Before we start we need to look at exactly what relative strength is and why it’s so important to take it into account when analysing someone’s level of strength. Traditionally we have a tendency to measure strength by the total amount of weight in kilos or pounds that can be lifted in any given movement. In other words, how many plates you put onto the bar, ultimately determines how you and everyone else in the gym views your level of strength.
Why is it then that in other sports we recognise this kind of evaluation as ‘flawed’, yet we still can’t get past it in the gym environment? The first question when you get talking to someone in the gym is normally ‘what’s your bench?’ or ‘how much are you squatting these days?’ The response everyone wants is what we refer to as Total Load Lifted [TLL], because it normally sounds more impressive. We have ingrained, imaginary benchmarks that we believe are to be considered acceptable. 2 plates on a bench press is universally greeted by a nod of the head or a ‘that’s a good bench’ comment from the gym fraternity for no other reason than it has been passed down by generations of lifters as the weight that determines how worthy you are to be on the bench in the first place.
When we talk about boxers, we talk about who is the best pound for pound as it would be stupid to try and compare the likes of Mayweather and Tyson in a straight up comparison. But by just looking at the total weight lifted on a bar, and disregarding what the person lifting it looks like, we are only getting a fraction of the information we need to decide if that person is strong or not. You’ll get the occasional remark like, ‘that’s a good lift for someone of your size’, or ‘I’d have thought a big lad like you would be lifting more than that’. This shows that underneath all of the bravado they actually understand the concept of relative strength, it’s just that they aren’t applying it in the right context like they would in other scenarios or sports.
We back this understanding up further with ‘well of course he/she is going to run faster than I do because look at them’. This is making reference to what someone looks like in order to evaluate how good he or she is going to be. What they are really saying is, that person is bigger, smaller or thinner than I am and therefore it only makes sense that they would be able to do the thing we are doing better than I can.
They say that things said in jest often contain elements of truth, and non-more so than when people say things like this. If we’re talking about shifting load then the bigger you are the more you will probably be able to move. If we’re talking about running, then the lighter you are the better your chances of moving that weight across a surface in a faster time. ‘I’m twice his age so of course he will be better than me’ is another one. We intuitively recognise this to be the case, and in most cases it is actually true but we can’t take it as gospel, we need to take a bit more of a scientific approach to truly determine who’s ‘better’ is actually better.
So we now know that you can’t determine someone’s strength on just load lifted, nor can their performance be solely judged on size, mass or age. To get a true representation we must take all of these factors into account and only then can we then start to understand if someone is strong or not.
Relative strength is actually a very easy concept, it’s purely the Total Load Lifted [TLL] divided by the weight of the person lifting it, in order to give you a ratio. An example would be someone weighing 75kg that lifts 115kg, is lifting at a ratio of 1.53 times his or her own bodyweight (75/115).
This is the first step (of many) to determine a person’s strength profile.