Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Maximum Muscular Potential of Drug-Free Athletes (Updated Dec 31st)


What is the maximum muscular potential of drug-free athletes or natural bodybuilders? And what does it take to get there? That's the topic I'm going to revisit today. 

I've talked about the maximum muscular potential before in the short article "What's my Genetic Muscular Potential", where I presented a formula based on the heights and body weights of natural bodybuilders on competition day (i.e. 5-6% body fat).

Suffice to say, the bodybuilders that appear on the cover of muscle magazines serves as poor role models for what's possible without "assistance". Establishing reasonable goals and limits for natural bodybuilders and athletes is important in order to put things into context. A ripped 170-180 lbs is often scoffed at in some circles. You're not "big" until you're 210-220 lbs (or so the talk goes). What these people don't realize is that ripped 170-180 lbs would look very impressive on a guy of average height. In fact, few natural guys will ever achieve those stats due to the consistency in training that it requires.

29th Dec Update: "Applying the Formula: Theory vs Real Life" (Fourth section from the bottom.)

31st Dec Update: "Limits of The Formula" (Third section from the bottom.)

"The Law of Diminishing Returns." (Second section from the bottom.)

A No Bullshit Formula

The formula is simple, yet surprisingly accurate and predictive of real world results.

The formula goes as follows:

(Height in centimeters - 100) = Body weight in kilo ("shredded", i.e. 5-6% body fat).

Example: If your height is 180 cm (5'11), subtract 100 and you get 80.

80 kg (176 lbs) is your maximum muscular potential when you are in peak condition; rock hard abs with visible veins running across them, striated arms and delts, and so forth. Scroll down a bit to see examples of what I mean.

Now, the inquiring mind would probably like to know why I determine the formula by "ripped" body weight and not something a little more moderate like 10-12% body fat. 10-12% body fat is still lean and a great look if you've got some muscle behind that.

Well, the reason is that competition day body weight is the best standard to use. If you want to predict maximum muscular potential with any reasonable precision, you need to have some kind of equalizer. Saying you can get to this and that body weight without drugs doesn't mean anything unless you consider the body weight in relation to height and body fat percentage. On competition day, most guys are typically in a fairly tight interval of body fat percentage (4-6%) which makes this a good standard.

Furthermore, competitors usually have years of consistent training behind them, which makes another case for drawing conclusions based on competition weight.

Fine Tuning The Formula

Another question that might pop up is how much your "hydrated" body weight would be, as the body weight on the weigh in before competition day will be lower than usual. This will vary a bit depending on the type and severity of water manipulation and depletion protocol.

I typically see a 2% drop in body weight that is independent from regular weight loss. Meaning that the body weight of my clients drops 2% in the final days and then rebounds back up by the same amount once normal feeding resumes.* Then again, I use a very easy and non-dramatic approach compared to others, i.e. no glycogen depletion (!) and no hardcore sodium/water manipulation.

* Actually that's not quite true as there is a larger rebound first, after which body weight settles down again. This has to do with sodium manipulation and is temporary.

So basically, the formula is closer to (height in cm) - 98 = kg body weight when hydrated.

Furthermore, while 100 is a nice and round number, you'll obviously see some variance here as well. All things considered, a more precise formula for maximum muscular potential would look a little something like this:

(Height in cm) - 98-102 = kg body weight on competition day. Ripped and slightly dehydrated.

(Height in cm) - 96-100 = kg body weight. Ripped and under normal circumstances.

Is this formula the final word on maximum muscular potential? Well, I've only known a handful of guys who I was 100% sure of being natural. They all abide by this rule. As with everything, there are outliers but I've yet to meet anyone who I was sure of being natural that exceeded the body weight yielded by the formula by a significant amount (i.e. height - 90-95).

This is a very controversial topic. Can I possibly know for sure that the clients I'm about to post as examples of maximum muscular potential are really clean? Can you know I'm clean? Well, of course not. I'm as skeptical and cynical as the next guy (more so), so all of this really boils down to me trusting my clients and you trusting me. Now that I've covered that, rest assured that I am not interested in any philosophical argument or debate that starts with "You can't really know...", etc.

