“Yeah, man…how much you bench?”
Hang around any globo gym for any amount of time and you’re bound to hear these words spoken (likely in the same, grammatically-compromised manner) at least 3 times per week.
The real travesty? You almost never hear anyone ask, “Excuse me, good sir; how much weight are you able to perform a squat with?”
I get it, though.
Squatting is hard. Squatting can be scary. And, most importantly, nobody really checks out your leg muscles so who actually cares how strong they are?
Like I said, a travesty…
For those of you who really are curious about squat numbers or who have been hiding behind your big benches, hoping to not get asked about your squat…well…the day of reckoning is at hand!
Today we’re going to talk about squat weights and answer the question “how much should I be able to squat?” Hopefully, by discussing this topic, we’ll be able to ignite some water fountain conversations on the topic!
Table of Contents
How Much Should I Be Able to Squat? It Depends…
As any reasonable person who is interested in powerlifting PRs would do, to answer this question, we turn to the man and his strength standards.
Mark Rippetoe, to be more precise.
Aside from being an accomplished powerlifter and a legendary strength coach, Rippetoe has developed the most widely-accepted and cited strength standards out there.
For the squat, these numbers look like this:
There are some obvious gaps in these numbers as most people fall outside of these specific weights (both in terms of their bodyweight and their squat max), but with a little rounding, you can find your approximate “strength category”.
To add some additional context, we need to discuss what each of the “Cat” columns mean.
Each “Cat” refers to a different strength “category” with higher numbers representing more advanced strength levels. They are divided as follows:
- Cat I = Beginner (0-6 months of weight training experience)
- Cat II = Novice (6-12 months of weight training experience)
- Cat III = Intermediate (12-24 months of weight training experience)
- Cat IV = Advanced (24-48 months of weight training experience)
- Cat V = Elite (more than 48 months of weight training experience)
Looking at these charts might raise more questions than answers. Let’s cover some areas that can add some context to the information presented on these documents.
Of course, the inevitable question arises as to “what is classified as ‘weight training’ experience?”
It’s a good one…and it is difficult to fully answer.
Joining a powerlifting club or regularly attending a Starting Strength-affiliated gym is likely to result in “better” “weight training experience” than a Zumba session and a few minutes of yoga each week.
Assume that to hit these numbers, you should be regularly squatting and actively trying to increase your squat PR.
Do we really expect the majority of freshly-minted 18-year-olds retirees to be able to bench the same amounts as people in their 20’s and 30’s?
While there are certainly high schoolers that look (and lift!) like professional athletes and those old, grizzled gym grandpas just oozing with “dad strength” or “old man strength”, the answer is usually “no, we don’t expect this”.
Lon Kilgore (the man who Rippetoe mentioned in his quote) has developed strength standards for most of the core lifts for older athletes. Although Rippetoe claims that the two men simply “pulled them (the strength standards) out of our asses (and each other’s!)” Kilgore’s approach to defining the relationship between age and strength is pretty robust
Taking data from a plethora of elite-level performances across a number of events, Kilgore came up with a few significant conclusions on the relationships between age and athletic performance.
Referencing these statistics, Kilgore developed age-group standards for each of the major power lifts (plus the strict press and power snatch). Here are his findings on the average squat by age:
These standards (and the legit statistics used to come to these conclusions) helps to shed light on what we can expect to squat as we get older.
Maybe you clicked here because you were interested in front squat strength standards. Thankfully, the nice people at strengthlevel.com have got us covered.
Assuming you’re in the 18-39 year-old age range and are around the average weight for Regionals “CrossFit training” men and women (200 and 140 pounds, respectfully), your front squat standards are below:
If you’re a bit lighter (170 and 120 pounds, respectfully), these are your front squat standards:
…and if you’re a bit heavier (230 and 160 pounds, respectfully), these are your front squat standards:
So…if by asking “how much should I be able to squat?” you meant “how much should I be able to front squat?”…you’re welcome!
Taking Numbers out of your… ?????
While these numbers can serve as good, general guidelines, there are some who really advocate for taking these numbers with a grain of salt.The most prominent of these people? None other than Rippetoe himself.
