How strong should a man be?

I love this question because it reveals something about the man asking it. It shows a desire to be prepared and the willingness to develop and improve himself.

First, let’s look at what strength means.

1. the quality or state of being physically strong.
2. the capacity of an object or substance to withstand great force or pressure.

We’ll take a look at both. But first, what are we comparing our strength to?

The average strength of a man

In our article on the average strength of a man, we discussed three alarming facts:

  • The average man between 20–39 years old in the USA is not just overweight, but class 1 obese (CDC).
  • Only 20-30% of people in the USA are estimated to be able to do one push-up (researcher quoted).
  • Millennial men today (20–34) have 16% weaker grip strength compared to the same aged men in 1985 (article). Grip strength is often used as a total strength estimator in studies on health. That means the average young man today is quite a lot weaker compared to the generation before him. (Imagine how strong your grandfather’s generation would have been?)

Weak and unfit men—is this the way things ought to be?

Now, to be clear, my question is not coming from a place of harsh condemnation or judgement. As for myself, eight years ago, I was a young man, 23 years old, who was dangerously underweight at 6’0ft tall and 130 pounds. I was so weak that friends wouldn’t even ask me for help when moving. (Once I bulked up, I found out that people are all too ready to ask for physical help when needed.)

After gaining 40 pounds of lean mass through lifting weights and eating better, I’ve found that I’m fulfilling my role better as a man as strength affects many areas of life. My family, close friends, and community can now depend on me physically, and that matters.

I gained 4.75 inches on my shoulders, too.

Testosterone, strength, and truthfulness

There is a 2012 study showing that higher testosterone may make us lie less when it benefits us. We become more truthful and less selfish and, therefore, more honourable. These results were echoed again in a 2018 study on lying.

In a 2010 study on negotiations, found testosterone helped to drive fair results and less conflict. Contrary to common beliefs, a 2019 study found no evidence that testosterone negatively impacted empathy.

Interestingly, a 2018 meta-analysis found that high levels of testosterone lower the risk of getting diabetes. And we’re living in an age of diabetic kids, teenagers and young men (study, study, study).

A lack of physical strength may contribute to men acting in passive, docile, and apathetic ways.

Harvey Mansfield, a political philosopher and professor of Government at Harvard Law, writes that men must be strong, for a hare cannot lay down the law on a lion.

It’s one thing to stand up and say something is wrong, that an injustice is being committed. It’s another thing to actually have the strength to back it up and protect others. To paraphrase Jordan Peterson, we love to talk about our rights, but rarely do people talk about the other side of the coin, their responsibilities. To grow up, and take responsibility for our family, community, and country (defending, protecting, teaching, etc.) That requires strength.


How strong should a man be?

How strong do we need to be so that we’re prepared for a wide variety of situations? Let’s take a look at a couple of standards.

Standard #1—The US Army

For the US Army, their 2012 guide (Army FM 7–22) on Physical Readiness Training (PRT) has a test:

  • Push-Ups
    • As many as you can in two minutes
    • You can only rest in the top push-up position
  • Sit-Ups
    • As many as you can in two minutes
    • You can only rest in the up position
  • Two-mile Run
    • The goal is to get the shortest time possible
    • Walking is discouraged, but it doesn’t disqualify you

It must be done in that order, all within two hours. Then you’re scored based on your age:

Push-Ups in Two Minutes
Push-Ups in Two Minutes
Age17–2122–2627–3132–3637–4142–4647–5152–5657–6162
100%—Maximum Possible Score71757775736659565350
90%—Physical Fitness Badge64666865635751474442
60%—Minimum To Pass42403936343025201816
Sit-Ups in Two Minutes
Age17–2122–2627–3132–3637–4142–4647–5152–5657–6162
100%—Maximum Possible Score78808276767266666463
90%—Physical Fitness Badge72737368676257575554
60%—Minimum To Pass53504542383230282726
2-Mile Run (3.2km)
Age17–2122–2627–3132–3637–4142–4647–5152–5657–6162
100%—Maximum Possible Score13:0013:0013:1813:1813:3614:0614:2414:4215:1815:42
90%—Physical Fitness Badge13:4213:5414:1214:2414:4815:1815:4216:0016:3016:48
60%—Minimum To Pass15:5416:3617:0017:4218:1818:4219:3019:4819:5420:00

Physical Fitness Excellence BadgeIf you can hit the 90% score in each event, and you meet the bodyfat standards (generally, under 20% bodyfat), you can wear the badge. But you have to take it off should you fail in future tests.

Not only that, but they have postural and movement standards as well. You must be able to:

  • Stand and sit with proper, neutral posture
  • Lift from the ground (like a deadlift) and from overhead (like an overhead press)
  • Pull, climb, sprint, jump, land, lunge, march, vaulting, crawling, balancing, and much more.

