How Big Can You Get Naturally?

A lot of guys want to know how big someone could get naturally, that is without taking steroids OR pro hormones!!

Before I talk about how big you can naturally get, I'm going to talk about the size of MOST GUYS who use steroids. This will give you a more realistic reference point.

I have been involved in bodybuilding for almost 20 years now and I've competed in bodybuilding competitions for the past 15 years.

The bulk of competitors in the division I compete in are NOT DRUG FREE!!

How big are 90% of the competitors on the local level of bodybuilding nowadays? I would say that most of them are between 165-198 lbs.

These are lean physiques, much leaner than old school bodybuilders were. The old school look was more of a combination of size/strength/definition.

Nowadays definition takes precedence over size and certainly strength. Most old time bodybuilders wouldn't even place in local level competitions because of conditioning and levels of leanness.

Now, keep in mind that if a guy comes into a competition weighing just under 200 lbs, this means that he has probably lost 15-20 lbs during his diet. THESE ARE NOT DRUG FREE COMPETITORS!!

Now, when you start talking about guys who are coming into a competition weighing over 200 lbs lean, these guys are more few and far between, and guys over 225 lbs conditioned are becoming extremely rare these days.

Most coming in the over 225 lbs SHOULD BE competing in the heavyweight class (under 225 lbs) but they aren't as conditioned as they should be.

Now, to be 100% real with you here, most of the guys over 225 lbs in stage shape aren't just using a few vials of steroids here and there; they are taking a shitload of them.

They are spending more money than most guys would be willing to spend, and are committing more time to eating/gym than most guys would be willing to commit. Their entire existence revolves around bodybuilding and getting bigger.

So what is the biggest difference between a natural bodybuilder and an enhanced bodybuilder? That would be the level or ratio of size:definition.

The average guy who works his ass off and doesn't use steroids or pro hormones can achieve a physique that is over 200 lbs at an average height of 5'8- 6′ tall, and with average body fat to slightly below average body fat.

But over 200 lbs and shredded to the gills? I'd say for over 95% of guys with JUST GENETICS on their side….not happening!!!

Let's take a look at Steve Reeves. Steve Reeves had a physique that is damn near as perfect as someone all natural could ask for.

But when I say perfect, I'm not talking about the same type of emphasis that is placed on the bodys of today.

Steve had genetics on his side. The wide shoulders, naturally tight waistline and large chest, that is a combination of proper training and nutrition WITH superior genetics on your side.

Steve Reeves
Steve Reeves

Reeves had stats that were a 52″ chest, 26″ quads, 18.5″ arms, 18.5″ neck, 18.5″ calves, 29″ in the waist, and 6'1″ in height.

Now keep in mind, Reeves weighed 215 lbs, BUT HE WAS OVER 6′ TALL.

I also know that stats for most guys are over-exaggerated, so I would take those stats with a grain of salt. It wouldn't surprise me if his stats were an inch or two short of claims.

But look at his level of body fat percentage in most photos. He looks good, better than most…but his body fat is nowhere near as low as no-name guys who take the local stage nowadays on an amateur level.

For him to drop any lower, his stats would be smaller and he'd be more like 200 lbs (if he was in fact 215 lbs in most photos).

Now, let's look at a guy named John Grimek.

On paper every stat Grimek possessed was smaller than Steve Reeves, but in my opinion Grimek looked the larger of the two of them, with more conditioning.

Grimek was just under 200 lbs, and his peak era was the late 1930's to mid 1940's. Grimek was just under 5'9″, so you take away 4″ from Reeves and you still had a body that was a more extreme ratio of size:definition.

John Grimek
John Grimek

Reeves was a good looking dude, which is really what he had going for him almost more so than physique alone.

I'm not trying to take anything away from Reeves, but at that time there were just muscles that were not as developed and defined as what we value nowadays as pinnacle physiques in the bodybuilding world.

But again, this is all a matter of opinion and what look is most desirable to you!!

So John, where does this leave me in terms of attainable size naturally?

So what is the first predetermined factor when it comes to gaining size? That would be muscle insertions and tie-in points.

No matter what people say, these are the things you cannot change no matter what you do; this is the God given hand you were dealt.

The more space there is from your elbow bone to the lower tricep head, the harder it is for triceps to grow. Likewise, same with biceps.

Look at a guy like Sergio Oliva and you'll see his bicep pretty much dead ended into his elbow joint.

Sergio is a guy who would have probably had over 20″ arms even without steroids….this is rare, VERY RARE!! 

