13 Nov Realistic Rates of Muscle Gain
Muscle gain. The reason we’d guess 80% of males first ever join a gym. And the one thing almost every female should be striving toward, even if their short term goal is fat loss.
For men, the primary benefit of more muscle tissue is psychological. It improves confidence, fills out the T shirts, and in some cases, can even raise how they are viewed socially amongst their peers.
For women, the primary benefit is more physiological. The more LBM (Lean Body Mass) somebody carries, the higher their daily energy expenditure (calories burnt) will be. This is especially important for females due to them naturally weighing less in general. The higher someone’s lean body mass, the more calories they can consume.
So, what is a realistic rate of muscle gain?
Unfortunately, the large majority massively overestimate just how much they are going to gain in a certain timeframe.
When they do this, one of two things tends to happen:
- They end up demotivated due to feeling as though they’ve ‘failed’
- They accrue a tonne of body fat, in an attempt to just force their bodyweight up
I know I’ve (Akash) been guilty of the latter. Prior to dieting in 2017, I was so obsessed with seeing 200lbs on the scale I’d force calories down just to try get the number higher. In my head I was telling myself it was all muscle, but the pictures would tell an entirely different story! Not a good look.
Why Do We Have These Unrealistic Expectations?
In the modern day, it’s a mix of the fitness magazines, as well as the growing presence of social media.
Take the magazines for example. You don’t need to look too far to become confronted with bold text across the front of them making claims like ‘Add 10lbs of muscle in 6 weeks’, or ‘3 steps to bigger arms’.
This then has us questioning what we’re doing wrong when we don’t suddenly wake up looking like a cover model.
Add to this the images we see on social media daily that often don’t quite tell the full picture. For example, we’ve seen questionable captions of skinfold readings, demonstrating almost impossible losses of body fat % coupled with huge amounts of muscle gain. What they deceivingly leave out is that the ‘before’ measurement was taken when the client was glycogen depleted, and the ‘after’ taken after a 2-3 carb load.
Why does this matter? Due to the increased glycogen/water retained – it gives a false high bodyweight reading. When combined with the skinfolds it looks as though LBM has gone through the roof and body fat has literally melted off of the client.
Of course we also have beginners or even those that have weight trained previously, slacked off and then got back into it. These guys are ‘hyper responders’. It’s a new stimulus. Comparing yourself as someone that’s lifted consistently for 2-3 years to a complete beginner or someone returning from a long lay-off is like comparing apples and oranges.
Going a little ‘taboo’ now, we must also consider those that claim natural but are in fact ‘enhanced’, and using PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs). Or even those who are openly using PEDs – it’s a completely different ballgame.
Even things as simple as lighting can have an effect. Comparing your relaxed front, back and side photos in natural lighting is always going to look worse than someone with a ‘pump’ post training session. Especially when they’ve scoured the gym for that perfect spot with the best down lighting!
The bottom line? You need to compare like with like. Or better still, focus on being the best version of you! Stop comparing yourself to those you see on Instagram, or in the magazines. Their circumstances are likely vastly different to yours.
Comparison syndrome is an all time high right now, but it’s killing your gains. It causes stress and doubt, and inevitably program hopping in fear of not being on the right path.
Ultimately however, what we have to realise is that, unless you’re a beginner, have freaky genetics or take PEDs, muscle building is a slow process.
The key to it isn’t some fancy supplement stack or perfectly periodised training program. The key is ruthless consistency and patience over time.
It’s putting one foot in front of the other, day after day, ticking off the small things:
- Eating in a caloric surplus
- Hitting a minimum protein threshold (0.8-1g/lb for females and 1-1.25g/lb for males)
- Training progressively, consistently, and not missing training sessions
If you can manage those three things day in, day out. Week in, week out. Over the months and years, you will have a dramatically different physique. We’ve seen it time and time again.
Let’s take a look at theoretically what the maximum rates of muscle gain are for the natural trainee, with ‘normal’ genetics.
First up, we’ll look at Lyle McDonalds model:
|Years of ‘Proper’ Training||Potential Rate of Muscle Growth Annually|
And another model, this time by Alan Aragon:
|Category||Potential Rate of Muscle Growth|
|Beginner||1-1.5% of total bodyweight/month|
|Intermediate||0.5-1% of total bodyweight/month|
|Advanced||0.25-0.5% of total bodyweight/month|
Using Alan Aragon’s model, if we take a 170lb intermediate as an example, this could see him gaining around 0.85-1.5lb/month or around 10-15lb over the year.
This really comes down to what we class as a ‘beginner’, ‘intermediate’, or ‘advanced’ athlete, but from our experience Alan’s figures here a little over inflated.
As depressing as it may be to admit, for those that fall into the advanced category, Lyle’s figures definitely show a more accurate representation (and even then, you’re looking at optimum rates of growth not accounting for life, age and different stressors).
It’s also worth noting the above are for men, women should use roughly half those numbers.
So How Do You Stay Motivated?
Set yourself some performance goals and work hard week in/week out at achieving those. This is when it’s all about aggressively chasing PRs on the bar, and training like an animal in the process.
The best way to set these performance goals is to tie it in with your physique goals in some capacity.
For example, let’s say your goal is to increase the size of your legs, specifically your hamstrings and your quads. Rather than just focusing on yourself visually all the time and winding up demotivated when each set of progress pictures don’t show new slabs of muscle being added every two weeks, try this:
Set yourself two ‘key indicator’ lifts for both the hamstrings and quads. Each week, place extra focus on these specific lifts. Film them, analyse your form and make sure you’re making some form of progress each week.
In my own example, I’m continuously aiming to improve the load I’m using on the hack squat and Romanian deadlift.
Assuming that my form is standardised throughout, if I can go from a 140kg Romanian Deadlift for 6 reps and turn that into 160kg for 6 reps, my hamstrings are going to grow!
Switching your mindset like this can really help with motivation in the long term.
You make your short term goal performance related, and reap the motivational rewards of edging toward that week on week.
You then make your long term goal physique related. By ticking off the performance goal consistently and staying motivated with that, you’ll be at your long term goal before you know it!
1. Don’t compare yourself to others. Focus on your own journey!
2. Take a read of the above muscle growth charts. Although they’re not set in stone by any means, they are a good guide to what is ‘probable’ in terms of muscle growth.
3. If you find yourself struggling to stay motivated at your rate of visual progress, set yourself some goals on specific exercises that correlate with the muscle groups you’re trying to improve.