The gray truth about the genetics of lean muscle development (2023)

A war is raging in the natural muscle building community. The white warriors are fed up with nihilistic black pill hardgainers who give up building muscle before they even start. They argue that we should aim high and strive to achieve them, to hell with genetics. After all, they too started thin. They worked hard, gritted their teeth during the fight, and were so successful that they became famous for their physiques.

Dark Doomers argue that those with the best muscle building genetics are most likely to rise to the top of the fitness industry. These hypertrophy gurus stand at their genetic pulpits preaching the value of willpower, determination, and discipline, while ignoring the fact that your genetics have allowed your hard work to bear such impressive fruit. Only a very small portion of your audience will experience the same success, while the rest will feel dysmorphic and disillusioned.

There is truth on both sides. No matter how skinny we start out, no matter how lean our bone structure is, and no matter our hardgainer metabolism burns nine-tenths of our excess calories, we can still build muscle. If we gradually overload our lifts, eat enough, and intelligently adapt to the progress we make, we will see results.

But our genetics really influence these results. Even among naturally thin men, we all have different bone structures, different muscles that lag behind, and different muscles that move forward, resulting in us building bodies that look quite different.

I think it's important to be honest about genetics. Not on an overly pessimistic “black pill”. It's true that anyone can gain weight. But not in an overly optimistic “whitepill” sort of way either. We all have genetic weaknesses that we need to take into account.and genetic strengths that we can use.


  1. Videoversion
  2. introduction
  3. normal genetic distribution
  4. Understand the genetics of muscle building
  5. Thin men build muscle faster
  6. Our great genetic strength
  7. Stubborn vs. dominant muscles
  8. The last word
The gray truth about the genetics of lean muscle development (1)


If you'd rather watch than read, we've created a YouTube video covering most of the same topics:


Before we get into that, let me disclose my bias. I was a Warhammer loving teenager who knew nothing about sports. So I went to university to study graphic design, where the exercise was not only unfamiliar but stupid and vain. It wasn't until I turned twenty that I realized I had a problem. I was 180cm tall and 68kg, which was thin enough to worry my doctor, family and friends. I wasn't happy about it either.

I knew that my preference for thinness was genetic. My mother and father were naturally thin. My sister too. Some of my grandparents too. But I also knew that I was out of shape because of my lifestyle. I figured if I started lifting weights I could build muscle like everyone else.

(Video) The Truth About How Much Muscle You Can Gain Naturally? | Educational Video | Biolayne

I knew nothing about exercise, so my first attempts at building muscle were naïve. I signed up for martial arts classes and did the calisthenics routine they gave me. That did not work. I tried swimming to build broader shoulders. That was worse. I made all the rookie mistakes. That's how I got to know the concepts ofBodybuildingeVolume.

The gray truth about the genetics of lean muscle development (2)

But the first time I tried to turn up the volume, I failed at that too. I've been lifting weights, eating healthy, and drinking protein shakes, but none of it has worked. No way. I haven't gained weight. I haven't gotten any stronger. I didn't build muscle. In fact, the combination of exercising and eating healthier has put me in a calorie deficit. My weight has dropped to 120 pounds. I hired a personal trainer to help me but she couldn't understand either. She had no experience with Natural Thin Clients. I give up.

But people keep bugging me that I'm skinny, so I thought maybe, just maybe, if I put my soul into building muscle, I could build enough muscle that people would stop mentioning my skininess all the time. I didn't need much. My goal wasn't to get big or big or strong. I was just trying to go from clinically underweight to healthy thin. I figured I could bulk up to the point where I looked like someone who went jogging for a few weeks every January.

I ended up coming across a bulking program written specifically for "ectomorphs" - people with a genetic predisposition to thinness. It wasn't the best show, but it won me over. He taught me to lift weights to increase muscle mass and eat excess calories. It worked way better than I thought. I gained 10 kilos in three months, from 130 to 150 kilos. I was no longer clinically underweight. No one ever commented on my thinness again.

The gray truth about the genetics of lean muscle development (3)

Although I was still thin, I was totally happy. I had achieved my life goal in just three months! It filled me with confidence, and that confidence gave me the strength to keep going. I continued to lift weights, eat a lot, and gain even more weightfifteen pounds🇧🇷 I thought I hit my limit, but then I hit another onetwenty🇧🇷 And thentwentymost.

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On the one hand, understanding my genetic makeup allowed me to find an exercise and nutrition program that really suited me. On the other hand, I was completely wrong about my genetic limitations. And this mistake turned out to be good. I'm not one of those bodybuilders who gets tempted by steroids because I don't feel big enough. I'm not the type to look in the mirror and feel bad about what I see. I feel great in my body since hitting 150 pounds. Once I got "fit," I took pride in getting healthy and making progress.

