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So you are set out to build muscle – as much as possible. And now you want to know what is your ultimate muscle potential. Many people have unrealistically high expectations due to skewed images of steroid produced bodybuilder physiques. You might be surprised to find out how little you can gain, but this knowledge isn’t meant to put you down but rather give you realistic expectations so you won’t get depressed when you don’t become a hulk.

But before we go in detail how much muscle you can gain, I recommend you to read how fast muscle you can gain here.

Fat-Free Mass Index

You might be already familiar with BMI (Body Mass Index). BMI tells how much weight you have in relation to your height and is widely used as an indicator of health by doctors. But the downside of it is it doesn’t differentiate muscle and fat making it useless to everyone else than couch potatoes.

The formula for BMI is weight/height²

Do note that you need to enter your height in meters and weight in kilograms.

FFMI stands for Fat-Free Mass Index. As you might guess, it is exactly the same as BMI but it excludes your fat mass from your weight. FFMI includes all your mass including your muscles, bones, blood, glycogen etc except fat.

The formula for FFMI is the same as for BMI but you will need to know your BF % (Body Fat percentage) to reduce your fat mass from your weight.

According to Scooby FFMI 20-23 is noticeably muscular and over 26 is likely a steroid user. Do note that exceptions (even if rare) may exist.

You can read how to measure your BF % (and view pictures of men with different physiques) here.

Maximum Muscle Gains Over Lifetime

You can gain a maximum of 50 pounds of muscle over a lifetime. While this might sound little compared to steroid powered bodybuilders you have seen on magazines, 50 pounds is a huge amount of muscle and would make anyone look jacked.

Do note that the 50-pound rule applies for professional bodybuilders with ideal genetics. Your results or potential might differ based on your genes and body.

Women should expect to gain roughly half of what men do.

You will first see fast results as you start your workout regimen but your results will slow down by 50 % each year that passes by. But if you have been half-assedly training with inadequate nutrition over the past 5 years, you might see significant gains even on your 6th year if you fix your workouts and diet. To read more on how fast you can gain muscle, click here.

Martin Berkhan Model

Martin Berkhan of LeanGains has worked with several bodybuilders and came up with the following formula:

(Height in centimeters – 100) = Body weight in kilos (“shredded”, i.e. 5-6% body fat)

This formula gives you an estimate of your maximum muscle potential in competition stage (5-6 % body fat).

A lot of people will most likely argue that it is possible to gain more, but Martin Berkhan has based his model on his observations of both his and other bodybuilders’ stats he’s worked with.

While you might be able to have more muscle with a higher BF %, you muscle amount will come down to roughly the estimated calculation once dropped down to 5-6 BF %.

This is for the simple reason that it is far more difficult to hold on to high amounts of muscle in a ripped state with very little body fat.

Casey Butt’s Muscle Potential Calculator

Casey Butt has created a complex formula based on his extensive research of hundreds of top level natural bodybuilders.

His formula calculates your maximum muscle potential based on several variables, including your height, wrist and ankle size.

The expectation is that people with higher wrist and ankle circumference measurements have bigger bone structure and can hold onto higher amounts of muscle. Dr. Butt is a highly respected and referenced expert in his field.

Check his muscle potential calculator and find out your maximum measurements here.

His calculator uses the following formula:

Casey Butt's Maximum Muscle Mass Potential Formula

The variables in the formula are:

H = Height in inches
A = Ankle circumference
W = Wrist circumference below the styloid
%bf = Your ideal body fat percent

Only A Few Bodybuilders Ever Reach Their Full Muscle Mass Potential

Now that you know how much muscle you can gain during your entire lifting career, you might be disappointed how little you can gain.

It is important to remember that most models promoting fitness products built their physiques on steroids. It is nowhere possible to produce similar physiques naturally as you might see in fitness magazines.

When we put the steroid enhanced physiques aside and take a look at how much it is possible to achieve naturally, they are very impressive and huge physiques.

Most lifters never achieve or come anywhere close to reaching their maximum muscle potential.

Now that you know how much you can gain, you can now set realistic expectations and be ecstatic upon reaching your goal rather than disappointed of not ending up looking like your favourite steroid powered bodybuilder.

Your Results May Differ

The above formulas and calculations estimate the maximum muscle potential for the vast majority of people. Exceptions, even if rare, may exist.

You might be well aware different people respond differently to weight training. You have heard of people who are naturally muscular and build up their physique by barely touching on weights while others are so-called hardgainers struggling to put on any muscle.

The reality is people with taller, bigger physiques with fuller and bigger muscle bellies can expect to gain more muscle mass than someone with a short and small physique and small muscle bellies.

The frame isn’t to put you down but rather to give realistic expectations – and to allow you to correct your training if you aren’t seeing the right results


Now you know what you can realistically expect and set smart, realistic goals for yourself. Remember to always compare your results to your past performance, not for others.

The most important thing to ask is: are you happy with what you see in the mirror? If you are, then good. If not, then time to start working or adjust your approach.

Let me know your experiences below in the comment section!

Image Credit: Derivation of Bbpics (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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