Muscle for life

How Much Muscle Can You Build Naturally? (With a Calculator)

How Much Muscle Can You Build Naturally? (With a Calculator)

If you want to know how much muscle you can build without steroids, and how fast, then you want to read this article.

Key Takeaways

  1. Most men can naturally gain about 40 to 50 pounds of muscle in their lifetimes, and most women can naturally gain about 20 to 25 pounds.
  2. Research shows that you can use the circumference of your wrists and ankles to fairly accurately predict how much muscle you can gain naturally.
  3. It takes at least 4 to 5 years of proper dieting and training to even approach your potential for whole-body muscularity.

When I started working out, I was just over six feet tall and weighed about 155 lbs.

I was your average skinny dude.

After about 1.5 years of traditional “bodybuilder workouts,” I was…shall we say…a little less skinny (and I won’t even Photoshop the zit out):


I had gained about 20 pounds since starting in the gym (~175 pounds here), which isn’t very impressive considering most of it was gained in the first 10 months — the “newbie gains” phase.

Here’s another shot of me:

At this point, I had been training regularly for about 7 years, weighed around 190 lbs, and was about 16% body fat.

A big change from where I had started, of course, but that means that in the 5 to 6 years in between these pictures, I had gained just 10 to 15 pounds of muscle.

Again, not very impressive considering how much time and work I had put into my training.

To make matters worse, I was stuck in a rut and hadn’t seen much of a change in my physique in at least a year, maybe longer.

What was the problem, I wondered?

Was I eating the wrong foods? Was I doing the wrong exercises? Was I just up against bad genetics?

Well, this is where I decided to get serious about educating myself on the science of muscle building and fat loss, and I quickly discovered that I was making a lot of mistakes.

For example, I was working exclusively in the 10 to 12 rep range and doing a lot of isolation exercises instead of compound exercises, and I thought you just had to “eat big to get big” and “eat clean to get lean.”

This was a turning point.

Soon after that last picture was taken, I dramatically changed the way that I was eating and training, and here’s me just a few years later:

That’s me at about 185 lbs and 7% body fat, which means that I had gained another ~11 pounds of muscle since overhauling my diet and training.

And that is fairly impressive considering how long I had been training for (as you’ll see, most people with 7+ years of training under their belts should have very little muscle left to gain, if any at all).

And just for the sake of comparison, here’s a shot of me taken a few days ago, about four years after the above shot:

I’m currently 193 pounds and 9% body fat, which means that while things have slowed down (as they should), I’ve continued to gain a bit of muscle year after year.

How much will I ultimately be able to gain, though? How big will I be able to get without having to turn to steroids?

Well, that’s what this article is going to be all about.

This is one of the most common questions I get from beginning lifters, and if you dig around online, you’ll probably wind up real confused, real fast.

Some people say that no matter what you do, there’s an absolute ceiling to how much muscle you can build, and it’s probably lower than you think.

Others say that’s nonsense — that with enough hard work, you can get as big and strong as you want.

The rising rate of steroid use doesn’t help matters either, because while some guys are so freakishly huge that there’s little question as to whether they’re “natty,” many drug users aren’t so easy to spot and lead people astray in their personal expectations.

Well, here’s the truth:

Everyone has a hard limit to how much muscle they can gain.

It’s impossible to predict exactly, but there are several research-backed formulas that can give you a fairly accurate estimate of your ultimate potential for whole-body muscularity.

And by the end of this article, you’re going to have it taped — you’re going to know approximately how much muscle you can gain and why some people can gain more and some less.

Let’s get started.

Would you rather listen to this article? Click the play button below!

Want to listen to more stuff like this? Check out my podcast!

What Determines How Much Muscle You Can Build Naturally?

Estimating how much muscle you can build is far from an exact science.

There are just too many physiological variables, which is why even genetic testing provides little more than a guesstimate.

That said, there are two physical traits that are highly correlated with overall muscularity:

  1. Bone structure
  2. Muscle structure

Let’s take a closer look at each.

How Bone Structure Relates to Muscularity

For decades now, people have observed that some big people are just “big boned.”

There’s truth here.

Research shows that people with larger bones do tend to be more muscular than people with smaller frames. Furthermore, they also tend to have higher testosterone levels and gain muscle faster when they start lifting weights.

What qualifies as “big boned,” though, and where do you fall on the spectrum?

Well, two of the best indicators of your overall bone structure are the circumferences of your wrists and ankles.

This is why, height being equal, people who have wider wrists and ankles tend to be naturally more muscular and have a higher potential for muscle growth than those with more slender bones.

We can largely thank a researcher named Casey Butt, Ph.D., for figuring this out.

He parsed thousands of data points from surveys, clinical studies, and case studies, and found that the single best indicator of muscle-building potential was the thickness of the wrists and ankles.

Butt also used the data to create a formula that allows you to predict your muscle building potential, which we’ll talk more about in a minute.

How Muscle Structure Relates to Muscularity

Every muscle has two main parts:

  1. The “belly,” which is the part that contracts and that you want to grow.
  2. The tendon, which connects the muscle belly to your skeleton.

The main way that these vary in people is length — some people’s muscle bellies and tendons are shorter and longer than others.

This is significant because a muscle’s potential for growth is largely determined by the length of the its belly.

Muscles can’t grow longer, only wider, so if you start with longer muscle bellies and shorter tendons, then you’ll be able to gain more total muscle mass.

It’s that simple.

Here’s a good example of someone with very short muscle bellies and long tendons:

genetic muscular potential

As you can see, he’s going to have a hell of a time getting big arms.

Just to compare, here’s a shot of my arm, which has a longer muscle belly and thus a greater potential for growth.

If you want to gauge the length of your biceps’ muscle bellies, bend your arm to 90 degrees, flex your biceps, and see how many fingers you can comfortably fit between your biceps and forearm.

If you can fit three fingers, your muscle bellies are below average length. If you can fit 2, you’re about average. If you can fit 1, you’re one of the lucky few with longer than average muscle bellies.

What About Testosterone?

If you ask the average gymgoer what bodily factor most influences how quickly you can gain muscle, he’ll probably answer “testosterone levels.”

And he’s right.

Testosterone is the primary hormonal driver of muscle growth.

Its muscle-building effects are so strong that research shows that artificially increasing your testosterone levels can put muscle on your frame without any exercise whatsoever.

Thus, it would seem a reasonable assumption that our testosterone levels would influence how much muscle we can ultimately gain.

Well, this is where things get interesting.

That assumption is certainly true if we’re talking about dramatically raising testosterone levels through steroid use. This most definitely raises the ceiling for muscle gain.

But here’s something that most people don’t know:

Fluctuation of testosterone levels within the physiological normal range doesn’t significantly help or hurt muscle growth.

In other words, if you increase your testosterone levels but they remain well within the range of normal, you’re unlikely to notice any muscle-building benefits.

So, while natural testosterone levels does influence muscle gain to a certain degree, it’s just not as important as most people think.

On the whole, your bone and muscle structures are much better predictors of how much muscle you can build naturally.

How Much Muscle Can You Build Naturally?

At this point you’re probably itching to know just how much muscle you’re going to be able to gain.

So let’s dive in.

Most equations for predicting your potential for muscle growth are solely based on your height because the taller you are, the more fleshy “real estate” you have to make muscle.

Thus, more height means more potential lean mass.

That doesn’t tell the whole story, though, because what if you’re below-average in height but above-average in bone size?

Well, to get a more accurate prediction of how much muscle you can naturally build, we can come back to Casey Butt’s work.

Casey Butt’s Formula

This equation is based on the data Butt collected on ankle and wrist measurements of drug-free bodybuilders ranging from 1947 to 2009.

It’s widely considered the most accurate way to estimate your genetic potential for muscle growth, and it can also be used to estimate the maximum potential size of each major muscle group.

Here’s what it looks like…

Chances are that looks like gobbledygook to you, which is why I made a nifty calculator that does all the math for you.

How to Use This Calculator

  1. Enter your height in inches.
  2. Enter your hand wrist circumference in inches. To measure, find the bony lump on the outside of your wrist (the styloid process), open your hand, and wrap a tape measure around the space between that lump and your hand.
  3. Enter your ankle circumference in inches. To measure, wrap a tape measure around the narrowest point between your ankle bone and your calf muscle.
  4. Enter your ideal body fat percentage if you were to be at 100% of your muscle-building potential.
    I recommend 8 to 10% because lower than that simply isn’t feasible for most people.

You may have noticed that this calculator gives you a “bulked weight.”

This is simply 104% of your “total body weight” to account for the “extra” weight that you’ll be carrying in addition to all that muscle, the way of water, glycogen, and food.

So, that’s Butt’s formula for predicting how much muscle you can gain.

There are three others that you should know about as well, and they were developed by Lyle McDonald, Alan Aragon, and Martin Berkhan.

Altogether, Lyle, Alan, and Martin have worked with hundreds of elite bodybuilders and athletes and are, I think, some of the smartest guys in the evidence-based fitness space.

Let’s look at what they have to say about muscle-building potential.

Lyle McDonald’s Answer

Lyle McDonald is a health and fitness researcher and writer, and his formula is based on his extensive reading of the literature and experience helping thousands of people improve their body composition.

Based on what he’s read and seen, here’s how muscle gain plays out for most guys (women can cut these numbers in half):

Lyle, also says that starting age and weight play a role.

Someone starting in the gym at 40 will probably gain less muscle over time than someone starting at 20, and someone starting underweight can probably gain muscle a bit faster at first than someone starting at a normal weight.

As you can see, Lyle says that guys can gain up to 40 to 50 lbs of muscle in their first 4 to 5 years of proper training, and, unfortunately, that muscle gain is fairly negligible from there on out.

Also notice that I said 4 to 5 years of proper training, not just training, or worse, “exercising.”

(I’ll get to what proper training looks like in a minute.)

Furthermore, Lyle has observed that someone that has been lifting improperly for several years has the potential to make “year one” gains when he or she starts training properly.

And just to make things easier and more fun, here’s a calculator that’ll show you how much muscle you can expect to gain over the next year, based on Lyle’s model:

Alan Aragon’s Answer

Alan Aragon is a published researcher and fitness consultant who’s been designing diet and exercise programs for over 20 years.

Based on what he’s seen working with everyone from everyday gymgoers to Olympic athletes, most men can gain muscle at about this rate:

And for women, he says that these numbers should be halved because they start with less muscle and more body fat.

Let’s see how this works by way of example.

According to Alan’s model, a 150 pound male beginner can gain about 1.5 to 2.25 lbs of muscle per month in his first year, or 18 to 27 lbs.

