How Much Muscle Can You Gain & How Fast Can You Build It?

If I had to guess, I’d say that the 3 most common questions people have about building muscle (besides just how to actually build some) are:

  1. How much muscle can you gain?
  2. How long does it take to build it?
  3. How fast can it REALLY be done?

Now, I’ve seen people ask these questions and get answers like “Stop worrying about how long it will take or how fast it will happen… just shut up and lift!” I kinda see the point to that type of response, but I mostly see why it’s completely wrong.

These Answers Are More Important Than You Think

For starters, knowing the TRUTH about the legitimate rates and limits of muscle growth allows you to know when you’re being lied to by a product, program, supplement, or fitness guru claiming to allow you to build muscle faster than you actually can.

Seeing as this is something that probably 95% of all products/programs/supplements/gurus do every single day, these answers are the key to preventing yourself from falling for false promises and bullshit claims.

And just as important, knowing the true rates and limits of muscle growth allows you to have realistic expectations for your own progress and set realistic goals. You see, most people (men and women) expect to gain MUCH more muscle at a MUCH faster rate than they actually can.

With men, these unrealistic expectations cause them to jump from stupid program to even stupider program seeking the type of so-called “lightning fast muscle growth” they couldn’t achieve even with steroids/drugs.

So when they aren’t building 12 pounds of muscle per week like they thought they would, they blame their diet or their workout and change something that probably didn’t need to be changed (usually in a way that makes it 100 times worse… “My arms aren’t growing fast enough, I must need more biceps exercises!!!!”).

And with women, it’s the opposite. They also greatly overestimate how much muscle they can gain and how fast they can build it, BUT they do everything they can to avoid it because they don’t want to get “too big and bulky” like a guy. Which is why 50 new completely useless “Toning Workout Routines For Women” come out every other hour.

So, be it man or woman, your results suffer as a result of not truly knowing how much muscle you can gain or how long it truly takes to build it. Which is why we’re going to change that right now.

How Much Muscle Can You Gain… REALLY?

I’ve heard a lot of very smart people discuss the rate and limits of muscle growth over the years. I’ve also seen a couple of studies that looked at this as well, and of course, I have my own 10+ years of first hand experience and real world observation to pull from, too.

Based on all of this, here’s how much muscle you can expect to gain on average over your entire lifespan:

  • Average Natural MAN: a total of about 40-50 pounds of muscle in their life.
  • Average Natural WOMAN: a total of about 20-25 pounds of muscle in their life.

Please note that we’re talking strictly about MUSCLE here, not WEIGHT. You could obviously gain a whole lot more weight than muscle in your life time.

Also note that these numbers are averages. There are always rare exceptions that might either exceed or never come close to reaching these amounts, and there’s a handful of factors that influence what these numbers will be for you specifically (all of which I’ll tell you about in a minute).

But for most of the people, most of the time… this is the total maximum amount of muscle you can expect to gain naturally.

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How Fast Can You Build Muscle… REALLY?

So, that’s how much you can gain total. The question now is, how long does it take to build it and how fast can it be done?

Well, once again, I’m going by various trainers/coaches I’ve heard discuss the true rate of muscle growth among their clients, the few studies that have looked at this as well, and my own 10+ years of first hand experience and observation.

Based on all of this, here’s how fast you can expect to build muscle on average:

  • Average Natural MAN: between 0.25 and 0.5 pounds of muscle per week (or about 1-2 pounds of muscle gained per month).
  • Average Natural WOMAN: between 0.12 – 0.25 pounds of muscle per week (or about 0.5-1 pound of muscle gained per month).

Once again, we’re strictly talking MUSCLE, not WEIGHT. Besides actual muscle, weight gained throughout the week could be (and often is) fat, water or glycogen. We’re not talking about any of those here.

And really, this is the rate you can expect under the best possible circumstances. Meaning, an ideal muscle building workout routine and diet, an ideal amount of sleep every night, rest, recovery, consistency, lack of stress, and so on. Basically, when everything is done as perfectly as it could be, this is how fast you can expect to build muscle.

And once again… these numbers are averages. Some may exceed them (rare) and some may never reach them (unfortunately true). The exact amount of muscle you can build per week, month or year is based on a handful of individual factors specific to you.

Speaking of those factors, let’s find out what they are.

6 Factors That Affect Your EXACT Rate & Limit Of Muscle Gain

Everything you’ve read so far, while almost always true and accurate for most people, is based on averages and generalities. Why? Because there are 6 major factors that can change things, and they can vary greatly from person to person. Here now are those 6 factors..

1. Steroids/Drugs

In what should come as no surprise to anyone, adding steroids and/or various drugs into the equation completely changes how much muscle a person can gain and how fast they can gain it. So, when you see crazy claims of muscle growth (like every product/supplement claims) or see people who have clearly exceeded the rates and limits mentioned above (like every pro bodybuilder on the planet does), there’s a damn good chance it wasn’t done naturally.

I cover this subject in more detail here: Steroids vs Natural: The Muscle Building Effects Of Steroid Use

2. Training Experience Level

One simple fact of training is that everything comes MUCH quicker and MUCH faster when you’re a beginner. That’s why weight training newbies will often consistently build muscle at the high end of average rate, and possibly even exceed it at certain points. However, the more experienced you get and the more muscle you build, the slower your rate of muscle gain will become.

How big is the difference? Based on what I’ve seen, it looks like the amount of muscle you can build in your first year is TWICE as much as it will be in your second year. And from there, it will drop off by about 50% each year after that.

3. Muscle Memory/Muscle Regrowth

Did you know muscle can be regained after you lose it at a much faster rate than it can be gained in the first place? It’s true. Muscle memory is real and it makes a significant difference.

Unfortunately, just like steroids, it’s one of the many methods used to trick people into thinking amazing muscle building results have occurred when in reality it’s just that the person lost a bunch of muscle at some point and was now RE-gaining it.

