A preliminary study published in the Journal of Health Psychology suggests there is a link between strength and self-esteem.
“This is the first study to directly identify an association between maximal muscular strength and global self-esteem,” wrote Joseph T. Ciccolo of Columbia University and his colleagues.
The study examined 95 men and 31 women enrolled in a weight training physical education class at a university in the southwestern United States.
The researchers found that muscular strength was positively associated with greater self-esteem in the male participants, but not the female participants. Stronger men were more likely to agree with statements such as “I feel that I have a number of good qualities.”
Muscular strength was assessed with a Jamar hand dynamometer and a one-repetition-maximum squat.
“Given that all of the participants in this study were enrolled in a weight training physical education course, it is likely that they all valued muscular strength to some degree; however, the magnitude to which it was connected to their self-esteem or other feelings of self-acceptance, self-worth, and self-respect appears to have been different for men and women,” Ciccolo and his colleagues noted.
The researchers said the difference between men and women could possibly be explained by cultural norms.
“For example, media outlets have continued to use men who are more muscular, idealizing the ‘perfect’ physique,” they explained. “Moreover, the media’s portrayal of the ideal female physique has changed over time to resemble a figure that is very lean. This is dramatically different than the muscular figure pursued by men.”
However, it is also possible that the researchers failed to find a link between strength and self-esteem in women because their study lacked female participants. “There were 31 women in this study, and it may have been underpowered to detect a meaningful relationship between muscular strength and self-esteem,” Ciccolo and his colleagues wrote.