Let’s say he does fairly well and gains 20 pounds in year one, and is now an “intermediate lifter” moving into year two. Looking above, he could now expect to gain 0.85 to 1.7 lbs of muscle per month, or 10 to 20 lbs in his second year in the gym.

Let’s say he now really dials in his diet and training and does indeed gain another 20 pounds of muscle over the year, putting him at 190 lbs and upgrading him to an “advanced lifter.”

Thus, his year-three potential gains are 5 to 10 lbs, and from there on out, his potential gains diminish more or less to a vanishing point.

Martin Berkhan’s Answer

Martin Berkhan is a writer and fitness consultant, and he has become especially known for using intermittent fasting to help highly trained people get stage-ready lean.

Martin developed his formula for predicting maximum muscularity 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 to 5% body fat)

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

To calculate Martin’s predictions for other heights, multiply them in inches by 2.54 to convert into centimeters, and subtract from 100 for maximum weight in kilograms at 5% body fat (stage-ready shredded). Finally, multiply this number by 2.2 to convert back into pounds.

On Expectations

If your numbers are leaving you a bit deflated, I understand.

You probably follow quite a few bodybuilders, fitness models, and “gurus” on social media who put them to shame.

And that’s okay.

In fact, it’s good that you’re coming to this realization now, before unrealistic expectations can really sink their hooks in and set you up for major disappointment and failure later.

The good news, though, is this: no matter your genetic potential for muscle gain, you can build an outstanding physique.

It may take a longer than you’d like, and you may never be as big as that fake natty loser on Instagram, but you can transform your body into something truly special.

Here’s how…

How to Gain Muscle and Strength Fast

If you want to reach your natural potential for muscle growth, you need an effective diet and training plan.

You want to gain muscle and not just get fat, and you have to do more than just “eat big” to do that.

Fortunately, though, it’s not complicated. There are just five simple steps.

  1. Eat slightly more calories than you burn.
  2. Eat a high-protein and high-carb diet.
  3. Don’t cheat/overeat too much.
  4. Do a lot of heavy compound weightlifting.
  5. Take the right supplements.

Let’s take a closer look at each.

(And if you prefer a 13-minute video overview, just click below.)

1. Eat slightly more calories than you burn.

The biggest mistake people that “can’t gain weight” make is not eating enough calories.

Their natural appetites just aren’t up to it.

And by “it,” I mean consistently eating more calories than they burn, which is what you need to do to gain muscle and strength as quickly as possible.

There are various reasons for this, mainly physiological, but we don’t have to get into them here. All you need to know is that your body’s “muscle-building machinery” just works best when energy is abundant.

Another major mistake that “hardgainers” often make is the opposite of the above: eating way too much.

They assume that if slightly overeating is better for gaining muscle, then going gorging themselves silly or drinking a gallon of milk a day is much better.

Unfortunately, it’s not.

You can’t force your muscles to grow faster by drowning them in calories, because beyond a certain point, they stop fueling muscle growth and just make you fatter.

That’s why a slight caloric surplus of 10 to 15% is just as conducive to muscle growth as a larger surplus of 30% or more.

That is, all you have to do to optimize muscle growth is eat just 10 to 15% more calories than you burn every day.

This is the point of diminishing returns, where increasing your caloric intake further contributes less and less to muscle building and more and more to fat gain.

And gaining too much fat does more than hurt your ego. It also makes it harder to build muscle by negatively impacting your insulin sensitivity and lowering your testosterone levels.

This is why you should shy away from “dirty bulking,” as bodybuilders call it, and opt to “lean bulk” instead.

This approach is a win-win because it allows you to maximize muscle growth and minimize fat gain.

And, just in case you’re wondering, most people can gain muscle and fat at about a 1:1 ratio when they’re doing everything right.

In other words, if you gain a pound of muscle for every pound of fat while lean bulking, you’re doing a good job.

(Those with above-average genetics can gain slightly more muscle than fat, and those with below-average genetics may gain slightly more fat than muscle, but most people are in the middle.)

Want to know how many calories you should eat? Check out this article.

2. Eat a high-protein and high-carb diet.

You’ve probably heard that a high-protein diet is best for building muscle.

This is true, and that’s why there’s so much talk about protein in bodybuilding circles.

Protein provides your body with the raw materials necessary for muscle building (amino acids), so if you don’t eat enough, you’ll struggle to gain muscle.

What is “enough,” though?

Well, it’s quite a bit more than most people are used to eating (but not quite as much as some people claim).

Research shows that eating about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day is ideal for muscle gain.

If you’re very overweight (25%+ body fat in men and 30%+ in women), then this can be reduced to around 1 gram of protein per pound of fat-free mass per day.

Either way, it comes out to around 30 to 40% of total daily calories for most people.

Now, while there’s little debate on the importance of eating adequate protein, carbs are another story.

Low-carb diets are a “thing” these days, but they really don’t deserve the hype.

They don’t help you lose fat faster, and they most definitely don’t help you gain muscle faster, either.

To the contrary, eating plenty of carbs helps you gain muscle faster in two ways:

  1. It increases whole-body glycogen levels, which improves workout performance and enhances genetic signaling related to muscle growth.
  2. It keeps insulin levels generally higher, which lowers muscle breakdown rates and creates a more anabolic environment in the body.

This is why several studies have shown that high-carb diets are superior for gaining muscle and strength than low-carb ones.

So, here’s the bottom line:

If you want to gain muscle as quickly as possible, then you want to eat more and not less carbs.

A good starting place is to get 30 to 50% of your total daily calories from carbs.

Want to know more about how much protein and carbs you should eat? Check out this article.

3. Don’t cheat/overeat too much.

“I’m bulking, bro,” he says, as he eats a pile of candy and washes it down with a quart of chocolate milk.

Don’t be that guy (or gal). Don’t let your lean bulk go “dirty.”

It’s easy to loosen the reins when you’re not restricting calories to lose fat, and this is a mistake.

If you want to maximize muscle gain and minimize fat gain, you need to regulate your calories and macros just as carefully when bulking as when cutting.

If you have too many cheat meals (or, worse, cheat days) while bulking, it’ll catch up with you sooner rather than later, because you will gain fat faster and faster, which will just slow you down in the long run.

Eating too many high-sugar, highly processed, non-nutritious foods causes other problems, too. For example…

Many people also find it hard to break away from an uninhibited, gluttonous style of eating when it comes time to finally get rid of unwanted body fat, making it even more difficult to reach their desired body fat percentage.

Want to know more about how to cheat without ruining your diet? Check out this article.

4. Do a lot of heavy compound weightlifting.

If you don’t get the first three steps right, what you do in the gym won’t matter very much.

Proper dieting is just that important.

If you do, though, the right workout program will make a huge difference in how quickly you can gain weight and muscle.

And the best types of workout programs for natural weightlifters are those that focus on heavy compound exercises like the squat, deadlift, bench press, and military press.

Sure, you can gain muscle and strength in many different ways, but decades of scientific and anecdotal evidence have conclusively proven that this is the most effective approach.

The reason heavy compound weightlifting is so powerful is simple: it’s the best way to progressively overload your muscles.

And by “progressively overloading” your muscles, I mean increasing tension levels in them over time. This is the primary driver of muscle growth, and while there are several ways to do this, the most effective one is just getting stronger.

That’s why the strongest people in the gym are also generally the biggest, and if you want to build a great physique, why your primary goal should be increasing whole-body strength.

Want to know more about how to build a workout program that really works? Check out this article.

5. Take the right supplements.

I saved this for last because it’s the least important.

The truth is most supplements for building muscle and losing fat are worthless.

Unfortunately, no amount of pills and powders are going to make you muscular and lean.

That said, if you know how to drive muscle growth with proper dieting and exercise, certain supplements can accelerate the process.

Here are the ones I use and recommend:

ATLAS Mass Gainer

In an ideal world, we’d get all of our daily calories from carefully prepared, nutritionally balanced meals, and we’d have the time to sit down, slow down, and savor each and every bite.

In the real world, though, we’re usually rushing from one obligation to another and often forget to eat anything, let alone the optimal foods for building muscle, losing fat, and staying healthy.

That’s why meal replacement and “weight gainer” supplements and protein bars and snacks are more popular than ever.

Unfortunately, most contain low-quality protein powders and large amounts of simple sugars and unnecessary junk.

That’s why I created ATLAS.

It’s a delicious “weight gainer” (meal replacement) supplement that provides you with 38 grams of high-quality protein per serving, along with 51 grams of nutritious, food-based carbohydrates, and just 6 grams of natural fats, as well as 26 micronutrients, enzymes, and probiotics that help you feel and perform your best.

ATLAS is also 100% naturally sweetened and flavored as well, and contains no chemical dyes, cheap fillers, or other unnecessary junk.

So, if you want to build muscle and lose fat as quickly as possible and improve the nutritional quality of your diet, then you want to try ATLAS today.

RECHARGE Post-Workout Supplement


RECHARGE is a 100% natural post-workout supplement that helps you gain muscle and strength faster, and recover better from your workouts.

Once it’s had time to accumulate in your muscles (about a week of use), the first thing you’re going to notice is increased strength and anaerobic endurance, less muscle soreness, and faster post workout muscle recovery.

And the harder you can train in your workouts and the faster you can recover from them, the more muscle and strength you’re going to build over time.

Furthermore, RECHARGE doesn’t need to be cycled, which means it’s safe for long-term use, and its effects don’t diminish over time.

It’s also naturally sweetened and flavored and contains no artificial food dyes, fillers, or other unnecessary junk.

So, if you want to be able to push harder in the gym, train more frequently, and get more out of your workouts, then you want to try RECHARGE today.

WHEY+ Protein Powder



Whey protein powder is a staple in most athletes’ diets for good reason.

It’s digested quickly, it’s absorbed well, it has a fantastic amino acid profile, and it’s easy on the taste buds.

Not all whey proteins are created equal, though.

Whey concentrate protein powder, for example, can be as low as 30% protein by weight, and can also contain a considerable amount of fat and carbs.

And the more fat and carbs you’re drinking, the less you can actually enjoy in your food.

Whey isolate protein powder, on the other hand, is the purest whey protein you can buy. It’s 90%+ protein by weight and has almost no fat or carbs.

Another benefit of whey isolate is it contains no lactose, which means better digestibility and fewer upset stomachs.

Well, WHEY+ is a 100% naturally sweetened and flavored whey isolate protein powder made from exceptionally high-quality milk from small dairy farms in Ireland.

