Why Bodyweight to Strength Ratios Are Dumb

Bodyweight to strength ratios aren't a true indicator of absolute strength. Read on to learn more about prerequisites that makes strong lifters strong.

I’m sick of the internet.

That may sound steeped in hypocrisy as you read my online article, but I’m being honest.

The availability of great information is a huge plus, but the number of online trolls and keyboard warriors only seems to be multiplying as time goes on.

Scour YouTube, and you’ll see many impressive lifting videos, prefaced by the weight of the individual performing the herculean feat, as though this is supposed to create more merit (or less merit if that ratio is smaller).

It’s a way of thinking that can make inexperienced lifters discount strength in its purest form, from the perspective of applying force against an implement that weighs hundreds of pounds.

It’s kind of like calling a 6 foot 5 athlete “short”, just because many of his teammates are 6’9”. 

That implies that the athlete would have to make no modifications to the way he trains, could squat easily, and have no problems fitting into the driver’s seat of a Honda Civic Coupe.

Related: Redefining Strength - How Strong is Strong Enough?

The truth of the matter is, it’s useless to overlook the unchangeable truth that his absolute height, by the numbers is probably in the top 10 percent of the world – not to mention that through his life he was probably the tallest kid in his classes in school, and the tallest amongst his friends and family.

My point is, it all depends on the frame of reference.

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In extreme scenarios, strength to weight ratios are damn impressive. Seeing a 450 pound squat come from a 125 pound lifter can’t be knocked. But that doesn’t mean that seeing a 450 pound squat come from a 220 pound lifter should be viewed as “weaker”.

Let’s take that a step further.

What’s Wrong with the Ratios

Like I mentioned in the example above, the one thing that remains constant is the fact that the amount of weight being moved is still the same – 450 pounds. The size of the individual is what varies. And it’s behooving to acknowledge that there is no linear correlation between a lifter’s size and a lifter’s strength.

In other words, a lifter who weighs 180 will have a much easier time reaching a generic double bodyweight “strength standard” than a lifter who weighs 250, because, simply put, the implement is that much heavier. Making it even more extreme, a lifter who’s 310 shouldn’t be deemed “not strong enough” if he can only back squat 550 and not the 620 that the standards demand he reach to be worth his salt as a lifter.

This is fact: The smaller you are, the more relative strength you’ll be able to possess. The larger and heavier you are, the more absolute strength you’ll be able to possess. That’s the reason you don’t see powerlifters with 2000 pound lift totals who are built like gymnasts, and why you won’t find a 350 pound guy who’s a champion of weighted pull ups.

If you’re anything beyond a weak beginner, strength and weight shouldn’t really be dependent on one another to gauge your progress or capabilities as a lifter. The only time this rule should break is if you’re involved in competition that requires you to do so.

One person being “stronger” than another may be relative when looking at the size of the individual, but it’s still absolute when looking at the weight on the bar. The question you need to ask as a lifter who’s looking for your own progressions is this: Does any of it really matter?

Athlete Hates Bodyweight to Strength Ratios

What to Chase Instead

I’ve written a lot on lifting heavy being overrated, but that’s not to say I’m exempting you from heavy lifts, hard work, or seeking PRs in the weight room.

You’re not going to get too far constantly sizing yourself up to lifters you see on TV or the internet, who may be putting much more time into this on a weekly basis than you are as a recreational lifter. If you’re supposedly after health benefits as much as you’re after PR’s and aesthetic improvements from your training, then it would do you well to mix things up – and I don’t only mean by way of exercise variety.

You can still do the big lifts, and you can still train them hard. It’s worthwhile to modify the rep ranges, and find a way to make lighter weights feel heavier by the way you lift them. This will become very important as your training age increases. Using this model, it’s then smart to do one more thing:

Reset your PRs

We’ve been talking about frame of reference quite a bit in this one, so may as well put it to practice too. If your ball-busting, absolute max-effort front squat is 385 pounds, instead of trying to push that number even further, see what your max effort would be with a slow tempo and maybe even a pause at the bottom.

Related: Am I Strong? Use These Real World Strength Standards

Chances are, you’ll hardly break 300 – especially if that’s new to you. Why not make 300 your “new” PR, and focus on setting new records with that technique?  The minute you hit 385 again with such quality, you can bet your bottom dollar that you’ll not only be much stronger when you switch back to conventional lifting methods, but you’ll likely also have the development to show for the attention to detail.

In my books, that’s a win-win. You’re salvaging your joints and connective tissue from constantly thrashing them through heavier and heavier sets, and you’re also lifting in a way that produces the same training effect anyway.

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Wrap Up

Do I really need to say this again? Leave the weight to strength ratios for the novices, and competitive lifting athletes who belong to a weight class.

If you’re someone who’s been doing this for a while, then it’s best to set the standard against yourself, and no one (and nothing) else.

In the long run, it’ll be much better to be stronger than 99% of the world, for your entire life, and not 100% of the world, for just a couple of years before you visit snap city.