Recently, during one of my research projects on the Internet, I asked myself the following question at some point: Do you only see anabolic monsters on Youtube?
That led me to the following point:
How much muscle building is possible in a natural way?
I admit, this is a provocative thesis. But I have experienced in a fitness studio once that for many fitness freaks the hurdle of taking anabolic steroids or other prohibited substances is frighteningly low. Of course, young people in particular run to the studio with the proviso that they want to look like Chris Hemsworth as Thor or Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. Only results that can be seen count. Together with the wonderful feeling of invulnerability that one still has at a young age, some people think so: Nothing will happen. So why work for years if I can achieve the same result in a few months?
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A study by the Federal Ministry of Health has even substantiated these assumptions with figures: Young men and women (19-29 years of age) in particular regularly go to the fitness studio and increasingly use prescription drugs to improve their performance (see KOLIBRI-Study).
Hollywood stars as role models
I have already mentioned actors like Chris Hemsworth in his biggest role as Marvel Avenger Thor. Other examples of perfectly trained and athletic actors would be Hugh Jackman as Wolverine or Christian Bale as Batman. Christian Bale in particular shows that these bodies were not created under everyday conditions. Because Bale lost only 30 kilos for his role as The Machinist (2004), only to have 45 kilos more on his ribs 5 months later, in order to give the best possible figure as Batman. These blatant physical changes can never be made without a whole team of personal trainers, nutritionists and other coaches (and still most likely damaging to the body). Even if you have the same willpower as a monk: Do you have the money to buy the perfect professional support in every situation?
The role of influencers
Besides movie stars, today’s Youtube stars and gangster rappers certainly carry a not insignificant part to the increased desire for many muscles, glorifying the strength training and the resulting muscle mountains. So when the role models of their youthful fitness friends show off their muscle mountains, the fans are only too happy to emulate them. And then a few like to take the dangerous shortcut with anabolic steroids and Co.
Form follows function, or?
Let’s be honest: Why did we all go to the gym for the first time back then? Because we wanted more muscles! Very few of them probably had a specific athletic goal in mind. That also explains why so many gym-goers neglect leg training (Never skip leg day!) and limit themselves more to the so-called disco muscles (chest and biceps). You can’t see the legs in the disco ;) In the first place the appearance stands, only clearly later the question arises whether one is also really strong and athletic. This probably makes it attractive for many hobbypumpers to “only help a little in the mass phase”. After that, you have to put the stuff down and move on to the so-called definition phase. But some of them stay on longer!
Social Media as Fire Accelerator
Through today’s media age, and such innovative channels as Youtube, Facebook and Instagram, it is finally made easy for a lot of people to market themselves and their bodies. It is teeming with self-proclaimed muscle building experts and fitness professionals who look like Ken at the same time. All natural! After all, you have to be authentic. Have all these Youtube stars really achieved their muscles through complete dedication and a disciplined lifestyle? It could be that here it is similar to professional bodybuilders and one or the other has helped a bit…
This article is not intended to open up the dark machinations of bodybuilding, nor do I want to lump all the participants in this aesthetic sport together. They certainly exist, the honest and natural strength athletes!
A negative test proves the innocence?
“But at least at competitions there are tests!” one or the other will say now. Yes, that’s true! But even though most professional bodybuilders have been tested negative several times, this unfortunately doesn’t say anything about whether they took such preparations in the distant past. Because anyone who has once helped to build muscle for a certain period of time may benefit from it for a few more years. Besides: Lance Armstrong was not tested positive once during his career, if I remember correctly…
How do you recognize doping?
It is often very difficult to detect doping from the outside and this leads to speculations that usually have little substance. To recognize doping in athletes, acquaintances, influencers and celebrities, the entire sporting development must be observed more closely. Were there major physical changes within a short period of time? Does the person have a very low body fat percentage of 5-6% or even less? These would be the first indications that someone has helped. But it can also be recognized by the skin and face. Acne on the shoulders and back could be an indicator, but it could also have many other causes. You can probably see it most clearly on the face, because the growth hormones not only cause muscle growth, but also growth of the chin and ears. But none of these indications can be used as sole proof of doping, it is rather the interaction of all these signs that could indicate steroid use.
Well, as mentioned earlier, this is not an article about doping. Rather, I would like to clarify which natural limits are shown to you as a fitness athlete. So how far does Mother Nature let you hypertrophy with real nutrition and honest training? What is your genetic potential?
How much muscle mass can I build?
There are various studies and theories on this subject. Among the authors are former bodybuilders, sports physicians or strength and fitness trainers. They all have one thing in common in their thoughts: There is a natural limit! But this is different from person to person. If I want to determine this limit, I can fall back on different models or formulas. Of course it should be mentioned here that we cannot give any guarantee for the validity of these models. They are based on experiences and observations and do not claim to become one of the 10 holy commandments.
The Alan Aragon Model
Alan Aragon is a US-American trainer, author and lecturer for the National Academy of Sports Medicine and the National Strength & Conditioning Association. According to his theory, a beginner can build 1% – 1.5% of his body weight in additional muscle mass per month. If a man weighs 100 kg, that would be 12-18 kg in the first year. In the second training year (he is now an advanced beginner) another 6-12 kg would be possible. During the third training year, the rate decreases sharply. Here only 3-6 kg muscle mass are possible. The bottom line is that our man, who originally weighed 100 kg, would weigh between 121 kg and 136 kg after three years of continuous training. Not a very precise statement. The table shown here once again illustrates the rate of muscle growth:
|grade of training||Rate of muscle gains/month|
|Beginner||1-1.5% of the body weight|
|Advanced beginner||0.5-1% of the body weight|
|Advanced||0.25-0.5% of the body weight|
Casey Butt’s Frame Size Model
Natural bodybuilder Casey Butt has conducted a study with numerous colleagues and asserted that genetic potential and stature are closely correlated. To this end, he examined the circumference of the fetlocks and ankle joints, the body size and the current body fat percentage (KFA) in %. The result was the formula:
size^1.5 x [(√Handgelenk)/22.6670 + (√Sprunggelenk)/17.0104] x [(KFA%/224) + 1] *
This calculation has a small disadvantage: You have to know your current body fat percentage. This can be determined in advance using the Calipper method (measurement of the skin fold thickness) or a valid body fat balance. However, if you would like to know how much muscle mass would be possible with a certain desirable KFA in the coming training year, the following simplified derivation is suitable:
0.3 × wrist^2 × 0.5^(years of training – 1) *
The result is the possible additional muscle mass at approx. 8 – 10 % KFA.
