One fact you will have to face one day as a bodybuilder is that eventually, you will reach the point where you just aren’t going to get any bigger.
Some will delay that inevitable day as long as possible by continually increasing dosages of steroids and other drugs to frightening amounts. Let’s just assume that most of you reading this, like myself, have no interest in playing that game of Russian Roulette with our health and lives. I’m not against moderate use of performance-enhancing drugs, but there’s a point where the line is crossed into abuse and the risks are greatly amplified. That’s a topic for another conversation, however.
When the day comes that you have truly and completely maxed out your muscle size, whether it be five years after you started training or 25, what do you do? Simply train to maintain? That would seem to be the only purpose, since growth is not going to happen no matter how much effort you apply in the gym or how many more grams of protein and carbs you can manage to eat. Thankfully, you can continue getting better long after you stop getting bigger. It’s due to a phenomenon called “muscle maturity,” or what myself and other grizzled veterans with decades under our training belts fondly refer to as “old man muscle.”
Muscle maturity is a look of grainy detail in the muscles that only comes about after many years of hard and heavy training. One thing you may have noticed if you’ve really paid attention to contest-coverage photos—or, better yet, attended more than a few shows in person—is that you don’t see that look on younger guys. You will often see guys as young as 19 who are enormous and plenty more in their 20s who carry astounding amounts of muscle. Yet, even when they are in great condition and have virtually no bodyfat, there is still a lack of fine details. That’s because some men have the rare genetics, as well as the proper pharmaceutical assistance, to build outrageous amounts of size quickly, but there is absolutely no way to rush muscle maturity.
A good example is Mamdough “Big Ramy” Elssbiay, the two-time New York Pro champion from Egypt by way of Kuwait, who placed seventh at the ’14 Mr. Olympia. Ramy has supposedly been training for less than five years, and in just the past three he has grown from 200 pounds to an off-season high of 340, competing at 285. This man has all the size he will ever need, and aside from calves and perhaps upper chest, he has no weak bodyparts. So, why isn’t he blowing away someone like Phil Heath? It’s because Phil has all the fine details in his muscles that Ramy lacks—and probably won’t have for a few more years.
If you’ve ever been to high-level masters competitions like the NPC Team Universe or Masters Nationals, you’ve seen plenty of examples of superb muscle maturity. Most of those men have been training a minimum of 20 years, and in some cases more like 40. That sounded crazy at first, but now that I think about it, I have been training steadily since age 14 and am now 45, so I will be there myself in a few years. The top masters men have striations, splits and grooves in places the younger guys won’t see for another couple of decades, all because they kept on putting in hard work at the gym, day after day, month after month, and year after year. I’ve known some of them on and off for more than 20 years, and I’ve watched their physiques evolve and season. Some haven’t gotten much bigger in many years, but they have all gotten better. Their physiques have taken on a more seasoned, dense look even if the tape measure or the scale may not indicate any changes.
So, don’t despair just because you will stop growing for good one day. You can continue to improve your physique long after that, and you may be very surprised to find how much better you can and will look at the same size as time goes by.
Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding—Muscle Truth From 25 Years In the Trenches, available at www.RonHarrisMuscle.com. To reach him via Twitter, Instagram: @RonHarrisMuscle; YouTube: