One question I get asked a lot is, "Is that good"? Normally after a client or athlete has completed an exercise, workout or an assessment.

The truth is, that's a hard question to answer, simply because there are too many variables. Is the person asking a strength athlete, a long distance runner, a housewife or an octogenarian?

Having said that, there are certain levels of physical ability that I believe are acceptable standards for certain populations. The following are the standards I generally train people towards if they're in the relevant demographic.

To forestall any backlash though, these are minimums, they're achievable and they're relevant. What I mean by that is, if you're short of the standard in a particular lift or activity, and you do it regularly, I believe you need to raise your game. (If you don't deadlift by the way, you should start). If you're in the demographic with no medical or physical contraindications, there's nothing to stop you. And lastly, hitting those standards will reward you with improved physical well being. (Note: I wouldn't normally expect someone to hit all 5 of these, especially in the later lists)

My top 5's:

Average Joe/Jane (Doesn't 'exercise' in a gym but has good health and fitness levels through day to day life)

  1. Bodyweight Chin x 6 for men and x 2 for women
  2. 50% bodyweight dumbbell front foot elevated split squat x 10 (that's 50% divided between two dumbells, one in each hand)
  3. Run a mile in under 8 minutes (I personally don't like to run unless I'm late or being chased, but I do believe it's a good indicator of overall fitness).
  4. Bodyfat under 13% for men and under 20% for women
  5. Deadlift bodyweight for 8 reps

Regular exerciser (Goes to the gym 2-3 times a week)

  1. Barbell Front Squat x 70% bodyweight x 10 reps
  2. Barbell Power Clean x 65% bodyweight 3 reps for gents and x 45% bodyweight 3 reps for ladies
  3. Run a mile in under 6 minutes
  4. Bodyfat under 11% for men and under 18% for ladies
  5. Deadlift 150% bodyweight for 6 reps

Fitness Professionals (Trains 4+ times a week either for performance gains or as an industry professional)

  1. Barbell Front Squat 150% bodyweight x 3 reps or Barbell Back Squat 175% x 2
  2. Farmers Walk with bodyweight (handles/dumbbells) 40 metres
  3. Run a mile in under 5 minutes
  4. Bodyfat under 10% for men and under 16% for women
  5. Deadlift 200% bodyweight x 1

Strength Athlete

  1. Barbell Back Squat 200% bodyweight
  2. Farmers walk thick grip bodyweight 60 metres
  3. Chin Up plus bodyweight x 1
  4. Deadlift 250% bodyweight x 1
  5. Bench Press 150% bodyweight

Bear in mind that there are many other additional factors that will influence the above numbers. Examples of those are as follows:

  1. Nutrition - Do you eat well, do you eat meat, do you eat often? For example, many vegetarians and vegans have sub par strength levels due to poor diets. It's not that veganism or vegetarianism is inherently bad, just that you have to be more intelligent about it if you want a balanced diet. Similarly, individuals with irregular eating habits or whose jobs make eating well more challenging, (one client has 4-6 hour meetings on a regular basis. She tends to sneak cheeky bites of dried meat or protein bars out of her handbag when no-one's looking, but she does find it difficult to eat the way she'd like at times).
  2. Recovery - When I broke the 250% bodyweight deadlift mark, I'd been up most of the night because of my baby daughter's desire to see me sleep deprived. As a result I hit 418lbs at a bodyweight of 162lbs. The week before I'd pulled 396 for 5 sets of 3 and it had felt easy. The difference; rest.
  3. Body Composition - Fat people carry more weight. What I mean by that, is a lean person has tissue that is helping them and very little dead weight. A fat person has excess weight that makes any exercise harder rather than easier. One of my clients Anthony, is currently carrying about 42lbs of excess weight. Therefore I factor that into my evaluation of his progress. When he started training with me 8 months ago he weighed 301lbs. He's now down to 224 and still going strong. But I factor in the 77lbs he's lost when evaluating his strength levels, particularly on exercises like the squat. For example if his front foot elevated split squat 10RM was bodyweight only at 301lbs and now at 224lbs his 10 RM was BW+40lbs, he'd actually have become weaker, not stronger. As all the top trainers repeatedly advise, "if you're not assessing, you're guessing".  The bottom line here is a lean person is going to find it easier in many regards to hit the targets above, than someone who is overweight.
  4. Anthropometry - Simply put, how someones measures. People with long legs and short arms will find deadlifting harder than those with short legs and long arms. Different body dimensions suit different activities. I tend not to change my standards of strength here but rather acknowledge individual variances and adjust the exercise appropriately. Another client is 6'5" and has the arm-leg length ratio of a T-Rex, (just kidding), so deadlifting from the floor has very little benefit for him in relation to his needs. Therefore, he tends to stick with pulls from block or RDL's.