It contains no GMOs, hormones, antibiotics, artificial food dyes, fillers, or other unnecessary junk, and it tastes delicious and mixes great.

So, if you want a clean, all-natural, and great tasting whey protein supplement that’s low in calories, carbs, and fat, then you want to try WHEY+ today.

PULSE Pre-Workout


Is your pre-workout simply not working anymore?

Are you sick and tired of pre-workout drinks that make you sick and tired?

Have you had enough of upset stomachs, jitters, nausea, and the dreaded post-workout crash?

Do you wish your pre-workout supplement gave you sustained energy and more focus and motivation to train? Do you wish it gave you noticeably better workouts and helped you hit PRs?

If you’re nodding your head, then you’re going to love PULSE.

It increases energy, improves mood, sharpens mental focus, increases strength and endurance, and reduces fatigue…without unwanted side effects or the dreaded post-workout crash.

It’s also naturally sweetened and flavored and contains no artificial food dyes, fillers, or other unnecessary junk.

Lastly, it contains no proprietary blends and each serving delivers nearly 20 grams of active ingredients scientifically proven to improve performance.

So, if you want to feel focused, tireless, and powerful in your workouts…and if you want to say goodbye to the pre-workout jitters, upset stomachs, and crashes for good…then you want to try PULSE today.

The Bottom Line on How Much Muscle You Can Gain Naturally

Everyone has a limit to how much muscle they can build in their lifetimes.

No matter what we might do in the gym or kitchen, there is a point where we’ll simply stop gaining any muscle to speak of.

Thanks mostly to skeletal and muscular factors, some people can build far more muscle than most, and some far less. Most of us are in the middle.

Now, if the data says that your muscular potential is more average than you might have hoped, don’t give it much thought, because the reality is this:

If you’re a guy, all you need is 20 to 30 pounds of muscle at about 10% body fat and you have an outstanding physique by anyone’s standards.

And if you’re a gal, make that 10 to 15 pounds of muscle and about 20% body fat. Bring that to the beach and you’ll turn heads and raise pulses.

Furthermore, the good news is that anyone can achieve these numbers, regardless of genetics or anything else.

All they have to do is follow the five steps outlined above:

  1. Eat slightly more calories than you burn.
  2. Eat a high-protein and high-carb diet.
  3. Don’t cheat/overeat too much.
  4. Do a lot of heavy compound weightlifting.
  5. Take the right supplements

Do that, and I promise you’ll be happy with the results.

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I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

If you like what I have to say, sign up for my free newsletter and every week I'll send you awesome, science-based health and fitness tips, delicious "diet-friendly" recipes, motivational musings, and more.


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 bestselling books.

Here's a little sneak peek of what you'll learn inside...

  • The 7 biggest muscle building myths & mistakes that keep guys small, weak, and frustrated. (These BS lies are pushed by all the big magazines and even by many trainers.)
  • How to build meal plans that allow you to build muscle, lose fat, and get healthy with ease…eating foods you love (yes, including those deemed “unclean” by certain “gurus”)…and never feeling starved, deprived, or like you’re “on a diet.”
  • The 5 biggest fat loss myths & mistakes that keep women overweight, disappointed, and confused. (These BS lies are pushed by all the big magazines and even by many trainers.)
  • An all-in-one training system that delivers MAXIMUM results for your efforts…spending no more than 3 to 6 hours in the gym every week…doing workouts that energize you, not wipe you out.
  • A no-BS guide to supplements that will save you hundreds if not THOUSANDS of dollars each year that you would’ve wasted on products that are nothing more than bunk science and marketing hype.
  • And a whole lot more!

The bottom line is you CAN achieve that “Hollywood body" without having your life revolve around it. No long hours in the gym, no starving yourself, and no grueling cardio that turns your stomach.

My book will show you how. Get it today and let’s build a body you can be proud of.

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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?

  • 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! [email protected]

          • 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.

      • John

        I realize that this post is 2 years old, but I am new to weightlifting and have really benefited from your articles. That said, I am starting at 220 lb, 25% BF (using a handheld analyzer), 6′ 0″. Based on the formulas and calculators that I have used, I appear to be at a 22.6 FFMI. Does that mean that my muscle gains are fairly capped (that can’t be the case as I am fairly weak), and I should focus on cutting?

    • 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!

  • 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. 😛 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.

    • 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!

  • 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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  • yis co

    Hi mike .. ta for the emails. I noticed u mentioned like propa working out .. I’m 6ft 176 pounds and a bmi of 23 .. I workout 5 times a week starting off with 20 min cardio … followed by a resistance workout for 1.5 hours .. not solid though .. like kinda lousy .. lost.. maybe 5 different workouts on 2 major muscle groups. . was wondering if u could give us any advice .. ta

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  • Seems that I have around 23.5 FFMI – is that good or bad ?

  • Jacquez ImAwwsome Joseph

    Hey mike I love reading your articles and I even have your book bigger stronger leaner, I agree with a lot of what you say one thing tho I’ve had a different experience. I went from 145 to my current weight of 190 and using a caliper I’m around 10% body fat (don’t know how accurate that is). I started out using mostly body weight and eating a lot, for the 1st few months I didn’t use weights or track my calorie intake but thanks to guys like you I’ve gotten more serious and started hitting the gym and tracking my macros etc, I’ve been working out for over a year but only 7 months of it has been with weights I know I’m new to this but I’ve put on a lot of weight most of it being muscles, I’d like to think I still have room for growth, am I wrong? My goal is 200 pounds with 8% body fat, can I get your honest opinion, my body fat was a little higher in this picture then my current stats ( 10%) but I’ve been bulking while burning the way you explained while I haven’t really added weight but I am dropping fat while staying around the 188/190 range.. Thanks largely to your book..

  • Jacquez ImAwwsome Joseph

    Hey mike I love reading your articles and I even have your book bigger stronger leaner, I agree with a lot of what you say one thing tho I’ve had a different experience. I went from 145 to my current weight of 190 and using a caliper I’m around 10% body fat (don’t know how accurate that is). I started out using mostly body weight and eating a lot, for the 1st few months I didn’t use weights or track my calorie intake but thanks to guys like you I’ve gotten more serious and started hitting the gym and tracking my macros etc, I’ve been working out for over a year but only 7 months of it has been with weights I know I’m new to this but I’ve put on a lot of weight most of it being muscles, I’d like to think I still have room for growth, am I wrong? My goal is 200 pounds with 8% body fat, can I get your honest opinion, my body fat was a little higher in this picture then my current stats ( 10%) but I’ve been bulking while burning the way you explained while I haven’t really added weight but
    I am dropping fat while staying around the 188/190 range.. Thanks largely to your book.. I’m 6’1 btw

    • Duuude you’re KILLING it. This is really impressive. I’d LOVE to feature you on the site. What do you think?

      Your goal is very doable. It looks like you just have to keep going and it’s in the bag.

      I’d say you’re around 10-11%, yes. You can bulk. Check this out:


      LMK what you think!

    • Steve Clark

      Holy crap dude, you’re a beast! Good work.

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  • Austin

    Hey Mike what are my odds do you think of doing a recomp because I am 5’10, 150Ibs at around 11% fat and while I have been lifting for about a year and a half, I only tried bulking once and all I did was RIDICULOUS amounts of volume and made zero strength gains. The rest of the time was spent either maintaining or lifting at a deficit. I plan on doing a strategy that Greg O Gallagher uses where you eat at a surplus 5 days a week and then 2 days are spent in a deficit to cancel out any fat gain. I plan to bulk for 3-6 months, so do you think I will drop my bodyfat percentage while I gain muscle? And even though you have an article on it how much exactly does creatine help like I know if I bulk I should expect 2 pounds a month but what would creatine push that up by on average, and would you recommend creatine for just possibly 3 months of bulking?

    Thanks Mike

  • James

    Hi mike, i’ve been bulking for 6 months and i’ve gained a little bit of muscle mass. Then the rest of the 2 years ive been training in caloric deficit and maintenance. Do you think that i already make my newbie gain and do you think i lose my newbie gain due to the fact that, i already did 2 years and 6 month of training?
    Thank you

    • If you’re new to this kind of training (heavy compound lifts). You can still make some newbie gains.

      With proper lifting and proper dieting, you could definitely make good gains.

      • James

        Thanks you, I’m not really new to heavy compound lifts because i lift 174 lbs-8reps for bench press, 194 lbs-7 reps for deadlift. And my bodyweight is 112,2 lbs. So do you think when you see my performance , i lose my newbie gains? :/

        • Those numbers are pretty good!

          If you’ve been lifting heavy and properly for the last 6 months, you’ve probably used up your newbie gains.

  • Brian

    Like your articles they keep me focused and learning right from wrong. Just ordered your book so looking forward to what that offers. I know enough on the the basics of working out but I feel so much has come to light that makes us all better at achieving our goals. I’m still in a caloric deficit while making small gains . I just need to get enough of the right fuel/food ie. Eating to gain and maintain and also seeing what works having been cutting for so long and dropping 20 lbs of fat. 5’9″ tall and 145lbs . I’d like to see my core get defined while adding size to the rest of me in terms of muscle mass .

  • Inder

    I am 90 kg man . my age is 18 . and I want to loose weight as well as gain muscle. I am going gym everyday and I do cardio as well as weights lifting everyday but no changes in my body . plz help…

  • Dimes

    Hey Mike I weigh 127lbs last time I checked and I’m 5’8. I know, I’m skinny…. 🙁 I’ve NEVER worked out and I’m 18 years old.

    I was always suprised why my physique looks like I have muscle. Is this just because I have low body-fat%?

    https://m.flickr.com/#/photos/[email protected]/18977933841/

    What do u estimate my % to be?

    I think I have a good starting point. (My waist is narrow so that’s why pants drag). How many daily calories of surplus should I be in? Body parts I’m lacking?

    Love your articles btw

    • Yeah if you’re lean enough, even with only a little bit of muscle, it will show. Your BF is 10-11%.

      To set up your cals for a proper clean bulk, check this out:


      To start, you would just follow the BLS program without focusing on weak points. Imbalances are common and it usually resolve with proper training. Let’s give it 6-7 months and see. If, after that time, it’s still an issue, we can address it with some extra sets for the lagging parts.

      What do you think?

      • Dimes

        Thank you man. I love it. Just a quick question tho, do you know the bodybuilder Matt Ogus?

        Would you say the man is natural or at least if his body can be maintained/achieved without PEDS? He is 5’6 and weighs 175- 180lbs at a low bodyfat %

        Your opinion is all I’m asking. I’m guessing no sadly due to your chart. He should max out at 160lbs…

  • Kevin

    Hi Mike, so if I’m 6′ 193lb I’m at approx 10%bf?

