Last updated on October 29th, 2022 at 02:19 pm
You would automatically assume that the heavier you are the more weight you should be able to lift, but is this actually true for the bench press?
I guess confusion can often be caused by seeing someone who is obviously much lighter than you benching more weight than you.
As it turns out there are various factors that can lead to you benching more weight.
So, I’ll discuss these now in this article.
Does Body Weight Affect Bench?
Bench press relies a lot on stability in the shoulder joint. And the more you weigh, whether through muscle or fat mass, the more stable your shoulder joint is. In effect, a little extra “padding” provides a more stable base from which to bench press. Furthermore, bench press relies more on “relative” strength than “absolute“ strength. So, a bigger chest and bigger arms provide better leverages and a reduced range of motion. Therefore, the more you weigh, the more you should be able to bench.
Weight Gain and Bench Press “Stability”
Firstly, YES, how much you weigh can significantly affect how much you can bench press.
That being said, there are circumstances when this may not be true, and I’ll cover these in more detail in a moment.
However, there is one way in which carrying “additional weight” can improve your bench press, but it’s not something that most people are probably aware of.
This all comes down to your shoulders and your shoulder joint.
The most flexible joint in the human body is the shoulder.
If you think about it, most other joints, e.g. elbows, wrists, knees, ankles, etc. are limited in their movement.
I haven’t mentioned the hip joint, as this is slightly more flexible than the joints mentioned above.
However, the hip joint is still nowhere near as flexible and mobile as your shoulders.
When it comes to your shoulders and the shoulder joint, it is the joint in the human body that you can move in multiple directions and even rotationally.
Just imagine trying to swing your arms around at the elbow in the same way that you do at the shoulder.
Basically, it’s not going to happen.
However, with this additional flexibility comes reduced stability.
By this I mean that due to the fact the shoulder can move in so many directions, there are more things that can potentially go wrong when stressed under a weight.
And of course, there is a lot of shoulder involvement when it comes to bench pressing.
In fact, most bench press injuries appear to be shoulder-related, and I’m sure you may even have experienced your shoulder making a popping sound while you bench.
Increased Body Weight Equals Increased Shoulder Stability
So, what exactly does your shoulder joint and your weight have to do with bench pressing?
Well, as you gain weight, hopefully muscle mass, the stability in the shoulder joint increases.
Funnily enough, even gaining body fat will actually make the shoulder joint more stable.
In effect, your shoulder joint now has some additional “padding”, which is what increases stability.
Therefore, this increased stability means that you are able to apply more force around your shoulder joint.
So, you could say that as your shoulders are better supported through this extra “padding” you’re able to bench press more weight.
And of course, an increase in muscle mass or fat mass means that you are going to weigh more.
Shoulder Joint – Movements, Bones & Muscles
Body Volume Is More Important Than Body Weight
If I’m being completely honest, you don’t always have to weigh more in order to bench press more weight.
Realistically, your bench press prowess is often determined by body volume as opposed to body weight.
What I mean by this is that someone with a bigger chest and bigger arms will have better leverages and a reduced range of motion.
Therefore, if you are anatomically predisposed to having a large torso and large arms then you should be able to bench press more weight than someone who weighs the same as you, but has a smaller chest and smaller arms.
When I say “leverages”, you will generally find that someone who has LONGER arms will find it more difficult to bench press.
And when I say “reduced range of motion”, the less distance the bar has to travel, the “easier” the bench press becomes.
If you take a competitive powerlifter as an example, they will typically bench press with a much wider grip than the rest of us.
The bar has less distance to travel and therefore theoretically you should be able to bench more weight.
FOUR of the “Big Lifts” Compared
I think a good way to look at why increased body weight can lead to increased bench press is to compare it with a few other lifts.
I’m talking about 4 of the main compound lifts here, namely bench press, squats, deadlifts, and overhead press.
The bench press and the squat are affected much more by body weight than deadlifts and overhead press.
Deadlifts and overhead press start with you moving the weight from a dead-stop.
What I mean by this is that there is minimal effort required to set yourself up to lift the weight.
However, with both bench press and squats you have to unrack the bar and then support the weight in your hands or across the back of your shoulders respectively.
Plus, your initial movement with bench press and squats involves lowering the weight as opposed to lifting it.
