What's the difference between Absolute Strength and Relative Strength?

Updated: Oct 7, 2019



A benefit that most gym goers are hoping to achieve from their efforts is an increase in strength.


What they usually mean is that they want to push more weight week in and week out. If they were pushing 20kg dumbbells in a chest press this week, they want to push 22.5kg next week…and so on and so forth.


Which is fine.


Of course you want to see improvement and this is an easy way to see number rise and determine if you are improving.


This doesn’t cover the whole range of the strength spectrum and there is another area that gets ignored as a priority and I would argue is hugely important to everyday life.


Absolute Strength vs Relative Strength


When we talk about pushing as much weight as possible, in particular, increasing a 1 rep max (ie. how much weight you can move for just 1 rep), this is Absolute Strength (AS). It’s easy to see the improvement here. Did you lift more than you did a month ago? If you did, you’re stronger than you were a month ago.


Typically, this type of strength training is associated with bigger guys. Powerlifters are focused on AS so they consume tons of calories to increase their mass and muscle size, for faster gains. Bigger muscles, more muscle fibres to produce force…any other weight is just collateral.


Then, we come to Relative Strength (RS).


RS means that someone is strong in relation to their own bodyweight.


Super simple example, if you have someone that weighs 70kg and can squat 130kg and another that weighs 90kg but can squat 135kg, guess who’s RS is better?


The 70kg guy can squat 1.85x his bodyweight, the 90kg guy can squat 1.5x of his bodyweight, so the lighter guy’s RS is better than the other.


The transference of this strength is in running, for example. The 70kg guy can transmit more force through the ground relative to his bodyweight than the other guy. All other things being equal, you would put money on the lighter guy being faster.


Common exercises associated with RS is gymnastics and bodyweight movement. The better someone can move their own body through space, the more in control of their body they are and the less fatigued they become.


Now that we have the definitions out of the way, why does this matter?


Relative Strength, everyday


If you consider that moving our body through space is a key characteristic of RS, consider this.


I’ve known bodybuilders who were incredibly strong. Some of the weight they were shifting was impressive, to say the least.


Watching them try and get out of a chair without pushing down on the arms was both hilarious and scary. They couldn’t do it. For all their strength and size, they couldn’t get out of a chair!


The point is to live long with minimal issues in movement so we can enjoy life at its fullest.

At the very minimum, I want to be able to stand up out of a chair!


By focusing on this now, we can improve the quality of our later lives too. With this relative strength, we improve the health of our joints and mobility to be able to support that strength which stands us in good stead for when we are much older.


So how can yoga help?


I’ve done a bit a of a disservice to the big guy at the start of this post, since lifting heavy should be a part of a program that helps increase RS.


There are other important factors too.


As a foundation, you need to be able to control your own body through space and have the mobility and range of motion to be able to get the benefit. So poses and sequences with plank variations and arm balances / arm strengthening is great for this.


Your core is the conduit for strength to be expressed throughout the body…if you have a weak core, you’re gains will diminish severely.


So, focus on flowing yoga to increase bodyweight strength, flexibility and mobility to see your strength skyrocket!


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