There are many ways to define strength, but there's something simple and perfect about the classic powerlifting model. Want to know how strong you are? Three lifts, three numbers, one total. You've got an answer.
The only problem? Most PR lifts don't happen at a sanctioned event with a crowd cheering you on. They happen at your local gym after days, months, and years spent pushing yourself, perfecting your form, and slowly but surely bumping up the weight. In this setting, a 195-pound deadlift for one athlete can be as important and satisfying as a 600-pound pull for another.
For this installment of "Strength in Numbers," we highlight America's strongest states! We gathered our BodySpace users' max bench press, deadlift, and squat numbers, and we used the average total on those lifts to rank the strongest states. We've also highlighted some of the top restaurants and fitness events in those states, in case you decide to wander over for an iron throw-down.
WHAT IS STRENGTH IN NUMBERS?
The Strength in Numbers Study is based on data collected from our very own social fitness network, BodySpace. Our findings come from BodySpace members who successfully make progress toward a stated fitness goal, whether it's weight gain or loss. How big is this data pool? There are currently 8,235,583 members signed up for BodySpace!
Now, before you type "I can lift more than that!" in the comments, think twice about what these numbers mean. If the highest average deadlift in a particular state is 223 rather than 443, that is a good thing! It means that a wider range of athletes are seeing the benefit of lifting heavy—whatever that means to them—and in tracking their numbers. It shows a growing recognition that strength is for everyone, not just big dudes with beards. We like to think we have something to do with that.
Congratulations to all of our BodySpace members who have ever been proud enough of their best lift to share it with the world. If you've got a beef with your state not being listed—we're looking at you, Brohio!—go lift something heavy and put it on your profile.
All hail the strong men and women of the Midwest! South Dakota was settled by people who weren't afraid to move some heavy objects in search of gold. Today, their descendants do it in pursuit of strength. The home of the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore wasn't a top performer in any of the three individual lifts, but it cruised to the overall victory by more than 12 pounds. This is a well-rounded state, in addition to being the one with the lowest business cost—25% below the national average. South Dakota's an ideal place to open up shop, especially if that shop's a gym.
Cool Gym: Hurricane Fitness, Rapid City
Hurricane bills itself as "the friendliest gym in Rapid City," but don't take "friendly" to mean "wimpy." The area's largest and best stocked gym has enough heavy toys to keep any aspiring strongman or woman busy, from free weights to sandbags, suspension systems, and plenty of tractor tires for hoisting or bludgeoning. This is farm country, after all!
Cool Restaurant: Parker's Bistro, Sioux Falls
This quaint New American restaurant in the heart of downtown Sioux Falls celebrates all that's organic. The food is made from scratch and local ingredients are the go-to choice whenever possible. Fuel your gains by ordering the fresh fish flown in twice a week. Is meat more your thing? Start out with a small plate of pork belly and conquer your hunger once and for all with the decadent "beef and chops," a dish of grilled tenderloin, tri-colored fingerling potatoes, poached leeks, and foie gras butter.
Cool Fitness Event: King of the Hills Strongman, Spearfish
This isn't your everyday strongman competition—if such a thing exists. The unique strength competition launched by Black Hills State University took place in conjunction with the legendary Sturgis Rally, and it had a distinctive motorcycle theme. Events included "Hauling the Honey," a rope-pull involving a motorcycle trailer loaded with lasses, a tire-stacking competition, an overhead motorcycle frame press, and a strict curl contest with two kegs on either end of a barbell. The finisher: "Hands of Steel," in which participants held a motorcycle engine in each hand for as long as possible. The world needs more events like this!
The force is strong in the American Heartland. With a population of more than 3 million people, Iowa ranks second among the states in our roundup, proving that the "land where the tall corn grows" is strong in more than just farming. Iowa is also consistently listed as one of the safest states to live in. Coincidence? We think not. Watch out for guns.
Big-box gyms are a dime a dozen, but spending hours dawdling on the treadmill or repping out a few sets on a hodgepodge of available machines isn't going to cut it at Spartan Strength's three Iowa branches. With a focus on improved athleticism and well-balanced strength training, the functional group training classes offer separate training days for strength, cardio, and recovery. For people who want to brush up on form, they offer an online database containing everything from cleans to overhead extensions to help you learn by example.
