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 veracity 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 and creative lead of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and has a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained 65 pounds at 11% body fat and has ten years 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.

How to build 20 to 30 pounds of muscle in 30 days. Even if you have failed before

15 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.

  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!

Leave a Comment