A question that comes up with some frequency on forums and message boards, usually from newbie lifters is along the lines of “What is my maximum muscular potential?” Invariably this leads to a repetitive and pointless argument between those who believe that there are genetic limits to such things as muscular gains and athletic performance and those who believe that anything can be accomplished if you just try hard enough or have the right work ethic.
Now, it should go without saying that nobody can really say upfront what someones genetic potential actually is. Until we live in the world of Gattaca where we can do a full genetic scan and know what it means, nobody can say ahead of time what someone can or can’t achieve. Well, not unless you look at some pretty ludicrous extremes (you’re not going to see someone at 400 pounds ripped any time soon for example).
And, of course, worrying about such things before you even start training is sort of missing the point in my opinion. At a fundamental level, trainees should train and eat properly and let the cards fall where they may. Worrying abut what you might or might not accomplish is putting the cart far before the horse. But that’s another topic for another day. And, of course, doesn’t really answer the question in the title of this article.
I’d note that while I do believe trainees should simply get into proper training and not worry up front what they may or may not accomplish, I also believe that there are genetic limits set by underlying biology (again, modulated by behavioral choices and patterns). That’s just reality and recognizing them can save people from a lot of mental anguish about what they think they should be able to or could be able to accomplish if they just worked hard enough.
Which is a long way of introducing the topic of today’s article, what is the maximum amount of muscle that someone can gain over a career of proper lifting and nutrition. I’m going to look at it from a few different perspectives but I think you’ll find that, on average, they all end up with pretty similar results.
I’d note that most of what I’m going to talk about applies to male lifters, data on females being much more difficult to come by. Just realize that the average female potential for muscle mass gains is even lower than that in males.
The McDonald Model
I’m not sure if I came up with this idea on my own or stole it from somewhere else (probably a combination of the two) but, in a slightly different context (how quickly can someone gain muscle), I have often thrown out the following values for rates of muscle gain.
Again, these values are for males, females would use roughly half of those values (e.g. 10-12 pounds in the first year of proper training).
Please note that these are averages and make a few assumptions about proper training and nutrition and such. As well, age will interact with this; older individuals won’t gain as quickly and younger individuals may gain more quickly. For example, it’s not unheard of for underweight high school kids to gain muscle very rapidly. But they are usually starting out very underweight and have the natural anabolic steroid cycle called puberty working for them.
Year of training also refers to proper years of training. Someone who has been training poorly for 4 years and gained squat for muscle gains may still have roughly the Year 1 potential when they start training properly.
Now, if you total up those values, you get a gain of roughly 40-50 pounds of total muscle mass over a lifting career although it might take a solid 4+ years of proper training to achieve that. So if you started with 130 pound of lean body mass (say in high school you were 150 pounds with 12% body fat), you might have the potential to reach a level of 170-180 pounds of lean body mass after 4-5 years of proper training. At 12% body fat, that would put you at a weight of 190-200 pounds.
Again, that’s a rough average, you might find some who gain a bit more and some who gain a bit less. And there will be other factors that impact on the above numbers (e.g. age, hormones, etc.).
The Alan Aragon Model
In discussing this topic with Alan Aragon, who’s book Girth Control should be read by anyone interested in this topic. In his monthly Research Review, he addressed the issue of rates of muscle gain a bit differently although the results end up being pretty similar. He has found that that the following rates of muscle gain are roughly achievable for natural lifters. Note that this ignores things like creatine loading or temporary glycogen supercompensation which can cause rapid changes in ‘lean body mass’ but don’t represent actual skeletal muscle tissue.
So a 150 pound beginner might be able to gain 1.5-2.25 pounds of muscle per month (18-27 pounds per year). After a year, he’s now an intermediate at 170 pounds and might be capable of gaining 0.85-1.7 lbs per month (10-20 pounds per year; I’d consider 20 lbs. an exceptional gain). After another year, he’s an advanced lifter at 180 and might only gain 0.5-1 lb per month (a true 1 lb/month gain in muscle mass for an advanced athlete would be pretty rare).
So he might top out at 190-200 pounds or thereabouts after another year or two of training, at 10% body fat, he’d have 170-180 pounds of lean body mass. Pretty much identical to my model even if we got there by a slightly different path.
