What are the natural strength limits for men and women?

I’ve started working out at the gym. I’m sure I could grow enough muscle to bench press more than I do now…but never enough to bench press, say, a car. Of course every individual is different, but there must be a bell curve to natural (i.e. no steroids) strength limits. So what are the median upper limits for exercises like bench press, row, squat, dip, pullup, etc? I’m assuming these would differ from men to women, natch.

Oh, and “there is no upper limit” is a bogus answer. With enough work could I squat the empire state building? No. So clearly there is an upper limit. Also, “this one guy lifted a mac truck!” is also a bogus answer. I’m looking for the limit for a standard person, not the strongest guy in the world.

I would think it would depend upon your body mass index (BMI), your height, your age etc. Clearly there are numerous individual differences that make it hard to over generalize.

The upper limit is the strength of your bones (and tendons and ligaments). With exercise, they do actually get stronger - but at a slower rate than your muscles. If you did get enough muscle to squat the empire state building, it would crush your bones.

Which one of the major reasons (from what I’m told) that there are so many more injuries in American football now than there was 50 years ago. Football players are getting much stronger muscles, but the rest of their bodies aren’t keeping up as well.

The following seems to answer your questions:

On a practical basis the “natural upper limit” to human strength is simply going to be your skeleton’s ability to withstand torquing by the muscle attached to it. There are several instances in top level athletes where someone was so highly developed muscularly that the bone will break or the muscle will tear or detach when placed under sufficient stress.

Are you looking for actual numbers? Hard to generalise for a standard person. World class male powerlifters can break 2500 lb total across the bench / squat / deadlift. This link describes someone doing 1003 / 738 / 859 squat / bench / deadlift. That guy may well have been a ‘standard person’, until 20 years in the weight room turned him into the strongest guy in the world, so I’m not really getting the standard person / strongest guy in the world dichotomy in the OP.

I guess that gives you an idea of what is possible if you dedicate your life to weightlifting. I should add that lifters at that level use very tight fitting shirts that aid their max lifts, and a distinction is made between lifting ‘raw’ and with a shirt - not sure under what conditions the numbers posted above correspond to.

You could maybe say a very rough upper limit for most people might be 2x body weight bench, 3 x body weight squat and 2.5 x body weight deadlift. Obviously this would take years of training.

Doesn’t the strongest guy in the world* define* the upper limit? How does one define a “median upper limit”?

This Wiki article may be of interest to you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinclair_Coefficients

Well, according to Marvel Comics, Captain America represents the human peak and can, with maximum effort, press 800 lbs.

Of course, they also say some stuff about being bitten by an irradiated spider.

No, because then what would you say about the guy in 15 years that beats him? I’d guess a true upper limit is pretty much impossible to figure out. I’d imagine it’s somewhere slightly above what power lifters do today. As to a regular person… who knows. I’d imagine most men could work up to something like a 250-300lb bench press.

I don’t think a tremendous athlete that hasn’t been trained counts as a normal guy. I could never run a 4:00 mile, there are some people that could if they trained a lot, but can’t currently. I don’t think that makes them normal runners, just amazing runners that aren’t in shape. There are very clear aptitudes that some people have for physical activities.

Take a sample of your population and measure each person’s true upper limits. Now put all those numbers on a graph and pick the number where half the sample’s upper limit is above it and half the sample’s upper limit is below it. That is the median upper limit.

Bonus explanation: To calculate the mean upper limit you would add up the upper limits of everyone and divide by the total number of people in your sample. But mean tends to get more distorted by outliers than median does. e.g. I measure the height of 9 people. they are 5’1", 5’2", 5’3", 5’4", 5’5", 5’6", 5’7", 5’8", and 6’11". The median is 5’5". The mean is 5’7", even though 2/3rds of the sample was shorter than that.

That’s true Snarky_Kong. I would say, though, that weightlifting is a sport people frequently turn to once they establish that they officially suck at everything else. You’re not seeing LeBron James levels of genetic ability with a lot of these guys - just phenomenal dedication to lifting something heavy.

The limits I’ve seen on human strength have more to do with connective tissues (tendons and ligaments) than bones. They have a very limited ability to adapt to heavy weights and are generally the first parts to give out.

Bullshit. The guys who excel at weightlifting and other strength sports have a significant genetic advantage over the rest of us. Top performers in any lift have exactly the right body type for that lift (short arms for bench presses, short legs for squats, and long arms for deadlifting) as well as traits that are generally valuable in max strength competitions.

Bullshit. The guys who excel at weightlifting and other strength sports have a significant genetic advantage over the rest of us. Top performers in any lift have exactly the right body type for that lift (short arms for bench presses, short legs for squats, and long arms for deadlifting) as well as traits that are generally valuable in max strength competitions.

ok, i am a 6’2 in 20 year old male i have the long arms but i can bench 465 lbs, i do have the long legs and i squat 555 lbs and i dont dead lift but when i did, i didn’t do it seriously but i was also pushing 500 lbs

Thanks for the input Mr Bubba17171717. Always good to hear some personal experience.

