80% of your diet success is total energy balance. If you mess this up badly…
It’s one of those shifts in perspective that can completely transform your results. Focusing on relative strength, rather than something along the lines of:
“Let’s see if I can hit a 300 pound bench by the end of the month”
will prevent you from becoming attached to certain numbers and standards, force-feeding yourself into oblivion, and looking “puffy and watery” rather quickly, to put it nicely.
A similar mentality, when coming out of a cutting period, could be to think of your diet as maintenance, or “relaxation”, as opposed to “bulking”. Bulking just has so many connotations with it, namely, increasing food intake whenever gains start to slow down, which is justified because of course, you’re bulking at the end of the day.
The Problem With Absolute Strength Standards
You hear it everywhere:
“My mate Bob has a 330 bench”, or “Matt hit a 475 squat yesterday”.
Which all sounds great, but, the problem is that it doesn’t take into account:
- Body fat percentage
- Steroid usage
As guys, we’re highly competitive by nature, and we tend to focus on absolute numbers to measure how successful we are. But, as we’re so goal-oriented and focussed upon this big number, we tend to lose sight of what really matters.
If these guys are 6’4, weighing 250 pounds, YOU can’t compete (within the next several years at least) unless you gain a shit-tonne of weight. This competitive nature completely ruins the primary goal of 90% of guys in the gym. For the vast majority of lifters, they want to look better to some degree.
Men will deny this until they’re blue in the face, and they often do. But as soon as they start cutting, they suddenly become a lot happier and more confident, almost as if by magic. Obviously, balloon-bulking is terrible for you – mentally as well as physically.
If the guys putting out huge numbers are on gear, then of course, it’s going to be difficult to compete, unless you have many years of experience on him.
Even if you have some common sense and only compete against yourself (which is how the fitness journey should work), pushing to hit a 400/300/500 total, for example, inherently takes the focus away from your bodyweight and how you look, and pushes it more towards total body strength. Not good.
You will see a lot of YouTube gurus claiming their programs will result in clients hitting “x” lifts, but it’s meaningless if they’re 20%+ body fat – it really doesn’t tell you anything. It means literally nothing to YOU personally.
Relative Strength Changes This
Focusing on your strength to bodyweight ratio will shift your focus towards a better balance, far more conducive to looking good year-round, as opposed to just looking good for three months like most people I know.
If you gain bodyweight and strength at a 1:1 ratio during your bulk, but are focussing on your absolute strength, this would be perceived as a win. You have to ask yourself, however, is it really a win when you look awful?
Contrast this to a focus on relative strength. You gain bodyweight and strength at a 1:1 ratio, and ohhhhh shit, you are making zero progress in terms of relative strength. Something needs to change.
You’ve gained 20 pounds on your bench, but you’ve also gained 20 pounds bodyweight (extreme example, I know). Your relative strength has actually declined. This means there is a very good chance that you also look significantly worse than you did before.
Guys, I don’t know about you, but I think there must be a better way of doing this.
If we were to shift our goals towards improving the following, we would be permanently improving our physiques:
- Bench to bodyweight ratio
- Squat to bodyweight ratio
- Deadlift to bodyweight ratio
Think about this. If you are constantly getting stronger in the big three at a faster rate than you are gaining weight, you are gaining more muscle than fat.
Admittedly, there are drawbacks to this in the sense that body fat gains will have more or less of an impact on your overall look, depending on your height, limb length, length of your face etc, but it’s still a far better way of measuring gains than your standard absolute strength measurements.
Most of you reading this are intermediates, but there are many beginners too. The bottom line is that wherever you are currently at, you need to start tracking these key numbers in the Big Three, or at least, the big compound movements you currently use.
Always be aiming to improve these numbers.
Instead of trying to hit a 250 (115kg) bench, 350 (160kg) squat and 450 (205kg) deadlift, focus on something more like this:
- 1.5* bodyweight bench
- 2* bodyweight squat
- 2.5* bodyweight deadlift
Don’t be discouraged if you’re not there yet – as long as you’re improving your current numbers, you’re making body composition gains. You will stay lean year-round with this mentality.