13 Nov Realistic Rates of Muscle Gain
If you were to ask most males why they first joined the gym, we’d put our bets on they’d say to gain muscle mass.
However, the same probably couldn’t be said for women. Despite this, this is one thing we would recommend almost every female on their transformation journey should be striving toward, even if their long-term goal is fat loss.
For men, the primary benefit of more muscle tissue is psychological. It not only fills out the T-shirts, but it fills out the confidence levels, too.
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 (mistaking it for muscle) in an attempt to force their bodyweight up
Why Do We Have These Unrealistic Expectations?
In a nutshell, because we are fed misleading information through the growing presence of social media and fitness magazines.
Take magazines for example – including their online articles that crop up on your social feed. You don’t need to look too far for the headline that reads ‘Add 10lbs of muscle in 6 weeks’, or ‘3 steps to bigger arms’. They all make it look so quick and easy, right?
So then we start questioning ourselves as to what we’re doing wrong when we don’t suddenly wake up looking like a cover model.
Add to this deceptive images on social media that don’t quite tell the full picture. For example, we’ve seen questionable captions of skinfold readings, demonstrating almost impossible losses of body fat percentages coupled with huge amounts of muscle gain. What they don’t tell you is that the ‘before’ measurement was taken when the client was glycogen depleted, and the ‘after’ taken after a 2-3 carb load.
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 the client.
We then have the ‘hyper responders’. These are the ones that are either beginners or have weight trained previously but have been out of the game for a while, so their instant muscle gain is owed to a new stimulus. In this sense, there is such a thing as ‘beginner’s luck’ when it comes to muscle building. It’s significantly easier to gain more muscle mass as a beginner, but as the years of training increase, the rate of muscle growth decreases. For someone who has lifted consistently for 2-3 years, comparing yourself to these ‘hyper responders’ is like comparing apples and oranges.
Now for the taboo subject: Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). While many will claim natural muscle gain, in many instances PEDs could have been used, which is a completely different ballgame altogether.
Even something as simple as good lighting can have an effect. Think of this as ‘tagged photos’ vs profile picture quality. If you compare your relaxed physique in natural lighting to someone with a post-training ‘pump’ (that has likely scoured the gym for the picture-perfect down lighting spot), you’re never going to win!
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 at an all-time high and while it’s killing your confidence, it could also be killing your gains. Comparison causes stress and doubt, and inevitably leads to programme-hopping and seeking the next new quick fix in fear of not being on the right path. However, just because you don’t see progression taking place in the form of a six pack, doesn’t mean it’s not transformation isn’t happening. This is the point when many think they have reached their limit and skip to the next track.
When on the long-term transformation journey however, there comes a point where the mindset shifts from an aesthetic mindset to a performance mindset. This is paramount when entering a phase of intangible benefits and progression is not as visible as it once was. The primary focus moves from marking progression on physical markers to performance markers – that being improving stamina, strength and using the physical as the vehicle to improve performance in many different areas of your life.
While the physical is the action of transformation, it is limited without introspection. Self-reflection, connecting to your deeper ‘why’ and considering your greater purpose are the reasons that keep you pushing through your journey and not quitting. Once combined, introspection and action work together to facilitate transformation from the inside out. This forms the underpinning for what is arguably the hardest goal to achieve: staying in shape for life.
One thing we do know and that research has proven is that quick fixes and chasing instant gratification is in fact a road to failure. Only with consistency, structure and solid lifestyle solutions can you achieve long-lasting transformation.
This is where most people tend to fail (which is the consolidation phase of the RNT transformation journey). Without seeing instant tangible changes, people think that they are no longer progressing, and so jump to the next shiny, new object to appease their need for instant gratification. But what they don’t realise is that they are cutting their journey short when long-term effects are just starting to take place.
Unless you are a beginner, hit the genetic lottery or take PEDs, the transformation journey from a body composition perspective is a slow process that requires ruthless consistency and patience.
It’s putting one foot in front of the other, day after day, ticking off each and every transformation protocol including:
- 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, amongst other transformation protocols of course, day in, day out over the period of a few months, and eventually a few years, you will have a dramatically different physique. Our Reward/Investment phase RNTers are living proof of the effects of the long-term transformation journey.
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.
How Do You Stay Motivated?
When in the investment phase of your transformation journey and not seeing those tangible changes as frequently as you did before, it’s very easy for your motivation to dip. But rest assured transformation is occurring, it just takes a little time and patience.
In the meantime, there are performance goals to work towards to keep your engine running. This is when it’s all about actively chasing PRs on the bar, and training like an animal in the process.
The best way to set these performance goals is to tie them in with your long-term transformation goals in some capacity.
For example, if your goal is to increase the size of your legs, specifically your hamstrings and your quads, rather than pinning your progress on pictures that don’t show new slabs of muscle each time, 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.
For instance, assuming that your form is standardised throughout, if you can go from a 140kg Romanian Deadlift for 6 reps and turn that into 160kg for 6 reps, your hamstrings are going to grow!
Switching your mindset from an aesthetic mindset to a performance mindset is a key accelerator to a successful transformation and can really help with boosting your motivation in the long-term.
Just because change isn’t instantaneous, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. The increase in weight and strength is a key indicator that your training is proving successful. Eventually, total transformation will take form, it just takes a while to build a strong foundation so it’s easier to maintain being in the shape of your life, for life.