How many pounds of muscle are needed to squat 200lbs?
March 5, 2010 11:49 AM   Subscribe

For every pound of weight that I can squat, I have X pounds of muscle. What is the value of X?

Hypothetical situation, and for my own curiosity only:

What is the approximate ratio between total body muscle, and maximum squat weight (one rep)?

Of course, I realize there are a lot of variables in the muscle weight/strength equation. Different types of muscles have different relative strengths. Leverages plays a key, and is affected by body size and the relative position of the various parts. Muscles can be made up of different types of fiber, the weight of the rest of a person's body is being lifted too, so that's a factor, etc. I'm just trying to get a ballpark figure for the strength of muscle.

So, to give a specific scenario:

If a person can squat 150 lbs for one rep today, and 12 weeks from now is able to squat 200 lbs, about how many pounds of muscle will that person have put on during those 12 weeks?

Assume that the person was doing something similar to Strong Lifts 5x5 - squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press, inverted rows, and pull ups, or some similar combination of full-body strength workouts.

You can also assume that any muscle weight gain would be proportionate for the entire body.

Can this question be answered? Does anyone have any data points at least? If enough people reply with their maximum one-rep squat weight, body weight, and body fat percentage, I might be able to figure it out from that. Of course, a tested "rule of thumb" formula is preferred.

You'd think this would be an easy thing to Google, but I've had no success so far. Thanks Mefites!
posted by Vorteks to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think that X will be too variable to really be useful, because not just the muscle fiber type will be relevant -- as you train muscle to get stronger, you get neuromuscular adaptations (i.e. you increase the maximum # of fibers that you recruit in a given lift), and if I'm not mistaken, there are changes in the general composition of the muscle as well. That's why new lifters frequently see ridiculous gains over the first few months in training. You would have to narrow it down to muscle:squat weight ratio in professional vs. amateur vs. inexperienced weightlifters in order to have any kind of a useful figure at all.
posted by kataclysm at 11:54 AM on March 5, 2010

Here's a table of squat standards, of what people of a given body weight should be able to squat. (I have no idea how these "shoulds" are derived, or whether this site is reputable, but you can use these numbers to derive correlations between body weight and squat.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:58 AM on March 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think your best bet may be to look at weightlifting records. There are other records available too.

Obviously, these are people operating at pretty close to the peak of human performance. But the trend of increased weight and increased lift is almost without exception, even if it isn't a straight line.

Thing is, you're going to have a hard time correlating those into a straight-up pounds of muscle = increase in light formula, because the weightlifters who weigh more are also probably taller. That adds bone mass, fat, water, and other non-muscular forms of weight increase. Even if the ratio of muscle to fat is the same in a weightlifter tipping in at 50kg and one at 75kg, the heavier guy is almost automatically going to have more of all of those.

In short: I don't think you can get the precise number you're looking for, but you can probably make something useful about total body mass to lifting strength.
posted by valkyryn at 11:59 AM on March 5, 2010

Your question is lacking one major factor: how long has this person been lifting? For a 200 pound athlete that's a complete novice, going from 150 -> 200 lbs in 12 weeks might see no muscle gain.
posted by bfranklin at 12:00 PM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with what kataclysm and valkyryn have said: not all increases in strength are accompanied by corresponding muscular hypertrophy. Increased nervous system efficiency accounts for lots of initial strength increase. So if you picked up a bar, squatted for 12 weeks and looked at your squat before and after along with you change in weight, you might not see much of a difference in your weight.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 12:06 PM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

This question as you have phrased it is not answerable at all. valkyryn's idea to look at lifting records is a good one, although it's not weightlifting records you want to look at -- weightlifting = the snatch and the clean and jerk, which are explosive lifts and depend heavily on technique and explosiveness, the latter being in some large part determiend by proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers. You'd want to look at raw (meaning without the aid of supportive equipment) powerlifting records.

