It is pretty natural for those who enjoy throwing around the weights to wonder how strong they are compared to others out there. It is easy to look around your gym and see what others are lifting, and if you are reading this blog and you own a copy of All About Powerlifting it is likely you are one of the strongest people in your gym.
Walk around Walmart or take a stroll through the mall and it seems like almost no one lifts. Maybe you really are super strong? Then you jump on Instagram or watch your Facebook feed and suddenly you are asking yourself if you even lift?
On social media as it seems as though the world is full of incredible lifters. In this day and age it takes literally a 5 minute search to see some insane feats of strength. Yet you just pulled 500 and you want to know how strong that really is?
A while ago I published one of my more popular articles on Tnation entitled “How rare is a 300 pound bench press”. In that article, I used a variety of sources to try to establish how common it was for a man to bench press 300 lbs at some point in his life (some sites claim it is 1 in 3000 which I think is just BS).
I did a fair amount of research as part of that article although admittedly there was a “gut check” response to it. My conclusion was that about 1 in a 100 men will bench press 300 lbs at some point in their life. For a long time, I have wanted to expand on that position to include other lifts, other strength levels, and to give women their own valid points of reference.
This article is my attempt to satisfy that goal. We are going to examine the competitive lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift, and strict curl) and we are going to look at 8 different levels of ability, starting with something quite common and moving all the way up to incredibly rare. And we are going to do that for both sexes.
A Few Caveats
Accuracy: I am not claiming that the statistics presented here are perfectly accurate. I did some gut checking on the 300 lb bench press stat, and I am doing even more gut checking on these numbers.
Having said that, I have spent 20 years training people and teaching others to become personal trainers. I have racked up enormous hours in the gym (actually in a bunch of different gyms) working with regular people all the way to world champion powerlifters. So this is my “best guess”, take it or leave it.
Bodyweight: Absolutely bodyweight has a large factor on strength, but to try to factor that in further clouds an already cloudy issue.
In general, we are talking about a standard 200 lb male and a 150 lb female, but as the feats of strength increase the smaller sizes are essentially selected out of. But it goes without saying that is more rare for a 150 lb person to bench 500 lbs than a 350 lb person. If you are lighter than the standard, your odds are even lower to hit the weight so if you can hit a benchmark it is an even greater accomplishment. If you are noticeably heavier then it is easier to hit the weights listed.
Age: Age is also a factor and it is rarer for a 60 year old to hit these goals than a 30 year old, but again attempting to specifically factor that in doesn’t seem super feasible at least to me, others may know a better way. If you are older than 50 or younger than 20 the accomplishment is even more rare.
Form: Form obviously matters – we’ve all seen the dude claiming to squat 400 who in reality would struggle hit 275 to depth. I am assuming these lifts are performed at or very near a competition standard, although they don’t have to actually be performed in a competition to count.
If you look at the number of people who actually compete and reach these numbers then of course our averages would be smaller. The bench press is touching the chest with the butt on the bench, deadlifts are locked out, squats are to depth, and strict curls are up against a wall. These are raw numbers, I don’t care about a belt and wrist wraps but no suits or other supportive gear allowed.
Time: Physical standards change over time. We have seen an explosion in strength over the last 15 years. How long that will continue I don’t know, hopefully for a while. If it continues for another 15 years and even more people lift, then I may have to revise these numbers. If we examined people living 50 years ago it would be even more rare for them to be able to hit these numbers. Such is the nature of fitness.
Football and soccer ability have significantly increased in that timeframe as well, all you can do is analyze things in their current form. I am also aware that some of the lifts at the highest level on this chart haven’t been reached yet. I believe they are feasible and will be done in the somewhat near future. Time will tell if that prediction is correct or not. I set the strict curl standards intentionally high because fewer lifters contest that lift and I expect that to change over the future.
