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How Much Muscle Can You Build Naturally?

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How Much Muscle Can You Build Naturally?

Many people make many claims as to how much muscle you can build naturally. Who’s right?


I get asked fairly often how much muscle you can really build naturally. That is, how can we determine our genetic potential in terms of building muscle? How big can we really get without taking drugs?

If you poke around on the Net, you’ll find a ton of conflicting opinions. Some people feel that genetics can prevent you from ever looking good, while others believe that you can accomplish anything if you work hard enough at it.

Who’s right?

Neither, really. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

Muscle Building and Genetic Potential

The first thing you should know is there really isn’t any way to know for sure what your genetic potential is when it comes to building muscle. While you’ll never be able to gain 250 lbs of lean mass naturally, it’s impossible to say with complete accuracy how big you’ll actually be able to get.

That said, worrying about such matters before you have 5+ years of proper lifting and eating under your belt is pretty pointless in my opinion. If you’re new to lifting, don’t even give a second thought to whether you’ll be able to build enough muscle, build it quickly enough, have the right proportions, etc. This can lead to unrealistic expectations and an early mental defeat.

The ultimate reality is that you are going to train hard, eat right, and let your body develop as it will. While we don’t all have the genetics to be top-tier bodybuilders, any of us can build a strong, muscular, healthy body that we’re proud of, and that’s what it’s all about in the end.

So, with that out of the way, let’s address the actual issue of this post: how much muscle can you build naturally?

How Much Muscle You Can Build Naturally?

Unfortunately, there aren’t any studies that I know of that definitively answer this question. Which is why there are so many opinions and broscience theories out there.

There are, however, some guidelines developed by a few of the top coaches and minds in the fitness world: Lyle McDonald, Alan Aragon, and Martin Berkhan.

These guys have collectively worked with hundreds of elite bodybuilders and athletes, and are speaking from not just an incredibly in-depth understanding of the body, but a wealth of real-world practice and results.

Let’s look at what they have to say, and then I’ll share my thoughts and experiences.

Lye McDonald’s Answer

Lyle keeps his model very simple. (And as a note, this applies to men–Lyle says that women should expect about half these numbers.)




20-25 pounds


10-12 pounds


5-6 pounds


2-3 pounds

According to Lyle, both age and starting condition will affect this. Older guys will gain less than younger, and underweight guys can gain a bit more than this. And some people can just build more or less muscle due to other factors like hormones, genetics, and lifestyle.

As you can see, Lye says that you’re looking at 40-50 lbs of muscle you can gain in your first 4-5 years, and the gains are negligible from there on out.

Also notice that it’s years of proper training, not just training. Lyle said that someone that has been lifting improperly for several years has the potential to make “year one” gains when he starts training properly. (And I’ll get to what proper training is in a minute.)

Alan Aragon’s Answer

Alan’s model addresses the issue a bit differently, but the numbers come out to be about the same.




1-1.5% of total body weight per month


.5-1% of total body weight per month


.25-.5% of total body weight per month

According to Alan’s formula, a 150 lb beginner could gain about 1.5-2.25 lbs of muscle per month, or 18-27 lbs in year one.

Once he hits year two, he’s an intermediate lifter weighing in at 170 lbs (let’s say), and could gain .85-1.7 lbs of muscle per month, or 10-20 lbs in year two.

By year three, he’s an advanced lifter at, let’s say, 190 lbs, and is capable of gaining 5-10 pounds of muscle that year. His potential gains diminish from this point on.

Martin Berkhan’s Answer

Martin developed his formula after observing and coaching scores of professional bodybuilding competitors, and it’s very simple:

Height in centimeters – 100 = Upper weight limit in kilograms in contest shape (4-5% body fat)

Here’s how this pans out for a few heights and poundages:






 160 lbs

 170 lbs

 153 lbs


 171 lbs

 180 lbs

 162 lbs


 182 lbs

 192 lbs

 173 lbs

To calculate numbers for other heights, multiply the inches by 2.54 to get centimeters. Then subtract 100 for your maximum weight in kilograms at 5% body fat. Multiply this number by 2.2 to get pounds.

 My Thoughts and Experiences

This subject can lead to some extremely heated debates in weightlifting/bodybuilding circles.

Some people dismiss such formulas as useless because they don’t take into account drive, work ethic, and consistency. I disagree. My experience in my own training and coaching hundreds of others aligns with the above guidelines.

I started at 155 lbs, and here’s a shot of me at 175 lbs, after about 1.5 years of IMPROPER training (and I won’t even Photoshop the zit out):

I did things well enough to ride my newbie gains, which added up to about 20 lbs in that time period, with 10-15 lbs of it being muscle. Not too good. And as you can see, I am not a genetic freak by any means. I was just a normal ecto-meso.

Here’s a shot of me after 6/7 years of improper training (I was working exclusively in the 10-12 rep range, doing a lot of isolation work, wasn’t squatting or deadlifting every week, had no idea what to do with diet beyond “eat a lot,” and so forth):
I weighed around 190 lbs here, at about 17% body fat (158 lbs of lean mass). So in the 5-6 years that ensued between these first two pictures, I had gained a measly 10-15 lbs of muscle. Pretty bad considering how much time I had put in.

As I talk about here, it was at this point that I decided to truly educate myself. And in the 3-4 years that have passed since then, I’ve radically transformed my body.

Here’s a current shot of me at 185 lbs and about 7.5% (171 pounds of lean mass):


If we compare the gains I made in the previous 3 years–about 5 lbs of muscle per year–against the above formulas, we see that I’ve done VERY well for being an advanced lifter. But that’s only because I made about half the gains I should’ve made in my first 6/7 years of training.

I’m now approaching my genetic potential (according to the above formulas, I have maybe 10 more pounds I can gain, and it will take several years), but I could’ve reached this point several years ago had I been training and eating properly.

It’s also worth mentioning that my experience coaching hundreds of guys verifies my own experiences. You can gain a LOT of muscle in your first three years of training if you do it right. It really starts to slow down at that point. And if you’ve been training improperly for several years, you can make startling gains by doing it right.

