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Categories: Strength Training

How Fast Can You Build Muscle? 5 Factors That Affect Muscle Growth

By Marc Perry / July 1, 2017

I’ve discussed in depth How Much Muscle You Can Gain Naturally, or your maximum muscle potential, but how fast can you build muscle?  Is it possible to gain 10 pounds of muscle in a month for example?

I’ve personally seen dramatically different rates of muscle gain for several people following the same exact exercise plan and a nearly identical nutrition plan.

How can this be?

Here are 5 factors that affect how fast you build muscle:

  1. Training Age
    Your training age is how long you’ve been lifting weights.  If you’re a newbie, you will be able to gain more muscle faster than if you’ve been lifting for many years.
  2. Hormonal Profile
    The amount of testosterone and other muscle building hormones in your body can vary because (1) your lifting regimen does not help elicit a testosterone response (i.e. not lifting legs, or not lifting heavy enough), or (2) your body simply doesn’t produce as much testosterone…which brings me to the next variable.
  3. Genetics
    There is a concept of a genetic bell curve, which I discussed in the maximum muscle potential article.  To summarize, some men are naturally inclined to build a lot of muscle because of factors such as hormonal balance, or the thickness of their frames whereas others have trouble building much muscle no matter how hard they try.  Most people of course by definition (roughly 68%) are genetically average.
  4. Muscle Memory
    If you are 180lb then you decided to train for a marathon, you may lose a solid 20lb of muscle.  So how long will it take you to gain back those 20lb of muscle back?  Answer: Not long at all.  Maybe only a 1-2 months, because your body has a mechanism for restoring the previous homeostasis, which is often referred to as “muscle memory”.
  5. Supplements
    Heavy duty supplements like steroids, or other potentially harmful, performance enhancing substances that can help you build muscle much faster, but I’m assuming you are far too smart to do that!  Other less dangerous, but still potentially harmful substances like Creatine can aid in muscle growth as well.

How Fast Can You Build Muscle Chart #1:

The McDonald Model

A fitness writer and author Lyle McDonald who also coaches bodybuilders on nutrition came up with the following equation for how fast you can build muscle:

Notice how the estimated 2 pounds per month is only roughly 0.5lb per week, which is not a very fast pace. But over a year, that 2lb per month adds up to a solid 24lb of muscle. Certainly one, or more of the five factors above can affect the pace of muscle gain upward, or downward. While the values in the preceding chart apply to males, Lyle recommends females use roughly half of these values (e.g. 10-12 pounds in the first year of proper training).

How Fast Can You Build Muscle Chart #2:

The Alan Aragon Model

Alan Aragon is an exercise physiologist who is constantly staying on top of the latest exercise and nutrition research.   In a monthly Research Review, he addressed the issue of rates of muscle gain in terms of percentage gain for natural lifters.  Here’s what he came up with:

This means a 130lb teenager who never has lifted weights might gain 1.3-1.95 pounds of muscle per month (15-23 pounds per year) in a year with a great lifting program and eating plan.  After a year, he’s now at around 155lb and might be capable of gaining 0.77-1.55 lbs per month (9-18 pounds per year.

After another year of proper training and smart eating, he’s now at 170lb and is in the advanced lifter category.   From here on out, he may only gain 0.5-1 lb per month, at which point the closer he approaches his maximum muscle potential, the slower the rate of muscle growth.  That’s why most of the big guys at the gym have been lifting for a good 5-10 years.

Consistent training and smart eating adds up over time for an impressive cumulative effect.  I want to emphasize building muscle takes a lot of patience, especially the longer you’ve been lifting.

You’ve probably figured it out by now, but gaining muscle takes A LOT of patience and determination. In my opinion, building muscle is substantially more difficult than losing fat.  Gaining muscle is a MASSIVE undertaking that requires a serious commitment, whereas losing fat is achievable for most people with some small lifestyle changes.

Hope this is helpful!

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42 Comments

  • Sulaiman says:

    I gained 5 kg in 4 weeks by just following proper diet eating and workouts on every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Just limit my self to one hour workout only and not more than that.

