Assessing Your Fitness (Part One: Strength)

There are generally three categories used to assess physical fitness: strength, endurance and flexibility. Within each of those groups, however, there are many variables to consider.

The strength required to throw a baseball 90 miles-an-hour is very different from the strength used to deadlift 700 pounds or that which is needed to perform a back lever. (I challenge you to find one person who can do all three of those things!)

The same is true of endurance; climbing stairs requires a unique type of stamina when compared to swimming or running.

Even flexibility gets tricky to gauge; throwing a roundhouse kick at eye level requires flexibility, but it’s different than the flexibility needed to perform a back bridge.

While specific skills like the ones mentioned above can be used to assess strength, endurance or flexibility, I believe an individual should meet several requirements to be deemed fit.

Notwithstanding my belief that goals are far less important than the actual practice of regular exercise, I’ve decided to put forth the following guidelines to use for self-assessment. Let’s start with strength.

Assessing Your Strengths (And Weaknesses)

There are basically two ways to measure or improve your strength: move your own bodyweight (my favorite) or, as Mark Sisson likes to say, “lift heavy things” (which is also very effective).

To meet my standards for basic strength, an individual should be able to perform the following:

Men

40 Push-ups
10 Pull-ups
50 Squats

Women
10 Push-ups
15 Australian Pull-ups
50 Squats

You might be thinking, “Al, doing 40 push-ups is a test of muscular endurance – not strength!” And you wouldn’t be wrong to think that. I told you these types of assessments can get tricky!

If you are looking to test your strength for one rep, then use weights. Keep in mind that even with weight training, it is best to judge your strength relative to your body weight. A 250 lb. man should be expected to lift a lot more than a man who weighs 165 lbs. With that in mind, anyone who I consider strong will likely meet the following minimum criteria:

Men

Clean and Press 50% of your bodyweight
Squat 90% of your bodyweight
Deadlift 100% of your bodyweight

Women
Clean and Press 35% of your bodyweight
Squat 60% of your bodyweight
Deadlift 70% of your bodyweight

Remember that these are not hard and fast rules with which to judge yourself. Simply use this as a way to assess what aspects of your game might be worth giving extra attention – then get to work!

It should be noted that technique is a factor in performing these lifts as well. Make sure you understand the mechanics of any given exercise prior to testing your limits.

In parts two and three I discuss my thoughts on assessing endurance and flexibility. Use the comment section below to share your thoughts on assessing strength.

40 thoughts on “Assessing Your Fitness (Part One: Strength)

  • By Johnlimpus -

    Hi Al.

    Do you enforce a time limit on your basic strength (bodyweight) assessments?

    Great article,

    John

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      No time limit, John. Just make sure each exercise is done in one set without stopping.

      Glad you liked this post. When I put up my endurance post later this week, there will be time requirements!

  • By Batze2010 -

    Interesting comparisons between strength, endurance and agility.
    You can do it again and again that we think more accurately about things.
    Thanks for that…

    A very good article.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Batze!

  • By Dragonmamma -

    Forget those wussy requirements for women; I can pass all the men’s requirements! (Quite proud of my double bodyweight deadlift, although I haven’t deadlifted for over a year now.)

    Good thing there’s no time limit, though; I’m sort of a slow-motion person.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      You are quite an exceptional woman, Dragonmamma! I would love to see some video of your workouts.

      • By Dragonmamma -

        Want to see a really shitty video my husband took of me about 3 years ago? It’s pretty long and boring, and I’m chubbier in it than I am now, but what the heck:

        http://www.youtube.com/user/dragonmammma#p/a/u/0/dbwR29U_Tqo

        • By Al Kavadlo -

          Nice video! You sure have an impressive vertical leap, but where are the push-ups! :)

          • By Dragonmamma -

            When we filmed that, I was discussing jumping with some folks on another forum, so that’s what I did! Plus I was pooped. I had already done a full workout when Rob came into the gym and said “Hey, I brought the camera, want me to do some filming?”

