How do bench press and overhead press maxes relate?

I’m super-excited to say that this is our first article that included us branching out to you guys and asking you to help us out. It’s our first piece of original research on lifting.

We all know that the bench press and overhead press lifts are related – they’re both pressing movements. But they’re in different movement planes, and therefore involve different limb movements. This means that certain muscles are typically used more than others.

But I was interested in how these lifts were related for individuals in the general lifting population. So I carried out a small survey with SurveyMonkey, and the results were insightful.

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In my survey, I approached people who lifted weights, both male and female, and asked them the following questions:

  1. How long have you been regularly lifting weights?
  2. Take your most recent bench press one rep max and your overhead press (OHP) one rep max. Find the ratio of your bench 1RM to your OHP 1RM (round to 1 decimal place)
  3. [Optional] Do the same as above, except this time using the five rep max for both of these lifts

I initially posted the survey to /r/weightroom on reddit, only for it to be heavily downvoted and deleted by the mods (seriously guys?).

I then approached Elliott Hulse on Twitter and he was kind enough to retweet my survey out to all his followers – this gave our numbers a nice boost as his followers retweeted it as well. If you’re reading this, thank you so much Elliott! :)

For question 1, we got 44 respondents. The purpose of this question was to make sure that we were getting a varied sample of the weightlifting community. Here are the results:

Bench press overhead press ratio survey

And the exact data we got in a table:

benchohpsurveytable

So this tells us that our respondents are of quite a nice range. I think our data was skewed mostly towards the 1 year – 3 years range mainly because this is the chief demographic of Elliott Hulse’s following.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this demographic making up most of our respondents – I believe that this is an accurate make-up of the gym-going community.

Question 2 got 40 respondents. I know it’s a little disheartening that 9% of the respondents dropped off the survey after question 1, but I think this is probably usual of an online survey! :)

Here are the results:

benchohpratio

Okay, wow! I’ll be honest, the data doesn’t look very pretty, and disappointingly, there doesn’t appear to be any strong patterns in the frequencies. Quite a lot are in the 1.5-1.6 range, and surprisingly there are a bunch of 1.3s there too.

This data doesn’t tell us much, apart from the fact that the respondents had similar strength ratios in the horizontal to the vertical pressing planes.

The mean value of the bench / OHP 1RMs ratio among the respondents is 1.5. I put this to one decimal place since I asked the respondents to give their ratios to one decimal place.

Another thing to contemplate is that some people are better at one rep max attempts than others. Some might have inferior technique, or are just more used to doing high repetition sets. That’s why I also asked question 3.

Only 28 answered question 3, but the data is much nicer than for question 2. Here are the results:

benchohpratio14

Much better looking! The results tend towards the 1.4-1.6 range, with 1.5 being the most frequent bench / OHP 5RM ratio by far. I struggled to believe the few who had the same bench and OHP 5RMs, but we can’t cherry pick our data!

I believe these results resemble the normal bell curve pattern because lifters tend to exercise with 5 repetition sets in their workouts rather than testing their one rep maxes.

It’s become clear to me that because of the above idea I should have based the survey around this question more than the 1RM question. It resembles normal lifting behaviour in the gym better. The mean value to one decimal place for this data was 1.5 again.

Further to that idea, I should probably also have asked people for their 10RM bench / OHP ratio.

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