    I am getting pretty lean looking but my abs still aren’t showing like they did into my 30s. You have any suggestions to break that barrier? Even less calories & compound lifts 5x a week instead of 3x?

  • Erik Sandoval

    Something’s off about those formulas, Mike; tell me what you think.

    My height is 5’7″ which translates to 67″. That translates to 170.18 centimeters. Following Martin Berkhan’s formula, I subtract 100 from 170.18 which leaves me with 70.18kg. That x 2.2 gets me to 154.396lbs. I weigh 202 roughly at about 22.3% bf which gives me a lean mass of 156.95lbs. My supposed lean mass already puts me above the genetic potential of the guy an inch taller than me.

    At this point, according to Berkhan, I have reached my genetic potential. However, I had never touched a barbell in my life nor properly trained until about 1 month ago. The most I have done were 60ish days of P90X and it had been an on and off roller coaster with that program. Maybe I stole some of my potential newbie gains through P90X program, but I would hardly say I’m an advanced weight lifter.

    Does genetic potential vary between race/ethic background (I’m Hispanic/Latino)? Perhaps, I’m doing something wrong with the math?

    PS. I’m making great gains in the gym despite being in an aggressive deficit, which would signify newbie gains, right?

    Thanks for your reply and sorry for the long message!

    • Your total lean mass would be quite a bit lower if you got to 5% because you’d lose a lot of intramuscular water and this registers as lean mass.

      You may have a higher BF % too:


      Trust me. There is absolutely no way in hell you’ve reached your genetic potential for muscle mass without ever lifting weights.

      Yeah newbie gains are fun. 🙂

      • Erik Sandoval

        Ah, that makes sense. Dem fluid gainz are flushed!

        Don’t say such blasphemous things, Mike! Lol. I’ve read that article several times and watched your YouTube video on measuring BF% a couple dozen times. I measure it just like in the video, but, yeah, maybe it’s still too high to be measured accurately, idk. Doesn’t matter, I suppose; weight has been semi-stagnant, but my clothes are looser and measurements are going down, too.

        Lol, I just need to get DEXA scanned already for 100% certainty on that BF%. At least then I’ll be able to more or less quantify and project how long I’ll need to be in a deficit to reach that glorious and elusive 10% BF milestone 🙂

        Yeah, I figured something might be off, though. By the way, Mike, if you were to go up to 12-15% in clean bulk fashion, and come back down to your 6-8%, you wouldn’t retain at least 95% of your strength gains? I’m curious because I have heard you say in a few podcasts that you would have to get fatter to get stronger, but would you have to stay fat or could you go back down to 6-8% but maintain most, if not all your strength gains?

        • Yeah DEXA is basically necessary once you get below 10% anyway. Once you see ab veins, go get DEXAd. 😉

          You should be able to keep most of your strength yeah but I’ve found that my weights are about 10% lower at this current body fat % as opposed to the 11 to 12% range. Natty life. 🙁

          • Erik Sandoval

            Will do 😉

            You mean “Natty and lean life” 😛

            So, is strength potential dependent on height? If so, you would have the unfair advantage 😛 you got about half a foot on me! Lol.

          • Haha true, true.

            IMO shorter is better for lower body because less ROM. I have long ass legs and long monkey arms, which is basically a curse for every lift, hahah.

          • Erik Sandoval

            I suppose, in that case, I have an advantage over you 😛 Still, I was under the impression that, regardless of height, the perspective (in terms of range of motion) was the same. Yeah, you’re taller, but I would imagine you’re proportional. If I were stretched another 7″ we would be proportionally similar (aside from the obvious compositional difference :P), no? Getting kinda philosophical, haha.

          • My muscles are longer but have to move weights further distances, which means a harder lift. Shorter muscles have the same contractile potentials but don’t have to move as far.

            My arms are legitly disproportionately long for my body, making pressing HARD.

          • Erik Sandoval

            “If it’s harder, you’re doing it right.” – Mike

            Disproportionality is the way to go, lol. Anyways, thanks for rambling with me, Mike. I’m only 2ish weeks away from CA, so I’ll be able to get DEXA scanned soon. Then I’ll be able to map my progress with more accuracy 🙂

          • Lol. No problem brother.

            I look forward to seeing your results!

  • This jives with my experience. After 6+ years of mostly improper training, I’ve put on a fair amount of muscle, but I’ve realized I’m still an intermediate-level trainee. Started doing things right a couple months ago, and my gains have been about 2-3 pounds of quality mass a month, starting from 150 pounds total body weight.

    So I agree with the calculations about how much you can gain a month- but Martin’s maximum mass calculation seems lower than other formulas I’ve seen. According to him, at 5’8 I’ll max out at around 170 pounds- while others say it’s over 180. I’m up to 165 now at 13% body fat, and I don’t really look big at all. Do you agree with Martin’s formula, or think it’s a bit low?

    • That sounds familiar:



      I agree with Martin’s formula. You may be higher than 13%:


      And even if you’re not, remember that you lose quite a bit of intramuscular water as you get leaner, and especially when you get under 10%. That loss of water registers as a loss of lean mass.

      • That I hadn’t considered- does that depend on how you’re measuring though? It seems like those scales that run an electric current through your body register water as fat. I have one and I know they’re crap, but it measures pretty close to what I’m getting with body measurements.

        Every form of measurement I used agrees I’m between 12 and 15%- but that still means I can add at least 15 pounds of muscle. I guess that’s still a lot, especially if I drop another 5-10 pounds of fat to make it pop more. I’m not great at envisioning what I’d look like with more muscle.

        • Oh yeah bioimpedance can be REALLY inaccurate.

          What would you guess based on the pictures in the article?

          • Yeah, I’ve never trusted that scale. But the thing is I’ve been tracking body fat based on the scale, YMCA, Navy, and protein Power methods, and they all consistently fall within about 2% of each other. I’ve also been comparing myself to the photos from this one article on BuiltLean- right now I look like I’m at about 14-17%, which jives with what all four measurement methods are showing me. I only have visible vascularity or striations in a few places, but muscle separation is clear everywhere other than my abs. Similar to you at 17%, maybe just slightly leaner.

          • Cool it sounds like 15%ish is right then. And trust me, you’re going to lose a LOT of weight if you get down to 7 to 8%. Quite a bit more than you would predict by just doing the math.

  • Julien O

    Great post my friend keep it up! Please check out my blog about how to build muscle naturally on http://www.muscleparadize.com

  • Kal-El

    Mike, is it only after you reach your genetic potential that you get a Grecian ideal body?

  • John Doe

    Hi Mike,

    In determining bodybuilding “level” (beginner, advanced, etc.) I’ve seen mostly strength-based systems used.

    I want to do a body-comp comparison to others… Basically, I need people sorted by height, with average weight for the height. From here you can use BMI data to calculate average BF% and therefore average lean mass for certain heights. Do you know of any place to find reliable data?


    I found this, but I am uncertain if this is actually “average” weights for the heights, or simply weight recommendations for specific heights (what most sites have).

    • You can look at it in terms of strength or just lean mass gained.

      As a guy, your “newbie” phase is your first 15 to 20 pounds. Intermediate is your next 15ish. Advanced is beyond that.

      Check this out:


      Forget BMI. It’s pretty useless for us weightlifters.

      • John Doe

        Do you have any data regarding lean mass by height (or total weight by height)?

        • I’m not sure what you mean, but this might be it:



          • John Doe

            That’s a good article, but not exactly what I need.

            I was simply looking at some kind of medical data that had the average total body weight.. sorted by height.

            For example: Males, age 20-29:

            HEIGHT | AVG. WEIGHT
            68″ : 190lbs
            69″ : 198lbs


          • Oh sorry. I don’t have anything handy for that. Would have to just Google around…

  • Do these beginner numbers still apply if you’ve had to cut for an extended period of time to lose excess body fat before trying to make gains?

    • You will be able to build muscle while losing fat as a noob, but it won’t be quite as high as those numbers.

      Those numbers are for when focusing on building muscle so you’re in a calorie surplus.

  • Another very informative and timely article. Thanks. This is an important subject for me because I’d never take steroids and you often get discouraged when you see the guys who take it. But that is completely unnecessary. You can clearly still have your dream body if you don’t have ridiculous expectations, have decent genetics, and are prepared to do the work and be patient.

    You mentioned educating yourself and that is clearly crucial. If you don’t know the information in this article you will get discouraged, impatient, and quit or take steroids. But it is very encouraging to read how much you can gain if you actually do it properly(which I have never done). I found that article from you about building muscle while cutting very helpful as well.

    I started a bit late at age 36 with serious gym work, but I’m not worried in the least. As long as I follow your advice I’m convinced I can still have my dream body. I think it’s mostly in the mind anyway. If you can imagine it you can achieve it, right?! 🙂 Anyway, count me in as a big fan of your blog. It will be my support and education on my journey.

    • That’s right, Ru-an. Hard work, proper training and proper dieting and you can achieve your goals naturally.

      Glad you’re rolling along! Thanks for the support brother.

      Keep up the good work and keep me posted!

    • Atrasomnium

      I agree. I’m 36 as well and my goal is to gain as much muscle as I can before I get into my 40’s and my T starts to drop. I’ve been working out improperly for 20+ yrs, with proper training for the last 4-5yrs. Its all about discipline in the gym and nutrition education. I’m 190lbs 17-22% body fat and my goal is to get down to 10% or less while maintaining my current weight. My advice, Get all the muscle you can before 40 as it is about maintaining what you have after that point.,,/.

      • Good luck with your goals. I hardly even think about T and aging anymore. There is strong evidence that suggests the way you think affects your physiology. I don’t even think there is an objective reality out there. It’s all subjective and in your mind. So I just think about whatever I want and don’t bother about aging, loss of muscle, T, and these things. I have nothing to lose thinking like that anyway.

  • Ciegech

    encouraging read. i only in recent months begun to get my lifting game proper after years of p90x/bs. A lack of result force me to educate myself with the help of the internet

    • Cool. Hope you’re enjoying the articles!

      Let’s get you some results. 🙂

  • Hi Michael, How tall are you, out of interest? Referring to the formula that shows the limits.

    • 6’2″

      • Thanks for your reply! Do you find that the limits apply to you, or have you exceeded them? I’m the same height – should I be able to get the same size with work or are some people limited by genetics?

        • IMO I have decent genetics for building muscle but nothing freaky. I think just about anyone can achieve my look with enough work.