Don’t Discourage Yourself–Just Train Hard, Eat Right, and the Results Will Come

Some people look to professional bodybuilders, who step on stage at 270+ lbs and shredded, and feel deflated when they’re told that they’ll never be much bigger than 190 lbs in contest shape.

Well, the reality is 190 lbs at 5% is huge by normal standards. You’re fitness cover model material. Girls will love you, guys will want to be you (cheesy, sorry).

Unless you’re trying to reach freak status–220+ lbs at contest lean–you can achieve the look you want naturally. Just know that it takes a few years of hard work.


What are your thoughts on building muscle naturally? Do you agree with me? Disagree? Lemme know in the comments below!


How to get lean and build serious muscle and strength, faster than you ever thought possible…

If you want a "paint-by-numbers," step-by-step blueprint for building a muscular, lean, strong body...faster than you ever thought possible...then you want to check out my books.

You see, depending on how you eat, train, rest, and supplement, building muscle and losing fat can be incredibly simple or seemingly impossible. I've learned this the hard way, making every mistake you can imagine.

I've also learned a lot about what DOES work, and I wrote Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger to teach you EVERYTHING you need to know to build the body you've always wanted.

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Leave a Comment!
  • terry

    I love the information Mike. After reading your articles and books. I’m looking forward to a better body by proper training and diet. Thanks bro !

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Terry! I’m glad you like my work and that’s great you’re going to start the program! Lemme know how it goes!

  • Mark Ogrizek

    Did you use a DEXA to get your results for the last pic?

    • Michael Matthews

      No I used these:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com /recommendations/equipment/accumeasure-fitness-3000-personal-body-fat-tester-kit/

  • Jenny Leadem

    Those are some pretty awesome results I see in your more recent 3-4 year transformation. I know you changed everything; ate better, worked out right but which change do you think did it the most? From the looks of it I’m guessing a change in diet was the biggest factor?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Jenny! Proper lifting was actually the biggest factor. As you can see, I ate plenty before (way more than necessary) but didn’t know how to train correctly, so I didn’t achieve anywhere near the muscular development I should’ve…

  • Thomas

    Great points. I’m on day 3 of your 1 year challenge, I can’t wait to see the results of proper training.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! That’s great you’ve started the program. Definitely keep me posted on your progress…

      • Thomas

        Mike, it’s been 8 months and the results have been great! I went from 180 lbs to 168, now I’m back to 173 BUT I’m down about 3 inches off my waist and I’ve added 4+ inches to my chest. Leaner, stronger than I’ve ever been in my life. Thanks for the books and this blog.

        • Michael Matthews

          Wow amazing! Have you been taking pictures? I’d LOVE to feature you on the website!

          • Thomas

            I have a few pictures, plus I track my workouts so I can give specific gains for various exercises. I’m up for anything I can do to inspire others.

          • Michael Matthews

            Awesome, let’s do it! Shoot me an email! mike@muscleforlife.com

          • Thomas

            Just e-mailed you. I look forward to it.

          • Michael Matthews

            Perfect. I replied.

  • Brad Porter

    Wow, very informative post! Great timing for me too, since my buddy and I are starting your bulking diet tomorrow and we were curious as to what our ideal weight would be after gaining an ideal amount of muscle mass. Thanks for writing another helpful article, Mike :)

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Brad! Glad you liked it. Lemme know how the bulk goes. :)

  • Jeffrey Lindahl

    Thanks for the article. I have been discouraged a lot by the stuff I read, i have no plan and have tried joining a couple of gyms and am still so lost on every aspect of how to train properly. I usually only work out when I feel like it and just go about it in a stop and go type system and haven’t gotten anywhere in the 10 years I have been playing this game with myself. I know what I want and I kind of know how to get it but I still don’t know where to begin and most “experts” I try to talk to about are only talking to me because they think they are getting a sale out of it. I really need a lot of help.

    • cheverly

      Sounds to me like you really could use the help of an “expert”. I would recommend Mike’s book, Bigger, Leaner, Stronger. Not only is it evident he knows what he’s talking about, but he also has a section devoted to getting your mind in the game. From your comment above, I think you could definitely benefit. I personally wouldn’t let my resistance of giving someone a sale of only six bucks (!) outweigh my willingness to get the help I so desperately need… especially if you’ve struggled for 10 years. Just think about it. :)

      • Jeffrey Lindahl

        Well I agree with you and i appreciate your advice. I shall check out his book and will probably buy it.

        • Michael Matthews

          Let me know what you think. I’m also always available to answer any questions.

      • Michael Matthews

        Thanks Cheverly. Great reply! :)

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for the comment Jeff. I totally understand how you feel. I was stuck in a rut for quite some time but just kept going because I at least enjoyed the activity of working out.

      Like Cheverly said, you really should read my book Bigger Leaner Stronger. it will answer a LOT of questions for you…

      • Jeffrey Lindahl

        Another area of confusion for me is supplements. I have tried so many and have wasted so much money only to get mixed results and a temptation to sue two national supplement chain store companies. I so need help and guidance. I just ordered Bigger Leaner Stronger and am looking forward to reading it when it arrives in the mail.

        • Michael Matthews

          Yeah the supplement industry sucks. But I think you’ll really like my chapters on supps in BLS. I make it very clear what is and isn’t worth taking. Most products aren’t, some are.

          • Jeffrey Lindahl

            I can’t wait until I get it in the mail. I am so glad I found this website and your Facebook page. I feel like I am finally going to be on the right track to getting the body I always wanted.

          • Michael Matthews

            Thanks, and I’m excited for you! Can’t wait to get you going on the program!

  • Atila

    Hey Mike! Greetings from Brasil!

    I found your book BLS and it’s great! It’s changing my way of thinking and proceeding to suceed at my body objective! Thank you!

