Rightly or wrongly, when you say you train with weights, most people will ask what you bench press. They generally don’t ask what you squat or what you deadlift, although I’d say both those exercises are just as good a measure of strength as the bench press. In fact, I’d argue that the deadlift is the best measure of strength there is.
Still, this article is about the bench press.
People sometimes ask me what weight represents a “good” bench press. The trouble is, “good” is relative. Do we mean what’s good for an untrained person, or people who train, or bodybuilders, or powerlifters, or naturals, or juicers, or men, or women, or people in certain age brackets?
Either way, there’s a lot of baloney written about this subject. I’m going to add to that baloney with my own estimates, which are rough and ready figures related to absolute strength rather than bodyweight-indexed figures related to relative strength. I’ll leave it up to you to adjust the figures up or down a bit if you’re heavier or lighter.
My estimates are going to be based on the following criteria:
- they will be men,
- I will have observed them in a gym at some point (either as out-and-out newbies or experienced weight trainers), either during the 1980s when I first frequented a gym or since 2010 when I began my second spell of weight training,
- they will not be known steroid users because I’m not interested in juicers for this article.
At the outset, it’s worth stating that most out-and-out newbies will struggle to bench press 50kg (110lbs). I don’t care what the various fitness charts say, I have found that most newbies start at 50kg or lower, although they will usually advance quickly from that starting point.
I would also say that the vast majority of people who join a gym never manage to get beyond 200lb (91kg). They either give up before they get there or simply aren’t training for strength.
People who stick at it for a while and are trying to improve strength or build muscle (bodybuilders, powerlifters etc.) will generally get to somewhere in the 200-250lb (91-114kg) region. Of course there are a lot who get this far and then give up. But if the people who’ve got that far continue to train they will then generally get to the 275-285lb (125-129kg) region.
A lot of people stall here but the elite, committed few will carry on and get into the 300-330lb (136-150kg) area.
In most gyms, if you can bench press 220lb (100kg) you’ll easily be amongst the top 10% of bench pressers in the gym. “What?” I hear you cry. I can assure you it’s true. Don’t believe what you read on forums. I’m not saying everything posted on forums is bullshit. Some is, but if you go to a bodybuilding or powerlifting forum you’re amongst people who do strength training, so the numbers will all be skewed much higher than the numbers you’d get if you consider all gym users. And of course a lot of them will be taking steroids and we’re not interested in them for this article.
So, in a small provincial gym with maybe 50-100 people on the books, there’d be 5-10 people who can bench 100kg. Remember, most of those 50-100 people will train infrequently or not specifically for strength or muscular development. In a huge gym with maybe 1000 people on the books, there could be 50-100 people who can bench press 100kg. If anything, I’ve overestimated, probably quite considerably. Don’t believe me? Do a rough count of the number of people you see visiting your gym over a week or a month and then count how many of those bench press 100kg or more (and don’t forget to subtract the juicers).
Anything over 400lbs would be very elite indeed and 500lbs would be near world record level. Take look, for example, at the 100% Raw World Bench Press Records here: https://rawpowerlifting.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/World-Mens-Bench-Records.pdf
The record (‘Open’) for the bench press in 198lb weight class at the time of writing is 240kgs/529lbs.
The first gym I went to (a small, provincial gym I trained in for six or seven years) had about 15 committed bodybuilders or powerlifters, 35 or 40 people who trained regularly for either fitness or some sport and maybe another 40 people who trained infrequently (but regularly enough to be recognised). At any given time there were about 10 who could bench 100kg, of which three or four could bench 125kg and maybe one or two of those could bench 150kg. I never saw anyone go above 175kg (385lb) in the whole six or seven years I was there, and that includes the juicers I’m trying to ignore for this article.
In later years, at a bigger gym, I have seen a natty bench 200kg (440lb) and I saw someone else who was probably a natty bench 210kg (462lb) but, if you exclude steroid users, lifts above this are extremely rare in most gyms. Obviously if you go to a gym that specialises in bodybuilding, powerlifting or strongman you’ll see more people lifting bigger weights.
So my rough and ready guide is as follows:
|Provincial Powerlifting Competitor||200kg+||440lb+|
|Inter/National Powerlifting Competitor/World Records||225kg+||495lb+|
The above table just represents averages of course. Some people are naturally stronger than others and may come in at a 75kg or even a 100kg bench press untrained, but it’s rare. It also needs some adjustment for heavier and lighter people, so it’s just a rough guide based on what I’ve observed in gyms over the years.
The upshot is that your bench press – if you’re 100% natural – is probably better than you think.