Muscle Building Training

Are You a Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced Lifter?

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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.

Novice Lifter

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.

Beginning Lifter

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.

Experienced Beginner

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.

Early Intermediate

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.

Intermediate Lifter

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.

Experienced Intermediate

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.

Advanced Lfters

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.

Steve Shaw

Steve Shaw is the founder of Muscle and Brawn, and a powerlifter with 30+ years of experience. Steve's recorded a 600lb squat, 672lb deadlift and a 382lb bench press.
Steve Shaw

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  • Derek Estabrook Apr 24,2015 at 9:26 pm

    Both experience and weight numbers in actuality have very little to do with the level of the lifters. Sure, there are some typical numbers as well as most intermediate and advanced lifters will have a certain number of years with what that brings with it. Lifting blank years doesn’t necessarily mean that you have done what is optimal nor does it mean that you have acquired a certain level of practical knowledge. It doesn’t mean you have good form. It also doesn’t make you some gym sage. There are plenty of ten year lifters who could easily be classified as beginners.

    The actual level of progression isn’t a badge of honor or something to get upset over. Heck, love having beginner gains for as long as you are able. The level you are at has far more to do with your recovery and what training methods will work best for you at the stage you are. True beginners tend to make progress on a workout to workout basis. They usually can repeat the same type of lifts over and over and gain results. Intermediates on the other hand tend to progress week to week often more slowly and training needs to be different than what works for a beginner. Advanced lifters tend to progress very slowly and it is easy to back track if training isn’t maintained or adjusted to what is needed and the lifter really needs to be in touch with themselves to make any gains. Your real level isn’t something to think you deserve a trophy over or add to your resume. It is a tool that comes with knowing yourself and what works best for you at a given time. Same the chest thumping for when you crush the weight and the deserved merit for when you actually win in the sport.

  • cameron Feb 23,2015 at 9:44 pm

    These estimates for how much weight each type of lifter can manage don’t take into account smaller lifters. A intermediate 5’6 male like myself deadlifting 405 pounds sounds more like advanced level to me.

  • Nov 18,2014 at 5:39 pm

    bodyweight need to be considered for these guidelines to be used, someone weighting 220 lbs is not the same as someone weighting 150 lbs.

  • Chris.M Oct 30,2014 at 12:03 pm

    This information is great. If there is anyone out there who has time to answer a question for me, I would be truly grateful. I am 48 years old with an injury to my ACL. It is not completely torn, but there is to much play in the knee joint. I also have an elbow injury that prevents me from locking out my left arm. I still love to workout, and it has actually helped me so far. I am 5-10 and weigh 200 lbs. I managed to go from 165 lbs to 235 lbs in a year and a half, and went from no pull ups or chin ups to 7 pulls and 9 chins ( good ones ). My problem ( and my question ) is this. I have been able to do deadlifts, but not squats due to the knee injury. Is it o.k. to replace the squats with the deadlifts.?

  • John Sep 20,2014 at 1:24 pm

    Do you refer to 1 RM?

  • Ekin Mar 1,2014 at 4:56 pm

    Not really true. my deadlift is around 200 kg, squat 150 kg but my bench is around 100 kg. some people are lower body dominant put weight really fast to squats and deadlifts. Some people like me add weight to bench really slowy.

    • Ekin Mar 1,2014 at 4:58 pm

      btw I’m 76 kg.

  • Hugh Myron Dec 14,2013 at 5:10 pm

    I am clearly and advanced lifter. Anyone who reads this is less advanced than me, and when copared to me is a novice.

    Have a nice day, little people.

  • whatever Nov 22,2013 at 12:16 pm

    This article’s benchmarks in lbs. are worthless. I’m trying to asses for a 100 lb. girl or a 120 lb. guy and you’re just throwing out numbers like a 185# squat as still a beginner, with no reference to bodyweight or gender or even whether these are lifts performed in gear. Not even good as general guidelines. Junk writing! Filler. Fix it, please!

    • Mick Madden Nov 22,2013 at 5:31 pm

      Nope, sorry. A 185 pound squat is weak regardless of weight. Unless you;re a girl.

    • RB Jan 13,2014 at 4:29 pm

      A 100lb girl or 120lb guy is going to be a beginner in terms of muscle building potential and what should work for them (ie. they can train with lesser volume per workout and with a higher frequency to obtain the best results). How long someone has been exercising or how “ripped” someone is doesn’t determine their status…..the weight they can potentially move is one of the best indicators so it’s actually good information to add.

  • PL_Gro Apr 23,2012 at 5:40 pm

    A very nice way to indicate your own level. As stated in the article, it doesn’t matter how long you lift, it is about what you lift and how serious you are

    Very nice, my compliments

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