the joy of strength training

Gubernatrix

December 3rd, 2008 at 12:14 am

Strength standards for women

After a recent discussion here on strength standards for women, I have come up with some standards using the collective wisdom of All Round Strength Training! Click to go straight to table of strength standards for women (below)

There’s not much general knowledge about what is “good” for women’s strength training. In many cases, a woman simply lifting weights at all is considered amazing. But this – even if kindly meant – is patronising. If we are to take women’s strength training seriously, women need to know what to aim for as they progress. As reader Bonnie comments:

“It’s essential for women to know what feasible long term goals are. I envy the guys who learn weightlifting lore just by growing up. They learn as teenagers that if they work they can achieve a 200lb bench press, a 1.5 body weight squat, etc. Women who come to weightlifting often have no idea what is feasible.”

Using bodyweight as a measure

It may surprise you but if you use comparison with bodyweight as a measure, women’s strength standards are not greatly different from those of men. Using bodyweight therefore levels the playing field and makes it much easier to compare people of different sexes and weights. After all, “men” can vary greatly in size so saying that xxx kg is good for a man is not particularly fair either. And as reader Darren points out,

“Lighter people will always find bodyweight goals easier to achieve.”

You can use bodyweight either as a percentage or as a multiplier. For example if you weigh 60kg and squat 60kg, you can say that you squat 100% bodyweight or that you can squat 1 x bodyweight. Reader Ross comments:

“my girlfriend and I both just keep adding the weights until it we can’t lift it, then practise until we can. To keep it competitive between us we go on % of BW, so even if she’s lifting half of what I am, she might still be kicking my butt!”

There are also “bodyweight” exercises such as press ups, pull ups and so on which are generally done with no extra weight and therefore often used as a strength standard. Again the gap between what men and women can achieve is narrower than you think. Because much of the emphasis is on the upper body in these exercises, it can take longer for women to build up to the same standard but this does not mean it is not possible to get to the same level. (In a recent episode of TV show Superstars, Kelly Holmes kicked Jason Gardener’s ass on dips!) There are also bodyweight exercises that women generally find easier than men, such as the single leg squat. Reader Dingletec says,

“My father used to say you are considered strong when you can lift your own bodyweight. I don’t think it matters how much you lift beyond that, but that everyone should have that goal in the big lifts. And obviously should be able to pull their own weight in pullups/chinups for multiple reps.”

Boris of SquatRX concurs:

“Squatting with anything close to bodyweight on the bar with good form for reps is probably a … realistic goal for most general gym-goers (men or women)”

Standards

The first point to make is that there is no “standard” standard. The second point is that it depends on whom we want to compare ourselves to. Do we want to know how good we are compared to all lifters, from beginner to elite? Or do we want to know how good we are compared to others in the gym?

I looked at a bunch of strength standards from different people or organisations. Some go from ‘untrained’ through to ‘elite’, covering every possible stage. Others go for the simpler ‘decent, good, great’ classification, comparing regular gym goers. My sources were:

  1. Lon Kilgore, Weightlifting Performance Standards on exrx.net (these are also available in the book Practical Programming for Strength Training by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore, which I highly recommend)
  2. Crossfit North Athletic Skill Standards
  3. Are You Strong? Find out right now with these strength standards! by Tim Henriques (from T-Nation)

I put together a side-by-side comparison of these standards based on a female of bodyweight 60kg (132 lbs) which you can see in PDF format in Strength Standards comparison. But what I really wanted was an overall figure applicable to anyone, a single standard to refer to. So I came up with a ‘middle of the pack’ figure from this comparison table. I also took into account the figures suggested by readers of this website and my own experience.

These standards should be relevant for adult women who are strength training on a regular basis so I chose three levels of Good, Very Good and Excellent. It’s important to say that Good is good compared to other gym goers, not compared to untrained people. So Good is certainly a level to be proud of. Good is a level of strength that it is possible to gain after six months of regular training but is likely to be a couple of years or more for many trainees.

Very Good can take another couple of years on top of that and requires commitment and consistency. Reaching this level would put you above the majority of gym goers, even those who do regular strength training.

Excellent is a very advanced level, where you are probably starting to compete at national or international level. At this point you want to be comparing yourself to the other athletes in your federation and weight class rather than your fellow gym goers. Here are the standards, expressed as percentage of bodyweight:

Table of strength standards for women

  Good Very Good Excellent
Deadlift (1 rep max) 150 % 175-200 % 225 %+
Squat (1 rep max) 125 % 150 % 175 %+
Bench (1 rep max) 50 % 75 % 100 %+
Press (1 rep max) 33% 50% 75 %+
Pushups (full) 15 30 50+
Dips (full) 5 10 15+
Pullups (dead hang) 1 5 10+

* This table was revised in May 2011. See bottom of post for further details.