The first 2 examples that come to mind was a total bunch of crap known as “The Colorado Experiment” back in the 1970’s, and a much more recent transformation by best selling author Tim Ferriss, whose best selling book (The 4 Hour Body) initially garnered a ton of hype and attention as a result of him posting about how he gained “34lbs of muscle in 4 weeks.” HA!

I’d link to it so you can see for yourself, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Search around and you’ll find it in a second. And if you do, I beg of you NOT to become one of the countless people who read it and now think they can easily gain over 8lbs of muscle per week for 4 straight weeks.

4. Genetics

It’s hard to come up with a factor that influences how much muscle you can gain and how fast you can gain it more than genetics. Hormone levels, muscle length, bone structure and more all play a huge role in your muscle building potential.

Unfortunately, we can’t change our genetics (although drugs can be used to improve hormone levels), so if you ended up with less-than-stellar genetics (thanks mom and dad!), you’re kinda screwed to some extent. You can certainly still build muscle… it’s just going to be a bit harder and slower, and your overall potential is going to be lower than someone with average or better genetics.

And if you are one of those rare people who did hit the genetic lottery, congrats. Enjoy all of the awesome results that come with being a genetic freak, and always know that I hate your guts. πŸ˜‰

If you’re interested in learning more about (and actually calculating) your personal genetic potential, Casey Butt’s Your Muscular Potential is as good of a resource as you will ever find, as are his articles here and here.

5. Age

Here’s another one that shouldn’t really shock you. A 16 year old with raging hormones will be able to gain a lot more muscle a lot faster than say a 50 year old whose testosterone levels are hitting record lows by the second. It’s another unfortunate fact of life (unless of course you’re the 16 year old).

In terms of the rate of muscle growth (and probably everything else physiological), the younger you are, the better you are. The older you get, the more you can expect things to get slower and worse and generally suckier overall.

6. Your Workout And Diet

And finally, if your workout and diet are set up as optimally as possible, you can definitely expect to build muscle faster than you would if your workout was less than ideal or just total crap altogether. This also seems obvious, but it sure as hell hasn’t stopped people from working out and eating like idiots.

To ensure you’re doing everything in a way that will put you in position to reach the high end of your rate and limit of muscle gain, use the guidelines laid out in my super awesome guides…

Or, better yet, use my brand new program… Superior Muscle Growth. It is completely designed to produce the best muscle building results your body is realistically capable of getting. I HIGHLY recommend it.

Summing It Up

So, that’s how much muscle you can expect to gain, that’s how fast you can expect to build it, and those are the 6 main factors that can influence those amounts and what your body’s exact potential is.

In most cases, muscle cannot be gained anywhere close to the rate some people like to make it seem like it can, or some of us just wish we could (hi guys!) or hope we don’t (hi girls!).

You can now set realistic goals and have realistic expectations. And at the same time, you can ignore much more of the silly deceptive bullshit found everywhere in the diet and fitness industry. Meaning, if you ever come across someone who claims to have consistently gained more muscle faster than I’ve explained is realistically possible, or a product that claims it will allow you to do the same, ignore it.

That person is either an insanely rare exception/genetic badass, using every drug known to man, regaining lost muscle, flat out wrong, flat out lying, or just trying to sell you something.

And every once in a while… all of the above.

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About Jay
Jay is the science-based writer and researcher behind everything you've seen here. He has 15+ years of experience helping thousands of men and women lose fat, gain muscle, and build their "goal body." His work has been featured by the likes of Time, The Huffington Post, CNET, Business Week and more, referenced in studies, used in textbooks, quoted in publications, and adapted by coaches, trainers, and diet professionals at every level.

130 thoughts on “How Much Muscle Can You Gain & How Fast Can You Build It?”


  1. Great post! I’m beginning to look forward to your new posts more than most of the other training blogs I read.

    In regards to that yearly 50% dropoff, is it 50% of what you actually built or 50% of what you were capable of building? Like if you failed to reach your full muscle building potential during the previous year?

    • The 50% drop off (which isn’t an exact science, by the way) is based on potential rather than what a person actually accomplished. So, if a guy could build 20 pounds of muscle in his first year of training, year two probably has the potential for about 10lbs or so.

      But, if the guy trained/ate like a dumbass and only built 4 pounds of muscle in year one, year two’s potential is definitely NOT 2 pounds.

      • So are you saying that if someone trains and eats like an idiot for four years, that they have permanently destroyed their genetic potential, as their potential has been cut in half every year despite never coming anywhere close to achieving it?

        That sounds incredibly fishy to me, and I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that the human body would have evolved to cripple itself so thoroughly. Am I misunderstanding you?

        Year 1: Potential 10, Gain 1
        Year 2: Potential 5, Gain 0.5
        Year 3: Potential 2.5, Gain 0.25
        Year 4: Potential 1.25, Gain 0.125

        Total original potential: 18.75
        Total gained: 1.875

        Potential in year 5: 0.625 lbs

        • Dan says
          July 14, 2014 at 4:10 pm: “…Am I misunderstanding you?”

          YES, Dan, you misunderstood what AW explained. AW did NOT say that someone who trains and eats poorly his first year of training so fails to attain 50% of his total maximum potential thereby ruins his ability to ever attain his full potential.

          Rather, AW was saying that, with optimal training and eating, someone who does gain 50% of his potential the first year will typically be able to gain only another 50% of whatever he gained that first year. For example: say an average-gened guy with maximum potential to gain 40 pounds of lean mass trains and eats properly and gains 50% of his max potential in year one; that means he gains 20 pounds of lean mass. If he continues training and eating properly for that following year also, he will gain 50% of what he gained the first year; that means he’ll gain 50% of 20 pounds, so he’ll add another 10 pounds of lean mass. Year three, he’ll gain 50% of whgat he gained in year two, meaning he’ll gain another 5 pounds of lean mass. In year four, 50% of year three, so he’ll add another 2.5 pounds of lean. He gains 20 pounds in year one, then 10 pounds in year two, then 5 pounds in year three, then 2.5 pounds in year four, then 1.25 pounds in year five. (By the way, adding those last 2-3 pounds of lean mass to fully attain maximum mass potential is extremely hard.)

