Redefining Strength: How Strong is Strong Enough?

Lee Boyce
Written By: Lee Boyce
August 21st, 2017
Updated: June 13th, 2020
Categories: Articles Training
21.4K Reads
Redefining Strength: How Strong is Strong Enough?
Do you find yourself trying to go heavier and heavier each and every workout just to nail a new PR? Turns out, it might not be necessary. Learn more!

There’s a problem with being strong.

It’s hard to think of any negatives associated with improving your strength. But it’s important to remember that training for one goal will always come at the expense of other goals.

We’ll be the first to say: for 95% of the population, improving overall strength should be their #1 fitness priority.

But the lines get blurred when you reach a level of proficiency in the weight room, with years of training under your belt.

Somewhere, someone said that being “strong” isn’t enough, and you should be constantly setting goals to become even stronger.

It’s worth thinking about whether or not this is entirely necessary.

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Following the directive above takes a bit more thought than meets the eye. When you’re a novice lifter and haven’t developed a foundation yet, it’s useful to stay focused on PR’s and strength gains.

Related: 6 Exercises Beginners Should Focus On in the Gym

People need to recognize that once you’ve become intermediate and advanced, the goal should be to maintain the foundation you’ve developed – not necessarily remain preoccupied with building on it. Having a 500lb deadlift is hardly useful for anything beyond that specific task, compared to having, say, a 300lb deadlift.

The real question to ask is: How strong is “strong enough”?

New Goals

Before thinking this article is just an excuse to stop working hard, here are a few alternate lines of thinking. “Strength” and “strength training” are often viewed through a one-dimensional lens. A person who can lift more weight for a max than another person is considered stronger.

But what if that stronger lift was a haphazard, wobbly rep that was only passable by on-paper standards, whereas the “weaker” lift was a single or double performed with perfect form, a controlled negative rep, and maybe even a pause mid rep?  It’s definitely a way to reconsider what true strength really means.

Being truly strong isn’t about the weight you can lift, it’s about the weight you can own. The quality of your reps at submaximal loads will take you a lot further than low quality max efforts for the sake of a PR.

Eccentric Training

Try performing slowed down lowering phases for every big lift. You’ll expend plenty of additional energy, increase your time under tension, and most importantly, exhaust your fast twitch muscle fibres, which are essential for building muscle and adding strength.

Focus on a 4 second lowering phase for each rep you do. To zero in on this even more, ditch the concentric phase altogether and focus on the lowering phase only.

Paused Reps

If you want a testament of your true strength, then let the weight come to a complete stop between rep phases. The fact that you’ve removed any transfer of forces makes light weight begin to feel heavy. It’s a game changer for movements like squats, curls, bench presses, and even chin ups.

The amount of reps you can perform or weight you can handle using these methods will likely significantly decrease, but who cares?  We’re chasing a training effect to hammer our physique and impact our health. It’s important to leave our egos at the door.

Train for Hypertrophy

Last but not least, strength training can be a bit overrated when it’s not applied correctly. At the outset we mentioned that it’s the most important pursuit for most of the population of average Joes. But getting and staying strong doesn’t always mean that we’re also in shape.

With strength training comes a tradeoff to many other areas of fitness and health, usually including general conditioning and cardiovascular health. You can have the strongest bones in the world and still die of a heart attack at 40 due to poor cardiac health.

Chasing some reps in the weight room will be good for your body composition, heart, and muscles. The weight used for such rep ranges will likely lower your chances of injury also. That’s a win-win for the average Joe. Plus you won’t get any weaker.

Can’t Live without Standards?

Long story short, being weak is a problem.  But if you’re constantly comparing your awesome lifting numbers to someone more elite and thinking that you’re weak, that’s an even bigger problem.

If the point of this article wasn’t enough, here are some numbers that you should probably keep in mind.

Related: What Is Strong? Real World Strength Standards For Natural Lifters

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If you can match your body’s weight on the bar, and squat it for sets of 6-10 full reps, you’re fine. I don’t care what you weigh.


Weigh over 200 lbs? Now take your body weight and pick it up 15 times with good form and no breaks.

Under 200? Use 1.25x your body weight and take it for the same ride.

Let’s be honest – Unless your wife or child is stuck under the wheel of a car, your real-life strength is not going to be “tested” with how much you can pick up once. In this day and age, any typical act of strength is also an act of muscular endurance.

Think about it: Moving furniture, doing construction work, toiling in the lumberyard, and so on. The 1 rep max in the weight room becomes so task-specific that it loses its point once you’ve established that you’re indeed strong. It’s time to start training.

Overhead Press

0.75 x your bodyweight for 1-3 reps should be a breeze. Get ‘er done!

Chris Bumstead Staying Strong with Overhead Press

Bench Press

This is the least “useful” movement pattern of the list, but since everyone wants to bench, it should be included.  And no matter what your body weight, you’d better be doing 6 solid and controlled reps with it.

Chin Ups

Let’s put this simply. If you can’t do 8 chins under your own strength, you’ve gotta go back to the drawing board and rebuild your foundation.

Change your perspective

A new perspective on strength and how it applies to the real world should do you well, and can take your mind off of elite numbers that serve no purpose if you’re not a competitive lifter looking to win a medal.

It will probably take you out of injury risk and it will properly condition your body for real tasks ahead.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my sister needs me to help her move out of her apartment.

1 Comment
Dan Boni
Posted on: Sun, 08/27/2017 - 15:05

Most of these standards look good except for Deadlift. I'm 165, so I'd have to do 200lb for 15 reps, and the guy who weighs 202lb has to do 200lb for 15 rep. That's a considerable difference in strength