We often like to troll r/fitness on reddit and found a really great question that we haven’t discussed before. How do you know when you’re not a newb in the gym? So here we go.


You’ve heard us talk about this a lot. It’s that damn pyramid. You know the one where you need a good base before you can build the rest? Yeah, that one.

  1. This doesn’t mean you’re perfect at them, but you have mastered and feel comfortable in the movements you’re training with. It means you don’t have to be super concentrated on the movement itself when you perform them because you know that you’re doing them with sound technical standards
    1. Your technique doesn’t breakdown because of a fear of doing the movement incorrectly. Sure, you’ll see some breakdown if you’re adding too much weight or going for a max, but it isn’t because you aren’t sound in the movement itself.
  2. The methodology in which you’re lifting doesn’t have a bearing on whether or not your still considered “new”. It IS important to keep in mind that most fresh folks to the gym usually lack the conditioning required to benefit from high volume loads in a single muscle per workout.
    1. Also bear in mind that the first month of working out, you’re probably going to see quite a bit of muscle growth. Whatever your programming looks like, also remember that you should be sticking with that for at least 6-8 weeks, typically, before tweaking it.
  3. Training levels used in performance standards are as follows:
    • Untrained: An individual who has not trained on the exercises before, but can perform them correctly. (0-6 months)
    • Novice An individual who has trained regularly for up to several months. (6 months – 2 years)
    • Intermediate An individual who has trained regularly for up to a couple years. (2 – 5 years)
    • Advanced An individual who has trained multiple years. (5+ years)
    • Elite An athlete competing in strength sports. Keep in mind, the standards we just mentioned do not represent the highest level of strength performance possible. 


  1. Bench Press – bench tests your upper body strength but also demonstrates how your body is a system when you’re lifting. 
    • Don’t believe me? Try benching with a leg injury and watch your numbers go down. You need muscle engagement throughout your body for a proper rep with max load. 
    • Some variety of bench press is prescribed from day one for most people starting a training program, it’s because it’s a very important movement. Your chest and core do a lot of work that you don’t even realize. So, TL;DR – get used to loving the bench press. 
  2. Power Clean – tests your explosive power, pulling, athleticism and full-body strength.
    • People will argue this and say the power clean is too advanced for beginners, and I’m going to counter with this: bullshit. 
    • Remember, you’re graduating from beginner, if you’ve mastered the squat, adding the movements to make it a power clean really aren’t that bad. 
      • A power clean consists of a deadlift, a shrug, and a half front squat… all things you should have a handle on if you’re moving into intermediate stuff. So if you’re not there yet, you have the list of movements to polish. 
    • And nobody said you have to use a barbell, the total weight of the rep is what matters here, not the style of weight. 
  3. Front Squat – again, mastery. If you have nailed an air squat and a back squat… you’ll be good to go. If you want to graduate to these: grab some DBs, learn proper front rack holds, and get to front squatting. 
    • It tests core and shoulder strength by holding the bar in the rack position, and has a stronger carryover to sports. 
  4. A quick reminder that your personal history of injuries may dictate whether or not you can do some of these things… if that’s the case, NBD! Find another type of lift to use as a progress marker. 


We could have gone on for an hour about more benchmark lifts like the deadlift, back squat and overhead press… and you can certainly strive for progress with those lifts but the power clean, bench press and front squat are the best indicators. Why? Let’s go to the numbers. They better help track progression because they’re all compound lifts, and they really test your strength from start to finish through the whole movement. Once you hit the 1.5x bodyweight mark, then you can start to pick some of your own benchmarks to use. Until then, try using the ones we mentioned above. 

  1. So now that you’re a newly minted intermediate lifter, what do you do?
    • Lower the rep counts and start working on heavier lifts. (Need some inspiration? Google: intermediate hypertrophy program and get to reading.)
    • Add another training day or two if you were doing a 3-day a week program. (Start with 4 days for a couple months, then add the 5th if you need more.)
    • Start learning more complex movements. This may require the help of a coach. Good thing we may know one or two of those — meathead athletics dot com. 

YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY. We used broad brush examples for the sake of not being here for two hours, so if you can’t do one of those movements because of whatever reason… that’s okay! Not everyone will fit into that generic box we mentioned above, no problem, adapt and keep moving. 




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