As you can see, it is also based on the degree of training. Muscle growth also decreases with increasing training experience. Personally, since I have been training relatively continuously for some time, I could add 1.57 kg this year according to this formula. Believe me, I’m working on it ;)
The Fat Free Mass Index
This is a value that gives information about the general body composition and should be more meaningful than the well-known BMI (Body Mass Index). After all, a highly trained man can have a BMI value which, according to the scale, indicates overweight. Unfortunately, this value only takes height and weight into account and should therefore not be taken into account.
The following formula was developed to calculate the Fat Free Mass Index:
FFMI = fat-free mass / (size x size) + 6,3 x (1,8 – size) ∆
The fat-free mass is calculated as follows:
FFM = body weight x (100 – body fat percentage in %) / 100
*: Wrist and ankle in inches, the result is in americ. Pound
∆: fat-free mass in kg, size in centimeters
What makes this formula so interesting for our topic is the following: A team of researchers from McLean Hospital in Massachusetts conducted a study among professional bodybuilders. They concluded that the athletes who did not take anabolic steroids had a maximum index of 25. Steroid users could far exceed this value. This suggests that there is a natural barrier at an FFMI of ~25. Or to put it another way: up to a value of 25, the body is able to regulate its own building processes hormonally and energetically. With a sufficient supply of natural nutrients and the right training stimuli, of course. Artificial steroids must then help.
The Aerobic Fat Free Mass Index Calculator
Here we have created the ultimate aerobis Fat Free Mass Index Calculator for you. Just enter your values and determine your Fat Free Mass and your Fat Free Mass Index.
If you want to know how many muscles you can theoretically build, you simply need to increase the value for body weight a little, or reduce the value for body fat until the FFMI levels out at ~25. Keep in mind that a KFA below 6% is unhealthy and can only be achieved by professional bodybuilders for a few days (competition peak). The target for men is 10-12%. For me, for example, this means that I could gain a maximum of 18kg muscle mass.
What is the best way to gain more muscle mass?
Now that you know how much potential there is in you, you probably want to know how you can best use that potential. Here we have four central points that have a decisive influence on the build-up of muscle mass:
Training intensity is crucial
Muscle growth and strength increase are directly related to each other. So try to constantly increase your training weight without neglecting the perfect execution of your movements. A repetition that you do not perform cleanly will do you more harm than good! And while you’re at it: pay attention to the so-called time under tension, i.e. the real load time during which your muscles have to work under full load. Per set the muscles should be under load for 45 seconds on average!
Are you enough at all?
You can’t build a stable house if you don’t have the necessary resources! Of course, a high training workload requires an increased protein intake. But do you eat enough carbohydrates? Low Carb is a good form of nutrition to look slim and athletic, but for optimal muscle growth you need sufficient amounts of carbohydrates as fuel for the body. Maybe you just need to increase your carbohydrate intake? But make sure that you consume “good” carbohydrates that are high in fibre and low in calories.
High Intensity Training
We have just talked about the intensity of training, but we need to extend this point a bit. For optimal mass gain, you should do your training as intensively and with as little breaks as possible. The so-called HIT training is especially demanding, but it also releases a lot of hormones that promote muscle growth. The time you need to drink a sip of water or change weights between sets is enough to give your muscles a break.
Recovery is part of training
And while we’re at breaks: Recovery is not the absence of training, but just as much a part of your training as the set of biceps curls. Because the muscles do not grow during training, but during the regeneration phase. All the small micro traumas caused by muscle strain stimulate muscle growth. Therefore the question is important, how often you should train per week.
To fully exploit your personal muscle growth limit you need the optimal fitness equipment. Our recommendations for hypertrophy training are our professional fitness bands – especially the alphaband Set PRO. Please remember, consistent and challenging training is the most important factor for growth. Our bands are super portable and can be used anywhere. It is all you need for serious strength training!
The bottom line is that there are many theories and models. Some are even relatively meaningful and one has even been proven by a study. However, one should not pay too much attention to these values, because they describe the genetic potential to build muscle mass under optimal conditions and continuous training. As far as I know, this is only true for professional bodybuilders who dedicate a lot of time and money to their work through advertising contracts or other business models. In my opinion, complete devotion is necessary to reach one’s natural limits. This is then no longer a hobby but a lifestyle! No training can be cancelled, perfect nutrition, sufficient regeneration and sleep, pushing the body to its limits again and again, not everyone can and wants that.
Now one would have to look at the lifestyle of the so-called Youtube stars. Do you find these perfect conditions in your life? Or can they create these conditions for themselves? Especially in my professional life, I imagine that to be relatively difficult. However, I can also be wrong, because with a little skill and commitment you can earn money relatively quickly with this medium. And then you have time to pump the whole day and to film yourself ;)
What do you think?
Are all the muscles you see on Youtube, Facebook or Instagram really real? Or are they blanks?
In this sense,