In general, more bodyweight correlates with more absolute strength. However, lower bodyweights will have the potential for more relative strength -- a bigger guy will be able to lift more than a smaller guy, but the smaller guy can potentially lift more relative to his own bodyweight. However, as you mention, levers and body proportions are very important. An individual with longer legs has to do more work in a squat, where work is defined as weight*distance, and a tall person needs to have more mass for his levers to function efficiently. So you'll never see a lanky elite lifter -- the lightweights are always short guys.

As a very rough guideline for men, a 1.5x bodyweight squat is often considered basic strength, a 2x bodyweight squat is considered appropriate for sports dependent on strength, and a 3x bodyweight squat reflects a high degree of specialization in the lift, like that of a powerlifter.

The tables that LobsterMitten linked to are taken from Practical Programming, 1st Edition by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore. They were removed from the 2nd edition because they authors felt they caused too much confusion. They are based on the authors' observations and were meant to reflect a minimum weight that an individual would be expected to be lifting at a given point in their training advancement.

FWIW, I've been squatting for about 18 months, I'm 6' 197# w/ approximately 15% bodyfat (just guessing here), and my 1RM back squat as of two weeks ago was 375#. I'll be attempting 380# tomorrow.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:16 PM on March 5, 2010

it does not work like you think it does... it is possible for someone to squat 150 lbs today and squat 200 lbs in 12 weeks without putting on any muscle weight (or lose weight), just by working on their technique and confidence under the bar. all about efficiency.

I think the closest you can get is look up the world records for squat (or olympic lifts if you want to expand your data pool, may be easier to find info) for various weight classes and see how the increase in world record weight corresponds to the increase in body size for different weight classes. I assume most athletes in a weight class competing on the world level will be right around the upper weight limit available to them.
posted by outsider at 12:22 PM on March 5, 2010

This question does not have an answer, although there's probably a (very large and not very useful) range.

It is possible to get stronger without gaining any actual weight (muscle or otherwise), and certain types of athletes will target this type of training (You can see how this would be advantageous to, for example, a sprinter). What this demonstrates is that even within a single person, the strength of a given weight of muscle can change. Factors such as how efficiently the muscle can generate energy are at work, as well as how efficiently the central nervous system can recruit muscle strength.
posted by Diplodocus at 12:23 PM on March 5, 2010

The other factor that I don't think has been mentioned is height. Height has a big impact on squatting, cf. Pocket Hercules. Even if you could account for confidence, muscle recruitment, form, improved nervous system functioning, and all of those other variables, you would still have to refine the class of people you're interested in based on height.
posted by OmieWise at 12:27 PM on March 5, 2010

You might also find this article interesting regarding rate of bodyweight and squatting strength increases. It describes a 20-year-old novice lifter who gained 55# of bodyweight (around 31# of which was LBM) and put about 200# on his squat in 11 weeks. More about him here, and a recent followup post about him here.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:37 PM on March 5, 2010

More than lifting records....

Squatting has several 'unanswerable' components. Maybe three.

1) It's a skill. Since we're not controlling technique or speed, we'll find huge variation on 'what's a squat." When is a squat only 1/2 or 3/4s?
2) You're not taking into account bone length/moment arms. Someone with longer legs has a greater distance to go.
3) You're not taking into account muscle insertion - where they specifically attach to the moment arm of the bone.
4) Last, the distance of the mass/belly of the muscle itself is hugely genetics
posted by filmgeek at 2:17 PM on March 5, 2010

There is absolutely no answer to this question. There is such a huge variance in genetics, and other factors, that you couldn't yield a valid answer. The only possible way you could get close to real numbers would be to excise muscle from a large number of cadavers, do muscle biopsies on them to find the percentage of muscle fiber types, then stimulate them to lift/pull a measured weight. Even doing it in this fashion would yield numbers on the order of several magnitudes higher than what world class athletes maximally lift. People have just too many limiting physiological and mental factors to demonstrate a "true" maximum.
Size is correlative with strength. That's why the general rule of thumb is that if want to be really strong then follow a solid strength program and gain as much weight as you can. Unless of course you're limited to a specific weight class for an event.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:28 PM on March 5, 2010

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