Illustration showing a man doing a barbell deadlift.

How Much Can the Average Man Lift?

How much can the average man lift? How much can they squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, and barbell curl? How does the strength of the average untrained man compare with the strength of the average lifter? And how strong can the average man expect to become after a year of training? Or what about a decade of serious lifting?

In this article, we’ll go over the best data we have on how strong the average man is, how much he can lift, and how strong he can become.

Illustration of a skinny fat man doing a barbell deadlift to build muscle and burn fat.

Introduction

There are two good sources of data on how much the average person can squat, bench, and deadlift. The first is a survey conducted by Greg Nuckols, MA. Greg runs Stronger by Science, a site that focuses on helping powerlifters gain strength. His survey asked untrained, beginner, intermediate, and advanced lifters how much they could lift on the three big powerlifting lifts: the barbell back squat, the barbell bench press, and the barbell deadlift.

The second source is ExRx, who have been collecting data on how much people can lift for the past seventy years. Their methodology is a bit less current, and lifting technique doesn’t appear to be standardized, but even so, they have the largest dataset of all sources.

Barbell Strength Standards By Lift

How Much Can the Average Man Squat?

If we take a man of average bodyweight on ExRx, we see that an untrained man is only able to lift 125 pounds the first time he tries the squat. But keep in mind that the average person doesn’t know how to lift weights, so it’s not fair to measure their strength during their very first workout. If someone hasn’t learned how to do a barbell back squat yet, their coordination won’t be very good, and so they won’t be able to squat much weight, especially for a 1-rep max.

With a few weeks of practice, coordination stops being a limiting factor, and we begin to see how much someone can really lift with their muscles. At this point, ExRx found that most novice lifters can squat around 230 pounds. This was confirmed by Greg Nuckols’ survey, which found that with 3 months of practice, most men can squat 225 pounds.

This gives us a good idea of how much the average person can squat without serious training and without gaining much additional muscle mass. That means the average man you meet on the street has enough muscle mass and strength (but not the coordination) to squat:

  • 225 pounds as their 1-rep max.
  • 200 pounds for 5 reps.
  • 180 pounds for 8 reps.
  • 170 pounds for 10 reps.
Illustration showing a powerlifter doing a low-bar back squat.
The low-bar squat, the heaviest squat variation.

Now, keep in mind that these are powerlifter-style squats. Think of a low-bar position, a wider stance, and a depth of about parallel, maybe a bit deeper. This squat technique is designed to allow people to lift as much weight as possible, not to stimulate muscle growth. If someone is training for muscle size or general strength, they might be doing high-bar squats or front squats, might be using a more modest stance width, and might be squatting as deep as possible. As a result, the average person who squats might be similarly strong, but because of the technique they’re using, squatting something like 30% less weight.

Most men aren’t in the habit of regularly squatting, so those numbers are a good approximation of how much weight the average man can squat. Even if we consider the average lifter, many guys neglect their legs, favouring their upper bodies instead. But if they train the squat seriously for a year, the average man can lift:

  • 330 pounds as their 1-rep max.
  • 285 pounds for 5 reps.
  • 265 pounds for 8 reps.
  • 245 pounds for 10 reps.

If we look at experienced lifters who have been in the gym for 5–10 years, seriously training for strength, and routinely fighting for strength gains on their back squat, then the numbers get quite a bit higher. The average advanced powerlifter can squat:

  • 475 pounds as their 1-rep max squat.
  • 415 pounds for 5 reps.
  • 380 pounds for 8 reps.
  • 355 pounds for 10 reps.
Illustration of a man doing a front squat

If you choose to train the front squat instead of the low-bar squat, those numbers drop by around 25%. And if you’re training for to build muscle instead of powerlifting, you might favour moderate rep ranges. That means that the average beginner should expect to front squat 135 pounds for a set of 8, ultimately working their way up to 285 for 8 after a decade of hard work.

So, how much can the average man squat? Around 225 pounds for a single repetition. But if he keeps training the low-bar squat seriously for ten years, it’s realistic to be able to squat 475 pounds.

How Much Can the Average Man Bench Press?

According to the data from Greg Nuckols and ExRx, the average male beginner can bench press around 135 pounds on his first try, and then with a few months of practice, around 175–185 pounds for a single repetition. That means the average man you meet on the street has enough muscle mass to bench press roughly:

  • 175–185 pounds as their 1-rep max bench press.
  • 160 pounds for 5 reps.
  • 150 pounds for 8 reps.
  • 140 pounds for 10 reps.
Illustration of a man doing the barbell bench press.

As with the squat, remember that we’re talking about the powerlifting bench press, so consider that these guys are probably using an arch, benching with a wide grip width, driving with the their legs, bringing the barbell all the way down, pausing with the barbell on their chest, and fully locking out the bar at the top. If you’re bench pressing for muscle growth or general strength, your technique might be a bit different, and so your numbers might be a little bit lower.

Talking about intermediate lifters now, if the average man keeps training the bench press, after their first year of lifting, they can expect to bench press about:

  • 215-235 pounds as their 1-rep max bench press.
  • 185–205 pounds for 5 reps.
  • 170–185 pounds for 8 reps.
  • 160–175 pounds for 10 reps.

Most men who go to the gym do keep training their bench press, but some people train more seriously than others, and they be training with varying goals. These numbers reflect people who are actively training for strength, and often that means that they’re not only lifting hard, they’re also actively training for muscle growth, intentionally gaining weight.

If the average man keeps training the bench press somewhat seriously for 5–10 years, he can expect to bench press approximately:

  • 290–335 pounds as their 1-rep max bench press.
  • 250–290 pounds for 5 reps.
  • 230–270 pounds for 8 reps.
  • 215–250 pounds for 10 reps.

Now, are you going to see a lot of guys benching 335 in the typical gym? Probably not. Those numbers are reserved for the guys who seriously pursue their bench press strength. These are the numbers that aspiring powerlifters are bench pressing after a decade of hard work.

So, how much can the average man bench press? Around 185 pounds for a single repetition. But if he keeps training the bench press seriously for ten years, it’s realistic to be able to bench press 290–335 pounds.

How Much Can the Average Man Deadlift?

The average untrained man can deadlift around 155 pounds. Then, with three months of practice, he can deadlift 285 pounds for a single repetition. That means the average man you meet on the street can deadlift roughly:

  • 285 pounds as their 1-rep max deadlift.
  • 245 pounds for 5 reps.
  • 225 pounds for 8 reps.
  • 215 pounds for 10 reps.
Illustration of a man doing a sumo deadlift

Again, remember that we’re talking about the powerlifting deadlift, done without lifting straps in either a conventional or sumo stance, from the ground to a full lockout. Someone using lifting straps or doing touch-and-go reps might be able to deadlift a bit more.

If the average man keeps training the deadlift, after their first year of lifting, they can expect to deadlift about:

  • 335–405 pounds as their 1-rep max deadlift.
  • 285–350 pounds for 5 reps.
  • 270 pounds for 8 reps.
  • 250 pounds for 10 reps.

If the average man keeps training the bench press somewhat seriously for 5–10 years, he can expect to deadlift roughly:

  • 460–535 pounds as their 1-rep max deadlift
  • 395–460 pounds for 5 reps.
  • 365–430 pounds for 8 reps.
  • 345–400 pounds for 10 reps.

The deadlift is a good reflection of general strength, and a lot of people find that they continue to get stronger at the deadlift even if they don’t train it very often. With steady squatting, Romanian deadlifts, and barbell rows, deadlift numbers tend to gradually increase. Still, most casual lifters neglect their legs, squatting and deadlifting with less voracity than they bench press. As a result, it’s rare to see lifters actually hitting these numbers unless you train at a special powerlifting gym.

So, how much can the average man deadlift? Around 285 pounds for a single repetition. But if he keeps training the deadlift seriously for ten years, it’s realistic to be able to deadlift 460–535 pounds.

How Much Can the Average Man Overhead Press?

There’s a lot of great data about the “big 3” powerlifting lifts, given that they’re part of the sport of powerlifting. When we go outside of that, lifting technique is less standardized, and there’s quite a bit less data available. The good news is that the overhead press and barbell curl are sometimes done in competition with standardized technique.

According to data from ExRx as well as from Mark Rippetoe (of Starting Strength), the average untrained man can press 85 pounds overhead for a single repetition. Then, with a couple months of practice, he can overhead press 115 pounds. That means the average man you meet on the street has enough muscle to overhead press roughly:

  • 115 pounds as their 1-rep max overhead press.
  • 100 pounds for 5 reps.
  • 90 pounds for 8 reps.
  • 85 pounds for 10 reps.
Illustration of a man doing a barbell overhead press

This assumes that they’re doing a strict barbell overhead press, bringing the bar all the way down to their chests and then fully locking it out at the top. This technique lines up well with what stimulates muscle growth, and it’s how most people train the overhead press (unless they’re using dumbbells).

After a year of seriously lifting weights, the average man is able to overhead press roughly:

  • 145 pounds as their 1-rep max overhead press.
  • 125 pounds for 5 reps.
  • 116 pounds for 8 reps.
  • 110 pounds for 10 reps.

