Different races have different morphology/somatype. Therefore, we can reason that different races would fare better or worse at a certain lift depending on their limb length, such as leg length, arm length, torso length and so on. How do somatypic differences lead to differences in strength between the races on the Big Four lifts? The four lifts I will cover are bench press, deadlift, squat and overhead press.
East Asians have higher levels of body fat (for instance the Chinese, Wang et al, 2011) and have lower BMIs, yet higher levels of body fat (Wang et al, 1994). This, along with their somatype are part of the reason why they excel in some strength sports. Since East Asians have a smaller stature, averaging about 5 feet 8 inches, with shorter arms and legs. Thinking about how the ancestors of the East Asians evolved, this makes sense: they would have needed to be shorter and have shorter limbs as it is easier to warm a body with a smaller surface area. Therefore, while squatting they have a shorter path to travel with the bar on their back. East Asians would strongly excel at the squat, and if you watch these types of competitions, you’d see them strongly overrepresented—especially the Chinese.
African-Americans are descended from West African slaves, and so they have longer, thinner limbs with lower amounts of body fat on average (especially if they have more African ancestry), which is a classic sign of a mesomorphic phenotype. They do also skew ecto, which is useful in the running competitions they dominate (in the case of West Africans and descendants and certain tribes of Kenyans and Ethiopians). Either way, due to their long limbs and a short torso, they have to travel further with the weight therefore here they suffer and wouldn’t be as strong as people who have a long torso with shorter limbs.
Like East Asians, Europeans have similar morphology—skewing ectomorphic, the somatype that dominates strength competitions. Having a long torso with shorter limbs and more type I than type II fibers, they would then be able to lift more, especially since these competitors keep a high body fat percentage. Again, like with East Asians, there is a biomechanical advantage here and due to their higher levels of body fat and endomorphic somatype along with shorter limbs, they would be able to move more weight on the squat, especially more than African-Americans. Biomechanics is key when it comes to evaluating different groups’ morphology when attempting to see who would be stronger on average.
The deadlift is pretty straightforward: bending down and deadlifting the weight off of the ground. Key anatomic differences between the races dictate who would be better here. East Asians, with shorter limbs and a longer torso the bar has to travel a further path, compared to someone with longer limbs and shorter torso. Though, someone with short limbs and a short torso would also have a biomechanical advantage in pulling, it is nothing like if one has long arms and a short torso.
Here is where they would shine. Their anatomy is perfect for this lift. Since they have longer limbs and a shorter torso, the bar has a shorter path to travel to reach the endpoint of the lift. At the set-up of the lift, they already have a biomechanical advantage and they can generate more power in the lift due to their leverage advantage. The deadlift favors people with a long torso, short femurs, and long arms, and so it would favor African-Americans. (Their long arms off-sets their short torsos, though the bar would still have to travel further, they still would have the ability to move more weight.)
European Americans would have the same biomechanical problems as East Asians, but not as much since they have a taller stature. It is well-known in the world of weightlifting that having shorter, ‘T-rex arms’ impedes strength on the lift, since speaking from an anatomic viewpoint, they are just not built for it. No style of deadlift (the sumo or conventional) suits people with short arms, and so they are already at a biomechanical disadvantage. Relative to African-Americans, European Americans have ‘T-rex arms’ and therefore they would suffer at pulling exercises—deadlift included.
The overhead press is where people with shorter arms would excel. Thus, East Asians would be extremely strong pushers. Say the bar starts at the top of their chest, the path of the bar to the lockout would be shorter than if someone had longer arms. The size of the trapezius muscles also comes into play here, and people with larger trapezius muscles have a stronger press. The East Asians short stature and therefore shorter limbs is perfect for this lift and why they would excel.
African-Americans would suffer at the overhead press for one reason: their long limbs, mainly their arms. The bar has a further path to travel and thus strength would be impeded. Indeed, people not built for pressing have long arms, long torsos, and long legs. Performing the full range of motion, African-Americans would have less strength than East Asians and European Americans.
Again, due to similar morphology as East Asians, they, too, would excel at this lift. Since the lift is completed when the arms lock out, those with shorter arms would be able to move more weight and so what hurts them on the deadlift helps on pressing movements like the overhead press.
Lastly, the bench press. East Asians would excel here as well since they have shorter arms and the bar would have a shorter path to travel. Notice anything with bar movement? That’s a key to see which group would be stronger on average: looking at the average morphology of the races and then thinking about how the lift is performed, you can estimate who would be good at which lift and why. The bench press would favor someone with a shorter stature and arms, and they’d be able to lift more weight. (I personally have long arms compared to my body and my bench press suffers compared to my deadlift.) However, Caruso et al (2012) found that body mass is a more important predictor of who would excel at the bench press. East Asians have a higher body fat percentage, and therefore would be stronger on average in the lift.
Here, too, African-Americans will suffer. Like with the overhead press, the bar has a further path to travel. They also have less body fat on average and that would also have the bar travel more, having the individual put more exertion into the lift compared to someone who had shorter arms. The longer your arms are in a pushing exercise, the further the bar has to travel until lockout. Thus you can see that people with longer arms would suffer in the strength department compared to people with shorter arms, but this is reversed for pulling exercises like the deadlift described above. (There is also a specific longitudinal study on black-white differences in bench press which I will cover in the ‘Objections‘ section.)
Again, like with East Asians due to similar somatype, European Americans, too, would excel at this lift. They are able to generate more pound-for-pound power in the lift. The bar also has a shorter path to travel and since the people who compete in these competitions also have higher levels of body fat, then the bar has less of a distance to travel, thus increasing the amount of force the muscle can generate. Limb size/body mass/somatype predict how races/individuals would do on specific lifts.