  • Reuben Schreiber

    Hi Mike !I just want to clear something up,if you focus on building muscle (be in a calorie surplus)will your “training age” dictate your calorie surplus ?i.e 5-10%?with 5% being more appropriate for an advanced lifter and 10%being for a newby ?Also,when you hit a sticking point in your weight gain.Should you increase your new caloric intake by 5-10% again to keep the weight gain going ?Thx Mike

    • Good question. Personally I’ve always gone with 10% to ensure I’m actually in a surplus.

  • paul sabatino

    what should a 35 year old expect? training 4×6 heavy compound movements and calories surplus. been training 7 months but prolly only put on 7 pounds of muscle.

  • Aikas

    Hi dear Mike!

    I’ve been workout out for 2.5 years, but I was doing everything wrong back then and I’ve only started to see what a great hobby bodybuilding is when I found you! I really love you for everything, man. I’ve been following BLS for 5 months and I really want to know where I am in my development – should I consider myself an intermediate or advanced lifter, and more importantly how much muscles can I build per month/year? I think that my newbie gains are gone.. Anyway, what would be the best way to test my progress and see where I am on my journey? 🙂

  • Helena Zahra

    I think giving your body a chance to gain as much natural muscle as is possible naturally within the first several or so years of training hard and eating well – if you want to get bigger, then there’s several options!

  • John Doe

    Hey Mike – I do have to ask you… have you reviewed much of this “muscle gain potential” math holistically? After looking at the the “answers” above … and combining this with FFMI numbers… here’s what you get:


    These are the muscle gains in Kilos/Pounds for the McDonald, Aragon and Berkhan models. For Aragon, I assumed an average US male weight (~86kg/189.5lbs). For Berkhan, I assumed average height male (about 69.5″).

    The Aragon model gets outright silly pretty quickly, even though on the surface it looks more realistic than the McDonald model (Aragon’s would suggest that heavier individuals can gain more mass, e.g. larger framed people can put on more mass, which on the surface makes sense).

    Berkhan’s models seems the most realistic, and even that seems like a stretch, given that it’s basically his default scenario.

    Given that your FFMI is ~22 (from your info above “Here’s a current shot of me at 185 lbs and about 7.5% (171 pounds of lean mass)” (and I believe your height of ~74″) – essentially, even the most conservative model suggests that “anybody” could be notably more “muscular” than you, which can be a bit of a stretch.

    ajcn.nutrition.org/content/95/3/594.full.pdf (baseline data I used for average US individuals height, weight and BF%)

    • Great comment.

      There is definitely a cogent argument to be made for bigger framed people being able to build more muscle overall than smaller framed. I believe Nuckols has even written about it.

      Yup my FFMI is slightly higher now because I’ve gained probably about 3 pounds of muscle since writing this article but it’s still quite a bit lower than my theoretical potential.

      And you know, I think that’s correct. I bet I could gain another 10 pounds of muscle over the next 3ish years if I really wanted to (bulk and cut properly, etc.)…putting my FFMI around 25.

      25 to 27 naturally? Maybe if the person has BIG bones and great muscle-building genetics.

      28+? Never.

    • Saran Gill

      Great analysis! I think Martin’s formula is the most realistic. People have to realise that an FFMI of 23+, actually looks very impressive if you are lean and obtaining this is a feat of it’s own. Most people don’t even get to 23 without good genetics and a lot of hard work, IMO. I myself have been training for over 10 years, always lifted heavy, using compound movements and eating enough for growth and am still under the 23 mark. I only know a handful in around 23 and their muscular development stands out by a mile in a standard gym. Look at how muscular Steve reeves was and he was only in around the 25-26 mark and he is obviously a genetic outlier.

  • handsomerandyblackladbrad1953

    At 5’9″,197 lb.,18.1% body fat percentage,my FFMI is 23.5.I’m 62,don’t work out-I’m trying to pare to 180-185-so how does my FFMI rate for my height,weight and

  • Zoey Murphy

    For building muscles my husband has been taking sunestron for awhile now and these are his words,”After a week or so you really start feeling the effects, for me the was nice increase in strength and a increase recovery. if you are looking for a big gain in the muscle department this is sure fire add to any stack you are looking for”.

  • Destiny

    Hey! I liked this. I’m not a guy…but a gal! I read your book, blog and all your emails. I have the start of a 6 pack so I’m guessing I’m in the 20ish percentile. Weighing in at 118, at 5’1″… your book has me eating 1400 calories. I’ve drastically reduced my cardio addiction and lift very heavy. I’m starving. I don’t want to be a 105 pounds or even super ripped like above. Nice muscle definition would be beautiful. But I feel like I’m starving!!!! Am I’m gonna do the opposite of what you just said and loose muscle? Does aboves article pertain to women. Or is it different?

  • Jo

    A muscle has Four Sides is definitely one of the lesser-known and at the same time, the most effective routine for the mass, designed by Vince Gironda and, most likely, is also one of the most grueling routine of high density, that the old Iron Guru has created.

    When naming Vince Gironda , you immediately think of its most famous protocols of high density, such as’ 8×8 , the 6×6 or 15×4 , but the routines designed by the Iron Guru , are numerous, almost as much as the changes in his exercises.
    Many these routines, did not have the spread and fame dell’8×8, some because they were not present in the book ” Unleashing the wild physique “, some because they lack the charm of” large numbers “of the high volume.

    In reality many of these routines, they hide the real “secrets of muscle growth according to Vince Gironda” (remember that VG called the 8×8 routine honest, just because relatively affordable for all). The routine ” A muscle has Four Sides “(taken the book ononimo “A muscle has Four Sides” Vince Gironde) was defined by Vince Gironda ” the best method to quickly develop mass “(the subtitle of the book ononimo is:” How To Build The Most Muscle Size In The Shortest Possible Time ” ). “A muscle has Four Sides”, is based on the principle that different exercises develop different parts of the muscle, then, doing four exercises, one for each part of the muscle, you will get the fastest growth possible. According to Vince Gironda, with a Frequency of training adequate and proper nutrition, muscle growth with this routine, will be the fastest you’ve ever experienced. Finally, Gironde recommended not to do more work than is indicated in the program and that ” do more does not improve results, because if you do the exercises correctly, you will not be able to do anything else . ”

  • Steve ryker

    Great advice by a REAL person!
    Mike, I do legs twice aweek in place of your extra chest routines from bigger leaner stronger. I do squats hack sled and calves for my extra leg work out. What rep range do u recommend? Thanks

    • Thanks Steve!

      I’d recommend doing the extra sets of legs in the 8-10 rep range. Also, make sure to put 2-3 days between the two leg workouts.

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

  • BBX

    Hi Mike! I was talking to a guy that claimed he gained 12kg in 12 weeks, 9kg pure muscle he said. I told him that’s not possible as a natural and he referred me to this site. How can these guys claim it’s possible to gain 20-30 pounds of muscle in 3 months? http://bonytobeastly.com/the-program/
    If you scroll down on here http://bonytobeastly.com/ you can see some results from people. I don’t believe this for a bit. What are your thoughts about this?

    • BBX

      When I wrote “this site” I meant the site below. Not your site 🙂

    • Lol maaaaybe if someone like me stopped lifting for a good year or so and then got back into it hard and heavy I could approach results like that but unlikely.

      Muscle memory is real but I’m not sure it’s THAT effective.

  • Mark

    Hey, quick question. Do you think those numbers (20 lb year 1, etc.) apply even to guys that naturally have quite a bit of muscle (and fat) before they start lifting? I started lifting about 3 months ago (used to lift 5 years ago).

    Also, it sounds like you have a lot of experience with natural lifters of different shapes/sizes. Would you feel comfortable estimating my lean body mass based on strength and size stats? I’m finding it very difficult to estimate. I’m 6’3, 245 lbs, bench 375 (calculated, I never max), squat 405, deadlift 455, overhead press 175. I would guess based on how I look that I’m 22-25% body fat. 17.5″ arms, 38″ stomach at navel. Does a lean body mass of 180-190 sound about right? And tying back in to my first question, I’d be very pleasantly surprised if you told me that someone in my situation can get my lean mass up 40 pounds in the next 4 years.

    Thanks for your help!

    • Good question.

      Genetics are definitely going to come into play but I haven’t met anyone that has gained more than 20 to 25 pounds of muscle in year one (pounds, sure, but muscle, no).

      Those are impressive numbers my man. Great job.

      Check this out on your lean mass:


      • Mark

        Thanks! I actually had the reverse in mind, that I may hit my ceiling faster. I’ve read online that the highest LBM someone who’s 6’3 can get to naturally is 185-190. If that’s the case, I guess I’m about out of room to grow even though I just started?

        • I suspect things will normalize when you reduce your body fat percentage.

          If you get to 10%, let’s see where you FFMI is…

  • Kal-El

    Mike, what about someone who has very less muscle mass when they start out like skinny fats. How much muscle can they build?

    • It’s possible, but to be safe, I’d stick to the estimates from this article.

  • Kal-El

    Two questions:

    I only gained around 10 pounds of muscle in my first year of training because I had a lot of cutting to do. So in my second year of training, will I able to gain 20 pounds maybe?

    Can I expect to gain 2 pounds every month till I gain my first 25-30 pounds of muscle?

    • 1. Hmm probably not. Another 10 pounds would be a good year 2.

      2. No, probably not. Again, if you gain 1 pound of muscle per month this year, that would be solid.

      • Kal-El

        Okay. But what happens to the 10-15 pounds I couldn’t gain in the first year?

        • We’ll see. 🙂

          • Kal-El

            Will I be able to add it on later on?

          • Not really. You’ll be able to continue to put on muscle as I show in the article based off the amount of years you’ve been training.

          • Kal-El

            Okay 👍

      • Isaac Tian

        Hey Mike, you say in your other articles we should shoot for about a pound a week to make sure we’re gaining. Does that mean you have to accept gaining more and more fat as you go?

        • 0.5 to 1 pound per week is a good guideline and closer to 0.5 when you’re an experienced weightlifter.

  • Kal-El

    Hey Mike,
    I weigh around 130 pounds. I’ve been training for a year. I gained 10 pounds of muscle in the first year but I haven’t been eating as much food as I should have. Say I fix my diet and eat better, is it not possible to gain 20 pounds in the second year? Especially considering I only weigh 130 pounds. Also, Alan’s model says a 170 lb intermediate lifter can gain close to 20 pounds of muscle in the second year? So can’t I do the same?

    • Cool you’ve been training and great job on the weight you’ve gained.