Then, if he keeps training the overhead press for 5–10 years, the average man can expect to lift:

  • 175 pounds as their 1-rep max overhead press.
  • 150 pounds for 5 reps.
  • 140 pounds for 8 reps.
  • 130 pounds for 10 reps.

So, how much can the average man overhead press? Around 115 pounds for a single repetition. But if he keeps training the overhead press seriously for ten years, it’s realistic to be able to lift 175 pounds.

How Much Can the Average Man Barbell Curl?

Moving down the list of what we have data for, we come to the strict barbell curl, which is sometimes trained in competition. According to the data collected by Strength Level, the average untrained man can barbell curl 65 pounds with strict technique. Then, with a few months of practice, he can curl 90 pounds. That means that the average adult man you meet on the street has big enough biceps to curl roughly:

  • 90 pounds as their 1-rep max barbell curl
  • 80 pounds for 5 reps.
  • 70 pounds for 8–10 reps.
Illustration of a man doing a barbell curl with a curl-bar/EZ-bar

These curls are done with “strict” technique, which mean starting with the barbell against your legs, keeping your torso fully upright, and curling the barbell up until your arms are fully flexed. They’re typically done with the back up against the wall, to ensure that the torso stays upright, and they can be done with either a barbell or a curl bar.

If the average man keeps training the barbell curl for a year, he can expect to lift roughly:

  • 120 pounds as their 1-rep max barbell curl
  • 105 pounds for 5 reps.
  • 95 pounds for 8 reps.
  • 90 pounds for 10 reps.

Then, if he keeps training the barbell curl for 5–10 years, the average advanced lifter can expect to lift:

  • 155 pounds as their 1-rep max barbell curl
  • 135 pounds for 5 reps.
  • 125 pounds for 8 reps.
  • 115 pounds for 10 reps.

So, how much can the average man barbell curl? Around 90 pounds for a single repetition. But if he keeps training the barbell curl seriously for ten years, it’s realistic to be able to lift 155 pounds.

How Much Can the Average Man Barbell Row?

We don’t have much data on how much the average man can barbell row. However, there’s an old adage that we should be able to row as much as we bench press. That’s not quite true. It’s okay to be stronger at some lifts than others, even if that strength is disproportional. So there’s no need to make sure that your bench press and barbell row strength are perfectly aligned. However, most people can learn to row as much as they bench press, and so we can use similar strength standards.

Illustration of a man showing how to do the bent-over barbell row exercise.
The bent-over barbell row.

There are different ways of doing the barbell row. Bodybuilders typically do them from a Romanian deadlift position (as shown above) to emphasize their upper backs. Powerlifters tend to do them from the floor, more similar to a conventional deadlift, to emphasize their lower backs and hips. Both variations are great, and both allow you to lift similar amounts of weight. It just depends on your style of training and your goals.

A beginner can expect to barbell row:

  • 175–185 pounds as their 1-rep max.
  • 160 pounds for 5 reps.
  • 150 pounds for 8 reps.
  • 140 pounds for 10 reps.

After their first year of lifting, they can expect to row about:

  • 215-235 pounds as their 1-rep max.
  • 185–205 pounds for 5 reps.
  • 170–185 pounds for 8 reps.
  • 160–175 pounds for 10 reps.

After 5–10 years of serious training, it’s realistic to be able to barbell row:

  • 290–335 pounds as their 1-rep max.
  • 250–290 pounds for 5 reps.
  • 230–270 pounds for 8 reps.
  • 215–250 pounds for 10 reps.

So, how much can the average man barbell row? Around 185 pounds for a single repetition. But if he keeps training seriously for ten years, it’s realistic to be able to row 290–335 pounds.

Can the Average Man Really Lift That Much?

The other thing to note is that Greg Nuckols found these numbers somewhat high. He thought that people who were weaker may be less interested in lifting weights, less like to participate in his survey, less likely to persist. Then, as people become intermediate and advanced lifters, we’re seeing more of a selection bias taking place. The people who are stronger, better at pushing themselves, and better at building muscle are the ones who stick with lifting and keep seeing improvements in their numbers.

Mike Israetel, PhD, has an interesting stance on this, too. He says that most fit guys who weigh in the neighbourhood of 160 pounds, after lifting for several years, can squat 225 pounds, bench 185, and deadlift 315. Those numbers aren’t anywhere even close to the numbers we’ve talked about in this article. Part of that is simply because most men don’t train that seriously, and that’s totally cool. There’s no need to orient your life around lifting. It all depends on your goals. If you’re benching 185, that’s okay.

So, if you can’t lift as much as a powerlifter who’s been training hard for the past ten years, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. But if you want to fight to hit those strength standards, you probably can. The main reason most people aren’t strong is because they don’t train to become stronger. If you train well, you can probably become stronger than almost everyone else at your gym, outlift almost everyone you know.

How Much Can the Average Skinny Guy Lift?

If you’re starting off skinny, these numbers might seem, ah, high. Keep in mind that the average man is overweight, which means they’ve been routinely carrying fifty-some extra pounds up flights of stairs for their entire lives. It’s no wonder, then, that their legs and hips grow quite strong before they even touch a barbell.

Illustration of a skinny guy doing a barbell bench press.

If you’re a skinny guy, the opposite is true. Instead of carrying an extra fifty pounds around, you might be fifty pounds lighter than the average man. As a result, your legs and hips will likely be quite a bit smaller. I know that for me, at least, it took me quite a bit of training before I could squat 135 pounds. I remember doing my bench press with just the barbell, getting excited when I could add five pounds to either side.

Before and after photo of Shane Duquette going from skinny to muscular.

According to data collected by the CDC, the average American man is 5’8 and weighs 197 pounds, giving him a BMI of 30—obese. To put that into perspective, before I started lifting weights, I was 6’2 and weighed 130 pounds. So 6 inches taller, 67 pounds lighter. Even now, after having gained over sixty pounds, I still weigh less than the average American man, even though I’m half a foot taller.

Shane Duquette awkwardly benching 315 pounds as a 1RM attempt.

The good news is that if you’re starting skinnier and weaker than the average man, you can expect to gain muscle size and strength faster, at least until you catch up. These numbers are still realistic for you, it just might take you an extra year to reach them. For example, after lifting weights 2–3 times per week for the past eight years, I can bench press 225 pounds for 15 touch-and-go repetitions and 315 pounds for an awkward single. And that’s roughly what you’d expect for someone with my lifting experience, even though I started at 130 pounds, and have incredibly long arms and absurdly tiny wrists.

For more, here’s our article on strength standards for skinny guys.

What’s the Best Way to Get Stronger?

There are a number of factors that influence our strength, including immutable ones, like our limb lengths and tendon insertions. Of the factors we can influence, though, there are only a few:

  • We can build bigger muscles. The bigger a muscle is, the stronger it is, meaning that one of the best ways to increase how much we can lift is to build bigger muscles.
  • We can practice the lifts. The better we are at doing the lifts, the more weight we’ll be able to lift with them. This includes improving our lifting technique, but it also includes adjusting our technique for better leverage. For example, bringing our hips closer to the bar when deadlifting can help us lift more weight by shortening our moment arms.
  • We can lift in lower rep ranges. Lifting in lower rep ranges isn’t great for stimulating muscle growth, but it does help us improve our 1-rep max strength by teaching us to activate more of our motor units simultaneously. This won’t necessarily improve our general strength or rep maxes, but it will help us lift more weight for a single repetition.
Illustration showing a skinny-fat man gaining muscle and losing belly fat.

For guys who are interested in powerlifting, they’ll want to go through hypertrophy phases, where they actively focus on building bigger muscles, as well as strength phases, where they practice going heavy on the low-bar squat, bench press, and deadlift.

For guys who are interested in being strong in a more general sense, they can drop the strength phases, focusing on improving their rep maxes instead. Getting stronger in the 6–12 rep range is just as good for gaining general strength as the 1–5 rep range, but it’s also easier on our joints, has a lower risk of injury, and is better at stimulating muscle growth. They may also want to focus on different compound lifts, such as doing the front squat or high-bar squat instead of the powerlifter’s low-bar squat.

Summary

The average man is overweight and out of shape, and he won’t have the coordination to properly test his strength on the big barbell lifts. Still, if we test his 1-rep maxes, the average man can lift:

  • 125 pounds on the back squat.
  • 135 pounds on the bench press.
  • 155 pounds on the deadlift.
  • 85 pounds on the overhead press.
  • 65 pounds on the barbell curl.

But that’s not an accurate representation of his strength. We’re testing him at something he’s not any good at. The average man’s muscles are capable of lifting more than that. With just a couple months of practice, the average man has 1-rep maxes of:

  • 225 pounds on the back squat.
  • 175–185 pounds on the bench press.
  • 285 pounds on the deadlift.
  • 115 pounds on the overhead press.
  • 90 pounds on the barbell curl.

After a year of training, the average man can lift:

  • 330 pounds on the back squat.
  • 215–235 pounds on the bench press.
  • 335–405 pounds on the deadlift.
  • 145 pounds on the overhead press.
  • 120 pounds on the barbell curl.

Those numbers line up fairly well with what you can expect to see men lifting in the gym, and they represent a perfectly healthy amount of muscle mass and general strength. But with a decade of serious lifting, the average man can expect to be able to lift quite a bit more than that:

  • 475 pounds on the back squat.
  • 290–335 pounds on the bench press.
  • 460–535 pounds on the deadlift.
  • 175 pounds on the overhead press.
  • 155 pounds on the barbell curl.

