Beginner Series

What is optimal strength?

Optimal Humans

What is optimal strength?

Strength is your ability to express force. Strength is your motor for physical performance and resiliency. It forms the foundation for all of your athletic endeavours. Whether you’re competing in a marathon, or catching the waves on Sunday morning. Outside of the sporting fields, your level of strength directly correlates with your quality of life, well-being and longevity. Strength can be expressed relative to body weight, however optimal strength is variable from individual to individual when you take into account, height, limb length, age and gender.

Possessing optimal strength gives you the resiliency to perform at your best in everyday life. Whether it's lifting kids off the floor, carrying groceries or walking up the stairs. The health adaptations of achieving optimal strength as so significant that it should be a non negotiable. And we should all strive for first reaching, and then maintaining it. 

The benchmarks for optimal strength

For strength to be optimal, it has to be even across all of the basic human movement patterns. In the current version of the Optimal Humans app, we use a number of core lifts to help determine your strength. Including, the squat, deadlift and Bulgarian split squat (also known as rear foot elevated split squat) for the lower body. And bench press and chin up for the upper body. 

We chose those lifts as they are the most widely used.  We have existing standards to go by based on decades of research and testing. These lifts are also the easiest to load in small increments.

To achieve the optimal score your one repetition max has to fall within these numbers. Here we've used an 80kg person as a reference.

Squat - body weight x 0.75-0.99 (80kg x 0.75-0.99 = 60kg - 79kg)

Deadlift - body weight x 1-1.24 (80kg x 1-1.24 = 80kg - 99kg)

Bulgarian Split Squat (per leg) body weight x 0.5-0.74 (80kg x 0.5-0.74 = 40kg - 59kg

Bench Press - body weight x 0.6-0.79 (80kg x 0.6-0.79 = 48kg - 63kg)

Chin up - body weight x 1.20-1.34 (80kg x 1.20-1.34 = 96kg - 107kg)*

*Your body weight with additional 0.20-0.34 of your body weight)

Being stronger than the benchmark isn’t necessarily more optimal

What makes measuring optimal strength interesting is that stronger doesn't always mean better. Being a lot stronger than the numbers we've listed could mean that other qualities of health and fitness would likely suffer due to the overemphasis on training for pure strength. This is something to keep in mind when choosing your training goals.

As we covered in What is optimal health, you have to balance strength, mobility, function and cardio. Putting too much focus on one aspect means that the rest will suffer. That’s why we’ve settled on those benchmarks. Anything less isn't optimal, anything more...well that depends on your endeavours.

Testing your strength

The way to measure your strength is to perform a 1 rep max test. Considered, in the industry to be the gold-standard of strength testing. It should be noted that 1 rep max require a certain level of experience, so as a beginner, when using the Optimal Humans app you can also test your three or five repetition maxes. The app will then automatically calculate your one repetition max based on your results, calculating your relative score appropriately.

1 Rep Max tutorial - Bodybuilding.com

Test Procedure:

  1. Calculate body weight (minimal clothing, no shoes)

Start Testing:

  1. Warm up then perform 10reps at a light weight
  2. Rest 1-3mins
  3. Perform 8 reps at a moderate weight
  4. Rest 1-3mins
  5. Add more load and perform a heavy 5 reps
  6. Rest 3 mins
  7. Increase load 5-10% for upper body, 10-20% for lower body for a 5/3/1 rep max
  8. Rest 3-5mins and Repeat until failure (repeat 2-4 times ONLY)

An optimal performance would be to stop when you have technical breakdown. So if posture deteriorates, time to call it quits and save it for retesting in 8-12 weeks.

An example scenario of a 3RM could be as follows:

40kg x 10
60kg x 8
80kg x 5
90kg x 3
95kg x 3 - 3 repetition max achieved

The individual scored 95kg for one of two reasons.

  1. They couldn't lift 100kg off the ground for 3 reps

or

  1. They achieved 3reps with terrible technique, so it wouldn't be considered optimal.

1 repetition maximum (1 rep max) testing is extremely taxing on the body, so its best to spread out your testing over a 5-7 day period.

Summary

Optimal strength is the baseline amount of relative strength that each person should posses. Optimal strength varies with age, height, limb length and gender. It’s the foundation for all our athletic endeavours. As well as a clear measurement of your overall quality of life, well-being and longevity. 

Stronger doesn't automatically mean better. Too much focus on strength may mean other physical attributes such as mobility, joint function and cardiovascular ability could suffer.

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