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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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”.
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.
This was very helpful. Genetics and hormones are definitely play a great role. It’s a bit unfair that the more a person seems to train the less muscle they get. Taking a good week or two from training can also help.
great article and usefull tips I hope that its helps me
Thanks Marc, i am learning a lot with your articles.
One question, why you say that creatine is potentialy dangeroous?
@Santi – I plan on adding an article soon about supplements, but overall, supplements are not approved by the FDA and the regulations that govern the manufacturing/distribution are not easily enforced. So a certain type of creatine you are using, it’s difficult to know for sure if it’s safe. In addition, while creatine is one of the most used supplements, it’s still tough to understand the long term consequences of using it because there are not long term studies available. Given creatine is a naturally occurring substance (albeit it’s taken in very large doses), my guess is it’s not dangerous, but you never know.
I am going to be going to Marine Corps OCS this coming summer and I need to get in good shape, I really need to know my best way to get in the shape I need as quickly as possible. Please get back to me ASAP, thank you very much
@Nick – I want to clarify the phrase “get in good shape”, which could mean many different things to different people with different goals. Given you are training for the Marines, my bet would be you need as much strength, endurance, and stamina as you can get.
While I don’t know exactly how you will be tested, if I was going to give someone an aggressive exercise program, it would look something like this:
-Strength train 3x per week. emphasize basic exercises, increase weights you are lifting over time, play with body weight work at the end of the workout. One workout each week should be absolutely brutal, where you do a ton of body weight exercises after the strength training workout to push your body as much as you possibly can, which will likely mimic the actual demands of what Marine corps training will be like.
-Cardio 3x per week with an emphasis on sprints/interval training/one longer jog after hiit could work well – also add some flexibility + myofascial release exercises. Alternate strength/cardio days.
-Be sure to get plenty of rest, drink plenty of water, and eat well. If you’re body isn’t feeling right, take a day, or two off. That’s fine. The last thing you want to do is injure yourself, so be careful.
I do believe you can combine the workouts program I have for the BuiltLean Program with extra cardio work and body weight work to get some very solid results. Just keep in mind the workouts should start off at moderate intensity and get harder every single week. Then a week, or two before the actual testing, you may want to pull back the volume of training.
Alright, good luck!
Skinny guys like me consider these facts. Thanks for the useful information.
I currently train 6 times a week, 3x 1 hour cardio (5 a side soccer at a good standard) 3x 1 hour weight sessions using super setting of muscles. 10 reps of one exercise of a muscle group followed by a slightly different exercise for 10 reps, then one minute of rest. I tend to do one one session full body, one back and bi’s and one chest and tri’s.
I have been training at this level for 8 weeks and I have noticed an increase in muscle size and some increase in strength.
I want to build muscle and strength but not become bulky that it effects my CV performance in soccer. I eat relatively well and take in plenty of protein, I feel tired after sessions but recover well.
What could I change to build muscle a little faster/ see further improvements in strength?
Any advice gratefully received
@james – sorry for the late reply! I sometimes get bombarded with emails/comments and fall behind.
It sounds like what you are doing is working. I would consider changing your lifting split to larger muscle groups like upper body/lower body so that you can do upper body 2x per week, and lower body 1x per week, or vice versa, depending on what muscle etc. you need to get stronger the most. In terms of improving strength, consider focusing on the most important exercises (squat, bench press etc.) and vary the rep ranges. So you can do 5 sets of 5 reps (5×5), 4×6, 3×8, you can change these rep ranges every few weeks, or even every workout. The idea is that working in the lower rep ranges is going to help increase your neuromuscular efficiency and get you stronger faster. In terms of building muscle, just keep on lifting more weight, eating enough calories, and over time you will build muscle.
In terms of your concern for getting too big, you can establish an LBM goal, or my favorite, establish measurement goals. You should measure your body parts and come up with goals/limits for each body part. That’s what I personally do. For example, I can get my arms pretty big, but I don’t want them to look silly and overpower all my other muscle groups.
Thanks for very interesting blog. I am natural bodybuilder and I know how difficult is to stay natural when lots of people around u get bigger twice than u in short time. Keep writing .
@bartosz – Thanks a lot for the kind comment. Great question about periodization. While I don’t use periodization right now during maintenance, I do when I’m trying to change my body. I’m actually playing around with ways to incorporate periodization into a more maintenance program, but that’s another conversation!
I think periodization is VERY important to help maximize your physique/performance. Linear periodization is an absolute must for beginners and is how I designed my BuiltLean Program. Works extremely well. Undulating periodization has been shown to increase strength a bit more than linear, and by undulating i mean rep and set ranges can change each workout. The thing is you really need to have a great feel for your how much weight you can lift for a certain number of reps on a given exercise, which is why it’s only appropriate for advanced trainees. Personally, I like linear periodization because it’s easier to for me to track my weights/reps/sets and create progression, but it’s worth trying both. Finally, periodization is important because it can help prevent burnout. In terms of program design, you can consider micro cycles, meso-cycles, macro-cycles. Regarding macro cycles you can shift from primarily strength work, to hypertrophy, to endurance, which helps your body recover and can maximize overall strength and function. I can talk about this for a long time of course, but it’s something worth exploring, especially if you are going to be bodybuilding/lifting for a long time (which I’m assuming you do).
I have forget to ask you do u use periodisation in your routine? What do u think about standard, linear and unlinear periodisation? Are they useful or just useless?