You might not see men lifting that much very often. That’s how much the average can lift after ten years of serious training. The average man doesn’t train seriously for ten years. Those numbers are quite impressive, often showing a lot of hard work under the barbell.

Cover illustration of the Outlift intermediate bulking program for naturally skinny guys.

As always, if you want a customizable workout program (and full guide) that’s designed to help you gain muscle size and strength on the big barbell lifts, check out our Outlift Intermediate Bulking Program. We also have our Bony to Beastly (men’s) program and Bony to Bombshell (women’s) program for skinny and skinny-fat beginners. If you liked this article, you’ll love our full programs.

Shane Duquette is the co-founder of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell. He's a certified conditioning coach with a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained 70 pounds and has over a decade of experience helping over 10,000 skinny people bulk up.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and is a certified trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and general health, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

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34 Comments

  1. Farhan Hussain on September 27, 2020 at 1:52 am

    Hi Shane, interesting article. I think the numbers for average person shall change based on demographic or region of the world. I mean, you mentioned numbers for average American, may be European be or Asians may have different average numbers.

    Secondly, I think that being lighter and “under” compared to average person may have an advantage in itself. Although your average numbers are lower than average person’s who are mostly obese, but lighter person carries far lower body fat and, with some strength & hypertrophy training, will gain lean mass n good muscle definition. And definitely his numbers on key lift shall also rise as a result. he shall carry more efficient and athletic body. So I think it is better looking physique overall.

    • Shane Duquette on September 27, 2020 at 12:53 pm

      Hey Farhan,

      Yeah, that’s a good point. I bet men can lift varying amounts around the world.

      Being strong and lean tends to look good. Guys who are overweight tend to start with more muscle and more fat, so losing fat is what makes them look great. Underweight guys tend to start with less muscle and less fat, so building muscle is what tends to make them look better. I’m not sure one has an aesthetic advantage over the other, just that everyone looks best when they’re strong, lean, and in good shape. But I hear ya.

  2. Farhan Hussain on September 27, 2020 at 2:06 am

    Skinny or lean people have only one challenge to focus on – mass and strength gain – whereas obese or fat people have two challenges – losing fat as well as gaining mass – and to get there without losing much strength. So lean people have an advantage in this comparison. They also have way more broader range of food choices because they don’t have to deal with weight loss.

    • Shane Duquette on September 27, 2020 at 12:57 pm

      I’m not so sure about that.

      I had to gain 60 pounds of muscle to get up to a level of muscularity that I loved. It’s true that I didn’t need to lose any fat, but gaining that much muscle was hard and it took me a good couple of years to do. (I also had a really hard time eating enough calories to gain weight.)

      If we look at a typical overweight person, they might have 50 extra pounds of fat and 20 fewer pounds of muscle. But is losing 50 pounds of fat and gaining 20 pounds of muscle harder than gaining 60 pounds of muscle? I’m not so sure.

      I’m happy that I’m naturally skinny. I’ve gotten used to solving these problems. I’m really happy with my physique now that I’m in shape. I wouldn’t change my genetics or starting point. But I bet other people feel similarly about their own bodies.

      • Farhan Hussain on September 27, 2020 at 1:15 pm

        Agreed Shane. My point was not to say that things are easy for slim people, I was just saying that they have only one thing to focus – mass gain – instead of to also deal with fat loss.

        I am a skinny person myself (128 lb) who has gained some muscle and strength and still working out regularly for more of it, and enjoying the journey

        • Shane Duquette on September 27, 2020 at 2:12 pm

          I hear ya. It’s simpler than having to focus on both goals, for sure. And we don’t need to deal with perpetual hunger or cravings or anything. That’s a real blessing.

        • Reed Bodenhamer on June 16, 2023 at 3:04 am

          Personally, I lost 70 pounds of fat before I was introduced to weight training, so I have experienced being both obese and very skinny. In my opinion, losing fat is much more of a mental challenge, while gaining weight is more of a physical challenge. Both are very difficult though.

          • Shane Duquette on June 16, 2023 at 3:45 pm

            Congratulations on losing those 70 pounds, man! That’s amazing!

            I think it depends on your genetics. For me, losing weight is completely effortless. Gaining weight was very difficult, both physically and mentally. I know people who are the other way. They LOVE getting to eat enough food to gain weight.

            On the other hand, whether you’re in a calorie deficit or surplus, living a healthy lifestyle is its own thing, and usually involves adopting a bunch of new habits, some of which can take a long time to cement. Some people only start doing cardio or eating a good diet when they start trying to lose weight. Or they only start lifting when trying to gain weight. We should probably all do all those things always, but sometimes we build habits in a staggered way.



      • John R Wildrick on August 9, 2022 at 10:47 pm

        Agreed! It took me many years to go from a lean and scrawny teen to putting 50 lbs of muscle mass into my 5’8” frame. I had to train harder than the big guys to get big and eating felt like a job to gain that much lean mass. I’ve been able to hit those high end numbers in all my big lifts training as a competitive power lifter, but it took nearly 20 years of training. Thanks for your informative articles.

        • Shane Duquette on August 10, 2022 at 5:27 pm

          That’s awesome, man! Congrats on gaining those 50 pounds and hitting those strength milestones. That’s so cool!

      • Andy on February 21, 2023 at 1:37 am

        Ya, I’m not saying losing weight is easy, but I dropped from 5’10, 315 lbs (no muscle, could barely walk a mile) down to 182 lbs running marathons, squatting 5 plates for triples and benching 3 plates for titles in around 3 years. I really didn’t focus on getting stronger, I just wanted to lose weight, avoid diabetes and a rascal scooter. I did cardio most days but lifting was my main source of weight loss. I think having the extra weight gave my body something to work with. I’ve watched skinny go hard in the gym for 6 months to add a 2nd rep to their 225 bench. I was adding reps or weight almost weekly for the first couple years. Granted it is much easier for me to gain weight than remain lean so that may be a factor. Interesting article, I do think the start numbers are a little high and the decade numbers are a little low. It took me roughly 4 years of very serious lifting before I passed all of those 1 rep numbers. I think size would matter more than geography. There are factors beyond performance enhancing supplements that explain the Thor Bjorsons and Brian Shaws of the world. Weight classes exist for a reason

  3. Alex on October 1, 2020 at 9:11 am

    These numbers do seem a little high. I’m a skinny guy who’s been lifting for 2 years and by these standards I’m behind on the average guy lifting a few months to 1 year. Strength Level has a nice calculator that makes me feel a little better. According to this I’m intermediate on almost every lift.

    My biggest disappointment so far is that with all this HARD work I have not grown big enough for work colleagues to notice or for people to stop considering me as skinny or thin. I’ll admit I’m getting mentally overwhelmed at how much stronger I need to be to get any bigger while it’s taking such a long time to progress 5lbs at a time per lift.
    I’m just amazed at how many guys don’t lift a finger yet they have bigger arms, broader chests, etc etc etc. Or when they do work out, in a couple months their body is very noticeably different. I don’t know if I’m a bona fide ecto morph but I’m definitely small for my strength which is very frustrating.

    • Shane Duquette on October 1, 2020 at 11:17 am

      Hey Alex,

      I’m a naturally skinny guy as well, and I’m certainly a bonafide ectomorph. I’ve got very narrow bones, long limbs, a small stomach, the whole deal. And I know what you mean. I found it immensely frustrating, too. Have you seen our article about why skinny guys often start behind the starting line and what we can do about it?

      I’m not sure I quite understand what you mean about needing to get stronger before getting bigger. That’s backwards. Skinny guys need to get bigger to get stronger. It’s not that you need to add 50 pounds to your bench press to build a big chest, it’s that you need to build a bigger chest so that you can bench press more weight. Now, I realize that both go hand in hand. As your chest grows bigger, you’ll keep adding those 5 pounds to the barbell, and over time you’ll grow both big and strong. But you don’t have to reach a certain strength standard before you can start building muscle.

      Most skinny guys are able to build muscle quite quickly. Compared to guys who already have more muscle mass, our results tend to be more visible sooner. There are exceptions, of course, but how much weight have you managed to gain so far? A common thing with us skinny guys is that we don’t eat enough to gain weight, our muscle growth is slower as a result, and we think we have poor muscle-building genetics. But really it’s just that we haven’t been eating enough to gain weight very quickly.

  4. Alex on October 1, 2020 at 12:11 pm

    Hi Shane, first, a huge thanks for putting in so much time to read and answer comments!

    What I mean by strength/size is that gaining 10% in strength doesn’t even remotely come close to gaining 10% in size. So…by adding 5 pounds to a lift and taking a few weeks before being able to add another 5 means baaaarely gaining size. It seems daunting to me to add 50 to 100 pounds to a lift before I’d consequently see a meaningful size increase.

    I purchased and followed War Chest because all of my lifts were progressing reasonably except my pushing lifts. I continued to make gains in all my lifts and ate a lot to see if that’s a limiting factor. I made gains with my chest but still not at the rate of other lifts (like my back). I also gained a fair amount of fat. I cut for 2.5 months to remove that fat. I’m 38 years old and don’t have the metabolism I used to.