Casey Butt’s Frame Size Model
Of course, both my and Alan’s model for maximum muscle growth are pretty simplified and don’t take into account some of the other factors that can go into determining maximum muscular potential. One that has been argued to impact on overall size and strength gain potential is frame size, usually assessed by wrist and/or ankle size (or other measurements).
Natural bodybuilder and all-around smart guy Casey Butt has done an exhaustive analysis of top level natural bodybuilders and developed a calculator that will predict maximum muscular potential based on height, ankle and wrist size along with goal body fat percentage. He’s also written an extensive, math heavy book showing how he came up with his model. You can find it here.
Casey Butt’s Maximum Muscular Potential Calculator
I’ve run a lifter of different heights with a 7″ wrist and 8.75″ ankle through the calculator to show his predicted body weights (at 10% body fat) and lean body mass.
Of course, variations in ankle and wrist will change the numbers but you can go plug in your own numbers. I’d note that Casey’s calculations end up being a bit more conservative than mine or Alan’s but they are all at least within shooting distance of one another. You’d need to be towards the taller end of things to reach the highest levels suggested by my or Alan’s method.
And while some might argue that frame size has nothing to do with this, there is research to support the idea (I’d mention again that Caseys analysis is based on examination of real-world bodybuilders, arguably the group that you’d expect to surpass any supposed limits if it were possible).
At least one study showed that light framed individuals gained less muscle mass compared to heavier framed individuals on the same training program and, at a more basic level, hormones such as testosterone/etc. impact on things like bone growth and frame size. So there is a biologically potential link between frame size and hormone levels that would contribute to trainability and ultimate gains in muscle mass.
It’s also no accident that top strength athletes typically have large frames and robust joints (or that those with relatively smaller frames tend to be drawn/succeed in endurance sports). Some of this is simply so they can handle the level of training needed to succeed at their sport; but some of it is probably indicative of overall hormonal status as well.
Martin Berkhan’s Model
Martin Berkhan of Leangains.com has a somewhat simpler model than Casey’s, also based on his observation of top level natural bodybuilding competitors who are contest lean (e.g. 4-5% body fat).
His equation is:
Height in centimeters – 100 = upper limit of weight in kilograms in contest shape.
So take your height in inches and multiply by 2.54, that’s your height in centimeters. Subtract 100 and that’s your predicted maximum weight in contest shape (which is 5% body fat or less for males) in kilograms. Multiply that value by 2.2 to get pounds. So let’s look at body weight at 10% body fat using the same heights I used for Casey’s calculator. I’ve also calculated out lean body mass at 10% body fat.
While not identical, these values are certainly right in line with Casey’s calculator. I would note that contest lean bodybuilders are often highly dehydrated and may be glycogen depleted and this will tend to lower the measurement of lean body mass. We might realistically add 5-10 pounds of lean body mass to the above values to account for dehydration/etc. With that adjustment, they are more or less identical to Casey’s values.
A Final Reality Check
As I noted in the introduction, a lot of lifters get fairly angry or upset over the above types of estimations, assuming that they don’t take into account individual differences in motivation, work ethic, etc. To that I say nonsense.
Both Casey and Martin’s equations are based on top level natural bodybuilders, the group that you’d expect to surpass such limits if they existed (and who’s dedication and work ethic is pretty hard to question). Mine and Alan’s are based on years of experience in the field. If a massive number of exceptions to the above existed, someone would have seen them by now.
Now I think part of this has to do with exceedingly skewed ideas about what’s achievable, a problem driven by pro-bodybuilding. After seeing a pro-bodybuilder stepping on stage at 260 pounds or more and shredded, the idea that a natural may top out at 180-190 pounds of lean body mass (if that) can be disheartening.
Of course, to the general public, an individual at a lean 180-190 pounds is still pretty enormous. It’s just that compared to the absurd size of a pro bodybuilder, it seems absolutely tiny. But it is reality.
People forget that Arnold Schwarzenegger competed at perhaps 230 pounds (assuming 5% body fat, that’s only 220 pounds of lean body mass) and that was with (admittedly low doses) of anabolic steroids in the mixture.
The simple real-world fact, which can be verified by going to any natural bodybuilding show is that you simply don’t see naturals coming into contest shape much above 200 pounds (the exceptions can usually be counted on one hand) and few even achieve that level of size. It’s always the lighter classes (e.g. 165 lb class) that have the most competitors at natural shows with fewer and fewer coming in at the heavier weights, especially in contest shape.
