The following are general guidelines, and not carved in stone rules.
Are you a beginner, intermediate or advanced lifter?
This is a commonly asked question. The reality is this…if you have to ask, then there’s a good chance you are a beginning lifter and should be using a beginner weightlifting routine.
It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been working out. If you haven’t added much muscle mass and are relatively weak, you’re a beginner. End of story. Keep in mind this is not an insult, but rather a fair and honest assessment that is meant to assist you in picking a proper workout.
Here are some general guidelines that can help you determine your lifting level.
A novice lifter is a rank beginner. Novices have no idea what most exercises are, and have very poor exercise form. They lack stability on even the most basic of exercises.
A novice has never build any muscle or strength, and is generally rather clueless about how to train and eat.
A beginning lifter has been in the gym at least a few months and has taken the time to work on exercise form. They will no longer feel super shaky while under the bar on bench presses and squats, and have gained a basic understanding about what is a challenging weight for a given exercise.
This does not mean they will know their limits or maxes. Novices and beginners should not be testing their max on any exercise.
A beginner has built no substantial amount of muscle or strength. They generally bench press less than 135 pounds, squat less than 185 pounds and deadlift 225 pounds of less.
A beginner can remain a beginner indefinitely. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been training if what you’re doing isn’t producing results.
An experienced beginner has taken time to practice and study proper form on the major exercises, and is fairly confident that their form is passable. They take exercise form correctly, and no longer have major form flaws such as using half squats or bench pressing with flared arms. While their form is certainly not perfect, it is better than 95% of the gym rats at any local gym.
An experienced beginner has started to build strength and is generally lifting around a 185 pound bench press, 225 pound squat and 275 pound deadlift.
An early intermediate has noticed some increases in muscle size, and is making consistent progression on the majors lifts. They have achieved a good training rhythm, and are starting to learn which lifts come natural, and which lifts are more of a struggle. They are also starting to sense weaknesses, and may be making minor programming adjustments to address these weaknesses.
Early intermediates are generally ready for more aggressive workouts, such as training 4 days per week using upper/lower style splits that are strength focused, or even 4 day bodybuilding style splits if they find they are making quality muscle gains.
Early intermediates with the primary goal of muscle building who are yet to notice any substantial muscle gains should continue to train 2-3 days per week using fullbody style workouts. At some point while accumulating more strength they will notice their physiques starting to blossom or fill out. At this point they can consider adding another training day and changing approaches.
An early intermediate is generally bench pressing 225 pounds, squatting 275 pounds and deadlifting 315 pounds.
An intermediate lifter has hit a good stride. Strength gains continue to remain consistent, and their physiques are filling our nicely with muscle mass. They are eating properly, listening to their bodies and and evolving their training, and constantly working to improve and master lifting form.
Intermediate trainees can start to focus on slowly adding extra training volume. They may also require periodization to handle the stresses placed upon their bodies by frequent heavy lifting sessions.
An intermediate lifter is generally bench pressing 275 pounds, squatting 345 pounds and deadlifting 405 pounds.
An experienced intermediate has reached 85 to 90% of their strength and muscle building potential. If they are training specifically for strength, they will be placing well at local powerlifting meets.
If they are training for muscle size, people will know they “work out” just by looking at them. Fellow gym rats will be asking for their “magic secrets”, and they may even get accused every now and then of take performance enhancing drugs by naive lifters.
An experienced intermediate lifter is able to train up to 4-5 times per week with a fair amount of volume. They require some form of periodization, deloading or fatigue management with their programming because of the weight they are moving in the gym.
Experienced intermediate lifters know their major weaknesses and feel confident with setting up their own workouts,and with making workout adjustments. When they do not have the answers, they seek out help from more experienced lifters.
Experienced intermediate lifters are the upper 5%, and can be considered the cream of the crop. They are the very few guys at local gyms who are moving big iron and sporting large arms. They are driven, dedicated and make no excuses. They find a way to succeed, despite the obstacles placed in their path.
Progress has slowed dramatically, and success is now viewed as adding a couple pounds of muscle per year, or adding 25 to 50 pounds to a major lift per year.
An experienced intermediate lifter is generally bench pressing at least 315 pounds, squatting at least 415 pounds and deadlifting at least 500 pounds.
Very few lifters reach the advanced stage. Advanced lifters have faced very difficult challenges, and have learned to overcome these challenges by trial and error. They know their bodies and limits well, and are mentally tough.
An advanced lifter is elite or near elite level in powerlifting, or near their natural genetic muscle building potential if a bodybuilder.