Why Are Fat People Strong?


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If you’ve ever been to a powerlifting competition or watched the World’s Strongest Man on TV you’ve probably noticed that the most powerful athletes in these competitions are all big…and I don’t mean they have large biceps, I mean many of these guys look downright fat!

Outside of the professional world, many folks have seen what they find to be surprising feats from strength from fat folks. Whether that’s in the gym or just around the house, fat people can show some impressive strength.

So what’s going on here? Why are some fat people so strong?

There can be several reasons to explain why fat people are so strong. When it comes to lifting weights, fat people often have better leverages and when it comes to day-to-day strength intramuscular fat and basic physics explain why fat people after often strong. 

Of course, there can be many explanations for why fat people are strong. We’re going to look at 6 of them but keep in mind that not every reason will apply to every strong fat person you meet.

Defining Strength

Before we look at the reasons, let’s make sure we’re on the same page with what strength really is.

When it comes to the gym, defining strength is pretty simple and it just comes down to how much you can lift.

But strength also comes up in day-to-day life. Whether that’s moving heavy furniture around the house or just carrying an extra couple of bags of groceries strength is everywhere.

The reasons below can apply to multiple situations but some will make more sense for one or the other. Just keep this in mind as you read.

Are Fat People Always Stronger?

Absolutely not!

There are plenty of fat folks that would struggle to lift a 10-pound dumbbell over their head. In fact, there might be more of those folks than the super-strong fat folks like
Kyriakos Grizzly at the top of this page.

But there are also skinny folks who couldn’t lift 10 pounds over their head just as there are strong skinny guys too.

In other words, strength isn’t always a fat or skinny question but instead a fitness question. Fat folks can be fit and we covered this in detail when we explained why some police officers are quite fat.

So this list isn’t as much an explanation of why fat people are stronger but why many of them are stronger than you might think at first.

Reason 1: Being Fat Can Provide A More Favorable Range of Motion

I’ve been in the world of competitive powerlifting for more than a decade and I can tell you that it’s a widely accepted fact that being fat makes you stronger.

One of my favorite phrases is simple “Weight moves weight” and it’s a phrase I’ve heard dozens of times across dozens of gyms.

But is this just an excuse for a fat guy to be fat or is there truth to this?

When it comes to powerlifting, you really can use your weight to get better leverage and better positions overall.

For example, when it comes to squatting, a big belly will almost “rest” on the thighs and a skilled can lifter can push off their own stomach. Pay attention to the bottom position on one of the best squatters of all time, Ray Williams, to see what mean.

Notice how his big belly and thighs all come together at the bottom which is also the most difficult portion of the lift.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be freaky strong and super lean but having some extra body fat does help in several lifts.

I’ve always been a strong deadlifter having successfully lifted 655 pounds. Part of my technique involves pushing my gut into my thighs before starting the lift. After I lost a significant amount of weight, I had to relearn my technique. I still had a gut, but it wasn’t nearly as large which meant my positioning had changed…and so did the maximum weight I could lift.

However, it’s not just exercises involving your legs where being fat can help.

When it comes to the bench press, a fat person will have a more stable base as they’re wider overall. If you’re working from a more stable base, you can usually lift more.

On top of that, a bigger belly and fatter chest will also decrease the range of motion on a proper bench press.

It’s going to vary between different types of exercises but as a general rule, being fat can have several advantages in the weight room.

Reason 2: Being Fat Means You’re Always Carrying Extra Weight

A lot of folks wonder if fat people are stronger because they’re constantly carrying around extra weight. The idea is that they can develop muscle from constantly carrying around an extra load, even if it is a relatively low amount.

While I’m not a certified professional here, I am a certified fat guy and this idea does make some sense.

If you weigh 350 pounds, you’re obviously going to be carrying around more weight on a day-to-day basis compared to someone that weighs only 135 pounds. While this isn’t going to make as big of an impact as regular strength training, it’s still going to improve your ability to carry move weight.

Still, carrying extra fat may not make much difference when it comes to a lift like the squat, since you still need to move your weight plus the additional weight, but when fat folks use certain machines they may see a baseline strength that’s higher than skinny folks with the same amount of training.

For example, consider someone that weighs 350 pounds getting into a leg press which is almost entirely about moving the weight that’s loaded. Compare that to someone who weighs 135 pounds doing the same movement.

If both people are untrained or haven’t done any strength training in the past, it wouldn’t be a shock to find out that the fat guy is able to move more weight. After all, he’s always moving more weight.

Reason 3: Strength Can Be Relative

This is a big one, especially when we start considering strength outside of the weight room.