The thing about all of this though (which should leave you with some hope), is that unless you start working out you won't know your genetic potential because you cannot feel these muscles.

It's difficult to know where a tricep or bicep head starts or stops when there is no real development yet!!

Enough of the science and history lesson, how big do you think “most guys” can get naturally?

  • Average body fat percentage at average height of 5'8″ – 6′: 200-220 lbs (Average body fat of 14-16%)
  • Conditioned with ripped abs at average height of 5'8″ – 6′: 200 lbs (And we are talking genetics where angels have come down from the heavens and blessed you!!)
  • Over 6′ tall ectomorph (a genetically skinny guy with a lower level of body fat) – 200 lbs lean. Height also plays a major role in body weight!!
  • Over 6′ tall mesomorph (best combo of leanness:muscle) – 220-240 lbs AVERAGE to ABOVE average body fat (Again, this is with superior genetics).
  • Over 6′ tall endomorph (naturally husky/fat, but naturally stronger) – 250 lbs AVERAGE body fat (extremely rare if he isn't over 20% body fat).

The truth is that most guys will never let their ego fall, and therefore will never be ripped!!

As much as I hate to say it, most guys will revert right back to eating and training heavy once they see strength diminish during a diet.

They will never be diced because they just cannot let this go. God forbid they are no longer the guy in the gym pushing the most weight on a bench press anymore!! So what will happen?

They will go right back to average body fat or even higher than average body fat, and then look for the best thing “to take”, but nothing outworks a diet…NOTHING!!

Most of the strongest guys in the gym are not the leanest!!

It's true, do you think it's just a coincidence that football players on the defensive line carry a higher amount of body fat and are the strongest? Have you ever watched the NFL camp where they do a 225 lb bench press for max # of reps?

The most ripped guys never get the most reps!!

Now take this into the gym; it's very difficult to see yourself regress in an area where you once performed better.

But if most guys would stick it out long enough they would be pleased with a better combination of size:definition. Also, your body eventually gets accustomed to being stronger in a leaner state.

But you have to get there first and you need to hold it long enough that your body gets used to it. Most never will!!

What is the best advice I could give you for reaching your maximum genetic potential?

Easy enough on this one: stay off the damn scale and don't be obsessed with your body weight!!

I have seen guys who are 175 lbs blow away guys over 200 lbs. It looks totally different when it's quality muscle mass and it's well defined!!

Don't be a scale freak, you will only hold yourself back.

Yes, you will naturally pack on mass and more weight as your muscles grow more. But there comes a point when just adding weight to add weight is only shortchanging yourself, and it's actually tricking your mind.

I can remember when I was over 240 lbs and thought I looked pretty good. I'm probably 20 lbs lighter than that now, and I would laugh at the old me if he walked by today.

Since natural bodybuilding and old school bodybuilding go hand in hand, what can we learn here?

#1 – Don't be a scale freak

#2 – Hard work outworks talent when talent doesn't work.

#3 – Health first!!

#4 – Whole foods first, supplements for convenience, and to “supplement” a diet, not to thrive on!!

#5 – Wide shoulders and a tight waist should be the first, main goal!!

#6 – You can build a great body without the use of steroids, but there will come a point when enough is enough and you must be satisfied and accept that you've hit the ceiling!!

#7 – Don't be ashamed to show off your hard work!!

Listen, not everyone looks like they belong on the cover of Flex magazine, but that is no reason to hide your body!!

Be proud of the fact that you have a better looking body than most and don't be ashamed to wear T-shirts, tank tops, or form fitting clothing.

I always wear form-fitting clothes, because there is no way to make believe you're in shape if you're not when you wear it. Nobody wore baggy shit back then, and I don't believe in it nowadays myself.

#8 – Nothing comes without hard work, and I'm not just speaking bodies here!!

There were plenty of normal, blue collar guys back then who worked hard for everything they had.

They are some of the same guys now who make an average living wage but have a prized classic car, a clean house, and good/healthy living habits.

Busting your ass will never leave you with nothing.

When will I know I have reached my genetic potential?

For starters, you will be closing in on what I've talked about up above in the stats section.

Next, strength gains will come to a screeching halt no matter what you try.

You can eat more food, rest more, train harder, train heavier, but when strength gains come to a halt and stay there for a long period of time, then you're pretty much there.

From this point it becomes a risk vs. reward deal, and you need to ask yourself if beating yourself up with heavy training all the time is really worth it.

With consistent training and nutrition, 90% of trainees will hit the genetic ceiling within the first 5 years of weight training.