    That said, the hardest part for me… is eating enough! It’s really a lot of food, and the time is short! But you are a great inspiration, and I will find a way too! Thank you once again!!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Hey Atila!

      Thanks for reading BLS! I’m really glad you liked it and are planning on following the program!

      Yeah I understand. Bulking properly is a bit uncomfortable at first but you’ll get used to eating more and it won’t be so bad. You should also make sure you include calorie-dense foods in your meals like meat, healthy fats (nuts, oils, dairy, etc.), carbs like brown rice, quinoa, or multi-grain pasta or bread, and so forth. If you plan your foods out correctly it’s much easier than dinner rolling around and you realize you’re 1500 calories away from your target.

      I hope this helps and let me know how it goes!


  • Ed

    hey mike, just wanted to say your articles and books changed my mind set on getting in shape. I always looked for diet plans or workout plans for fast gains, but in reality I just need to make it a life style and look at training and eating right like a daily habit (like brushing my teeth!).

    plus, 6 years of training.. I can’t imagine how discouraged you were. Most people would give up after 3 months lol.

    great work as always!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Ed! I’m really glad you like my work and have shifted from the “immediate gratification” mindset to the lifestyle approach.

      Lol ironically I wasn’t too discouraged because I didn’t really know how much better I COULD HAVE been doing would I have known what I now know. Ignorance is bliss and all that. ;)

  • Dan Leo Alexis

    Thanks Mike I was just this week wondering what the approx “ideal” height/bodyfat/weight ratio was for my height. This article has given me some new goals to reach for. Can’t wait to get on with Bigger Leaner Stronger! love your work

    • Michael Matthews

      Good question and it really depends on what type of look you like, and your genetics (how your muscles form). Generally speaking, though, most guys want to be about 7% body fat around their genetic potential in terms of total lean mass.

      You can read more about this here:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com /how-much-muscle-can-you-build-naturally/

  • Kasey

    Great article my friend! Thanks bc it really helped answer some of my questions I had.

    • Michael Matthews

      Awesome, thanks Kasey!

  • Gary Kenny
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  • Brett Sligo

    Hi Mike! This question came to mind since I’ve been tracking my calories. So when I hit the gym or do some cardio my tracker shows a calorie deficit. Should I be eating more to compensate for the calories burned?

    • Michael Matthews

      Good question! No, don’t compensate for calories burned. Just stick to the formulas in the book and only adjust based on how your body responds.

      If you haven’t read any of my books, then what you want to do is work out your macros so you’re in a mild deficit based on your general activity level. It’s not necessary to track calories burned while exercising (these types of trackers aren’t completely accurate anyway).

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  • Nishan Harichandran

    Hey Mike! So I’ve been lifting for about 6 years now, but it only became proper training over the last year or two. My story is very similar to yours in terms of the first few years of lifting. I’m 5’10 and started at 120 pounds (yes, extremely skinny for my height, probably around 6 or 8% body fat), now I’m up to about 145 at about 8% BF. I’m tracking my macros and trying to keep them at a level to gain about .5 lbs per week.

    Two questions for you:
    1. Based on your experience, what weight do you think would be my plateau point? Is it possible for me to get up to 160 or 170 lbs?
    2. Do you think the diet allowing me to gain .5 lbs per week is too little or too much?

    Obviously I’m going to continue training and eating right regardless of the answers to these questions (because there’s no reason to not giving it your all) but I’m just curious to hear what your experience has to say about it! Thanks :)

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for writing! Great job on your gains so far.

      At 5’10, yes I think you can reach 170 lbs at 10% or so. This will take at least 5 years of proper training though.

      .5 lbs per week is very good. I assume you’re gaining very little fat?

      BTW what type of lifting program are you following?

      • Nishan Harichandran

        Thanks! Yes, I’m gaining very little fat and staying pretty lean (I’ve always been an ectomorph, so it’s not incredibly difficult to stay lean, but a bit tougher to put on the muscle mass). I plan on training properly for as long as my body will allow me to, so I should be able to reach that goal of 170.

        As far as my lifting program, I’m doing a 4 day split with an off day after 2 cycles (8 days).
        Day 1: Chest, bis, tris
        Day 2: Legs
        Day 3: Shoulders & calves
        Day 4: Back

        I’m progressively overloading, getting plenty of sleep, and counting my macros. Any other recommendations?

        • Michael Matthews

          That’s awesome. Keep up the good work.

          Great on your lifting schedule. Looks good. What rep range are you working in?

          • Nishan Harichandran


            I’ve been working in the 8-10 rep range, but I’m considering moving it down to 6-8 at least for the compound exercises.

          • Michael Matthews

            Cool. I recommend the 4-6 rep range. Hit everything hard and heavy.

            You might like this article:

            https://www.muscleforlife.com /the-hardgainers-guide-to-guaranteed-muscle-growth/

          • Nishan Harichandran

            Once again, THANK you. Very helpful article, and I’ll be sure to lift heavier :)

          • Michael Matthews

            My pleasure! Lemme know how it goes!

            BTW you’d really like my book Bigger Leaner Stronger:

            https://www.muscleforlife.com /books/bigger-leaner-stronger/

            It lays out everything you need to know in terms of diet and training to build muscle and lose fat efficiently.

          • Nishan Harichandran

            Thanks, I’ll check it out!

          • Michael Matthews

            Cool! :)

          • Nishan Harichandran

            I just tried the 4-6 reps on chest bis and tris and it felt GREAT. I’m so excited about this improvement to my workout. Squats and deads tmrrw tho, I’m a bit nervous bout the 4-6 rep squat part lol

          • Michael Matthews

            Awesome, keep it up! And heavy deads and squats are the best! :)

          • Nishan Harichandran

            Bought your book. Started reading it a couple of hours ago, am almost half way through, and can’t stop reading. Congrats, it’s an amazing piece of literature.

            If I have a couple of questions should I message you on facebook about them?

          • Michael Matthews

            Thanks so much! I’m really glad you like it.

            Yup email me or FB message me and I’ll be happy to help.