Without further ado, below you'll see examples of natural clients that competed fairly recently. A breakdown of their height and body weight on competition day will follow afterwards. While I won't go as far as saying that they've all reached their ceiling in terms of muscle gains, they've come very far. I will also tell you what each one of them has in common: what it takes to reach your maximum muscular potential without the use of drugs.

It's worth noting that Andreaz and Robert were both tested and passed (2 out of a total of 6 doping tests done that day).


Marcus made it to the finals and placed 6th out of 17 competitors in Luciapokalen Classic Bodybuilding +178 cm two weeks ago. Considering this was his first competition, that's an exceptional result. Even more so impressive when you take into account that he didn't even practice his routine for the finals and just went on stage and struck a few poses at random :D I would have done the same...I don't have much love or interest in usual proceedings on competition day.

Anyway, below you'll see pictures from Marcus's bulk, at 185 lbs/84 kg and lean, to competition day at 175 lbs/79 kg and shredded (height: 181 cm).

The whole process took 8 weeks which is a very short diet compared to the norm (same for Andreaz and Robert). I helped Marcus out during his bulk and as you can see he kept his body fat percentage in check.

"Off-season" (8 weeks out)

185 lbs/84 kg

3 Weeks Out

180 lbs/82 kg

Competition Day

175 lbs/79 kg


Nordic bodybuilding champ Andreaz decided to try his hand at the Athletic Fitness Championship in September. He placed 5th out of 8 in the -180 cm class.

7 Weeks Out

165 lbs/75 kg

2 Weeks Out

162 lbs/73.5 kg

Competition Day

157 lbs/71 kg


Robert competed in the same competition as Andreaz. He placed 5th out of 8 in the tall class (+180 cm).

8 Weeks Out

194 lbs/88 kg

4 Weeks Out

186 lbs/84 kg

Competition Day

181 lbs/82 kg

Height and Body Weight Breakdown

Marcus: 181 cm/79 kg (-102). Estimated body fat on competition day: 4-4.5%.

Andreaz: 169 cm/69-71 kg (-100/-98). Estimated body fat on competition day: 5-6%. Weight varies slightly; Andreaz was drier in his last bodybuilding competition and weighed in at 69 kg (-100). However, being too ripped on stage for Athletic Fitness can get you minus points. Not taking it too far this last time was a planned and conscious decision.

Robert: 182 cm/82 kg (-100). Estimated body fat on competition day: 7%.

Myself: 186 cm/87.5 kg. With an expected water loss of 2%* body weight as mentioned earlier, my stats would put me at 186 cm/86 kg (-100) on competition day (5.5% body fat). I'm including myself for reference and an additional data point. I haven't competed but I am natural.

(For more on my progress, check out "My Transformation" and the tag with the same name.)

As you can see, there is no substantial variance in the body weights of these natural trainers. Everyone ends up weighing their height - 100, or very close to it, on competition day.

Applying The Formula: Theory vs Real Life

It didn't take long before this article was published before there was an influx of genetic marvels in discussion forums that claimed my formula was wrong and that they would surpass it once they got down to the body fat percentage it applies to.

Well, I got news for the keyboard experts out there; you're wrong. Here's why:

1. You're most likely fatter than you think. There's a lot of 5'11 200-225 lbs guys with 10-12% body fat on the Internet. In reality, their "10-12%" body fat is more like 15% body fat or more. Everyone thinks they're on their way to single digit body fat as soon as they see a blurry four-pack in the right lighting.

2. You can't use your current body weight in the calculation if you're bulking. It's not uncommon to see an instant 2-5 lbs drop in body weight after one week of dieting depending on carb intake and size, and that ain't 2-5 lbs of fat you're losing. It's some of your overstocked glycogen stores dropping, causing water loss. Reduced stomach content is also a contributing factor.

If you want to make any reasonable estimate based on theoretical calculation of your stats, take your average body weight in the second week of dieting and use that in the formula.

Key point: Your final body weight at 5-6% will be a lot less than what you think. So to all you keyboard experts that arrive at some fantasy stats and claim that my formula is wrong: bitch, please. Talk to me again when you get in contest shape.

Limits of The Formula

1. The formula is for men only. I have not worked with a sufficient sample of female physique athletes to establish an accurate formula for female maximum muscular potential.

2. 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.

