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How to Determine Muscular Potential?

Hey Dr Darden, in the past you’ve spoken about an individual’s muscular potential and I did a bit of research which left me with 3 main questions that I hope you can answer so here they go:

  1. How do you in specific determine someone’s bodybuilding potential?

  2. I’ve read of people who state that based on some of these calculations (wrist & ankle size for example) they should’ve never gotten to where they are now. Is there a way to somewhat visually gauge it? Because Casey Viator didn’t seem to have very large wrists or ankes. At least not in pictures.

  3. How long do you think it would roughly take someone who is genetically gifted & doing everything right, to actually get to that point?

Sorry if they’re hard or impossible questions to answer but I wanted to at least try to get an answer. Thanks in advance.

I have a discussion of bodybuilding potential in Chapter 7 of my book: The New High Intensity Training.

Generally, it’s not the size of your wrists or ankles, it’s the length of your major muscles. Longer muscles can be wider. Wider muscles lead to more volume and more size.

You have to be fairly lean to note the length of your biceps, triceps, forearm and calf muscles. But once you understand what to look for, it’s easy to judge potential.

Genetically gifted men can probably reach their maximum size in 24 months.

Figuring out what my potential was is something I’ve always thought about. My younger brother had thick wrists and an athletes mesomorphic body . He had big shoulders and small waist and he always had much larger muscles than me and he played baseball but never touched a weight. All he ever really touched in quantity was beer, hah!I I think I measured his arm once and it was close to 16 1/2. I think his arms would have got huge if he ever worked out. For the most part I worked out with a fellow who was more ectomorphic. Very skinny. He could eat all day and not gain an ounce. I figured I was somewhere in between the two but it would have been neat to have someone in the know look at my muscle bellies and guess what my potential might have been if I had taken muscle building more serious. Back in school , my hey day , they called me arms Springston but they were never bigger than around 151/2 then.

Is this including enhanced athletes or just nattys? I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this. 2 years and no more gains? You’re just stuck?

I think it is consistent with science to say each subsequent year of training the results diminish (usually by half). Now if a genetically blessed trainee progresses like this over the first 5 years: 20 lbs, 10 lbs, 5 lbs, 2.5 lbs, 1.25lbs, then the majority of the gains are in the first two years. However, there is still more left by about 10 lbs.

Maybe it was just a hasty generalization that the gains come in the first two years (should be a majority of gains)?


I think in the case of someone like Viator he was pretty dang big in his early years before he met Jones and after coming to Nautilus Jones pushed him to his near peak in the short time he trained him. I’ve known several big guys who seemed to be big early on and just added the finishing touches in a few years after but I’ve also known some guys who consistently worked out for many years and I watched them get bigger and improve quite a bit over many years. I guess it varies from one person to the next but I does seem that most big gains come over several years and after that gains come by much harder if at all?

The post does say genetically gifted, so I suppose that could mean quite a bit of muscle in two years.

Also, probably have to exclude teens because they are still developing into adults, i.e., body not fully mature.

Skyler Tanner had an interesting post (The Six Year Itch) where he talked to a number of successful body builders, and some of them had results which suggested that, after early gains, they maybe added 1.5 lbs of muscle per year, during the later years of their careers. At that rate, it would take a decade to add 15 lbs. Of course, this might require near perfect adherance to diet and training for those same years. Few manage to do that.

Dr. Darden, I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but who was the most genetically gifted bodybuilder you’ve ever seen? Not necessarily the most impressive but the one with the most genetic potential? Was it Casey Viator?

I was around Casey, Mike and Ray Mentzer, Boyer Coe, and Robby Robinson many times. So, my pick has to come from that group. Casey Viator would be the person.

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Here’s me in high school .


Here’s me about 8 years ago.


Another one from high school, notice muscle mags on shelf, hah ha !


Screenshot 2020-10-30 at 16.04.14

Age 23


Thanks for this Scott!
You were - and still are - in one h*ll of a shape! Amazing! You serve as a role-model for us middle aged amateur bodybuilders! I do wish I will be in that (your) shape at your age!

Inspiring, Jeff! You have done quite a journey lately looking at the pics from the “Bodyfat breakthrough”! It’s because of guys like you (and Scott) that I feel reassured that my efforts today will be worthwhile. Thanks!

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No… thank you. After a life time of bodybuilding (49 years) it’s very fulfilling when people recognise your efforts.



Great photos guys

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Does look like you had pretty good potential with respect to biceps, shoulders, and chest. But I also see what you mean about your lats being a weak point.

Scott, you look like Steve Reeves with that beard…great shape too…i am jealous, since I am still carrying around too much fat

That photo of you when young adds some context that I wasn’t aware of in the other thread. From that back shot, looks like you also have pretty good potential for bodybuilding. That wasn’t apparent from the side shots that came from Killing Fat (?) book.