Relative vs Absolute Strength

Strength is strength. Right? Well... no.... And yes.

Relative Strength and Absolute Strength are both important, no matter what your sport/profession is. That being said, some professions benefit more from relative strength and others from absolute strength. In this article, we talk about the differences in Relative vs Absolute strength. In my next article, I talk about how to train for relative vs absolute strength.

What is the difference between relative and absolute strength?

Relative Strength (RS): How much weight you can lift, or force that you can apply, compared to your body weight.

Absolute Strength (AS): The maximum amount of weight or force that you can apply regardless of your body weight.

Q: So.... which is more important?

A: It depends.

Unfortunately, like most of the questions I get asked, I don't have a cut-and-dry answer. Whether or RS os AS is more important depends on your sport/job requirements.

In most sports, RS is the most important factor. This is especially true in weight class sports, such as MMA, Olympic lifting, wrestling, etc. You need to be as strong as possible, compared only to your opponent who is in the same weight class.

In other sports, such as Football, absolute strength is important. A linebacker is allowed to put on as much weight as they can in order to maximize their strength. It doesn't matter is his/her opponent is smaller than they are, it only matters if they can out muscle them.

This discussion becomes more complicated in sports where both strength and agility are important. It is pretty obvious that a defenseman in hockey needs to be strong. But, if they pack on too much weight, just for the sake of strength, they may become unagile and get beat by a smaller, quicker opponent.


When is comes to Law Enforcement both RS and AS are important. For instance, it doesn't matter if you are a 5'8" 155lb Athlete/Officer, the situations you deal with are the same as if you were a 6'2" 215lb man. In this case, the RS for the female officer must be much higher. She needs to be able to "punch above her weight class", so to speak. The male officer in this situation may have a lower Strenght-Weight ratio (i.e. his RS), but his AS will still be higher

Let's break down an example.... 

155lb Athlete/Officer

  • 300lb Deadlift = 1.9lb/lb of BW
  • 315lb Squat = 2.0lb/lb of BW
  • 215lb Bench Press = 1.4lb/lb of BW

215lb Athlete/Officer

  • 350lb Deadlift = 1.6lb/lb of BW
  • 345lb Squat = 1.6lb/lb of BW
  • 300lb Bench Press = 1.4/b/lb of BW

In the above example, the 215lb Athlete has a much higher Absolute Strength than the 155lb Athlete, but the Relative Strength of the 155lb Athlete is much more impressive. The 155lb Athlete can only Deadlift 300lb, while the 215lb  Athlete can DL a full 50lb more. However, the 155lb Athlete is lifting almost twice his body weight, compared to the heavier athlete who is only lifting and extra 60% of hish BW.

Depending on the requirements of your sport or position, you will ultimately want to find a balance between Absolute Strength and Relative Strength.

It will also help to get stronger, but sometimes it is not worth gaining the extra weight to do so. Tomorrow I will teach you how to improve your relative strength and your absolute strength.


B.Kin, Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology CPT

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Author: Mark Murdoch, Kinesiologist, Chiropractic Student. Have questions? Email me. I want to help!