You can see from these figures that Good is pretty impressive compared to the average gym goer but it is a level I believe anyone can aim for if they are serious about their strength training.

Commentary on the standards

From what I have seen and read, there is not much controversy over the standards for the power lifts. The trickiest area I found is deciding where Very Good ends and Excellent begins; here is where your own predilections will make a difference. For example a woman with a particularly good squat but slightly weak bench might think that 175% bodyweight was a tad low to be Excellent, whereas a 100% bodyweight bench was about right.

The bodyweight exercises are more difficult to determine, partly because this is an area where many women are too weak to begin with. Often women shy away from upper body or bodyweight exercises altogether because they feel so weak in this area and think that they will remain so. This is not the case; women can get very strong in the main bodyweight exercises.

The bodyweight exercises standards from the T-Nation chart in particular were quite low – reinforcing the idea that women are rubbish at these exercises (I don’t exactly blame the T-Nation author; he is probably reflecting what he sees in the gym). Conversely the standards from Crossfit North are very high and while I admire their ambition (and it should be noted that the numbers are for men as well as women), many women might look at those numbers and think them impossible.

So the aim was to strike a balance and reflect women’s true potential without going completely out of range.

Setting goals

Don’t be disheartened if you feel that Good is a long way away – it is attainable!

Setting small, achievable goals is often more motivating than one far-off overarching goal unless you are the rare type of person who is not intimidated by that. So use these standards as background information but set goals that are relevant to you, your training history and your own ambitions. As reader Zoey observes:

“I really don’t know what the baseline is for women, but I do think it’s often set by what we see at the gym. For better or for worse. This time last year I was benching 25lb dumbells, thinking I was doing great. No other women were benching dumbells at all that I could see. Then this ripped young female trainer worked out one day and I saw her bench 35lbs, then 40lbs for about 8 reps each. I was astonished, and got right to work, and in a few weeks, there I was.”

Most people are naturally better at some lifts than others. It is a rare person who is consistently good across all exercises. So while it is good to work on your weaknesses (and essential if you are aiming for the top), don’t panic if one or two exercises seem to be falling behind. Over the long term you can work to even out these imbalances.

Update May 2011

I have revised the table of standards based on feedback in the comments and my own continuing experience of being involved with women’s strength training for a few more years! The table was compiled around 2.5 years ago and is therefore due for an update.

The squat and deadlift standards have been slightly increased for ‘good’ and ‘very good’, reflecting slightly higher standards as more women are doing these lifts (e.g. as part of Crossfit).
I have added differentiation between bench and press following comments which – rightly – point out that bench is usually heavier than press.

I have also reduced some of the numbers for the bodyweight exercises. This is not to reduce standards, but to provide a better progression from ‘good’ through to ‘excellent’. For men, the difference between 5 and 10 reps on, say, dips or pull ups is not that much, but for many women this represents a big gap and a lot of work (months and possibly years). So the standards now reflect this.

As always, your comments and feedback are welcome!

Further information

Women of Power – profiles of top female powerlifters

Powerlifting records

Lon Kilgore, Weightlifting Performance Standards on exrx.net

Crossfit North Athletic Skill Standards

Are You Strong? Find out right now with these strength standards! by Tim Henriques

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  • 1

    […] Strength Standards for Women – Gubernatrix.co.uk […]

  • 2

    […] fact, I had to revise the Strength Standards for Women that I originally put together in 2008, as the standards of the ‘normal’ weight training woman […]

  • 3

    Like you, I’ve updated my strength standards in the light of more experience, as you can see here – http://aptphysicaltraining.blogspot.com.au/2011/05/strength-standards.html

    The changes were to remove the squat and change “press” to “overhead.”

    The squat was removed because of so many dodgy lifts out there, people doing little dips and kidding themselves it’s a squat. The deadlift is a more honest lift, it allows no bullshit, either you pick the bloody thing up or you don’t.

    “Press” was changed to “get overhead any way you like,” and the numbers raised, since if a person does a strict press overhead with 1/2, 2/3 or 3/4 their bodyweight, that is pretty respectable and useful – but if they can’t press it but can for example snatch it, that’s good too. The process of learning to properly perform a snatch of 1/2 or more your bodyweight is going to develop in you a certain amount of co-ordination and athleticism that will be as useful in health and sports as the raw strength would be.