Sure, you may get harder and leaner over time, but in terms of actual size I'd say within the first 5 years of training.

I would say 60-70 lbs of additional body mass is what most guys would be realistically adding on a natural level, during 5 years of consistent training.

If someone doesn't look natural, they probably aren't!!

Don't let people bullshit you, most guys who look unnatural usually are!! But who cares, it's their choice and you're only wasting your time dwelling on it.

When it comes to steroids it's pretty fucking simple to me: either you take them or you don't.

I don't look at a body and separate the “natural ones” from the steroid users.

I look at a body as a good body regardless of who is taking what, and quite honestly I don't care who is taking what.

I know without hard work and diet, it doesn't matter what you're on!!

It does get old though when you hear everybody's bullshit about, “I think he is using this and that…”

The ones who know don't need to ask, and the one's who don't know wouldn't understand if you told them anyway, so what does it really matter?

At the end of the day all we can do is the best we can with what we have!!

– JD

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18 thoughts on “How Big Can You Get Naturally?”

  1. Spoken like a real Man JD. I agree with you whole heartedly. Who the hell cares who’s doing what. Like you I admire all the Muscle athletes who train hard and want to be the best they can be whether they compete or not. Take your physique and working towards its development is what its all about.

    Reply
  2. I was pleasantly surprised to see you mention Steve Reeves! He was one of my first inspirations when I started bodybuilding, I actually have a couple of his books still.

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  3. In real life it’s better to be big and strong with reasonable body fat than smaller, weaker but ripped to shreds. IMO. And instinctively, girls like size more than super low bodyfat.

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  4. John,

    The articles just keep getting better and better. Couple posts ago you just mention that you were not going to talk about steroids anymore, but I think it is essential talk when it comes to bodybuilding. Articles like this help a newbie like me to set clear goals and expectations. Also they give a clear insight into the culture and the lifestyle, and more important they make you see thru all the bs that is the fitness industry. Appreciate your wisdom…

    Greetings from Ecuador,

    Reply
  5. ”Over 6′ tall mesomorph (best combo of leanness:muscle) – 220-240 lbs AVERAGE to ABOVE average body fat (Again, this is with superior genetics).”

    You can put John Cena there. He is 6’1” 240 lbs. I think he can be a natural (as he say he is) because yes he is big but he has big bones. (enormous wrist) and good genetics.

    Reply
  6. I spent a lot of time nerding out over this last year

    From my experience taking into account 1. The supposed MAX FFMI of 25 based on pre-60’s old school bodybuilders and 2. The genetic max chart on Nattyornot I would say the genetic max for most guys is probably somewhere between 22 and 24 on the FFMI.
    Why???

    Because the researched used for the FFMI of 25 uses bodybuilders before the 60’s where they had just started to use steroids to supplement their training and also the bodybuilders before 1939 (over 80 years ago) had test levels waayy higher than what max test levels are today. Just look at Eugene Sandow and Bobby pandour they have the size and fullness of lifter that just finished their first 12 week cycle of 500mg of test..IF NOT BETTER lol but remember that was almost 100 years ago…

    And a lot of people that did a couple of cycles and got off like my friends I work out with or are just cruising on trt only for over a year most of them eveventually come back to an average of 24 ffmi.

    But IMO most guys can get up too 22-23 ffmi (preferably top heavy) after 4 years

    Mesomorphs with good genes, high t and a solid training regime can get up too 24 ffmi after 4 years

    However most guys will be at 80-90 % maxed out after 2 years which at that point they get too decide if they want to train natty for 2 more years or just do a couple mild steroid cycles and post cycle properly and then just maintain…

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    • I need to get my bf% checked, because now that I checked myself agains FFMI I seem to be near my max at 6′ 203lb ~10-12% bodyfat.

      I guess I’ve been doing better then I thought!

      Reeves did say in his books that 200lbs lean is about the max for someone my height though… guess I just need to get leaner and stronger. Body recomp, anyone?

      Reply
      • Follow up on my own comment, I did do a rough check of my bodyfat percentage shortly after, and it came in around 16% at 200lbs, so definitely room for a recomp and I still have more room to reach my potential.

        Reply
  7. Im trying to find out my FFMI but i’m unsure how munch body fat i’ve got currently i’m 5,5 squat 135KG deadlift 162.5KG bench 92.5 lifting for 22 months. I’m not sure about size and that but i say my waist is 29 inches biceps last i cheeked are 14.5 inches weight around 61KG. I use median SBD sleves.

    Reply

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