Realistic Goals for Improvement in Muscular Strength

Rows of dumbbells in the gym

Improving your muscular strength requires hard work and patience. Your body's ability to increase its strength is limited, both with respect to how fast you can increase strength and how strong you can ultimately become. Having a realistic set of goals helps you to not become discouraged while you work to reach your maximum potential.


The most accurate and convenient way to evaluate your strength and calculate your training load is to measure your performance on various weight-training exercises using your single-lift maximum, or 1RM. To calculate 1RM, work with a partner, warm up, and use a weight you think you can lift at least once with good form. If you can do two or more, increase the weight, rest five minutes and try again. Repeat this process until you can do only one clean lift. Multiply by 75 percent to determine your ideal training weight. As you get stronger, increase your weight by 5 percent.

Genetic Limits

Genetics plays a critical role in how much you will be able to improve your strength. Generally, a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle. Some people have longer muscle fibers than others, and some people have metabolic rates that allow them to gain weight quickly. Testosterone also plays a role, which is why women are typically not as strong as men. Your genetic strength limit declines as you age. Nevertheless, consistent and persistent resistance training will result in an increase in muscle size and strength for anyone.

Strength-training Guidelines

Weight training is the best way to increase strength because it allows you to easily and incrementally increase your resistance. By contrast, the resistance of calisthenic exercises is limited by your bodyweight. Observing proper technique will maximize your progress. When performing exercises, remember that the point is to train your muscles, not to prove how much weight you can lift. Lift and lower the weight slowly and smoothly, using a weight that allows you to perform at least eight and no more than 12 consecutive repetitions before exhaustion. Continue lifting until you fail to complete the last repetition. If you have to jerk the weight to perform at least eight repetitions, your weight is too heavy.

Goal-setting Principles

Increasing muscle size and strength is a process, and it can take weeks or even months for your hard work to become visible. Your biggest strength gains will come during your first months of training. Early strength gains are attributed mostly to improvements in motor neuron recruitment of muscle fibers. After that, gains come from an increase in muscle fiber size, and will gradually level off as your body approaches its genetic strength limits.