Cool Restaurant: Healthy Choices Dominican Cuisine, Cedar Rapids
If you're keen to pass on the preservatives and five-syllable ingredients, this fused Chinese-Dominican restaurant is your new mealtime calling. A healthy mix of veggies, proteins, and starches are served up in signature bowls so packed with meat that their names are clean-cut and simple, with "steak bowl" and "boneless chicken bowl" leading the pack. Stir-fry is prepared to order, and beef and chicken are grilled, never fried. Looking to add a bit of extra flavor to your dish? All sauces are homemade without artificial flavors, sugar, MSG, or soy sauce.
Cool Fitness Event: The Iowa Games
Strongman-style training is more hip than ever, but as any strongman or woman will tell you, you've got to compete to understand it. The Iowa Games have been going strong since 1987, taking place in the parking lot of Jack Trice Stadium at Iowa State University in the heat of July. This year, the event expands to offer weight classes for women and master's division (40 and over) athletes, so everyone has the opportunity to be tested in classic events like the farmer's walk, tire flip, vehicle pull, and overhead press. It's also an event where children, senior citizens, and weekend athletes can get a taste of the thrill of strongman events.
Tucked in between Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, the mountainous state of West Virginia holds its own against all its larger and more populous neighbors—especially in the bench press, where it placed only behind Montana. Also like Montana, West Virginia's history is indelibly tied to upper-body strength-building industries like coal mining and forestry. However, the men and women of West Virginia also know how to have a good time. With whitewater rafting, fishing, hiking, hunting, and backpacking all accessible throughout the state, you'll get every chance to test the strength you've been building in the gym.
Cool Gym: CrossFit Intense, Fairmont
The explosion of CrossFit boxes nationwide was a boon for states like West Virginia, where serious training facilities have long been hard to come by. And while CrossFit is always intense, CrossFit Intense in Fairmont isn't your run-of-the-mill box. It's got a distinct influence from powerlifting and a focus on strength as the foundation of every fitness endeavor. With its wide-open floor plan and platforms aplenty, it looks both fun and hardcore, and it lives up to its name. "We know that you only live once and believe that quality of life can be found in fitness," the gym says on its site. "Our mission is: make you harder to kill!"
Cool Restaurant: Panorama At The Peak, Berkeley Springs
With a simple mentality of "local first, organic second," Panorama At The Park prides itself on offering the best of West Virginia's bounty. The weekly changing menu offers vegetable options—including vegetarian and vegan—that are heartier than half a head of iceberg and a few croutons. Dishes like chilled local strawberry soup with citrus cream make for a great summer refresher, while "drunken mushrooms"—caps flamed in sherry and cream—offer a decadent meat-like treat. Carnivores can relish the pan-fried trout, classic crab cakes, braised London broil, or veal piccata—all certified humane and organic, and listed alongside the farm the animal came from. There's even an ox tail soup with red wine and a few root vegetables snuck in for good measure.
Cool Fitness Event: West Virginia's Strongest Mountaineer
Last year, the West Virginia State Fair got a whole lot more interesting. For the first time, nestled among the Ferris wheels and livestock barns, the state's best aspiring strongmen—and a few strongwomen—faced off in classic events like the truck pull (in this case, a Hummer), log press, and farmer's carry. Nobody knows what to expect or what events will stand out, but organizer Dan Caraway was most impressed with the competitors' ability to carry a heavy load. "Apparently some of our competitors would make really good farmers," he quipped afterward.
Nebraska is famous for its immense corn-fed beef steaks, and its immense steak-fed football players. Nobody needs to teach these farm boys and girls about the virtues of a high-protein diet! The state got its start as a stopover on the way to California. Nebraska might want to think about changing the tourism slogan from "Where The West Begins" to "Where The Gains Begin."
Cool Gym: The Forged Athlete Gym, Omaha
If you're looking to "live and train aggressively" with a program that optimizes not only strength but also stamina, flexibility, and speed, the Forged Athlete fits the bill. Personalized programming is the foundation of its approach, and each small group class is coached by a certified strength and conditioning coach. Nothing is off limits with this brand of training that incorporates everything from strongman to CrossFit-style met-con, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, and gymnastics. This diverse training lineup draws a diverse—and intense—crowd which includes everyone from firefighters and police officers to military personnel, MMA fighters, and serious weekend warriors. You'll forge friendships while you earn your results.