          But, if that same guy trains and eats poorly his first year and gains only, say 10 pounds the first year, then what he can gain the second consecutive year depends upon how he trains and eats that year too. If he corrects his training and eating for the second year, he might gain as much as another 20 pounds of lean mass that second year.

          By failing to train and eat optimally from the start of weight training or at any period through the subsequent years, that guy falls behind the optimal timetable for gains; however, his maximum mass potential of 40 pounds of lean remains the same. He’ll eventually attain his max mass if he continues progressively training, but he won’t attain it as fast, not within the 4-to-5 years it would take if he trained and ate properly from day one.

  2. Thanks for demolishing the BS. More of this is needed. People need to stop buying empty promises and enriching the hucksters.

    • I hear ya. The problem is that the people spreading the “bad” greatly outnumber the people spreading the “good.” So, you either end up falling for silly BS, or you are smart enough to question things and then lucky enough to actually come across the “good.”

      • People spreading the bad outnumber the good, but a lot of people are simply smart enough to realize, too. And quality > quantity. A lot of people have found this site.

        Me, I’d assumed before I knew anything about weightlifting that it was around 10 pounds a year for 5 years. Now I don’t feel bad about being in a caloric deficit during my first year lifting, too. Good times, thanks for sharing (yes I know necropost)

    • Yup, he’s pretty much the go-to guy when it comes to genetic potential. I’ve never seen a good article written about the subject that didn’t end with a link to something Casey Butt wrote.

      • Can you suggest any good articles on strength potential and/or what is considered decent for someone of X weight and been lifting for Y years? Basically I am trying to work out how my bench, squat, deadlift, shoulder press and chin up compare to others with similiar background and what areas I need to improve in. I had a look online myself but trying to separate the wheat from the chaff is near impossible.

        • Hmmm, off the top of my head that’s something I can’t remember ever really coming across in any way that actually made sense and was useful.

          The closest thing I can think of are just general guidelines for what “advanced” would be. Like if you can bench X and deadlift Y… you can consider yourself advanced.

          But beyond that, nothing really comes to mind.

          • No worries.

            The best I found was this but not sure of its quality or accuracy. When I apply it to me, it seems about right but maybe a bit high on squats and deads (i.e. I thought my legs were more of a strong point than my chest or shoulders but this seems to suggest the other way around).

          • Definitely not the worst I’ve seen, but it’s hard to put much stock into these kinds of things anyway.

            The real best answer to the “how much should I be able to lift” type of questions is simply MORE than you currently can. That’s really all that matters in the end. πŸ˜‰

  3. Wow! This is brilliant, and it’s really a proof that sometimes the best thing to say is also the most obvious, but nevertheless is still the best thing to say since stuff that is obvious is usually overlooked by people when they have something to gain. Its called denial.

    I probably knew all these points myself, and I would say that most of your readers also know them but just writing it out like this in a list is what I need to ignore all the nonsense that is put out there (or rather actually stuffed down your throat) the second you try and look for some information on gaining muscle/ getting fitter.
    Thank you for the great work so far, I look forward to these all the time!

  4. Loving this mate, yu hit the nail on the head. There’s this guy in the gym who you totally described. The sad thing is, although he is pretty big, he think’s he’s better than everyone. Sounds like insecurities to me.

    Btw are the routines and tips and workouts etc only for hardgainers, or for fat boys with a small bone structure like moi?

    Anyway congrats mate, top job. You get my official 5* rating!

  5. Hey, I was just wondering if you could explain Strength versus Muscle. I’m a little confused on that because I thought muscle and strength went hand in hand.


  6. Hi, There is one question that I’ve been wondering. 99% percent of powerlifters, strongmen or any other strength athletes are really heavy (like 280-320 pounds in normal height like 180-185cm). (I don’t have to mention that they are using steroids). And they can bench around 500-600 hundreds. Does it mean that you really have to be that heavy in order to lift that much? Since natural human body has muscle growth limit, I think this can imply 2 things. Please correct me If I am wrong:
    Case 1: It is impossible for natural athlete to lift as much as a drug user
    Case 2: Natural athlete can also lift that much but he won’t be around 300 lbs (let’s say around 200-210 lbs)

    So my question is simple. Is natural athlete with healthy weight capable of lifting that much? Or there is some correlation between lifting really heavy and gaining weight?

    Thank you for your assistance πŸ™‚

    • “Does it mean that you really have to be that heavy in order to lift that much?”

      While you do occasionally see smaller men/women who are impressively strong for their size… they’re the minority. The more muscle mass you have, the stronger you’ll usually be. So, generally speaking, the biggest person is also usually the strongest.

      “Case 1: It is impossible for natural athlete to lift as much as a drug user”

      Sometimes yes, sometimes no. If the natural lifter trains/eats better, works harder and is more skilled technically (or even better genetically built) for a lift, they can certainly compete with a drug user. But with all of this being equal, the drug user will almost always beat the natural lifter.

      “Case 2: Natural athlete can also lift that much but he won’t be around 300 lbs (let’s say around 200-210 lbs)”

      Hard to say what a natural lifter is capable of lifting (it varies based on a million factors), but it’s pretty safe to say that no man at an average height is going to reach a lean 300lbs. A lean 200lbs is more along the lines of a maximum goal to shoot for.

      “Is natural athlete with healthy weight capable of lifting that much? Or there is some correlation between lifting really heavy and gaining weight?”

      There’s a definite correlation. To bench 600lbs, you’re going to need to be pretty damn big. And that’s why most athletes aren’t natural.

  7. I’m confused when you say maximum a woman can hope for is up to 25 pounds… I’ve had a DEXA scan where my lean muscle mass is shown to be 46kgs, which equates to 101 pounds. What is the difference between lean muscle mass (as in DEXA scan) and what you are calling muscle?

    I am a normal fit healthy woman, no drugs, only recently started to do weight excecises at the end of last year.

    • …meaning, ZEALOUS, that a woman might add about 25 pounds of lean mass to whatever lean mass she already had before she began resistance training/bodybuilding.

