How strong?

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In my last three articles I’ve talked about why strength standards are important and how I compare to some standards that I respect. In this article I’ll attempt to come to some useful conclusion.

Which set of strength standards should I use? Is one better than the other? What is the real value of this discussion? I think that the answer is up to the individual and their individual goals. The StrongFirst numbers serve as a good baseline for people who want to get strong while Dan John’s are more geared toward general fitness and athleticism. The ultimate point comes down to the Law of Diminishing Returns. Once a certain level of strength is achieved, it gets a lot harder to keep improving. I think that people who are training for health and quality of life should aim for these goals (pick a standard that appeals to you) and work towards them with focus and energy. Then, once the standards are achieved, they would do well to look elsewhere.

I’m not saying that you should stop training then, far from it. It’s just that once you reach a certain level of strength you might be better served by maintaining that strength and focusing on other skills and attributes. Power, balance, coordination and endurance are all important and Strong First is not the same thing as Strong Only. Heavy deadlifts feed nicely into heavy kettlebell swings, which feed heavy kettlebell snatches, etc. It is a pretty cool feeling to progress from deadlifting a kettlebell on your first day of class, to snatching it over your head, to snatching it one hundred times in 5 minutes. Each achievement leads to another worthy goal and a new perspective on what your body can do.

Since the first articles in this series came out I’ve gotten a lot of interesting feedback and questions from readers. Some folks have said that the numbers are unattainable for people of their age/condition/size/etc. Others have said that they have achieved or surpassed them and they don’t feel so special. Again, perspective is important. A single unassisted pull-up or body weight deadlift can seem like an impossible dream to someone just starting to get strong. Just showing up and committing to reaching a goal can be intimidating but as we train and practice we grow in many ways. Hard work becomes less intimidating and we learn how to strain, how to commit to a difficult task. Eventually we adapt to what used to be challenging and we know it is time to look for a new goal. 

To quote Pavel again, “strength has a greater purpose… unless you are a competitive lifter, strength is not the end all but a foundation upon which greater performance in your sport and a better quality of life will be built.” My final advice is this: find a standard that you can believe in - there are many out there worthy of your consideration and I only highlighted two - and work toward those standards. Achieve your goal and then move on to a newer, better one while never letting the old one slip. Become strong, then become powerful and durable and mobile and just keep getting better.

Blake Nelson