Your Maximum Muscular Bodyweight and Measurements
by Casey Butt, Ph.D.
DISCLAIMER: The world of popular bodybuilding has always been and probably always will be full of exaggerations, deceptions and, sometimes, outright lies. Unfortunately, those exaggerations often shape people's perceptions of bodybuilders' legitimate measurements. The purpose of the information presented in this article is to provide accurate references and tools so people can form appropriate training expectations based on reality. That said, even many adults don't have the maturity and intelligence to accept and deal with knowledge of their own limitations. If you're comfortable with your current perception of your bodybuilding potential (depending on how realistic your training expectations are) and think that any threat to that perception might negatively influence your self-image or motivation to train then do not read this article.
For a drug-free bodybuilder trying to develop maximum muscle mass, the knowledge of how much muscle can be developed without the use of anabolic drugs would be a very valuable asset. Unfortunately, because of the achievements of drug-using professional, amateur and recreational bodybuilders, many natural lifters either have no idea of their actual potentials, they over-estimate what they can realistically achieve or they adopt a defeatist attitude and set their goals too low. Perspective is needed. The ability to set ambitious, yet realistic, goals is needed. And while there is no doubt that through natural bodybuilding a trainee can develop truly impressive, strong muscles, the chances of a drug-free bodybuilder attaining lean 22" arms are about the same as him sprouting wings.
In the scientific community, Dr. E. M. Kouri, et. al. presented a comparison between the lean body masses of drug-free vs. drug-using lifters based upon their fat-free mass indexes (FFMI) . This formula can be solved for maximum lean body mass at a given height if a maximum FFMI is assumed for drug-free lifters. The problem with doing this, however, is that, again, bone structure is not considered - though the works of Cameron et al. and Glauber et al. indicate clearly that such a relation exists [1,2].
What's needed is an accurate and precise formula, based on personal bone structure and height, that gives the maximum lean body mass a trainee can achieve without the use of anabolic drugs. The material in this article is based on an except from the e-book Your Muscular Potential: How to Predict Your Maximum Muscular Bodyweight and Measurements - specifically, the sections dealing with the accomplishments of drug-free bodybuilding champions of the past and present. If you accomplish the predictions outlined below you'll have developed a body proportional and equally developed to theirs.
Predicting Maximum Muscular Bodyweight
The amount of lean body mass a human body can develop and maintain is limited by it's own, naturally occuring, hormone levels. A fundamental reason as to why males carry more lean body mass than females, and have the potential to develop greater amounts of muscle in less time, is precisely because their natural testosterone levels are many times higher than females. Testosterone is required for muscle growth and maintenance, and there is a limit as to the amount of testosterone the male body can produce in good health. Resistance training results in micro-trauma to protein structures within the muscle cells and circulating testosterone is instrumental in the repair and replacement of these structures. Once the body has attained the maximum amount of muscle mass that the available testosterone can maintain - i.e. "repair" after training and replace with an equal amount of "new" proteins - then no additional proteins, and therefore no additional muscle mass, can be added and maintained. It is a fundamental and irrefutable fact, though one which the bodybuilding and supplement industries, and their deluded followers, routinely ignore (a completely unsupportable position, but "defended" quite vehemently nonetheless). The normal adult male serum testosterone level for a man under 40 years of age is between 3 and 10 ng/ml, and decreases with increasing age [8-10]. This clearly imposes a personal limit on the amount of lean body mass that can be developed and maintained without the use of exogenous anabolic drugs (i.e. "steroids"), and any further development beyond this point will require drug-use. Other major factors influencing ultimate muscular potential are muscle belly lengths, fast-twitch to slow-twitch fiber ratio, etc.
So there will be variations in potential between people even of identical bone structures. Consequently, no equation predicting maximum muscular bodyweight will be 100% accurate for everybody. What such an equation can do, however, is establish an upper limit of potential based on the achievements of drug-free bodybuilding champions. These men possess naturally high testosterone levels, full muscle bellies, and the host of structural characteristics that permit the development of world-class physiques - they reflect the upper limit of male drug-free muscular potential. Therefore, a muscular bodyweight prediction equation based on such a group of men provides an estimate as to the maximum muscular size a person of a given structure is likely to achieve without the use of anabolic drugs and while maintaining a "balanced" physique. Though, in reality, the very nature of the accomplishments of elite bodybuilding champions strongly implies that the majority of trainees will not be able to quite reach such a level.