    Kyle on March 17th, 2012
  • 4

    […] other day, I stumbled across this article called “Strength Standards for Women”. It discusses and outlines a way to measure performance against… wait for it… yourself. […]

  • 5

    […] Strength standards for women […]

  • 6

    This is really interesting. I have been with my PT for 6 months and most of our training is using weights in a conditioning context, so in the region of 4 x 12 with minimum rest periods. However once a month we actually do a 1RM session to see whats going on. In an hours session I truthfully never get to failure, there is always something left in the tank but always set a new PB. Even without training specifically for strength I am outlifting some of his male clients. However what shocked me about your standards was that whilst I was really proud of my dedlift of 80kg (BW 52kg) and aiming to get to 200% by Christmas, it would appear that my upper body strength is further on than I thought, with a 3 x 45kg bench and 3 x 28kg press comfortable. I think because my PT only really sees men lifting, he’s no idea that these may be quite a good standard. I also realise my deadlift is no big deal, even though it’s the one that gets the most attention in the gym as all the men around us watch him load more and more weight on, and you can see them saying “yeah right, she’s never going to lift that”. Ha Ha!!

    Liz on October 8th, 2012
  • 7

    Well done Liz, it’s useful to have something to compare your performance to and your benching and pressing is definitely pretty good. You are also a good example of the fact that higher volume does make people stronger as well as heavy low rep work, because of the hormonal response (testosterone, growth hormone). Anyone training for strength needs a bit of both.

    gubernatrix on October 9th, 2012
  • 8

    Thanks for the reply, I actually mentioned these standards to my PT at this weeks session, and he admitted that this week after we’d done our strength session, some of the more experienced PT’s have been commenting to him that they’ve noticed what results we are getting and that in a commercial gym setting it could be considered quite exceptional given the time we’ve been doing it, and that we are not actually targetting pure strength. It’s okay I slapped him for not telling methis earlier 😉

    It’s been suggested that we should switch to pure strength for a few months just to see what sort of figures I could actually achieve.

    I’m not so sure I’ll take him up on this just yet as I like the intensity of the weights for conditioning, but it’s certainly something I may consider in the future.
    I’ll return to let you know!

    Liz on October 10th, 2012
  • 9

    Yay, after talking to PT again last night we are going into a full on strength phase training to see what happens. He is of the opinion I will be sacrificing fat loss to do this, I disagree, we will see what happens. Very excited by this and looking forward to some new PB’s.

    Liz on October 24th, 2012
  • 10

    Sounds great!
    It depends what you mean by ‘fat loss’. You can lose fat while strength training (I do this all the time) but it is not possible to commit to a serious ‘get lean’ programme and improve maximal strength at the same time – different types of training and dietary management.
    However you shouldn’t necessarily gain fat either if you manage things well – unless you’ve been going full on with getting lean e.g. depletion training.

    gubernatrix on October 24th, 2012
  • 11

    Hmm fat loss for me has been a focus on body comp, getting tighter / leaner and therefore I think my trainer agrees with you. Don’t know the definition of depletion training. I’ll be interested to see what happens, it feels a bit experimental, but in a good way. We are waiting a couple of weeks to take all stats (tape / bf / scale) due to “cycle” issues and then going for it!

    Liz on October 24th, 2012
  • 12

    Oh gosh, I am all over the place on this table! Barely above 125% bw/good on my squat, 50%/v good on the press (assuming strict/military press?), 225% bw/excellent on the deadlift (due to monkey arms) can only do one pull up and one dip but about 30 proper push ups. I’ve never benched so no clue about that. Seriously need to work on my squatting particularly.

    I’m going to print the table off and keep at it. Thanks gubernatrix!

    Lisa on November 12th, 2012
  • 13

    Hi Lisa, Good luck on your strength journey – it’s great to be aware of both strengths and weaknesses.

    gubernatrix on November 13th, 2012
  • 14

    thanks for putting this together – i first came across it over a year ago and i still refer to it periodically, so definitely a good resource!!

    i don’t know if this would be possible, but i’d also really like a 1RM calculator for women. the ones that are out there (http://www.exrx.net/Calculators/OneRepMax.html) don’t really match up with my numbers at all, and i suspect (?) it may be because women aren’t as neuromuscularly efficient as men (see: http://70sbig.com/blog/2012/09/why-females-lift-less-efficiently/, and i know i’ve read a rippetoe article about this, too, or maybe it was in starting strength). while i don’t use calculators like this to know my 1RM (my only 1RM is the weight i’ve actually lifted for 1 rep!), i do find them useful for programming and goals.

    thanks again for this resource and all the wonderful information you share here 🙂

    shayne on November 14th, 2012
  • 15

    Thanks Shayne. I just tried the exrx calculator out on my own numbers for squat and deadlift and they seem pretty close.