  • Jack

    Hi Mike interesting article but at 45 I beginning to think I’ve left it too late. I’ve been training the bls way for 4 month’s and I am a lot leaner but building muscle seems very difficult .

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Jack! It’s definitely not too late! Guys in their 40s can actually do about as well as guys in their 20s (I’ve seen at least one study that demonstrated this).

      What you’re running into is likely just a dietary issue. If you’re not eating enough, you won’t gain weight, even if you’re lifting heavy and gaining strength.

      • Jack

        Thanks for that, your probably right because i am so concious of gaining too much fat i will be under eating, i need to look at my diet carefully and see were i can improve.

        • Michael Matthews

          YW. Yeah that’s pretty common. You just have to accept that some fat storage comes with eating properly for muscle growth. But don’t worry–it’s easy enough to lose the fat.

  • Joe

    Great article. The usefulness of these models is that they give a realistic expectation of what ones gains might/should be. A problem is the vague definition of “newbie” and the added vague variables of thin/heavy, proper training etc.

    A more useful model might be to consider ones FFMI. As one approaches 25 gains become more difficult. The high variability in newbie gains is likely because individuals rapidly climb to an FFMI of 20. Someone with a starting FFMI of 17 would seem to be making huge gains but someone with an FFMI of 19 would show much less. Once someone has an FFMI of 20 they aren’t a newbie anymore, even if they’ve only trained for a month. 20 to 21 likely takes another year and then 2 more years for 21 to 22. Beyond 22 is a crawl.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Joe! You’re absolutely right. I agree on all points.

    • CPANinjaDoug

      What is FFMI?

      • Michael Matthews

        You can learn more about it here:

        https://www.muscleforlife.com /do-actors-use-steroids-for-movies/

        • CPANinjaDoug

          Thanks… and thanks for changing the comment. I did read through the article — twice — and didn’t see FFMI mentioned. :-)

          • Michael Matthews

            Haha yeah I thought it was in this article. Whoops.

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  • Alvaro Gómez

    Good article, I can relate to your story a lot. 7 years of impropper training here, currently looking like your second picture and trying to get closer to how you look in the third one. I’m reading “bigger, leaner, stronger” also, good info!
    Keep up the good work and the support to others.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Alvaro! Definitely let me know what you think of BLS. I’m happy to answer any questions!

  • Greg – Kinobody

    Very, very solid article! Great to see your progression over the years and you look phenomenal at 185 lbs with 7.5% body fat. Awesome work.

    I tend to agree with the formula’s. That being said, I’m currently around 10% body fat at 5’10 and weigh around 185-186 lbs with a 32″ waist, 45″ chest, 51.5″ shoulders and 16.5″ arms.

    I’ve been training hard and intelligently for about 8 years so I’m not surprised that I’m about 5-6 lbs bigger than Berkhan’s model suggests for 10%. And honestly, don’t think I actually want to add any more size or strength. Perhaps I am a minority. That said, I have surpassed most elite lifts that he also used. Currently incline benching 255 lbs for 6 and chinning 115 lbs for 6.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Greg! Really appreciate it.

      Great stats. Your FFMI is around 25, which is still within the natural range. You’re just at the peak of your genetic potential, really.

      VERY strong lifts. That’s impressive.

  • Osher Barda

    Wow dude great article definitely agree and well put!! Ty

    • Michael Matthews


  • Russ Vanover

    Got motivated again with the FRANK MEDRANO video you posted the other night. My problem has always been food… Not eating enough when im working out and eating too much when I fall off the wagon. Currently, amped and working out but a lil chunky at 19 percent bf

    • Russ Vanover

      Amped because of your efforts Mike…

      • Michael Matthews

        Thanks man. :)

    • Michael Matthews

      Haha nice on the vid. It’s a good one.

      Yeah diet can be tricky if you don’t make a follow a good meal plan. That’s what I would recommend. This article can help:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com /what-is-if-it-fits-your-macros-and-does-it-work/

  • Andrew Strathie

    nice one Mike,and good to see we dont need super-genetics good photos too, your first photo reminded me of what i looked like when I was a lot younger..lol,…so theres still hope…lol,..Im now 45 years and after a long break from lifting (5years)..Im back Fatter but more determined to concentrate all my attention on form, heavy sets and 4-6 rep range…my squat ad deadlift are stronger than they have “EVER” been..and easier with correct form( by easier I mean I can feel the right muscles working for the right excersise).
    Nice one Mike..keep up the sterling work buddy.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Andrew! You can definitely do well. Your age is NOT an issue. Check out this article:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com /how-to-build-muscle-40s/

      That’s great you’re rolling on the program and making gains. keep it up and keep me posted!

  • António Alves

    These numbers refer to how much muscle you can gain or have? Because if it is the former, than that would mean that if you lose muscle, like when you are cutting, then you can get it back.
    Also, is this about muscle or fat as well? If I cut throughout the year, and then bulk will I still be making year one or newbie gains?


    • Michael Matthews

      This refers to how much you can GAIN each year. How much you have grows larger and larger over time, of course.

      No, newbie gains last about 6-8 months it seems and if you keep training, they’re gone. If you quit and come back, however, the muscle memory works kind of like newbie gains.

  • Chris Behan

    So right, so RIGHT, I started getting serious about six yrs ago and gained 30lbs.over 3 1/2 years. I started at 43years old and a skinny 175lbs. I’m now age 49, 6’2″ 205lbs., 10percent body fat 181 lean body mass. I’m currently 2 weeks into the bigger, leaner, stronger plan and plan to see significant progress by June. Thanks Mike for this wake up call and motivator.

    • Michael Matthews

      Wow, amazing job Chris. That’s really, really well done.

      Definitely keep me posted on your progress and write anytime if you have any questions or run into any difficulties. I’m always happy to help.

