These are the words of a noted fitness trainer in response to a bodybuilder who spoke of packing on some additional muscle. The trainer went on to say that you can only gain muscle for a couple of years; after that, you’ve maxed out your genetic potential.
If the trainer is indeed correct in his claim, then everyone with a modicum of training experience is basically spinning his wheels in the gym; might as well just do a couple of 15 minute HIT workouts and maintain what you’ve got. Fortunately for those of us who aspire to keep making gains, the comments made were both misguided and uninformed.
Don’t get me wrong. There certainly are upper limits to how much muscle you can build, just as there are limits to muscular strength, aerobic endurance, and any other exercise-induced adaptation. This is commonly known as your “genetic ceiling”; at a certain point, you hit your ceiling and further gains cease.
Thing is, how do you know if you’ve reached your genetic ceiling?
Answer: You don’t.
In fact, you can’t.
All you can ascertain is whether or not your training regimen is producing positive changes in your physique. And if you’re not in fact growing from your present routine, that doesn’t mean you might not see results from an alternative strategy. The number of possible ways to vary program design is virtually unlimited. Unless you try each and every alternative, there’s no way to know if another approach might be the ticket to further gains.
Understand that the reason your muscles adapt to an exercise stimulus is a function of survival. Your body doesn’t realize the reason you hit the gym is to look jacked in a tank-top; rather, it senses a high degree of physical stress that is deemed a threat to survival. In response, a coordinated series of intracellular events are initiated to strengthen the muscles and supporting tissues so that they are better prepared the next time you lift.
Problem is, the more you continue to provide similar stimuli, the less of a need for future adaptation. Further growth can only occur by subjecting your muscles to a novel overload stimulus.
The imprudent nature of the comments made by the aforementioned trainer is reflected in his own training practices. Namely, he is known to perform the same basic routine over and over each and every year. Why would the body respond to a stimulus that it perceives it can readily handle?
Answer: It won’t.
While a “ceiling” may exist in theory, you never actually realize your full genetic potential; there is always the ability to further increase muscle mass. Indeed, muscular gains can be made even at very advanced levels, albeit at a much slower pace than when you first started training.
Numerous research studies – including those from my own lab – show that those with considerable training experience do in fact build appreciable muscle when a novel stimulus is applied. Thus, the claim that a couple of years hitting the weights maxes out your genetic potential is patently false. Because of the difficulties in carrying out studies on those near the limits of their hypertrophic ceiling, research on this population is scant. That said, I recently collaborated with a group in Brazil on a study involving off-season pro bodybuilders who weren’t using performance enhancing drugs (the study is currently in journal review). Suffice to say, significant gains in fat-free mass (as measured by DXA) were noted after just 4 weeks of intense training. Anecdotally, I’ve worked with numerous competitive natural physique athletes who’ve added several pounds of lean body mass over the course of a regimented hypertrophy training phase.
Now the closer you get to your individual ceiling, the more essential it is to take a scientific approach to training and nutrition. From a training standpoint, this entails precise manipulation of resistance exercise variables. Here, the concept of “progressive overload” needs to be expanded beyond simply increasing load within a given rep range. Adaptation can and should be achieved by varying loading zones as well. If nothing else, changing up loading patterns provides a novel stimulus to your muscles that can spur new growth. Moreover, emerging evidence suggests that heavy, moderate, and light loads promote fiber type-specific increases in growth that can maximize whole muscle hypertrophy. Perhaps more importantly, volume of training should be progressively increased, culminating in a high-volume phase designed to promote functional overreaching. When properly executed, this results in a supercompensatory response that increases muscle in even the most advanced lifters. Many other advanced lifting strategies also can be employed to enhance results; you’re only limited by your determination and base of knowledge.
Bottom line; If someone tells you that you’re done adding muscle, pay them no heed. It’s a self-limiting attitude that will keep you from achieving your full genetic potential.
Bulk Nutrients is proud to be sponsoring Bropocolypse 2016: Evidence Based Nutrition and Training Summit – You can find out more, or grab tickets to this event here.
This post originally appeared on Brad Schoenfeld’s blog ‘Look Great Naked’: http://www.lookgreatnaked.com/blog/have-you-reached-your-muscle-building-potential/