Your Maximum Muscular Bodyweight and Measurements
by Casey Butt, Ph.D.
DISCLAIMER: The world of popular bodybuilding has always been and probably always will be full of exaggerations, deceptions and, sometimes, outright lies. Unfortunately, those exaggerations often shape people’s perceptions of bodybuilders’ legitimate measurements. The purpose of the information presented in this article is to provide accurate references and tools so people can form appropriate training expectations based on reality. That said, even many adults don’t have the maturity and intelligence to accept and deal with knowledge of their own limitations. If you’re comfortable with your current perception of your bodybuilding potential (depending on how realistic your training expectations are) and think that any threat to that perception might negatively influence your self-image or motivation to train then do not read this article.
|“The truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it, ignorance may deride it, malice may distort it, but in the end, there it is.”|
|– Sir Winston Churchill|
|Maximum muscular bodyweight and size potential are positively correlated with a person’s height and bone-structure [1-6]. Simply put, naturally large-structured men generally have the potential to develop larger muscles than slightly built men. Reflecting that, there are several formulae in popular use that predict a person’s maximum muscular weight based on these variables (with bone-structure size typically estimated by measuring the circumference of the wrist). Bodybuilding legend Steve Reeves presented simple formulas for calculating what he considered to be ideal muscular weight. He suggested starting with a base of 160 pounds and adding 5 pounds for every inch of height above 5’5″. For people above 6’0″, he suggested starting with 200 pounds and adding 10 pounds per inch. Using these formulae, a person 5’9″ would have an ideal muscular weight of 180 pounds. A person 6’1″ would weigh 210 pounds. The problem with these predictions is that they do not consider bone structure size. In his book, Beyond Brawn, Stuart McRobert also proposed a method of estimating maximum muscular bodyweight. The suggestion is to start with 5’0″ as a base height and 100 pounds as a base weight. Then add 10 pounds for every inch of height above 5’0″ for a medium bone structure, 8 pounds for a small structure, and 12 pounds for a large structure. Above 5’9″ add only half those amounts. A person of 5’9″ with a medium structure would weigh 190 pounds. A person of 6’1″ with a large structure would weigh 232 pounds. This is a worthwhile refinement of the simple linear approach, but becomes inaccurate when dealing with very large and/or very small structured people.|
In the scientific community, Dr. E. M. Kouri, et. al. presented a comparison between the lean body masses of drug-free vs. drug-using lifters based upon their fat-free mass indexes (FFMI) . This formula can be solved for maximum lean body mass at a given height if a maximum FFMI is assumed for drug-free lifters. The problem with doing this, however, is that, again, bone structure is not considered – though the works of Cameron et al. and Glauber et al. indicate clearly that such a relation exists [1,2]. What’s needed is an accurate and precise formula, based on personal bone structure and height, that gives the maximum lean body mass a trainee can achieve without the use of anabolic drugs. The material in this article is based on an except from the e-book Your Muscular Potential: How to Predict Your Maximum Muscular Bodyweight and Measurements – specifically, the sections dealing with the accomplishments of drug-free bodybuilding champions of the past and present. If you accomplish the predictions outlined below you’ll have developed a body proportional and equally developed to theirs. Predicting Maximum Muscular Bodyweight
The amount of lean body mass a human body can develop and maintain is limited by it’s own, naturally occuring, hormone levels. A fundamental reason as to why males carry more lean body mass than females, and have the potential to develop greater amounts of muscle in less time, is precisely because their natural testosterone levels are many times higher than females. Testosterone is required for muscle growth and maintenance, and there is a limit as to the amount of testosterone the male body can produce in good health. Resistance training results in micro-trauma to protein structures within the muscle cells and circulating testosterone is instrumental in the repair and replacement of these structures. Once the body has attained the maximum amount of muscle mass that the available testosterone can maintain – i.e. “repair” after training and replace with an equal amount of “new” proteins – then no