However, if you have long muscle bellies, good health and hormone levels, a growth supporting diet and lifestyle, and train according to your needs then you should, in time, be able to approach such a predicted muscular weight. If one of these factors doesn't apply to you then your potential will be less. It has been my experience though - based on almost ten years of data collection and analysis and owing to the fact that ultimate muscular potential is so closely tied to bone structure - that most healthy people can come surprisingly close to what such a formula can predict ...if they train correctly for long enough.
One must also consider the case where a person's bone structure tapers at the extremities. For instance, the wrist and ankle circumferences could be "small" but the shoulder and hip structures not correspondingly "small". This trait is not entirely uncommon and can produce deceiving results. The opposite end of the spectrum is a slightly built person who has large wrists and ankles - this type of structure also exists. In these cases, it is more difficult to accurately predict muscular potential. I have chosen to present a simplified lean body mass prediction equation, but with the caveat that an adjustment be made for thinly and thickly built men whose structures are not accurately reflected in their wrist and ankle measurements.
Finally, potential lean body mass increases with body fat percentage. Research has found that very heavy Sumo wrestlers actually carry more lean body mass than bodybuilders of the same height . A statistical analysis of off-season vs. contest-condition bodybuilders was performed to account for this in the lean body mass prediction equation.
Predicting Maximum Muscular Bodyweight: The Equation
Based on an analysis of some 300 class and overall title winning drug-free bodybuilders and strength athletes from 1947 to 2010 the following equation, predicting the maximum lean body mass someone of a given height and bone-structure can achieve without the use of anabolic drugs, was derived. It describes a "normal" state of nutrition and fluid retention in the trainee. (There is a link at the end of this article to an online calculator based on all of the formulae presented here).
H = Height in inches
A = Ankle circumference at the smallest point
W = Wrist circumference measured on the hand side of the styloid process.
(The styloid process is the bony lump on the outside of your wrist.)
%bf = The body fat percentage at which you want to predict your maximum lean body mass
The above equation, as it was derived from collected data, applies most accurately to individuals of approximately average, balanced bone structures for their heights and average muscle belly lengths. Very thin ectomorphic men can expect to achieve roughly 95% of the lean body mass that the equation predicts. Likewise, very endo-mesomorphic men, men who have disproportionately wide hips, thick shoulder structures and torsos, high natural testosterone levels, exceptionally long muscle bellies or uncharacteristically small joints for their frame size may be able to exceed the prediction by up to roughly 5% in extreme cases (WNBF World Champion and Mr. Universe Rob Hope comes to mind).
So, using this equation, for a 5'9" (69 inches) tall bodybuilder at 10% body fat with 7.0" wrists and 8.7" ankles the equation would yield:
To convert maximum lean body mass to maximum bodyweight at any given body fat, use this equation:
Using our example bodybuilder, at a lean and healthy 10% body fat his total bodyweight would be:
Body weight = (173.7 / (100 - 10) ) x 100 = 193.0 pounds
As the above equation is intended for bodybuilders in a steady, maintainable state, special adjustments should be made for "bulking" off-season bodybuilders who, due to heavy food and liquid intake, often carry additional pounds of "lean body mass" in the form of fluid retention, labile proteins and contents in the digestive tract. In these cases, a bodybuilder may carry up to 4% additional body weight due to these factors - the predicted body weight must be multiplied by a maximum factor of 1.04 to account for this. Using our example trainee to illustrate his weight in a maximally "bulked" state, we get:
Maximum Bulked Body weight = 193.0 x 1.04 = 200.7 pounds
It must be kept in mind, however, that within days of reducing food intake back down to maintenance levels or below, this "transitory" lean body mass will quickly be lost and the trainee's weight will return more in line with the "Maximum lean body mass" equation. Most trainees, in fact, have experienced such temporary "swells" in body weight. For instance, a Sunday night of eating peanuts and drinking beer, or just a day of heavy eating, can show up as five or more additional pounds on the scale come Monday morning - that will not last, however, as the retention will be "shed" over the following days after resuming a more normal diet. It is not dissimilar to the weight fluctuations experienced by anyone following a carbohydrate cycling diet.
The body weight prediction formula was developed as an amalgamation of data from past and present drug-free bodybuilding champions and anthropometrics data from the U.S. Army, Navy, and several anthropometrics studies done by various organizations throughout the world (for ergonomic designs, etc.). In addition, a comparison was made with the fat-free mass indexes of champion bodybuilders, as presented in the work of Dr. E. M. Kouri, et. al. A mathematical regression was then done to obtain fits based on the heights, wrist sizes and ankle sizes of elite-level drug-free bodybuilding competitors. This regression was then converted to an equation consistent with the well-verified weight-to-height2 relation.