Cool Restaurant: Kitchen Table, Omaha
The recipe for Kitchen Table's success is pretty simple: real food made from scratch using local ingredients. With its ever-changing "dinners of the week," this is one table that's built to satisfy everyone's palate. Looking for more of a nibble? Spring for the deviled eggs, kale salad, or cheese plate. A place where local creativity stays affordable—with most dishes ringing up at less than $10 a plate—it's not surprising that this "slow food fast" lunch and dinner dining spot has been ranked one of the Midwest's best new restaurants.
Cool Fitness Event: Wings Of Strength
One of the Midwest's premiere physique competitions, this IFBB/NCP competition offers bodybuilding, men's and women physique, and women's figure, fitness, and bikini competitors the chance to qualify for national competition and brush elbows with the greats. Reigning Mr. Olympia Phil Heath will perform a guest routine this year to show them the limits of what's possible in their sport.
Your first association with Louisiana might be Mardi Gras, but this state has plenty more to offer than jazz and king cakes. Louisiana straight-up owned the squat, with an average more than 20 pounds higher than most of the other states in the top 10. BodySpace members who call the Bayou home averaged just less than 224 pounds, showing that for some of us, "down south" means going below parallel.
Cool Gym: Dakmak Performance, Baton Rouge
Some of the greatest strengthening facilities in the south belong to big universities like LSU—it's no surprise in this state where football is king. But the rest of us have options, too. If you're looking to find a foothold in strength or push to the elite level, Dakmak Performance is the place to go. In this simple strength destination, training is built around inarguable classics like the deadlift, sled push, clean and jerk, and bench press. Hard work is a must, but clients regularly build the type of strength they previously considered unimaginable.
Cool Restaurant: The Whole Wheat Eatery
Located near the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, this cafe has been serving southern-style comfort food the right way since 1973. It's also the college town's premiere nutritional resource, offering a range of supplements, healthy prepared foods, and wisdom to whoever needs it.
Cool Fitness Activity: Fit for Life Sports Weekend, Shreveport
Robert "Super-Mann" Blount is best-known outside of Louisiana as the trainer who oversaw Lee Haney through his eight Mr. Olympia titles. However, in his home town of Shreveport, he's also the man behind an annual celebration of strength and fitness called the "Fit for Life Weekend." The centerpiece of the festivities is the IFBB/NPC competition the Optimum Classic, but like the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, bodybuilding barely scratches the surface of this event. There's also a strongman competition, arm wrestling, a wide range of team sports, and lots of opportunities for kids to learn about why it's well worth the trouble to live a fit life.
Jagged coastlines, rolling mountains, and lush forests make Maine an outdoorsman's dream. But there's impressive stuff happening indoors, too, particularly when it comes to people picking up heavy stuff off the ground. The Pine Tree State ranked second in the deadlift, beaten only by its neighbor Vermont. Just as importantly, this popular vacation destination doesn't cave to the junk food cravings of weekenders. On the contrary, it leads the way in farmers' markets and has been ranked one of the easiest states in which to eat locally sourced food. What better way to fuel growing bodies than with hearty, home-cooked meals?
Cool Gym: World Gym, Portland
It may sound Globo, but it's far from it. This full-service gym caters to every walk of fitness life. Spin and group exercise are offered up alongside power racks and platforms, boxing equipment, and battle ropes. Unlike most machine-crowded gyms, this is a wide-open, brightly colored layout that feels like an elite facility for the rest of us. You can work on your own, or tap into the wisdom of the certified personal trainers offering classes which run the gamut.
Cool Restaurant: Local Sprouts Cooperative, Portland
Eat seasonal, local food year-round for all three square meals at this community gathering place and "bomb diggity bakery" in Portland. The food is so fresh, you can view the list of local farms where your food was sourced. Dishes influenced by home cooking, a range of cultures, and simple creativity cater to everyone from vegetarians to carnivores, plus whatever other dietary priority drives you. Dive into a grass-fed beef burger or chicken barbecue sandwich, or order up a tofu scramble and eat it on the couch. A display of rotating art on the walls and local music onstage mean you'll never be bored.
