Am I He-Man Yet?
June 20, 2006 5:50 PM   Subscribe

How do you determine when you are physically strong?

I'm curious how a person would go about determining if they are considered, by the average person (or another group, if people have the info), strong. I've heard things like being able to bench your own weight, being able to do a chin up, and the like. Is there some sort of standard? Any information would be most welcome.
posted by Loto to Health & Fitness (38 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
by the average person

That would probably be if you could contribute more than expected to doing something useful, like lifting the piano or opening a balky jar. The average person knows nothing, and cares nothing, about body-weight / bench-press ratios.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:06 PM on June 20, 2006

Many moons ago, when I actually exercised regularly, I looked into what the fitness standard was to be an FBI agent. I had no actual plans to become one - which is good because they wouldn't have let me. The standards weren't insanely high - something like running a 10 minute mile for men and 11 minutes for women. But it was somewhat motivational to go jogging and pretend I was training for an FBI career. As I recall, I would qualify to be a customs inspector.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:09 PM on June 20, 2006

when you can kick your father's ass.
posted by ab3 at 6:24 PM on June 20, 2006

(not that you actually have to do so, or should. that wouldn't be nice. just when you're *able* to.)
posted by ab3 at 6:27 PM on June 20, 2006

I don't think there is any kind of standard, but if you are setting some kind of goals for yourself, then the strength-weight ratio is obviously a better indication than absolute strength. Bench-pressing your own weight is a pretty good goal or standard, and surely above average.

Lifting your own weight is another decent benchmark, but I don't think a single chinup is much of an achievement, assuming you are not obese. Normally, chinups are the kinds of things you would do in multiple sets of multiple reps, but I guess if you can do 8-10 that would be better than most (assuming that the average person does little or no strength work, and is 'technically' overweight).
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:29 PM on June 20, 2006

Wouldn't the FBI requirements fall more under being "physically fit" as opposed to "strong?" I realize the difference is slight, but it's there.

I don't think bench pressing one's own weight would have much merit. Would a 95 lb. guy who could bench press his own weight be considered as physically strong as a 350 lb. guy who could do the same? I think the metric for physical strength should be static. Perhaps doing a full day's worth of work without being physically drained, or performing a task considered by many to be daunting (lifting heavy furniture, pitching hay, or shovelgloving a 50 lb. sledgehammer). Granted, these tasks seem more fit to guage the strength of an average Amish man.
posted by bjork24 at 6:30 PM on June 20, 2006

Here is a strength test involving push-ups, and here is a police ability/strength test.
posted by moonshine at 6:32 PM on June 20, 2006

I think that's a pretty good way to tell if you're strong actually. If you can hack it as an average Amish man you're strong. Works for me. I am not strong.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 6:34 PM on June 20, 2006

If you can stack 100lb bales of hay all day long you're doing OK. Especially if you're over the age of 25.
posted by fshgrl at 6:49 PM on June 20, 2006

When someone asks "do you workout?"
posted by smackfu at 6:52 PM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

I don't think there is any set mark. I think the average person would consider a 75-year-old woman (or man, for that matter) who could do five chin-ups to be pretty damn strong, but it would hardly be impressive from an active member of the Marines or SEALS.

StickyCarpet probably has the best answer. I'm considered strong because I can take a clothes-dresser from the basement of my house to the second floor by myself. I don't consider myself strong, since I can't do a chin-up worth a damn, but other people think I'm OK (for a woman, anyway).
posted by schroedinger at 7:03 PM on June 20, 2006

I still like the answer: "[Strong] enough to kill Batman."
posted by converge at 7:08 PM on June 20, 2006

There's a great scene near the beginning of 'Around The World In 80 Days,' where the servant, auditioning for his job, stands next to a table. He places his hands on the table, presses down, and lifts both feet slightly off the floor, holding the position for just a few seconds. It's over right away and it's presented in a very understated way, but it does the trick. Watching the movie, I said to myself, 'Damn, I would not want to mess with that guy.'
posted by bingo at 7:10 PM on June 20, 2006

Sorry - the "full day's work" test is about (muscular) fitness, not strength. These are pretty much diametrical opposites in training terms. Strength is typically thought of in terms like "what is the absolute maximum you can lift, even if you can only do it once?". I am coming at this from a purely gym-oriented point of view.

Worth noting also that the everyday perceptions of strength mentioned (moving a piano, carrying furniture) are mainly about lower body strength - mostly buttocks & thighs. Opening a jar: well, that's your forearm (muscles there give strength to the fingers). So...I guess it depends on what you are trying to do, or prove.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:18 PM on June 20, 2006

That would probably be if you could contribute more than expected to doing something useful, like lifting the piano or opening a balky jar. The average person knows nothing, and cares nothing, about body-weight / bench-press ratios.

