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:
- How much muscle can you gain?
- How long does it take to build it?
- 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..
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.
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. 😉
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.
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.