Nobody should be blackmailed. Even the leanest hardgainers can pack on a ton of muscle. But I worry that people who turn white because they set unreasonably high goals to begin with may never achieve them. I worry that people who put a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger on their wall are setting themselves up for body dysmorphia. And I worry that people who don't consider their genetics, as I did initially, won't learn to lift weights and eat in a way that suits them. In my case, I had to put in a disproportionate amount of effortEat in a sustained calorie surplus.

normal genetic distribution

Genetics can creategiganticdifferences between people.The shortest man is 1'10" and the tallest is 8'11" - almostfive timeshigher. Keep in mind that you've probably never seen anyone near these heights. The vast majority of people are relatively similar. This is where the normal distribution comes into play:

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You've probably seen charts like this before. It's a bell curve. It shows that the vast majority of people have average genetics, with some people skewed both ways and a select few having atypical genetics. When it comes to height, the average American male is about 5'9-5'10 with a standard deviation of about 2.5-3 inches. This means that 64% of men are between 5.7 and 6.1, 95% between 5.4 and 6.4 and 99.7% of men between 5.1 and 6.7.

Depending on where you look, you might get a different impression. Although less than 0.1% of men are 1.80 m or older, you see many of these guys together on a basketball team. The same goes for muscle building genetics. Most of us are pretty much alike, but if you look at a bodybuilding internship or a group of fitness influencers, you might get a skewed idea of ​​what's realistic. Add in performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and it gets even more confusing. Rock looks like rock because of genetics, because of PEDs, or as he claims, becauseDiscipline?

Understand the genetics of muscle building

Many genetic factors can be represented with a bell curve. Our ability to build muscle seems to be one of those factors. Some guys are enormous, insanely muscular without ever touching a weight. Other guys struggle to get over being skinny. It gets even more confusing because where we start doesn't determine where we end. Most skinny guys explode in size once they start bulking, while many naturally taller guys find that they're already pretty close to their genetic potential.

The gray truth about the genetics of lean muscle development (6)

On the far left we have the guys with hardgainer genetics. The scientific term used to be "non-responder," but the researchers couldn't find anyone who didn't respond, so the term was changed to "low-responder." Wherever you fall on this chart, you will be able to build a physique that looks fit, athletic, and healthy. And as you get closer to your genetic potential, you can always find new ways to move forward. I've been lifting weights for 12 years and I'm still gaining at least onelittlelittle muscle and strength every year.

It's also not uncommon for guys who've been training for years to finally find a way to break a plateau. At this point, they may discover that their genetics are far greater than they initially thought.

The gray truth about the genetics of lean muscle development (7)
(Video) Ep.35 - Connor Ross - The Role Of Genetics in Bodybuilding

Age also plays a relatively minor role. You can keep progressing at 18, 30, 45, or 60. It's not until you approach 70 that you reach your final plateau. At this point, you can focus on maintaining your strength and getting into your 80s with as much muscle as possible. It will help you live longer and it will help you live longer too.Preferably.

Just because everyone's genetics are good enough to build muscle doesn't mean we should ignore them. Our genetics can affect how quickly and easily we get results. Some guys might take it easy and build muscle more easily. Other people need to take a slower, more deliberate approach and focus on consistently outperforming everyone else. Winning slower doesn't always mean you're doing something wrong. And if someone else is making money faster than you, it doesn't necessarily mean they have a magical secret.

Thin men build muscle faster

Most of us naturally skinny guys assume that because we're naturally skinny, we must have bad genetics to build muscle. We have to be the low responders. The hardgainers. I fell into this trap. I assumed I had the worst muscle building genetics in the world. That made me give up at first. That was a mistake.

There's no known connection between where we start and our "trainability"—our ability to grow in response to hypertrophy training. That means you can't tell how good your muscle building genetics are until you've been bulking in earnest for at least a few years. You might start out half your friend's height, but once you get the hang of building muscle, you'll gain weight twice as fast as your friend and surpass him four years later.

The gray truth about the genetics of lean muscle development (8)

We've helped over ten thousand skinny guys gain mass. Some of them, like me, started out extremely underweight. Others started closer to the average. We found no tendency for thinner guys to perform worse than average guys. In fact, leaner guys tend to build muscle faster, at least until they catch up with everyone else. It's almost like there's some sort of recovery mechanism.

I think what happened is that our growth rate is limited by how close we are to our genetic potential. When our frames are already straining against their potential to maintain muscle, it's difficult to build any more. With skinny guys, however, we're nowhere near our potential. Our frames can support 30, 50 or maybe even 70 pounds more. Gaining twenty pounds is like putting a single book on an empty bookshelf.

Just to clarify, this is my own idea. I have consulted some experts on the subject but have been told that it has not been studied. There's no way to really know for sure. There's a definite tendency for skinny men to build muscle much faster than average, and every expert I've spoken to has noticed the same thing, but no one knows exactly why this happens.

