On Minimum Strength Standards
As a young powerlifter, the goal was always more weight. That was the sole focus. Once I hit a 405lb deadlift, the next goal was 455lbs and once I hit that, I immediately wanted to hit 495lbs. This was the case for the squat, bench, deadlift and overhead press. I started my strength journey in the powerlifting realm and stayed there for a good 6-8 years. I don’t regret my time in this world because I became very proficient in executing and coaching these 3 lifts during that time. The reason I am sharing this is because I want to remind you not to get too caught up in the weights you’re lifting. When you’re in it, it may seem like the most important thing in the world. But through my own experience and helping others through their health, fitness and gym experience - it has become quite apparent that the ability to train is more important than how much weight we are able to lift.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I still think lifting heavy (and heavy is relative) is badass and super fun. But not to the detriment of your mental and physical health. I still have personal goals of lifting x amount of weight for certain lifts but the biggest difference is that I’m not as married to these goals as I once was. Setting goals is good because it gives us something to work towards. But we have to realize that there will be roadblocks and setbacks on our way to these goals. That is perfectly natural. You may be wondering what the hell the title means. Minimum strength standards? What the hell are those? Let me explain. As a powerlifter, the goal was always more weight. The goal was to see what our 1-rep max was. MAX being the key word there. When we get too caught up in lifting heavy, we are always looking to MAX OUT. But where does it end? At a certain point, you may not be able to squeeze out another 5lbs in your squat. Maybe you’re able to, but at what cost?
Let me introduce a different way to look at our strength standards. This is especially important for people who have been training for more than 5+ years. So instead of looking at what your ‘max’ is, let’s consider what you think your minimum strength should look like. For example, in the big 3 lifts, I am actually much weaker now than I was 3-5 years ago. I hit a 500 deadlift when I was 17 years old. That was almost a decade ago. I hit 570lbs at one point in my early 20s and I squatted 475lbs and benched 275lbs 2-3 years ago. If you asked me if I could hit those numbers right now, the answer would be no. Do I have any desire to do so? To be honest, not really. I know the amount of time, work and dedication that it takes to push the maximum strength levels and I’m just not in that headspace right now.
So instead of maximum strength, let’s talk about minimum strength. Dave Tate from Elitefts mentioned this on Joe Defranco’s Podcast (link below). Dave Tate used to squat 1000lbs and was a savage in the powerlifting world. These days, he squats nowhere near that amount and is working on rebuilding his body from all of the damage that he did during his powerlifting career. In regards to minimum strength standards, he said that each individual needs to determine for themselves what their minimum strength should be. One person may be satisfied with being able to bench 2 plates for 3-5 reps at any given time while another person will only be satisfied if they can continue to bench 3 plates. That is for each of us to decide on our own. Deep down, every one of us knows what will make them feel strong. For me, that currently means being able to squat 315 for reps, bench 225 for reps and deadlift 405 for reps. This is a pretty standard 3/2/4 setup. For some, this may seem weak. But for me - this is the minimum right now. I also have other non-barbell goals that I am pushing a bit harder for right now. I am working towards kettlebell pressing half of my bodyweight and doing the Turkish Get-Up with the 48kg bell.
You have to realize that in order to lift heavy as fuck and push your maximum strength levels, it takes time - a lot of time. As a powerlifter, I was probably training 4x/week for at least 2 hours each session. These days, between my barbell, kettlebell and bodyweight work, I train 5-6x/week for 40-60 minutes. Same time commitment, but I am definitely more well-rounded and healthier now. At this point in time, I am exploring other areas in regards to health and fitness. I am exploring and learning more about kettlebells, bodyweight movement and spending my time becoming a better coach and building my business.
In terms of 26 year old me versus 16 year old me, I am much healthier now - mentally, emotionally and physically. I practice better nutrition and lifestyle habits and am much more well-rounded. Yes, I might be weaker in some lifts, but overall I am a much stronger human being. Like I said earlier, it has become apparent through my own experience as a lifter and a coach that we may be better served by putting our overall health goals before our max strength goals. Overall health means our mental and emotional health as well as our physical capabilities like our ability to be strong, be conditioned and move well. Simply put, our ability to train, move well and feel good should be at the forefront of our focus. Our desire to chase certain strength or fitness goals should come after.