additional proteins, and therefore no additional muscle mass, can be added and maintained. It is a fundamental and irrefutable fact, though one which the bodybuilding and supplement industries, and their deluded followers, routinely ignore (a completely unsupportable position, but “defended” quite vehemently nonetheless). The normal adult male serum testosterone level for a man under 40 years of age is between 3 and 10 ng/ml, and decreases with increasing age [8-10]. This clearly imposes a personal limit on the amount of lean body mass that can be developed and maintained without the use of exogenous anabolic drugs (i.e. “steroids”), and any further development beyond this point will require drug-use. Other major factors influencing ultimate muscular potential are muscle belly lengths, fast-twitch to slow-twitch fiber ratio, etc. So there will be variations in potential between people even of identical bone structures. Consequently, no equation predicting maximum muscular bodyweight will be 100% accurate for everybody. What such an equation can do, however, is establish an upper limit of potential based on the achievements of drug-free bodybuilding champions. These men possess naturally high testosterone levels, full muscle bellies, and the host of structural characteristics that permit the development of world-class physiques – they reflect the upper limit of male drug-free muscular potential. Therefore, a muscular bodyweight prediction equation based on such a group of men provides an estimate as to the maximum muscular size a person of a given structure is likely to achieve without the use of anabolic drugs and while maintaining a “balanced” physique. Though, in reality, the very nature of the accomplishments of elite bodybuilding champions strongly implies that the majority of trainees will not be able to quite reach such a level. However, if you have long muscle bellies, good health and hormone levels, a growth supporting diet and lifestyle, and train according to your needs then you should, in time, be able to approach such a predicted muscular weight. If one of these factors doesn’t apply to you then your potential will be less. It has been my experience though – based on almost ten years of data collection and analysis and owing to the fact that ultimate muscular potential is so closely tied to bone structure – that most healthy people can come surprisingly close to what such a formula can predict …if they train correctly for long enough. One must also consider the case where a person’s bone structure tapers at the extremities. For instance, the wrist and ankle circumferences could be “small” but the shoulder and hip structures not correspondingly “small”. This trait is not entirely uncommon and can produce deceiving results. The opposite end of the spectrum is a slightly built person who has large wrists and ankles – this type of structure also exists. In these cases, it is more difficult to accurately predict muscular potential. I have chosen to present a simplified lean body mass prediction equation, but with the caveat that an adjustment be made for thinly and thickly built men whose structures are not accurately reflected in their wrist and ankle measurements. Finally, potential lean body mass increases with body fat percentage. Research has found that very heavy Sumo wrestlers actually carry more lean body mass than bodybuilders of the same height . A statistical analysis of off-season vs. contest-condition bodybuilders was performed to account for this in the lean body mass prediction equation. Predicting Maximum Muscular Bodyweight: The Equation
Based on an analysis of some 300 class and overall title winning drug-free bodybuilders and strength athletes from 1947 to 2010 the following equation, predicting the maximum lean body mass someone of a given height and bone-structure can achieve without the use of anabolic drugs, was derived. It describes a “normal” state of nutrition and fluid retention in the trainee. (There is a link at the end of this article to an online calculator based on all of the formulae presented here).
- where, H = Height in inches A = Ankle circumference at the smallest point W = Wrist circumference measured on the hand side of the styloid process. (The styloid process is the bony lump on the outside of your wrist.) %bf = The body fat percentage at which you want to predict your maximum lean body mass