  • Dylan says:

    hey i'm Dylan and I am 17 years old and for the past couple years iv,e been overweight by about 20 to 30 pounds due to poor diet and excerise but for the past month iv,e cleaned up my diet alot im 5 foot 8 and weigh around 185 to 190 pounds I have a bit of muscle on my body but I have alot of fat around the waist butt stomach back pecs and all over my body and I would like to lose weight but also end up with a lean physique at around 8% to 12 % body fat with a good amount of muscle mass so what would be a good workout plan btw I did sign up for a gym membership so I am able to use weights

  • kumar rahul says:

    hey marc gud evening...
    I want to share sumthin wid you...

    Actually i m a 23 year old guy., but my phsical aapreance is lyk dat of a 12th std student..there's no change in my body since i was in class 8th nd now i m in gradution final year..
    I feel very shy nd sumtyms depressd regardin my physical look..i m just 45 kg for last 5 to 6 years..der's no change in me excpt my hair which only grows..
    I m very much thin nd little short heighted too.
    Actually my body growth had stopped long tym ago..

    Now what marc? Wat should i do to make not much but little attractive personality..please, please do suggest some solution...m so much depsed plz help me.....

    • JohnW says:

      Hi Kumar,
      That sounds very frustrating to look very young and have no change over the last 6 years and to be 45 kg at 23yr old. I think you should condider seeing a doctor who specializes in endocrinology. Sometimes there are medical treatments that can help progress, even if there is no disease, just slow maturation. There may also be a reason, so an endocrinologist may run some tests.

      • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

        That's smart advice, @JohnW. Thanks for sharing!

  • ryan.c says:

    mark, im quite a skinny build, and i want to tone my body get some muscle ect but dont have money to go gym is there any other way i can get big? the only things i do is run with weights sit ups and press ups.

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @ryan - bodyweight workouts can certainly help. Research has shown you can build muscle without lifting a huge amount of weight => Build Muscle Without Heavy Weights?

  • Aaron says:

    So as far as the amount of weight put on during weight training. I started fresh, the only thing i was using was a 25 gram whey formula post workout. Im 16 years old, 6'2" and was 185 lbs. Then i started weight training for about and hour and a half a day 5 days a week. Within two months i was at 205 lbs. Is that considered good or is it relatively common to gain muscle that rapidly?

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Aaron - yes. The truth is that the whey formula had little to do with your muscle gain, but the fact you were new to it was the likely reason for you significant increase in muscle size. I'm also assuming you added some decent strength as well and your did not add too much fat. Congrats. 6'2'' 205 is great!

  • Aaron says:

    @dylan Have you ever thought about trying insanity? It comes with a strict diet program, workout program and calender. Its very hard but if you stick with it and give it your all. You will get pretty good results.

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Aaron - I personally would not recommend that program for building muscle. It's actually considered a conditioning program.

  • stratos says:

    well i want 2 gain muscle i take protein supplements do you think we need protein supplaments? i have a good meal plan and i train everyday i just started 2 months now i need 2 lose some fat so i do cardio every day and also lift weights for muscle building i'm thinking 2 take creatine but after 6 months of total training do you think creatine sideeffects are 2 bad for our health..?

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Stratos - I think the idea for lifting weight for muscle building and cardio for losing weight is flawed. Check out this article on Can You Lose Fat and Build Muscle At The Same Time?. Creating may help you increase strength and add a little bit of muscle, along with eating more protein. Whether the protein comes from whey protein, or chicken breast doesn't matter. They are both whole proteins.

  • Kit says:

    I want to bulk up with muscles im 5'7" weighing currently 132 lbs.. I've been going to the gym for the past 3 months and all i can see is i gained too little muscle. I spent 3 hours at the gym 6x a week.. Im drinking the universal gain 3100 everyday is that the right thing i did or should i drink the whey protein shake?? Im so confused with all of this... Im really depressed now and i lack self confidence everytime i go out.. Pls help me marc regarding to my case... Hope to hear from you soon...

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Kit- Ultimately, to gain muscle you need a couple things happening (1) you need to eat more calories than you burn, probably around 3000, not an easy task (2) eat around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight can help increase muscle mass and (3) lifting heavier weights and doing more exercises over time. For example, if you start out doing 3 sets of 25lb dumbbells for incline press for 12 reps, eventually you should work up to doing 12 reps at 45lb. Takes time, but you can do it. Good luck!

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