3. The formula is not perfectly linear and is most accurate for men in the 170-190 cm height range. Very accurate for guys smack dab in the middle of that range (180 cm). Shorter guys (below 170 cm) seem to skew the formula towards being heavier. Vice versa for taller guys. In reality, the standard height - 100 formula might look a little something like this depending on height.

190 cm: height - 101

180 cm: height - 100

170 cm: height - 99

160 cm: height - 98

The Law of Diminishing Returns

Am I saying that height (in cm) - 100 is the absolute limit for most drug-free athletes? No, but I'm saying it's pretty damn close and that the true limit will not differ from height - 100 in any meaningful way. This can be explained by the law of diminishing returns.

During the first six months of weight training, one might see a muscle gain of 1.5-2 lbs per month; that sweet newbie magic, where you gain muscle at a rapid rate. It's not uncommon to see that muscle gain accompanied by fat loss.

After six months and through the second year, you might see muscle gain of 1 lbs per month. You're able to increase weights linearly in the gym and everything is still pretty awesome.

Things slows down significantly in the third year, to the tune of about 0.5 lbs muscle gain per month.

In the 4-5th year of training, progress is slow. 1 lb of muscle every 4th month.

5-10th year, 1 lb per year.

Beyond a decade of consistent weight training...well, you get the point. You might be lucky to see 0.5-1 lb of muscle every other year or so.  These figures are not exact by any means and progress will obviously vary depending on genetics, training, diet, etc. My point is that the law of diminishing returns kicks in real hard once you hit height - 100. Muscle gains slows down to a snail's pace. A trainer that hits height - 100 after 12 years of consistent training will not be that much bigger on his 17th year of consistent training.

What It Takes to Reach Your Maximum Muscular Potential

What do we, the guys above and myself that is, have in common besides having achieved a very similar level of muscularity? What factors are important if you hope to reach your maximum muscular potential?

1. Consistency. We've all been weight training for more than a decade. I for one lost many years due to foolish diets and training regimens - but for better or worse, that's part of the process. I never gave up in trying to find what's right for me and that's what matters in the end. I stayed consistent no matter what.

With the right approach from the get go, you could probably save a ton of time. That being said, you can't reach your genetic ceiling in six months like some internet marketers wants you to believe. It takes consistency and patience to reach your maximum muscular potential.

2. Hard work - but not HARD work. Your workouts should be hard in the sense that you push yourself, but not hard in the sense that going to the gym feels like a burden. Don't buy into the myth that you need to live the life of a stereotypical bodybuilder to build an impressive physique. Going to the gym shouldn't interfere too much with the rest of your life. Remember, you're in for the long haul.

I've spent less than 2 hours per week on average building my physique, but I've done so over a long period of time. This partly comes back to the point I made above about consistency. Naturals who spend 5-6 days at the gym per week usually don't last long. They burn out and end up looking mediocre 10 years down the road.

3. Measure and quantify your progress. Only then can you tell if something really is working. Measure progress short term and long term and do it in hard numbers; your body weight and what kind of weight you could handle at that body weight are two very important variables to track. Log all your workouts and use a checkpoint system. For more on this, read "How to Look Awesome Every Day."

Not only is measuring and quantifying vital to make progress but it's also a great aid in order to find and maintain your motivation in the long-term. Going to the gym becomes a joy once you see your progress manifest itself in hard numbers. And if the hard numbers improve, so will your body.

OK, so this post actually started out as a client update, but then I went off on a tangent and started writing about something different. Anyway, that'll be all for tonight.

P.S. As you may realize now, the various rumors that has been floating around about my demise after the latest cheesecake showdown are untrue. I survived, but just barely. Right now I'm sick of thinking or writing about anything related to cheesecakes. However, when the time is right, I shall show you exactly what went down that fateful Christmas Eve.

Speaking of cheesecake mastery, I am pleased to see that my teachings have inspired many aspiring cheesecake masters: "Cheesecake Mastery 2010 Death Match."


philip said...

Might be me eyes playing up but I think Marcus looked fuller and more cut at 180lbs.

Thomas said...

I'm pretty sure that you know Casey Butt's formulas for maximum muscular potential.
You can also calculate the maximum dimensions of forearms, biceps, chest etc...


Raj said...

Another brilliant post! Thank you for this Martin. Definitely helps to know what I'm chasing!