One of the main objections that some may have is that one longitudinal study on black and white police officers found that blacks were stronger than whites at the end of the study (Boyce et al, 2014). However, I heavily criticized this paper at the beginning of the year and for good reason: heights of the officers weren’t reported (which is not the fault of the researchers but of an ongoing lawsuit at that department since people complained that they were discriminating against people based on height). The paper is highly flawed, but looking at it on face value someone who does not have the requisite knowledge they would accept the paper’s conclusions at face value. One of the main reasons for my criticism of the paper is that the bench press was tested on a Smith machine, not a barbell bench press. Bench pressing on the Smith machine decreases stability in the biceps brachii (Saterbakken et al, 2011) but there is similar muscle recovery between different bench presses in trained men (Smith, barbell, and dumbbell) (Ferreira et al, 2016). This does not affect my overall critique of Boyce et al (2014) however, since you can move more weight than you would normally be able to, along with the machine being on one plane of motion so everyone has to attempt to get into the same position to do the lift and we know how that is ridiculous due to individual differences in morphology.
Some may point to hand-grip tests, which I have written about in the past, and state that ‘blacks are stronger’ based on hand-grip tests. Just by looking at the raw numbers you’d say that blacks had a stronger grip. However, to get an idea of the strength differences pound-for-pound there is a simple formula: weight lifted/bodyweight=how strong one is pound-for-pound on a certain exercise. So using the values from Araujo et al (2010), for blacks we have a grip strength of 89.826 with an average weight of 193 pounds. Therefore pound-for-pound strength comes out to .456. On the other hand, for Europeans, they had an average grip strength of 88.528 pounds with an average weight of 196 pounds, so their pound-for-pound grip strength is about .452, which, just like African-Americans is almost half of their body weight. One must also keep in mind that these hand-grip studies are done on older populations. I have yet to come across any studies on younger populations that use the big four lifts described in this article and seeing who is stronger, so inferences are all that we have.
Further, Thorpe et al (2016) also show how there is an association between household income and grip-strength—people who live in homes with higher incomes have a stronger grip, with blacks having a stronger grip than whites. Thorpe et al (2016) showed that black women had a stronger grip strength than white women, whereas for black men they only had a stronger grip than white men at the highest SES percentile. This could imply nutrient deficiencies driving down their ability for increases grip strength, which is a viable hypothesis. Although Thorpe et al (2016) showed that black men had a stronger grip strength, these results conflict with Haas, Krueger, and Rohlfson (2012) though the disparities can be explained by the age of both cohorts.
Nevertheless, grip strength—as well as overall strength—is related to a higher life expectancy (Ruiz et al, 2008; Volkalis, Haille, and Meisinger, 2015). If blacks were stronger—and this is being debated with studies like hand-grip—then we should expect to see black men living longer than white men, however, we see the opposite. Black men die earlier than white men, and it just so happens that the diseases that are correlated with strength and mortality are diseases that blacks are more likely to get over whites. One should think about this if they’re entertaining the idea that blacks have an inherent strength advantage over whites.
Others may argue that since chimpanzees have a higher proportion of type II fibers and that’s one reason why they are stronger than us by 1.35 times (O’Neill et al, 2017) and have the ability to rip our faces off. Of course, other factors are at play here other than the chimps’ fast twitch fiber content. Of course, one must also think of the chimpanzee’s way smaller stature when discussing their overall strength. It’s not just their type II fibers, but how much smaller they are which gives them the ability to generate more force pound-for-pound in comparison to humans. So this is a bad example to attempt to show that blacks are stronger than whites based solely on the composition of the muscle fibers.
Finally, back in July I argued that Neanderthals would be stronger than Homo sapiens due to their morphology and a wide waist. This, of course, has implications for strength differences between the races. People with a wider waist would have the ability to generate more power. Blacks have a higher center of gravity due to longer limbs whereas whites and Asians have lower centers of gravity due to a longer torso. Along with climatic conditions, the Neanderthal diet also contributed to their wide waist and thorax, which would then help with strength. Therefore, this has implications for racial differences in strength. We can replace Europeans with Neanderthals and Homo sapiens with Africans and the relationship would still hold. This is yet more proof that blacks are not stronger than whites. This article also contributes to the argument I laid out in my article on how racial differences in muscle fiber typing predict differences in elite sporting competition. Morphology/somatype is the final piece of the puzzle; without the correct morphology, it’d be really hard for someone to become an elite athlete in a certain field if they do not have the correct morphology.
Looking at the big four lifts, the advantage goes to European Americans and East Asians. This is due to their average somatype and morphology. The only lift that Africans would excel at is the deadlift and this is due to their morphology—mainly their long arms. People with longer arms excel at pulling exercises whereas people with shorter arms excel at pushing exercises. Hand-grip strength studies show blacks having a higher grip strength than whites, however in one study if you see who is stronger pound-for-pound, the differences are insignificant. The longitudinal bench press study is highly flawed due to numerous confounds and is therefore unacceptable to assess strength and race. The fact that chimpanzees have a higher proportion of type II fibers compared to humans is also irrelevant. Chimpanzees have a smaller stature and they can, therefore, generate way more power pound-for-pound. Attempting to replace Africans with chimpanzees in this scenario doesn’t make sense because Africans have longer limbs than Europeans and would, therefore, generate less force pound-for-pound. Overall strength is related to mortality; stronger people live longer and have fewer maladies than weaker people. This too lends credence to my argument that whites are stronger than blacks.