"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 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 is the strength-to-body-weight ratio.
Relative strength=absolute strength (1RM) / bodyweight (BW)
So let’s do a quick comparison.
- BW: 60kg
- DL 1RM: 137.5kg
- DL=2.29 X BW
- 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.