Unless you are a powerlifter or strongman, this is a pretty good question to ask yourself. Most of us take on the mantra to be as strong as we can to mean the poundage on the big three lifts: Squat, Deadlift, and Bench (with most people ignoring the first two).
This question was relayed by Steve Maxwell at a seminar he was giving when he mentioned that one of his Muay Thai trainers saw him dedicating a lot of time and energy to the powerlifting moves and asked him why. When he gave the standard reply the trainer asked him “how strong do you have to be to knock someone out?” and pointed to one of the top fighters as he hit the heavy bag. Clearly, while Steve could lift more than that fighter in the big three lifts, the other fighter had a lot more power while executing Muay Thai kicks. Kicks that could knock someone out!
Steve trains athletes that earn seven figures. He let us know that for most of his clients and people in general, being able to do a Zercher squat with 1.0 to 1.25 of bodyweight is all the strength they need. If you haven’t done a Zercher squat, believe me, it is a humbling experience. If you think you will transfer your back squat weight to this exercise – think again. The other thing I like about the Zercher is that it is like training an upper body isometric as you literally bear hug the bar against your chest as tight as you can while squatting with the lower body. I am at the cusp of 1.0 bodyweight Zerchers and once I reach 1.25 I will not push to increase the weight.
Now if you are a strength athlete this is different. My friend Bud Jeffries has squatted 1,000lbs and Zercher squatted over 600lbs which would about 2.25 times his bodyweight. Then again Bud is a performing strong man and one of the strongest people I know and have the pleasure to call my friend.
Bud also has an interesting point of view. In one of his books he mentions that for the same amount of effort it will take for you to be number one or in the top 1% in a given sport or discipline you can be in the top 10% of 10-20 disciplines. You can be a Lance Armstrong and master the long distance bike race or for the same “amount” of training you can be a champion decathlete with mastery in 10 events.
Which leads to how do you apply these concepts to living as long as you can as best as you can. Do you need to run marathons in less than 2 hours, squat 3.5 bodyweight, or perform the splits? Probably not, however you would be best served by being in the 80%-90% percentile for mobility, strength, endurance, conditioning, mental control, flexibility, balance and coordination.
There is a price for greatness. NFL players go through some of the most rigorous training protocols for strength and speed, yet they average a life expectancy of 64 years. Boxers are some of the best conditioned athletes, but those who stay in the game and become champions have to contend with the possibility of having their cerebellum and other parts of the brain rattled to the point of impeding optimum or even normal function.
As for me, I have learned to start throwing away all unnecessary exercises and ego fixations, to include how heavy the bar has to be. I am now perfectly comfortable in stating that most of the barbell work I do is in the 275lb-335lb range. Yes, I have done more than that, to include 405lb squats, but I do not see the need to regain those poundages. I focus on hormone and life optimization and use the poundages that bring me what I want. In fact the only poundage I care to increase is the one I use for weighted breathing!
If you in any way think I am giving you a license to use light weights or take it easy in any way, please dispel the notion right now. What I am saying is that you need the right weight to create the stimulus and response that you are looking after. If you are a competing powerlifter and strongman that number should get bigger every competitive year until you reach your peak and leave your mark in the strength world. If you want to live as long as you can as best as you can then you have to train for that end result.
Here are some of my 80%-90% objectives:
1. Live pain free all the time and if I get hurt or injured have the means to return myself to pain free status.
2. Have full use of my body and joints – be able to touch the floor with my wrists everyday and have full mobility in each of my joints.
3. Have all the strength I need for my activities – be able to deadlift 315lbs at any given point in time regardless of my current training.
4. Have all the endurance I need – be able to run 3 miles under 27 minutes at any given point in time and walk all day if I had to, have all the energy I need to accomplish my goals.
5. Have all the conditioning I need – be able to produce rounds of sustained high intensity work on a regular basis whether it be sprinting or kettlebell circuits, be able to attend any training and being able to survive/endure it without prior training in it.
6. Mental Control – be in charge of my emotions and direct my mind with purpose.
7. Flexibility – have the required flexibility for increased recovery and enjoyment of life, be able to touch my toes while sitting down and be able to touch my nose to the mat in a back bridge.
8. Balance – have the physical and mental balance to do anything on one leg and to flow with whatever life throws at me.
9. Coordination – be able to do any type of physical discipline I want to engage in whether it be Parkour, martial arts, or fencing and be able to do all the cross-crawls front and back at any given point in time.
As you can see, this is something that while it definitely requires time and effort to accomplish and even more importantly, SUSTAIN throughout your life, doing so will put you in the premium position to live as long as you can as best as you can.
You can use this list as a template or build one of your own that better applies to your life situation and specific desires.
All my best,