is more than achievable, and can be done by a number of moderately strong trainees. However, it’s still nothing to sneeze at. After all, this would be equivalent to a 200lbs man benching 300lbs.
So don’t be in a rush and realize it might take a while – even years. Start off targeting a bench press 1RM equaling your bodyweight. Once you can do that, shoot for 1.25x your bodyweight, then 1.5x your bodyweight down the road.
Probably the best overall relative strength test out there is the pullup. Lots of lifters at the gym can do pulldowns with nearly the entire stack and a few can row the heaviest dumbbells in the rack. But seldom can these same trainees grab the pullup bar and start cranking out reps.
Being able to get your chin over the bar several times not only shows you have good relative strength and a strong back, but it generally separates you from most of the pack. This is simply just because not many people can do good pullups without kipping or cheating.
8 reps is a good target to shoot for if you’re doing pullups with your hands facing away from you. If you’re doing chins with your palms facing you, bump that up to 10 reps. This increase is because chins engage the biceps much more.
While a plank probably isn’t the first strength test you’d think of, it is a great way to test the static strength of your abs, glutes, lower back, overall core, and more. And being able to hold it for two minutes shows that you have decent strength endurance to go with the relative and overall absolute strength you’ve been testing.
If you want to make the assessment even more valid, switch from a traditional plank to a pushup plank. The difference is that instead of resting on your elbows, you’re holding yourself in the top position of a pushup. This will then not only evaluate your core strength, but that of your shoulder girdle, as well.
Common strength goals are to bench press 1.5x your bodyweight, squat 2x your bodyweight, and deadlift 2.5-3x your bodyweight. The first two have already been covered, but there’s a better option for last in the list.
Instead of going for a deadlift of 2.5-3x your bodyweight, instead shoot for being able to pick up twice your bodyweight and walk around with it for 30 seconds. This can be done with dumbbells, farmer’s walk handles, or a trap bar.
This is a much better overall test as it shows that your core can stabilize a heavy weight in motion and that your balance is good enough to walk while holding a heavy load. Plus, not much else says “strong” like being able to pick up something super heavy and carry it from “point A” to “point B”.
There are many ways to be strong. But the best is to have a good mix of overall strength no matter what and being strong for how much you weigh. Starter tests like pushups or goblet squats are good in the beginning, then you can graduate to barbell squats and bench presses. Everyone should be able to do pullups, and farmers walks just show that old school “farm boy” strength. Focus on all of these and you’ll have the performance to back up even the best physique.
To test yourself further, read our fitness test article.