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Yes I know the question in the title seems weird... As weird as what I recently read:

I used to weigh more than 300 pounds. I smoked like a house on fire, I drank like a blues guitarist, I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, and I never, ever exercised.

In 2003 I lost more than half my body weight. In 2007 I started a wildly successful personal training career. Today I’m fit enough to run (though I usually choose not to), and thin enough to comfortably wiggle my butt into size 6 jeans (though I usually wear super-stretchy workout clothes).

(…)

Being fat gave me natural physical strength. As a thin person, I have to go out of my way to be strong. Despite daily strength training I’m nowhere near as powerful as I used to be. Once upon a time I could confidently lift a couch into and out of a moving truck (a U-Haul, not a truck in motion — being fat never did give me super powers). Today, I labor under the weight of heavy things. I miss the natural, organic strength that I used to take for granted, the sheer power born of moving under the weight of my own fat day after day.

Kelly Coffey, 5 Things I Miss About Weighing More Than 300 Pounds

Really? A thin person, even if they train for strength, can be no stronger than a severely obese person who never exercises?

This seems almost outrageous... Yet, granted, this would explain why some athletes in strength disciplines (weightlifting, hammer throw, wrestling, etc) are not only muscular, but also fat?

Is being fat really close to a prerequisite of being strong??

  • @Raditz_35, well, I dunno what Kelly Coffey means when she says "Despite daily strength training I'm nowhere near as powerful as I used to be"... – gaazkam Feb 4 '18 at 15:58
  • Depends on your definition of strong. You probably can't do a lot more pull-ups when you are overweight compared to when you're slim but you might have an easier way moving a couch. – MJB Feb 5 '18 at 11:16
  • Related. fitness.stackexchange.com/questions/22197/… – DeeV Feb 5 '18 at 17:12
  • The question is a rant, but the answer addresses the concerns. – DeeV Feb 5 '18 at 17:17
  • The fat in strength disciplines comes from the style of training and the associated diet. Also, in some of the disciplines, extra body weight serves as leverage. – JohnP Feb 5 '18 at 17:31
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You've asked two questions here. The title, which deals with average strength of obese vs thin, and

"A thin person, even if they train for strength, can be no stronger than a severely obese person who never exercises?"

For the sake of clarity, I'm going to first address the second question.

Here are some numbers of The Biggest Loser contestants

Biggest Loser Fat Mass

Source.

On average, we have

  • people weighing 325 pounds
  • with 50% body fat
  • thus, 170 pounds of muscle

Ok, 170 pounds of muscle isn't technically accurate. "Fat Free Mass" also includes organs, bones, but we don't usually break it down to that degree. Regardless, you can grasp the notion: a severely obese person can have a great deal of muscle on them. (This will be even more clear in a moment.)

If we deduce the average non-obese person in America -we're not even talking super thin, we're just saying non-obese (BMI 22.5)- weighs 141 pounds, with a body fat percentage of 12, then they have a fat free mass of 124 pounds.

Muscle strength is related to cross sectional area. The bigger your muscles are, the more strength you have.

A Biggest Loser type obese person can easily have as much fat free mass / muscle as a non-obese person's total weight.

So yes, an obese person can easily be stronger than a thin person, due to having more muscle.

However, they may not be able to express that strength immediately. Plenty of obese people have plenty of muscle, but if they've never squatted before, they may very well not lift as much as a thin person, initially. They might need a few weeks to adapt to a squatting motion, so they can express that strength (neuromuscular coordination). As the first day somebody does resistance training, their legs are often wobbling after a couple sets of bodyweight work.

But sure, tossing a couch around? Moving furniture? Pushing a car where you also have demonstrably more mass to lean into the car than a thin person? An obese person can definitely have an easier time with that.

In terms of an average, that really gets into a matter of perspective.

If I have a thin client who has been lifting for months, then have an obese person try to do the same workout, the obese person is going to be in for a rough day. If we're squatting, then deadlifting, then doing walking lunges, the obese person might not make it through without being dizzy. That is, if we massage the term strength to mean strength endurance, rather than pure maximal strength, we've changed expectations. Particularly because in this example, we used some exercises which are heavily dependent on lifting your own bodyweight.