Hey marc! Its me again! I have a question to ask , normally i will do weightlifting around 2-3x per week , (3×20 bicep curls , 2×15 hammer curls) and I found out that , if I took a short break of maybe lets say 4days – 1 week , I find myself unable to lift as many reps as before , and I have to slowly weightlift more times per week in order to get back the strength. Why is this happening to me?
@Red – That is a little unusual. The challenge is that there are several different factors that can effect strength levels such as sleep, hydration, calorie intake, carb intake to name a few. In addition, if you are only lightly working out (let’s say 3 sets each muscle group), the muscle recovers quickly (maybe in a1-2 days) and can be worked out again. FYI, 20 and 15 reps is A LOT of reps. I would consider working in the 8-12 rep range as well to change the stimulus and help increase strength. The 15-20 rep range is squarely in the “endurance” category, so if you are looking to get strong, definitely take the reps down to 6-12.
Thanks for the reply Marc, I’ve been following your advice and making progress… I am now doing 3 upper body and 1 legs session per week focusing on heavier lifting. I am coping well, plenty of calories and protein. Any suggestions on foods that aid recovery further?
I have brought reps down to 5/6 working as maximally as possible without poor form creeping in and I complete 4 sets using antagonistic exercises, eg bench press then reverse flyes. I am finding this works well but I am feeling fatigued by the time I reach core exercises towards the end of my workout (approx 8 exercises). Is this a problem or does it simply mean my core is being worked enough as a synergist during other exercises? I am concerned maybe my core should be more of a focus.
Thanks for your advice and great newsletters/ articles.
@James – Are you doing all upper body muscles each workout 3x per week? If so, I would consider cutting it down to 2 to aid in recovery. If however you are splitting up the muscle groups/movement patters on your 3 upper body days, then you should be ok.
In terms of recovery, do focus on eating plenty of protein, calories, and drinking a ton of water in general. That will help a lot. Foam rolling, massages etc. can also be great.
On a muscle building program, I’m not very fond of doing a bunch of core exercises. My bet is 1-2 exercises is plenty. If you have an effective workout routine with intense leg exercises like squatting, or dead-lifting, your core is going to get a lot of work.
I am doing 3 different upper body routines, they all use most muscles but the movement patterns do differ. Would 2 upper body and 2 legs sessions be more beneficial?
I’m currently eating 4 meals a day, typically;
Large bowl of muesli and peanut butter on toast
Salmon, potatoes and salad
Pasta and lean mince
Baked potatoes with cooked meats and salad
I have 2 protein shakes too
I am 92kg and trying to get down 3,500 calories a day so I’m trying to start the calorie counting after reading one of your articles on it, just playing around with a few methods to find one that suits me and doesn’t take a long time record.
Any tips on how to get more good calories in?
Thank you for your prompt reply Marc, I appreciate it as I am guessing you’re a busy man!
@James – I do think a 2 upper body and 2 legs would be more beneficial if you are trying to build muscle. The lower body lift are flat out more important anyways than the upper body lifts to help you build serious mass. Hitting your all upper body muscles hard 3x per week sounds like it’s too much volume. In terms of getting more calories in, I make protein shakes and just pour a ton of stuff in them like almond butter, fruit, milk, and you can easily get it up to 700-800 calorie range.
I’m Justin, I’m 16 years old I have been doing full body workouts for about 7 months. When I started I weighed about 125lbs then up to now 150 lbs. I excersise 3 times week and I use high calorie protein (mass XXX) to get my weight up and I use creatine. Problem is I’m not seeing a lot of gains am I doing everything right?
@Justin – I wish I could say. Without a more in depth analysis, it’s hard for me to give you a rock solid recommendation. With that said, I’m going to be writing a muscle gain article in the next couple of months. At the end of the day, you need to eat more calories than you burn to gain weight, which is the exact opposite as losing weight. I would consider tracking your calorie intake to see how many calories you are eating versus burning. Here’s an article on calculating your calorie burn and here’s one on counting calories (you are going to count calories to gain muscle of course).
Your forgot two things:
1. Lift heavy – most people never keep track and make progress on their main compound lifts that bring highest muscle building effect. Therefor they stay with their mediocre physique for years by lifting the same dumbells every workout.
I went from a struggling 220 pound deadlift, to a solid 400 pound deadlift just by keeping track and adding 2.5 lbs per workout.
2. Eat your protein – most people never eat the 200 grams of protein recommended for building muscle
Quite an informational article…
I have a doubt… I used to take creatine but have stopped using it… but now i am consuming protein supplements, are they harmful, if yes what natural alternative should i take to build muscle
@Ranjit – thanks for the kudos about the article. For a full article on protein supplements, check this out: Whey Protein 101.
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.
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
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…..
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.
That’s smart advice, @JohnW. Thanks for sharing!
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.
@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?
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?
@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!
@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.
@Aaron – I personally would not recommend that program for building muscle. It’s actually considered a conditioning program.
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..?
@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.
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…
@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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A good web site with interesting content, this is what I need.
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Do you do newsletters? Cant find it.
Really happy to hear that you enjoyed our site and content! We’re very purposeful about keeping the articles on our site relevant, informative, and scientifically-supported. If you want to get on our weekly newsletter, you can sign up here:
-Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor
I would like to thnkx for the efforts you’ve put in writing this blog. I am hoping the same high-grade site post from you in the upcoming as well. Actually your creative writing abilities has encouraged me to get my own blog now. Really the blogging is spreading its wings rapidly. Your write up is a good example of it.
I’m glad we could inspire you to start your own blog! It’s definitely a great outlet to reach, educate, and inspire the world.
-Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor