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Muscle Building Potential

Muscle Building Potential

Let’s imagine you’re in a new city, you’re hungry and see a nice looking restaurant, what’s the one thing virtually everyone would do? For most this would be to look at the menu. Firstly to give you an idea of what the restaurant can offer you and potentially more importantly to see if you can even afford to eat there.

The reason for giving this example is in everyday life we often look for additional information, facts and figures to give ourselves a better understanding of what we want to achieve and to ultimately set our expectations realistically. If you knew you had to drive 60 miles, expecting to arrive there in 15 minutes would be completed unrealistic. Yet how many people, even the gym addicts know what is realistic in terms of muscle building or how far along this path they are. The most common practice in gyms is purely to compare yourself to those training around you. If you train at your corporate office gym you could be the biggest and strongest person there, eventually feeling complacent and not really pushing yourself so hard. Yet take that same person and plant them in the middle of a hardcore blood, sweat and chalk gym and they could easily be one of the weakest and smallest. This inferiority could lead this person to train even harder and believe in what they can achieve. As you can see different environments create different mindsets, one of the best sayings related to this is “if you’re the best person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”.

What I want to do in this post is give everyone despite the environment you may be in a guide and calculator to determine your natural muscle building potential.

Instead of the classic “How much can you bench brah!”, this will be “How much can you gainz brah!”

What this will allow you to do is realistically assess your current progress and your goals. For example you might be a 21 year old male who is 5’ 10” deadset on a final goal to weigh 220lbs with abs. Sorry young grasshopper, but without some serious anabolic assistance, I’ve got some bad news for you. Or on the other extreme perhaps you have underestimated your potential and could be pushing yourself for more gains.

Enough chit chat, let’s get down to business


Everyone has heard of the BMI (body mass index), which basically is just a calculation using your height and weight. If you answer yes to the question “Do you even lift?”, BMI is a notoriously terrible way to judge health as anyone with above average muscle to fat ratios (aka fit people) will be classed as overweight or even obese, oh the injustice! I myself have a BMI of around 27 which is classed as overweight, even though I stay less than 10% bodyfat year round.

This prompted the creation of the FFMI, which many people have never heard of or calculated for themselves. This calculation takes into account bodyfat levels and gives a very good indication of your current and potential gainz.

What’s needed

To get this calculation you will need to know the following:

  • Weight
  • Height
  • Bodyfat

How to measure bodyfat

Now for people who have never measure their bodyfat levels this could be where you think “oh crap I just read all of this article for no damn reason” but fear not for now you can do an estimate using the images below:


Bodyfat male examples


Bodyfat female examples


  • Be honest with your estimates, this is especially true for the men out there who often like to overstate their abilities. just because you once had a visible ab in college doesn’t mean you should provide an estimate of you at your peak.
  • Men and women have different minimal bodyfat levels to functional properly, for men this is around 3% for women this is around 12%.
  • Due to differences in the distribution of how we all store bodyfat, some store fat easier around the waist, others around the thighs for example, use of these pictures only is not the most accurate way to determine bodyfat. If possible in the future ask a trainer at your gym to take the measurement for you or you can do a self measure using bodyfat calipers.
  • If you wish to purchase bodyfat calipers I would recommend the style below, which due to the spring loading allow greater consistency and also come at a reasonable price from the likes of amazon or ebay (around £10). Once purchased there are many videos on youtube giving exact details of how to use them, so no excuses!
Bodyfat calipers

FFMI Calculator

Input your stats in the calculator below and find out your score.

Score :

FFMI Standards

These standards were created by analysing the physiques of 1000s of people, and also compared against former athletes and physique competitors pre and post steroid use. The results are generally accurate, however as you can imagine we’ve talked about exceptions before and there will always be a very small percentage that lie just outside these ranges

Men (FFMI)

FFMI ScoreRatingBro quote
16 - 17 Poor muscularity "zero gainz"
18 Slight build with low muscularity "do you even...?"
20 Average muscularity "average gainz"
22 Good muscularity "you've been lifting!"
Over 22 Not normally achieved without weight training
23-25 Superior "where do you get your protein from?"
25 Genetic natural limit for majority of lifters "you have taken all the gainz"

Typically 25 is seen as the limit of what most men can reach being natural, although realistically I would personally say it is more around 26-27. As always there may be that Usain Bolt type genetic freak out there who also happens to train and eat intelligently who will reach 28, but this can largely be ruled out due to rarity. Anything above 28 would be seriously unlikely without the use of steroids or other performance enhancing drugs.

Mr Olympia Phil Heath

The current Mr Olympia Phil Heath who as you can imagine is severely enhanced with drug use has an estimated FFMI score of around 34, which as you now know is way above the natural limits, even for someone with unbelievable genetics. Please note that Phil Heath is a combination of great genetics, hard work and steroids. The average male would not be able to hit these scores even with unlimited amounts of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. FFMI is a pretty reasonable way to spot a fake natural.

Through anabolic steroid, good genetics and training smart a male could reasonably score around 30-32

Women (FFMI) (FFMI)

FFMI ScoreRatingBro quote
13 Low muscularity "where the gainz?"
15 Average muscularity "average gainz"
17 Good muscularity "She squats"
19-21 Superior "I would, but she might kick my ass"
22 not typically achieved without pharmacological agents (e.g., anabolic steroids) "are you natural?"

In general women are not as concerned with being as big as possible or as active in steroid use, but again we will see a select few genetic outliers in women scoring above 22, but it is very rare for a natural.

Jay's Score

Jay Bodybuilding Contest

If we take a look at the stats from my last contest in April 2016 I have a score of 24.5.

This is close to the end of my natural limits and would also explain why gains have been very hard to come by for myself in the last few years. While I have improved technique, some strength and all round training skill. My muscle gains have literally been 1-2 lbs per year. This is very common for lifters who have been training in a smart, structure and consistent way for 5+ years.

Your score and the takeaway

Your score will give you a good indication of where you currently sit in your muscle building potential. If you’re already happy with your physique that is great, but for those wanting more gains hopefully this article has given you some perspective on what is actually achievable. This target can be used as a part of a Smart goal (Specific, Measurable, Agreed upon, Realistic, Time bound), or just allow yourself to compare yourself to your training partner, to see who really is the gainz master.