Strength Standards: The Ultimate Procrustean Bed

fitness and strength training, man lifting heavy

As you’ve glanced around the gym in between your third and fourth sets – wishing it was all over – you may have noticed our strength standards table on the (fricking amazing) chalk board. The purpose of this table is to give you all some guidance as to where you should be when it comes to strength in relation to your bodyweight and to emphasise how important strength is for everyone (men, women and children) as ultimately, strong things don’t break.  Strong bodies mean greater consistency in the gym, which transcends into the achievement of your fitness and health goals if we are training more.

Most of you have been given instruction for where we want you get to in relation to your relative strength. That this process for some might take up to 6-12 months or even longer. What we want to avoid is putting everyone on a Procrustean bed. According to Greek mythology, Procrustes was an evil character that would promise a ‘perfectly fitting bed’ to tired and unsuspecting, travellers. However, instead of fitting the bed to the traveller, he would cut off the limbs of his guest or stretch them out, so that the traveller would fit the bed.

Why use such a graphic analogy? Sometimes we can get caught up in standards of where everyone should and should not be, and with that notion we prescribe the same plan for everyone, foolishly expecting them all to get the same results without any sort of individualisation. This can lead to a variety of problems and ultimately, lack of interest and motivation when the goals expected of you aren’t accomplished.  At least we aren’t back in ancient Greek times where you may have lost limbs to fit a bed.

There are many variables that may restrict people from getting to specific targets, from injury and genetics to (a very underrated) joint angle (moment arm). These all play a significant role in how strong/fit people can be. We’re not saying we can’t be strong, we’re just saying that sometimes it takes people different time frames to get there depending on the blueprint we have been given.

Here are a few examples where testing sometimes doesn’t transpire into great performers or athletes: Nathan Hindmarsh, George smith and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Nathan Hindmarsh was constantly last in most of the aerobic testing drills, definitely wasn’t the strongest either, but he constantly out-tackled everyone in his team week-in week-out putting up extraordinary numbers representing NSW and Australia many times.

George Smith was the ACT Brumbies Rugby Union captain and also the most capped Australian Test rugby player in history of the Wallabies. George Smith was always one of the worst performing players when it came to fitness and strength standards. But he became arguably Australia’s best rugby player of all time.

Cristiano Ronaldo has been quoted as saying “I don’t do strength training because it slows me down.” While we won’t point out the scientific inaccuracies in this statement – he just won his second Ballon D’or prize for the best football player in the world!

These players may have found testing or strength protocols already prescribed unnatural and not motivating and they need game-specific conditions in order to perform at their best. So having uniform standards for everyone isn’t an absolute finality.

So what does this all mean for you? Where does this put us with our strength standards? We have been educating you all about getting to specific standards and the closer we are to getting those standards, the more likely we are not going to get injured, get leaner etc: this still stands. However, we have to understand that not everyone will adapt uniformly and therefore any strength gain, regardless of how you get there, is a positive and will ultimately reduce ailments associated with being weak. As a coach and a gym goer; even we push standards just remember these concepts and don’t fall into being pulled apart on a Procrustean bed. Strength and fitness must be individualised and any improvement is exactly what it is, improvement and you should be proud of this achievement. This, in itself, may just be the motivation you need to get to the next level.

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