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Absolute vs Relative Strength

February 26, 2020

"Strong" can mean different things to different people. In the world of sports, we measure strength is two ways: absolute and relative strength.

ABSOLUTE STRENGTH

Absolute strength is the maximum amount of force exerted, regardless of muscle or body size. Mass moves mass, so all things being equal, a heavier person can move more weight. 

Absolute strength can be best represented by a 1RM (one-rep max).

BUT size isn’t the only factor that affects absolute strength: 

  • The training age of a lifter plays a big part in how much weight she can lift.
  • The amount of muscle mass also affects absolute strength. For example, let’s say we have 2 lifters, and both weigh 100kg. If Lifter A has 85kg of lean mass, and Lifter B has 67kg of lean mass, Lifter A will be able to lift more than Lifter B. Therefore Lifter A will have greater absolute strength. All mass is not equal when it comes to absolute strength.  
  • The central nervous system and muscle fiber type also play a big role in how much weight can be lifted.

RELATIVE STRENGTH

Relative strength is the strength-to-body-weight ratio.

Relative strength=absolute strength (1RM) / bodyweight (BW)

Calculator used to determine strength to weight ratioSo let’s do a quick comparison.

LIFTER A  

  • BW: 60kg
  • DL 1RM: 137.5kg
  • DL=2.29 X BW

LIFTER B

  • BW: 110kg
  • DL 1RM: 227.5kg
  • DL=2.07 X BW

Both lifters are strong (those are both really good pulls). But relatively speaking, Lifter A is stronger than Lifter B. However, Lifter B has greater absolute strength. (Don't want to do the math? Check out this calculator.)

WHEN IT MATTERS

Relative strength is important for activities such as running, cycling, pull-ups, pushups - all bodyweight exercises. Absolute strength is critical in situations where the objective is to move a heavy object. So both are equally important.

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