Genetic Potential: How Much Muscle Can You Build Naturally?

Have you been putting hours, weeks, months, or years in at the gym and can’t get any bigger? Your genetic makeup may have more to do with your potential for growth than you think… Nature vs. nurture is a debate that runs deep in society as a whole, but can be filtered through many specific subjects. No matter the arena in which it is discussed, the nature vs. nurture debate is simply a battle between innate characteristics and the environment that might influence those characteristics.

This conversation can easily be applied to your efforts at the gym and your potential to gain muscle. How much of your muscle growth and it’s potential depends on your parents and your genes? How much of it depends on your hard work, exercise, and energy you put in at the gym every day?

As with most nature vs. nurture discussions, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. It’s not a binary response of nature or nurture, genes or effort, but a combination of both. Since both your parents and your push-ups play a part in your potential for muscles growth, let’s explore both sides of the argument.

Time for some truth: your parents have a lot to do with your potential to naturally grow your body. This is because you inherit your bone structure and body frame from them. Muscle growth is fairly limitless, but bone growth isn’t something that you can make happen just by spending more time at the gym. Your frame is your frame, and there’s not much you can do to change it.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sons inherited a similar frame to his, but it’s up to them to add muscle the way that he has throughout his life. Your frame is a blank canvas to paint your muscles onto. The Schwarzenegger boys have a fairly large frame to start from, while you might look at your dad who is 5’9” with narrow shoulders and wonder why you can’t get any bigger. Don’t be deterred by your genetic frame, acknowledge it’s existence and then look to build on it the best that you can with every rep and set you log at the gym.

We’ve addressed the elephant and the room and understand that your physical frame and bone structure is simply a hand that you are dealt by your genetic code. Let’s talk about how you can play that hand to the best of your ability. In the nature vs. nurture argument, the nurture side has everything to do with the environment and the circumstances around you. In the case of muscle growth, nature is your physical frame and bone structure, while nurture is what you can do to add to or impact that frame. This is the part of the process that you control.

Put simply: pick up heavy things, put them back down, and then repeat. You have complete control over your exercise regimen and how you can use weightlifting to grow your muscles. Although this seems like a very simple solution to your muscle growth problem, it gets more and more complex the longer you have been visiting the gym.

For instance, let’s say that you’ve been going to the gym consistently for 3 years. If you are still doing the same exact exercises you were doing on day one, you’ve probably started to hit plateaus and seen your progress stagnate. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get any bigger than you are now, it just means that you need to serve your muscles a dose of variation. You need to challenge yourself in different ways in order for your body to experience growth and expansion.

If you’ve been doing 3 sets of 8-10 reps for a while, switch it up and do 5 sets of 5 reps. Adjust your pacing as you lift, inserting pauses at the bottom or top of each exercise. Play around with the grip that you use for you favorite lifts. You’d be surprised how these little adjustments can re-energize your journey to muscle growth and help you break through those plateaus.

Your body’s frame may be a blank canvas that came directly from your genes, but the quality of the painting is a product of your hard work and tenacity in the gym. Don’t let your genes hold you back.

Now for the fun part: finding out your potential for muscle growth given your genetics, physical frame, and bone structure. Just how big can you get? There a few different approaches to this, but they all produce similar results. The interesting part is that I don’t think the results will surprise you.

Have you ever had a friend that just started hitting the gym and grows muscle rapidly or loses massive amounts of weight in their first few months working out? That’s not a coincidence. As you expose your body to physical exercise, you will experience the most muscles growth and/or fat loss in the first 1 or so of committing to the process. If you’re looking to grow muscle, studies have shown that, in that first year you can gain muscle at a rate of 1% of your body weight per month. So, if you’re a 200 pound guy, you can gain about 2 pounds of muscle per month.

After that first year, though, your ability to gain more weight from muscle essentially gets cut in half. This ability to gain muscles will continue to decrease overtime as your body gets more and more used to lifting weights or running laps. It won’t shrink down to 0% muscle gaining potential, so there will always be room for more muscle growth. It will just be at a much slower pace than when you began.

If you’d like to find out more about what your specific muscular potential would look like, follow this link to get your results. Just by plugging in your height, body fat %, wrist, and ankle measurements, this tool will give you an idea of where your glass ceiling may be.

There are different factors like age and lifting experience, but this can at least give you a baseline for where you can take your body.

1) Butt, C. (n.d.). The WeighTrainer. Retrieved July 08, 2017, from
2) What’s My Genetic Muscular Potential? (n.d.). Retrieved July 08, 2017, from

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.