StickyCarpet's answer is best.

Strength/Body weight ratios break down quickly—football linemen probably have a lower strength/weight ratio than gymnasts, but I think it makes sense to say most linemen are stronger than most gymnasts.

So, strength is completely relative, like height. What does it mean to be "tall"? Well, it's what quartile of the height chart you're in (or however they do it). But the height chart changes from generation to generation, and from group to group. The same would hold true for strength, except that it's even harder to figure out how to measure strength (bench press? dead lift? arm wrasslin?), and these numbers aren't kept in a central location where we can tally them and figure out what the average is (my mom knows how tall she is, but she doesn't know how much she can bench press).

With that in mind, the best way to figure out if you're "strong" is to compare yourself to people who are doing the same thing you're doing, like moving a piano.
posted by Hildago at 7:21 PM on June 20, 2006

I recall the Presidential Physical Fitness Awards from my more youthful days.

The Marine Corps Physical Fitness Chart would be a good place to start.
posted by hendrixson at 7:42 PM on June 20, 2006

In order to max out the Marine Corps physical fitness test, you have to be able to do:

- 20 dead hang pull-ups
- 100 abdominal crunches (sit-ups) in 2 minutes
- run 3 miles in 18 minutes

- flexed arm hang (do 1 chin-up and hold it) for 70 seconds
- 100 crunches in 2 minutes
- run 3 miles in 21 minutes

These three events measure strength in 2 muscle groups and cardiovascular fitness. While they don't measure strength in, say, your calf muscles, nevertheless maxing these is a pretty good proxy for being able to say "I am strong".
posted by jellicle at 7:55 PM on June 20, 2006

- flexed arm hang (do 1 chin-up and hold it) for 70 seconds
- 100 crunches in 2 minutes
- run 3 miles in 21 minutes

I would call that a crappy measure of strength for women (and actually, let's go ahead and say that the men's is pretty crappy too but at least the pull-ups are *slightly* challenging). The only strength component is the chin up, which really depends highly on how much you weigh. The other two are pretty much fully endurance. You would have to be very fit to pass this, but not particularly strong.

I have no idea the limits of the male body. As for women, being able to squat and deadlift your bodyweight, do a pull-up (overhand, from a dead hang), and press 3/4 your bodyweight are all good indicators of being strong.
posted by ch1x0r at 9:08 PM on June 20, 2006

These are great answers everyone, keep them coming. I didn't specify, but I am looking more at strength than muscular endurance. However, the endurance based answers are still very good.

The reason behind my asking is that one of my summer goals is, and I quote from my list "To become strong." Thinking about it today, I realized I didn't really have a good metric for that. I've become stronger, yes, but am I strong? This information helps me quite a bit.
posted by Loto at 9:20 PM on June 20, 2006

10 hand-stand push-ups without the support of a wall. Find someone who can do that and they are the definition of strong.
posted by 517 at 9:22 PM on June 20, 2006

When I was a senior in college I weighed 165 and could max out 2 or 3 reps at 265 with free weights on the bench press. People routinely lie and say they easily do amounts more than this, but the fact of the matter is it took a couple of years of serious working out, protein shakes, a proper diet and (unfortunately) androstenedione for a short time. (Lots of people were taking that crap at that point.)

But I think genetics has just as much of a role as strength training. The friend who taught me how to lift properly and spotted me for most of those years was naturally strong as a bull, and at 5'6" he could put up more than 300 on the bench press, although he probably weighed more than I did.

So it's all relative.

At that point, was I stronger than the average person? Probably. But as a gym rat, I shared the free weights with the football jocks, who seemed to spend just as much time posing for the mirrors as they did lifting, and those guys were putting up some ridiculous weight.

In answer to your question, I think bench pressing and other free weight exercises are a measure of strength, but they have to be tied in with cardiovascular fitness as well, because if you don't have endurance, strength doesn't have much value by itself.
posted by Alexandros at 9:49 PM on June 20, 2006

I always thought climbing a rope or pole (or other nearly vertical object you can get a good grip on) with your arms only was a pretty good indication of upper-body strengt, at least.
posted by pmbuko at 10:56 PM on June 20, 2006

You're probably a he-man if you have the nerve to wear this in public — and make it home unscathed.
posted by rob511 at 1:26 AM on June 21, 2006

Apparently Bush can bench 185 5 times in a row.