    At this point, I’m trying to bulk again but being more careful in the calories department. I’m making gains (same rate as before, slow), maybe gaining a little fat too but nothing like before. At no point have I increased 2+ lbs of muscle per month. It just seems like my ability to add muscle is much slower than the average person. Since starting to work out 2 years ago with 2 cuts and week break here and there (vacations), I think I’ve gained around 20lbs of muscle (150-170 with similar fat, most likely 17/18%). My protein intake is the one macro I’m most intentionally following and as far as I can count I’m taking 80-100% grams to pounds.
    Thanks

    • Shane Duquette on October 1, 2020 at 1:59 pm

      My pleasure, man!

      Hm. I’m not so sure about that. Cross-sectional area of a muscle increases fairly proportionally with strength. Getting 10% stronger at biceps curls won’t make your upper arms 10% bigger, given that your upper arms are more than just your biceps, but it might indeed make your biceps 10% bigger. I’m not sure on that. I’d need to double check. But muscle size scales quite well with muscle strength, especially once you’ve learned the lift and you’re lifting with proper leverage.

      As you steadily gain strength, especially if you’re gaining it in a moderate rep range (e.g. your 10-rep max), you should steadily gain size as well. It might not be noticeable from one week to the next, but it’s not like you’ll only notice the improvement after adding 100 pounds to your bench press. You should be seeing small improvements gradually over time.

      There are a few factors that can influence how much fat you gain, including your training, how much protein you’re eating, and how good your sleep is. But you’re right, yeah, the first place to look is usually how fast you’re gaining weight overall. If gaining, say, 0.5 pounds per week is causing fat gain, try 0.25 pounds per week. Especially when focusing on particular muscle groups, a little weight gain can go a long way. It sounds like you aren’t overdoing it, though, so maybe looking into those other factors could help.

      How much are you benching? How much were you benching when you started lifting? And is it still moving up steadily?

      • Alex on October 1, 2020 at 4:28 pm

        Benching.
        Start: 115lbs ~10 reps. 1 year later: 155lbs 8 reps and increases really slowed down at that point. After war chest (a few months) 175lbs 8 reps.

        Then, I cut while maintaining strength for a few weeks, then it started dropping, Then I a vacation for a week and when I started back up I was way behind.

        Still catching up. After several months: 165lbs 8 reps. Per recommendations from the program, chest volume right after war chest is a little less (12-15 sets per week). All other exercises since starting to bulk again have increased beyond where I was after finishing war chest.

        I’ve been struggling with benching from the start whereas my other exercises are doing OK. My bench typically increases about 1 rep every 1.5 weeks. When adding 5 pounds, it would drop by 4 reps across 3 sets.

        For lower body, I typically increase 5 lbs every 2 weeks but I haven’t been very consistent since I concentrate on upper body more.

        Even though overhead pressing and chin ups have made fair progress my arms haven’t grown much at all. Maybe 1/4 inch since 2 years ago. Most growth for me has been in my back due to chins and deadlifts. My legs maybe grew 0.75 inches since I added 80lbs to my squat and 120 to my deadlift; but it just seems like there should be more growth per strength increase.

        • Shane Duquette on October 2, 2020 at 8:59 am

          Your bench is going up fairly well. Not as fast as you’d like, but going from 115 up to 165 is a pretty big increase. (Congratulations!) You’re right, though. I think you could probably improve your bench press strength faster. I can write an article about how to increase bench press strength. I was planning on waiting until I could bench 315, but that’s taking me some time—I’m at 275×5 at the moment—so maybe I should get the article out sooner rather than later.

          It’s normal to lose bench press strength when cutting. That’s something almost everyone experiences. There are all kinds of expressions about eating your way to a bigger bench, and there’s some truth to it. It seems like simply weighing more helps with the bench press. Why is that? It’s unclear, but it’s a well-known thing. Now that you’re gaining weight again, though, your bench should shoot up again, too.

          Regarding chin-ups, overhead presses, and your arms, check out our article on isolation lifts. The overhead press is a compound lift that involves flexing the shoulders and extending the elbows, whereas triceps are biarticular muscles that help us extend the shoulders and extend the elbows. So the triceps can’t fully engage without pulling the elbows back towards the body, as in a pullover. That’s why you’ll want to include some skullcrushers to work the long head of the triceps (the biggest part of your triceps). The same is true with chin-ups and biceps, just in reverse, as explained here. So it can help to include some biceps curls.

          What that means is, focus on increasing your strength on the bench press for your chest, your overhead press for your shoulders, your triceps extensions (such as skullcrushers) for your triceps, and your biceps curls for your biceps. There’s some overlap between the movements, and pulling and pressing will indeed train your arms, but the isolation lifts are more directly linked to arm size.

          I hear what you’re saying with all of this, though. You’re raising a lot of good points. Our Outlift Intermediate Bulking Program is our program for intermediate lifters trying to get bigger and stronger but who have plateaued. But we’re not trying to lock this stuff behind a series of paywalls. I’ll be writing more articles about it, too. I think an article specifically about the bench press might be a really good one.

    • Jesse on July 28, 2021 at 8:49 am

      Don’t know if you will ever see this, but I wouldn’t mind an update. If it makes you feel any better, gaining 2lbs of muscle a month is hogwash for people not on steroids. You might gain 2lbs a month your first year of serious lifting, but it will be a mix of muscle, water and fat. I also think it is great you are focusing on protein intake, but please know that gaining healthy weight is about getting as many quality calories in you as possible. Do not go all-in on protein and think everything will end up fine.

      I’ve gone from 185lbs to 240 in the last ten years. I rarely eat over 125 grams of protein a day. Fresh and frozen fruits and veggies, all kinds of not-fried potato, rice, corn, oatmeal, beans, peanuts, almonds and sunflower seeds, and soy milk is about 80-90% of my diet. If you are loading up on protein and coming up well short on healthy fats and carbs, you are not going to put on mass as a steroid-free lifter.

      Always be mindful of what you are being told, and if it is to gain profit. America’s obsession with protein has not produced a legion of swole warriors. Most of it is just getting flushed down the toilet unsynthesized.

      • Shane Duquette on July 28, 2021 at 9:35 am

        Hey Jesse, thank you for the thoughtful comment!

        Your diet sounds awesome. And I think you’re right to put most of your focus on eating whole foods. That’s great for building muscle, and it’s also great for your health.

        Gaining two pounds per month while bulking as an intermediate lifter is pretty standard. Most research shows that surplus is ideal for building muscle. That seems true in our experience, too, both personally and as coaches.

        It’s totally true that not all of the weight we gain will be muscle, especially as a more advanced lifter. But that’s okay. The point is to build muscle. If a bit of fat comes along for the ride, we can get rid of it later.

        Most hypertrophy research sets the minimum amount of protein for OPTIMAL results at around 0.7 grams of protein per pound bodyweight per day, at least for people who are fairly lean. But people can still get GREAT results by eating less than that. If 125 grams of protein is working well for you at 240 pounds, more power to you. The average person, though, would probably do slightly better with slightly more.

        There are many, many Americans who become strong and muscular by lifting weights, eating plenty of good food, and eating enough protein. I’d argue that the average person is out of shape because they don’t habitually lift weights or eat enough good food. I don’t think it’s the fault of conventional protein recommendations for building muscle.

      • Alex on July 28, 2021 at 10:32 am

        Shane beat me to it! He’s quick…
        Since writing the first comment I was able to increase my strength a smidge (175 10 reps 3 sets). Then before going on a beach vacation I cut for two months and didn’t work out while on vacation. Then I got back to it (May 2021) and my strength had tanked 15 pounds. I’ve been trying to get it back for the last 2.5 months and I’m finally at that strength again. Every time I cut or take a slight break, my bench decreases a lot and purported muscle memory doesn’t exist since the rate of strength gain is the same as before.

        Now, this is all in regards to flat bench press. All my other exercises regain strength quickly and it’s the same case on OTHER chest movements like dips. I can do dips with body+65lb for 8 reps which is 20lbs MORE than I was able to do previously while performing a 175 bench for 10 reps. It’s just the conventional bench that is eking along.

        So far for the 2 and half months, I’ve been bulking again, and my gains are good. And if the same rate of gains continues, I anticipate being at a great place before cutting for next summer. The one thing I think I need to do to make meaningful progress is to lean bulk for 6+ months straight. I shouldn’t do 2-4 month bulks followed by cuts anymore. I seem to make no overall progress that way. As I’ve said before, I ate like crazy doing the War Chest program, and although I had the best chest gains ever, I gained too much fat, and my cut destroyed my chest gains.

        I’m concerned about protein intake because I DO eat healthy. My wife prefers not to use meat at all, and our veggie portions are usually bigger than the meat portions, so I have to supplement with powder just to get 0.8 grams protein per pound of body weight. (I’m 173 lbs right now.) We have been health conscious for a long time, eating mostly whole foods and almost never eating at restaurants.

