What is my maximum muscular potential? Is a very common question that is usually asked by newbies who have still not realized the power of their own ability to go beyond these questionable studies that have been done on the subject of genetic potential. The basic problem is that no study and no fancy laboratory can actually tell you upfront exactly what your true genetic potential is.
But worrying about what you might or might not accomplish is putting the cart far before the horse. Of course it doesn't really answer the question in the title of this article. There are certainly 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.
In answering the question so often asked about what is the maximum amount of muscle that someone can gain over a career of proper lifting and nutrition, the answer has been simplified in a few figures represented below. Please note that the figures listed of the amount of muscle that you can put on in a year are averages and make a few assumptions about proper training and nutrition and such.
Age will make a big difference as the 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 Proper Training Potential Rate of Muscle Gain per Year
1 20-25 pounds (2 pounds per month)
2 10-12 pounds (1 pound per month)
3 5-6 pounds (0.5 pound per month)
4+ 2-3 pounds (not worth calculating)
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).
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.). Below is what has been worked out as the average gains that can be expected from beginners to advanced, however these are just averages and not probabilities.
Category Rate of Muscle Gain
Beginner 1-1.5% total body weight per month
Intermediate 0.5-1% total body weight per month
Advanced 0.25-0.5% total body weight per month
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).
Of course this model for maximum muscle growth is pretty simplified and does not 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).
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