A Hard Truth About Training: You Aren’t THAT Strong

the rack front door

If you weigh 200 pounds and squat/deadlift 200 pounds, you aren’t as strong as you think you are. Likewise, if you weigh 400 pounds and squat/deadlift 400 pounds, you aren’t as strong as you think you are.

Background and Expectations

There is a common misconception among most gym-goers that having a certain amount of weight on the bar means an individual is strong. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. The willful-blindness is in regard to the strength to weight ratio. In its simplest form, strength to weight ratio (SWR) is an individual’s strength level divided by their body weight. Strength to weight ratio isn’t about the overall total of weight that can be moved, but about one’s relative strength. Relative strength can be focused on size comparison, but in this instance it is about an individual’s ability to control and move their body in space under load.

While utilizing SWR isn’t a good measuring tool for every person that walks through the doors, that doesn’t mean it should be ignored in its entirety. A golden rule for anyone who is serious about training is to aim for a SWR of 1.0 or above. Anything below 1.0 would be considered subpar assuming the individual isn’t a novice to training.

While there are goals that exist to implement an ‘ideal’ or ‘goal’ SWR, they are not the end all. For example, some coaches will say that a deadlift or squat of 2.0 or above is the ideal situation. However, a mom that works at a desk all day or a stay at home dad shouldn’t be expected to complete that task. I’m not saying it isn’t possible for those individuals to perform a SWR of 2.0, but overall health and a SWR of 1.0 should be the MAIN goal.

Improving Strength to Weight Ratio

The question to ask is ‘how can I improve my strength to weight ratio?’ The two simplest options are below.

1 – The first way to improve SWR is by reducing body fat.

A 200 pound individual who can deadlift 200 pounds has a SWR of 1.0

That same individual now weighs 180 pounds However, their deadlift is still 200 pounds. Their SWR is now 1.10. That is improvement.

Assuming an individual decreases body FAT and not body weight as a whole, SWR can improve. Assuming fat mass was the main change in this person’s body composition means lean muscle mass and strength increase occurred. If body weight decreases, but body fat hardly changes, that means a loss in lean muscle mass. In turn, a decrease in strength can occur.

2 – The second option to improve SWR is to get STRONGER.

Strength can come in many ways, shapes, and forms. However, if strength is stalling so is an individual’s SWR. Halted changes in SWR can be an eye-opener and identify an imbalance in training, whether it is training style or bad programming. If this occurs, a new training style/method is needed or consult a professional for a quality program. Remember, it’s not always as simple as adding weight to the bar.

How to Look At Strength to Weight Ratio

If you weigh 200 pounds and you squat 100 pounds and deadlift 100 pounds, you have a strength to weight ratio of .5 in each lift. You also have a lot of work to do.

If you weigh 200 pounds and you squat 200 pounds and deadlift 200 pounds, you have a strength to weight ratio of 1.0 in each lift. You meet the minimum requirements a coach should be comfortable with to be confident nothing goes awry while training (barring anything drastic).

If you weigh 200 pounds and you squat 300 pounds, and deadlift 300 pounds, you have a strength to weight ratio of 1.5 in each lift. You are in what should be considered a nice range and ‘strong.’

Notice I didn’t list the bench press in the examples above. Bench press can (and probably should) be treated differently. Long limbs, joint integrity, and lack of importance to have a higher SWR in the bench is why a 1.0 SWR is considered an acceptable ratio.


The bottom line is that improving SWR means improvements in training. If an individual is as serious about their training as they portray to others (or social media), the SWR should improve or stay constant over time, barring any drastic changes/events. The other possibility for the SWR declining over time would be an increase in training age, which may start as early as 40 in some individuals. Otherwise, individuals should use SWR as one of many tools to track improvement and progress, or lack thereof, in training.

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