Are You As Advanced As You Think?

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With both EC and Pete away on (a much deserved) vacation this week, to say I’ve been running around like a chicken with its head cut off would be an understatement.  Between checking e-mails, scheduling clients, taking phone calls, tracking sessions, and babysitting the high-school kids who are supposed to be here helping out, the last thing on my “to do list” is updating the blog.

Alright, that’s it!  Tyler and Tish:  put the scissors down!  You’re both going into the timeout corner. Goddamit, who tied Chris to the pole?  hahahahahaha.  Wedgie!!!!!  Weeeeeeeeeeeeee.

With that being case, today I’m going to re-post part of an interview I did for NYC-based trainer Mike Arone a few weeks ago on his site ( – mostly because I sound really smart, which is a rarity.

What do you feel defines someone as ‘advanced’– if there is such a thing?

There’s definitely a fine line between what separates someone who’s a beginner, from someone who’s an intermediate, to someone who is  considered more of an “advanced” lifter.

Beginners, with few exceptions, are those who have never really followed a structured training program in the past.  Sure, he or she may have stepped into a gym once or twice in their lifetime, and did a Cybex circuit here and there; but for all intents and purposes, they’re pretty wet underneath the ears.  Jazzercise gets them sore.

Intermediates, on the other hand, are a bit easier to define.  These are the people who, in one way or another, have been training for a while, and read sites like or maybe follow the monthly Men’s Health workout.  Generally speaking, they know their way around the gym, know the difference between a supinated and pronated grip, can perform a proper push-up without making me want to pour gasoline into my eyeballs, know that squats/deadlifts should be the foundation of any decent training program, and heck, they may even be able to name all external rotators of the hip.  But I doubt it.

In short, intermediates tend to be those you see at your local commercial gym on a consistent basis.

Lastly, are the advanced trainees, which are a little (okay, a lot) more difficult to define.  It’s funny, though, EVERYONE thinks they’re advanced.   I’m always perplexed as to why a lot of people follow advanced training protocols when they can’t even perform one simple bodyweight chin-up, or do a lunge without tipping over.

They think just because they can load the leg press up with all the 45s (and piss everyone off to boot), and do those partial range of motion thingamajigs, that they somehow know what the hell they’re talking about.

Lets put it like this:  you’re not advanced if you can’t deadlift at least 2x your bodyweight. (as an example).  More to the point, I was listening to Dan John speak a few weeks ago at Mike Boyle’s Winter Seminar and here are the MINIMUM number for his HIGH SCHOOL varsity requirements:

Power Clean: 205 lbs
Front Squat: 205 lbs
Back Squat: 255 lbs
Deadlift: 315 lbs
Power Clean and Jerk: 165 lbs
Military Press: 115 lbs
One-Arm Bench Press: 32 kg Kettlebell (5 right, 5 left)

I’m sure many reading right now would be hard pressed to hit a lot of those numbers.  Still think you’re advanced?

What’s more, I just walked out and looked at the CP High School Leaderboard, and just to crack the bottom, you’d have to hit a 285 lb front squat and a 250 lb 3-rep chin-up (bodyweight + external load).

I’m sure I could go on and throw out specific numbers that I feel defines someone as “advanced;” but the truth of the matter is – it depends.

There are plenty of people out there who can’t squat 400+ lbs, but they can pound out picture perfect one-legged pistol squats like it’s their job.

Who’s to say they’re not advanced?  Likewise, watch any of those Cirque du Soleil shows.  Are you telling me that they’re not advanced because they can’t bench press 1.5x their bodyweight?

I think many of us in the industry are quick to ONLY use quantifiable numbers to label someone as advanced.  While that’s a nice starting point, and I feel those are good measures, there’s so much more that goes into it.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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Comments for This Entry

  • Scott

    I would like to come up with some standard's to help lifter's follow appropriate programs. Is it even possible to do this fairly or is it just hit and miss?? Thank's for all you share! Scott

    March 22, 2011 at 8:59 am | Reply to this comment

  • J B

    The thing people miss is that being advanced means your gains slow way the hell down even though you're working your butt off. It took Andy Bolton over a year to add 5 lbs (.005%) to his deadlift with concentrated focused training. If you can add a speed day and suddenly your bench jumps 25 lbs in 3 months, you are not advanced. Besides advanced training is really focused, and not much fun. I can beat every number you posted above (except maybe the 285 front squat, probably I just haven't tested) I pulled double bodyweight for an easy 5 last week, but I still do fairly basic programs, because they still work for me. Thus me=/= advanced.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:11 am | Reply to this comment

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ JB: FANTASTIC points!!!!! Shoot, I'm busting my tail just to improve my DL by 30 lbs. And, again, those numbers I posted were by no means set in stone. But, I do feel they give people some idea of how advanced (or not) they really are. Comparing people to Andy Bolton is one thing. Realizing your internet 400 lb bench press (which is really 225) is what some chick in Bulgaria warms-up with, is another.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:36 am | Reply to this comment

  • Damon

    Great post! In practical programming by Mark Rippetoe there are weight charts for the basic lifts, that's a pretty good reference point for most lifters. I totally agree that being advanced can be influenced by body weight movements and skills just as well as barbell movements. The problem is some people think advanced is standing on a bosu ball on one leg doing tricep kickbacks.......

    March 22, 2011 at 10:37 am | Reply to this comment

  • Stephane

    I like you example of Cirque du Soleil. They stopped by my home town to give a show a couple of months ago. One of the performers impressed the hell out of me by performing a no-handed plank. This is barely an exaggeration since he only had his feet secured to an object. Now that's an advanced plank progressions for you!!!

    March 22, 2011 at 11:48 am | Reply to this comment

  • Lisa V

    I found this post by Bret Contreras last December to be interesting as he addressed female strength standards...something you don't typically see. As a woman, looking at numbers for men is meaningless. I like to have something to compare myself to and something to aim for. In the post, Bret comments that he thinks "only" about 5 women out of 100 could do a BW chin-up...Tony, as you and I were talking last week, while the percentage of women at CP who can do BW chins is probably quite high, I'm guessing fewer than 5 in 100 women in the general population can do even one.

    March 22, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Sal

    Some interesting takes on defining strength: Mike Boyle's article on T-Nation, "So You Think You Know Strong" "The Hoffman Standards", often discussed by Dan John I think these are brilliant (once you figure out what the hell some of the exercises are). Also quite humbling: even if you easily make gold in some of the lifts, you may not even sniff bronze in others.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:18 am | Reply to this comment

  • J B

    @Tony, thanks. Internet High-five! Yeah Bolton is the Extreeeme (note Extreeme spelling) end of advanced. I think we're making the same point, no matter the numbers start with basic programming and use it till it stops working then advance.. slowly. The stronger you get the more it allows you to see how much further you have to go. The bigger jumps in progress you make (especially in terms of percent) the further away from advanced you are. Completely untrained people can do some jazzercise and their bench will go up considerably. Very strong dudes (and dudettes) have to fight and scratch for years for tiny percentage increases. Skipping steps does not get you there faster. For the record this was not an Uncle Rico moment. Though if I could go back to highschool I'd totally take state.

    March 24, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Reply to this comment

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