How Fast Can You Build Muscle?

This is one of the most common questions I get as a trainer and to be honest, I probably haven’t handled it very well (until now)

Normally I would brush this off with something like, “It’s different for everyone. Don’t worry about some type of hypothetical limit – focus on doing everything you can and we’ll see how fast YOU can build muscle.” All of this is true, and for some people this is the answer they need to hear.

Now, maybe I’m getting soft in my old age but I’ve started to notice people making extremely impressive progress who are beating themselves up as they measure their progress against some imaginary standard. Obviously I’d like to do what I can to change that so…

It’s with this in mind that I’ve decided to amend my response to the question: how fast can you build muscle?

The answer is: not nearly as fast as most people think.

(I wont get into another rant about how drugs and photo-shop and supplement companies distort our communal perception of progress and convince us that if our transformations aren’t lightening quick then we’re clearly doing something wrong but it’s something you should keep in mind!)

When it comes to building muscle there is obviously a large list of variables that you need to keep in mind. I’m not going to get into each of them so for the following numbers here’s what you’ll want to know:

  • These figures are for trainees who are training optimally for muscle growth
  • These figures are for trainees who are eating, sleeping and recovering optimally for muscle growth
  • These figures do not include people who have de-trained and are re-building muscle they’ve previously carried
  • These figures are an average, some will be slightly higher – some slightly lower

There are two models of muscle growth that I trust as a resource. The first is from an author named Lyle McDonald and the second is from a researcher named Alan Aragon. I’ll link to each of their respective websites below but both are extremely respected figures in the health and fitness world.

Here is the McDonald Model:

Year of Proper Training Potential Rate of Muscle Gain per Year
1 20-25 pounds (2 pounds per month)
2 10-12 pounds (1 pound per month)
3 5-6 pounds (0.5 pound per month)
4+ 2-3 pounds (not worth calculating)

(For women you would cut these numbers in half)

And here is the Aragon Model:

Category Rate of Muscle Gain
Beginner 1-1.5% total body weight per month
Intermediate 0.5-1% total body weight per month
Advanced 0.25-0.5% total body weight per month

 

(Interestingly enough both models get to nearly the same figures using different routes.)

If you’re anything like me the first time I saw these numbers you’re thinking: “What?! These are way too low!”

That’s a pretty normal reaction at first but if you start looking around, or monitoring your own progress, you’ll find out that these numbers are pretty accurate – and more importantly this is the type of progress you should be measuring your muscle building goals against!

Hopefully you can keep these figures in mind as you’re planning your training and measuring your progress. Good luck!

For those interested:

Lyle McDonald’s website: http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/

Alan Aragon’s website: https://alanaragon.com/


Craig was born and raised in Kitchener-Waterloo. Craig grew up in martial arts and boxing before transitioning into strongman and ultimately competing at the world amateur championships. Craig’s transition into coaching came with mentorships from the greats including Louie Simmons and Bill Kazmaier and led him to be considered one of the top strength coaches in the world. Craig works with athletes internationally including: Olympic athletes, professional UFC fighters, some of the best boxers in the world and top ranked amateurs in a variety of sports.

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