      If you had 101 lbs of lean mass before you started weighttraining, you might end up having 126 lbs of lean mass when you reach your natural genetic maximum lean mass.

  8. I am just wondering about the caloric surplus needed to build muscle when after years for an experienced athlete/bodybuilder (female, just in case ehe) πŸ™‚

    Assuming a moderate surplus daily (say like 300 kcals) and also assuming this athlete has or almost reached her “genetically set limit” – so if here will be a weight gain by the end of a week (2100 kcal surplus) but very few or no muscle at all can be build, can we just assume the person will gain fat with this surplus??

    Better said: How should the surplus possibly be for advanced athletes considering they cannot put that much on muscle anymore??

    Thanks and keep on the great work!

    • Yup, you got it right for the most part.

      The more advanced you are and the closer you get to your natural genetic potential, the less of a surplus you need. This of course is simply due to the fact that the potential rate of muscle growth is super low because the maximum limit is so close to being reached.

      So while a weekly 3500 calorie surplus (500 per day, for example) might be perfect for male beginners, and a 1750 weekly surplus (250 per day, for example) might be perfect for male intermediates, the advanced would need to go even lower or possibly better yet use some sort of cyclical approach with surplus/maintenance/deficit days programmed throughout the week.

    • Good question. In terms of body composition related goals, you’d probably notice that you can easily build muscle/lose fat. Or that you can do it faster than others. Or that you recover faster. Or that strength gains come easier/faster for you.

      Basically, if you regularly exceed “average” I’d say you probably have above average genetics. The higher above average, the more of a genetic freak you are.

      Then again, I have a feeling that many of the genetic elite don’t truly realize it. They just think they’re normal and everything typically comes that fast and easy. It’s us average/below average people that notice.

      • What if I’m a female, 25 years old, 5’7 and weigh 128 lbs. the first time I did a squat it was with 95lbs on the bar and I could do 12 reps. Is this above average? I’ve never trained before and my body fat percentage was 22%. I’m hoping to figure out of this is average or a bit above average….thank you!!

  9. Thank for the answer. Well I think it’s safe to say I’m not a genetic freak. On my first squat, it took me 10 days to bring myslef to walk properly. Talk about slow recovery. Oh and it was only the bar with no wieghts. Hehe.
    On the bright side though, the more painful the journey is the better you will feel when you reach your goals.

    • Actually, soreness doesn’t mean you’re not recovered, especially the amount of soreness you experience the first few times you do an exercise. That’s a topic for another day, though.

      But, either way, don’t feel too bad. Genetic freaks are rare. The rest of us with our average-at-best genetics make up the large majority.

  10. Hey i like the article and completly agree that most people expect much quicker gains than what is realistic. I am a bit questionable about your figures though. You say an average male can gain 1-2lb a month of muscle? This would mean an average male could gain somewhere between 12-24lb of muscle in a year which i find to be unrealstic. I would say the average male would be lucky to gain a third of that figure even with a good routine and diet. Am i wrong to think this?

    • In the first year or two, it’s doable. But the more experienced you get and the more muscle you build, it decreases significantly. I actually mention this in the article…

      “Based on what I’ve seen, it looks like the amount of muscle you can build in your first year is TWICE as much as it will be in your second year. And from there, it will drop off by about 50% each year after that.”

  11. A bit off topic but I absolutely loved your article and would appreciate your opinion.

    Many people talk about having a naturally/gentically high metabolism, from any research I have done metabolism seems to be directly proportionate to your body composition, diet and daily activities (exercise).

    * So it would be fair to say that your body+diet+activities = metabolism
    * and hence only genetics that affect your body composition (ectomorph ect) could truly have an effect on your metabolism
    * and hence forth two people with the same body composition (which is controllable with diet+activities despite genetics) that keep their diet+activities equal would have the same metabolic rate
    * and therefore have the same macro nutrient requirements?

    So if two identical people have the same body+diet+activities and hence the same metabolic rate they should have the same macro nutrient requirements. Upon ALL things equal (dleep, diet, exercise ect).

    Person 1 – will have eaten his correct requirements and put on less or more muscle depending on other genetic factors than person 2.
    Person 2 – also eats correctly and will put on more or less muscle than person 1.

    At this stage one has more or less (or even the same which would be equal genetics), the one with less muscle would have put on more fat (calories in vs calories out) and the one with more muscle puts on less fat (calories in vs calories out). The surplus calories must go somewhere.

    So now as an example:

    Person 1 – has put on more fat than 2 and less muscle and therefore has lower metabolic rate due to his genetics affecting his muscle growth.

    Person 2 – has put on less fat than 1 and more muscle and therefore has a higher metabolic rate due to his genetics affecting his muscle growth.

    What I am trying to get at here, is two people with identical body compositions have the SAME dietary requirements (with the same goals and no other issues such as lactose intolerant, allergic to peanuts ect) and hence SHOULD eat the same food despite ones favorable ect and the others unfavorable ect genetics.

    So the rule appears to be: even with different genetics, with all other things being equal. The macro nutrient requirements are still the same.

    What appears too me is that genetics do not directly affect metabolism, that they affect things that affect metabolism (growth hormone putting on muscle on ect) and hence forth one must still eat the same food because their requirements are still the same as someone who has more favorable genetics.

    The only difference is that someone who puts on less muscle will put on more fat.

    The question for me is, can someone who knows that they have a reduced capability to put on muscle reduce their surplus of calories by a relevant amount thus reducing the amount of fat they store BUT still retaining the full amount of muscle they could potentially build. Would it reduce the amount of muscle built or not?

    If the answer is no it appears you SHOULD DROP your caloric intake relevant to the negative effects of your genetics on muscle growth?

    If the answer is yes than it appears you must accept bulking with more fat over muscle compared to a genetically favored person and you will just have to loose that fat and maintain your muscle at a later stage?