Table 1 presents a list of drug-free bodybuilding champions both past and present [3-6,12,13] with their actual weights and the weights predicted by the formulae. Also included are the maximum "bulked" off-season body weights of these bodybuilders (or after a day or few of heavy eating) and the percent body fats used in the predictions. The current champions are unnamed because several have expressed to me personally that they did not want their stats published publicly (there is a "sensitive" nature to the body weights and measurements of actively competing bodybuilders).
As can be seen from the data, the predictions are, in fact, quite accurate. As well, these bodybuilders were chosen to represent as broad a group of elite competitors as possible - with dates ranging from 1947 to 2010 and bodybuilders of different heights, bone structures and leanness being deliberately selected.
Comparing these body weights to population averages shows that these champions carry 24-26% more lean body mass than the average person of their height and bone structure. A large man such as Reg Park would carry 38-41 pounds more muscle than his average, non-weight training counterpart. A smaller structured man, such as 2006 WNBF World Champion Jon Harris, would carry about 31-34 pounds more muscle than an average, non-weight training man of his height and structure. It is also interesting to note that the absolute level of muscle mass carried by modern drug-tested bodybuilders is not statistically greater than that carried by bodybuilders from the pre-drug era - though modern bodybuilders compete at much lower body fat levels.
If you are lifetime drug-free and have approximately average bone structure girths for your height, use this formula (and bulked adjustment) to set a realistic and accurate bodyweight goal for yourself (individuals with significantly smaller or larger than average bone structures for their heights are more accurately treated in the e-book Your Muscular Potential: How to Predict Your Maximum Muscular Bodyweight and Measurements). In any case, if you achieve the prediction you'll be carrying as much muscle, with respect to your frame size, as an elite-level natural bodybuilder.
A Note Concerning Body Fat Estimation Methods: Common body fat estimation methods such as equations and charts based on skin-folds notoriously underestimate body fat levels in heavily-muscled individuals. This error can be up to roughly 4%. What that means is when you see an obviously smooth off-season bodybuilder claiming that skin-folds show he is only 10% body fat, the reality is he's more likely closer to 14%. Keep this in mind if you are an advanced bodybuilder using skin-folds to estimate your own body fat percentage or when considering bodybuilders' seemingly routine claims of contest conditions of less than 4% body fat. I used the published research plus personal experience with hydrostatic weighing to adjust the body weight prediction formula accordingly.
Predicting Maximum Muscular Measurements
There have been several sets of equations presented over the years that attempt to predict maximum muscular measurements based on height or wrist size. The problem is they typically don't consider both, and very few of them consider the lower body structure. Along with several efforts by David P. Willoughby [3-5], a popular set of formulae was presented by bodybuilding author John McCallum in the mid-1960s . McCallum's guidelines were based on wrist size, without the lifter's height taken into consideration. Such an approach can be sufficiently accurate for a lifter of average stature but muscular potential is, to a degree, influenced by height. For instance, a 6'1" tall trainee with an 8" wrist will, generally, have the potential to develop larger muscular measurements than a 5'8" trainee with an 8" wrist. For maximum accuracy, height must be considered when making such predictions.
The statistical analysis of the anthropometric measurements of roughly 300 drug-free class-winning and overall title winning bodybuilders and muscularly large strength athletes from 1947 to 2007 resulted in strong-to-moderate correlations between height, wrist girths, ankle girths and muscular measurements. Moreover, as the absolute muscular development of these elite-level athletes has not significantly changed over this 60-year period, genetic upper limits become apparent, and any inferences drawn from this group can be applied to future potential as well. Based on clear correlations, athletes noted for outstanding body part development were selected on a per body part basis, and bodybuilders with weaknesses in these areas were omitted from the data pool. The following correlations were found:
On the strength of these correlations, data was fit and a set of equations that predict muscular measurements in lean condition of approximately 8% to 10% body fat was derived. Again, height, ankle circumference and wrist circumference are the determining factors. One caveat is in order: People with uncharacteristically small joints for their frames and/or significantly longer than typical muscle belly lengths may be able to exceed some of these predictions by up to approximately 3%.
chest - measured relaxed (not expanded), arms at sides, tape under armpits
biceps - flexed, at largest point
forearms - fist clenched, hand out straight, measured at largest point
neck - below Adam's apple at smallest point
thighs - standing relaxed, midway between hip and knee
calves - standing relaxed, at largest point
* For all measurements tape should be snug but not compressing the flesh.
