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Ask the Guru

Lyle McDonald BSc.
Lyle is a researcher and coach who has worked with bodybuilders, powerlifters and other athletes on all aspects of their training, diet, and supplementation.
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How Big Can You Get Drug Free

Q. Stuart McRobert said once that the most a drug-free bodybuilder can ever hope to build is an 18-inch arm, 300-pound bench, 400-pound squat and 500-pound deadlift and no more. What are your thoughts on this?

A. This is an example where something was said, it was completely misinterpreted, and the misinterpretation is all that people have been exposed to. Stuart never actually said that the above values represented a limit or maximum for naturals. Rather, he argued that they were good, realistic long-term goals for a natural trainee to work towards based on the idea that, by the time a trainee got to them, he’d be pretty damn strong and built. Again, they weren’t limits but simply realistic goals to aim for. It’s also important to keep them in context. They were meant to apply to a lifter who was perhaps 5’9” or 5’10” and 190 to 200 pounds at a reasonable body fat level (not contest lean, but not fat boy either). And of course they were for males. Also, a certain form for each lift was assumed: a paused or at least non-bounced bench press, below parallel squat, and a proper deadlift (the hardest-to-cheat lift). And before you dismiss them out of hand, consider how many legitimate 300-pound benches you’ve seen that weren’t bounced or spotted. How many legitimate 400-pound squats? How many legitimate 500-pound deadlifts? I’m not talking about the elite (drugged or otherwise) in a supergeared federation that passes bad lifts—just a normal guy who’s trained his nuts off for a lot of years. Unless you’re in a hardcore powerlifting gym, odds are you can count lifts like those from guys that size on one hand, if at all. And while an 18-inch upper arm may not seem like much in this day of 20+ inch monstrosities at the pro level (where you’re dealing with drug use on a massive scale), compared to the average guy, it’s huge. A guy who hit those numbers at that weight with that arm would be strong and built compared to the majority of people on the planet. But with the qualifications given, for a natural lifter at 5’9” or 5’10” and about 200 pounds doing the lifts in good form without help, those would represent pretty damn good numbers. That isn’t to say that some might not still surpass those values (and others may fall short in one or more lift depending on specific mechanics and such).