    • Ha… alright, that was kinda long and you honestly lost me a couple of times, but I’ll go right to your question at the end…

      “The question for me is, can someone who knows that they have a reduced capability to put on muscle reduce their surplus of calories by a relevant amount thus reducing the amount of fat they store BUT still retaining the full amount of muscle they could potentially build. Would it reduce the amount of muscle built or not?”

      If a person finds that a surplus of X causes too much fat gain, and a surplus of Y causes less fat gain but little to no muscle gain, then the ideal situation would be to experiment and find that sweet spot in between where you basically get muscle growth as fast as your genetics are capable of with as little fat gain as your genetics are capable of.

      Ideally, this is what everyone should do regardless of genetics. The only difference is that the amounts of muscle/fat gained will vary based on whether your genetics are good, great or horrible.

      For those with horrible genetics, they may still find that even their most ideal “sweet spot” surplus still causes more fat gains and less muscle gains than they’d like. That’s just what makes horrible genetics so damn horrible in the first place.

  12. Hey there, I have a question.
    Is there a way to know that you’ve recovered after training, I mean muscle recovery.
    I always hear/read things like ” My muscle recovery improved very much after using product x” or ” My muscles have recovered after I woke up this morning”

    I always thought this is something you can’t tell, and the 2 days gap you leave when training the same muscle group is to be sure that the muscle has recovered. Or is there something or an indicator that tells you that you have recovered and you can train the same muscle group again?

    • The people who say stuff like that are usually basing recovery on how sore they are or aren’t. So if they wake up sore, they haven;t recovered yet. If the soreness is gone, they’ve recovered.

      This would be awesome if only it wasn’t pure nonsense. Soreness is not an indicator of being/not being recovered.

      There really isn’t any sure fire way of knowing this. It mostly comes down to monitoring your progress. If progress is going well, then you’re likely recovering well between workouts. If progress sucks, a lack of recovery is one on many possible culprits.

  13. Why is it that there’s a specific capacity for natural muscle gain? Shouldn’t the body be able to continually adapt to incorporate the change as a result of the training? I’m a woman and I want to build more than 25 pounds of muscle.

      • The body can adapt and grow to a certain point only. Why? it’s evolution. After hundreds of thousands of years your body has built in “brakes”. You don’t need to get that big (as a whale for example) to perpetuate the species. Also, back in the days you would not have all that food and whatever else to sustain that much body growth. So even if you’d have the food for a while, in the hard times you’d die of starvation while your peers would pass the hard times test. That is why each species has a “built in limit”. On the timescale, the different times we’re living now is not even 0.1 second on a 24hr clock. My 2 cents

    • Why do you want, as a woman, to build nearly 2 stone of muscle? What would that achieve for you? Are you looking to have a career in consstsruction or bodybuilding?

  14. Just a regular mom trying to learn more about fitness, building muscle, etc. Great info here! Thanks!

  15. What is a good starting weight for a woman at or around 110 pounds? I can use the 12 pound free weights once I’ve been training for a few weeks, and around 65 pounds for the arm press. I do up to 120 on the leg press and 115 on the adductor/adductor machine and 80 on the ab machine. Am I on the right track or should I increase my weight? I can do 8-12 reps no problem. I’m five foot and easily get toned but haven’t seen any obvious muscle growth. I did win the swimsuit award for the Mrs. Connecticut competition though. I have a small frame and met a female bodybuilder with the same build as me, so I know it can be done. I’ve been doing Pilate’s and butts n guts as well to change up my routine. Any suggestions? I get bored easily and I think my muscles are too.

  16. Great article! It’s always refreshing to hear someone write with common sense. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on another common sense point: you have to be strong to build muscle.

    It seems so obvious, but a lot of people miss it–especially novice weightlifters who take up bodybuilding routines that aren’t doing very much for them. Sure, the huge guy on some fitness website got good results from endless sets of hammer curls–because he was doing them with 45 lb dumbbells. You’re using 15s and wondering why your guns still look like pistols.

    Anyway, on to the question: do you have any rough guidelines as far as the strength required to see gains? For example, I’m pretty convinced that you can never be that big if you’re benching 165, regardless of your sets/reps/diet whatever. But on the other hand, I’m pretty convinced that you can never be that small if you’re benching 250. I started around 165 and I’m working my way up and trying to be patient, but I’m hoping that I’ll hit a groove soon where I’ll actually be lifting some serious weight–enough to make a real difference. What are your thoughts on when that typically happens?

  17. I came across this article after searching the web for an answer to a question of mine. You see, I have started working out with two friends of mine just 10 days ago. Our regimen consists of 20 minutes of lifting (done in sets, effectively pushing for endurance and an increase in our max), 30 minutes of general weight lifting (also done in sets), and 30 minutes of cardio. It was today that I finally decided to check my weight, and to my surprise I found that my weight has jumped from 195 pounds to 205 pounds (weighed in the morning). Could you please explain this jump? My eating habits have been the same for years, and the only real difference is minor carb loading before working out and then a protein shake after the fact.

    I am asking this as a result of my own skepticism that what have I gained is truly muscle, even though everything indicates that this is the case. This discrepancy is accentuated by the statistics referenced in the above article; that men average substantially less than what I am purporting. Are my genetics just crazy? Am I attributing this weight gain incorrectly?

    On a side note, I am 16 years of age, so I suppose testosterone would be a contributing factor, but I feel as if I am doing this wrong. Your input would be greatly appreciated; I don’t want to feel as if I am bragging about how much weight I think I have gained, especially if this jump in weight can be explained in some other way.

    • 10 pounds of muscle in 10 days? Nope.

      More than likely it’s just some crazy fluctuation in body weight due to water, muscle glycogen, food in your stomach, and who knows what else (even poop). Increasing carb intake is well known for causing some crazy increases in body weight as a result of water/glycogen. Happens every time.

      Also, you’re 16 and possibly still growing (height, bones, etc.). More stuff that might affect your weight on the scale.

  18. Your data contradicts itself… You say a man can gain 50 pounds in his life but that he can build two pounds of muscle a month, obviously this adds up to be far greater than your first number in just a few years

    • Not quite. That man will build muscle at that rate (or really slower and slower over time) until they hit their genetic limits at which point they will just stop building additional muscle.

