How Strong Do You Have To Be?

strong, men, masculinity, strength, influence, fitness, bench press,

Fitness expert Neil Anderson asks: How strong do you have to be to be good enough?


As a trainer and owner of GPP Fitness in Salt Lake City, I try to keep up with the latest and greatest in fitness and health. So I read a lot of books and subscribe to a variety of magazines. When my latest Men’s Fitness subscription came today (the downstairs bathroom has poor wifi reception), emblazoned across the cover are the words “de-wussify your bench press!” or, something super helpful and giving like that. I’m not clear because I didn’t look directly at it. Since entering my 40s I don’t have the energy for self-loathing that I used to. Oh, I still do it. I just don’t have as much energy for it. So, I just swept the front page with my eyes.

The article will undoubtedly be the same constructive stuff we’ve been strafed by for decades. Something about how you really aren’t as strong as you should be. And since you’re not as strong as you should be you’re not really much of a man. By “not much of a man” it means, you’ll never get the respect you deserve of others, you’ll never make as much money as you want, and you’ll never EVER get a girl. Yep, the big three.
If I’d have read the article, I believe (based on experience) the take-home would have been one of these two things:

1. If you had an awesome bench press, you’d be a better human. Or,

2. True happiness in life comes from an awesome bench press.

I get it. Strength is important. There are physiologic and psychological benefits to being strong. Bench pressing adds to this benefit.

I agree, now get out of me about my wussitis.

The question I have (maybe best asked to the average mirror monkey, hissing and flexing down at the local sweat shop) is – how strong to do you have to be?

Seriously, does a 400 lb bench press really make you a better/happier human? Does 300? Does 200?

How Strong Do You Have to be to be Important Enough?

I started making two lists the other day. Lists of people I admire. People who are important to me, and who I think have been historically important.

The first list was of people I admire who I’m fairly sure I can out-bench press. Not that I’m Mr. Bench Press, or anything. Just looking at them, I feel confident that on the right day, all things being equal, with a favorable wind – I could probably out-bench these folks. Here are just a few people on that list (not exhaustive, no ranking order):

Jesus Christ
Mahatma Ghandi
14th Dalai Lama
Albert Einstein
Mother Teresa
Helen Keller
Nelson Mandella
Ben Franklin
Thomas Jefferson
Winston Churchill
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Neil Armstrong
Marie Curie
Isaac Newton
Nkola Tesla
Leonardo Da Vinci
Thomas Edison
Henry Ford
Oprah Winfrey
John D. Rockefeller
Bill Gates
Steve Jobs
Andrew Carnegie
J.P. Morgan
Samuel Clemens
Theodor Geisel
Charles M. Schulz
Mel Blanc

This list was very long …,

The second list is of all the folks I admire who I’m fairly sure can out-bench press me. Here are ALL of the names on that list:

George Washington (from what I’ve heard)
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Sylvester Stallone

To be honest, I’m a little embarrassed of a couple of the folks I put on my second list. In terms of contribution to my life, to society and juxtaposed to the list above, the comparison seems rather pithy.

The hell of it all is, you can’t even FIND bench press numbers for most of these folks here. Try it. I looked up many of the above (OK, not the girls – my ego would never have withstood seeing MT out-bench me.).

How is this possible? I mean, according to EVERY magazine I’ve ever laid hands on having to do with health and fitness, a huge bench press and massive pecs are the BASE assets of EVERY worthwhile human. At least, the men.

Could it be that maybe this isn’t so? Could it be that there is value to the human condition that lies OUTSIDE of the weight room? Could it be that I could perhaps win the respect of others, make the money I deserve and, maybe, even get a girl without first proving my mettle in the gym?

I dunno. It all seems a little far-fetched don’t you think? There could be no way those magazines would be that far off. After all, they are just trying to help me by offering beneficial instruction and meaningful advice. Besides, what possible good could it do for them to make me feel insecure, or less-than manly?

Then again, those lists are pretty compelling. Maybe it’s time to boost the wifi.

Image Credit  Patrick Feller/Flickr


  1. But Neil, it’s a well known and established fact that women’s beauty magazines sell them an unattainable beauty standard in order to annihilate their self esteem. If men’s magazines are doing essentially the same thing, with strength instead of beauty… well, we may have to posit that both types of magazines undermine the self esteem of their audience in order to sell more magazines.

  2. My father is the man I admire most and I’m pretty sure he cant bench even just 100 pound. I also train for powerlifting, but I never think my strength make me better than other man who have less strength.

  3. N.C. Harrison says:

    I’ve come to the place (two wrecked shoulders later) of having decided that the only people who need to bench press are probably power lifters who compete in the bench press… and that’s speaking as one who has completed a paused 455 pound bench press in shirt sleeves. It’s a fine exercise if one enjoys it but by no means mandatory.

    On the other hand, as a religious scholar, I’ll say here and now that Jesus could probably overhead squat a ton. Carpenters definitely gotta have that “old man strength” 😀

  4. I deeply appreciate your message, Neil. 🙂

    Raoul Wallenberg certainly would be included in the first list.

    I speak as a health club member who’s spent a small fortune on physical trainers (over a period of six years), by the way.

  5. Aaron Anderson says:

    I’m one of those people who’ll start a fitness routine and ditch it a month later. I gotta admit, one of the reasons I don’t follow through is because of the “mirror monkeys” who walk around the gym flexing, showing off and judging others who don’t look like them. I’m glad to hear that there’s at least one fitness expert who believes that there’s more value to people than just what they can bench press. Life is so much more than just weights and PB’s.

  6. Neil Armstrong probably had a good bench. Astronauts have to work out a lot.

  7. Forget how much can you bench.

    How much can you deadlift and how many pull-ups can you do!


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