Whenever an individual embarks on a body transformation, one of the first things they want to know is “how long does it take to build muscle?”
No doubt you’ve heard a myriad of conflicting opinions from self-proclaimed muscle building experts and gurus. You may have also heard old school meatheads utter a phrase like “stop worrying and just lift.”
While the gym bros might have a point, it certainly would help if you had some kind of rough idea in regards to how long it will take to build muscle.
And that’s precisely what we’ll cover today, as we answer the age-old question...
How Long Does It Take to Build Muscle?
The simple answer to this question is that it depends.
While you might not like the answer, it’s true nevertheless.
A number of factors affect how quickly a given individual, such as:
- Training experience
- Training split
- How hard you train within the workout
- How much muscle you’ve already built
The list goes on, but you get the idea. There is no one set answer that applies to every individual in every scenario imaginable.
For instance, an individual who isn’t consistent with their nutrition, doesn’t train hard, or get enough sleep can’t be expected to gain muscle as soon as someone who trains hard, eats right, and gets 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
Furthermore, let’s suppose that both a novice and an advanced lifter train equally hard, eat plenty, and sleep enough each night. They won’t gain muscle at the same rate due to the fact that novices haven’t built as much muscle (meaning they’re not as close to their genetic muscle-building limit) and they’re also new to training (inexperienced lifters are more responsive to training stimuli than an individual who has been training regularly for years).
As you can see, it’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how long does it take to build muscle.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that the individuals looking for the answer are newbies to lifting, and they’re doing everything they should be doing to facilitate maximum muscle building.
How long should it take them?
According to a comprehensive literature review published in 2007, the average rate of muscle gain (as assessed by tracking increases in muscle cross-sectional area) was 0.1-0.2% per day.
To put that in terms of real-world results -- if you just started hitting the gym regularly, and you want to add an inch to your arms, you should expect it to take at the very least 2-4 months.
However, you may start to notice some small physical changes in your physique much sooner, around 2-3 weeks.
Realize that research has shown that if you’re new to regular training, the body spends the first few weeks just trying to repair the damage done from the new stressor (i.e. resistance training) as opposed to building new muscle.
What this means is that you should expect to work out for at least a month before you notice any subtle changes in your physique, and at least 2-3 months before you notice any significant ones.
When it comes to assessing progress via body weight scale, you can expect to gain 4-8 lbs of muscle during your first 3 months of training.
Still, it’s not unheard of for individuals to gain 2-3 times this amount -- remember, studies merely report averages, and genetics do play a role in how much muscle you can build as well as how fast you can build it.
Are Rates of Muscle Gain Different for Women?
This may come as a shock, but no, women do not gain muscle at a substantially different rate from men, despite what you may have heard.
Multiple studies have shown that women can build just as much muscle as men can, relatively speaking.
Basically, men start out with a greater amount of muscle mass on their bodies compared to women. However, the percent increase in muscle mass that men obtain in response to training is about the same percent increase a woman will experience.
For example, if a man starts with 90lbs of muscle mass and gained 9 lbs of muscle from resistance training (a 10% increase in muscle mass), a woman starting with 55 lbs of muscle can expect to gain around 5.5-6lbs from consistent training (again an increase of 10%).
There’s no other way to say it -- gaining muscle takes time, considerably more time than losing an equivalent amount of body fat.
As such, if you’re new to training, expect to train hard for at least 4 weeks before you start noticing subtle changes in your physique. If you’re more experienced, the rate of muscle growth is a bit slower due to your body already has built a good amount of muscle and the fact that your body is already accustomed to training hard.
Remember, though, that fitness is a journey, not a destination. Therefore, don’t be discouraged if your rate of muscle growth might seem slower than another’s. Focus on the improvements you can make in the gym (lifting more weight, more reps, more sets, etc.), and let the rest take care of itself.
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