    • No, AW didn’t contradict himself. He explained that a man can build up about 50 lbs of muscle in his lifetime, but that how quickly a man attains that 50 lbs depends upon how effectively he trains/eats.

      If a man trains/eats correctly for about four to five consecutive years, he’ll gain that 50 pounds of muscle by the end of that four to five years. The man’s first year of those four/five will produce his best gains — he’ll gain up to two pounds of muscle per month for that year. However, his gains will slow after that first year, so he might gain about ONE pound of muscle per month in his second year. His third of those consecutive years, his gains will become even slower, to perhaps ONE-HALF pound of muscle per month. Fourth year, perhaps ONE-QUARTER pound per month.

      However, that’s only if a man trains/eats properly for four-to-five consecutive years. If his training/eating is less than properly and/or it’s sporadic or non-consecutive, it will take longer than four/five years to build those 50 lbs of muscle. Might take him ten or more years with inferior training/eating.

      So, yes, 50 pounds total in a lifetime, and, two pounds per month gains for THE FIRST year only. No contradiction. Reread the article more carefully.

  19. Hello
    Thanks a lot for all the clean info and am glad that i have found your website and stopped hitting my head without any progress so far (3-4 months on machines and crapy diet). So regarding on your answer above about the 500cal surplus i am confused alittle.
    The last couple of weeks i am trying to find my maintence which is 1750.
    So as a begginer (start lift before 2 weeks) i expect to have better muscle gains (ideally) closer to 0.5lb per week.
    Im order to set my calorie intake properly whats the “ideal” surplus? 250cal or 500 cal?
    I have read almost all of your articles and i love your writting and honesty. Thanks a lot! (Sorry for my English i dont speak well Greece here!)

  20. Hey jay, if you can expect to gain aprox 1-2 pound of lean muscle a month, what would be the total amount of weight you should expect to gain per month? Thanks

  21. Thanks for all the info you provide! I am looking to change my lifting regime. I currently do body part split x 5 days a week. I am interested in adding lean muscle mass. I am a 39 female 5’1″ and 101#. Your recommendation of u/l split x4 as well as p/l/p x5 interests me. Question: can you give me an upfront best opinion? I want to purchase your new book, but I feel I will once again be left with paralysis of overanalysis! ……..Thank you, Giovanna

    • Honestly, if there was a single “best” option, I’d only recommend that. But the truth is, both options can work equally well and it really comes down to picking whatever best suits your schedules, needs and preferences.

  22. I definitely fell into the Tim Ferriss ‘Geek to freak’ trap when I first started working out… I did go from 128 to 135, but I was a beginner.

  23. I have a question relating to beginner gains/ the approximation of dropping by 50% each year. Would my very first attempts going to the gym (which were fairly unorganised and unproductive and only lasted for about 9 months) count as my beginner gains? Was that the year I had the greatest potential and fluffed it up?

    I ask because I don’t have much muscle mass, did not gain much over those 9 months as my training sucked and I didn’t push myself, and then didn’t start working out properly until about a year and a half later. Hopefully this year that I have started now is where my beginner gains are actually kicking in and I have my maximum potential – I have been progressing fairly quickly the past few months, even on a caloric deficit.

    Hopefully the body doesn’t work like some clock that counts down from the first attempts to build muscle in a gym – though I’m sure you didn’t mean it like this, and what you meant is that the more muscle you build, the more the process slows down?

    Thanks for your tips.

    • It’s based less on time and more on results gotten. So if you’ve trained/eaten horribly for 2 years and made zero progress and then finally changed things around so that your diet/training is intelligently designed, you will see some degree of “beginner gains” despite having “trained” for 2 years already.

  24. Hi

    Great article, thank you. I have a question however.

    If someone has been training for 3-4 years but has not reached anywhere near their genetic potential, say for example only putting on 10lbs or less of muscle over that period due to poor diet would your rate of gains have diminished to that of someone who has been training for 4 years therefore very slow gains. Or would you be looking at quicker gains closer to 1-2 pounds a month?

    Thanks again

    • If a guy has the potential to build 40lbs of muscle in his lifetime, that potential is always there. So whether he’s building 10lbs a year for 4 years or only building 10lbs in those 4 years combined, the total potential for muscle growth is still the same.

      The only exception is age. If you’re doing such a bad job building muscle throughout your tens, 20s, 30s, etc. and you’re now 50 or 60 and looking to reach that same potential for growth… that’s unfortunately not going to happen anymore.

      • Thanks for the quick response.

        So with me for example I am 26 and the poor gains of 5-10lbs I have made over the past 4 years shouldn’t stop me from hitting my maximum potential within the next 4 years. Would shooting for 1-2 lbs a month be out of the question? I am in the process of following your beginners workout with the intention of going onto the upper lower split. Hitting a 200 calorie excess a day.

        Thanks again.

        Great website btw, There is so much crap on the web and this really is the best site I have come across in the past 4 years! Wish I had seen it sooner!

  25. Hi, I am an 18 year old high school student who decided to take a fitness/weightlifting class at school. I am about 5’8 and weigh a 120 pounds so I basically fit the bill for an ectomorph. I will be asking my teacher the same question but its always nice to have a second opinion. Okay so, I have always been fairly skinny. I read the article and found you can gain .25 to .5 pounds of just muscle per week and that sounds great but my question is, how much weight should I be looking to gain a week realistically in total? I would like to at least become a healthy looking body weight. we will be hitting the exorcise room 3 times a week, doing full body work outs. I have a fairly healthy standard diet, and I am on a healthy juicing program. Is there anything you suggest adding to a diet or can you point me in the direction of a good article for a diet that will help me gain weight at a good pace? Thanks for your time and consideration.

  26. If you did a year with a diet to maintain muscle and trained and build few muscle,will you build muscle (with a caloric surplus)as fast as if the first year was a bulking diet instead of a maintenance muscle diet? Or would you build more muscle?