There are also environmental stresses you must be strong enough to handle as well, such as hot/cold exposure, and different altitudes (the guide mentions those with better cardio will handle this stresses better.)

So if you want to be as strong as a guy in the army in peak condition, try aiming to hit the 90% benchmarks for your age. After you can hit that, try aiming for the 100% score.

Here’s what the scorecard would look like filled in:

Army Physical Readiness Fitness Test

For the curious, the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test is the more difficult as you have to run an additional mile, making it 3.1 miles (5km). And there is the option to sub out push-ups for pull-ups (more difficult), which is necessary if you want a perfect score.

Standard #2—Real-life strength measurements from Elite Tactical Units

A 2018 review on “elite tactical units,” which includes special forces and SWAT, looked at research covering their fitness. They looked at 14 studies, including teams from the USA, Croatia, Tunisia, England, Australia, Germany, and Norway.

Special Forces

Here’s what they found as an average:

  • BMI: 25
  • Bodyfat Percentage: 15%
  • 1RM Bench Press: 99kg (218 pounds)
  • Vertical jump: 50cm (20 inches)
  • Max pull-ups: 8
  • 60 push-ups in two minutes (likely with same rest rules as the US army)
  • 60 sit-ups in two minutes (likely with same rest rules as the US army)
  • VO2Max Relative (maximum aerobic capacity): 54
    • This score falls under the “superior” heading, the upper-level score of VO2Max. Pretty impressive to me.

So if you want to be as strong and fit as someone in the special forces or a SWAT team, you’ll want to:

  • Be muscular enough to have a BMI of 25, at the cusp of a “normal” healthy body weight for your height.
  • Be strong enough to bench around two plates (225 pounds).
  • Be fit enough to score the top-tier aerobic score.
BMI

How much grit should we have—to withstand great force or pressure?

The interesting thing about grit is that research is showing that grit might mean having good cardio health (2013 study.) Now it could also be the opposite—that having grit allows someone to have and develop good cardio, but we don’t know. Here’s from the study:

In addition to greater aerobic capacity, individuals with a more resilient personality profile walked faster and were more efficient in that they required less energy per meter walked.

So improving your endurance and aerobic capacity might be one way to develop more grit and resilience.

Now, there are personality differences, beliefs, and world views that are a part of grit. For example, I think of Viktor Frankl labouring in the concentration camp, reflecting on the meaning of life, as he continued to suffer even as his pregnant wife, brother, and parents died. Or Desmond Doss saving wounded men in the field as they were under fire (his story even got turned into a movie in Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge.) Or Louis Zamperini who survived his torture in a Japanese prison camp, but afterwards had nightmares and became an alcoholic to deal with them. He later became a Christian, learned to forgive his tormentors, and his nightmares stopped. He lived a healthy life until 97.

But working on improving your cardio could help with grit—contributing to your manly strength. And as we saw, many of the physical readiness tests (PRT) include some sort of jog. Not only that, but those in the special forces were at the upper echelon of aerobic fitness.

If you want to be a well-rounded man who is strong, you must also have a strong aerobic capacity.

If you know that your cardio is lacking, the first step to building a good aerobic foundation is by increasing your total daily steps. The good news is that more daily movement has been shown to help melt stubborn belly-fat.

One of the easiest ways to get your steps in is by doing a daily walk. I find that I can get about 1,000 steps in about ten minutes. So, if you need 3,000 more steps, a thirty-minute walk could take care of that. Once you’re able to walk 8000–10,000 steps every day without a problem, then you can begin looking at upping the intensity of your cardio training.


Summary:

  • The average 20-39 year old in the USA is class one obese
  • Only 20-30% of Americans are estimated to be able to do one push-up
  • Millennial men today are 16% weaker in grip strength compared to the same aged men in 1985
  • Higher testosterone makes us:
    • Less likely to lie when it benefits us
    • Helps us negotiate more fairly with less conflict
    • just as empathetic as someone with lower testosterone
    • lowers the risk of getting diabetes
  • To be as strong as someone in the special forces or SWAT
    • Be muscular enough to have a BMI of 25 with a bodyfat percentage of 15%
    • Have a 1RM Bench Press of 225 pounds (two plates)
    • Score in the “Superior” class of aerobic capacity (54 VO2Max Relative)
  • Improving cardio and aerobic capacity may make us more resilient and have higher grit

What are your thoughts? How physically strong do you think a man ought to be? Did we miss anything?

If you’re not there yet, what are your next steps to getting there? Building a home gym? Or beginning without equipment with a bodyweight workout?

Should you be interested, we cover this kind of stuff and more in our True Gains program where we teach men how to get stronger and more fit through the right training, nutrition, and lifestyle rituals.

True Gains Program

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