  • By Lancehogle -

    Hi Al
    I did the body weight requirements for men after doing a kettlebell jerk test. I want to improve my pullups for sure, I still managed to get the 10 reps in. I’m looking forward to the endurance test later in the week.
    Cheers Lance

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Nice, Lance! So did the kettlebell decide that you were a jerk?

      I crack myself up! :)

  • By Lancehogle -

    Yep, my kettlebells call me all sorts of names….. come to think of it so do a lot of people who train with me. They love me!! hahaha. Have a good one
    Lance

  • By Robf -

    I can do:
    39 push ups
    32 pullups (kipping) or 18 dead hang
    59 squats
    and
    Clean and jerk bodyweight (165ish)
    Bench body weight
    Squat 1.3 times my body wieght (220)
    deadlift 1.6 times my bodyweight (265)

    Yes I’m blowing my own horn but I am fairly proud that I can do that. CF works for me.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Nice stats, Rob. Just gotta get one more push-up! :)

    • By Anirban -

      U r probably lying as the imbalance is too clear!

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  • By Alex Good -

    I can only do the leg exercises to the “fit” level.

    • By Alex Good -

      Then again, I’m not exactly small, soooo…

      • By Al Kavadlo -

        Sounds like you’re off to a good start! Keep training hard – nobody gets in great shape overnight.

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  • By Fatmanzen -

    I have reached the “strength of weight”, now I am working strengthening my body. Thanks for all your guide lines.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Congrats on your progress – glad I could help.  Keep training hard!

  • By Johan von Boisman -

    I’m surprised by the “50 squats” number. Are you referring to regular, no-extra-weight squats?

    I can barely get past 20 pushups, can crank out only a pullup and a half but the other day did a max test for squats and gave up after 120, more because of bordeom than fatigue. Am I missing something or just in a terrible imbalance? :-)

    Love your blog and videos!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Johan!

      Either you aren’t squatting low enough or, yes, you are imbalanced (which is not uncommon).  Better start prioritizing your upper body!

      • By Johan von Boisman -

        Yup. Butt-to-heels deep, cc style “close squats”. All previous exercise I’ve ever done is long distance biking and running so no wonder I’m out of balance. Thanks to your inspirational blog (found you through CC2) and a great gym here in Gothenburg, Sweden, I’m on my way.

        I like you “huaraches” by the way! After reading “born to run”, I have also gotten a pair (also from invisibleshoes)

        Keep up the good work! /johan

  • By Anirban -

    I am up there with all the tests except for the clean and press numbers and I can actually do squats with more than 90% bodyweight in the hips to heel style. What should I do for the press?

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  • By Till -

    clean and pressing 80% of your max deadlift either means you have a really strong press or a really weak deadlift, don’t you think? Still a nice list though, even though I find the endurance and flexibility assessments better.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      I’m talking about more of a push-press than a strict press, but I see your point.  Also, these are just loose guidelines for the general public  – this post was never intended for serious lifters to assess themselves.

    • By Michelvandenhoek -

      I agree with that. I’ve been serious about fitness for about 3 months now. I weigh 98kg, my Deadlift is 120kg for 1 rep and my strict overhead press is 60kg for 3 reps.

      For deadlift I use double overhand grip with no straps or other gear because in my opinion strength is useless if you can’t even grip the object you want to lift!

      So I could say press is just a little over 50% of deadlift. Nowhere near the 80% as Al Kavadlo states.

      • By Al Kavadlo -

        You guys are right – the original clean and press numbers were
        inconsistent with the other lifts.  I’ve gone ahead and changed it to 50% for men and 35% for women.

  • By Forsyth Hospice -

    Many men really love to have muscles. They are doing heavy workouts just to attain it. For first timers, it is really important to ask some guidance from trainers about these workouts for safety.  

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