Question for you. I am 68 kgs at 170 cms at ~ 12-14% BF. Per your calculation I can weigh the same at ~5-6% BF. This means I have ~ 5.5 kgs of muscle to gain and ~5.5 kgs of fat to lose in order to reach my max muscular potential.

You know very well that I follow a lot of your advice with respect to diet and training for cutting and bulking. But I'm just curious, what are your thoughts on a program like starting strength for someone like me? I tried it once before and gained ~ 8 kgs in 5 weeks with strength gains that weren't amazing. This makes me believe that most of the weight gained was fat. It took me twice the time (~10 weeks) to lose the fat... and I lost a bunch of strength too. Then I started training per your advice and I'm now lifting as much as I did when I was doing starting strength... but am much leaner! Am I just prone to fat gain (endomorph) or was my training during starting strength not intense enough?

LayzieBone085 said...

In for the cheesecake update! Solid looking clients there martin.

Anonymous said...

Din blog är satans bra. Det var allt.

john said...

What are some factors that would make someone look heavier or lighter?

Unless I have a distorted view of myself, I feel like those picture of guys around my size (I'm 5'9, 175) look bigger than I am. Others have also commented than I look much lighter than 175. I have proportionally large legs and back (smaller chest and arms) since I train for weightlifting, but those guys' legs don't look any less muscular than mine either.

Rob C said...

Would you say you have reached your genetic limit, Martin?

Anonymous said...

Possible typo: Andreaz. He placed 5th out of 8 in the -180 cm class.

Gary Morris said...

@John - I feel the same way.

I'm 173.5cm and 79.5kg (175lbs) @ 12-14% BF. So @ 5-6% BF i should weigh in at about 72.3-74.7kg (159-164.5lbs).

Then according to this formula, my potential natural limit @ 5-6% BF is about 73.5kg (162lbs). So, i'm either at my potential already, or VERY off about my bodyfat (i may be a little, but not that much).

Yet, i feel that judging by pics i see of other people, i'm about 7kg (15lbs) of lean mass away from where i want to eventually be. Which is around 180-185lbs in the higher 8-10% BF region.

I'm in no way in the same shape as the guys shown above. It's all pretty confusing about what is really possible naturally.

For reference to what i'm talking about, here's a couple of pics of me. I'd hardly say i'm near my potential, from what i've seen of other people anyway... (no leg pics, but they are proportional)

Front - http://img98.imageshack.us/img98/4098/64003557.jpg

Back - http://img46.imageshack.us/img46/8615/backfty.jpg

Anonymous said...

John, chances are you're carrying more mass in your legs and back than you realise (all these photos were front on, which is your weak point, so probably not the best comparison). Alternatively, you might be a higher BF% than you realise, meaning you have less lbm. A rare possibility is you're taller than you think you are, when was the last time you were accurately measured? Being say 5'10-11 and 175 would make you look much smaller than if you were 5'8-5'9.

Great post martin. I like casey calculator, but your formula is much easier to remember.

indigo said...

Marcus is both the same height and weight as me, but a lot more muscular.

What I'm wondering is what a benificial way to build that kind of physique would be? Should I stay on my weight and build muscle slow and steadily, or eat more, add some weight and then focus on weight loss and a low body fat percentage later?

Matt said...

Awesome article and what I especially like about your writing is that you always put up a bunch of picture examples.

Not entirely related to this, but I'd appreciate if you cover creatine more in depth in your supplement guide, sometime in the future.

There's a lot of conflicting advice out there regarding how, how much and when it should be taken for optimal results. Very interested in your take on this.


Garth said...

I really would be happy just to look like any of these guys at 8 weeks out.

winnie said...

Nice article. I'd say that if you are 'seemingly' near the limit but a little shocked that you don't look like these guys then number 1, I do indeed think it's most likely your body fat (I kidded myself for a long time over BF, and on some guys the Abs can be visible at a body fat well over 10%) is the big factor. If you are IN REALITY 5lbs of fat and 5lbs of lean mass out of sync, then you will look a lot different shedding the 5lbs and adding the 5lbs - it will have a SERIOUS impact on your physique. If it's 10lbs out of sync, then it's DRASTIC in terms of the difference. I hope that makes sense. Then of course, there is the effect of genetic structure etc, in which some are more blessed than others and just 'look more aesthetic'.

john said...