Once again, imagine a 135-pound person and a 350-pound person.

Now imagine that both are asked to carry a 100-pound sandbag over their shoulder.

For the 135-pound person, that’s a whopping 74% of their body weight compared to only 28.5% body weight for the fat person.

That can make a big difference not only when it comes to the ability of the muscles but also the nervous system. Your nervous system is an important part of the lifting process and having there’s a big difference in the demand on the central nervous system between living around 30% of your body weight and around 75% of your body weight.

This explains why as a tall, fat kid I was able to throw my friends around and put them over my shoulder. Or even carry them on my shoulders in some cases. They certainly couldn’t do the same to me and not for each other either.

Again, this is probably one of the most common answers to the strong fat guy questions since most people are probably considering outside the gym scenarios.

Reason 4: Newton’s Second Law Of Motion

Don’t let the headline scare you, you’re aren’t being forced to take physics class to understand why fat folks are strong!

Newton’s Second Law of Motion explains that force (measured in joules) is equal to mass times acceleration.

That means we can generate more force if we increase either mass (in this case weight) or acceleration.

If that still isn’t clicking consider the difference between getting hit by a nerf dart that’s moving 20 miles an hour and a double-decker bus that’s moving 20 miles an hour.

Sure, that nerf dart could hurt but you might not even survive the double-decker bus.

You already knew this intuitively but Newton’s Second Law of Motion gives us a way to explain this.

You’ll see this come up in athletics all the time. Consider the offensive line on a football team. You won’t see any skinny guys there. Not only does being fat help these guys take up more space and block defenders but that extra fat also helps them produce more force which makes them better on the line.

You’ll also see this in combat sports where commentators will discuss which athlete is the pound for pound best and that’s also one reason why these sports have weight divisions. A bigger and fatter opponent can produce more force thanks to more mass. If they’re also muscular they can produce even more force thanks to increased acceleration in addition to extra mass.

Reason 5: Intramuscular Fat Makes Muscles Stronger

While the last reason was on the edge of science, this next explanation really dives deep into the anatomy of a fat person.

It’s easy to think about tissues as either being fat or muscle. In other words, all of one thing or all of another.

But when we explained why fat people float, we also explored why this just isn’t true.

However, this idea gets even more complicated when you consider that fat can develop within muscle tissue. So your bicep isn’t pure muscle and depending on a wide range of factors there could be what scientists call intramuscular adipose tissue.

In other words, fat folks have fat mixed in with their muscle!

Think about the last time you looked closely at a steak or a similar cut of meat. It wasn’t just all muscle tissue, right?

Instead, there were pockets of fat that give the cut what’s called marbling. This is generally considered a good thing when it comes to taste but it also serves as a perfect illustration of intramuscular fat tissue. Just like that piece of steak, people may have intramuscular fat and fat folks may have even more.

This extra fat increases the size of the muscle and bigger muscles have been shown to produce more force.

That’s not the only benefit though.

Extra intramuscular fat can change the position of muscle fibers and actually create a more advantageous position for muscles.

Just like we wouldn’t recommend getting fat to improve your singing, I wouldn’t recommend getting fat for the sole reason of getting stronger but if you’re already fat it could help explain your extra advantage.

Reason 6: More Food Means More Muscle

Let’s consider fat guys who are already strength training.

Lifting weights can make you stronger but you still need to fuel your body in order to develop muscle. If a skinny guy is lifting heavy weight but not eating much then he’s unlikely to develop significant muscle. While a fat guy that’s lifting heavy and eating plenty will develop muscle and fat.

However, it’s going to be much easier to see the fat and not the muscle but these guys are still strong.

So given the same weight lifting program, but very different diets, usually the person who eats more will lift more.

Closing Thoughts

Yes, in many cases, fat people are stronger.

There’s plenty of scientific evidence to explain why but there’s one last aspect to consider and that’s the idea that you’re simply more likely to remember a strong fat person than you are to remember a strong muscular person.

If you see a bodybuilder lifting heavy weight, you wouldn’t think twice.

But if you see a fat guy that appears to be out of shape lifting the same weight then suddenly your brain takes note and it’s something you’re more likely to remember.

Still, that doesn’t mean fat folks aren’t strong but regular people will be quick to take note!

What do you think? Have you met some fat folks that are darn strong or maybe you’re a strong fat person you’re self?

Either way, it’s just another way to live life big!

Camila R.

Camila is a body positive blogger and fat activist that's focused on helping people of all sizes live life big! That means accepting yourself at any size and just enjoying life! She lives in New Mexico with her husband and two chihauhuas.

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