Strength Standards and Assessments

I am currently reading Dan John’s excellent book Interventions. Dan John is one of the worlds top strength and conditioning coaches and presents his ideas in easy to understand and entertaining ways (think Yoda with dad jokes). The book lays out Dan’s approach when first working with a client, by first identifying a goal, then assessing where they are now, finally finding the shortest route between them.

A foundation for strength and conditioning, ideally developed at school and before 18 years old should contain the following:

  • The kettlebell foundation: Swing, Goblet Squat, Getup—  
  • The Barbel foundation: Military Press, Front Squat, Power Clean, Bench Press 
  • General Movement and mobility: Hurdle Walkovers, Farmer Walks, Cartwheels, Forward Rolls, Tumbling, Shoulder Rolls
  • Final stage: Deadlift, Back Squat, Sled Work, Prowlers and Car Pushes 

Dan also recommends that everyone should learn to swim, ride a bike and tumble and play as many sports, games, and movements as possible. These are skills that you learn once should stay with you for life. If you cannot do anything listed so far, that is what you need to work on before moving on.

For most people, those who are not professional athletes or special forces soldiers, their focus needs to move to keep the body as young as possible for as long as possible. Building and maintaining lean body mass (less fat and more muscle) and joint mobility should be the focus. The challenge is to do what you need to do in the gym rather than what you want to do. You can use two tools to keep you focused on what you need to do; a coach and constant assessment. You should assess mobility via the Functional Movement Screen (FSM) or alternative once every six weeks and assess strength every two months.

Absolute strength is the glass. Everything else is the liquid inside the glass. The bigger the glass, the more of everything else you can do.

Brett Jones

Dan provides some strength standards for enough strength so that strength is never the limiting factor in any physical pursuit. The standards are relative to bodyweight and so are extremely relevant to endurance athletes like runners, cyclists, and triathletes. It is tough to get big and lean if endurance athletes eat intelligently and programming strength and conditioning on building strength rather than size, they will find that they end up leaner and faster than those that skip weights in fear of putting on size.

The book Interventions list the six fundamental human movements, push, pull, hinge, squat, loaded carry, and the sixth movement (everything else). A good strength and conditioning programme should include all six of these movements and target achieving the expected standards in each of the exercises first, and then working towards the gamechanger standards.

Dan John’s strength standards for men

  1. Push 
    1. Expected = Bodyweight bench press
    2. Game-changer = Bodyweight bench press for 15 reps 
  2. Pull
    1. Expected = 8–10 pullups
    2. Game-changer = 15 pullups
  3. Squat 
    1. Expected = Bodyweight squat
    2. Game-changer = Bodyweight squat for 15 reps
  4. Hinge
    1. Expected = Bodyweight to 150% bodyweight deadlift
    2. Game-changer = Double-bodyweight deadlift 
  5. Loaded Carry
    1. Expected = Farmer walk with total bodyweight (half per hand) 
    2. Game-changer = Bodyweight per hand 
  6. Getup: One left and right, done with a half-filled cup of water

For those of us who like to challenge ourselves with endurance events, the overwhelming message from top coaches including Dan John, Charles Poliquin, Percy Cerutty, and Pavel Tsatsouline, is a solid base of strength is essential to performance, health, and injury prevention. Start working towards the ‘expected’ standards for strength at a minimum and have a long term plan to reach the game-changer standards and you will find that strength is never the limiting factor in any physical activity you do.

Dan John has a weekly newsletter, a weekly youtube Q&A, many excellent books (I would start with 40 years with a whistle) and articles, and a workout generator website that allows you to enter the equipment you have available and the days per week you want to train, and it will provide you with a strength programme.

You can find the extended standards with regressions for additional milestones and the woman’s benchmarks on Dan’s website.