      Ehh. That’s not realistic for your second year of weightlifting–even with proper training and dieting. A good year two goal is 10-15 pounds.

  • Mr G

    Hi Mike , I’ve been lifting naturally for about 10 years but it was all mainly the high rep isolation crap 6 days a week with a clean diet and mostly in deficit calories . Im now really focused on Compound exercises for last 2 months and seeing some gains, 4 days a week training & slight calorie surplus. Just wondering have I missed the boat to making the big muscle gains that I could’ve in my first year if I knew what I was doing ? Btw love your podcasts and videos and book!

    I’m 5″7
    About 14% bf
    10stones 4lb

    • Cool you’ve been training for a while. Glad you decided to make the switch to focusing on the compound lifts and are seeing gains.

      If you’re completely new to focusing on the heavy, compound lifts, you still could make some newbie gains.

      Glad you’re enjoying my work. 🙂

      Thanks for all the info! Talk soon.

      • Mr G

        Many thanks for the reply! Awesome I’m so glad to hear that I might still be able to get some newbie gains.

        Keep up the good work. Thanks.

  • simon

    Please tell me you don’t actually think your entire body weight consists only of fat and muscle. The credibility of this article went to shit after i read that you put 180 pounds with 10 percent body fat was 162 pounds of muscle. That makes no sense whatsoever. Most of our weight is water, followed by organs, and so on. So inaccurate and i’d hate to see people take this seriously.

  • Cody

    I’ve been lifting for about 17yrs mostly sports conditioning until 8yrs ago when I started taking it more serious. I’ve been on a pretty strict diet and workout regimen for almost 3yrs. I’m 186lbs at 70in about %11 bf. Is this basically as big as i can expect to ever get?

  • bjorn bogaerts

    how far can you go etaing normal meals without using macros?

    • You can do that for as long as you want… You’ll be able to gain/lose weight solely by tracking cals, but to reach your composition goals, you’ll need to start tracking macros.

  • mættpålegg

    Can you gain muscle from just lifting 3 days a week?

  • Timmy Tielemans

    getting alot of pressure from training buddies to use primobolan so i looked for this subject on google and found ur article it helped me understand alot.
    what is ur view on this please?

    i been training for 3-4 years now.

  • Mike-CC

    Hi Michael – First off, amazing site! I learn so much from you. Need to go to bed, haha!

    Trying to wrap my head around LBM as my lifts are pretty decent, however my diet needs improvement which I’m fixing.

    At 31 years old, I’m 5’11 w/ 23% body fat according to the Omron as well as my new Fitbit scale. They both put me at 163 of LBM and 49 of fat.

    If I’m following your article correctly, is it safe to say that I’m more or less closing in on my genetic muscle potential at 163 LBM at 5’11? So, in theory, is there a nice muscular body hiding under all my fat? Is it just a matter about losing/cutting the fat at this point? Or, have I over simplifying all this?

    Thanks man, appreciate any insight/guidance!

    • Thanks! Sorry to keep you up! 😉

      Let’s get your diet in order then.

      Thanks for all the info. Unfortunately, those devices can be completely inaccurate when measuring BF%. Take a look at this:


      You could still gain around another 10 lbs of muscle which is a significant amount of muscle. Even without another 10 lbs of muscle, if you were to cut down to 10% BF with your current LBM, I think you’d be pretty happy with how you look!

      So, let’s get down to 10% BF. Then we can see what you want to do from there.


      My pleasure! Talk soon.

  • Vince

    Hey Mike! I have trained with Kinobody and your workouts for the past couple years making great gains! I have seen a lot of hate towards Kinobody these past few months, especially people saying he is on some sort of drug/steroid. I know you two have collaborated in the past and was wondering if you think Greg is on drugs or not? Personally I think both of you are clean considering your rate of progress and your training programs both working greatly for a lot of people. Thanks!

    • Glad to hear it Vince!

      Honestly I don’t comment on stuff like this publicly because I don’t want to get dragged into it one way or another.

      • Vince

        Very understandable, best not to get caught up into silly stuff like that. I have another question, My arm strength has been plateaued for like maybe almost a year now. Everything else is going fine but just my arms, specifically my biceps. I have tried switching the rep ranges, the exercises, and even machines. What would you suggest I do to continue gaining strength in my arms again? Thanks

        • Yep. 🙂

          Hmm. First, are you bulking? If so, how much weight are you gaining weekly? If not, it’s tough to make significant gains without being in a surplus.

          How does your arm routine look? Let’s give mine a try and see how you do:



          Also, take a look at this:


          Hope this all helps. LMK what you think.

          • Vince

            I’ve been a cut recently but was bulking for a while and couldn’t get my arms any bigger. I’ve been doing a similar arm workout to yours. I’ve been doing Barbell curls and hammer curls, 4,6,8 reps in 3 sets for each exercise. I’ll try yours out! I saw you said this in the article,

            “9 sets of heavy (4 to 6 rep) pulling/rowing plus 3 sets of biceps curls in the 8 to 10 rep range.
            6 heavy sets of biceps curls several days later.”
            Do you think I should do this then? I’m a little confused at what you mean there though.

            Thanks for the responses!

          • Ah okay. Sounds good! LMK how it goes with mine. 🙂

            Yep, you should! The 9 sets of heavy pulling/rowing is done on your back day. After the heavy pulling/rowing, you’ll do 3 higher rep sets of a bicep exercise at the end of the back day to add some extra volume.

            That plus the usual 6 heavy sets of bicep work on your arm day should get the arms moving in the right direction.

            Welcome! Talk soon.

          • Vince

            Sounds good I will let you know how it goes! And how would I add the extra arm work if I was doing the 4 day split? I’m doing chest/tris, back/bi’s, legs, and then shoulders. Should I add it on the shoulders day then?

          • Hmm. Any chance you could follow a 5-day split? I strongly recommend having a day devoted to arms if you’re trying to build them up…

          • Vince

            I guess I can try if it benefits building up the arms!

          • Great! LMK how it goes. 🙂

  • sean_noonan

    hey quick question, over the last 7 months of slowly increasing calories ive seen little weight gain (2-3 pounds give or take) would you say there could there be something else im doing wrong, i really just dont seem to be gaining muscle. I have gained alot of strength though.

    • You would definitely experience some degree of newbie gains still if you’re new to this style of training. Have you been hitting the heavy, compound lifts prior?

      Same thing for the intake. If you’re new to this style of training, no. You’ll be able to build muscle just fine regardless. Otherwise, yeah, you won’t build muscle effectively until you’re in a surplus, but it’s important to make sure you properly RD.

      My pleasure! Hope this helps.

      • sean_noonan


      • sean_noonan

        i think its been like 7-8 months of proper training total but kinda broken up with a stall of my last because foot surgery but its been 5 months consistent now since the doctor let me lift. My weights been stuck though so i dont know if that means i missed out on newbie gains, but im averaging out on the higher side from where i usually do so hopefully it ends up being consistent

      • sean_noonan

        i think its been like 7-8 months of heavy compound lifting but i dont think i really gained to much muscle. I still kinda feel soft and my measurements havent really changed. Do you think theres anything else i could be doing wrong?

      • sean_noonan

        yeah i think its been like 7-8 months of heavy compound lifting but i dont think i really gained to much muscle. I still kinda feel soft and my measurements havent really changed. Do you think theres anything else i could be doing wrong?

      • sean_noonan

        wait by properly rd do you mean keep slowly increasing rather then faster

  • Miguel Lozano

    Nice article

  • Sri

    While you didn’t make so much gains in muscle mass in absolute numbers, it looks like you made more gains in actual strength. What is your opinion of that? Muscle gain vs strength gain?

    • One for looks, one for performance. Strength will typically come with muscle growth. Strength without growth is in the form of metabolic and neurological adaptations to make your muscles perform more effectively and efficiently.

      • Sri

        What more can you do once you’ve reached close to your peak?

        • Steroids?

          Haha, kidding. What makes you think you’re close to your peak?

  • Mac

    Hey Mike!

    I know there’s plenty of debate on much we should gain each week. I see many say .5lbs or so to not gain much fat but if I remember correctly I think you recommend gaining 1lb a week while bulking. Do your clients notice rapid fat gain if they were to gain 4lbs of weight a month? Please let me know if I’m misunderstanding!. Thanks!

  • Stefan Latimer

    Hey Mike, I was working the numbers and I think I found something off. I am 6’6 260-265# at 26% body fat. That works out to be about 194#of lean body mass and I am not buff by any means. But the last formula you have said that you take the centimeters of your height (198) and subtract 100 (98), and then that is the kilograms you should weigh at 5% body fat. That makes it 215.6 (which is almost freak status as you put it). If I had 5% body fat with the muscle I have now I would already be 205.4. Does that mean I have only ten pounds to gain? Did I mess up on the calculations? Or is this just another case where the world isn’t meant to accommodate tall folks?

    • Your weight drops quite a bit more than you think as you get really lean because you hold less and less glycogen and water.

      I wouldn’t worry too much about this thing until you’re in the 10% range. That will give you a better snapshot of where you’re really at…

  • Tilbz


    I just read BLS and have been lifting heavy since college (10 plus years) but never managed my diet. I’m not particularly strong right now due to a pec tear that’s irrepairable and an ACL reconstruction 4 months ago. So, my squats and bench are a little sub par right now. Still, I’ve been cutting for about 5 weeks. The first 3 weeks strength was improving but the last 2 I have noticed a significant decrease in strength. I’ve lost about 10lbs, 170 down to 160. Is this normal? I’m 5′ 10″, and am still around 15% body fat. Thanks!

    • Some loss of strength is normal, but it shouldn’t be significant. Are you certain your macros and cals are correct? Double check real quick:


      • Tilbz

        Thanks Roger. My macros are pretty dialed in. I’m getting about 200+ grams of protein per day and making the rest of my 1850 calories per day up with carbs and fats.

        • Hmm. And this is without any over-training? Other lifts experiencing this as well?

          • Tilbz

            I’m doing the 5 day suggested workout from BLS. I’ll do some HIIT maybe 2-3 times per week but for only 10 minutes or so. I only really experience this on my pressing movements and sometimes my biceps. Back seems to get gains pretty consistently.

          • Hey man. 🙂

            Hmm. If all your lifts are doing fine except for a select few, that’s usually a sign of a form issue. So, take a look at these:



            Other than that, how much weight are you losing weekly? And hows your pre-workout nutrition/supplementation? Make sure you’re getting enough sleep too!

            Hope this helps! LMK what you think.

