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Genetic Limit to Muscle Growth

Q: I have a few questions. First, how do you get into photo shoots, and do you make a lot doing it? Second, do you believe there is a genetic limit to muscle growth—or at least a point where the increases are very minimal? I’ve been working out for two years and have gained more than 50 pounds—mostly muscle—but will two more years of working out produce only five or maybe 20 pounds of muscle? I’m attempting to stay lean while gaining muscle steadily. I track and weigh everything; I’m always eating whole-grain, healthful foods even though that doesn’t make much difference. No sweets or sodas. I eat 4,000 calories a day.

A: You get into photo shoots by contacting photographers and asking to shoot with them. Many won’t charge you if they think they can sell the pics to a magazine or if you’re taking them specifically for a magazine. You don’t make money or get paid to do photo shoots unless you’re doing a paid modeling shoot. Most of us do it for the publicity in the magazines. It’s not easy getting your photos in a magazine, so the publicity pays for itself.

Yes, there’s definitely a genetic limit to muscle growth, but it’s hard to say what that limit is. For example, when I started training at 14 years old, I weighed 135 pounds. One year later I weighed 155 pounds. When I was 16, I started competing in teenage bodybuilding contests. I’d enter three to four shows a year, so I was always dieting and didn’t really give my body enough rest to get big and grow. I was usually around 180 pounds in the off-season and probably 170 pounds for a contest.

After competing in 10 teenage contests between ages 16 and 19, I took a year off to get bigger. Within the first six months of my year off, my weight shot up to 205. It was as if my body was dying to grow but I never gave it the opportunity because I was always dieting for a contest. I was all excited because I figured if I gained that much weight in only six months, how much more would I gain in another year?

Unfortunately, I hit a huge sticking point when I got to 205. For the next eight months I couldn’t put on a pound. I was training really heavy four days a week and eating a lot of food, but I was stuck at that weight. You could say that it was my genetic limit—205 pounds at 5’8”. I wanted to get bigger, though, so I started eating a lot more food. I figured that way I could pass the sticking point by bulking up even more.

After six months of eating a ton of food and training as heavy as I could for six to eight reps, I gained another 25 pounds and was up to 230. I was very bulky, and my waist was up to 38 inches—but I was also bigger in every muscle group. Even my calves got significantly bigger from carrying around more weight.

After I reached 230, I found it easy to get back to that weight in the off-season for the rest of my bodybuilding career. If I’d never pushed myself to get bigger and gain that weight, I probably would have been stuck at 205 forever.

You mentioned that you’re eating healthful foods even though that doesn’t make much of a difference. The types of foods you eat do make a difference. The number of calories is obviously important for gaining weight, but make sure you eat high-quality proteins, good complex carbohydrates and enough essential fatty acids to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to build more muscle tissue and have enough energy to have productive workouts. If you’re eating junk and foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients, you’re limiting your growth potential.

Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Check out his Web site at for more information about how you can be a part of his exciting, new Natural Olympia Fitness getaway. Send questions or comments to [email protected]. Look for John’s DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse,  IM




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