Winnie and anonymous,

Good points--I would estimate my body fat is similar to Marcus' at 185lbs. It's tough to get a good idea of leg size sometimes by the front only. My friend's legs (and torso) from the front look very similar to mine, but there is a drastic difference when doing a side pose. He is 10lbs lighter, yet 2in taller. His back musculature is also considerably less.

Eek said...


Really appreciate this post. Setting realistic goals is something that most people on the internet forums need, me included

. And the update really hit the nail on the head, a lot of us have an incorrect number for our estimated bodyfat and it makes us even have a more unrealistic view of how we will look when we lean out and then get disappointed when we actually do. Add the fact that as one adds more LBM one can look very good in the 12% BF range, even if that isn't very lean.

There are so many calculators for BF that don't really help, especially when the person measuring is inexperienced.

I think I need to take a look at some people my height and use them more as a guide then the people we see on cover's of magazines. Andreaz for one, is someone who is close to my height and his body is very impressive.


Jake said...

Another great post, and the formula appears very accurate imo.

A while back you said you would be posting soon on the optimum method of strength training for endurance athletes (weight training while maintaining endurance fitness) ... will that be coming soon?


Dick.C said...

Great post Martin!

Ahmed said...

Damn I thought the off season pic of Marcus was competition day until I scrolled down haha. Guy was jacked prior to.

Nice post Martin.

Anonymous said...

Martin, what about shorter men? Can someone who is 166 cm weigh 66 kg at 5% BF?

Martin Berkhan said...


"Martin, what about shorter men? Can someone who is 166 cm weigh 66 kg at 5% BF?"

Yeah, sure. The formula is not perfectly linear - it seems to be most accurate for 175-190 cm guys. Shorter heights skew the formula towards heavier, i.e. <175 cm guys seem to be able to hit height - 98 where as height - 100 is the same standard for >175 cm guys.

^Mike^ said...

has anyone addressed the issue of deep muscle fat? does it exist? There's a guy at the gym whose biceps are as big as mine, but hes a state champion and i look like a beginner (aprt from my biceps which were trained from my youth with chinups).My triceps are virtually non existent, but if you press on his biceps there's virtually no give, their as solid as a your scull, but mine will depress with some give.

However if you do the skin fold pinch test, the fat level under the skin is about the same.

so I think that deep muscle density is where a lot of the difference is.
I think many miss this. I certainly did for a long time.

I just wanted to point out that you can put a tape around an arm and get the same measurement and have the same skinfold reading but still have a world of difference in the overall look.

To a different point...

Martin, are you saying that the overall weight is the limiting factor?

If so, then a natural who had reached his maximum weight, and who was not happy with their lat spread and wanted to improve it naturally, could sacrifice some leg size by undertraining to get a more balanced physique? would that be the way to go?

Martin Berkhan said...


What you are referring to as "deep muscle fat" and muscle density is very likely differences in myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic muscle growth.

In essence, myofibrillar growth is denser and sarcoplasmic growth more voluminous.

"Martin, are you saying that the overall weight is the limiting factor?"

Yes, to a large degree.

"If so, then a natural who had reached his maximum weight, and who was not happy with their lat spread and wanted to improve it naturally, could sacrifice some leg size by undertraining to get a more balanced physique? would that be the way to go?"

His lats would grow as much as his genetic potential for that muscle group is. You can't "move" muscle from one area of the body like that, which is what you are alluding to.

Anonymous said...

So you are actually saying that for those who hit their muscular potential, will look the same way after 5-10 years.. When they would stay around the same bodyfat. And that you are actually training for maintenance, instead of improvement. Besides neural gains.

Martin Berkhan said...

I'm saying that the maximum muscular potential of most drug-free athletes seems to be around the height - 100 mark.

Height - 100 might not be the absolute limit, but it's a point where gains slow down to a snail's pace; as evidenced by the stats of several natural trainers who has been training consistently for 10-15 years.

During the first six months, one might see a muscle gain of 1.5-2 lbs per month. (That sweet newbie magic, where you experience rapid muscle gain and fat loss.)

After six months through the second year, 1 lbs per month.

Third year, 0.5 lbs per month.

4-5th year, 1 lb every 4th month.

5-10th year, 1 lb per year.