        About my original comment. My chest and my limbs are small. I have absolutely made progress on leg/chest/arm lifts, but I’m still pretty skinny. I was concerned that any significant size increase would have to come with MASSIVE strength increases, which would take years and years if I can only increase 2-5lbs per month in a lift. For example, for calf raises I started at 11-12 reps with 45lbs on my back per foot, and my calves were 14.25 inches. Now I can do calf raises with 95 lbs on my back for 11 reps per foot, and my calves grew an astounding 0.25-0.5 inches bigger. So, must I be able to lift 200lbs per foot before I have 15-inch calves? I think I started barbell curls with a total of 50-60 pounds 3 years ago. Now I can curl 85lbs for 12 reps with a whopping 0.15-0.25 inch increase size in my arms. (Yes, I do isolation lifts.) I’ve also increased my skull crusher strength by 25-30lbs since starting lifting 3 years ago.

        I’ve said this in comments elsewhere: my lats are what really grew. I have a 45-46 inch chest and it’s all lats. I’m a low intermediate lifter on all my lifts but an advanced lifter on my chin-ups. The reason why is because of muscle memory from a job years ago. I never did chin-ups consistently before, and even during those younger years, my lats weren’t even remotely as big or as strong as they are now. I’m convinced that whatever gains were made while young can turn into phenomenal gains when older after a period of deloading. I’m curious if there is any research on this. I think every teenager alive should lift, especially if it means great gains at a later time after a deload. I regret being a skinny nerd in school and never getting into fitness. I’m almost 40 now and I don’t have the same body…

        Thanks for reading!

        • Dave on March 19, 2022 at 8:38 am

          At 51 years of age, I can lift these numbers that you are talking about. If someone young that is actively lifting has a problem doing so, weak.

          • Shane Duquette on March 21, 2022 at 1:45 pm

            You’re talking about being 51 almost as if it’s a disadvantage. If you’ve been lifting weights, growing stronger, and building muscle for a long time, you’d expect someone older to be stronger. There’s a point where that trend starts to reverse, of course, but that might be closer to someone’s 70s, I’d guess. The bigger limiting factor for older lifters, it seems, is that they’ve already inched super close to their genetic potential. Their progress doesn’t stall because of age but rather because they’re already so strong and muscular.



  5. Steven on May 11, 2022 at 11:42 pm

    I’m 39 years old. I never deadlifted a single rep in my entire life until June of 2021. I just hit 535 pounds tonight. No belt. No straps. No steroids. No nothing. Took 11 months of fairly consistent training once or twice a week. Not 10 years. This article is wayyyyyy off on the standards.

    • Shane Duquette on July 26, 2022 at 3:12 pm

      Congrats on the 535-pound deadlift, man! Congratulations. That’s awesome, especially in just 11 months.

      These are just averages. There are outliers on either end. You’ll have some guys who do everything right but struggle to deadlift 4 plates after 10 years. You’ll have other guys who pull 4 plates during their very first workout.

      I’m not sure if you’ve been doing other forms of exercise or resistance training, or if you were totally sedentary these past 39 years. To deadlift a bunch of weight, you don’t necessarily need a long history of deadlifting. You just need the relevant muscles to be big and strong enough. Maybe you get that from working on a farm, maybe from doing other exercises in the gym. And then a bit of practice helps, too.

      If you go to a standard commercial gym and see what other people are deadlifting, I think you’ll find that yours is one of the best, even compared to the guys who have been lifting their entire lives.

  6. Didnt notice this shit on July 22, 2022 at 2:20 am

    Steven is right. I trained for 4 years when I was 17-21. My squat was 670lbs for 8 reps, deadlift 700lbs for 8 reps, barbell bench I scrapped cause it sucks but did 120lbs in each hand with dumbells for 8 reps, the list goes on but its easily double what your “10 year dudes” got.

    I recently picked up the weights again and went from absolute zero to more than your “10 year dudes” in 6 months, but of course I already know what I am doing so its easy.

    • Shane Duquette on July 26, 2022 at 3:15 pm

      That’s awesome, man! Congratulations! Those are huge numbers!

      I’m sorry if I miscommunicated. I wasn’t trying to imply that it’s impossible for some people to get stronger than those standards under the right circumstances. I was just trying to explain what someone with average genetics can hope to accomplish.

      I think if you hung out with a bunch of longtime lifters, and you saw them doing everything right and yet still failing to match your numbers, you’d realize that you’re an outlier.

    • BubbaGumpShrimpCo on January 18, 2023 at 4:26 pm

      First, it’s considerably easier to RE-gain strength and muscle once the body has been through it in the past than it is to do it for the first time – when you gain muscle it’s not that you gain more muscle fibers but it’s rather that the muscle fibers you have EXPAND in response to stress and the intake of protein to sustain that growth – and once “ripped” those fibers are considerably easier to “re-rip”. It’s why a strongman who used to deadlift 1,000+ lbs can take a year off, lose a lot of strength but within months have it back – also when you put your body through high intensity strength training you force the ligaments to thicken, you force the muscle attachments on the bone to increase their surface area on the bone – so you’ve really got a head start when you “start from zero” if you let yourself go a while. Forensic pathologists can always tell when a man lead a physically laborious life by the bones – men who used their muscles a lot leave lasting impressions on the bones themselves.

      Beyond that, your results are not average. We’re talking about AVERAGE men with AVERAGE genetic potential. The vast majority of men – no matter the effort – simply cannot in a few years reach 700 lb deadlifts. That’s WELL beyond ordinary – the strongest men on the PLANET – guys like Hafthor Bjornsson and Brian Shaw – 6’9″, 400+ lb genetic freaks who LIVE for strength training – work HARD to get into the 900+ lb deadlift range and the world record is a bit over 1,100 lbs – but only a few decades ago the world record was only down in the 800-something pound range. These days, the OPENING weight for strongman competitions is about 800 lbs and most strongmen stall out somewhere around 400-430 kg (882 up to 948 lbs) – keep in mind these men are ENORMOUS on average, easily more than twice the mass of most “big” lifters in the gym – Hafthor at one point was like 470 lbs and Brian was 430+.

      So, if you’re doing 700 for 8 reps, you’re either lying or you should be training for the World’s Strongest Man competition because that’s more than 99.9% of men on earth. Having the ability to DO that puts you on a totally different level than most men who have ever lived. Even among particularly strong lifters, hitting a 600 lb deadlift for a 1 rep maximum is typically considered a dream level to hit for a lot of guys – to give an example, Jujimufu – who has lifted for many many years and is ABSURDLY well developed muscularly but is a more average 5’9″ or 5’10” height at 230 lbs – look him up on youtube – did a video where he hit a PR deadlift of something like 630 lbs or something like that – and this is a guy whose whole LIFE is lifting. You’re telling me you’re doing more than that casually? Then – no offense – but you’re a genetic freak. An exception, not the rule. Don’t let it go to your head, though – there are far stronger men than you out there – like the ones mentioned above. They’re ALSO genetic freaks though – no way around it.

      The reality is, MOST men with average genetic potential would REALLY struggle to get past a 400 to 500 lb deadlift. Most men on earth never join the 315 lb benchpress club. Most men on earth struggle with dumbbells heavier than 30 to 35 lbs. Training for 1 year or 10 years, doesn’t matter if your genetic potential isn’t that high. And yes, it’s a real thing – my cousin is 6’5″, 240 lbs, naturally just really big in build and REALLY strong despite never working out – guy puts 80 lbs over his head one-handed casually and I’ve seen him hoist up a 100 lb bag in each hand, throw them onto his shoulders like they weighed 30 lbs and walk off with them. I HATE how easy things are for him but the fact is, I have to work REALLY hard to even compete with his BASE level of strength and I myself am larger and stronger than the “average” untrained man by a good margin at around 6’2″ and 210-220 lbs and having done benches with 120 to 130 lb dumbbells in the past. My cousin though? I wouldn’t be surprised if he – who never goes to the gym – could just…do that, right away. He’s a bit frustrating to be related to. Bigger than me, better looking, smarter…I admit to being annoyed by it at times. He’s literally my superior in every way. Sucks. But that’s reality. He got the better genetic package, I guess.

      If you won that genetic lottery, great – but that doesn’t mean many other men will.

  7. BubbaGumpShrimpCo on January 18, 2023 at 3:56 pm

    Hey!
    I might be a bit late to the table on this but I thought I’d “weigh” in (ha).
    Here’s the thing – those initial numbers ARE vastly inflated. No question.
    First, they establish a “one rep maximum” and then an average “after months of training” – before proceeding to say “that means the average man on the street can lift _______” and it uses the figure for after training for several months at the minimum. Well, I don’t know what world whoever came up with that is living in but the average guy on the street DOESN’T lift or, at best, has maybe seen the inside of a gym a few times in the last five years.

    That’s the reality. The vast majority of the men on the planet DON’T work out. It’s not necessarily because they lack drive to improve or anything like that – there are various reasons for this:
    1. Access to equipment – especially for poorer people or people in developing parts of the world (realize that there are 8 billion people on the planet, half of which are male, and almost all of them live OUTSIDE of developed countries – the U.S. and Canada combined make up a tiny percentage of the planet’s population), a lack of funding to join a gym or buy weights or just a lack of a gym nearby obviously makes it very hard to GO to a gym or work out.

