Ratio of lifts

I remember watching a comedy lifting video on YouTube that had a line in it like, “No one likes ‘Leg Day’. ‘Leg Day’ is tough. Your last ‘Leg Day’ also happened to be your first ‘Leg Day’.” For those not yet well versed enough in the lifting sub-culture to get the joke, a lot of people who lift don’t like squats, so don’t do squats. They’ll do some exercises every now and again to make sure their small pins are just about powerful enough to carry their enlarged torso and arms.

If you’ve been sold on the idea of making squats and deadlifts the core of your fitness routine, this won’t be you. It’s important none-the-less that you don’t neglect some lifts in favour of one which becomes drastically more powerful than others. The proportions of your body will determine which lifts you’re more likely to become adept in e.g. people with long arms relative to their body will do better at the deadlift, whereas people with shorter arms relative to their body will do better at the bench press.

What does “do better at” mean though? An intermediate lift for a short woman might be lighter than a novice lift for a tall man. As such the high-level targets for lifts are given as ratios of the lifter’s body weight. For example, after a year or two of focused, disciplined progressive weight training you should be able to squat one repetition (known as One Max Rep, or 1RM) at 1.4x your body weight.

What you can lift in one exercise should be an indicator to what you can lift in others. If you’re more than 10-15% out from these ratios you might want to consider focusing on the areas where you’re lagging.

LiftRelative Percentage (%)
Overhead Press60
Bench Press100
Barbell Row100

For example, if your one rep max (1RM) in the bench press is 90kg, you might be able to overhead press roughly 90kg x 60% ≈ 55kg. Similarly, the barbell row will be roughly 90kg, and the squat and deadlift will be 125kg and 160kg respectively. Women should note that your percentages for squats and deadlifts may be higher than 140, and 180, given the biological differences.

The above figures are a rough guide, and with your skeptical hat on, you will find others who suggest different ideal ratios. The important thing to note is that if, say, your bench press weight is the same as that of your squat, you need to spend some time focusing on improving your squat. An imbalanced body is one more prone to injury. Also, the limiting factor in not being able to push a lift beyond a certain weight could be that a weaker part of your body is the cause of the plateau.

So don’t fear ‘Leg Day’. Yes, the DOMS can be brutal, but it’s all part of being a fitter, healthier human.