Beyond that...well, you get the point. The law of diminishing results.

Tom said...

Very interesting stuff, Martin. I've learned so much from your blog and I can't wait to buy your book when it comes out. Keep up the great work and all the best for new year's.

Lori said...

Very interesting, as usual, Martin! I hope you have a follow up planned that addresses how to adapt this formula for women. I know you've got some kick-ass female clients, and I can't be your only female reader who is curious about this!

winnie said...

Martin, nice updates regarding all those huge '12-18%' guys out there with their flabby guns! I used to be one of them and they are kidding themselves. HOWEVER, to all those guys out there - get you ego in check because when you do and you set a goal of reaching your natural MMP - you will look freaking awesome!!! Frank Zane maybe a little juiced at his peak (sorry Frank, if not) - a 175lbs Greek statue who was strong and looked awesome! My point is - guys are very egotistical; they think 180lbs at 5 10 is pussy size....that's their problem! Go on, admit it guys. Find out your REAL body fat and then get in check. Seriously, for most guys, getting to the shape Martin talks about will mean being VERY, VERY strong (by normal standards).

Here's a final irony - all these guys claiming they will smash the formula drug free have NEVER REACHED THEIR MAX NATURAL BODYWEIGHT in a truly lean condition. Unless they wake-up, they will reach 40 years of age, they will weight 230lbs but they will be 20% body fat - hell yeah, but they could still smash the formula when they finally lean out. Classic.

When is the book out Martin? Happy N.Year.

malpaz said...

+1 to another female reader :)

Ron said...

Very interesting post, Martin. I have a couple of questions, as what you've written is very hard to choke down.

First, you're saying the time frame to reaching this magic "natural" number is about 5-10 years?

Second, how do you think steroids/prohormones affect this once a person stops using them?

Third, how do you think body types affect this (endo/ecto/mesomorph)? Of course, body type is as much a psychosocial factor (lifestyle choices, job, habits, etc) as they are genetics, but it still plays a large role in a person's "potential." This can really skew a formula.

Finally, are there any actual research data to support this?

The reason I ask these questions is simply from personal experience. A few weeks ago, I had my Exercise Physiology professor test my body fat level using those uber-exepensive calipers, and he came up with 9.5% at about 235 lbs (about to be 28 years old, about 180cm tall with 12, almost 13 years of lifting under my belt). He's been in the kinesiology field as a researcher/professor as well as a trainer for his entire life, so I have to assume his results are at least reasonably valid (although I would put myself at a higher percentage, probably more like 12-15%, as you mentioned in the article). To be honest, I did a couple of cycles of steroids and then some prohormones during back before the 2005 legislation came out, but for a number of reasons (crappy nutrition and rest, low dosage), the results were fairly minimal and I didn’t see much out of them- besides, I was a large natural endomorph who tended to fluctuate from 250 to 280lbs (I started my fitness journey as a 305lb tub of goo, but gained a lot of muscle since then). Anyways, I’ve been clean ever since. Although there are some research indicating that muscle memory, of sorts, actually DOES exist (apparently, resistance-type training causes your hypertrophy-ing muscles to develop new nuclei that do not go away), but surely after 6 years of being clean, the minimal results should be gone (and trust me, these results were at best 10 lbs). I am by no means a genetic freak, although I do have a pretty stocky bone structure. I quit doing bodybuilding (let’s be honest… unless you intend to step on a stage, bodybuilding is a narcissistic waste of time) and have no interesting in gaining more weight - muscle or fat - and moved into powerlifting with a focus on functional/tactical fitness – but I still train hard. My main issue is that your formula would put my max “contest weight” at 80 kilos/176 lbs… Having done the math, your formula would put me around 25-28% bodyfat (based on my driest weight after a 20 hour fast and 5 days of low carbs). I agree with you that most people are fatter than they think, and, like I said, I would probably peg myself for around 12-15%, although I can see some blurry abs poking through to say “Hi” in the right light. I apologize for this long post, but what do you think?

Anonymous said...

Martin, you are great, always improving your articles based on the feedback from your followers. I am the one who brought up the shorter men issue.

