How Strong are You Really?

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.

Male Standards

Odds of being able to perform the lift Bench Press Deadlift Squat Strict Curl
1:2-1:10 135 275 225 60
1:15-1:40 225 405 315 90
1:100 300 550 400 120
1:10,000 400 700 575 165
1:100,000 500 800 700 185
1:1,000,000 600 900 800 205
1:1,000,000,000 700 1000 1000 250
One on the planet 750 1100 1100 275

Female Standards

Odds of being able to perform the lift Bench Press Deadlift Squat Strict Curl
1:2-1:10 55 95 75 25
1:15-1:40 75 185 135 40
1:100 115 250 185 60
1:10,000 185 365 250 90
1:100,000 225 450 365 110
1:1,000,000 275 545 450 120
1:1,000,000,000 315 615 585 135
One on the planet 400 700 700 150

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

Competition: Almost every lifter including teens and masters will be lifting at or above these numbers

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.

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10 thoughts on “How Strong are You Really?

  1. Percy Timber

    Fun and good stuff, probably roughly accurate plus or minus but the deadlift numbers seem high. I fell in the 1:10,000 group but I doubt on average deadlift is going to be that much above a raw squat. 1:100 group DL is 150 above squat for men. A 50-70 pound disparity is probably closer. USA powerlifting Raw nationals were just held deadlift numbers were usually closer to squat numbers than 100-150.

  2. Mike

    Hmmmm. 1% of men will pull a 1250 total at some point in their life. Seems pretty optimistic. 1 in 15 will hit the coveted 2-3-4. That seems insane.

  3. Don MacVicar

    I was on the Canadian Powerlifting team from 1978 to 1983 and placed 3rd in the world in 1983 and 4th, 5th and 6th. Also placed 2nd at the first World Games in 1981 and 2nd at the World cup in 1980. I had an exceptional coach of Bill Jamison. My father and both grandfathers were 5ft 6 in and were all coal miners. I am 4-11″ and lifted in the 114 lbs class. I lifted 451 lbs in the squat, at 114 lbs. at the Worlds in Calcutta india, 300 lb bench at 114 at the Provincial championships in London Ontario.. I also lifted in the 123 lbs class once with a 485 lb squat and a 300 bench just missed the 320 in the bench that day. In training weighing at 127 lb weight I lifted 500 lbs in the squat and my coach said it broke. Also at 127 lbs I benched with a pause 320 about 5 times in training. My two best totals were 1118 at 114 lbs. and 1218 at 123 lbs. One time they measured my body fat ration and it was at a 4% body fat, I was drug tested twice at the worlds and twice at the Canadian Championship. I usually lifted with a T shirt in the bench as the bench suits were not invented in 1983. I lifted with Inaba and Chuck Dunbar. I just wanted to pass on this history of my lifting days that I truly enjoyed. So pleased to see how power lifting has grown over the years. The strongest sport in the world. Not sure which ration that I would fall into. Your article was most interesting. Gods Blessings to you.

  4. Bobby G

    Your gut is telling you 1% of men can do a 300lb bench…. ridiculous and you rounded down from 150 to 100 at one point.. you’re just pulling numbers out of your ass.

  5. Tim

    Seems ok to me.

    took me a while to cover the 300 bench, 400 squat, 500 deadlift barriers.

    550 deadlift is just under my max. benching around 320. sqautted 440.

  6. Jesse

    It is all perspective. I don’t argue with your numbers. A lot depends on the city you live in, the neighborhood, the type of gym and even what time of day you go to the gym. I find it hard to believe that 1 in 100 guys can bench 300 and deadlift 550 and squat 400, especially clean. I find it hard to believe that it occurs at the same level with those numbers. I have seen far more 300+ bench presses than 550 deadlifts and 400 squats. I have seen more 400 squats than 550 deadlifts. Just my experience in a northern Midwest large metro area at commercial gyms. Again 1 in a 100 doing a 300+ bench seems legit when you say it. Same with 1 in a 100 on 400+ squat. 1 in a 100 on 550 deadlift seems like far high to me. All said, I like the information and it does give some perspective (note: I deadlifted 545 no belt/no wrist wraps before our state’s last covid shutdown. Then injured my back deadlifting in my not too flat condo garage – I know dumb. I was the only guy at my old gym that could deadlift over 500 sans belt/wrist wraps. I am in the 475-495 range now that the gyms have been open about month, really looking to go for that 545 by end of summer again.)

  7. Daniel

    For me, myself I tend to for the most part agree to the numbers and equivalents proposed here. Although I competed many years off & on using gear in equipped powerlifting tournaments all over my numbers would then fall to between the 1:100,000 & 1:1,000,000 range. Never officially competing in Raw sanctioned tournaments however personally except only in the gym for curiousity’s sake and all that my numbers fall closer to that of 1:100,000 range for sure!;.. at least at one point in my life around my peak altogether about 15+ years ago. No blowing smoke or rounded numbers for personal ego here my friend. Real Talk! No BS!! Sounds about right though….

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