    • If you just started training and started doing everything right from day 1, progress would be similar to if you’ve been training for a bit but doing everything wrong and getting no results whatsoever and now starting doing things right.

      Basically, if the starting point is the same (same strength, same muscle), progress in both areas would be similar in both scenarios.

  27. My last question is: can you build muscle if doing only bodyweight exercises(push ups,pull ups,sit ups…)with a TUT of 3-1-3 and a proper caloric surplus?(counting calories,protein,fats and carbs)

  28. What is the routine for maintenance? I didn’t find that in your book though you mentioned the intensity. I use now the routine of fat loss with no diet deficit (feel that is probably good volume for me to sustain) but wonder if that is correct. Thank u for answering. BTW, I have limited access to FB due to the censorship of Cinese government, so am appreciate not refer to a FB post. Many thx.

  29. Another question is: if I want to lose fat by using your fat loss routine. Will it definitely happen that gradually i can lift less rep. And low ever weight? If it happen (it happening with me) shall i aim for same weight lower the rep or lower weight but same rep with perfect gesture? I always try to aim for the high end of rep as you instructed and now I start losing more and more in the 2nd and the third set. I hate to cheat so i start to lower the weight with smallest scale to keep the high rep. Is that correct? Thank you for answering.

    • If your first set remains in the intended rep range and it’s your second/third sets that are starting to fall below it a bit, you could keep the first set the same and then slightly reduce the weight in the other sets to keep them in the right rep range.

  30. Hi Jay,

    I’m on my first bulk and when I eat too much in 1 meal, i will gain 1lb~2lb weight overnight , should i reduce the calories intake on next day and balance it out ( 7 days cycle ) ? I usually eat above maintenance ( 250 calories surplus )

    • Daily fluctuations in weight from one day to the next is usually nothing worth caring about, and certainly nothing worth adjusting your diet because of. Water, sodium, what you did or didn’t do in the bathroom, etc. can all make your weight go up more than usual despite no actual fat being gained.

      Now if you’re supposed to be eating 2500 calories per day and you eat 3000-4000, then yes, you should try to balance it out if you can so that the total surplus at the end of the week is what it should be. But the better idea would just be to try to avoid eating so much over what you’re supposed to be eating. πŸ˜‰

  31. Hey! I was wondering if your recommended 1-2 pounds gain per month is a bit too conservative, especially for people within, say, 2 years of training, and that should cover of your audience. I’ve seen people you have expressed admiration for suggest more, such as Christian Finn here.
    “This level of calorie intake should allow you to gain 2-3 pounds per month, most of it in the form of muscle, which represents good progress for anyone with six months or more of serious training under their belts.”

    Obviously, advanced trainees should aim for less, but as I said, I’m pretty sure the highest proportion of your readers are either beginners or intermediates and 2-3 pounds of weight gain for people who can realistically build at 1-2 pounds of muscle per month seems more reasonable.

    • 1-3 pounds gained per month actually is my recommendation for guys, with the top end of that range (3lbs) being most ideal for beginners, guys in their teens/early 20’s, and/or guys with above average genetics.

      If you’re none of these things, you can still definitely shoot for 3lbs gained per month. It MIGHT improve muscle/strength gains, but this is when it comes close to crossing the line into slightly too much body fat being gained. So maybe progress goes slightly better, but fat gains get slightly worse.

      Which is why I find the sweet spot in this case (for both maximizing growth and minimizing body fat gained) is 2lbs gained per month, or about 0.5lb per week.

      And for people who feel they have below average genetics, or people who are more advanced, the sweet spot drops down to 1lb per month.

  32. So, I am a 22 year (71 kg 18% BF) old not really lifted much (just a bit not really i good program or consistent workout). So if i am lucky, follow ao good program like stronglift 5×5, work on my diet high protein. And with supplements like creatine and sometimes whey protein. I sould be able to hit 80 kg with bf of 12% in like 10 month’s. Thats actually my goal!

  33. Hey! Thanks for a straight to the point article, though most of the stuff is what I imagined, there were definitely a few mild surprises.
    I have this thought going on in my mind, finally found a place to ask it.
    I’m 21, a skinny guy, 5’11-6′, under 150lbs, been in low 140s for the past few years, gained weight really quickly, from about 138 to 147 in just under a month, though probably with some fat, and even though it doesn’t look/feel like fat, and even fat has been historically hard to gain for me. But I’ve always been stronger than most people a lot bigger than me, even when they had a lot more muscle mass that I did.
    So what I’m wondering is, say, an average guy my height, who has say 160-170 pounds lean (with low bf) vs me who is around 140 (with low bf), since they already have some more muscle, does that mean their potential, on average will be a bit less, and mine a bit more since I have some to gain to even get to his starting mass? Or do people with natural mass have kind of a kick-start advantage over skinny ones?
    Also, is it the same with strength, as in, if I’m already strong with not a lot of muscle, I’ll (or people like me) be progressing less strength-wise on average, or I have a starting advantage as well, just like a guy with more than average mass naturally?
    Sorry for a long post πŸ™‚

    • If two people who have never trained before start training at the same time with the same body fat percentage and the only difference is that one person already has more muscle mass than the other, it would be a sign that this person may have better genetics than the other (or this person is average and the other person has below average genetics).

      • Same thing for strength as well I’m guessing?
        But don’t fat people usually have more muscle mass (obviously coupled with more fat) than skinny people, and in that case wouldn’t it mean that, from purely muscle-building perspective, they have better genetics? Sounds a bit odd to me

        • A fat person carrying more muscle mass than a skinny person solely due to the fact that they are significantly fatter is not at all “good genetics.” Tell that skinny person to gain an equal amount of fat and they’ll be in the same shitty situation.

  34. If I have the potential to put on 40 lbs of muscle in my lifetime, would training lower body slightly less mean that more of that 40 lbs could be distributed to my upper body?

    • Nope. Each body part basically has its own genetic potential. That potential doesn’t increase by training another body part less. In this case you’d just never build the full (hypothetical) 40lbs your body is capable of building.

