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Are There Limits To Muscle Size And Growth?


Ron Harris weighs in with his opinion on the argument about natural limits to muscle mass.

Recently, I got into it online with a guy who was angry that I have pushed the “lie” for many years that professional bodybuilders are genetically gifted with certain inherited traits that allow them to build far more muscle mass than the average man.

As obvious as this inconvenient reality might be to the rest of us, there are many people who stubbornly refuse to believe that a small percentage of humans are born with advantageous bone structures, muscle belly lengths and shapes, and metabolisms that cause their bodies to take on a distinctly different, far more muscular look once they take up serious weight training and eating right. Instead, those who deny this phenomenon exists prefer to attribute the freakish development solely to use of assorted chemicals and compounds. According to them, there is a distinct genetic limit to the amount of lean muscle mass a man can build, and anyone who surpasses that limit has done so with the aid of drugs, regardless of whether or not said person has passed numerous drug tests. They have even gone so far as to quantify these limits with a height-to-weight ratio.

Let me state for the record that I have no illusions that the physiques we see today on pro stages would not be as big and heavy without the aid of considerable amounts of performance-enhancing drugs. And in addition to the inherent genetic traits these men were born with, response to drugs also appears to be related to genetics.

Just as with the natural ability to build muscle, there also seems to be a sliding scale in which a few people have minimal response to steroids. Most will see average results, and a few will experience a tremendous response. So for those who believe I have been on a mission these past 20-plus years in magazines to deceive the world and downplay the role of drugs, guess again.

The real issue here is that even when you take drugs completely out of the picture, responses to training on its own will vary greatly among the general population. Some men will indeed build as much muscle naturally as the average person would need large amounts of drugs to see, and it would be far more size than the typical natural trainer could ever hope to carry.

One specific (alleged) limit that was mentioned during my online fracas was that no man at a height of 5’10” could carry more than 215 pounds in very lean condition. As evidence, various natural champions were listed, along with their height and weight. If I attempted to reference a few men over the years who have exceeded that cap, the subjects were dismissed as being cheaters. How convenient! But here’s the thing: There are over seven billion people on this planet. That makes about 3.5 billion men, with an enormous genetic diversity, along with many mutations and aberrations.

Nearly 100 years ago, a man named Robert Wadlow came into this world and went on to become the tallest human (at 8’11”) in recorded history. That’s almost 9 feet tall! Nearly 20 others have passed the 8-foot mark since then. If a human being can be so freakishly tall, why is it so inconceivable that some humans have the ability to build freakish amounts of muscle mass naturally?

The so-called “proof” that this limit is inarguable comes from statistics gathered from competition weights for natural bodybuilders. Okay, but suppose many of the men who could have surpassed the natural limits so-believed to exist, recognized their potential for bodybuilding, and chose to use drugs to compete in non-tested organizations with substantially more financial reward and publicity? Or, what if some of them had this ability to build muscle, but also had exceptional abilities in a sport like pro football, which is infinitely more lucrative than bodybuilding?

You also have to consider that some of these rare, gifted men either never started weight training, for whatever reason, or that some did, but we never knew about them. Perhaps they trained at home for their own satisfaction and benefit, or were incarcerated (correctional officer friends of mine have always told me about inmates who were bigger and stronger than just about anyone in the gyms where we trained).

The point is, I don’t know what the absolute limit is for building muscle naturally, and nobody else can say with certainty that they do, either. Besides which, what is the point with these statistics? Were they concocted by men who were upset that the role of drugs in pro bodybuilders’ physiques was not being acknowledged sufficiently? Were these men bitter that they weren’t receiving due credit for having developed what they believed to be the maximum size possible without drugs?

Setting limits on others, and especially on yourself, is a losing proposition. While believing you can look like an Olympia finalist, whether naturally or with aids, will most likely set you up for failure. It’s also bad to set a limit on what you can accomplish, particularly when that limit may be an underestimation.

Remember that old cliché, “Reach for the stars”? Do that and you might at least get to the moon. But if you get into bodybuilding having already decided that there is a specific boundary for what you can achieve, you might very well be shortchanging yourself. Until Roger Bannister came along in 1954, it was believed that no human being could possibly run a mile in under four minutes. Once he did and people saw it was in fact possible, many others did it, too. His record was transcended only two months later! The current record set in 1999 is 3:43:13. So before you accept mediocrity as your fate and set limits on yourself, understand that most limits only exist in our own minds and in the minds of others who hate to see others succeed and do things they can’t.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Iron Man believes in free expression, a First Amendment right, and that a reasoned argument has room in its pages, without taking sides one way or another. 

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