    Perhaps this is due to the fact that I’ve been training for a number of years and therefore have increased neuromuscular efficiency? The 70sbig article was interesting; I’d like to know where the author got his data from.

    gubernatrix on November 18th, 2012
  • 16

    I don’t think these standards scale well for lower body weights. I only started benching and pressing three months ago, and am already in the “Very good” category, which you say takes about two years of training on top of the 6 months it takes to reach “Good”.

    I started deadlifting and squatting six months ago and am in “Good” for deadlifts and below “Good” for squats. This fits more with your descriptions of the categories.

    Bench and press seem way off to me, however, considering where I’m at 3-6 months into training. I didn’t start strong either – 6 months ago I had never touched a barbell and was doing no strength training whatsoever.

    N00b on August 3rd, 2013
  • 17

    Maybe you have good genetic strength potential in pressing!

    I’ve been in the strength game for a good number of years now, working with many women and competing against many more, and I’m pretty confident that these standards are on the right track.

    There will always be some people who buck the trend. A colleague of mine is similar, she has a very strong bench press compared to her squat and deadlift. But most people will fall into the rough categories outlined above.

    Likewise the time taken to achieve these standards is a generalisation. I know women who can get pretty close to double bodyweight deadlift not long after starting to deadlift. However, progress does not continue at the same rate and can level off pretty quickly too.

    Just be happy that you have above-average pressing abilities 😉

    gubernatrix on August 3rd, 2013
  • 18

    […] about me anymore Strength standards for women (and for both men and women) Don’t ask your doctor about ‘low T’ Meet the […]

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  • 19

    […] Strength Standards for (just) Women Strength Standards for Men & Women Witness The Birth Of A Chicken McNugget Study examines consumption of added sugar, death from cardiovascular disease You don’t need drugs to snatch 300 lb. […]

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  • 20

    […] Strength standards for women (and for both men and women) […]

  • 21

    […] words of wisdom I could glean from other articles that she’d written. Then I stumbled upon this page. Oh Em Gee! For those not clicking on the link, it’s about strength standards and what she […]

  • 22

    There’s more to it than those numbers, strength comes from dedication and hard work. Probably the hardest thing people find to deal with is lack of drive.

    Strength Standards on January 3rd, 2015
  • 23

    I think I’m doing gr8 for a 49yr old woman, bench 65kg, deadlift 155kg, squat 105kg. my husband was a powerlifter in the 80’s and he trains me. more woman should lift, gr8 weapon against osteoporosis.

    sharon on January 20th, 2015
  • 24

    […] Gubernatrix gives an idea of where I am now and the potential progress that could be made. All the percentages are a calculation of bodyweight […]

  • 25

    […] are various strength charts out there, but strength standards for women is a good place to start. That chart takes into account the physiological differences between men […]

  • 26

    Just discovered your great website – thanks! I am a 51 year old woman who discovered lifting about 2 years ago. I’m happy to see I’m in the “good” to “very good” category on all these lifts! My goal is to get to “very good.”

    Shirley on May 12th, 2015
  • 27

    Your descriptions of Good/Very Good/Excellent are probably the clearest examples on the internet. Really nice! Plus that side by side comparison was a great way of coming up with a sensible rating system from all the different sources.

    We developed some new strength standards based on 50k+ lifts from female users:
    http://strengthlevel.com/tables/female

    Would love to hear your thoughts 🙂

    Strength Level on July 26th, 2015
  • 28

    […] description. Also note that you’re a beginner for much longer than you probably think – this article will give you an idea, although everyone is […]

  • 29

    A female friend of mine weighs only 45 kgs (100 pounds) and is already in the “Good” category for all exercises after only 5 weeks of training with me.

    I think these percentages should be slightly increased for women who weigh less than 50 kgs.

    Other than that, this table is amazing. Thank you very much for it.

    Andres on January 11th, 2016
  • 30

    Forgot to say, she’s already “Very Good” at bench press and overhead. After only 5 weeks.

    So yeah, for very light women I don’t think this table is very accurate. She had zero weightlifting experience before this.

    Andres on January 11th, 2016

 

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