Now, the fact that deadlifts and overhead press have to be “lifted” from a dead-stop position means they rely more on “absolute strength”.
Absolute strength is basically your body’s ability to produce maximal force regardless of how much you weigh.
However, bench press and squats are much more reliant on “relative strength”.
What this means is that increments in weight on bench press and squats will eventually reach a point where you’re no longer relying on absolute strength.
So, irrespective of how strong an individual you are, you won’t be benching or squatting any more weight once you hit this point.
Therefore, any further increases in bench or squat weight is down to relative strength, or how strong you are in relation to your weight.
So, you may actually get to the stage where you are benching more weight, purely because you are now heavier than before, but you may be lifting less in relation to your body weight.
An Example of Bench Press “Relative” Strength
As an example, you weigh 170lbs and you bench press 225lbs.
However, this is as far as “absolute strength” will take you.
But, you are bench pressing approximately 132% of your body weight.
Over the course of a few months your weight increases to 180lbs and you are now benching 230lbs.
However, this works out to approximately 128% of your body weight.
So, in effect, you were stronger when you weighed less.
That being said, this example shows exactly how body weight can affect your bench press.
Bench Press Figures and Statistics
Now, you’ll find many statistics online about how much you should be benching in comparison to your own body weight.
In fact, there’s some fairly similar statistics from both Healthline and StrengthLevel.
But, what you’ll find here is that training experience also has a huge part to play.
So, as an example, according to StrengthLevel, an elite lifter is typically someone who has been training for over 5 years in order to become competitive in strength sports.
And for people weighing approximately 110lbs, the elite lifter average bench press is 226lbs.
However, looking at those weighing 100lbs more, so 210lbs, the average bench press among “beginner” lifters is 197lbs.
A beginner lifter is defined as someone who is able to perform the movement correctly and has done so for at least one month.
So, as you can clearly see, your bench press isn’t always affected by weight, but your training experience also counts for a lot.
But, I guess this makes a lot of sense, as someone with more lifting experience is likely to have better bench press technique and will have performed the movement substantially more times.
What Should The Average Person Be Able to Bench Press?
Bench Press as a Percentage of Body Weight
There are certain percentages of body weight that you can aim for when benching.
Although, I wouldn’t say that these figures are set in stone.
As I’ve already mentioned, some people may have certain advantages purely based on their anatomy.
Let’s face facts, we don’t all have the same type of body.
That being said, these are percentages that we can look to achieve based on our training experience.
- So, a beginner, or someone who’s literally in their first month of training, should be able to bench at least 50% of their body weight.
- For a novice, someone with under 6 months training experience, their aim should be to bench around 75% of their body weight.
- Onto intermediate lifters, those who’ve been training for at least 2 years, you should be able to build up to 125% of your body weight.
- An advanced lifter, someone who’s been training for 5 years, around 175% of body weight is a great goal.
- Finally, an elite lifter who has been training for over 5 years, and perhaps participates in strength competition, bench pressing 200% of your body weight is desirable.
As I say, these figures aren’t set in stone, but it is something that all of us can aspire to.
That being said, when we look at the realms of competitive powerlifting the stats completely change.
As an example, Andrzej Stanaszek holds the bench press world record in the 114.6lbs category.
Andrzej has bench pressed 396.8lbs, which equates to approximately 346% of his body weight.
So, as a recreational gym-goer your body weight does affect bench press, so the more you weigh, the more you can expect to bench.
However, training experience also comes into the equation too.
But, I guess this makes a great deal of sense.
The longer you’ve been bench pressing, the more efficient and effective you are at performing the movement.
So YES, personally I would say that your body weight does affect how much you can bench.
That being said, you also need to take training experience into consideration.
Basically, a 170lbs person who has been training for 5 years is far more likely to bench press more weight than someone who’s been training for 2 months and weighs 220lbs.
However, the main reasons why more weight on your body means more weight on the bar are:
- Increased body mass, whether muscle or fat, will provide additional stability in the shoulder joint, which should in turn help you to bench more weight.
- Bench press does NOT involve starting from a dead-stop in the same way as deadlifts or overhead press, and therefore relies much more on relative strength, i.e. the more you weigh, the more you should be able to lift.
Realistically, if you want to bench more, you need to put on weight, but preferably more so in the form of muscle mass than body fat.
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Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.