We know that strength and endurance are valuable for many reasons. Of course strength and athleticism are part of health. They are also a part of your mind and personality. Mind, body, and soul is often a false distinction as each aspect of who you are affects the rest. Being healthier and more active affects your emotional health – it fights depression, gives you more energy, and improves your self-image, to name just a few benefits. And we have to admit taking care of ourselves is relatively rare for adult men. Obesity and inactivity has risen for decades and there is no end in sight. Having the discipline to be fit and strong should deservedly make you feel capable and give you self-respect. There are external benefits as well – being healthy and attractive affects how others see and treat you, to the extent of affecting your pay and your career.
Strength For Men
The above is true for everyone. But strength in particular is also a big part of your heritage as a man – the difference in average physical size and strength between men and women is large, among both ordinary people and athletes. Men are on average about 33-50% heavier, and 50-100% stronger, than women. This is especially true of upper body strength. Traditionally, the gap between the participation of men and women in physically demanding occupations – perhaps apart from farming – has been larger still.
So while there are many benefits to being healthy and fit in general, building strength can also be satisfying because it is a defining part of what it means to be a man. Training to build strength is in a sense claiming our birthright. It feels right and looks good – and it looks manly. Broad shoulders and a strong neck and forearms are part of what projects presence and confidence to men and women alike.
Strength is also something that can last you throughout your life if you work at it. Our speed, reflexes, strength and endurance will decline as we age unless we do something about it. Exercise will help a great deal in all of those areas, but in strength most of all. Men can maintain muscle mass into at least their 70s with strength training, and even men in their 80s and 90s can do calisthenic exercises like push-ups if they’ve stuck with it.
What Is The Goal?
We know all of this. But what should our target fitness be? In the modern world, few of us have jobs that make us powerfully strong just from their daily activities. And only a few professions require training to meet specific fitness standards – athletes, soldiers, firefighters, and similar. The rest of us don’t have that. This can leave you feeling a bit adrift if ‘more’ isn’t as motivating as a defined goal. Some of us want to know what the purpose of the training is, or at least how to measure it against something other than ourselves. Going to the gym to get a little bit stronger can lose its hold on your interest over time if there is nothing you need it for, and no one to compare yourself with as part of a competition.
If you are someone who is motivated by knowing where you stand in relation to others, but don’t have someone to compete against, an idea is to have a set of ‘minimum fitness goals’. It’s a way to set yourself your own PT standard – like the tests required of professions such as soldiers. That way you have something to work towards and a yardstick by which to measure yourself. The goals should be something that you know most men can’t do. If more strength doesn’t interest you forever, you can commit to maintaining the standard and exercise for that reason.
This idea of training to a minimum actually isn’t new. There was a book as far back as 1926, by Earle Liederman, called Endurance. This was a time in which more and more people had city jobs that didn’t require strength. Earle argued that every man should still train enough to make sure they could “save their own life.” He defined this as being able to:
- do 15-20 pull-ups
- swim half a mile
- run a 200 meter dash
- do 15-20 dips
- jump over something as high as your waist
He clearly seems to have had in mind that you were being chased or escaping some disaster. Like a 1920’s precursor to parkour, his measurements are mostly about being able to run and climb or jump over obstacles.
I think this idea can be expanded upon to cover more common exercises that are agree-upon measures of strength and fitness today. I’ve listed some basic exercises below and looked into what most men can do. If you were meet all of these measurements, you would be substantially stronger and more fit than the average man.
- 50 push-ups in 1 minute
- 20 pull-ups in a minute, or more than 10 in one set
- Bench press 1.25 times your own body weight 5 times
- Squat – 1.5 times your weight 5 times
- Deadlift- 2 times your weight 5 times
- Jog – 7 minute mile for 5 miles
Calisthenics/Jumping Reasoning: The average 20-something man can do about 30 push-ups in a minute. Maintain an ability to do 50, and you’ll be far ahead of the curve throughout your life. Similarly, the average adult male can do 8-10 pull-ups and in the Marines’ pull-up test more than 10 is the 50% percentile.
Weightlifting Reasoning: The goal is based heavily on self-reported data of men who lift weights, though the numbers behind the link seem to be repeated in other resources. According to this collection of thousands of self-reported maximum lifts, the average ‘advanced’ weight lifter can bench 1.5 times their own weight once. Similarly intermediate to advanced lifters can do 1.5-2 times their weight in squats and 1.8-2.3 times their weight in deadlifts for a max. I dialed it back to a lower ratio and doing it five times, because it can be dangerous to attempt an all-out max for non-professionals. If you can crank out a few reps at these weight ratios, that’s better than many men who lift and huge compared to the population as a whole.
Running Reasoning. Running a 6:39 minute mile in your 30’s puts you in the top 1%, while 9 minutes is the 50% percentile. So 7:00 won’t put you in first place at the nearest 5k, but it will make you able to hold your head high in any endurance test.
These standards can help if you want to be in outstanding condition as compared to your fellow men, and want a way to measure that. If you can get to this point you’ll know you have the kind of physical condition that few non-professionals have. If that fulfills your goal, you can workout to maintain this strength and have a measure to keep you motivated.