          • Tilbz


            Thanks for the response and articles. The bench is a tough one for me. For years I didn’t pinch my shoulders and ended up tearing my pec twice. Now when I do pinch my shoulder blades it places more emphasis on my pec, but I can literally feel it about to tear where the injury is. That said, I still do the incline. As for military, I may have been gripping too wide, I’ll adjust. I think my main problem was poor post workout nutrition. Since my calorie goal is 1800, I find IF helps me but I was skipping my post workout nutrition. Last week I got back to adding it in after my am workout and my incline jumped back up this week. Who knows. Anyway, love the resource and I’m noticing good progress on the program. Thanks again.

          • Nice! Looks like you needed the recovery and extra protein.

            Thanks. Glad to hear you’re getting good results.

  • sean_noonan

    Hey I have one more question. Can genetics limit the ability to build muscle? I feel still feel like ive gained strength and some size to an extent but I still feel like i lack myofibrillar gains. Is there just a point where your body will just start to build muscle like When you get to a certain strength and is it normal to lack gains until you get there? I don’t wanna sound annoying but Im not sure if i can tell if im building muscle, I dont know if the weight i have gained is glycogen and water weight from carbs or also if there is something im doing wrong. Im kinda confused

    • sean_noonan

      this may seem akward to post a pic but this is an example of what i mean

      • You can cap out at some point, but you still have room for growth, Sean. Are you tracking your weight? If the trend has been increasing, you’re packing on more muscle. Keep it up, and increase your cals if you have to.

        • sean_noonan

          I have increased weight to an extent

        • sean_noonan

          Would you say a physique like the pic is possible naturally it’s just I don’t wanna have unrealistic expectations

          • Oh totally! It’ll take time, but it’s not an unreasonable goal.

          • sean_noonan

            Yeah my weight stalled at 5300 calories and went down a little so I may need to add more calories which I don’t exactly know how to fit in

          • If you’ve hit over 3x your body weight, you can start adding fat.

          • sean_noonan

            Hey one more thing. Would you say it’s bad to do sets of 3 sometimes? It’s just sometimes I’ll add like 10-15 pounds to a lift and only get 3. But after I’ll try and get 4 by lightening weight. Or just get 4 on the same weight next week.

          • I suggest bumping back down to a lower weight to stay in 4-6, ideally. If you’ve already hit 6 reps with the previous weight, you can try a smaller weight increase. Rest-pausing with the same weight is also a good way to go about it..

          • sean_noonan

            Hey quick question. For a while I didn’t really gain weight (first 5 months) so I increased a little quicker and I don’t know if I should cut now. Would you say I should cut or I have I gained to much fat? I feel like I’m not really a good judge of this. I definitely feel like I wanna add calories slower now though. I feel like I hit the point where my body will reliably gain weight. It just kinda took a long time.

          • sean_noonan

            Hey quick question. For a while I didn’t really gain weight (first 5 months) so I increased a little quicker and I don’t know if I should cut now. Would you say I should cut or I have I gained to much fat? I feel like I’m not really a good judge of this. I definitely feel like I wanna add calories slower now though. I feel like I hit the point where my body will reliably gain weight. It just kinda took a long time. At the I take right now though I kinda feel way to stuffed and like my body can’t really handle it. Would you say there’s a way around this? Is this normal or should I take off calories or maybe start eating the first meal earlier?

          • sean_noonan

            Hey quick question. For a while I didn’t really gain weight (first 5 months) so I increased a little quicker and I don’t know if I should cut now. Would you say I should cut or I have I gained to much fat? I feel like I’m not really a good judge of this. I definitely feel like I wanna add calories slower now though. I feel like I hit the point where my body will reliably gain weight. It just kinda took a long time. At the I take right now though I kinda feel way to stuffed and like my body can’t really handle it. Would you say there’s a way around this? Is this normal or should I etake off calories or maybe start eating the first meal earlier?

        • sean_noonan

          Yeah my weight seems to be going down a couple pounds again this week so I’m thinking I may need to add more calories again

        • sean_noonan

          It’s weird though my weight stalled and seems to be going down and I’m already at 5300 cal. Is this normal? I’m thinking that means I should add more calories. Just not really sure how I would take in that much food. It’s really hard

  • sean_noonan

    Hey quick question. For a while I didn’t really gain weight (first 5 months) so I increased a little quicker and I don’t know if I should cut now. Would you say I should cut or I have I gained to much fat? I feel like I’m not really a good judge of this and I’m not sure if my weight will bump down again. I definitely feel like I wanna add calories slower now though. I feel like I hit the point where my body will reliably gain weight. It just kinda took a long time. Also I feel kinda stuffed and like my body is having a hard time handling it. Would you say there’s a way around this? Is this normal or should I take off calories or maybe start eating the first meal earlier?

    • Looks like still room to bulk. Go slow with adding the cals now.

      • sean_noonan


      • sean_noonan

        glad I have a better idea of where my maintenance is though.

      • sean_noonan

        yeah I took off 200 calories because I feel like thats where my weight went up a little. so ill probably give it a week with 200 calories less and see how it goes. Also thanks for the quick response

        • NP!

          • sean_noonan

            Hey If my weight still goes up more than a pound would you say it’s safe to take off another 200? Or should I go less?

          • Take off 100 and see if that slows it down to around 0.5-1lbs/week. Adjust as needed.

          • sean_noonan


          • sean_noonan

            Wait so take off another 100 now or wait to the end of the week?

          • I’d do it now.

          • sean_noonan

            Wait so a total of 300 calories including the 200 I already took off. I’m just a little confused and I wanna be sure

          • Just so we get things clear, you were gaining weight too fast, so you have already taken off 200cals. So, let’s see how this goes first.

            If you’re stilling gaining too quickly after a week, then take off 100.

          • sean_noonan


          • sean_noonan

            Hey would you say if my weight goes up 2 pounds or more I should take off 200. I took off another 100 now but I don’t know if I should take off another 100. My eight seems to be responding on the same intake different than before

  • Patrick Cashin

    Great Article and on point with what im seeing myself..
    Here are my thoughts/ findings on my journey so far..
    I started lifting at 30 years old 2 years ago..I weighed a puny 145 at around 5,11 13% ish bodyfat
    Started on 5×5 stronglifts and lasted around 7 months, Bw now 160 and bf around 15%
    Noticed all the younger kids around the gym were bigger than me and were doing fluff n pump training splits.. Got discouraged and jumped on a fullbody but bullshit train to failure high rep/high set workout
    Gained about 3 pounds after 3 months probaly mostly fat..
    Went back to researching WTF was going on and slowly started to come to the conclusion that
    A..My expectations were wrong about how much muscle you can pack on..
    B.. The 100set marathon workouts are a waste of time for a natural guy
    C..Those kids in the gym..Actually havint a clew what there doing for the most part. They have the gift of puberty and a free natty cycle of test..
    D. I needed to return to the compound lifts and focus on getting stronger on the basic stuff..
    E..My natural body is only capable of so much.. No 100set routines no every set to failure and no 5 days a week campaign..

    I decided to try an upper/lower split based on a few heavy sets of compound excersises for the major bodyparts.. And a few high rep sets for smaller muscles.. I focused on trying to get stronger when and where possible by adding reps and weight.
    Fastforward to today.. Im now 174 pounds at around 17%bf Im about to begin my first mini cut soon though..
    I can deadlift 400pounds/squat 200+ Dumbell bench 70s for 3x 7
    and overhead press 93 pounds for 3×7
    Im starting to look Damn good.. and frankly starting to leave most folks in my gym in my trails..

    The takeaway… My expectations are now realistic.. I know what builds muscle and I no longer pay attention to an industry dominated by lies and deceit..

    • Nice work! You’ve come a long way 🙂 Keep it up!

      I don’t recommend a mini-cut, by the way. Best to commit to it. Most of the initial weight lost is waterweight anyway.

  • John Bison

    Your 190 lb shot and 185 lb shot are taken from completely different angles, have completely different lighting, and the distance is nowhere near the same. Don’t act like there’s you then 220 lb in contest guys. There are all sorts of drug users who are between you and them, so it’s not fair to say you can achieve the physique you want naturally unless you want to be a complete monster. You’re not a small step from the biggest there is to offer. You’re a giant leap away. It’s obvious you’re a pretty small, lean guy who took an up close pic.

  • Zina Kao

    love your work, have your books, always recommend your site as a starting point for friends….

    With the right diet and training, you will gain muscle but it will eventually taper off (over the course of years). Is it necessary then to change your diet to match the change in gains? That is, if you triangulate your weight, progress photos and strength improvements, you can assume weight gain is muscle. As the weight gain/progress tapers off, what do you do to your diet?

    I’m trying to understand what will happen next in this journey….
    I finished a long slow cut (45+lb fat loss), went through a loooong reverse and now am gaining muscle at what i consider to be an astronomical rate (2+lb/mo starting @135lb bw). Progress photos are good, measurements are good, setting PRs every day in the gym but i’m having a hard time wrapping my head around how quickly i’m adding muscle (50yr menopausal female).

    p.s. as a thought, consider the masters athletes. smaller population pool, but there is almost no information out there for them(us).

  • sean_noonan

    Hey mike I got a quick question. Kind of since the last bulk was sort of messed up do to some training mistake I must have been making (not 100% sure what though but Im sure ill figure it out with roger)

    Ive been cutting and I’m almost to ten percent I think but its been around 4 months or so since the end of my last RD after my last cut (RD ended in december)

    Could this mean I lost potential gains? like will I be able to make up for the 3-4 lbs pounds of muscle I could have gained in those months? I feel like I really lack size a lot and I really wanna grow.

    Also would you say I should keep cutting? Im kinda unsure about wether I’m 10% but I definitely don’t have too much more to go Its been about 6 weeks of cutting so far


    • Nice! Yeah, Roger will definitely get everything sorted with you. Cut a bit more, and you’ll be ready to go. Don’t sweat any loss of potential gains in the past or making it up.

  • Chase Alexander

    Hey Mike! I have a quick question for you. I cut down from 15% to 10% body fat about 2 months ago. I started to bulk up but ended up gaining all my weight back in about 2 months. The reason for this was too many cheat meals. I’m now wondering if I should cut back down and try bulking slower again or continue to bulk for a couple months then cut down. I’m concerned that if I cut again I’ll miss out on gains, but I also don’t want a really long cut in the future. Whats your advice?

  • buffedd

    Quite long but very informative page.


  • Brandon Jones

    On these measurements that you may be able to achieve are they measurements in a relaxed state or flexed. Mostly curious on biceps as there is a big difference flexed then relaxed at your side.

