I love the term “able-bodied”.  The U.S. military uses it to define individuals who are fit enough to serve, but used outside the context of a specific organization or task it would simply mean “fit”, except that nobody is in the habit of confusing able-bodied with “not over-weight”.  Able-bodied implies well rounded physical capacity, or a body that can get stuff done.

If you only think of a certain body shape when you picture yourself fit, I would like to expand your definition of fitness to include able-bodied.  I have adamantly fought for a focus-on-health-and-get-hot-by-accident perspective in previous posts and I think the next logical expansion of this concept is physical capacity.  Although some may argue, I am positing that a body must perform well to be graded at the highest levels of health.  The opposite of this ideal, taken to extreme, would mean a body could be deemed healthy without the ability to move at all.

If you are new to all of this, you are probably in need of some good benchmark long term goals because it is quite common to drastically underestimate what you will be able to achieve.  Without using any mathematical calculations, I’m going to give you some estimated ranges of capacity for the members of my gym so you can see what other people like you have accomplished.  My gym is not comprised of athletes and we are not a CrossFit or any other sort of competitive environment.  We pride ourselves in training normal people to extraordinary results.  The examples I am giving you here are attainable and I want you to have them.  Because we train regular folk, we don’t really see much of a difference in potential for younger and older clients.  Age is not an excuse in our gym, and the worst injuries we have seen in almost 4 years and thousands of workouts are a hernia caused by a preexisting condition, a few pulled hamstrings, and a minor biceps tear.

Our estimated back squat average for women is 150 – 180 lbs, and 285 – 325 lbs for men.

Our estimated deadlift average for women is 185 -225 lbs, and 295 – 355 lbs for men.

Our estimated shoulder press average for women is 55 – 85 lbs, and 120 – 155 lbs for men.

Our estimated average 400 meter run is 1:35 – 1:55 for women, and 1:15 – 1:35 for men.

About 30% of our women and 80% of our men achieve strict pull-ups.

Our average woman can perform 20 -30 consecutive push-ups on her knees with no breaks.  Our average man can do the same on his toes.

Our average member has no problem with a 24″ box jump.

Our average member can perform 50 body weight squats in under 1:30.

Hopefully this gives you some goals to shoot for.  The most important thing you can do is keep your head clear of self imposed obstacles and unsubstantiated excuses.  Just shoot for the stars and see where you end up.

Here’s Debbie (not to be confused with Deb) with some motivation for you.  Debbie is 55 years young and doesn’t know the meaning of the word “excuse”.


Remember to keep me posted on your progress by hitting me up on Facebook.  Go forth and be awesome!




  1. Jenn says

    I have a question. I’m very overweight, yet I hit most of your list. I don’t run because of arch issues (and I’m fat. Yes, really, I’m not being mean), but I’m strong and mostly agile. I know your stance on not watching scales, but how do I get past that when I’m strong enough to deadlift 235, yet not strong enough to do a pull up since I weigh about 230 (female, 32, 5′ 7″). My clothes only fit slightly better then they did a month ago when I started eating very clean (was already paleo) and my tapes are minimally different, the scale is no different. How do I not get overwhelmed and throw myself into the pint of ice cream I really want since giving it up hasn’t seemed to help me?

    • Jeremy says

      I can’t give any great advice on getting things sorted out, but I do have a couple thoughts.

      First, you said your clothes are “only” fitting slightly better. I say slightly better is an awesome start!

      Next, you said you can’t run because of arch issues and weight. Do you have any form of sprints in your workout routine? You could do them on a bike, elliptical, in a pool, or however suits you best.

      As far as pullups are concerned, I understand your frustration. I can’t remember any time in my life that I was able to really do pullups. Even after going through basic training I was only able to do 2 pullups. Thankfully it wasn’t one of the things they tested! Right now I can do about 6 consecutive and more if I drop off the bar between each pullup for a quick rest. This is a direct result of working my way through the pullup progression in the Primal Fitness ebook. You can grab a copy from (I think you have to signup for the newsletter to get it.)

      Good Luck!

    • JasonS says

      Sage advice from Jeremy. There are other great ways to sprint if you have access to the equipment. Jump on a rower and see how many meters you can row in 30 seconds. Rinse and repeat 3 or 4 times, trying to beat that first number. Good times.

      And clothes fitting better in a month is pretty fantastic.