I would guess that a pretty good fraction of men have some idea of what a good bench press weight is. I know that I never managed more than 160 when I was lifting quite regularly in my teens so I would regard 200 as clearly above average. To me, being able to bench 300 is really impressive and would put someone in the "very much stronger than average" category.

I think the "bench your own weight" thing would also be recognized by most men as a sign of being significantly above average.

In my opinion, most women will be more interested in the confidence you get from being strong than in the strength itself.
posted by teleskiving at 2:02 AM on June 21, 2006

Arm-wrestle all your friends and see how many of them you beat?
posted by pollystark at 3:54 AM on June 21, 2006

Win the Strongman Super Series and I'd consider you pretty damn strong.
Hell, qualify for it, and you'd probably be considered strong by anyone's standards.
posted by madajb at 4:00 AM on June 21, 2006

I remember being told by an ex-militry Phys Ed teacher at school that "Stillness is a sign of strength". Whilst this may have been his smart way of keeping his class under some kind of control this notion struck a chord with me. To stand or sit still you need to have both sufficient physical strength and sufficient willpower to control yourself and focus. To me this is one of the few tests that applies to big, bulky people and lithe wiry people - either of whom could be very strong.
posted by rongorongo at 4:22 AM on June 21, 2006

I've been working out regularly for the past year or so. While I may not be objectively* super-strong or anything, I can certainly feel my strength on an internal level.

If you start your summer goal of "to become strong" as "to become stronger" you'll find yourself starting to self identify as 'strong' after a few months of progress. You'll really feel it when you notice your new strength applied to previously onerous tasks**.

*While I can bench in excess of my own weight on a machine, I've yet to try on the free weights because there's not really anyone about at my chinzy work gym to spot me. I understand that machine and free weights are two different animals, too.

** For example, when it came time to install the ACs into their windows for the summer, I could lift them pretty easily. Likewise, I can now lug a full keg of beer into my house and to the draft system by myself, while before it required help.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:52 AM on June 21, 2006

"Strong" is not the same as fit. "Strong", to me, generally means you can bench more than 300 pounds. I've found that this relatively arbitrary cut off separates strong people from fit people.

Healthy strength is benching your body weight and doing 10 pull ups, whereas healthy fitness could be running a 7.5 minute mile.

Military and law enforcement test focus on endurance, rather than strength.
posted by ewkpates at 5:28 AM on June 21, 2006

jellicle-- do you know whether those pull-ups are pronated or supinated? 20 pronated pull-ups is badass.

robocop-- I suggest dumbbells. If you can bench your own weight on a machine, you can probably do 75% (37.5% per hand) safely, and you'll build strength better that way.
posted by Kwantsar at 7:28 AM on June 21, 2006

I would define someone being "strong" as they are able to do ordinary tasks with extraordinary skill by use of strength.

For example, say you have to move a couch across the room. Assuming it's carpeted, normal people would probably require help moving it, or at least they would have to do the inchworm back-and-forth tecnique. But a strong person could pick the couch up bythemselves and put it down in the new spot.

The difference comes when it's just as easy to pick up the couch as it would be to drag it across the carpet, maybe easier.
posted by cleverusername at 7:41 AM on June 21, 2006

Loto, an alternate suggestion to all of the above: Eat plenty of curry- and garlic-laced foods for a week and your friends will all agree - you've gotten pretty 'strong'!

(Sorry, all that macho talk was making me feel like going out and bench-pressing my cat...)
posted by Bobtheordinary at 7:58 AM on June 21, 2006

Consider yourself very fit if you can do all of the following:

Bench press 1x your weight

Deadlift 1.5x your weight

Squat 2x your weight

Run a 6-minute mile

The first three exercises measure the strength of the major muscles in your chest, back, and legs and the last measures cardiovascular fitness.
posted by driveler at 8:39 AM on June 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Those are the numbers I remember driveler, but are those 1 time max numbers?
posted by eurasian at 10:02 AM on June 21, 2006

do you know whether those pull-ups are pronated or supinated? 20 pronated pull-ups is badass.
posted by Kwantsar at 10:28 AM EST on June 21

Yeah, 20 pronated pull-ups is very impressive. I guess they must be pronated, otherwise wouldn't they be chin-ups?
posted by ob at 3:03 PM on June 21, 2006

driveler, are those meant to be 1RM, or for multiple reps? My he-man status depends on it...
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:12 PM on June 21, 2006

driveler's standard is good... but it falls short of Strong... strong is more than that...
posted by ewkpates at 3:57 AM on June 23, 2006

This guy is strong. Check out his pushups at the end of the clip.
posted by horsewithnoname at 8:10 AM on June 26, 2006

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