What is the most Spartan environment in the US?

Football.

The number of high school players is well over one million.

The number of D1 college football players is around 12,500.

Thus, a high school player has a 1.15% shot of playing D1 ball. If you compare high school seniors to D1 collegiate seniors it gets even worse at a likelihood of 0.53%.

According to the NCAA 1.5% of collegiate footballer players have a shot at making it to the NFL (3.9% for draft eligible D1 players.) In totality one’s likelihood of making it to the big show is 0.017%.

You could think this is extremely unfair and that every little American boy and girl should have a shot, should win a trophy.

Well, it doesn’t matter what you think, even the first world will never be shoved into your crackerjack box of equality.

When I see this, I think natural selection.

Trexler et al. saw this too and in 2016 they published body comp data on 147 D1 players and 88 D2 players.

“In the seminal study estimating Fat Free Mass Index (FFMI) upper limits, Kouri et al. concluded that 25 kg·m-2 represents the natural ceiling in resistance-trained males. However, characteristics of the sample introduce important limitations regarding the generalizability of this value. The subsample of steroid nonusers consisted of only 74 males with a minimum of two years resistance training experience, BF% levels that were relatively low and homogeneous (12.5 ± 5.5%), and an unclear level of athletic achievement within the group as a whole. Assessments of FFMI in male collegiate baseball players and female gymnasts have not identified values above 25 kg·m-2, but these populations are unlikely to represent physiological FFMI upper limits due to the physical demands of each sport.

In comparison, the current study found a maximal height-adjusted FFMI of 31.7 kg·m-2, and a 97.5th percentile cutoff of 28.1 kg·m-2. Sixty-two participants (26.4%) had FFMI adjusted values above 25 kg·m-2, including 31.3% of Division I participants.”

The authors also addressed the big question…

“Limitations of the current study must be noted. Although NCAA athletes are subject to random, year-round drug testing, independent drug testing was not conducted in this study. While the presence of steroid users would inflate upper limit values for FFMI, it is highly unlikely that FFMI differences between the current study and previous literature are primarily attributable to steroid use. In this population, anabolic steroid use would involve high financial cost, present risks involving the loss of scholarships and future employment opportunities, and require the athlete to successfully circumvent random drug testing.”

So what’s the takeaway?

An FFMI of 25 is not the ceiling, which we wouldn’t expect it would be.

Every rule is meant to be broken.

But, even at the highest level of natural selection in the US still only about a quarter of these hyper-hypertrophic individuals displayed FFMIs over 25, most of them being tight ends, linebackers, and linemen which would in turn have their own further source of natural selection.

*At this level of competition and desire for glory we also have to assume some level of drug use (either current or prior) which would diminish this percentage slightly or greatly, we will never know.

It also means when I get professional athletes as clients and they come in at a shredded 240, I without a doubt believe them when they tell me they have never used PEDs. I think this is very freeing for them. This little white dude really believes me, as they have been probably been dealing with the “steroids in the baby bottle” jokes their whole lives from guys who look a lot like me.

What does this mean to you bro?

Well, I don’t know, were you a D1 linebacker? If so, you probably have a legit shot at breaking 25.

Were a decent high school corner? I would say the odds aren’t as good, but fucking go for it, what do you have to lose?

What about if you never played football and were in the chess club and now fell in love with everything weightlifting? I would say your odds are very not good, but again fuck it, go for it, leave it all out there.

I was a decent high school athlete and a less decent college athlete. I am the first human ever in my lineage to ever pick up a barbell. I have an FFMI of around 24 and probably put far too much energy and effort into trying to break the 25 sound barrier. But, I enjoy it and the challenge reverberates throughout my daily life. It pushes me continue to ask questions and collect data. I will get there, not because of natural ability, but because of stubbornness.

 

Trexler ET, Smith-Ryan AE, Blue MN, et al. Fat-Free Mass Index in NCAA Division I and II Collegiate American Football Players. J Strength Cond Res. 2016.

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