I frequently read on fitness and strength forums about lifting goals that people think are unattainable. A recent Reddit post about a man in his twenties, height 6'2", goal weight of 225lb, asked if a 300lb press was a common thing. There was a hailstorm of people saying this was not a realistic goal, and he would likely never be able to do it. How many of these people posting to a semi-anonymous forum have seen lifting prior to the 90s? I'm guessing not many, because a press of 300lb was commonplace to the majority of 225lb competitive weightlifters. Prior to the 1972 Olympics, the clean and press (just called the press) was a contested event in weightlifting. Bill March could press over 300lb like it was a joke.
The Olympic record for the press in the 110kg (242lb) men's division is 213.5kg (470lb). 170lb over the goal press weight for the Reddit poster. Certainly, it's not reasonable to use the Olympic record as a goal for someone, but when the goal is 63% of the world record, it's probably an attainable goal. Unfortunately, the press has fallen out of favor in the past few decades possibly due to the ease and popularity of the bench press and because the press was eliminated as an Olympic lift. To give this ratio some comparison, let's look at some other records at the 220lb weight division for powerlifting.
The 63% values are quite reasonable goals for someone weighing 225lb. They may not seem like it, but they are. Not one to two year goals, but lifetime goals. These are reasonable for any man weighing 225lb without extenuating circumstances. These are not easy goals. They are not going to happen overnight. No one wakes up and accidentally squats 500lb. But it can be done. These goals will take years to obtain and will require focus, determination, and incremental increases.
Someone weighing 400lb might look at someone weighing 200lb and think "There's no way I could ever get there." It is common knowledge that this is possible though. These changes happen in small steps, not big jumps. It would be ridiculous for someone to try to write a book in one day, but over the course of a year, with one chapter written a month, it's far more manageable. People I talk to think it's insane when I tell them they could get their 135lb squat up to 315lb in a matter of months, not years like they previously thought. This process is about three aspects: managing expectations, an efficient and effective process, and incremental increases. With weightlifting, many people want to find the one thing that will give them the edge. They want to use the new supplement or newest program that will facilitate the next jump. They think there's some element of their form that's missing that will instantly take their squat from 225lb to 275lb, and it just doesn't exist. Fixing form problems will provide a host of benefits, but these benefits are realized over a series of incremental increases and hard work, not one big jump.
Strength Increases: What To Expect
A novice trainee can expect a massive increase in strength in the beginning and continual, but smaller increments later on when using a barbell program with squats, deadlifts, presses, and bench presses. A novice is a trainee that makes workout to workout increment changes. For example, the first workout might have a weight of 135lb on the bar, the second workout will be 140lb, the third workout will be 145lb and so on.
In the first month, a male novice can expect an increase in squat and deadlift of about 70lb. The next two months will yield about 50lb per month and the next two months about 30lb per month. The bench press and press will be about half for all of these increases. This adds up to an increase of 230lb on the squat in a 5 month period with an increase in body weight of 10-20lb of mostly muscle. There are a few key assumptions in this plan:
1) The trainee is going to almost every training session (three sessions per week).
2) The trainee is sleeping enough. This might mean eight hours. This might mean ten hours.
3) The trainee is eating enough. For some, this could be a slight caloric surplus. For some, this could mean 5000 calories a day (this is not most people).
If even one of these primary assumptions are not true, the estimated strength increases could by off by as much as half. It is difficult to abide by these three requirements, and it can be generally expected that one of them will not be followed. Given a suboptimal scenario, the expectations change. Only two main aspects of the program change. The first is that the increments will be lower. Instead of 70lb of squat increase the first month, it might be 50lb. The next two or three months might be 25lb.
A 125lb increase in the squat is clearly less than 230lb, but it is certainly not insignificant. The second aspect that changes is the novice stage terminates faster in roughly three to four months. The trainee will then have to move to intermediate programming.
The intermediate uses weekly increases in strength. A male intermediate can reasonably make 5lb per week increases in strength in the squat for many months or even years if done properly. These increases will not be continuous however. Setbacks always happen. Trainees get sick. Trainees have kids. Trainees change jobs and miss a month or more of training sessions. Despite this, the intermediate male will make use of 5lb per week increases for an extraordinarily long time. At this state, it is even more important that the three assumptions are true. If they are not, 5lb per week increases might turn into no increases or worse: regression.
For females, all of these numbers are lower, especially for the press and bench press. The squat and deadlift will increase steadily for the first month, but will use smaller increments. Because of this, the first month may only increase in 40lb. The entire novice stage might yield 100lb in strength. This is small compared to the male, but in terms of bodyweight and usefulness, it is significant. This means that a 140lb female may be squatting 185lb, full depth, for a set of three. There are many 140lb men that wish they could do the same thing.
A 1.5 times bodyweight press might seem impossible. To some people, doing a pull up might seem like an unattainable goal in their current state, but the fact of the matter is both of these goals are possible. Some goals will take longer than others, but no one should let others limit their abilities by being negative. Realistic is good. Defeatist is counter-productive. There will, of course, be set backs and other aspects of life will get in the way of strength goals, but getting through those set backs will only make achieving those goals all the more great. Always remember that goals are not achieved in a day. Incremental increases in life and strength are mandatory.