T Nation

Big Guys Vs. Little Guys


Hey I've got a running argument with my training partner that I'm hoping you guys out there can settle.

The argument is 1) whether small guys or big guys are predisposed to being able to lift more weight in proportion to their body weight, and 2) why this is so.

I say small guys will be able to lift a greater percentage of their body weight than an equally trained larger guy due to the physics and phisiology of the body and the mechanics of lifting. My buddy says that the opposite is true and a larger guy is able to lift a higher proportion of his weight due to the fact that he has more total muscle mass.
Someone please settle this... facts and references highly appreciated. Thanks.


This debate of little vs big guys will go on forever. It has more to do with limb proportions/leverages than actual size. It's typically true that small guys have smaller leverages aka stubby arms and legs, but big guys with short levers (although rarer) benefit as well and are usually able to lift a buttload of weight.


smaller guys can lift more

a couple small guys have a triple body weight bench. have you ever seen a 400 pound guy bench 1200?


Well that was pretty fucking stupid reasoning. They have formulas for this now and nobody really cares about "per bodyweight" lifts.


Since the original poster asked "whether small guys or big guys are predisposed to being able to lift more weight in proportion to their body weight", I'd say it was spot on.


Hmm interesting question. The super heavy weight lifters dont worry with relative strength. For smaller lifters that's a much bigger concern.
For example, when Jeff Lewis did his 1201 pound squat, he was trying to squat the most weight ever done by a human, however, he's so fucking fat that it still only amounted to a little over 2.5 times his bodyweight. When a 500 pound squat happens, nobody gives a shit until it's stated that the lifter was 135 pounds and that that was 3.7 times his bodyweight. Keep all this in mind.


simple first year physics says that small guys are predisposed to being able to lift more weight in proportion to their body weight...

Scaling of Area and Volume:

A small insect such as an ant can carry many times its own weight when foraging for food for its colony. On the other hand, large animals, such as elephants, would have difficulty in carrying anything near their own weight, Would an elephant-sized ant be stronger than an elephant?

The answer is no. The ant's thin legs would not be strong enough to hold even its own weight up, let alone anything else. Notice how thick the elephant's legs are in relation to its body.

The concept which is relevant here is called scaling. The strength of a support, such as the elephant's leg, depends on the cross-sectional area, so we say that strength scales with area. On the other hand, the mass of an object like the elephant depends on its volume, so weight scales with volume.

If we increase the volume without increasing the surface area, we are increasing the amount of force per unit area and eventually the support will fail. We define the term pressure to be this force per unit area:

Pressure = Force/Area

research 'scaling of area and volume' if you want a more detailed explanation...


Nice explanation by DPH. Very similar reasoning to that used in Supertraining to describe this.

Then there is also the fact that on the squat and deadlift that larger guys are moving their excess bodyweight in addition to the main load.

We also have to define "larger" as meaning taller, more massive, or both. A smaller guy will have advantages in relative comparisons, but a larger guy will have advantages in absolute comparisons.


was just answering the question


Little and Big guys have the same size brain, and most CNS' work pretty much the same and is the most important factor. Limb length, tendon and ligament attachment is secondary. Muscle size is not that important.


Mind over matter eh?
I'm afraid I'd have to disagree.



you've got some learning to do...

or are you just joking?


a while back i was checking the bodyweight with the highest percentage lifted in men's OL.

IIRC, 160-180 had the highest percentage. 140ish and low 200s wasn't that much lower, though.


Go through and look at the world records for both powerlifting and olympic lifting. Do you see a trend?

Taller athletes in general possess less mechanical advantage. Proportionally, the smaller lifters are stronger, pound for pound. Hence the use of the Wilkes formula.



this is a stupid question with no awnser just because someone is big doesnt mean they are going to have crap relative strength there are tall guys in my gym with high relative strength and short guys with crap relative strength vice versa.

in theory a taller person should be weaker and have lower relative strength. example a 7ft person weighing 12stone will have very little muscle and fat at all and will have a higher percentage of bones with longer limbs yet a person at 4ft wil have a large quantity of muscle% compared to bones and fat. this should mean the 4ft person will be stronger etc but this isnt always the case because we are humans not machines.

it all depends on the person and their genes and how well theyve trained. stop tryng to argue whos better short or tall and get on with ur training.


Dude, punctuation.

DPH is spot on. At the elite levels, smaller guys always lift more relative to bodyweight.

This doesn't usually justify staying 135lbs at 5'10" though. The lighter guys are still pretty jacked for their frames.



Isn't it really just common sense? I mean, lets say you compare two guys, both with the same training history and bodyfat %, except one is 5'8" and the other is 6'3". Would anyone be suprised to learn that the guy measuring 5'8" lifts more in comparison to his bodyweight than the guy measuring 6'3"? The added bone weight the taller guy has to lug around isn't exactly "functional" is it?


the taller guy will still have the heavier lifts...just not in comparison to a percentage of bodyweight...

also...height serves more 'function' than just being able to lift bodyweight proportional strength...

it's a hell of alot easier to dunk a basketball if you're 7' tall as opposed to being 5'8"...

also...studies show that tall guys get laid more on average than their shorter counter-parts...




Damn tall guys?! DAMN SHORT GUYS!


Sigh...this one again? DPH had it right. Examples: a flea can jump over 100 times its height (accelerating faster than the space shuttle); the world record high jump for humans is 8'2"; elephants can't jump at all; blue whales can't even survive on land, need to be supported by water.
Physics 101. Strength is proportional to a muscle's cross-section SQUARED, while mass increases with size CUBED.
There is also tremendous variation among individual people, but the question was about overall trend, other variables like training held equal.