The above equation, as it was derived from collected data, applies most accurately to individuals of approximately average, balanced bone structures for their heights and average muscle belly lengths. Very thin ectomorphic men can expect to achieve roughly 95% of the lean body mass that the equation predicts. Likewise, very endo-mesomorphic men, men who have disproportionately wide hips, thick shoulder structures and torsos, high natural testosterone levels, exceptionally long muscle bellies or uncharacteristically small joints for their frame size may be able to exceed the prediction by up to roughly 5% in extreme cases (WNBF World Champion and Mr. Universe Rob Hope comes to mind). So, using this equation, for a 5’9″ (69 inches) tall bodybuilder at 10% body fat with 7.0″ wrists and 8.7″ ankles the equation would yield: To convert maximum lean body mass to maximum bodyweight at any given body fat, use this equation:
|Bodybuilder||Actual Weight (lbs)||Predicted Weight (lbs)||Max Bulked Weight (lbs)||Predicted Body Fat (%)|
|Current World Champ. “A” (pre-contest)||170||170.0||176.8||4.5|
|Current World Champ. “B” (off-season, not bulked)||168||168.0||174.7||8.3|
|Current Nat. 1st Place “A” (off-season, bulking)||233||224.0||233.0||14.1|
|Current Nat. 1st Place “B” (off-season, not bulked)||185.2||185.2||192.6||9.8|
There have been several sets of equations presented over the years that attempt to predict maximum muscular measurements based on height or wrist size. The problem is they typically don’t consider both, and very few of them consider the lower body structure. Along with several efforts by David P. Willoughby [3-5], a popular set of formulae was presented by bodybuilding author John McCallum in the mid-1960s . McCallum’s guidelines were based on wrist size, without the lifter’s height taken into consideration. Such an approach can be sufficiently accurate for a lifter of average stature but muscular potential is, to a degree, influenced by height. For instance, a 6’1″ tall trainee with an 8″ wrist will, generally, have the potential to develop larger muscular measurements than a 5’8″ trainee with an 8″ wrist. For maximum accuracy, height must be considered when making such predictions. The statistical analysis of the anthropometric measurements of roughly 300 drug-free class-winning and overall title winning bodybuilders and muscularly large strength athletes from 1947 to 2007 resulted in strong-to-moderate correlations between height, wrist girths, ankle girths and muscular measurements. Moreover, as the absolute muscular development of these elite-level athletes has not significantly changed over this 60-year period, genetic upper limits become apparent, and any inferences drawn from this group can be applied to future potential as well. Based on clear correlations, athletes noted for outstanding body part development were selected on a per body part basis, and bodybuilders with weaknesses in these areas were omitted from the data pool. The following correlations were found:
|chest-to-wrist; r = 0.93||neck-to-wrist; r = 0.88|
|chest-to-height; r = 0.79||neck-to-height; r = 0.75|
|biceps-to-wrist; r = 0.94||thigh-to-ankle; r = 0.88|
|biceps-to-height; r = 0.82||thigh-to-height; r = 0.73|
|forearms-to-wrist; r = 0.92||calf-to-ankle; r = 0.81|
|forearms-to-height; r = 0.85||calf-to-height; r = 0.80|
|chest = 1.6817W + 1.3759A + 0.3314H|
|biceps = 1.2033W + 0.1236H|
|forearms = 0.9626W + 0.0989H|
|neck = 1.1424W + 0.1236H|
|thighs = 1.3868A + 0.1805H|
|calves = 0.9298A + 0.1210H|
- Measurement Procedure: chest – measured relaxed (not expanded), arms at sides, tape under armpits biceps – flexed, at largest point forearms – fist clenched, hand out straight, measured at largest point neck – below Adam’s apple at smallest point thighs – standing relaxed, midway between hip and knee calves – standing relaxed, at largest point * For all measurements tape should be snug but not compressing the flesh.
For our 5’9″ trainee with 7.0″ wrists and 8.7″ ankles we have:
- chest = 1.6817 x 7.0 + 1.3759 x 8.7 + 0.3314 x 69 = 46.6″ biceps = 1.2033 x 7.0 + 0.1236 x 69 = 17.0″ forearms = 0.9626 x 7.0 + 0.0989 x 69 = 13.6″ neck = 1.1424 x 7.0 + 0.1236 x 69 = 16.5″ thighs = 1.3868 x 8.7 + 0.1805 x 69 = 24.5″ calves = 0.9298 x 8.7 + 0.1210 x 69 = 16.4″
Clearly, these predictions are not comparable to what some drug-using bodybuilders are claiming and/or achieving. But, realistically, those numbers represent the maximum measurements that such a natural trainee is likely to achieve in lean condition without drugs, while still maintaining balanced measurements throughout the body. In reality, any trainee who reaches the measurements predicted by these equations will be an impressive physical specimen …he would have the size and proportions of the bodybuilding legends listed above and of the current drug-free bodybuilding champions. As an illustration, Table 2 shows how the old-timers and some drug-free elite competitors from 2003-2006 “measured up”, along with the predictions of the equations. The actual measurements were taken from a variety of sources deemed credible, and were taken at body fat levels of approximately 8-10%.
