Everyone has to start somewhere. And the great thing about being a beginner is that strength gains typically come quickly. More strength leads to more muscle and so the adventure begins. But beginners are easily lulled into making the mistake of using beginner programs for too long, inadvertently stalling graduation to the next level – the coveted arena of the intermediate.

Newbies will primarily want to build muscle and get stronger, the obvious. The mirror and the scale will help us determine the progress on the aesthetics side. The bench press, power clean, and front squat will be our benchmark lifts to test our strength gains and help us determine whether it’s time to make the jump.

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Why These Lifts?

We could argue 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, pulling, athleticism and full-body strength.
  • The Bench Press: Tests your upper-body pushing strength but it’s far more telling than that. If you don’t think that the bench press involves the whole body, try benching with a torn Achilles or an ACL tear. Your lifting prowess will depreciate quite a bit.
  • The Front Squat: Test the lower-body, it also tests core and shoulder strength by holding the bar in the rack position, and has a stronger carryover 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.

Exercise                   Goal

Power Clean             3/4x bodyweight for 1 rep

Bench Press             1x bodyweight for 1 rep

Front Squat               1x bodyweight for 1 rep


Beyond Beginner

Once you can nail the above benchmarks, it’s time to move on to loftier goals. With further regular training, you should shoot for the following.

Exercise                   Goal

Power Clean             1.5x bodyweight, or bodyweight for 3 reps

Bench Press             1.5x bodyweight, or bodyweight for 10 reps

Front Squat               1.5x bodyweight, or bodyweight for 10 reps


Intermediate Plus

We could easily have included the deadlift, back squat and overhead press and you can certainly strive for progress with those lifts but the power clean, bench press and front squat are the best indicators. They better help track progression and separate the men from the boys. Once you hit the 1.5x bodyweight mark, then you can start to pick some of your own benchmarks. Until then, use these as your standard of strength.

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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 specializing in exercise science, fitness leadership, athletic administration, and health promotion in 2004. He is a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), and the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA). He also holds a certification from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is CrossFit Level I certified. For more training info from Justin Grinnell, CSCS, you can visit his gym’s website at www.mystateoffitness.com, his Facebook page, or check him out on Twitter