I love powerlifting because of how objective it is. We don’t have any of the debates one might find in gymnastics or figure skating or bodybuilding – sports in which the end result appears to be much more subjective to the observer. In powerlifting you either lifted the weight to a certain standard or you did not. And while every sport has its judging issues, for the most part with the respected federations those mishaps are few and far between.
All of that is well and good but when it comes time to pick the best lifter, now we have a problem. The most commonly used formula is the Wilks. It can be the deciding point if you can compete in a prestigious competition or not – for example you need a 430 Wilks formula to qualify for the Arnold. And put simply, the Wilk’s formula is too wrong to use.
Let me use an example to highlight why this is the case. I recently assisted a friend of mine in hosting an informal bench press competition at a military base. He had weight classes but he wanted to give a “best bench” award. These soldiers were not seasoned lifters and most were lifting 225 to 275 at normal body-weights, but there were benches that were clearly at the top of the field.
Those lifts were:
Lifter A: 175 lbs bodyweight and benched 330 Wilks: 102
Lifter B: 285 lbs bodyweight and benched 405 Wilks: 104 – Best Lifter
Wilk’s says that Lifter B is the best lifter. I don’t know how you feel, but to me one of those lifts is clearly more impressive than the other, and it ain’t Lifter B. The first lifter is benching close to double body-weight and he is benching 155 lbs over his body-weight. The second lifter isn’t even hitting 1.5 x body-weight and he is benching only 120 lbs over his body-weight, and he is heavier. Now I am not suggesting we use the old pound per body-weight rule where you take the total weight lifted and divide it by the body-weight, as everybody knows that is slanted toward lighter lifters.
The total pounds you are lifting over your body-weight should normally increase as your weight increases. In both of these examples the lifters are lifting at least 1 lb per body-weight and that is a standard any high level powerlifter breaks in every lift. Yet here one athlete was allowed to gain 110 pounds of body-weight and the lift only went up 75 lbs over his competitor’s bench. Do you see the issue with that?
Lifter B: 285 lbs Lifter is lifting 1.42 lbs per bodyweight
Lifter A: 175 lbs Lifter is lifting 1.89 lbs per bodyweight
110 lb weight difference
Lifter B is 110 lbs heavier than lifter A, but he only lifts an additional 75 lbs of weight
75 / 110 = His extra weight is only adding .68 lbs lifted per bodyweight
As the lifters body-weight increases, he only has to increase his lift by .68 lbs per body-weight gained, which is a ratio that doesn’t match anything we see with lifters in real life (even the biggest, heaviest lifters – the best ones – are usually lifting close to 2 lbs per body-weight in the bench and well over 2 lbs per body-weight in the squat and deadlift.
For the formula to allow a lifter to gain 110 lbs of body-weight and with only 75 lbs of added strength and then it ranks that as more impressive, that is a big problem. That is just not a little off, as though one discovers a team’s 3-point line is 2 inches closer to the basket than another teams. This is like discovering that their 3-point line is 4 feet closer, it is immediate problem that needs to be fixed. That kind of problem would ruin the game. The good news is there is a solution. That solution is to calculate a lifter’s AS. That stands for allometric score, but AS is more user friendly and easier to say and from now on that is how I will refer to it.
My friend Greg Nuckols over at his excellent site Strengththeory.com addressed this issue as well. He suggests, and I agree, that we should instead use allometric scaling to compare the lifts of one lifter to another. This formula has a huge amount of theoretical evidence behind it in all sorts of applications and most importantly it simply works when you apply it powerlifting. Here is the link to his full article, he explains the math in greater detail here.
You will still want to use a “best lifter” calculator as the formula is probably too complex to do in your head, luckily I have provided that for you here. It is just as easy as it was before, you simply input the weight lifted and the bodyweight to find the best coefficient for that individual, and whomever has the higher coefficient wins. When we calculate their AS and compare our lifters we get the following information:
Lifter A: 175 lbs body-weight and benched 330 lbs AS = 10.55
Lifter B: 285 lbs body-weight and benched 405 lbs AS = 9.40
Lifter A clearly has the more impressive lift. I am not saying that Lifter A is stronger – strength typically refers to absolute strength and obviously Lifter B did indeed lift more weight than lifter A did. But we have weight classes and we have formulas for a reason – people are interested in relative strength. They want to compare one lift to another across body-weights, if this wasn’t important we would not have weight classes in the first place.
The current standard is way off. Wilks isn’t just a little bit off. This isn’t a “well, it isn’t so bad let’s just keep the status quo” type of problem. Wilks is fatally flawed and it should no longer be used to determine best lifter status. Too much is at stake for it to be this wrong. It is unfair for lifters to put forth all of that time, energy, and devotion to the sport only to be jilted come competition time.
It is time to get it right. It is time to use Allometric Scaling to find a lifter’s AS and settle this once and for all.