When you first start working out it's good to have some goals for which to strive. You also want to know how you stack up against the general population, especially if you're strength training. Knowing where you stand can give you some extra motivation to push harder or it can give you the confidence that your current routine is working.
There are a few problems to finding an absolute average that applies to all men for multiple exercises. People come in all different sizes, shapes and strength levels. One method of setting a standard for an exercise is to set a ratio of strength to body weight.
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For example, you can say that most men should be able to bench press their body weight. However, this method favors people who are lighter, because they don't need to use as much weight. In the bench press example, a 150 pound man only needs to press 150 pounds, whereas a 300 pound man must press 300 pounds.
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A good example of the ratio method comes from strength and conditioning specialist Dan John's book titled Intervention. He suggests that the average weightlifting male should be able to bench press and squat their body weight, and deadlift 1.5 times their body weight.
You can also set one number as a standard for all men, regardless of body type. This is called an absolute standard because it disregards every other factor that goes into strength. For example, you could say that the bench press standard for men is 135 pounds for one repetition. However, this type of standard is very shortsighted because it disregards body mass. The higher your body mass, the stronger you generally are.
The military's physical fitness testing method is similar to the absolute method. They ask cadets to perform a certain amount of push-ups and pull-ups, dividing their categories only by age. In the Marines, all men have to do three strict pull-ups to complete the test. In the Army push-up test, different age groups have different targets. For example, 27- to 31- year-old-men need to complete 39 push-ups to pass the basic fitness assessment, as per the chart laid out on military.com.
The best way to determine someone's performance on a strength exercise is with a method called allometric scaling, according to a 2013 study in the Journal of Athletic Enhancement. The researchers compared three different ways to determine someone's predicted strength: by using absolute, a body weight to strength ratio and allometric scaling. They found that the most accurate method was allometric scaling because it takes into account not only someone's body weight, but their fat-free mass, or muscle mass as well.
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Since muscle mass is the driving force behind strength, it is more important to measure than overall weight. A 200-pound man with 10 percent body fat and a 200-pound man with 20 percent body fat have very different amounts of muscle mass, and therefore different levels of strength. Absolute strength only measures the amount of weight that someone can lift and using a ratio doesn't account for the amount of muscle mass a person has. Allometric scales, however, take into account all of these factors, making them the most accurate.
If you're going to compare yourself to other men, make sure that you keep in mind that people of different sizes and amounts of muscle mass will have different levels of strength. However, if you want to give yourself a goal to strive for, you can use military push-up and pull-up standards, and simple strength to body weight ratios for the bench press, squat and deadlift.