According to Post #35 on the forum (his own Starting Strength Forum, to be more specific), Rippetoe writes this about his strength standards:“We did them in 2006. Me and Lon (Kilgore) pulled them out of our asses, okay? He pulled some out of my ass, I pulled some out of his ass. They are meaningless bullshit. If you are even semi-conscious you will IGNORE THEM COMPLETELY. But if you reproduce them, say where you got them.”
So…yeah. Mark Rippetoe on the viability of his own strength standards!
Factors that Influence Your Squat
We briefly looked at the effects of age in relation to the question “how much should I be able to squat?”
Of course, weight is a major influencing factor, as well.
…but these aren’t the only factors that can affect how much you are able to squat and your overall squat potential. Let’s look at a few other major factors.
If you read enough…”less than scholarly” articles on the subject matter, you’ll generally find a lot of headlines like this:
Now don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against the kind of practical research that goes into such studies (I have delved into this research quite a bit on this very site!), but they’re not always in line with scholarly articles we can find on the topic.
A recent article found that there was a slight statistically significant correlation between height and squat strength among a group of 35 junior powerlifters and football players. As in, the taller the athletes were, the more they could squat.
To be fair, the study did not isolate each variable relative to others so tall, offensive linemen were likely compared with short, lightweight powerlifters.
In contrast, a number of other factors, to include Body Mass Index (BMI), Hip Circumference, Waist Circumference, Torso Circumference, Forearm Length and (Arm) Reach all had more statistically significant correlations than height did.
In most cases, BMI, waist, hip, and torso circumference will be closely correlated with weight, but it is interesting that factors associated with arm length would be more closely correlated with squat strength than overall height.
As it is, I wouldn’t discount the first article linked above, even if its findings don’t end up gracing the pages of Modern Science. However, if you’re over 6 feet and have poor squat numbers, don’t blame it all on your height!
As we saw in the powerlifter/football player article above, limb length is correlated with squat strength. The article went on to show statistically significant relationships between thigh length and squat strength…
…again, in the “longer/taller is better” direction.
…again, without differentiating between athlete body weights.
So we’re back to the “not quite bro science” references to save us!
Most literature on the topic will lead to discussions on femur length and the effects it has on squatting. Due to the anatomically significant position that the femurs take during the squat, their lengths greatly impact the overall torque necessary to complete the lift.
Engineered Athletics ran a simulation calculating work requirement differences for athletes of similar heights and weights, but with different femur lengths. They found that “the long femur does 16% more work than the average athlete, and the short femur athlete does 16% less work,” ultimately concluding that “athletes with short femurs are built better for squatting”.
So…got long femurs? All is not lost! We’ll discover a solution for you in the high-bar vs. low-bar discussion!
High-bar vs. Low-bar Squatting
Not all squat positioning is alike and certain bar positions are more conducive to different body types (and femur lengths!) than others.
Enter the High-bar vs. Low-bar squat debate
According to Dr. Aaron Horschig and the good men at Squat University, the higher positioning of the barbell on the High-bar squat allows the athlete to stay in a more upright position. In most cases, this will be preferable and easier to execute for those with shorter femurs.
The lower positioning of the barbell (3-4 inches lower on the back) on the Low-bar squat causes the athlete to lean forward and take less of an upright position. In most cases, this will be preferable and easier to execute for those with longer femurs.
However, items such as relative quadriceps strength, stance width, ankle mobility, and glute strength all factor into the High-bar vs. Low-bar squat selection.
Depending on the number of these factors that apply directly to you and your body, you might want to consider altering your bar positioning. Making the change might instantly add some pounds to your squat PR.
Unfortunately, as evidenced by this discussion, there are few “hard and fast” rules that dictate squat maxes for each individual.
“How much should I be able to squat?”
Are you a man? How much do you weigh? How old are you?
“How much should I be able to squat?”
Are you front squatting? High-bar squatting? Long femurs?
You get the idea…
Use the strength standards discussed in this article as rough guidelines of numbers to shoot for, but don’t lose sight of the multitude of factors that can affect your squat level.
Also, don’t forget that the best way to get better at squatting is to actually get out there and do some squats!
Confident in your squat numbers and ready to get on the platform at a competition? Check out our article on powerlifting weight classes to find out which weight is best for you to maximize your chances at winning gold!