      Also, remember what we are suppose to be doing here. We get healthy to get fit. Not the other way around. Anything else is a trick and will get you fleeting results. If you have your diet nailed, make sure you are keeping the carbs on the lowish side. Have you lost and regained 10 or 20 pounds multiple times in your life? If so, you may be a little metabolically deranged and require some extra time to see the results you want. This is why it’s so important to focus on other markers of health and fitness capacity instead of aesthetic goals. I think you are on the right track, I just think it might take longer than you would like it to take. Don’t give up!

      • Ellen says

        Hey Jenn, just wanted to say hang in there. I can totally relate to your frustrations. Seriously, try to focus on how you are feeling and getting stonger. Being a woman able to lift more than alot of guys is extremely empowering- even when overweight. Focus on the positive – at this point, you should still be getting alot of PR’s on your lifts. You’re strong, but can be alot stronger.

        I am kind of in the same boat as you – for me, weightloss comes at a snails pace. It can be frustrating when you hear, read and see all kinds of people doing the same thing as you and dropping oodles of weight. Don’t let them get into your head. Everyone is different. Is paleo the magic diet that works for everyone. I don’t know – I don’t have the knowledge, background, or experience. For me, I know it’s easy, makes logical sense, and I’ve been doing it long enough that I have learned how different foods affect me. So totally worth doing. Don’t drop it after a month, just because the weightloss results are not what you expected. There is a whole lot more about yourself and your body that you can learn from it…..

        As far as the pullup goes, theoretically, it’s not impossible to achieve one as a 230 lb woman. I couldn’t get one until I hit 190, even after years of trying. I have learned, that pullups are something that have to be worked on vigilantly. I had one for a weekend almost a year ago, and lost it, worked more on my heavy lifts. Now I’m very close to getting it back. I will say, with pullups – every pound counts. It is the one exercise, where I can feel a difference when I weight 190 versus 193. So keep working on it, keep focusing on it, keep lifting heavy and don’t get down on yourself. Set a goal, make it small and obtainable, and work towards that. (the small and obtainable is key, I tend to have grandiose ideas, then beat myself up when I don’t get there). I came from the same place you did – it took me a couple years to knock off 50 lbs, and I am at a long-term sticking point right now, that I haven’t figured out the key to breaking through, but I haven’t gained it back either. Focus on the positive. Good luck!

        • Jenn says

          Thanks Ellen. I suppose I’m still not willing to admit that this once athletic body has taken enough of a beating that I can’t just jump into the life I use to lead. It feels like I should be moving faster, lifting more, losing more weight. I’ve had a hard time remembering the idea that better health is the goal. I’m not sick yet, just fat, and it’s hard to convince myself that the fact that I can’t lose the weight quickly probably proves a sickness that I can’t see. I sure appreciate you taking the time to write, to reassure, and to empathize. I think part of my problem may be that my only real support has been my husband, and though supportive, he lost weight quickly so doesn’t really understand:) I’m trying to reach out more, to find support. Thanks for reaching back!

    • Jenn says

      Thank you both, Jeremy and Jason, for responding. I suppose it human nature to want everything NOW, and to compare ourselves to others. I thank you both for your optimism and for your encouragement. Yes, I’ve lost and gained the same 20 lbs over the last 3 years. I suppose I haven’t wanted to admit that my system is stalled, and I wanted to blame some outside influence not working, instead of admitting that I’ve gone well down the road of bodily ruin. I suppose the point is to remember to take the steps, and not worry about timelines. Thanks again!

  2. says

    Seriously impressive pull-up video! When you say 30% of women can achieve a strict pull up, does this mean a certain number? How long does it take them to achieve this?

    I’m working really hard on my pull ups at the moment using a counter weight, but I’ve still got some way to go.

    • JasonS says

      I was referring to just one strict pull-up. How long it takes them depends on the fitness level they start with, but it’s within 6 months for most if they really want it. Keep at it, you’ll get there!

  3. Heather says

    hmmmmm… interesting about the able-bodied – I am currently in the field of Disability Studies and we refer to the able-bodied as those who are just that able-bodied or non-disabled. Although I hate all labels in general!!! The disabled community of course is appalled by labels and the stigma’s they bring to themselves and others. Good read – thanks!!!

