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Everyone has to start somewhere. And the great thing about being a beginner is that strength gains usually come quickly. More strength leads to more muscles and so the adventure begins. However, beginners are easily made to make the mistake of using novice programs for too long and accidentally taking the degree to the next level – the coveted middle school arena.
Newcomers primarily want to build muscle and become stronger, the obvious. The mirror and the scale help us to determine the progress on the aesthetic side. The bench press, power clean and front squat are our benchmark lifts to test our strength gains and to determine if it's time to make the jump.
Why these elevators?
We could argue about benchmark exercises for days, but between these three lifts you get a clear analysis of where you stand.
The Power Clean: Tests your explosive power, your pull, your sportiness and your whole body strength.
The bench press: Tests the pressure of your upper body, but it is far more meaningful. If you don't think the bench press affects the whole body, try a torn Achilles or cruciate ligament tear. Your lifting skills will decrease significantly.
The front squat: Test the lower body, also test the core and shoulder strength by holding the bar in the rack position, and transfer it more to athletics.
What are the benchmark weights for beginners?
After about 8-12 weeks of sound training, you should shoot for the following goal weights.
Power Clean 3 / 4x body weight for 1 repetition
Bench press 1x body weight for 1 repetition
Front Squat 1x body weight for 1 repetition
Beyond the beginner
Once you've set the benchmarks above, it's time to reach higher goals. With more regular training, you should shoot for the following.
Power Clean 1.5x body weight or body weight for 3 repetitions
Bench press 1.5x body weight or body weight for 10 reps
Front Squat 1.5x body weight or body weight for 10 reps
We could easily have included deadlifts, squats and overhead presses, and you can certainly strive for progress on these elevators, but Power Clean, bench presses, and front squats are the best indicators. They help better keep track of progress and separate the men from the boys. Once you've reached 1.5 times your body weight, you can choose some of your own benchmarks. Until then, use this as a strength.
Justin Grinnell, CSCS, is the owner of State of Fitness in East Lansing, Michigan. Justin received his Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from Michigan State University in 2004, specializing in exercise science, fitness management, sports management and health promotion. He is a certified personal trainer of the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and the International Sports Science Association (ISSA). He is also certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is CrossFit Level I certified. For more training information from Justin Grinnell, CSCS, visit his gym's website at www.mystateoffitness.com, his Facebook page, or on Twitter