Find out the truth behind why it seems that fat people can bench press more weight than smaller individuals.

On a general Q & A site, someone asks, “At my school, the people who bench press the most are the fat people  —  why is that?”

I’m a former personal trainer, and I have the answers.

There are several reasons why it seems that fat people can bench press more weight.

If you believe that, in general, being fat makes people strong so that when it’s time to bench press, they can out-lift leaner folks, I must urge you to take a closer look at these big guys (and gals).

Are they just blobs of fat, or does there appear to be a lot of muscle under all that adipose tissue?

If a person overeats and thus has a lot of excess bodyfat, this will not stop them from gaining muscle (and thus strength) if they work out.

The muscle mass is there, hidden under the excess fat  —  but not entirely hidden. Look again.

Compare these individuals to the average “fat” person you see on the street, at Walmart, at the county fair, at Burger King, at Costco.

I guarantee it, if you randomly select a fat person from Walmart or the cotton candy line at the amusement park and put them at a bench press station, they’re not going to be lifting very much.

But what if they train?

Won’t they gain strength at a faster rate than a 170 pound person? If you’ve never trained before, you need adequate calories to gain muscle.

If you’re skinny and start a strength building program, you’re going to need more calories.

If you don’t increase your caloric intake to accommodate the training, you will make slow progress.

Even a skinny guy who eats like a horse has to adjust his diet if he wants to pack on muscle.

A fat person already gets the calories needed to gain muscle. He has a headstart when training.

So it’s not the obesity that directly gives him the edge; it’s the caloric surplus that’s already in place, though for best results, he should replace the junk food with healthy calories.

Powerlifting vs. Bodybuilding

The next reason why fat people seem to bench press more than leaner individuals is that often, the hefty trainees at a gym who are very strong are training for powerlifting competitions.

Or, they are more interested in simply being a strong powerlifter, whereas the smaller but chiseled, lean guys with the fitness model physiques train for appearance first, and trying to break a personal best record in the bench press is secondary.

The 180 pound lean man probably has a different training scheme than the 280 pounder who easily puts up 285 lbs. for 10 reps with the bench press.

If you want muscle mass and a lean, sculpted physique, focus on an 8-12 rep max and a clean, controlled diet.

Those who are gunning for maximal strength rather than a chiseled physique and have done their homework know that a four or five rep max will get them there.

In fact, many non-competitive powerlifters, unlike bodybuilders (yes, there’s a striking difference in these disciplines) will concentrate on a 2-4 rep max.

Another Reason…

Also — realize that a fat, slow-moving individual may find the bench to be quite enticing.

After all, he gets to lie down while exercising, doesn’t have to use his legs, jar his knee joints or huff and puff, and knows that he’s on an even playing field with the thinner, fitter guys he envies.

He becomes hooked on the bench press and runs with it. Multiply this scenario over and over, and it creates the illusion that “fat people can bench press more weight.”

Range of Motion Advantage

Finally, and perhaps this is the biggest reason why fat people apparently can bench press more than leaner people, we must consider range of motion!

Watch a fat person bench press. What immediately jumps out at you?

If they’re fat enough, they only need to lower the bar about half as far down, to get it right on their chest, when compared to a skinny person! The excess fat cuts short their range of motion.

A proper bench press means bringing the bar down to your chest but not resting it there.

If your chest sits up high because there’s a lot of fat there, you’re bringing that bar down a shorter distance and then pushing up from that point.

This is akin to a skinny person bringing the bar down only “half-way” for every repetition, which allows for a much heavier bench press.

A fat person cannot bring the bar down further than where his chest rises up to.

As a result, his arms may be bent at only 90 degrees by the time the bar reaches his chest.

A skinny person, to get the bar to his chest, must bend their arms considerably, such that their elbows are much closer to the floor, and then push ALL the way up from that point.

Final Thoughts

To put it simply, it’s a heck of a lot easier to push 285 pounds 12 inches than it is 18 inches!

But even then, the average “blob” type of fat individual off the street won’t be much stronger, if at all, than the average medium weight person off the street.

As a fitness professional, I don’t believe for a second that I can randomly choose a fat person at Walmart, stick them under a 200 pound bar, and watch them bench press it even once, even with their much shorter range of motion.

How much a person, fat or lean, can bench press is very multi-factorial (I haven’t even covered anthropometrics here), and I’ve seen many lean individuals bench press enormous amounts of weight.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.