If you think about it, questions like, "how much do ya bench? are tests. We use them to compare our progress with our past performance and especially to others' performances. Such things often get in the way of one thing that strength training is all about: making us strong enough to withstand the rigors and abuses of life. NFL Strength trainer Johnny Parker said it best: "Who needs testing? We have 16 tests a year!"
My last job put my training to the test. I'm cleaned out a tank at a wastewater plant called a digester. It was full of miscellanous trash and massive chunks of grease that could only come out by hand. I pulled out around 4 tons of refuse, by hand, and loaded it into 55 gallon drums attached to a crane truck per day. It was further complicated by the 3 to 1 pitched floor. It's difficult to lift objects when the ground is slipppery, sloped and therefore unstable. If there was a place that would test my training, 8-10 hours a day of this was it.
I'd be lying if I told you that I didn't suffer any pain on this job. One day, I slipped, fell and broke my fall with my outstretched right hand. This jammed my shoulder blade funny and left me with a stinging pain the rest of the day. Several weeks later, I lunged a pitchfork out one handed to get some extra distance on my throw. When I went to catch it with my right hand, the handle hit the base of my thumb, causing it to bruise, swell, and left my wrist feeling painfully weak for a while afterwards.
Things like that you can't really train for though. What was most amazing to me was in spite of the constant shoveling and the akward lifts that I did for weeks on end, I had no pain or weakness from the work. My lower back never ached after work. My legs held up just fine. My shoulders took everything that I threw at them.
I can attribute the lack of lower back pain to getting myself to a point where I could do a full, butt to heels squat. That way, I lifted with my legs and not my back. I also have developed a lot of strength in my glutes and my abs which protects my back when I'm lifting. One leg exercise that I'm grateful that I throw in from time-to-time is the Bulgarian split squat. I do it without the weight and often times on a BOSU ball. It very closely mimicks the way I lifted things on the sloped floor.
In essense, The constant changing up of exercises and hitting my muscles from different angles, the increase range of motion that I've aquired, and the serious core training is what got me through this nasty-difficult job. That's what strength training should be about. It also validates what some tell me isn't true: I can get strong on Bodyweight alone.