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.