Now, some guys on stage may weigh more than 200 pounds but they usually aren’t lean enough. At even 10% body fat, a guy at 220 pounds only has 200 pounds of lean body mass. By the time you got him contest lean, he’d likely come in with less than that.
Even when people point to large natural strength athletes who might be 270-280 lbs. natural, by the time you figure in 28-30% body fat, that still puts them right back at a maximum lean body mass of 189-196 lbs. Certainly near the higher end of things but not by that much.
And while many will argue that improvements in training methods and nutrition should change the above values, that simply doesn’t seem to be the case. Human genetics have not changed and you still don’t see natural bodybuilders or other athletes coming in with more lean body mass than would be predicted by the above models. They might get there a bit faster but the overall size of natural bodybuilders doesn’t seem to have changed much, if at all, in decades.
As you set forth on your weight loss workout program, one thing that you’ll want to think about is what the most effective exercises are to be adding into your program. Far too many people spend hours in the gym performing movements that really aren’t going to deliver them the results they’re after and then [...]
1) You must eat every 2.5 to 3 hours or you will fail to build muscle and/or lose muscle. 2) You must use a training split; full body workouts are inferior. 3) Your can’t handle more than 30 grams of protein at one sitting. The rest goes to waste. 4) Eating fat makes you fat. [...]
The World Bodybuilding & Fitness Federation is one of the fastest growing organizations. The company’s owner Paul Dillet makes it clear that only “the best of the best” compete with his organization. This sounds like a gimmick, but it’s easy to see why competitors are crossing over from the NPC/IFBB to the WBFF, since the [...]
When swelling or irritation occurs on a tendon, for sure you got tendinitis. Soreness or tenderness usually takes place around the shoulders, elbows and knees resulting to excessive use, as in sports injury. Correspondingly, swelling of these areas are named as rotator cuff tendinitis (thrower’s shoulders), patellar tendinitis (jumper’s knee), and elbow lateral epicondylitis (Tennis’ [...]
12 Mistakes You’re Making In The Gym Not Bringing Your Music I could go into detail on this one but do us all a favor and make sure you bring your best jams. Most people with bubbly personalities or to many friends in the gym tend to talk to much. That means not only are [...]
- gyms in
- Steve Cantwell
- Chris Morecraft
- build muscle
- jay cutler 2011
- Drew Barrymore Workout
- fitness studio
- workout routines
- phil heath dvd
- Benson Henderson
- Ryan Phoolippe Diet
- Chad Griggs
- Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
- Anne Hathaway Workout
- Aaron Rosa
- Bryan Caraway
- workout routine
- misc bodybuilding
- George Roop
- Matthew Riddle
- Shane Carwin
- John_Olav Einemo
- Fabio Maldonado
- phil heath
- Sean Loffler
- Christina Aguilera Workout
- phil heath workout
- Orlando Bloom Workout
- bodybuilding dvd
- Sean Pierson
- Mangnus Cedenblad
- Mauricio Rua
- Renee Zellweger Workout
Do I have to use supplements while weight training?
While you don’t need to take weight training supplements to see progress, the right supplements can definitely help. Weight tra...
What is the recommended carbs intake per day?
There are two answers. One answer is for those who wish to lose weight and one answer is for those who do not wish to lose weight....
What do I take after I work out?
What to take after you work out! What is the best supplement to take post workout? What makes the most difference in recovery? Wha...
What type of exercises can I do while at work?
Yes, there are many exercises that you can do at work. For cardiovascular workouts you can try taking short walking breaks or clim...
Can I buy Creatine at a Vitamin Shop?
When shopping for supplements or vitamins to help you in your fitness lifestyle, it is essential that you only purchase that from ...
Discover how everyday herbs can boost your health as well as your diet.ThymeThe leaves of this Mediterranean herb are tiny, but th...
Abs Diet Online
The Abs Diet Online program is rated 4/5 Abs Diet Online Review:BackgroundCreated by the editor of Men's Health Magazine, this is...
Vitiligo skin disorder treating
The skin is prone to many different types of ailments. One such condition is the appearance of white spots on the skin. This can o...
Maca-Clayton’s Health Facts
What is maca?Peruvian Maca Root is a root vegetable that has grown wild high in the Andes mountain ranges of Peru for thousands of...
Interview With Model Micah LaCerte
What is your athletic background, how did you get involved with fitness and modeling, and what do you love most and least about it...