For the rest of us, beware the zombie weightlifters.

The natural limit is about what your cardiovascular system, muscles, tendons and bones can handle w/o damage.

On the world’s strongest man competitions seeing people have nosebleeds (I assume due to too much abdominal pressure bursing blood vessels, I don’t know), broken bones or torn muscles/tendons isn’t uncommon. Someone I knew a bit who used to compete in them (he competed at state and national levels, not international) said abuse of painkillers was rampant because of how painful it is to do that stuff.

Also natural is a weird word. Some people have a genetic mutation that limits their bodies production of myostatin, so they have huge muscles w/o much effort. Their limitations will be far higher than those w/o the mutation.

The “natural” limit is going to be an engineering materials stress issue with respect to how much stress the bones the muscles are anchored to can take before breaking, or the shearing of the muscle fiber connections anchoring the muscle to the bone, or the tearing of the muscle itself. Modern weightlifters and strength competition athletes are are currently pretty much on the outer envelope of these limits and bone breaks and muscle/tendon tears are not all that uncommon for these athletes.

I don’t really think humans that are professional strength competitors have that much more physiological room to “naturally” increase their strength for a give body size at this point. Beyond a certain level of muscularity the only thing you can do to increase strength is get bigger (ie taller and more massive) , and there are human genetic and physiological limits to that as well.

Angus MacAskill

So Captain America is like Batman? I didn’t know that; always thought the character was supposed to be superhumanly strong.

Another important factor in strength variability is muscle shape and length–i.e. if you have more muscle and less bare tendon between the endpoints, you have more fibers to fire. Some very strong people don’t look as strong as they are because they don’t have the noticeable tapering down to a point that produces the expected visible bulge of muscle–at least when they’re at rest. Instead of a long tendon, they just have more muscle, as much as it’s possible for there to be and still have a tendon.

Still another variation is where the tendon attaches to the bone, giving some people a mechanical advantage.

The real answer is, everybody is different. I’ve been lifting for about 40 years, and for whatever reason, I squat more than average, am extremely strong in pulling exercises like rows and chins, and bench less than average, for a guy my size who trains. Two guys who follow exactly the same regimen of diet and exercise will end up with different results, based on genetics — the ratio of fast twitch vs slow twitch muscles, bone length, muscle insertions, etc. all make a difference.

One of the most important factors, but often overlooked, is how hard you can train without getting injured. I’ve come to believe it is THE most important factor that makes a guy really excel, and you don’t have much control over it. When Arnold first came to America and was featured in the bodybuilding magazines, he had articles every month (almost certainly ghostwritten, if not completely made up) about his three-hour workouts, and of course his use of every supplement Weider produced. Guys who tried to follow those routines usually gave up fairly quickly. And there was another guy named Mike Mentzer who got a lot of space in Weider’s muscle magazines, and who advocated very short workouts, with very heavy weights, with very little warmup. It worked for him; he looked like Hercules reborn. Most of the guys I knew who tried it ended up pulling muscles or popping tendons.

So, go easy at first, and learn what your gifts are. If you’re lucky enough to train as hard as you can without getting hurt, go for it. If you’re not, don’t fight mother nature. Train sensibly.

The important thing is that if you are a normal person, i.e. good health but not much history of strength training, you should be able to at least double your strength with just a few years of fairly moderate training. The gains will come very rapidly at first, and then flatten out, but you should be able to keep making some gains well into your 50’s, and keep a high level well after that.

This doesn’t make a lot of sense. Being the tallest does not automatically translate into being the strongest. Not to mention that it might not be a good idea to put perfect faith in anecdotes about someone who appeared in PT Barnum’s circus.

My vote for the strongest man who ever lived is Paul Anderson. He holds the record for the greatest weight ever raised by a human being, his squat record is still unbeaten (no supersuit, no steroids - he didn’t even wrap his knees). Multi-world record holder in Olympic lifting, he was the first man to raise 400 lbs. in the Olympic press (strict, not the back-bending, hitching style that it degenerated into towards the end of the lift’s inclusion in competition).

Paul approached the limits in all-around strength. 5’7", 370 lbs. He had 35 inch thighs.


Connective tissue is usually the limiting factor. Muscles and bones are often stronger than the tendons that attach them (if tendon is the proper term here). That’s why weightlifting requires a lot of reps at less than the upper limit to build up the connective tissue and the area of muscles and bones where the attachment occurs.

I haven’t lifted weights for a long time now, but there were generalized concepts of weight lifted relative to body weight for particular lifts. For example, an ordinary person in good health and physical condition should be able to bench press their own body weight. Bench pressing twice your body weight would require a process of growing and strengthing muscle approaching the upper limits. Of course even then, many people couldn’t start benching their own body weight, and few spent the time and effort required to reach twice their body weight. And I doubt that applied across all body sizes and forms.

Back in the dark ages when I was young, most of the information about this kind of thing came from body building magazines and hanging around the gym. There must be a lot of better resources these days.