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  • anon

    I’m forced to agree completely. I trained two individuals for a class at college. It was with a female and a male. Female gained 3.68 pounds of muscle in 6 weeks. Male gained 3.3 pounds of muscle in 6 weeks. Not unbelievable really to me now. At the time though I hadn’t been able to take accurate measurments to take into account BMI, Fat percentage, and lean muscle. I had helped people out before and the weights going up/bodyweight strength gains were easy enough to measure since reps go up as does weight. I was impressed with this article. I am aware this serves at best as anecdotal evidence, but it falls within the above guidelines that you lay out. You have trained hundreds me not as many though I do hope to change that. So all in all GOOD JOB GREAT ARTICLE!!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks so much!

      • Abishek

        So michael you say that we must not care about the genetics? Because my family genes are slim nobody was bulk . But i want to be bulk and ripped. I almost gave up about knowing about the whole genetics thing and that its no use me trying hard.

        • Michael Matthews

          Genetics can make it easier or harder to look the way we want, but they can never completely prevent us from building muscle and/or getting lean.

  • Paul Higham

    Good stuff as usual Michael!
    It’s just a pity so many people use the ‘genetics’ line as an excuse.
    Always nice to have about of ammunition to throw back!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Paul! I agree!

  • trudat

    All these studies are false, what about the guys that were born 230 and lean benching 300 in highschool. I know quite a few of them and have a few in my family. There are a lot of genetic freaks out there. Its all genetics, we are not all starting from nothing.

    • Michael Matthews

      Lol all of these studies are false because you knew guys in high school that were big and strong? Come on…

      Genetics matter but not nearly as much as people think.

  • missmarine

    I love learning all this stuff. Thanks again for the info! And you look great by the way!

    • Michael Matthews

      My pleasure, and thank you! :)

  • Victor Laginas

    Been at it for 35+ years…..you are 100% correct, but you forgot to mention the hard work it takes to stay there.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Victor! It’s easier to maintain a physique than build one though! :)

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  • JimOfRose

    Mike, Thanks for this. I just “discovered” your work, your books. Thank you for cutting through all the “bull” for us.
    I’m 45yo. About 5 years ago I was in the gym and was seeing startling gains. My work out buddy and I were determined to lift correctly; that is, we lifted with proper mechanics and did not consider it an embarrassment if the weight we were currently working with was light (we saw, and still see, so many how are just throwing weights around like silly monkeys). But we were still using the 10-12 range. I was seeing nice gains and it would appear that I have a nice genetic potential (lucky me).
    Now I’m back in the gym, but this time using your common sense approach. So much of what you right (I purchased BLS) just makes sense… it’s like, “uh, duh!?”
    That said… do you have any articles that speak specifically address my age group and body building? Health and longevity aside, I just want to look good for my wife. There are so many in our generation that actually don’t like the “cut” look. So, 10-12% body fat might be a great goal for me. So I’m looking to be large and well proportioned.
    What is some of your experience for a middle-aged guy? What changes, if any, should I make to the program? Do the above “guidelines” still apply – or how can I make it so that they will apply?
    I truly appreciate what you’ve done here and thank you so much. I’m hitting the gym today using your approach… and can’t wait!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks man! I really appreciate it.

      Yup check this out:


      You’ll do great. But check out the article. :)

      • JimOfRose

        Great! Thanks for the fast reply. And VERY encouraging!

        I read somewhere (it might have been you, I don’t remember) that middle aged guys should double (40g) their pre workout protein intake. Was that you? Does that sound right?

        • Michael Matthews

          My pleasure! Yeah, 30 – 40 before and after is perfect.

  • pabbs

    Not a single leg was trained in this article!

  • http://batman-news.com Jay P

    Great article and very encouraging. I’ve had the genetics thing in the back of my head for a couple of years now. It is refreshing to see that there is hope and a good possibility to see results sooner than I may have anticipated. I am new to the program and your articles are very helpful in bringing me along. Thanks again!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Jay! I’m glad to hear it.

  • marsa

    hi mike
    really nice articles.I live in Iran.How can I use your book?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Do you have access to the Google Play Store or iTunes?

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  • marsa

    hi mike

    sorry I’m late.I’m not sure because Iran is boycotted.thanks brother I’ll try them.

    one of my friend looks muscular.she is tall and almost fit.but she is weak.and when u touch her muscle ,see how loose they are.now question is if she use heavy she’ll probably become bulky.to this,she is getting fat without any reason.of course she eat very little and I think that’s the reason.what should she do.thank u very much and sorry if there are errors in my sentences cause I’m not very good in English.

    • Michael Matthews

      No she won’t get bulky from heavy weightlifting IF she also stays lean. That’s the key. If women lift weights and don’t stay lean, they just end up looking bigger. If they do stay lean, however, they look athletic.

  • marsa

    thanks.is it correct to do cardiac exercises after work out.I mean for fat burning?
    for example one hour work out and 30 minute treadmill.

    • Michael Matthews

      Yes that’s fine.

  • marsa

    hi mike,
    I want to know if feeling paint or burning in our muscles means they are working well!? and when u don’t have it ,does it mean you aren’t on the right way.
    Thanks brother

    • Michael Matthews

      That’s just lactic acid building up.

  • NG

    Probably a little bit late after so many months, but just in case I can still get an answer. How should a female gain muscle and at the same time lose fat? so as you Mike say a girl can look lean and athletic?
    How should one excercise and eat?

  • Akshay

    Hey Michael…really inspired and admire your hard work. I’m in the fat burning stage right now…eating right, hitting the numbers the best I can, and currently doing P90X2 since the last 6 months. I have lost 25 lbs, and down to about 16-17% BF from 22%, and have lost about 11 inches overall. I ordered your BLS book yesterday. P90X2 is a great total body program, with cardio and resistance training combined, but limited in terms of bulking up. For muscle growth / bulking up, I’m looking at 2 things right now – your book and Body Beast (also a Beachbody product). I’m looking to start in September this year. Do you think I can use both together? Also – a huge favor, can I send you my before/after pictures (6-months) so you can see how my body has changed over the last 6 months? Thanks and I appreciate your time.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Great on what you’re doing!

