Benchmark exercises such as the pushup, pullup, squat, deadlift and bench press test the strength of large muscle groups. By evaluating your own abilities in these exercises, you can gain insight into your current level of fitness and set goals that will help you design more effective workouts. The standards set in these benchmark exercises are based on averages, however, and various conditions may limit your strength. Always consult your doctor or other qualified health professional before beginning any exercise routine.
The pushup is used to test both the strength and endurance of the upper body. The muscles targeted are the triceps, deltoids and pectoralis, but several smaller muscle groups are engaged for support and stability. Men use the standard pushup position with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Pushups are performed until your muscles are exhausted. According to the American Council on Exercise, the average man between 20 and 29 can execute between 22 and 28 pushups. Average 30- to 39-year-old men can perform 17 to 21. Men between 40 and 49 can usually do 13 to 16 pushups.
The pullup targets the large latissimus dorsi muscles of the back. Muscles of the arms and shoulders are also recruited for help and stability. Because many people find the pullup difficult, it is not always referenced as a benchmark exercise. The pullup should be performed with your hands in an overhand grip, palms away from you, slightly wider than your shoulders. Lift yourself upward until your chin is above the bar. Do not allow your body to swing. FitBoot, a fitness boot camp, says that the average man should be able to perform eight pull-ups.
The squat incorporates most of the muscles in the legs, with emphasis on the muscles of the thigh and butt. Your core muscles, those of the abs and lower back, are activated as stabilizers. Be careful to keep your back straight throughout the exercise and only bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor. A 165-pound man of average strength should be able to squat 204 pounds, according to fitness website ExRx. A 181-pound man of the same strength can perform the exercise with 220 pounds of resistance.
The deadlift targets the small muscles of the lower back and uses the muscles of the legs, back and shoulders for support. Because of the high risk of spinal injury, the deadlift should only be used with strict attention to form and under the direction of a professional. Your back must remain straight throughout the movement. Begin at a low weight until you are familiar with proper form before adding resistance to avoid injury. A man with no experience performing deadlifts who weighs 165 pounds averages a lift of 137 pounds while a 181-pound man of the same level can lift 148 pounds.
Bench Press Standards
The bench press targets the pectoralis muscles of the chest and uses the muscles of the shoulders, arms, back and abs for support. A man who weighs 165 pounds of average strength should be able to bench press 152 pounds. A man of 181 pounds at the same fitness level averages 164 pounds.