  35. Im a 39 year old, ive never trained in my life, i weigh around 180 lbs and have seriously let my self go….is it too late for me to get into a decent shape, is it too late for me to build good muscle, sorry if i sound stupid

      • Thank you for your reply, that gives me more confidence than i had…Can i ask one more question, i am planning to train on mon,wed,fri with rest days in bewteen and progressively use more weight, on rest days are sit ups, push ups ok, or swimming, or should the rest days be just for recovery.

  36. thanks for pointing out what is realistic gains. It seems that it takes a long time to tone and define. Is there hope past 50 to regain lost muscle mass? I have a problem with consistency because I don’t see results

  37. One other question if I want to gain muscle but prevent gaining fat should I keep my calories at my usual (1200 -1500) and just add more protein?

  38. I understand your body tries to grow as little as possible and doesn’t want to get bigger so you have to consistently fight it to get bigger, you cant gain muscle and keep it, if you don’t maintain what ever you’re doing you lose it. I lift and i love it but (even though may be fact) the way you have put it is enough to demotivate anyone to even bother. Spend thousands on food, hours in the gym, thousands on supplements and time fine tuning your bodybuilding regime to earn such a little muscle in return, sounds extremely daunting. πŸ™

    • “… the way you have put it is enough to demotivate anyone to even bother.”

      Your reaction to this article demonstrates why even those who aren’t hiding the truth for the sake of selling supplements, courses, and equipment are often slow to express it. Knowing beforehand that one’s (drug-free) muscle development is very likely to be mediocre, at best, compared to what one wishes can discourage you from even starting.

      I’m age 59; I’ve been drug-free bodybuilding since age 16 in 1972; I’m not even merely average-gened for muscle-building (all average-gened guys are actually “hardgainers”, by the way), but I’m significantly below-average-gened (I have what is statistically extremely-tiny bone thickness in my legs and small bone thickness in my arms relative to my height, plus extremely short muscles bellies everywhere except my lats, which are just shy of average-length); meaning, that, even after a full decade of lifestyle bodybuilding, I was genetically unable to add even the average of 40-50 lbs of lean mass which an average-gened man can. I built and maintain what amounts to about 30 pounds of lean mass. There are average-gened guys into sports but who have never really focused on building muscle who have more muscle from playing soccer or hockey for a couple years than I had after ten years of dedicated bodybuilding.

      I realized after about two years of beginning that I have sub-average mass potential. I had to make a choice: quit, and have ZERO muscle; or, keep going, and at least look “not as bad” as I would without bodybuilding.

      I’m still training 43 years later, so what i chose is obvious. But, my point is, the average-gened (and rarer below-average-gened) person DOES need to face the truth, and then decide whether “half-a-glassful” is worth more than an empty glass to them, muscle-wise.

      It’s more logical and reasonable to know the truth, as the writer clearly shares it, before wasting time attempting what is impossible, if you’ll only settle for a full glass.

  39. So I’m past 50 years old. Is there any hope for a reasonable amount of muscle to be built for me?
    Reasonable as in 9lbs of muscle in a year?

    • I couldn’t put a specific number on it, but I can tell you that you CAN and WILL be able to build muscle at 50. It’s just not going to go as well as it would have gone at 20, or 30, or 40.

  40. Hey, great info on here

    Quick question: I have benn kickboxing 4 months now, 2-3 days a week. It’s always a great workout, and 2-3 off days I do some quick ab work as well as some light free weights. I have not seen the scale budge even a pound.

    I can tell I look healthier (and really that is what matters is leading a healthy lifestyle) but could I really have gained that much muscle?


      • What I’m hearing is that I am not in enough of a caloric deficit? I will fully admit to not changing my diet much, even though I’m not a horribly unhealthy eater. All that I have changed is my activity level (I’m really trying to change one thing at a time so as to not become overwhelmed).

        2 years ago I weighed a happy 155lbs (5ft8in). After getting married I became quite sedentary. When I started kickboxing I was 174lbs. In the first two weeks I lost 2lbs. Since then, nothing. If I start to restrict calories will I finally start shedding pounds?

  41. Hey Jay!

    First of all, I’d like to say I really love your website, it’s one of my most often recommended resources for people who want to learn more about fitness in general.

    That said, I’d like to ask you a question I can’t find a definitive answer for: how do you accurately track progress when bulking?
    Aside from getting stronger, how do you know you’re eating enough for gaining muscle or if you’re eating too much and putting on too much fat?

    There are many articles (like this) that address this problem with the usual maximum weight gain recommendation per week/ month, but weight is a very unstable variable and can’t accurately be tracked once per week. Therefore, I’d like to know your personnal strategies and recommendations for tracking progress in a bulk.


    • It always begins with shooting for an ideal rate of weight gain based on the specifics of the person… and then tracking it correctly to minimize the variability you mentioned. SMG covers both of these topics in detail.

      From there it’s just measurements (stomach especially for guys), progress pics and the mirror.

  42. Hi
    I am a 17 year old female competitive swimmer. I train eight times a week, each is 2 1/2 hrs. I also do 3 gym sessions a week. For the past 6months I have been gaining 2kg of muscle a month. I was wondering if I should be worried about it? And what i shold be care ful of?. Both of my parents were athletes and are quite well built. I also am part cook island.

    • 2kg (4.4lbs) of muscle per month? For 6 consecutive months? As a female? Without drugs? Impossible. I’m sure you’re gaining some muscle, but that weight is not just muscle (e.g. water, glycogen, body fat).

  43. Well I’m seriously depressed. I want to gain wt as I’m way under and I want to get muscle, not fat and I want to do it at 1 lb/week or 4 lbs/ month which seems realistic. But from this site it means of my 4 pounds I’m actually going to gain 3 lbs or more of fat. That sucks badly! I guess its still better to know the truth. Crap!

    • Yup. It’s a sucky feeling to realize how slow muscle growth takes place, but having been there firsthand I can tell you that it’s an even suckier feeling to gain a ton of unnecessary body fat attempting to gain muscle faster than it can actually happen.

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