If we consider strength to be relative strength i.e. load lifted relative to your bodyweight -chin-ups are a favorite example of exemplifying relative strength- then an obese person will never be stronger. Relative strength goes down as humans get heavier (or taller).

Which brings the final point- we've only been talking external load. If we're talking absolute load, if the obese person can merely sit up and down out of a chair -a box squat- then they probably can lift more than the thin person. After all, there aren't many 140 pound people who can squat 300 plus pounds, more than double their bodyweight!

That is, just moving the obese person's weight around is resistance training itself. More resistance than most thin people will ever encounter in a gym. Sure, obese people tend to be sedentary, but it's not like they're on bed rest.

  • I have seen it in my crossfit batch. There was this 47 yrs old guy, working out for 15+ years, very fit. He was out-squatted - in terms of weight catried - by a relatively fat guy of 33 after 6 months of training. – Adway Lele Feb 9 '18 at 11:51
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Do you remember Vinnie Jones "The Sphinx" in Gone in Sixty Seconds? Well, here he is laying out an obese person. But, this is probably a different kind of strength than what you're referring to. If you're heavy, you're probably not a "strong" box jumper, or a "strong" runner, and you might not be able to do as many pull ups or dips, or even upside down pushups.

What is obese? What is slender? Is it body fat percentage? I get what you're saying, but "strength" is kinda too vague. You need to hone that down a bit. Yes, Hossein Rezazadeh is obese, and yes he snatched 213kg. An absolute monster. But Clarence Kennedy's got a 187.5kg snatch and probably has a really low body fat percentage.

My vote is "no." Fatness does not translate to strength. There may be relative exceptions, but on the whole, no way. If Hossein had trained down his body fat to a Pyrros Dimas-level physique, I bet he'd'a snatched 220kg+.

This individual's obese-to-slender transition happened over the course of probably 5+ years (2002-2007+), plus when was this article written? You're going to naturally loose strength as a function of your age, and if you're going from "obese no exercise" to full blown exercise maniac, then it's going to wear on your body, especially if you're overweight to begin with, and make you less strong. That said, the strength this individual had then was probably just a consequence of their youth. Are there exceptions? Of course. There's always exceptions.

You need a definition of strength. You need a definition of obese and slender. You need a method of comparison. You need participants in such a study in high numbers for both groups. Is it by age, weight, body fat percentage, a ratio of all three? Where on Earth are you going to find such a study? Guessing is all that can be provided unless there are such statistics on historic Olympic athletes. Do those data exist? Prove me wrong.

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    This isn't a discussion forum. We don't "vote" on what we think might be the correct answer. As a Q&A forum (instead of a discussion forum), we expect answers to be concrete backed up with evidence, not guesses and supposition. – JohnP Feb 5 '18 at 17:28
  • @JohnP, you think it's a guess that Hossein isn't good at box jumps? Here's something concrete: There are levels to everything. There are all kinds of "obese" (very vague) people, and there are all kinds of "slender" (again, very vague) people. If they're ranked by weight class, then there will be stronger slender people and there will be stronger obese people. If they're ranked by age, then there will be stronger slender people and there will be stronger obese people. On the whole? Statistically? Who knows, my deep dive only gives out-of-context rat studies. – brutal_machinery Feb 5 '18 at 19:21
  • Downvotes aside, I'm going to let this stand as an answer as it provides perspective as to the complexity of such a question as it currently stands. – brutal_machinery Feb 7 '18 at 0:09
  • First, this isn't a "deep dive". Second, your first example is a movie stunt? The movie shows what it wants to show. Third "prove me wrong" is not the approach we take here. We expect you to prove your own answers and provide that proof. Not just throw out a bunch of suppositions and say "prove me wrong". – JohnP Feb 7 '18 at 14:52
  • Actually, @JohnP, it's not a movie stunt, this is an actual security video of the actor Vinnie Jones getting in a real bar fight. Also, I can see that you didn't quite read my answer, as the proof you're seeking doesn't yet exist. It's so good a question, that it actually might be someone's master's thesis one day. No one's explored this concept. BTW, when I said "deep dive," I meant my multi-engine literature search that wasn't documented in this post, as I've already said, because it gave "out-of-context rat studies." Yeesh. – brutal_machinery Feb 7 '18 at 17:40

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