    2. Culture – outside of the west, and particularly outside of the Americas, MOST of the rest of the world doesn’t actually obsess over “getting jacked” like American men do. I’ve lived in China, for instance, and the typical Chinese man is about 5’5″ to 5’7″ and weighs a whopping 130 to 150 lbs soaking wet – at 6’2″ and 210 lbs, it’s a significant challenge for me to even find clothing that fits. At any rate, Chinese culture doesn’t value what is called “ji rou nan” – a “muscle man” – in fact quite the opposite – being slim is considered a lot more attractive than a thick, powerful build and besides that, they generally lack the bone structure to put on that much muscle.

    3. Time – a lot of people simply feel they are too busy to spend 2 hours in the gym a few times a week (plus travel time to and from)

    4. Disliking the “gym bro” atmosphere – a lot of guys don’t WANT to work out in a gym ESPECIALLY if they are beginners because they don’t want that feeling of being “watched” by jacked up muscle guys over there grunting and lifting three times what they can. It’s a significant deterrent.

    I’ve been (admittedly casually) working out for years now – I will note this: there are definitely distinct mechanical advantages that come with having a larger-than-average build. I have wide hips, a deep chest and very broad shoulders and I naturally have – in general – more muscle on my arms and upper body in general even BEFORE I ever started actually regularly working out a few times a week – and even when I started, I was above the “average” mark for the untrained man, albeit not by a huge margin – where most untrained guys could maybe do 30 to 35 lb curls per hand, I was able to do 50 right away – where most start at 135 for the bench I started at I believe a 185 maximum and so on.

    What I’ve observed is that a lot of guys – and I regularly watch people in the gym to see where they’re struggling because the topic is interesting to me – where do people REALLY stand in real life versus inflated internet claims – when you ACTUALLY witness them in real time lifting versus their REPORTED lifts online – and the reality is….most men are MUCH weaker than stated here.

    What I see a LOT of is actually quite a lot of guys in that 5’7″ to 5’9″ range, sometimes a little taller but generally VERY (to me) shockingly skinny biceps and forearms – to the point where I legitimately don’t understand how someone COULD have that little muscle on their bone structure – and this isn’t me bragging, it’s an observation and an honest reaction to what I see – I see SO many guys shaped like this in the gym – narrow shoulders, biceps that can’t possibly be over 12 to 13″ flexed (even before I started at my skinniest I was at 15.5″, by comparison, not that bicep measurements mean much in total strength but they can be indicative of some deficiency in strength in some areas), waists that I’d guess HAVE to be sub-30 inches and necks that look like they shouldn’t be able to hold their head up. The ones that actually turn UP in the gym who AREN’T muscular tend to be more like this than overweight.

    Anyway what I see from them is this:
    in general I see most of them struggling mightily to even get a barbell with a single 45 lb plate on each side up and locked out – lots of shaking and back arching and all of that usual stuff. This, by the way, isn’t exclusive to the skinny guys – some chubby guys show up too and similarly seem to be struggling with a single plate IF they even GET to 45’s on each side – often I see them using smaller plates.

    Generally I would agree – having witnessed well beyond hundreds of men in the gym over the years – probably thousands – that a single 45 lb plate on each side – 135 lbs including the bar – IS a fair guess as to how much the AVERAGE (western) man can REALLY bench press for a one rep maximum if you got him to put down the game controller and roll off the sofa long enough to do it. But I’d say that for a lot of them even THAT is a bit much – averages being averages though, fair enough.

    HOWEVER, when it comes to OVERHEAD presses, I have to call a bit of BS on that. Why? Because in my observation, most of the guys over the years who CLEARLY haven’t been doing this long – and even some who I had seen coming in for months or longer – were struggling to get 30 lb dumbbells overhead with each hand. Yes, barbells are more stable and all but I also witnessed them struggle enormously with anything over 60 to 70 lbs on the barbell when it comes to overhead presses. I, to this day, find it a bit amusing when I walk up and do a dozen reps with the 100 lb barbell – you know, the ones with fixed weights, non-adjustable – overhead and there’s always at least a guy or two who reacts like I just lifted some crazy heavy weight over my head – I’ve had some of them even ask for advice or compliment me on it EVEN THOUGH – to me and some others who actually lift for strength rather than physique – this is really not hard.
    In PARTICULAR though I notice them struggle with overhead pressing DUMBBELLS – more stabilizing muscles needed – and there are often guys in my gym who are clearly impressed when I put up a pair of 70 or 75 lb dumbbells (140 to 150 lbs total if it were a barbell, but requires more stabilizing so harder, granted) which for MANY of them one of those dumbbells is close to their 2-handed max. I’ve even tried to be polite and asked if they wanted to use the dumbbells when I was done with them and they said “no, I can’t get there yet” – so I got a pretty good bead on many occasions on their max lifting capabilities.

    Keep in mind, I’m not a “gym bro” who goes all gung ho with the protein powder and pre-workout and post-workout and blah blah blah. I turn up every other day and just for an hour to two hours do a few warmup sets and then push myself to my upper end – usually just with dumbbells because it’s simply safer and easier to work with if you DO fail out than a barbell would be. For that reason, I NEVER go for max on the barbell bench press – the most I’ve ATTEMPTED I did succeed at (285 lbs) which I found surprising because I didn’t expect the dumbbell work I’d been doing to transfer over that well, but it did ok. I usually use 120’s in each hand for dumbbell bench press, though I’ve at times pushed that to 130 or 140 on the high end. My personal record for single-hand overhead was actually with a 70 lb dumbbell and a burlap bag held in the same hand with 51 lbs of weight in it (smaller dumbbells plus some cans of food that I weighed out) for a total of 121 lbs standing overhead press (though I’m still not even sure how I did get that up – usually I stall out around 95 lbs but that day I was just really THERE somehow) and seated overhead press I think I usually would stop around 75 to 85 lbs per hand because, after all, that requires entirely static power with zero leg drive so is significantly harder.

    So that gives some idea of where I, a casual (albeit one with what I’ve heard called a “viking build”) stand when I’m talking about these observations.

    NOW, because we can’t just act like every guy in the gym is like these examples above, I’ve ALSO on some occasions watched guys who appeared UNREASONABLY strong for their size – last year I watched this little guy, couldn’t have been more than 5’9″ and he looked like he had been working out SOME but he wasn’t really jacked by any means – just skinny-muscular if you understand my meaning – put up 225…then 285….then 315….then 335….and I was the one who was floored by that. There are of course going to be really STRONG guys in the gym too, and really bulky, jacked up “gym bros” who can lift a lot.

    But when I talk about gym keep in mind I’m talking about something like a 24-7 fitness center where the dumbbells -at least at my local ones – only go up to 120 lbs or sometimes only up to 90 lbs, and where they have those machines most fairly strong guys can just about max out because they’re mechanically assisted. Obviously I’m less likely to encounter as high of a concentration of roided-out thick-necked gym bros as you would at, say, Muscle Beach or Gold’s Gym or a center that actual powerlifters go to.

    WITH that said, I think the public gyms LIKE 24-7 fitness or planet fitness ARE better representations of the average untrained man’s abilities because they ARE where you’re MORE likely to find the average untrained or barely-trained man. MOST guys who work out only do it for a matter of weeks to months and then fall off and go back to their old habits, just like most people who start learning a new language, if you check with them a year later, stopped their studies months ago and didn’t really progress much. The guys who take it really SERIOUSLY and want to build STRENGTH don’t tend to want to go to those places and consider them a bit of a joke.

    So first, it’s important to realize that there’s a definite selection bias when you’re sampling guys who are even TRYING to lift weights – they tend to be guys already more geared toward it, who are more built for it or at least have SOME potential. You may have been a 130 lb beanpole (I can’t understand HOW though, since at your height – which I am – I’d be literally dead if I went that low – I did a starvation experiment once where I didn’t eat ANYTHING – not a thing – for 2 weeks and you could see my RIBS afterward, my body had started to cannibalize its own muscle and I was falling down and nearly passing out just walking around – and the lowest I EVER got was at that point and I hit 175 lbs or so – with my ribs clearly showing) but you had a bigger FRAME to put more muscle on than some other more average-sized or small-sized guys. For the same reason, my 6’5″, 245 lb cousin who basically only hikes for exercise can easily stiff-arm his 80-lb kid over his head with one hand – I’ve seen photos of just that – he’s built like a f’ing sasquatch, it’s absurd – build matters.

    Which brings me to my other point:

    Genetics and physical constitution ARE factors here.
    MOST men are not powerfully built.
    Globally, the average male height is only 5’7″ and the average male bone structure is such that this sort of man weighs about 140 lbs if not obese. Shoulders tend to be moderate to narrow with some variation. Most men have biceps – flexed – that would be between 10″ and 13″ flexed. Genetics though have an enormous impact because there are OTHER guys who are like my cousin who are just f###g big and strong right out of the box so to speak. This guy outgrew his size 15 shoes when he was 14. He’s just really massively built. OBVIOUSLY, a little 5’8″ average guy with biceps smaller than my cousin’s wrists is going to have to work ENORMOUSLY hard JUST to catch up to my cousin’s natural out-of-the-box strength. Genetics at play.

