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Strength was, is, and always will be relative

Strength comes in many aspects. There’s mental, physical, emotional and strength of will – to name but a few. The most over appreciated form is physical strength without a doubt. Emotional strength? Who’s talking about that? Nobody points out a random guy to their buddy and says, “look at that dude holding it all in under such stress, I wish I had his emotional endurance!”

Just doesn’t happen.

What about “shit son, did you see that fella squat 4 plates? He went below parallel too! I wish I could do that. I can barely quarter squat 3 plates.” Feats like these earn you all kinds of admiration from the ‘bros’. Although the irony is, if you’re that guy moving the heavy ass weight, secret admirers are just that…….secret! They don’t roll out a grand red carpet each time you begin trekking to the squat rack. And the reality is, these people are in the minority. Huge lifting numbers just don’t mean much, if anything, to the members of the mystical land that lies outside the gym.


More is always better isn’t it? More weight, more food, more sets, more reps, more training days. MORE, MORE, MORE and a little bit more to make sure we never run in short supply of having more.

My aim here is to rewire your thinking, and remind you of a law of nature: Strength is relative. 

We’ve all been somewhere where we feel inadequate. Maybe you meet a woman/man and YOU think they’re gorgeous, what then happens is intimidation. You convince yourself you’re ‘out of their league’. I hate that term. Everything’s relative! Who designed the league? Who? Tell me.

The league exists in your mind. You can see where I’m going with this. Strength works the same way.

Why are you not good enough because you can’t bench 2 plates? Why are you inferior because you can’t use as much of the weight stack as the guy next to you? It’s these asinine thoughts that keep skinnier guys, women and beginners fearful of the gym, assuming they don’t deserve to be there. With some women, if they’re not scared of becoming “bulky” they’re afraid they may look silly lifting ‘light weights’.

It’s all relative my friends! 

What do certain numbers mean? Does a 2 plate bench press win you anything? You’re not winning any powerlifting meets with that. You’re not winning any powerlifting meets with 3 plates in most cases! So why is it important? Let me ask you………

Would a 5 foot 1, 110 lb girl benching 225 lbs impress you more than a 225 lb male doing it? A 2 x BW bench as a female or a fairly common 1 x BW bench as a male? That’s relative strength folks! In actuality, us humans are not very strong in a relative sense. Especially compared to other mammals. Take Gorillas, they weigh well over 300 lbs without carrying much fat, and their height is sub 6 feet.

( – Don’t mess!

Ah, but gorillas aren’t relatively as strong as many other animals you say?!

Introducing the mighty ant! Which can lift around 50 TIMES their bodyweight. I wonder when we’ll see humans match this feat? Alas, the world’s supply of steroids and enhancers won’t be taking anyone to those numbers – at least not in my lifetime!

( – An ant casually overhead pressing 25 times bodyweight.

Weight classes

Seemingly obvious, we have weight classed and gender divisions of sports. Why do you think that is? R-E-L-A-T-I-V-E   S-T-R-E-N-G-T-H. Make sure to never forget this law of nature and it will save you wasted misery of feeling inadequate and mistakenly inflating the fat guys’ egos by watching them in awe as they squat 315 lbs at a bodyweight of 250! That’s not even 1.5 times bodyweight!

Swarms of others have highlighted this; don’t get fat and out of shape just to chase arbitrary compound numbers. Try to get strong as hell while staying as lean and aesthetic as possible. If that means being a shredded 70 kg, benching 100 kg for reps, so be it. That would be almost a 1.5 times bodyweight bench press! For those weak at mental arithmetic, a 100 kg person would need to press close to 150 kg in order to match the feat, in relative terms.

Hence I’m not a fan of arbitrary strength numbers. I would honestly eradicate all these ‘standards’ and replace them with multiplications relative to the lifter’s weight. Seeing as we all love statistics, here are a few ranges that I believe are very good for the natural male lifter:

  • Bench press = 1.2-1.5 x B.W.
  • Squat = 1.6-2 x B.W.
  • Deadlift = 2-2.5 x B.W.
  • Overhead press = 0.7-0.9 x B.W.

Note: These are all assuming perfect technique is applied! No quarter squats, hyper-extended push pressing, ultra wide grip chest bouncing ‘bench presses’ and no touch and go, floor bounce ‘deadlifts’.

For the ladies, I’d just move the upper range down a little. Taking 0.25-0.5 off those ranges. More so for the lower body movements. Regardless of those who have a sister who has a friend, who knows ‘a chick’ who supposedly squatted 400 lbs and could do clap pull ups for double figure reps, a female who can bench press her bodyweight is not only rare – but impressive. Even bodyweight movements like dips and pull ups (proper ones) are a pipe dream for the average gym-going woman.

I say this not to deter or discourage anyone, I say it to offer the peace of mind so you disregard all the nonsensical claims and subtle put downs you’ll encounter amongst gym whimsy. You’ve only got to open your eyes to see the world isn’t exactly as people describe.

Callisthenic training is for pussies? 

Some rubbish callisthenics as inferior to weight and barbell training. This is usually said by those who cannot perform a myriad of bodyweight movements. A planche, a front lever, an L-sit, one arm push ups/ pull ups, Bruce Lee’s dragon flag? These are only the tip of the iceberg. There’s something picturesque about bodyweight movements; somebody in full control of every inch of their muscles working in synergy. Perhaps the best element of callisthenics though, is the requirement of relative strength. You need it in abundance.


Strength should always be measured/assessed relatively. Just because you aren’t matching the guy next to you in numbers, try breaking out a calculator and working out the equations relative to bodyweight. 

That’ll shut him up.

JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

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