Drugs: I am assuming that the lifter is drug free. Drug use obviously makes these lifts easier to achieve. How much I don’t know for sure and it is likely to vary based on the individual, but if I had to guess I would say if drugs are used to reach a certain standard move its rarity up on row on the chart, so a 700 lb drug free squat is in my world about the same rarity as an 800 lb drug assisted squat.
|Odds of being able to perform the lift
|One on the planet
|Odds of being able to perform the lift
|One on the planet
What the Categories Mean
1:2 – This means that about 1 out of 2 people, or about half the population, will at some point hit these numbers in the gym
Genetics: Almost all healthy individuals can achieve these numbers with training; many can lift this much with no training
As a fitness professional, it is worth noting that even though most strength athletes would perceive this level of strength as quite rudimentary, from a fitness point of view if one has this level of strength then they can likely accomplish the vast majority of physical tasks their life might require them to do. To put it simpler, while these numbers may not make someone strong, they likely make them healthy.
1:15 – This means that 1 out of 15 people or 6.6% of the population will at some point hit these numbers in the gym
Genetics: Most but not all individuals can reach these numbers with dedicated attention to barbell training
Competition: The significant majority of lifters will be lifting at or above these numbers even at local competitions
1:100 – This means that 1 out of a hundred people will at some point hit these numbers in the gym. For many this is the landmark for one to be considered truly “strong” among the general population. This is the equivalent in terms of rarity to having a 145 IQ or a shoe size of 16 for men.
Genetics: Almost no one can do these numbers without training and a majority of fitness enthusiasts will never reach these numbers even with training
Competition: Lifters will start to be considered “good” at local competitions if they can hit these numbers
1:10,000 – This means that 1 out of ten thousand individuals will be able to hit these numbers in the gym. Most people at this level are considered “very strong” and they are considered strong even by strength athlete standards.
Genetics: Significant training is required to perform these lifts, no one walks around able to lift this weight. Only a small percentage of people will have the genetics to be able to lift this much weight.
Competition: These lifters will usually win local competitions and will hold their own in National level competitions. Often these lifts will be at or close to state records and perhaps even age group national records.
1:100,000 – This means in a giant football stadium filled with normal people, only one person in that stadium is likely to be able to achieve this feat. This is truly an elite level of strength.
Genetics: Only a very small number of individuals can achieve these levels even with extensive training.
Competition: These lifters will usually win the majority of their competitions except at large National or World events.
1:1,000,000 – These lifts are literally ‘one in a million lifts’ and generally very rare. Most individuals will never see these lifts performed in person outside of a competition.
Genetics: One must be blessed with good genetics and lots of hard work to be able to achieve these lifts particularly at lower bodyweights.
Competition: These lifts would like win their competition at any level in any category but perhaps SHW.
1:1,000,000,000 – This is a ‘one in a billion’ lift which means just a few people in the entire world have ever achieved this feat. These lifts are usually all-time world records.
1:7,000,000,000 – The ‘one in 7 billion lift’. This means there is likely only one person on the planet capable of this feat of strength. Need I say more.
For reference sake, at the most recent USAPL raw Nationals in Chicago, which typically has at least 20 lifters per class and draws some of the best in the nation, no males of any weight achieved a lift in the last 2 categories and just a couple of females were able to bench over 315.
I can access Instagram and find a woman squatting 450 lbs very quickly. But that isn’t normal. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman squat 450 lbs outside of a national level powerlifting competition. That is a 1 in a million lift. But I did see a woman squat 300 lbs today at my gym. And she isn’t huge; she’s 150 lbs, trim, fit and strong. How rare is that? Well, in my world only about 1 in 10,000 women will be able to squat 250 lbs to depth. That is pretty damn rare. And while she may not win a national championship with that level of strength, that is certainly a level to be very proud and also a level that likely took a hell of a lot of work to develop.
I personally don’t think our psyche is set up to compare itself to literally 7 billion others out there, I think it is set up to compare itself to smaller social groups such as groups of 10, 50 or 100 folks. In most areas if you are in the 99% percentile we think of that as pretty awesome, but in lifting in seems we only really celebrate the mega-rare lift. There are 300 million people in America, so yeah a lot of women can bench press 115 lbs nationwide and yes most that compete in powerlifting can. But a female benching 115 lbs is strong. Set up a bench press outside of Walmart and have all the people walking through the doors give that challenge a go and see what happens.
What do you think? What does your gut tell you about these numbers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.