    FOR that reason, combined with the fact that if you are STRENGTH sampling you will invariably attract guys more likely to be stronger than average – outliers become a SERIOUS issue in gaging real TYPICAL male strength. We’re talking globally, ALL men, including the VAST majority who do not have big bone structures to anchor a lot of muscle, who are around 5’7″ to 5’9″, who have probably rarely or never worked out seriously in their life for any extended amount of time. I am an outlier – I’m A) bigger than average and B) stronger than average EVEN BEFORE I started working out – so I AM an outlier.

    I became keenly aware of regional and genetic differences in strength when in China in particular – I visited a village where there was this wooden beam with two beams supporting it – I’m not sure how much it weighed but it was pretty heavy – definitely heavier than me. During this tour, they proudly talked about the strength of the men in that village and said usually it would take 3 or 4 normal men to carry that thing but in their village, it only took 2 to lift and carry it. They invited the people standing around to try to lift it – several chinese men tried and failed – and then I decided to have a go at it. They seemed outright shocked when I, with only a little bit of effort, hoisted the thing up off the ground and proceeded to repeat that a few times. This, buy the way, was when I was 20 lbs lighter in muscle than I am now – only about 190 lbs at that point.

    My point is that strength varies ENORMOUSLY regionally and some ethnic groups are REALLY less built for strength. I’m of northern/eastern european heritage – so I carry those robust northerner genes – the men in this village, while fit, are absolutely tiny in comparison – and the chinese men who gave it a try and failed were somewhere in the 5’7″ to 5’9″ range, lightly built, 20s through 50s. They couldn’t even BUDGE it off the ground. I should also add that I really slack on doing leg days so I don’t consider myself particularly strong in the legs.

    If you were to sample the average Indian or Chinese man’s strength, I really sincerely doubt you’d be seeing “140 lbs overhead with a few months of training”. Keep in mind that it used to be considered impressive that Bruce Lee, a man of 150 lbs at his most bulky and I think around 5’7″ in height – was able to lift another man weighing 140 lbs over his head (granted they had the guy wearing something that would give Bruce something to use as “handles” and the guy did an assist jump) – so much so that it was mentioned as one of his feats of strength in a book about him.

    I really doubt – based on my observations – the 140 lb overhead claim. SOME guys can, sure, but AVERAGE? Typical off-the-street random guy after few months of what MOST guys call training (which amounts to using some of those machines, maybe bench press and curling some 25 or 30 lb dumbbells in many cases)? No, I’d say the VAST majority of attempts I’ve seen from men in the gym – and they were clearly at their max because they were shaking, struggling and grunting and even failing at times – for overhead presses would be down in the 70 to 75 lb range for the obvious newcomers and even for the guys I saw regularly for a few months I rarely saw them push even 100 overhead in an honest, proper lift – much less one without leg drive being recruited. REALISTICALLY I’d say 85 lbs is about right for MOST guys after 3 months of “average guy in a gym not really knowing what he’s doing” workouts, MAYBE 90 lbs – for some MAYBE even 100 lbs – but 140? Nah. That I usually only see from the guys with obvious muscular development who are definitely not that new to this. Keep in mind that overhead press is a lot harder than bench press. Why do you think World’s Strongest Man competitors can casually benchpress 600+ lbs or even 700 lbs but for the log press you’re typically looking at upper weights of around 400 lbs? In GENERAL with healthy shoulders the ratio of overhead press to bench press max seems to be such that a man considered EXTREMELY strong in most of the planet can overhead press his own body weight (as it so happens those 400 lb logs are lifted by giant, massive strongmen who average around 400 lbs or sometimes more – Brian Shaw weighs around 430 lbs at 6’8″ and Hafthor Bjornsson is 6’9″ and at one point was over 450 lbs) – this feat is generally a mark of extremely high human strength for a given size – whereas one is considered “reasonably strong” if they can benchpress their own bodyweight and “extremely strong” if they can benchpress TWICE their body weight (even World’s Strongest Man winners Eddie Hall and Brian Shaw couldn’t bench a full 2x their body weight, though they came close at points). SO the ratio is about 2 to 1: you can generally expect at a good level of fitness to be able to overhead press 50% of what you can max bench press, or on the high end perhaps 60 or 70% depending on how strong your shoulders are and what exercises you focus most in.

    I’d say with a 135 lb average max 1 rep benchpress, the average UNTRAINED man SHOULD be able to OVERHEAD press – max – 70 lbs – about 50% of their max bench – which is in line with my estimate and my observations above, by the way. You could maybe say 85 lbs like above though I’ve seen guys fail at that weight so it’s definitely not something EVERY untrained guy can walk up and lift for sure. Again, genetics and all. Arnold Schwarzenegger with poorer genetics would NEVER have been 7 times Mr. Universe.

    SO by that virtue IF you assume after a few months of training the average man can bench 185 lbs then slightly over half of THAT would be 95 lbs – so I think accounting for genetic differences we SHOULD be conservative and estimate 95 lbs as the REASONABLE expectation for overhead press after a few months – there WILL be outliers who can do more – but that doesn’t change anything.

    SO following that logic, once you make it up to the 225 lb / 100 kg benchpress mark – the point that many people strive for and view as the “entry level” where you can start to be considered “pretty strong but not power-lifter strong” – then a bit over half that is 115 lbs – so I’d expect a guy who can bench 225 lbs to be able to lift (assuming he TRAINS for both – there’s SOME cross recruitment of muscle groups anyway) 115 lbs overhead using both hands, MAYBE 120 to 130 – and this tracks with my own personal experience because WHEN I could barely hit the 225 mark I struggled with getting much more than that overhead. It wasn’t until I was breaking past the 255+ lb benchpress mark that I was reliably putting 140-150 overhead. Granted I didn’t test my ABSOLUTE max and felt I had a bit more in the tank, but by feel I’d say 170 max would be likely at that point for overhead.

    FINALLY – and this is a vital point here – another consideration is HOW someone trains. That REALLY matters. The guy who walks in and only curls some 25’s and does high-rep, low-weight is NEVER going to increase his maximum output in strength much – he’s going to peak and stay peaked.

    In order to get STRONGER it’s not as simple as walking into a gym and lifting weights. You have to constantly PUSH yourself to your limits to push to that next level and that level beyond that. A lot of guys simply do not have the mental discipline for it. That’s why a lot of guys START working out and then, realizing it kind of feels bad to lift heavy things and sweat a lot, fall off the wagon.

    Many men who go to the gym to gain muscle are ALSO not aiming for power – they’re aiming for PHYSIQUE. A lot of guys want those six pack abs and defined pecs – but one look at – again – the World’s Strongest Man competitors reveals a simple truth: when you train for pure strength, you are training very differently and your form looks quite different in the end. A lot of bodybuilders LOOK strong but often AREN’T that strong. I’ve seen very defined, muscular looking guys in the gym who I was stronger than despite me not being particularly “cut” – I’m not fat by any means but I don’t focus on getting “chiseled” at all. I go in, and I lift heavy, and I leave. No cardio, none of that low-weight high-rep stuff.

    So that’s another thing – training for appearance vs training for strength has two outcomes that CAN be very different. I’ve seen plenty of REALLY defined guys in the gym whose physical strength wasn’t really very high at all – I’ve seen guys with six pack abs and really defined arms and shoulders who REALLY struggled with 225 to 235 lbs on the bench and who maxed out at benching 80 or 90 lb dumbbells – reason being, they never LIFTED weights heavy enough to get past that point so their maximum stayed at a certain level.

    in America, I’d say 80% of guys in the gym are working out to feel better about themselves and most of THAT has to do with LOOKING strong. But Brian Shaw’s giant fat ##s will outlift Schwarzenegger in his prime 100 out of 100 times. The kid I mentioned above who was pushing into the 300s despite not looking THAT muscular? He clearly trained for strength over form (and probably had some fairly good genetics).

    End of the day, I’d say THIS is more likely the FAIR assessment of AVERAGE male strength if you ignore outliers and sample bias (of COURSE internet lift claims and guys who DO work out will have higher lifts and tend to have the genetics to even ALLOW for higher strength to begin with):

    COMPLETELY UNTRAINED AVERAGE MAN (based on my observations over more than a decade):

    Bench Press: 135 lbs 1 rep max is fair-ish though some will be under.
    Curling (dumbbells): 30 to 35 lbs per hand, max (extreme low-end 25 lbs)
    Overhead press (dumbbells): 30 lbs per hand, max
    Deadlift: about 2/3rds of bodyweight seems average, so about the same as bench
    Barbell overhead press (easier than dumbbells): 70 to 75 lb 1 rep max
    Squat: 135-155 again seems to be where most seem to start at with some struggle
    I didn’t pay much attention to barbell row maximums but dumbbell rows tend to be done using 25 to 35 lbs for beginner-types

    Among the guys I saw who had been at it for at least a few months, I’d say:

    Benchpress: 155 to 185 (varies a lot by person but most stall out somewhere in this range even after a few months and the 185 tends to be the more “built” guys – the tiny-armed, flat-chested guys seem to really struggle at the low end)

    Overhead press:
    dumbbells: 40 lbs max each hand
    barbell: 85 lbs or so is where most would go for t heir highest lift of their session
    squat: between 185 and 205 lbs generally – some outliers higher – generally not much beyond 200 to 225 for most of them – over 200 looked very hard for many- lots of grunting and groaning and hyping up
    deadlift: 185 to 225 (wide variation)

    Again this is ONLY the guys who are new OR the guys who have been at it between 3 to 6 months

    I will note that even among the guys who had been going for at least a year, the percentage who could do OVER 225 on the bench press was significantly lower than what you’d get if you only went by internet-reported claims on lifting sites. I’d say out of ALL guys in the gym, any given day, 90% could not lift more than 225 lbs with good form at a Planet Fitness type place – because at any given time there’d be a few dozen people in the gym and maybe 1 or 2 guys who could hit between 225 and 285 – guys who could lift 315+ were more like one out of 100 or 1% range. And that tracks with reality: in the REAL WORLD, if you walk by 100 guys in a mall, VERY LIKELY less than 1% of them can ACTUALLY bench 315 lbs or more. About 5 to 10% at MOST could maybe hit 225 or exceed it slightly and about 80+% would be somewhere between 135 and 205 lbs, and I’d bet GOOD money on that if you ACTUALLY took 100 random people in a mall and put them on the spot to lift 225 and 285 and 315 lbs, VERY LIKELY at most you’d get one 315 lifter, 4 or 5 225 lifters and 95 who fall somewhere under that range.