The question is with due dateHypertrophie-Training, one enoughvolume diet, and a healthy muscle-building lifestyle can make us grow like weeds, especially in our early years.

Our great genetic strength

We are not at a single point on the bell curve. Instead, our genetics are spread across it. If someone is a skinny hardgainer, they can have a small stomach, poor appetite, and an adaptive metabolism. These genetic traits make it difficult to eat enough food to gain mass. In this respect we are genetically disadvantaged. But these qualities also make it much easier for us to stay slim.

The gray truth about the genetics of lean muscle development (9)

Most people tend to overeat, which puts them in a never-ending siege against an incessant calorie onslaught. They never get to the point where they can focus on building muscle because they are so preoccupied with the much more serious problem of obesity. As bad as it is to be naturally skinny, we'd be crazy not to appreciate such a powerful genetic advantage. Not only is it much easier for us to be at our best, we don't have to restrict our diet, stop eating before we feel full, or constantly fight cravings and hunger.

i know it iseating heavy enough calories to gain mass🇧🇷 I used to think it was one of the hardest things in the world. I used to wish I had a different body type. But the more I learn about the struggles most people face, the more grateful I am. We have great physiques. maybe even themotherbody type.

Stubborn vs. dominant muscles

A host of other muscle building factors are also scattered across this curve. We all have muscles that move forward and grow more easily. We also have muscles that lag behind and refuse to grow. This is perfectly normal and difficult to predict in advance. My chest started small, stayed small as I gained my first twenty pounds and thenexplodesin size during my second bulk (when Marco taught me how to dosupinoand push-ups right).build bigger arms, on the other hand, remained a struggle. As you can see, my arms continue to grow over time as I continue to focus on them. I slowly went from 10 inch arms to 16 inch arms.

The gray truth about the genetics of lean muscle development (10)

Sometimes a muscle is stubborn because we have trouble stimulating it. Perhaps you're practicing a technique on the bench press that favors your shoulders over your chest, causing your shoulders to spring forward as you presschest lags behind.

Sometimes when you bench press you're doing the same technique as someone else, but your bone structure is such that your shoulders have better leverage. Maybe you can fix this by tweaking your technique, or maybe you need an entirely different exercise to properly stimulate that muscle.

(Video) How to maintain muscle mass

Sometimes, even if you stimulate a muscle properly,stillstays behind. No matter how hard you work your pecs, they may never become your most impressive muscle group. That doesn't mean it won't grow. That doesn't mean it won't be good. It just means it might never shineAsimpressive like his other muscles. And the only way to bring it back into balance would be to limit the growth of those other muscles. This may not be a worthy exchange. Maybe you prefer to build on your strengths.

The gray truth about the genetics of lean muscle development (11)

Finally, the length of your collarbones determines the width of your chest. Anyone can build oneGreaterchest, but not everyone can build onewiderChest. It doesn't necessarily matter. However stretched your pecs can look great. But again, it goes to show that if we set overly specific bodybuilding goals, we may miss them. It also means that you might not get the same results by following in the footsteps of the big, broad-chested man. In fact, following the advice of the man with the smaller but more unruly chest might work better for you.

No matter how balanced we try to get, and no matter how perfect our training programs, we often end up with some muscles ahead of others. That's not necessarily a problem. No, unless you are a bodybuilder judged on muscle balance. But we'll get into that in the next article.

Bone and muscle building

Let's dive a little deeper into how our bone structures affect our bodies. Many of us have slimmer bodies with narrower shoulders and narrower waists. If we were bodybuilders, narrower shoulders would be a disadvantage, while narrower waists would be a genetic strength. Again, a lean physique can be a mix of good and bad genetics.

The gray truth about the genetics of lean muscle development (12)

Unless you're a bodybuilder, wider and narrower frames can look great. Wider frames are often desirable, but when you have broad shoulders it's harder to keep your arms, back, and neck looking muscular by comparison. When you have a narrower frame, it's easier to look fuller. They can perfectly fill out a smaller shirt. Both look good.

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Trouble is, if you want to look like Steve Reeves, David Laid, or anyone else with a dramatic V-taper, you may never be able to build it. You couldbuild broader shouldersbeing a few inches wider and that will look great, but you still won't look like them. In a situation like this, it's often better to focus more on building muscle and less on trying to make your body look a certain way. More on that in the next article.

You may be surprised at what your bone structure looks like with more muscle. I assumed you had structurally narrow shoulders. I measured my shoulders as a beginner and my girth is 39 inches, which is way too small for someone my size. After gaining 70 pounds, my shoulders are now just over 52 inches in circumference. This was enough to switch from small shirts to large shirts.

