Hand-grip strength has been identified as one limiting factor for manual lifting and carrying loads. To obtain epidemiologically relevant hand-grip strength data for pre-employment screening, we determined maximal isometric hand-grip strength in 1,654 healthy men and 533 healthy women aged 20-25 years. Moreover, to assess the potential margins for improvement in hand-grip strength of women by training, we studied 60 highly trained elite female athletes from sports known to require high hand-grip forces (judo, handball). Maximal isometric hand-grip force was recorded over 15 s using a handheld hand-grip ergometer. Biometric parameters included lean body mass (LBM) and hand dimensions. Mean maximal hand-grip strength showed the expected clear difference between men (541 N) and women (329 N). Less expected was the gender related distribution of hand-grip strength: 90% of females produced less force than 95% of males. Though female athletes were significantly stronger (444 N) than their untrained female counterparts, this value corresponded to only the 25th percentile of the male subjects. Hand-grip strength was linearly correlated with LBM. Furthermore, both relative hand-grip strength parameters (F (max)/body weight and F (max)/LBM) did not show any correlation to hand dimensions. The present findings show that the differences in hand-grip strength of men and women are larger than previously reported. An appreciable difference still remains when using lean body mass as reference. The results of female national elite athletes even indicate that the strength level attainable by extremely high training will rarely surpass the 50th percentile of untrained or not specifically trained men.