  • Alexa

    I have done a few cycles of cutting / bulking, and have gained the desired amount of muscle on my legs and butt, and really dont want to get them any bigger. How can I work out in a way that I will not gain any more muscle in those areas?
    If I do 8-10 reps, will that build less muscle, while still preserving them?

    And last question, if a person only does body weight exercises, I know they won’t build muscle, but will they be able to tone over all? Like, for example, the butt will be small but firm?

  • Anthony M

    Hey, I was just curious about the muscle-gain rate calculator. I’ve been primarily cutting this last year with a couple periods of bulking, and it says with 1 year experience I can gain 10-12lbs this year but 30-37lbs in two years of lifting. There’s not much information on the calculator besides lyle McDonald’s table. So does this mean my 2nd year of bulking (3rd year lifting) I’d possibly gain 20-25lbs but the 2nd year lifting only 10? That doesn’t make sense to me which is why I’m asking. What makes sense to me is the initial 24lbs would be my first year of proper lifting & bulking and 12lbs my 2nd year of proper lifting & bulking. Just for some information I went from 185-151 and I thought after this year I could potentially be 175+ with 20-24lbs of muscle gained. Thank you.

    • Hey Anthony, which part are you confused about? The idea is that you can gain 20-25lbs of muscle in your first year of proper lifting, and about half that in your second year. If you’re in a calorie deficit, that will certainly affect the results.

  • Anthony Pampillonio

    Hi Mike I haven’t finished the article yet but I’m in a coffee shop and dying to flex my bicep but will wait till later lol but just wondering how many fingers can u fit between your bicep and forearm? And how exactly do I take this measurement?seriously thanks alot

  • Jennifer

    I am a bit confused, lol. I have small bones and below average muscle bellies according to the article. I’m 5’5″ and currently around 100lbs lean body mass. The calculator shows my maximum lean body mass at 147lbs–which means putting on 47 pounds of muscle?! However, as a female, my lifetime cap should be 20-25 pounds of muscle gains? The second calculator, the natural gain says i can gain 30-37 pounds of muscle in the next 2 years. Are the calculators accurate for females?

    • Hey Jennifer, the figures should be halved for women. The calculator on the page is based on the calculations for men.

  • Ransom

    I see other people commenting to this effect as well, but I don’t think this calculator works for women particularly well. I did it for my girlfriend who was curious but doesn’t frequent fitness sites. she’s petite 5’2″ but already in good very good shape bf% wise (~22%) and according to this she could gain ~60lbs 35 or so of which would be muscle with seems infeasible to say the least.

    • Yeah, the calculator itself is based on the estimates for men. The gains would be approximately half for women.

  • Gregory

    Hey, mike what is your ankle and wrist size? and unlike most people, I think that Casey Butt’s formula exaggerate a little our muscle building potential, dont you think so? or is it really a rough estimate of our potential? I can’t believe I can weigh up to 180 pounds at 10% bodyfat with a 6 inches wrist and 8 inches ankle.

    • My numbers are very similar to yours–6.5-inch wrist and 7.5 or 8-inch ankle if I remember–and it does put me a bit high (215ish at 10% and I’m currently 193 @ 8 or 9%…).

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  • Zika Minic

    I have a question. If my maintenance is 2500 Kcal, and I am a beginner level lifter, than to gain 2 pounds of muscle a month, keeping the 1:1 muscle to fat ratio described in the article, I would need approximately 2*2500Kcal + 2*3500Kcal =12000Kcal surplus per month or 400Kcal daily surplus. This is 16% above maintenance. It is considerably more than the recommended 125Kcal (5%) to 250Kcal (10%) Am I missing something?

  • Jesse Self

    Mike, is there any advantage to bulking and cutting a set amount of times a year? Let’s assume, I gain 2 lbs of muscle/month at a 1:1 muscle to fat ratio and can lose 2 lbs/week when cutting while for the most part preserving muscle. (I’ve been working out less than a year, so this isn’t far from my reality). I’m also at about 10-12% body fat right now. Is there any disadvantage to bulking for shorter periods before cutting or is it more efficient to bulk for 4-5 months (the cold holiday months), then cut for 4-5 weeks? It seems to make sense that going from a caloric surplus to deficit more frequently might keep the body from adapting to dietary changes. Plus, I’d prefer to not have such wide weight fluctuations throughout the year, but I don’t want to be inefficient.

    • Hey Jesse, I like to drag a bulk out for 4 to 6 months. I’ve noticed that most people get into a “groove” during a bulk, where they’re making gains on their lifts each week, and throwing in mini-cuts can screw up that momentum. Plus, with the time it takes to reverse diet into a bulk, it wouldn’t necessarily save time by cutting more frequently with shorter bulks. Regardless, I recommend juggling your cuts and bulks so you stay between 10% and 15% body fat, so there shouldn’t be weight fluctuations that are too massive. Check this out: http://www.muscleforlife.com/the-best-way-to-gain-muscle-not-fat/

  • bob

    Mike, I can attest that Martin’s estimates are not to be taken as gospel. I’m what you call stocky at 5’8″ and was rocking 200lbs at 10%. Even then I felt I could have gone to 210 at 8% with an additional year. Not sure that will work for me at age 58 but I’m going for it! Genetics play a major role of course. My 16 year old daughter is a big girl with a very similar build to mine. When she was born her pediatrician remarked that she was the most muscular child she had ever seen at 6 weeks of age. Ironically my other two girls are size 2. One has my genes, the other two their mom’s.

    • That’s crazy! Great genetics 🙂

      As always, there’s no one-size-fits-all rule.

  • nickyyy

    This is bullshit… This told me I will have like 14inch forearms but my forearms are bigger than that and I workout like for a year…

    • Cool, you do realize the calculator includes a lot more than forearm measurements, right?

  • Justin Tyme

    Sorry, but your calculations don’t work. At age 26, throwing 100 lb. sacks into box cars and doing bar dips and pull ups on the railings at work…with my own home made lifting routine…up to 20 reps with a light weight then working up to 10 reps with a heavier weight…then increasing, I had already maxed out according to your formula after a year and a half. 198 lbs and lean at 5′ 11”. I don’t think so. I’m old now and haven’t lifted in decades, but I really wasn’t trying that hard. So…does that make me an anomaly..or a superhuman?

    • Hey Justin, it’s possible you could have exceeded these parameters, but you’d be one of the first. That said, there are anomalies. How lean were you? At 10% body fat you would have been pretty jacked at 198lbs! 🙂

  • Gus M.

    Mike, what do you think intermittent fasting has on testosterone? You state that being in a hypocaloric State reduces testosterone levels. Others say IF actually causes a spike in testestorne. What do you think?

  • Adel-Alexander

    So if I can fit 3-4 fingers between the muscle belly and my forearm, I’m screwed?

    • I wouldn’t say you’re screwed. You have shorter muscle belly, but you can still grow your arms.

      • Adel-Alexander

        Is there a recommendation for me though? Or just follow the advice on your website?

        • Nope, the same principles apply. Just lift heavy, focus on gaining strength, and you’ll do well 🙂

  • Johnny

    Hey Mike, I’ve listened to your podcast where you spoke about the formula that guesstimates build potential based on wrist/ankle measurements. In reality, how accurate do you think the calculator is? My wrists measure 9″ and my ankles 11.5″. I’m 5-11, 190 lbs. at about 18% BF. I don’t see myself as a large frame person and can’t imagine ever coming close to the measurements shown on the calculator.

    • Hey Johnny, the formulas are very accurate for their purpose, which is giving you a realistic ceiling on muscle growth. That doesn’t mean you’ll actually reach that point, it’s more of a potential maximum level of development. It’s quite possible that you might not be that big.

      What did the calculator say you could reach?

      • Johnny

        Thanks for the reply, Mike. I think that helps answer my question, but it’s also a bit disheartening to hear at the same time. I posted a picture of my max “potential” below. When I was working out really hard and was strict on my diet, gained a lot of strength, but I don’t feel I ever really gained much size. Nothing even remotely near my “potential.” I also posted my measurements below (unflexed), which I consider disappointing considering how meticulous I was with my diet.

        BTW, I have to say I appreciate the way you interact with your followers. The fact that you reply to us here is a awesome and hugely beneficial. Thanks again.

        • Sure thing man, I’m always happy to jump in. Thanks for coming back to the site!

          It shouldn’t be discouraging. Again, the calculator is offering a ceiling on what’s possible. It will take years of solid training to get anywhere close.

          Looking at your measurements, you do seem to be a bit of an outlier. It might even be worth double checking to make sure you took all of the measurements correctly. Most people your height have smaller ankles and wrists (for reference, your measurements are larger than mine, and I’m 74 inches tall). Remember, too, that putting on even 5 to 10 pounds of muscle in the right places makes a huge difference in appearance.

          As far as your growth is concerned, were you actually gaining weight? Getting stronger is great, but if you’re not eating enough to grow, you’re not going to put on much size.

          • Johnny

            I had never measured my wrists and ankles until just recently and only did because of your podcast talking about it. Once I saw the measurements, I assumed I measured incorrectly. So after doing some additional research, I confirmed the measurements are correct. I actually pulled the cloth tape pretty tight as well.

            And yeah, I was gaining weight. I’d have to go back and look at my logs to confirm, but I gained about 15-20lbs the first year and dropped a little body fat. I have to say for the first time in my life, I actually made significant strength gains in the gym by following the BLS methodologies. So, it may have just been amatter of me not seeing the transformation in the mirror that I expected, relative to the gains I was experiencing in the gym.

            I won’t take up anymore of your time, but thanks again for making yourself available. I suffered a sports injury (wrist and ACL) that didn’t allow me to work out for nearly a year. For some reason, this conversation has motivated me to get back in the weight room!

  • Kirk Robinson

    Nice article. I’m a high responder to training given my genetics. I’m 6″3 and currently 158 kg. Basically I’m built like the worlds strongest man Brian Shaw albeit he’s 6″8. So anyways did some calculations. Wrist measurement: 9 inches, ankle measurement: 11 inches. Based on that my goal weight is: 115 kg at 12% bf.

  • Kirk Robinson

    Hi Mike this is a good article. I’m a big guy at 6″3 with a build similar to world strongman Brian Shaw albeit he’s 6″8. I used the calculator. My wrist measurement is 9 inches, ankle measurement 11 inches. At 12% bf I’ll be 115 kg which is quite accurate I’d say. Currently I’m about 158 kg, but I think when I eventually hit 12% bf I’d be close to 115 kg for sure.

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