    None of this is meant to belittle the “average man” – actually, I’m saying all of this BECAUSE inflated internet claims give people a false sense of how strong they are. They compare themselves to artificially inflated claims and feel weak and it discourages their progress. Fact is, If you can put up anything NORTH of those beginning numbers you ARE stronger than most men in the world because most men in the world do not work out and are not very strong by default.

    For that reason, a guy who worked really really hard and can “only” bench press 185 lbs or 205 lbs and really envies those guys lifting 225, 285, 315 etc SHOULDN’T feel bad about himself – he’s ALREADY made himself stronger than literally millions of men in the world if he’s gone that far. THAT is the reality. Don’t measure yourself against internet strength boasts and while we’re on that topic, don’t believe internet height claims either – an INSANELY huge percentage of men – practically all of them or near to it – lie about their height or at very least round up or report self-measured heights that were not taken properly, include shoes and so on. The average man is 5’9″ in the western world – 5’7″ globally including all ethnicities and regions – but if you believed all the inflated claims, every other guy seems to be 6 foot or 6’2″ – and why is that? Because it seems people REALLY hate being under 6 foot. 5’11”? Why be 5’11” when you can just include your shoes in the figure or round up and be the way-cooler sounding 6 footer? Why be 5’10” when you can be 6′ as long as nobody catches you in the lie? Hell even I here overstated my height above just a tad – I’m actually more accurately about 6’1.75″ to 6’1.85″ (in the morning) – ALMOST 6’2″ but just a hair under unless I’m in shoes, in which case I’m more like 6’2.5″ to 6’3″ with my hair. REAL height though – HONEST height? 187 cm or a bit over that – or a touch under 6’2″ but close enough that if I stand next to a guy who is exactly 6’2″ you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. That’s what I mean. MOST men round up. Few ADMIT to it – most do – and the same goes for weight lifting. Hell, some guys report their “bench presses” and fail to report that they did it on a machine.

    So just do you. As long as you’re stronger than you were yesterday, you’re doing great. NEVER compare yourself to others. Genetic potential is a huge limiter – no matter how people try to dance around it – there’s ALWAYS a bigger fish and ALWAYS a stronger guy out there no matter how strong you are. I’m OFTEN one of the strongest guys in the gym at any given moment when I go BUT there are of course always going to be SOME guys who are stronger and some of them didn’t work any harder than me – they just have greater genetic potential for it – how the muscles attach to the bone, even, can be a factor and genetics decide that – you have NO say at all in how the muscle anchors to the bone or what sort of muscle fibers you inherit. For me, I have FAIRLY good genetics for strength but they COULD be better. I estimate – being honest with myself – that if I took it REALLY seriously, based on what I know of my limits and my gain rates and how I peak – and based on my bone structure and everything else – that if I REALLY took it deadly seriously and LIVED in the gym and aimed specifically to bench the most I could possibly bench, ever, then I could PROBABLY exceed 400 lbs – possibly even tip over the 500 lb mark – but that would be my natural ULTIMATE potential – a hard line I could never get past no matter how hard I worked – my natural limit to my potential. But I could NEVER – no matter what – bench press 700 lbs, for instance, while there are some genetic freaks out there who CAN – very very few on the planet – an extremely rare thing – but among the strongest men on the planet there are just a few who can do that on the bench press – and that is a level NO amount of effort will ever allow me to reach because I’m not THAT genetically gifted.

    So, accept what genes you’ve got and work to be YOUR best.

    • Shane Duquette on January 21, 2023 at 10:26 am

      Hey Bubba, thank you so much for the comment!

      1. The article is definitely written from a Western perspective, written for the people who are most likely to read it and benefit from it. I live in Mexico, and it’s easy to see what you’re talking about. People with different levels of income think about exercise very differently. People working manual labour jobs don’t really think about it AT ALL. After all, they’re already doing TONS of exercise. I’m not sure they’re weaker than the average sedentary American, though. The poorest guys I know (who live in shacks they assembled themselves) are stronger than the richest guys I know (who have multiple houses and yachts).

      2. Being slim is considered fairly desirable here in the West, too. The actors who are famous for being attractive are guys like Timothee Chalamet, Harry Styles, Robert Pattinson, Benedict Cumberbatch and so on. Most men would rather look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club (160 pounds) than a jacked bodybuilder.

      3. I agree that lifting is hard and takes time. Most people don’t do it, even if they know they ought to (for their health).

      4. Different gyms have different cultures, and I’m not sure what gym culture is like in China, but the gyms I’ve trained at have mostly been full of regular people. Most of the hardcore bodybuilders and powerlifters train at gyms that specialize in those sports. It definitely depends, though. I’ve been to some gyms with a bro culture, for sure. You don’t necessarily need to lift at a gym, though. Can always train at home with some adjustable dumbbells.

      If you can bench 140-pound dumbbells, it wouldn’t take you long to bench 350 on a barbell. You’d just need to take some time specializing in it. Not that you SHOULD do that, just that you COULD do that. You’re already extremely strong.

      This article is less about what guys DO lift after years of training, it’s about what they COULD expect to lift after years of training properly with the specific goal of getting stronger. If someone is casually winging it in the gym, they might not really make much progress, and they can’t expect to gain strength at the same rate as someone who’s training and dieting with the specific goal of getting bigger and stronger.

      I agree with you that most guys at most gyms aren’t very strong. I don’t see that as any great problem or anything, either. Even just casually lifting weights is super healthy. But we get a lot of guys who really want to get bigger and stronger. Their potential is a lot higher than they often assume IF they train (and eat) for it.

      If someone wants to work towards THEIR best, I think that’s great. For some people, that isn’t as motivating or positive. They’re more competitive. They want to work towards objective standards. I know that because that’s how I am. That’s why I wanted to know this stuff. I wanted to see how I compared, and I wanted to use that as motivation to become better. Some people aren’t like that, but I’m not sure they’d be looking for this article to begin with.

      Again, thank you so much for the comment. You’ve made so many great points.

  8. Aaron on February 24, 2023 at 1:54 am

    I think some of these numbers are a bit high. I think the data sources are from powerlifters who take creatine and steroids and train for powerlifting meets.
    I’ve always been stronger than most guys growing up, not seriously string or a freak, but I was a fast sprinter could throw a ball and a discus further than others, could jump higher and in boxing had very fast hands. I started gym in my early twenties and rapidly was benching 120kg for 6 reps and deadlifted 230kg for 1 rep. I stopped legs and deadlifting for 25 years and now only 6 months ago started deadlifting and squatting again and my current max deadlift is only 200kg, my squat only 160kg for 7 reps. I still don’t see many guys around the gym doing those numbers though. so while my numbers aren’t amazing I think the 5-10 year stats are a bit overblown thanks to the sample of hardcore powerlifters passing themselves off as ‘average gymgoers’ in the data.

  9. Larry on March 13, 2023 at 10:52 pm

    “squatting and deadlifting with less veracity than they bench press.”

    Veracity? Do you mean consistency or tenacity? Assiduousness perhaps?

    • Shane Duquette on March 14, 2023 at 1:56 pm

      Oh no! Good catch. I was trying to write voracity.

  10. FitGAG on April 4, 2023 at 6:44 am

    Hey there! I just read your article about how much the average man can lift, and I have to say it was really interesting. As someone who is always looking to improve my strength and fitness, I found the information you shared to be really valuable.

    One thing that stood out to me was how you explained the importance of taking into account factors such as age, weight, and training level when estimating how much weight a man can lift. I appreciate the way you broke down these factors and explained how they can impact a person’s lifting ability. It’s important to remember that everyone is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how much weight a man can lift.

    Another point you made that I found helpful was about how to set realistic goals for lifting. I think this is so important, especially for people who are just starting out with weightlifting. As you mentioned, it’s important to set goals that are challenging but achievable, and to work towards those goals in a safe and sustainable way. I appreciate the tips you shared for setting realistic goals and tracking progress over time.

    Thank you for sharing this informative and inspiring article about lifting for men. It’s great to see information that is both accessible and science-based, and I look forward to applying some of these principles to my own workouts.

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