It’s pretty normal to want to know how our bench press stacks up compared to other guys (see how strong is the average guy.)
Is benching two plates, 225 pounds (100kg) impressive? And what’s the road to get there, if you’re not there yet?
There are a few questions we need to answer first:
- Who are we comparing ourselves to?
- What does “impressive” mean to you?
And for our curiosity, we’ll look at what other strong guys can bench (college football teams, the elite military, etc.)
Compared to the average man in the USA
In 2018 the CDC published the “National Health Statistics Reports: Number 122” on the average American body. The latest statistics they had were from 2015–2016. The average male between the ages of 20 and 39 was:
- 176 cm in height (5’8 feet tall)
- 89.3 kg in weight (197 pounds heavy)
- 98 cm waist circumference (38.5″ waist)
That would put the average young guy in the USA with a BMI at 30—not only overweight but class 1 obese.
And in a 2018 article in the Atlantic covering a study on push-ups with interviews on the researchers, a Mayo Clinic researcher Dr Michael Joyner said that he estimated that only about 20–30% of the average American could do a single push-up.
So is a 225 bench good? Well, compared to the average man in the West who can’t do a single push-up, I’d say it’s very good.
Is a 225 bench impressive?
What does impressive mean to you? The definition from Oxford is:
“evoking admiration through size, quality, or skill; grand, imposing, or awesome.”
In psychology, there is a law called the “Just noticeable difference” or the Weber–Fechner law.
It’s based on “perceived change.” For example, if you have 0 white hairs, and you get one white hair. You noticed a change. But if you already have 100 white hairs and get one more white hair, even though the same amount of hair turned white, you won’t notice a change.
A more relevant example would be if you worked out at an entry-level gym with total beginners, a 225 bench at that gym might be impressive. But if you go to an elite athletics gym, there are a lot of people benching 225 here, so your 225 bench wouldn’t be impressive. It’d be one white hair among many.
So the weaker and less-trained the person is that you’re talking to, the more impressive a 225 bench press would be. Obviously, there are factors like interest in lifting and whatnot. I doubt many women would care what you bench compared to other men as long as you’re sufficiently strong enough and healthy looking.
As far as impressing the average man, well, most can’t do a push-up. So I would imagine that they’d see a 225 bench as pretty impressive.
What do other strong guys bench?
While we don’t know what the average guy benches, we do have a number of studies that can tell us what specific people can bench.
In a 2009 study, researchers took American college football players to compare how their grip strength compared to their bench press. They found that the average teammate could do a 1RM bench of 123.90kg or 273 pounds.
StrongerByScience, a great website on training created by Greg Nuckols, asked his newsletter subscribers to fill out a survey about realistic training goals. Quoted from the survey results:
“The men training for less than 3 months, on average, benched 85kg (185-190lbs), and the men training for between 3 and 6 months benched 96kg (210lbs) on average, for a difference of about 3.4kg (7-8lbs) per month.”
Those numbers seemed really high to us, and Greg admitted they seemed high to him as well. My guess is that the audience of not only being interested in lifting but actively seeking out to learn more to find his newsletter skewed the results a bit higher. But you can see that even for someone who’s interested in lifting hasn’t reached a 225 bench even after training diligently for over half a year.
In a 2018 review on “elite tactical units,” which included military special forces and SWAT teams, researchers looked at 14 studies on their fitness profiles. The researchers wrote:
“These units require their personnel to routinely perform at the highest level; above and beyond the expectations of civilians and regular tactical personnel (i.e. general soldiers or general-duties police officers). Consequently, their training is typically more demanding than that of elite athletes.”
What can they bench?
Depending on the study, they benched as low as 90kg (198 pounds) or as high as 106kg (233 pounds). Averaged out, it was 100kg (220 pounds).
These elite tactical units could also do an average of 61 push-ups in two minutes and 8 pull-ups.
I suspect that these guys aren’t training their bench press all day, and so those results are pretty impressive to me.
The road to a 225 bench
We know that with practice, you can rapidly improve your strength. Not only does your body get better at neurological firing and coordination, but over years of practice, your muscles will pull on your bone to make it better adapted for what you train it for. For example, if you bench press for years, your body will adapt to get better at that. We see this all the time, such as on Eric Cressey’s article on how swimmers get more angled collarbones and elevated shoulder blades, and baseball pitchers get flatter collarbones and lowered shoulder blades (scapular depression).
So, how long will it take to get your bench up to 225 pounds? Looking at the survey from StrongerByScience, it seems like guys were adding 7–8 pounds to their bench each month.
Now, obviously, growth isn’t linear. You may run into injuries, catch a cold, or run into a family emergency, etc.
There’s also the consideration of plateaus and diminishing returns. The closer you get to your genetic ceiling, the slower your results will be. This is why ectomorphs (skinny and skinny-fat) can get such rapid gains in muscle size and strength compared to an advanced lifter who’s been training hard for 15 years.
But let’s say you wanted to get from 135-pound bench to 225 pounds. You might use Greg’s survey results as a starting point and guess that it would take around 13 months of training at 7 pounds added each month or 11 months at 8 pounds per month.
So going from one-plate to two-plates? Based on what we know, I’d guess that it might take between a year or two of consistent and reasonably smart training.
What if you’re a skinny ectomorph? Well, your starting line has been moved back quite a bit. For example, I was only benching 75ish pounds for a couple reps when I first started lifting (I was dangerously underweight at 6’0 ft tall.) Even if I added 7 pounds to my bench every single month, it might take me nearly two years of focused lifting to get to two plates.
Don’t make the mistake I did
The key thing to remember is that your training should match your goals. Don’t expect your bench press to climb if you spend most of your training doing squats and deadlifts, like I did for a long time. If you want to get good at the bench press, you’ll need to spend a lot of time benching and pressing in general using a wide variety of rep-ranges, loads, and with a lot of assistance work for variety.
Stubborn chests, grip width, and assistance exercises for the bench press
Some guys have shorter collarbones, and so it makes it harder for their chest to activate, like me. My arms love jumping into any sort of pressing motion. Some guys have longer collarbones, and their chests are easily activated, but they might end up having more stubborn arms.
If you find that your bench press and chest, in general, is lagging, there are lots of tweaks that you can do to get your bench press and chest bigger and stronger.
For example, take a look at this illustration from Shane and Marco’s article about the bench press over at Outlift:
“What we see here is that the standard bench press creates longer moment arms between our collarbones and the barbell, making the lift harder on our shoulders and upper chests. Then, with the wide-grip bench press, we see that the moment arms between our sternum and arms are a little bit longer, making the lift a bit harder on our mid and lower chests.”
So using a wider-grip, even if it means going down in weight for a few weeks, will cause a better stimulus on your chest, allowing you to build up a better bench press.
I’d highly recommend checking out “The Bench Press guide” on Outlift, if you want to learn more about the bench press, using exercise variety like the dumbbell bench press and weighted push-ups for optimal gains, and using assistance exercises like pause bench presses, close-grip bench press, and more to keep increasing your bench press strength as you get stronger.
Otherwise, if you’re looking to get bigger and stronger in general, but don’t know where to get started—check out our True Gains lifting and nutrition program for men.