Article last updated: March 2019 by Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer
To get an idea of how big you can get naturally, I like to use Martin Berkhan’s simple formula:
- Maximum bodyweight at a shredded 5-6% bodyfat = Your height in centimeters – 100
So, a guy that is 6”2 (188 centimeters) can weigh a shredded 88 kg (193.6 lbs) after several years of consistent training.
Berkhan’s formula is derived from observations of natural bodybuilders who have been training consistently for years and who are VERY close to their natural limit.
It is important to keep in mind that his observations are of people that are shredded; visible rock hard abs, striatons on shoulders and veins all over their body.
Also, the formula has several limitations, where the most important one is outlined below:
The formula assumes average genetics. A minority of the population falls into the category of “non-responders” to resistance training and might not ever reach the same maximum muscularity as the rest of the population no matter what they do. Along the same lines, there are high-responders that might possibly exceed the formula. However, in my experience, high-responders simply gain muscle mass faster than someone of average genetics; the cap for maximum muscular potential (height – 100) does not seem to be raised by much.
Unfortunately, a large amount of you guys are skinny-fat, because you’re “non-responders” to resistance training.
This doesn’t mean that you cannot gain any muscle, but it means that you can expect a lower level of muscularity than the formula above shows.
I know myself, that I might never reach the number that the formula shows. Currently (Spring 2014), I weigh 183 pounds (83.1 kg) at around 10% bodyfat and I’m 6″3 (191 centimeters).
I have trained consistently for +4 years and gains are slow to non-existent now.
According to the formula, my natural limit is 200 pounds (91 k)g at 5-6% bodyfat, so that means I would have to gain over 22 pounds of lean mass.
Realistically, I won’t gain 22 pounds of lean mass anytime soon. According to McDonald’s formula, it would take me an additional 7-11 years of consistent training to gain those pounds. (It predicts that you gain 2-3 pounds per year after your 3rd year of proper training).
Now, you may wonder: how much muscle mass can I carry if the formula above doesn’t hold?
This depends largely on your bone structure.
Your Bones Decide How Much Muscle You Can Carry
I often hear statements such as: “If you’re 6″3 you should be at least 200 pounds to look muscular.”
Those kind of statements are incorrect, since the amount of muscle mass you can carry largely depends on how big your natural frame is.
According to Holway in The Sports Gene (2013, p. 125) each kilogram (2.2 pounds) of bone supports a maximum of five kilograms (11 pounds) of muscle.
In other words, a big boned endomorph can support a considerably higher amount of muscle mass than a skinny-fat guy with tiny wrists, shoulders, ankles and arms, despite being at the same height.
Take a look at the quote below (Taken from The Sports Gene, p. 125):
Most olympic athletes whom Holway has measured, like discus throwers and shotputters, have skeletons that are only about 6.5 pounds heavier than those of average men, but that translates to more than 30 pounds of extra muscle that they can carry with proper training.
The research done by Holway shows why you shouldn’t compare your bodyweight with that of guys with different genetics.
Consider two guys who are 6″2 (188 centimeters). According to Berkhan’s formula, they have the potential to weigh a shredded 193.6 pounds (88 kg).
However, if one of the guys has just 2.2 pounds more bone than the other, he will be able to weigh 13.2 pounds more than the naturally smaller guy! (2.2 pounds of extra bone and 11 pounds of extra muscle mass).
If we assume that the slightly bigger guy can reach the maximum natural potential of Berkhan’s formula, he will top out at 193.6 pounds while the smaller guy will top out at 180.4 pounds.
Furthermore, big boned guys usually gain muscle much faster than smaller boned guys, so it may take the big boned guy 3-4 years to reach his natural potential, while the other guy will spend several years “catching up” and still ending up at a significantly lower bodyweight.
Even if you’re the same height, a big boned guy will generally have the potential to become much bigger than you.
How Big Did I Get Since Writing This Article 2 Years Ago?
Earlier in the article I mentioned that I was roughly 183 pounds (83.1 kg) at around 10% bodyfat and I’m 6″3 (191 centimeters).
That’s was roughly 2.5 years ago when I was in one of my best shapes ever.
During these 2.5 years, I’ve been training consistently at least 4 times per week, and I’ve gained a bit more size, but those size gains have mostly been on weak body-parts such as shoulders which were previously under-trained.
I’m currently about 17-20 pounds heavier than in April 2014, but those are not 17-20 pounds of muscle mass.
I would guess that I’ve gained at most 5 pounds of muscle mass on the upper body and 12-15 pounds of fat.
Overall, the biggest gains the past 2.5 years have been around my waist because all my efforts have been focused on the diet and training plans of my clients, rather than my own.
I believe that since April 2014, my body has pretty much maxed out at the muscularity I achieved back then.
Right now, I have to train hard just to maintain that level of muscularity and I tend to lose definition very fast if I take even 3 days off from training.
I’ve been able to squeeze out some muscle gains here and there, but again, these have mostly been as result of muscle-memory (re-gaining old muscle) and on body-parts which were previously under-trained.
So I firmly believe that most natural bodybuilders will gain 90% or more of their size in the first 3 years of hard training.
After that, you can either choose to:
- Stay VERY disciplined about your diet and training and track everything to squeeze out another 5-10 pounds of muscle mass over the next 2-5 years.
- Put minimal effort into your training and diet so you can maintain a muscular physique and focus on other areas of life.
- Switch to the dark-side and take some juice.
I personally went for option 2 because I won’t get any benefit out of getting bigger than I do now.
I already have people tell me I’m big and muscular and built “like a tank” and I can barely keep my arms straight because my lats push them out, so I don’t see any reason to get any bigger.
From this article you should have learned two very important things:
- In your first 3 years of training you can gain around 30 pounds of muscle, but after that gains will be slow to non-existent.
- It’s a bad idea to try and rush muscle gains by dirty bulking because there’s only so much muscle mass you can gain per month. 30 pounds over 3 years is less than 1 pound of muscle per month!
- A big boned guy will generally be able to carry much more muscle mass compared to a small boned guy.
The reason to why I wrote all this was to give you perspective.
Don’t look so much at your bodyweight compared to other people because bodyweight doesn’t account for bone-structure.
In addition, you need to know that proportions are more important than overall muscle mass.
If you have skinny wrists, a 1 inch gain on the biceps is going to look more impressive on you compared to a guy who has thick wrists.
So even though your muscle gaining capabilities are lower, in the end you have the advantage of having smaller bones which make each pound of muscle gained more impressive.
However, as long as you stay lean and put on muscle in the right places, it doesn’t matter much that muscle gains are slow and that you can’t weigh as much as a competing bodybuilder.
If you stay at 10-15% bodyfat and gain 30 pounds of muscles in the right places, you will look GREAT. This should take around 3 years, but it’s all worth it.
Once you get to this point, you may even find that you don’t want to get much bigger! That has at least been the case for me.
Be proud but stay hungry,