Cool Fitness Event: Central Maine Strongman
The 2012 Central Maine Strongman made news for having four women among the 38 participants. Two years later, this annual even in the capital city of Augusta shows no sign of slowing down, as competitors—both men and women—push through events like the yoke press, a yoke, sandbag, and keg carry, max log clean. Head down to the armory and see what you're made of!
North Carolina's capital city of Raleigh makes regular appearances on "fittest city" lists put out by the likes of "Time Magazine" and the American Fitness Index Report, so it's no surprise that it also ranks high in strength. Affordable health care and a low cost of living have helped power a population spike of people who know their way around a weight room. With nearly 9.3 million people, North Carolina ranks 10th in U.S. population and has experienced a growth rate twice the national average. This is one place where "strength in numbers" holds true.
Cool Gym: The Iron Pit, Morrisville
Dubbed "the hardcore gym," this strength training facility passes on stationary bikes and aerobic classes and instead focuses on heavy dumbbells, power cages, chains, and prowlers. Their goal: to build bigger, stronger, faster athletes. Typical members see a loss of 4 percent body fat, a gain of 10 pounds of muscle, and a weight increase of 15% on the bench press and 25% on the squat in a 3-month time period. The Iron Pit is a hardcore performance training facility built for people who aren't afraid to shed sweat and a little blood on their path to strength.
Cool Restaurant: Black Sea Grill, Wilmington
Nestled in the heart of historic downtown Wilmington, this family-owned-and-operated restaurant offers Mediterranean cuisine in a casual atmosphere. Open for the lunch and dinner crowd, it serves everything from classic meat kebabs and falafel to eggplant and—as its name suggests—plenty of seafood. Unlike many other eateries, though, Black Sea Grill cooks clean. Fish come char-grilled and, instead of making their way to your plate after a dip in the fryer basket, the falafel and eggplant are lightly pan fried.
Cool Fitness Event: The Ninja Challenge
The what? That's right, this unique 5k takes the obstacle course template to its logical extreme, demanding that participants, climb, leap, and—of course—throw a few stars along the way. Wondering how to prepare? "We recommend the usual ninja workouts: one-finger handstand push-ups, building leaps, and vanishing in a cloud of smoke," says the event website. If those aren't in your wheelhouse just yet, they also offer workouts on their Facebook page.
The home of Glacier and part of Yellowstone National Park, Montana's is the land of big sky, big monuments, and big lifts. It's the largest state on this list by a long shot, and the one with the lowest population density. This means ample room for outdoor activities like mountain biking, climbing, and skiing. It also means it can be hard to find a spotter, but Montana's BodySpace members still managed to hit enough of their bench press goals to score the highest average bench press on this list, at 168.4 pounds.
This grassroots training facility prides itself on giving people from all walks of life a place to reach their athletic potential. With years of personal training under his belt, owner Michael Scialabba—who now serves as strength and conditioning coach for the Missoula Maulers hockey team—opened the gym in 2009. The facility is home to a 3,200-sq. ft. turf arena, a 3,000 sq. ft. free weight training room, a 1,000 sq. ft. stretch and recovery floor, and all the battle ropes, sleds, slide boards, kettlebells, tires, Airdynes, and rowers your lungs and legs can handle.
Cool Restaurant: Red Bird Restaurant, Missoula
Located in the historic art deco-styled Florence hotel in downtown Missoula, the Red Bird serves sustainably grown fresh foods from a constantly changing menu. It's the epitome of community first. As an active member of the Western Montana Growers Cooperative, it prioritizes naturally grown meats and vegetables while supporting local farmers. All animals are locally raised and purchased whole, with butchering done in-house. Dishes like pan-seared duck breast with mushrooms and winter squash, seared scallops, and grilled beef tenderloin allow you to treat yourself to a hearty meal and feel great about it.
Cool Fitness Event: Bitterroots Celtic Games And Gathering
Part of the Bitterroot Scottish Irish Festival in the mountain town of Hamilton, this classic event never fails to deliver amazing displays of strength in the caber toss, stone put, and Scottish hammer throw. Look on as men and women demonstrate kilt-clad feats of strength alongside pipe and drum competitions, dance competitions, and plenty of good food and musical entertainment.