For our 5'9" trainee with 7.0" wrists and 8.7" ankles we have:
biceps = 1.2033 x 7.0 + 0.1236 x 69 = 17.0"
forearms = 0.9626 x 7.0 + 0.0989 x 69 = 13.6"
neck = 1.1424 x 7.0 + 0.1236 x 69 = 16.5"
thighs = 1.3868 x 8.7 + 0.1805 x 69 = 24.5"
calves = 0.9298 x 8.7 + 0.1210 x 69 = 16.4"
Clearly, these predictions are not comparable to what some drug-using bodybuilders are claiming and/or achieving. But, realistically, those numbers represent the maximum measurements that such a natural trainee is likely to achieve in lean condition without drugs, while still maintaining balanced measurements throughout the body. In reality, any trainee who reaches the measurements predicted by these equations will be an impressive physical specimen ...he would have the size and proportions of the bodybuilding legends listed above and of the current drug-free bodybuilding champions.
As an illustration, Table 2 shows how the old-timers and some drug-free elite competitors from 2003-2006 "measured up", along with the predictions of the equations. The actual measurements were taken from a variety of sources deemed credible, and were taken at body fat levels of approximately 8-10%.
Again, the predictions are quite accurate, but they also help illustrate certain points. For instance, you'll notice that many of these bodybuilders have calves smaller than the predicted values, whereas Steve Reeves and Current World Champ. "B" exceed the predicted values. What you are seeing there is the fact that the calves are a notoriously difficult body part to develop, whereas these competitors were genetically blessed with great calves that responded well to training. Another thing these equations can reflect are outstanding body parts. For instance, Current National 1st Place "B" is the only of the above competitors to exceed the biceps prediction, even though he surpassed it by a mere 0.3" he is known for his outstanding biceps development, even amongst other elite bodybuilders (and he is still well within the 3% maximum adjustment factor for exceptionally gifted muscle groups). Current National 1st Place "A", on the other hand, is a full inch below on the predicted thigh measurement ...and thigh development has long been an acknowledged weak point for him.
What these equations give you is the level of muscular development you would need to be equally developed, both in terms of mass and proportion, to elite-level drug-free bodybuilders of your height and bone structure. For individuals within the average height and bone structure range, and possessing average muscle belly lengths, this also corresponds to the heaviest lean body mass and largest lean measurements they are likely to achieve without drug-use and while maintaining balance throughout the muscle groups of the body (people with significantly smaller or larger than average bone structures are referred to the e-book for more accurate predictions). That isn't to say that a bodybuilder won't have a genetically gifted body part(s) that exceeds these predictions, or that he can't surpass these predictions by specializing, perhaps inappropriately, on certain muscle groups. However, it is very unlikely that the rest of the physique, as a whole, would reach that standard. If you have body parts that can exceed the predictions then you'll probably always have to "take it easy" on those muscles or they'll grow out of balance with the rest of your physique. (And if your outstanding body part is a large muscle group like legs or back this can cause your bodyweight to exceed the prediction given by the bodyweight equation.) In this regard, these equations should be viewed more as maximum guidelines than as limitations. On the other hand, perhaps you would like your biceps a little oversized with respect to the rest of your physique.
Also, keep in mind that achieving these measurements doesn't necessarily mean that your body will be "perfect". Measurements don't tell the full story - things such as muscle shape, symmetry, separation and definition can make all the difference. You may find yourself achieving these measurements yet your physique still lacking in certain aspects. Most commonly, if a person reaches these predictions, yet still doesn't appear muscularly impressive, then he's simply too fat - keep in mind that these equations describe a lean condition. On the other hand, if your measurements are significantly under what the equations predict, you've probably got the potential for further growth (baring some medical/physiological condition prohibiting this).
In reality, it will take years of dedicated, productive training for most genetically typical trainees to even approach these predictions. Most people, including champions, will never achieve this level of development throughout all of their muscle groups - and measurements taken at higher body fat levels do not reflect true muscular development. If you reach 95% of most of these predictions - in lean condition - you will stand out in almost any gym. In fact, 95% represents good lifetime goals for most genetically typical, drug-free trainees. At a lean 90% you'd look like a fitness model.
Online calculator based on the formulae presented above: Your Maximum Muscular Bodyweight and Measurements Calculator
The equations in this article are accurate for individuals of approximately average bone structure sizes and muscle belly lengths and heights from roughly 5'5" to 6'2". They were based on simplifications of material presented in the "body weights and measurements of elite-level drug-free bodybuilders" sections (2.1 and 2.2) of the e-book YOUR MUSCULAR POTENTIAL: HOW TO PREDICT YOUR MAXIMUM MUSCULAR BODYWEIGHT AND MEASUREMENTS. However, they by no means tell the full story. For a much more comprehensive and detailed estimate of your personal muscular potential, including taller and shorter and small- and large-boned trainees and accounting for individual muscle belly lengths, etc, see...
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