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5 Starting Strength Standards | A Minimalist Strength Guide

Why do we need strength standards?

For most of us, strong enough is good enough to achieve our athletic endeavours. Here are some starting strength standards to aim for.

We all say we want fitter, faster, stronger.

Once we go down a path of pursuing physical excellence we can sometimes find our big audacious goal is often way further down the road than what we really need. If we talk about getting stronger most of us simply want to be strong enough to be competent in our roles as parents, professionals and chosen athletic pursuits.

For most of us, a double bodyweight bench press is usually not the answer.

Starting strength standards can be defined as standards to aim for that will allow you to achieve most things. They’re the goal posts to aim for when starting on your journey or looking to maintain a level of general physical preparedness that will allow you to play with the kids, hike a trail and look a bit better naked.

Here’s what you need to know about starting strength standards:

  • These are basic guidelines for both men and women
  • They are usually “enough” for most athletic pursuits for general people
  • You might find on your journey that close enough might be strong enough for your goals
  • You might also want to get stronger in some areas
  • You should always aim for pain-free movement first, and then performance
  • Some standards will have multiple options to test depending on the equipment you have available
  • These standards do not equal sports-specific performance but are a pillar for it.

What is starting strength?

These strength standards are nothing new, I first learned the need for standards from Dan John. Mark Rippetoe also has starting strength standards in his book Starting Strength using the traditional barbell movements:

  • Bench Press
  • Military Press/Overhead Press
  • Barbell Squat
  • Barbell Deadlift and;
  • Power Clean

Make no mistake, if you want to get strong use a barbell. The starting strength standards you will see below will place you around the “Category III” of Mark’s standards you can find in his book.

This means there will be a certain level of investment required to achieve the standards, but with time, patience and effort are totally achievable for most people. I believe it’s the sweet spot and gives you enough to aim for and maintain to drive motivation in training.

Before we begin

Before we start down the path we need to assess whether or not our body is ready to add load, completing something like the 10-Step Self Screen is an easy way to know if you have the requisite mobility and stability to begin the journey. If you have access to someone who can complete a functional movement screen (FMS), this would also be another layer of assessment.

Complete the screen, and work on any weaknesses you find. It doesn’t mean you stop strength training but using an integrated approach of mobility, stability and strength like you will find in Unlock Your Movement will work here.

This also might mean focusing on body composition, if you are carrying extra weight you will notice the effects on movements such as pull-ups. Don’t let this dishearten you, use it as a point to find an optimal weight for your version of “strong enough”.

Exercise Selection

Most strength standards will be able to be executed with a few kettlebells and a pull-up bar. If you lack double kettlebells just use a single kettlebell and get moving. Supplementing dumbbells will also work.

You will also notice a large amount of single leg and split stance work for the lower body, as we build strength we can cover off weaknesses or asymmetries in the body at the same time giving you the best bang for your buck.

Minimalist Starting Strength Standards

Strength Standards For Men:

Squat

Bulgarian Split Squat: ½ BW for 15 reps each side or;

Pistol Squat: 5-10 reps e/s

Hinge

Single Leg Deadlift: ½ BW for 15 reps e/s or;

KB Swing: 24kg for 50 reps

Push

Double KB Press: ½ – ¾  BW for 5-10 reps (the weight is split across both hands) or;

Single Arm Push-up: 5 reps e/s

Pull

Pull-ups: 10 (Chest to Bar)

Loaded Carry

Farmers Carry: 90 seconds (no drops) with 2 x 24kg and;

Turkish Get Up: 5 e/s in 10min with 24kg+

Strength Standards For Women:

Squat

Bulgarian Split Squat: ½ BW for 10-15 reps each side or;

Pistol Squat: 1-5 reps e/s

Hinge

Single Leg Deadlift: ½ BW for 10-15 reps e/s or;

KB Swing: 16kg for 50 reps

Push

Double KB Press: ½ Bodyweight for 1-5 reps (the weight is split across both hands)

Push-ups: 10-15 (on toes)

Pull

Pull-ups: 1-3 (Chest to Bar)

Loaded Carry

Farmers Carry: 90 seconds (no drops) with 2 x 16kg and;

Turkish Get Up: 5 e/s in 10min with 16kg+

A minimalist starting strength program

Some of you will no doubt be questioning my sanity, particularly if you’re nowhere near the standards now. If this is the case it might just simply mean that it’s time to get to work. As mentioned earlier in the article, these are starting strength standards to aim for and for the average person can be achieved within 12-18months of training.

A program like Minimalist Easy Strength will help you get there.

If you’re already above the standards, keep going if that’s what pleases you. From my experience passing RKC Level II and training clients for the better part of a decade that unless your sport or pursuit of excellence requires levels above this, most people are pretty happy here.

The principle is simple, it’s the journey that counts. Set out to achieve the standards or find your version of strong enough. Be like Goldilocks and try to land in a spot that’s just right.

Ready to start achieving these standards? Check out our training plans and programs here.

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