      Hmm I wouldn’t use them together unless you do 3 BLS workouts per week and 2-3 BB workouts. Don’t try to do full BLS and BB or you will overtrain.

      You could do heavy push, pull, legs BLS style and then some accessory work with BB. What do you think?

      Sure, send the pics!

      • Akshay

        Thanks Mike. I think I will read the BLS book, and then decide…but yes, I will only do 1 of them at a time.

        Here are my before / current pics. Let me know what you think in terms of when I should start a muscle bulking program like yours. I have 30 days to complete my 2nd round of P90X2, and then for the summer I have options – do a hybrid of road biking and P90X2 or a hybrid of road biking and a muscle bulk program. But I definitely want to start the program come Fall.

        Where do you think I’m at from a body fat %? My Omron monitor says 12% (1st thing in the morning, after using the restroom, w/o water)…but I know visually I don’t look like 12%.

        • Michael Matthews

          Great job! That rocks.

          Hmm I would guess closer to 14%. Check this out:


          You’re in a “gray” area where you COULD bulk for a bit and then cut or vice versa…


          • Akshay

            Mike – again, thanks. I will finish my current program in a month, read your BLS book (already on Chapter 12!) and go from there. Still need to buy the equipment for lifting, (hate gym memberships!)

            My BMR is ~1700. TDEE is 1700*1.35 = 2300. In the last 40 days, I have averaged 1.5g C, 1g P, 0.44g F. (250/160/70) Currently weigh 160 lbs, 5 9″, age=34. I have lost 3 lbs since then. Should I alter anything in my macros here?

          • Michael Matthews

            Great, sounds good!

            Hmm 3 lbs down in 4 weeks isn’t bad. I wouldn’t change anything yet. Wait until your weight stalls for 10 days and then drop out 25g carb…

          • Akshay

            I’m sorry Mike, but I had one more question. (You must be getting people like me a lot ;)). I’m struggling to find out how to measure my current lean muscle. Body fat is easily done with the caliper! Need to get a baseline on my muscle weight before I start bulking! Thanks for your time!

          • Michael Matthews

            No worries. It’s hard to know exactly as you can’t know the weight of your bones and organs.

          • Akshay

            Mike – it’s me again. I am split between buying a bench (with or w/o support for the bar). Only want to buy one. I know the one with support will be a necessity for Bench Presses. But will the support interfere when I do the dumbbell presses or any other dumbbell routine?

          • Michael Matthews

            Hmm I would get a free bench and a free standing deal for the barbell?

          • Akshay

            Thank you. I didn’t even know a separate bench and stand existed!

          • Michael Matthews


          • Akshay

            Mike – I was reading through the workouts section of the YearOneChallenge. I noticed that as compared to Body Beast, you recommend focusing on a few routines/sets only? For ex., BLS “Legs” is only Barbell Squat, Leg Press, Rom. DeadL. (3 sets each). BB “Legs” will have me doing 8 diff routines for 3 sets each. Am I missing something here?

            Another Q I have is – I will have only a barbell/EZ curl bar, weights, adjustable dumbbells, bench and squat rack @home. How will I do routines like Dips and Cable Crunch at home?

          • Michael Matthews

            Yeah, BB is trying to impress you by having you do a lot of random things. :P That isn’t necessarily BETTER though.

            You can just swap those exercises for exercise you can do.

          • Akshay

            Would you have a list of alternate exercises that I can swap them for, given the limited equipment I will have at home? Thanks :)

          • Michael Matthews

            Just check it out brother. For instance, you can do more incline presses instead of dips and you can do hanging leg raises with a DB in between your feet instead of Cable Crunches…

          • Akshay

            Thanks again.

          • Akshay

            Michael – can I share my final picture and stats with you in about 2-3 weeks? That’s when I will complete my current P90X2 program. I would like to get your opinion on whether to bulk or cut and for how long. I’ve finally decided on going with BLS and not BB, I like the simple, concise nature of your program – plus I would like to do all the workouts exactly as you have laid out in the book and Year-One Challenge – so I convinced myself to join a gym and not invest in the equipment at this point. Thanks brother, and I’m SO EXCITED to get started!

          • Michael Matthews

            Sure! Sounds good!

          • Akshay

            Completed reading the BLS book! Loved it, will leave a detailed feedback later. Dying to start!!! :)
            Q: Not clear to me if I should be doing 3 sets of the same exercise back-to-back, or 1 set of each and then set 2, set 3…etc.? What’s the best thing to do?

          • Michael Matthews

            Thanks! :)

            1. One exercise at a time.

            2. Yeah you can do that. If you don’t mind the extra time.

            3. Just lifting. If you want to walk for a few minutes to raise body temp that’s fine, but don’t exert yourself. Don’t stretch before, stretch after if you want.

          • PJ

            Get a DEXA scan. It gives the most accurate Bf, lean muscle (and much more) breakdown.

  • Adam

    Recently I purchased your books shredded chef and bigger leaner stronger. Love them. Its crazy how little I knew about nutrition and training before I red these books. I’m a 32 year old male 5’11’ 175 lbs and I’m guessing around 15% body fat. I’m trying to build lean muscle but I also want to tone up a bit. My question is, should I reduce my calorie intake to finish off the last few pounds of fat and then increase my calories to start bulking? Or with proper training and eating will my body fat decrease while eating extra calores as long as the rest of my macronutrients are on target?

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  • sam

    Hi mike just bought your book recently and intend to put it into practice but I was wondering are bigger leamer stronger and thinner leaner stronger the same books exactly, only under a different name. I ask this question as I have 3 females in the family who want to train but are questioning me as to weather the exercise may be different for females

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Sam! They are very similar as the basic principles don’t change but there are some female-specific advices and the workouts are a little different.

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  • Ribtwistaaa

    Definitely made me feel better. I was starting to feel discouraged because I can’t eat to reach my macros every day… I am lucky if I can get remotely close to 200 out of the 250g of protein I should get every day… But I’m still seeing gains. I’m just hoping that as I get into this (i’m barely a month in) hopefully I’ll get hungrier. I’m just miserable force feeding myself.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for the comment! Keep up the good work and keep me posted!