Vermont is the smallest and least populated state among our Strongest States list, but that doesn't stand in its way when it comes to pulling big numbers. The Green State topped the charts in deadlift at an average of 241.8 pounds, more than 20 pounds over the nearest competitor. Nice pull! The strength-minded among us believe this more than compensates for its last-place (among all 50 states, in fact) finish in the bench press. Get that bench up, Burlingtonians, and you could run away with this event!
Cool Gym: Fair Haven Fitness, Fair Haven
Fair Haven Fitness has the best of both worlds: a rugged backyard filled with tires, kegs, and a wood pile (seriously!) to an inside area with standard weight machines, rings, and bars. In addition to offering boot camps, this gym specializes in obstacle course and strongman/strongwomen training. And they're not just talk. Fair Haven Fitness hosts more than six powerlifting competitions each year.
Cool Restaurant: SoLo Farm And Table, South Londonderry
Before opening up SoLo Farm and Table, chef Wesley Genovart earned plenty of accolades from his work in New York restaurants, notably the acclaimed Degustation Restaurant. He's taken that winning taste profile to SoLo Farm And Table, which he runs with his wife. Together, they serve up food that imparts Mediterranean flare using local Vermont ingredients. The menu features appetizers like beef tartare and chicken liver mousse alongside fresh greens and (of course) cheeses. Plus, his entrees just sound delicious when you say them out loud. Try this one: "Wannabea farm rabbit in crepinette: Preserved lemon-parsnip puree, morel mushrooms, fresh garbanzo beans and rabbit tortellini with house-made sobresada mallorquina." Yes, please!
Cool Fitness Event: The Vermonster Challenge
Among the dessert-inclined, the term "Vermonster Challenge" refers to an annual event put on by Ben and Jerry's in which teams of four race to finish bowls containing (deep breath) 20 scoops of ice cream, 4 bananas, hot fudge, cookies, brownies, 10 scoops of walnuts, double-servings of four toppings and whipped cream. If that sounds cruel and unusual, consider the CrossFit competition of the same name put on by Green Mountain CrossFit in Berlin. It features an extra-mean version of the already legendary "Bear Complex" which uses a heavy axle bar instead of an Olympic barbell. Exactly one minute later, competitors perform a deadlift "race" to 6,000 pounds for women and 10,000 pounds for men. The name of this awful gauntlet? The "Dead bear."
Indiana is a state that loves its sports. In the Hoosier state basketball is king, auto racing rules the road, and the Colts are always worth the price of admission. But just because they stay up on spectator sports doesn't mean the state's residents are afraid to embrace their own athletic potential. Indianans can pull, bench, and squat with the best of them, and they're not afraid to post about it either; more than 1,200 of them posted their totals on BodySpace for us to use.
Continuously named one of the top gyms in the country, IFAST steps away from the one-stop-shop gyms and reintroduces the one-on-one approach. Co-owner and regular Bodybuilding.com contributor Mike Robertson, the brain behind the Built By Science daily trainer, is one of the nation's premier performance coaches. Co-owner Bill Hartman is a physical therapist with a prestigious athletic background and several books to his name. By connecting with clients in a more meaningful way, the two have created an environment which fosters real progress. Their elite setup includes equipment ranging from prowlers and platforms, to dragging sleds, free weights, kettlebells, and plenty more.
Cool Restaurant: R Bistro, Indianapolis
Chef Regina Mehallick knows all about cooking with local and seasonal ingredients, having authored a cookbook titled "Regina's Seasonal Table." She knows fine dining just as well, as a five-time James Beard award semi-finalist. For the last dozen years, R Bistro has been where this Indiana food icon calls home, and it's always worth a visit to see what's striking her fancy on the weekly menu. The menu is a quilt of global and cultural influences, with the unifying themes of quality, decadence, and local sourcing.
Cool Fitness Event: "Strength In Our Streets" CrossFit Challenge, Indianapolis
In this novel new WOD-turned-fundraiser, 10-person teams of 5 men and 5 women push each other to greatness using all manner of unique implements like those used in the CrossFit games. In addition to being a grueling workout, it's a great way to give back. A $75 donation fee goes to benefit Outreach and Wheeler Mission Ministries—which help serve homeless men, women, and children in Indiana.
Are The Numbers Right?
The Strength In Numbers study includes data from BodySpace, so if you don't track your stats online, the world will never know! Think your state should have been the strongest? Tell us why in the comments below.