  4. Sarah says

    Just to clarify, are the weights for squats, deadlifts & shoulder press one-rep maximums or for 8 or 10 reps? I have been lifting for years, but I’m pretty small (5’0″), and I’m only squatting just over 100 lbs on 3 sets of 10 – 12 reps at the moment… I really hope those are one-rep max numbers…? If not I guess I have a lot of work to do at the gym! (I can knock off more than 20 full military-style pushups though…)

    • JasonS says

      Those are one rep max numbers. 8 to 10 reps is usually considered hypertrophy training, for muscle size gain, and something we only do maybe once per month.

  5. Jeremy says

    First of all, great post! I enjoy posts that give a basic outline of how we define fit/able-bodied, etc. I like when people put things in terms of saving the family or running from an animal, but this is a much more realistically measurable way to define things!

    How would you recommend someone get started? I currently do bodyweight exercises as outlined in Mark Sisson’s Primal Fitness ebook. I am somewhat interested in testing myself on the back squats, deadlift, and shoulder press just for good measure. I have access to a gym at work, but have never worked much with free weights beyond dumbells and the bench-press and there is no one to give guidance. Will I need a spotter? They have all the isolation training machines, would I be able to use one of those at least for the shoulder press or do I just need to harass one of my friends to come help me out?

    I am good to go on the pushups, but I have never timed my squats or attempted to keep my pullups strict. I will have to see about those and the running. I have always hated running, so I don’t think my 400m is quite that swift. :) I noticed in the strict pullup video that it was not done from a dead hang. Should I work to ensure I can do it from a dead hang, or is it fine as long as I have a complete extension as shown in the video?


    • Celia says

      If you’re into DIY, I really like the Stronglifts 5×5 program. (Google it. :) ) It got me into heavy lifting, and am now, three months later, back-squatting 155, deadlifting 225, and benching 110. (I’m a 29-year-old woman.) I’m hooked. Really. I used to be a competitive swimmer and distance runner, and only now am really excited about gym workouts. Good luck! I need to get back on pull-ups and push-ups now.

    • JasonS says

      I would recommend you find some guidance on form in the beginning, maybe just a one time thing, but then you should be good on deadlift, back squat in a rack, and shoulder press without a spotter, although one might be good to have around. I would steer clear of machines if you can. They are a bad idea in my opinion.

      Aim for dead-hang pull-ups. Debbie has them, just not in the video.

      It sounds like you are on the right track. Your training knowledge will evolve with time. Just be a sponge and keep up the good work.

  6. Celia says

    Awesome! I love lifting, though I’ve only just gotten into it (3 months ago). Quick question: Are those numbers for one rep, or as part of a repeated set? I’m slowly increasing my lifts and am really clueless as to how I stand vs. the average woman. (I don’t really care about competition, only a benchmark. I lift alone and never see other women at the gym doing anything other than cardio.)

  7. Kristy says

    Are you aware of any trainers in the Phoenix area that you recommend (East Valley/Ahwatukee area of Phoenix)?

  8. says

    Nice to see some average results.
    I’ve started working out 7 months ago.
    This are my stats at this moment:
    BS 143
    DL 242
    SP 60 (5 reps, never done a single rep)

    So as i see quit average for a woman.
    Can’t do a pull up yet and i would love to get that one.
    Do you have some tips to get there?

  9. Ariel says

    I have been following a primal/paleo-ish eating and workout plan for the last 3.5 years. Unfortunately I’ve never had the opportunity to work out with a trainer or a spotter to get form tips on my lifts. My back squat and shoulder press are the range you listed, and I can do 10-12 consecutive pull-ups and 30+ pushups on my toes, but deadlifts are my real weakness. No matter how many videos I watch, I feel like something is off with my form and I can’t lift that much – never tried for a single rep max but I do sets of 8-10 and am stuck at about 80-90 lbs. I know deadlifts are important and I should be able to lift much more considering my strength in other areas- any tips on how I can improve my deadlifts?

    • JasonS says

      Deadlifts are an essential movement in my opinion, but I would need to see your deadlift to know what is holding you back. It definitely sounds like a form issue. If you would like to video yourself deadlifting (preferably from the side) and post it privately on Youtube, you can email me a link at and I will take a look.

  10. Jennie says

    Nice post. It’s great to have some perspective.
    For you ladies struggling with the pull ups, may I suggest negatives? Start with your chin over the bar and lower yourself as slowly as possible. When you get to the bottom, jump back on the bar and do it again. This helped me build the lat strength to finally nail those pull ups. Thank you all for the continued inspiration.

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