You wrote: `Shorter guys (below 170 cm) seem to skew the formula towards being heavier.´

I am the opposite. I weigh 57 kg at 166 cm. But what´s interesting is that I am a mesomorph that looks quite muscular and fairly lean! So, I really can´t picture myself at 66 kg while not looking like Donna Simpson.

Unlike most men, I tend to put fat not on the abdominal area but on my legs, ass and lower back.

Could it be that uncommon fat distribution patterns are a main cause of inaccurate BF % assessments?

abcd said...

Nice post! Another important point is the genetic factor.
I know some genetic freaks that have accomplished their maximum body in less than 2 years!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I came back to read your post again to see an update in reference to women.
When I first did the math for my 5'3" height, it said I would have to gain 10 pounds. I knew then something wasn't quite right. I'm relieved that the formula is for men only.

alex said...


great post. i have often wondered myself what the limits of drug free muscular potential is, especially as it relates to professional athletes, which raises a couple a questions your post brought to mind:

1. that formula pretty much indicts every professional american football player and nba player (based on height, weight, build, and muscular definition) of using performance enhancing drugs. Now i have often suspected that a large majority of professional athletes in those sports are using, but what are your thoughts on that?

2. more specifically, i used that formula on lebron james (american basketball megastar, who is listed at 6'8" (2.03) and 250 pounds (113.4, although his weight has been reported as being up to 10kg higher that he is listed, so possibly as many as 123kg) and he is reported to have as low as 5-6% body fat (conservatively i put him at 10% when i was doing calculations). by my math and using your formula, there is no way that this guy is not using steroids.

i have always speculated that he was just based on the fact that he maintains so much muscle mass while playing 82 basketball games (very cardio heavy activity) in a season, but your in your opinion do you think lebron james is on steroids?


Anonymous said...

That Marcus dude is f'ing ripped. I've been doing this program since the beginning of December with too many screw up days (usually drinking is involved). I want to look like these ripped mofos so bad...i may have to quit drinking to do so though...uggh.

Dorian said...

@your 'law of dimishing returns'
But after the 17th year the athlete will look diffrent compared to the 12th year even if the composition and mass kept the same

Anonymous said...

Completely off topic but I can't seem to find the answer anywhere. If taking an EC stack with IF, should I wait until the first meal to take the first dose or should I just take it in the morning? Just wondering if that would cause excessive muscle catabolism.


Anonymous said...

Alex, wrt athletes, especially American football, height and weight listings are often inaccurate sure to being taken with the athlete in various stages of uniform (my brothers own program stats were taken in full pads and cleats).

Fredrik Gyllensten said...

Interesting. I was suprised by this number, but while I don't think you can ever say that you've reached your absolute maximum potential, I think this calculation is a good estimate.

^Mike^ said...


Strange thing is, Martin, his training is almost purely sarcoplasmic - multiple sets with 5 or 6 exercises per bodypart in the 8-10 rep range. I do heavy single partial rep lifts (like 600kg leg press and 300kg shrugs on the calf machine.) in the 3-4 set range, which I would have thought to be more myofibrillar.

^mike^ said...


Actually, I was under the same impression Ron, that the height minus 100 was the maximum, but according to Martin's last comment, he says this is the weight where gains START to slow down. in my case, at 177-100=77, I should still be able to gain another 5kg the year after that (at 1lb a month) which would be great!

At first, 77 seemed disheartening, but it's not as bad as it looks if you add on those extra gains.

RedYeti said...


I doubt you could find a single NFL or NBA star that is anywhere near 4% bodyfat. It takes serious effort to even get near that, let alone maintain it whilst playing very intensive sport every week. You simply can't calorie restrict to that low BF% and still do the shitload of cardio that LeBron James does

Drunken Robot said...


what about bodybuilders from pre-steroid era like Chuck Sipes who was 5.9 and 220 at peak condition?


I'm sure there are many others

katthedley said...

To me Marcus has the perfect shape. its looked so natural.

thedailyg said...

I am only a casual bodybuilder but I am still very irritated by how impossible images of steroid-beasts have distorted expectations of physique. Here in the UK there was an advert for a cleaning-spray called Mr Muscle years ago. They swapped the starved-looking comedy weed who starred in the ad for a guy who looked like a flyweight boxer; a friend of mine is built like that - small and skinny - and despairs of his training even though to me he looks pretty ninja. We can't all be Van Damme. It's annoying to me that someone who is naturally thin but well developed can now be an object of ridicule. I am tallish but I still think I could never really make a competitive heavyweight - I think those pro heavyweights have gotta all be on 'roids as well; far cry from the Ali days, and even he was a fucking shire horse.