The height of our bony structures has similar effects. Taller men have longer, slimmer frames that are harder to fill out. But we're also bigger, which makes us bigger and heavier overall. Smaller boys look proportionally more muscular - stockier. And so, no matter your size, it can be an advantage.ea disadvantage.

bone thickness and muscle growth

One of the best indicators of genetic muscle potential is the thickness of our bones. Think of it like filling a bookshelf. The larger the bookshelf, the more dark fantasy novels it can hold.

The leading expert on this is Dr. Casey Butt, who studied hundreds of natural bodybuilders to find out what genetic factors most influenced their muscle size. Of all the factors he studied, bone thickness was the best predictor of muscle potential. He called those with thicker bones "easygainers" and those with thinner bones "hardgainers".

The gray truth about the genetics of lean muscle development (14)

For example, people with thicker wrists and elbows tend to build larger arms, and people with thicker ankles and knee joints tend to build larger legs. This one hit me hard because my bones are so narrow - much narrower than what he considers a "hardgainer". As a 21-year-old who was finally starting to build muscle, I was so concerned by this devastating news that I consulted Dr. ass to ask if he'd ever studied anyone with skinny bones like mine. He told me no he didn't.

As distraught as I was, I quickly realized that it really didn't matter. Maybe I wasn't able to build 19 inch arms like some natural bodybuilders can, but I thought my arms looked pretty good at 13 inches. I'm up to 16 inches now and my genetics still don't limit me. Also, we don't have to think like bodybuilders and prioritize sheer size above everything else. When it comes to aesthetics, too, depending on who you ask, some people prefer sturdier bone structures and others thinner ones.

Much to my surprise when our readers measured that for themselvesmajorityof them had equally narrow bones. We're targeting naturally thin men, so maybe that's not a big surprise, but I was still shocked to learn that my bone structure isn't as rare as I thought it would be. And we're all fine.

Just to be clear, having small bones doesn't mean we respond poorly to hypertrophy training. That doesn't mean we have bad genetics for building muscle. That doesn't make us low-responders or hardgainers (unless you're using Dr. Butt's very specific definition of a hardgainer). It seems that whether you have thinner or thicker bones, you can add books to your bookshelf just as quickly. Bone thickness only seems to affect the maximum size we can reach in the distant future.

The last word

Most people have relatively average genetics and are nowhere near as muscular as their genetics would allow. Most of them are too busy losing weight to make a serious attempt at building muscle. As you get closer to your genetic potential,whereverYour potential is that you can build a better physique than almost anyone you know in real life. Also, we will be able to maintain that physique without fighting hunger and cravings.

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However, our genetics have a pretty big impact on how we look. Some guys have narrower bone structures or thinner bones or other muscles that lag behind or move forward. The trick is to take your frame as is and stuff it with as much muscle mass as you want. Don't target a body type you weren't built for. Build the body you have.

The gray truth about the genetics of lean muscle development (15)

Well, that's it. If you want more information on muscle building, we havea free bulking newsletter for skinny men🇧🇷 If you want a complete basic bulk program including a 5 month full body workout routine, nutrition guide, online training and cookbook, check out oursPrograma Bony zu BeastlyBulking🇧🇷 Or, if you want a customizable mid-volume program, check out oursOutlift program.

Shane Duquette

Shane Duquette is the co-founder and creative mind ofTake off,Ossudo a beast, zBony for Bombshelland holds a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He has personally gained 70 pounds at 11% body fat and has nine years of experience helping over ten thousand lean people build muscle mass.

Marco Walker-Ng, BHSc, PTS

Marco Walker-Ng is co-founder and strength coach ofTake off,Ossudo a beast, zBony for Bombshell, and is a Certified Trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor of Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and overall health, with clients including college students, professionals and Olympic athletes.

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Do genetics matter when building muscle? ›

Yes, There Are Genes That Impact Muscle Growth

In fact, there are several genes that affect muscle development and growth. Scientists have discovered many genes involved in muscle growth.

How much do genetics affect muscle growth? ›

If the ratio of your muscle fibers is genetically far higher in fast twitch fibers, then they will build faster and larger than if they were higher in slow twitch fibers. Your genetics also determine how responsive your body is to resistance training in general.

Does eating more protein increase muscle mass? ›

Increases Muscle Mass and Strength

Numerous studies show that eating plenty of protein can help increase muscle mass and strength ( 8 , 9 ). If you're physically active, lifting weights, or trying to gain muscle, you need to make sure you're getting enough protein.

Do all bodybuilders have good genetics? ›

Bodybuilders work hard to get chiseled bodies, but many also have a boost from their genetics. One important gene that has been studied and proven to impact strength and muscle size is called ACTN3. This gene codes for α-actinin-3, a protein in fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Is lean muscle genetic? ›

The study confirmed that lean mass is highly heritable. By understanding the genetic contributions to lean mass - an indicator of muscle mass - future treatments may be developed to prevent the loss of lean mass with aging.


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