Assuming you've managed to read this far, what's the point of it all?

Everyone needs a goal. Doesn't matter what it is. But if you don't have one, how do you determine the value of what you're doing? Having a goal gives you something to aim for. It allows you to judge the value of what you're doing. It also quantifies progress. So if you don't have one, set one. You can choose from the lists above or make your own. But every time you train, you should ask yourself; "how does what I'm doing, move me towards my goal"? And if it doesn't, change what you're doing.

7 Comments

  1. Hi there, I really love all your articles. I workout (quite heavily) 5-6 times a week. I’m not one of those people who don’t break a sweat, I REALLY exercise my butt off (pun intended,lol!) I do a little bit of everything, aerobics, running, spinning, circuit, intervals, Metabolic Training etc. I find these standards quite high. According to these standards I am an Average Jane (and in some cases not even, my body fat is 21% and I can certainly not lift 60kg of weight!) Am I missing something or do I just think of myself way fitter than I actually am??

    • Hi,
      Thank you for your comment, hopefully I can shed some light on what the figures in the article represent.
      All of the numbers I’ve given are based on standards I’ve helped clients achieve in 3-6 months of focussed training, depending on their classification.
      Based on your activity, you’d actually be in the ‘regular exerciser category. The classification of Average Jane relates more to exercise habits than the actual performance as she’ll be someone who doesn’t actually go to a gym, but who has appreciable levels of strength/body composition/fitness simply as a result of a healthy and active lifestyle. I.e she’d normally be carrying or picking heavy things up as a result of her job as opposed to exercise.
      As a regular exerciser if your objective is to be strong/fit/lean, then the standards in the article are what I’d expect you to meet to class you as such.
      It’s important to realise though, that just because you may not match the standards in this article, doesn’t mean you’re unfit/weak or fat, just that you’re not excelling in those areas relative to the time and effort investment.
      It sounds like you’re doing lots of great stuff. If you want to hit the numbers in this article though, it may be worth considering reducing the variety and making your training more focussed as you listed 6 different training methods, all of which will yield different results, but all of which require slightly different adaptations.
      Fitness to me is one of two characteristics. Either the ability to perform a specific task. I.e. if you need to run a mile in 12 minutes and you can do that, then you’re fit, for that purpose. The alternative definition is based on general performance indicators relative to muscular and cardiovascular endurance. The latter is what I’ve used as markers of fitness in this article.
      So………you may be fit/strong/lean based on what you’re doing, but in comparison to what you’re potentially capable of, you’re still on the journey.
      I hope that helps and thank you again for your comment.
      Jeremy

  2. Hi Jeremy,
    Thanks for the fascinating articles, I’ve been following your posts with interest for a while. I do however wonder about specifically your body fat % for women. I’m a guy who run marathons, and my body fat is 8%, which correctly fits me, along with your other criteria as a regular exerciser. However, my girlfriend is also very fit, and exercises about 3 times a week. She has a body fat % of 24, which I believed to be fairly decent. Have you consistently gotten your female clients body fat to the sub 20% range also?
    Thanks
    John

    • Hi John,
      Firstly congratulations on maintaining a body fat level of 8%, that’s excellent.
      Regarding your question, for female clients who want to be lean, and I’d stress that that’s different to slim/thin, I’ve always managed to help them get to sub 20%.
      For your girlfriend, 24% isn’t lean. If you’ve watched the Olympics at all, most of the female athletes are around or below 12%. To forestall any comments regarding disappearing breasts or a loss of femininity, bear in mind that they’ll almost all be wearing sports bras and little or no makeup. Having seen some of these ladies in the flesh when they’re not exercising, they look very different I assure you.
      That said, women’s aesthetics seem to be far more personal than men’s, in that most guys look better, leaner. However, some women look better with a more voluptuous figure. For that reason I think body fat goals for women need to be slightly more individual. There certainly seem to be certain health benefits below 20% (improved insulin sensitivity, better metabolism, improved stress management at a hormonal level, etc), but I think all of these would place second if getting leaner caused poor self-image, or led to disordered eating.
      So in conclusion, a regularly exercising female is only lean below 20%, but that doesn’t mean she needs to be leaner.
      I hope that helps and thanks for following the blog.
      Jeremy

  3. Hi Jeremy, me again 🙂 Thank you for the reply. Could you maybe suggest changes I can make to get my % body fat below 20%? If I could get 18% that would be brilliant! I always just assumed it’s not possible for the “regular person” but now I am motivated again!

  4. Thank you! I’m definitely interested! I’ve sent a message to request more information via your contact us page. Looking forward to hearing from you!

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