Anonymous said...

If one is above their maximum natural weight and still an intermediate trainee is it better to diet down to their max weight and then recomp or is it better to diet to 5-6% bf and slowly add muscle until their potential is met?

Paul C said...

Martin, thanks for the article. You have influenced me for 5 months with IF and adjustments to my workout which has been Wendler's 5/3/1 for 1 year.

I have gained 10lbs (4.5kg) of lean mass in 1 year at age 41, dropped 2% body fat and am at 15% body fat now (and pretty happy with how 15% looks, can't wait for <12%), so to see this article really gives me a great idea about how far I've come and what to expect.

Using your calcs, that tells me I've gained about 1/3 of my potential in one year. Progress hasn't slowed, but I expect it will soon as the next 1/3 is surely going to be tougher, and the last 1/3 a real test.

Have you seen potential diminish by a measurable amount for those 40 years +?

Anonymous said...

Keep us all posted on your continued progress with any new progress pics or vid clips. Show us what you got man. Wanna see how freakin' huge, solid, thick and tight you can get. Thanks for the motivation.

Tomas said...


Great post, as always.

Can you comment on the ability to build muscles over age? I am 45 and believe that it is more difficult for me than a person of 22 years of age. Is this true and is there anything I can do to compensate for my lack of youth:-)?


Anonymous said...

This seems wrong. The whole article is built on a shaky foundation, which is the weights of natural bodybuilders. My own observation in my years of training is that people with great genetics always end up using steroids. Why? Because they CAN be huge. They grow fast, get big and arn't happy with big, they want the huge. Those with the best genetics. My friend and training partner put 400lbs up on bench at 15st natural and then exploded when he started using steroids. I suggest that Natural bodybuilders never had the best genetics for bodybuilding in the first place, and so compete natural, in a healthier and lesser standard competition. It's the reason I have never done steroids, I've always grown slow, I'll never be huge so why damage my health? And I say that having met your highly advanced strength standards in your fukarounditis guide with only 2 years of dedicated training. Note I said this SEEMS wrong, and am interested to be corrected. This isn't an attack, I'm a huge fan of martins site - without it i'd still be trying and failing to hit single digit bf.

Anonymous said...

here in germany my father, uncles, grandfathers and pretty much everyone of the older (and overall leaner) "jahn turner" generations i know have gone by a traditional and fairly fail-safe formula to establish what their ideal weight range should be.

maximum weight should not exceed in kilograms a figure which is your height in centimetres minus 100, for example if you are 185cms tall, then your maximum weight shouldn't really exceed 85kg.

minimum weight should not fall below in kilograms a figure which is 10% of your height in centimetres subtracted from your maximum weight (calculated above), for example if you are 185cms tall, then 10% of that is 18.5, subtract that from 85kg and you come to 66.5kg.

your ideal weight should then be half-way between these two figures, in this case 76kg.

obviously this isn't a precise science and does not take into account the ratio between muscle and fat and their varying weight density, but it proved useful in establishing a healthy correlation between height and mass and served as an extremely effective yardstick for weight awareness.

really interesting to see this formula taken to a further degree in this article, it's based on sound and proven foundations.

ps: the "jahn turner" refers to friedrich jahn (1778-1852), the granddaddy of the physical excercise movement or "turnen" as it's known in german.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, although I was astounded at the ratio until I read further down that this is not applicable to females! I weigh in at 51kg with 18% body fat (impedance measured, so accuracy isn't best) and am 165cm tall - I would look like a female Hulk at 65kg! So very curious to see what you work out for the ladies.

Gary Fitzsimmons said...

Hey - This is great and seeing the athletes above really adds value to what you are saying!! One question though - Why does Robert look so huge compared to the other guys when the weight difference isn't that much!! He seems to be carrying a lot more muscle than say Robert. If they are both at the muscular limit why is the appearance so vastly different. Is it the type of hypertrophy they have achieved?? Many thanks!! Gary.

My name is Martin Berkhan and I work as a nutritional consultant, magazine writer and personal trainer.

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