    • gdbo


  • Steve Bain

    Interesting read. I’m 40 years old and just getting back into training after a long lay off. I can’t believe how weak I’ve become – nearly passed out after 7 squat reps with 40kg on the bar! I’m about 30 lbs overweight too so, for the next few months, I’ll be working to lose fat whilst training. I imagine that following a fat loss diet will restrict any muscle gains significantly but, once I get rid of the excess body fat, I’ll up the calories and protein intake. I’d be very happy to gain as little as 14 lbs of lean muscle after a year. My strength is already increasing each workout and I’m much more focused on slow steady progress than I was in my youth. Thanks for the info.

    • Michael Matthews

      That’s great you’re rolling again and yeah you won’t build muscle as quickly but that’s fine. You will build some and you’ll get rid of the fat.

      Keep up the good work and keep me posted!

  • Matt

    Great, great article. I’ve got a few questions, however. I’ve been lifting now for about 5 years, and really only a month or so have been SMART training (diet in check by tracking, progressive overloading in the 4-6 rep range, essentially following BLS) and have made substantial progress on cutting. Does this mean I’m technically a beginner by these terms, being that I’ve trained for years but only recently started becoming fully educated? Should I be cutting first? My plan was (starting at ~15% BF) to get down to about 8 or 9 (I am roughly 11-12% now). Should I be cutting that low, or bulk earlier to cash in on “genetic potential”?

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  • Benito

    I believe that there is no limits to one person’s potential and development. I one individual is determined to achieve a goal he will do it no matter what the odds say. Of course hard work and sacrifices have to be a routine in order to achieve a great body.

    • Michael Matthews

      That sounds good in theory but there ARE limits to how much muscle we can naturally build and maintain…

      • Benito

        Glad you answered to my post. I have recently bought two of your books, Bigger Leaner Stronger, and The shredded Chef. I like them both, I like your direct approach on the argument, no short cuts, only dedication and hard work. I have been in several gyms and never heard of something similar to your plan and diet.

        • Michael Matthews

          Thanks so much! I really appreciate it.

      • David

        If you could push through the pain and just squat and deadlift like with no job. Someone on unemployment do you think these limits could be broken? Me I’m 5’6″ and 187 pounds probably like 16% bodyfat. I don’t know I’m pretty think everywhere but I need to cut my stomach. I was just wondering. Also what about like DAA or Erase pro. Natty test boosters I take those is that still natty? Measurements chest 44″ biceps about 16.5 they fluctuate between 16-17 depending on creatine and what I eat. Thighs 23″ neck around 17″. Again my fat Is a little higher tho. I used to be real thin so u know I’ve been eating everything in sight. I also notice I can lift more with more fat on me. Wouldn’t that mean it would be better to keep the extra fat while ur building muscle I don’t get it. If hate to think I’m maxed out. That sucks. I believe it it’s just I think that my legs could def be bigger or I really really pushed it buts it so exhausting. I guess I’m asking if u lift heavier and heavier can u get bigger than these estimates. I notice my strength still slightly increases. I’ve hit 275 for 8 on flat bench. I’ve maxed 315. I only squat for reps so I use 225 and move up to 315. I feel like if I could just recover better from squats I could be bigger. I read all these guys saying they can squat all day and night and don’t be a pussy and deadlift and squat or your a sissy. I’m paraphrasing but u know what I mean I think. Are they all just juicing because to be honest after a day of heavy deadlifts I’m dead and I mean dead or a day of heavy squats for at least 3 days. I recover from everything else fast but I’m like wiped after pushing myself to the max on deads and squats. Am I being a “sissy” lol or were these squat twice a week ten sets workouts written by juicers who are lying and saying they are natural. I kind of feel good about these numbers cause that means I’ve basically done it for my frame I think. But I also think damn id love to weigh 200 lbs.

        • Michael Matthews

          Ah yeah let’s have you cut. Here’s why:


          DAA can temporarily raise T and I haven’t looked into Erase Pro. I’ve heard it can work though.

          Yeah they’re natural.

          Let me know what you think on the cutting vs. bulking!

          Your lifts are solid brother.

  • VinceW.

    This is reassuring. I am 31 years old, 5’11” and 145lb. I’ve always been the scrawny guy who could never bulk up. After reading your site for a week, and doing just three of your ultimate workouts I have realized I had NO idea what I was doing! I’ve been working out for 3 months at high reps NOT with free weights. Just after the 3 workouts this week I feel like I actually WORKED my body. Very excited to hit it hard and be a nice before and after story for ya:)

    • Michael Matthews

      That’s great man! I’m excited for you! Keep up the good work and keep me posted!

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  • Michael Edwards

    Hey Mike, Ive been reading all your articles and i’ve even bought 2 of your books from an online store in America. (Bigger, Leaner, Stronger, Cardio Sucks) The downside is Im from Adelaide, South Australia so they will take 2-3 weeks for them to arrive. But the Upside is that I’m learning everything i can from your articles and I’ve started doing your 8 week workout routine that you offer on your website.

    Im a 6ft 80kg, 17% body fat, 27 year old male with an ecto -mesomorph body type. Ive been training now for about 4.5 years. When i first started training i was 65 kgs and looked like a tall praying mantis. (My body fat % was probably very low but so was my muscle mass). I had low self esteem because i hated my body image. so when i started training all i wanted to do was build muscle very fast. I was literally on a see-food diet. I ate anything and everything. After about a year i went from 65 kgs to a whooping 91 kgs with about 30% body fat. I was very happy with my results despite not training 100% properly. (I skipped more than a few leg and ab days, and worked my chest more than my back, but hey…it grew fast so i kept on training it.)

    Then i wanted to tone, because i was happy with my muscle mass now but had no curves or definition and a bit too much fat. At the time i had a very physical job and despite eating a lot i went from 91 kgs down to about 74kgs. I had definition but like most people i dieted wrong and lost alot of muscle mass.

