Muscular Potential and Reality Part 2 – Hardgainer Edition

In the comments of the post Muscular Potential and Reality, Skyler Tanner mentioned that the Casey Butt book had a second formula for calculating the muscular potential for ectomorphs and hard gainers. Stephan at BioHacks went to work and created a second online calculator to support that formula.

Here is an updated table using my numbers for both formulas.

Height74.5 in
Ankle9.0 in
Wrist6.75 in
Bodyfat (est)16%
Lean Muscle Potential (original formula)190 lbs
Lean Muscle Potential (hardgainer / ectomorph formula)178.5 lbs

In the previous post, I said this before explaining the work of Ellington Darden.

Today I weight 206. If my bodyfat percentage is 16%, then my lean mass is 173. Subtract that from 190 and according to the calculator I still have the potential to gain 17 more pounds of muscle. I’m highly skeptical. Not because I am a beast. I’m clearly not. I’m skeptical because the formula doesn’t capture enough data points.

Using the ectomorph / hard gainer formula from Casey Butt, I am only shy of my muscular potential by 5.5 pounds. This seems closer to reality to me than 17 pounds. The reason I say that is because whenever I’ve pushed the mass as a primary goal, I tend to get fatter. This has held true ever since I captured the early gains from following the Pavel training protocol around 2003.

Hardening a Muscle

Photo from Good Health (1906)

Setting Realistic Goals

Using this formula, I think an ectomorph can set better goals. We can define both muscular potential and lean potential. For me, I think my ideal body fat is probably 10%. My face takes on a meth addict look when I drop into single digit bodyfat percentages.

  • Muscle Potential Unrealized: 178.5 – 173 = 5.5#
  • Lean Potential Unrealized: 206 * (16% – 10%) = 12.36#

In my case, I should pursue fat loss as my primary goal as I can capture twice the body composition gains there.


Add yours

  1. Wayne Johnson

    Jun 14, 2014 — 2:04 pm

    Age makes no difference?

  2. glenn whitney

    Jun 14, 2014 — 2:22 pm

    Yes – good point Wayne. Age must make a difference – especially below 30 versus above 30 or 40.

    On a separate but related point, just saw a documentary (excellent) that included footage of the Bushmen of Kalahari. Was surprised how relatively little muscle mass they seemed to have.

  3. Also, for what it’s worth (not much) my measurements are almost *exactly* the same as yours. Weird! (I’m 49 though..)

    My guess is that *in theory* I could add 17 lbs of muscle – and that would like quite good : -) I could fit a couple of pounds on each shoulder, one or two in each lat; definitely 3 or 4 pounds on each quad and a pound or so on each calf.

    Also, also – I think I’m about 10-12% body fat and about 205 pounds.

  4. Yikes! Apologies – got my numbers wrong. My wrist and ankle measurements are the same as your but I’m 6′ 3.5″ (75.5 inches) meaning I’m even more of an ectomorph than you 🙂 ! Do I win some kind of a prize?

  5. BTW – This is what fully “filled out” ectomorphs look like at their peak. That’s a lot of weight in quad muscles!

  6. @Wayne – That would be a good question for someone that has trained many clients. How much if any potential is lost by delaying strength training? I would **guess** that the potential remains the same, but the time it takes to reach that potential will take longer as we get older.

  7. Glenn ,
    Are those rowers in the photo?

  8. Wayne Johnson

    Jun 15, 2014 — 6:37 am

    I’m 73, 160 lbs, 120 non-fat lbs. Formula says 170 lbs lean potential! There’s a reason masters weight lifting contests give me an index of about 2 (double my lift to get a 30-year-old’s equivalent. Everbody is subject to some degree of sarcopenia. To say that I can add 50 lbs of lean mass is quite frankly ludicrous. I’m going to be lucky to keep what I have!

  9. Skyler – Yes – those are the London Olympics gold medal winning coxless fours – from Great Britain – average height about 6’4″ average weight about 100 kilos.

  10. If there’s something I’ve noticed about “athletic ectos,” it’s that they’re super glute dominant. Rowers are basically twiggy in their long limbs (as expected) and generate huge force from their hips.

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