|George Eiferman||47.5 / 47.7||16.7 / 17.1||13.4 / 13.7||16.5 / 16.7||25.0 / 25.4||16.0 / 17.0|
|Reg Park||NA / 50.5||18.5 / 18.5||NA / 14.8||18.0 / 18.0||26.5 / 26.4||17.5 / 17.7|
|John Grimek||49.9 / 49.8||18.0 / 18.1||14.5 / 14.5||17.7 / 17.6||25.7 / 26.1||17.3 / 17.5|
|Jack Delinger||47.5 / 47.9||17.2 / 17.4||13.8 / 13.9||16.8 / 17.0||25.0 / 25.1||16.6 / 16.8|
|Steve Reeves||49.5 / 49.6||18.0 / 18.0||14.5 / 14.4||17.5 / 17.6||25.5 / 26.1||17.8 / 17.5|
|Current World Champ. “B”||NA / 44.2||16.0 / 16.2||NA / 12.9||15.5 / 15.7||23.0 / 23.2||16.0 / 15.5|
|Current National 1st Place “A”||47.3 / 49.6||17.5 / 17.7||NA / 14.2||17.8 / 17.3||25.5 / 26.5||16.5 / 17.7|
|Current National 1st Place “B”||NA / 46.3||17.2 / 16.9||NA / 13.6||17.0 / 16.5||24.5 / 24.2||15.5 / 16.2|
What these equations give you is the level of muscular development you would need to be equally developed, both in terms of mass and proportion, to elite-level drug-free bodybuilders of your height and bone structure. For individuals within the average height and bone structure range, and possessing average muscle belly lengths, this also corresponds to the heaviest lean body mass and largest lean measurements they are likely to achieve without drug-use and while maintaining balance throughout the muscle groups of the body (people with significantly smaller or larger than average bone structures are referred to the e-book for more accurate predictions). That isn’t to say that a bodybuilder won’t have a genetically gifted body part(s) that exceeds these predictions, or that he can’t surpass these predictions by specializing, perhaps inappropriately, on certain muscle groups. However, it is very unlikely that the rest of the physique, as a whole, would reach that standard. If you have body parts that can exceed the predictions then you’ll probably always have to “take it easy” on those muscles or they’ll grow out of balance with the rest of your physique. (And if your outstanding body part is a large muscle group like legs or back this can cause your bodyweight to exceed the prediction given by the bodyweight equation.) In this regard, these equations should be viewed more as maximum guidelines than as limitations. On the other hand, perhaps you would like your biceps a little oversized with respect to the rest of your physique. Also, keep in mind that achieving these measurements doesn’t necessarily mean that your body will be “perfect”. Measurements don’t tell the full story – things such as muscle shape, symmetry, separation and definition can make all the difference. You may find yourself achieving these measurements yet your physique still lacking in certain aspects. Most commonly, if a person reaches these predictions, yet still doesn’t appear muscularly impressive, then he’s simply too fat – keep in mind that these equations describe a lean condition. On the other hand, if your measurements are significantly under what the equations predict, you’ve probably got the potential for further growth (baring some medical/physiological condition prohibiting this). In reality, it will take years of dedicated, productive training for most genetically typical trainees to even approach these predictions. Most people, including champions, will never achieve this level of development throughout all of their muscle groups – and measurements taken at higher body fat levels do not reflect true muscular development. If you reach 95% of most of these predictions – in lean condition – you will stand out in almost any gym. In fact, 95% represents good lifetime goals for most genetically typical, drug-free trainees. At a lean 90% you’d look like a fitness model.
|In closing, I want to stress that although these formulae present lofty, but realistic, goals for most drug-free trainees, they are not meant to represent “limitations”. But you also must realize that in the process of surpassing these predictions you are also surpassing the development of drug-free world champions. Very few people will have the genetic gifts to accomplish that. What the formulae give you is the lean body mass and full-body measurements that you’d need to achieve to be on an equal footing, size-wise, with current drug-free champions and the greats of the drug-free era. I’m not saying that no one can surpass that, but to put it in perspective, you’d need to be carrying more muscle (with respect to your skeletal frame size) than a prime Reg Park in order to do it. Images of bodybuilders at the pinnacle of drug-free achievement: Drug-free Bodybuilding Champions|
Online calculator based on the formulae presented above: Your Maximum Muscular Bodyweight and Measurements Calculator