    Since then i have gotten alot of strength back and i am the weight a mentioned before. before i started reading your articles i felt like i had hit a brick wall with my training. Nothing was working for me because everything you can do wrong in a workout i have probably done. I believe that the biggest mistake i’ve made from working out was overtraining. I just never really understood the downsides and how important it was to not overtrain.

    I find that one of the hardest things to working out is trying to find the right knowledge. EVERYONE has their own opinion to work out. Im not saying that they are wrong, im just saying that it wasn’t working for me because my knowledge was lacking and a little bit misguided.

    Since reading your information, i feel very confident that you are the man with the knowledge that i have been seeking. Now im putting all my efforts into building a better body. I want to lose some more body fat before i start building so im on mild calorie deficit. (Ive done all the math) I want to get down to about 10-12% body fat for now. (its a realistic goal)

    Ill let you know how my progress goes. Thanks for everything, cant wait to get your books. You are an inspiration.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for writing and for all the support! I really appreciate it.

      I totally agree that wading through all the opinions and methods can be overwhelming. In the end you have to choose something that sounds resonable and give it a go, and often have to do this a few times to really know what works best for you.

      Definitely keep me posted on your progress and write anytime if you have any questions or run into any difficulties. I’m always happy to help.

      • Michael Edwards

        hey Mike, i received your bigger, leaner, stronger book yesterday and i cant put it down. its f***ing awesome!!! i get so excited when i read it and also feel a little cocky knowing that Im going to make more progress in the gym than anyone there, especially the useless personal trainers who are only there to get rich. But the funny thing is that even if i tell them what Im doing they wouldn’t want to believe it because it contradicts everything they have ever learned. i just wish i found your book earlier because i feel like Ive wasted years doing a lot of wrong things. but i guess you have to do things wrong sometimes to realize it.
        Anyway, i will definitely keep you posted. You are a celebrity to me and if i ever go to America for a holiday i will hunt you down just so i can thank you personally.

        • Michael Matthews

          Thanks man! I really appreciate it!

          Haha well you’re going to have to work hard and probably are going to get a bit humbled by the heavy ass weights, but at least you’ll know you’re going in the right direction. :)

          Thanks for the support man. I really appreciate it. :)

  • Nick

    What if someone had dirty bulked and spend 6 months cutting in his first year?

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  • Mike Berg

    Here is what I consider to be the most accurate method to determine your potential. Definitely an upgrade, scientifically, from the three you mentioned http://www.weightrainer.net/bodypred.html. And the article that goes along with it http://www.weightrainer.net/potential.html.

    • Michael Matthews

      I’m familiar with this and the three models given in this article have been borne out anecdotally. They’re quite accurate.

  • Dez Wright

    What is the bodies limitation on how much muscle we can develop naturally? Obviously the body can get bigger by using drugs, so what is the bottleneck? I am assuming it is simply the amount of protein that the body is able to synthesise, and that as you develop more muscle, more of that synthesis goes into maintaining what you have rather than growth. Would be great to know your thoughts.

  • Bryan Dass

    Excellent Article – Mike really gives the truth and usually the truth can be a really negative limiting thing but man right now I feel inspired and happy as ever – to go forward – step by step.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Bryan! Definitely keep me posted on your progress and write anytime if you have any questions or run into any difficulties. I’m always happy to help.

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  • Aaron Singh

    Just stumbled upon your article and found it to be a very good read. I was just wondering, i’ve got pretty small bones and a small structure at 5’5″. I weigh around 140 lbs 20% bf. I want to build muscle naturally so how should I go about it?

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  • Michael Matthews

    Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

    Feel free to comment below if you have any questions. I do my best to check and reply to every comment left on my blog, so don’t be shy!

    Oh and if you like what I have to say, you should sign up for my free weekly newsletter! You’ll get awesome, science-based health and fitness tips, delicious “guilt-free” recipes, articles to keep you motivated, and much more!

    You can sign up here:


    Your information is safe with me too. I don’t share, sell, or rent my lists. Pinky swear!

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  • Luke

    I have been incorrectly lifting for two years. My body looks almost exactly like yours did when you were 190 at 17%. Im only 5″10 178 tho, im guessing that you are taller than me. Anyways i bought you book from audible last night and ive listened to half of it, should have it finished later today. I was one of those individuals who knew nothing about nutrition or how muscle actually grows. So far, from your book ive been doing some things right and some things totally wrong. I have also taken pictures of what i look like now and will take pictures again in three months. I love your book and will complete the program to its specifics. Im a muscular guy, especially upper body wise, but i believed i could never truly be lean. I religiously go to the gym 5-6 days a week, which is easy because of my job. But i stopped getting results, i attribute it to not lifting correctly and following proper nutrition. Anyways enough rambling, i just wanted to say thank you for showing me the correct way. Id also like to show you results three months from now.

    • http://www.muscleforlife.com/ Michael Matthews

      Yeah I’m 6’2.

      Thanks on the book! I’m glad you’re liking it.

      Definitely keep me posted on your progress and write anytime if you have any questions or run into any difficulties. I’m always happy to help.

  • Ant

    I’ve recently started training with weights after many years karate training and that has answered a question of mine about how big the human body can grow naturally i’m currently 196 lbs trying to get down to 180 i’m consuming750 calories from protein, 1200 calories from carbs and 450 calories from fat i’m doing weights everyother day and cardio on my rest days will this help me keep muscle and lose weight?

  • Jim Walker

    How great that people have a legit natural bodybuilder to look up to. Not that steroids are evil, but lying about this shit just ain’t right. I think I’m sticking with this blog, no broscience to be found here!

    • http://www.muscleforlife.com/ Michael Matthews

      Thanks Jim! :)

  • Shruti Sinha

    Thanks f sharing this , its very informative post . My husband also taking muscle building supplement from ironhealthsupplement , its provide very genuine product with very minimum price.

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