Far too many young lifters step into the gym and expect one 4-week training cycle to transform them from a prepubescent boy to The Rock. Naturally, they don't achieve their goal and they either begin searching "how to" articles on the internet or they throw in the towel.
But the muscle building process is a journey. You need patience and a sensible idea of what you can achieve on what timeline. Author Alan Aragon devised a clear-cut breakdown of the maximum rate of muscle gain:
- Beginner: 1 to 1.5% total body weight per month
- Intermediate: .5 to 1% total body weight per month
- Advanced: .25 to .5% total body weight per month
Let's put these numbers to work. Let's say Ben is a busy dude who hasn't lifted much. He's 155 pounds, 19 years old, and he has the hormone profile of a raging bull. If Ben trains hard 3-5 times per week, nails his diet, and recovers adequately, here's what he can expect:
Year One: Ben weighs 155 pounds at 14% body fat.
- 155 x .01 = 1.55 pounds per month x 12 months = 18.6 pounds per year.
- 155 pounds x .015% = 2.325 pounds of muscle per month x 12 months = 28 pounds per year.
If Ben is completely dialed in, he could be anywhere from 173-183 pounds after one year. We'll pick 178 pounds, splitting the difference.
Year Two: Ben weighs 178 pounds.
- 178 pounds x .0075% = 1.31 pounds per month or 15 pounds of muscle in a year.
Ben is still gaining at an impressive rate and now weighs about 193 pounds.
Year Three: Ben weighs 193 pounds.
- 193 pounds x 0.0025 = .48 pounds of muscle per month, or 5 pounds in year three.
This puts Ben at 198 pounds at 15% body fat after three years of dedicated training. Now, this sounds great for three years, but young lifters seldom have the foresight to see three years down the road.
Genetic outliers and steroid use notwithstanding, you can expect to gain 2-3 pounds of muscle per month as a true beginner, 1-2 pounds of muscle per month as an intermediate, and 0-.5 of a pound per month as you get more advanced. Water weight and fat will add a few more pounds, but it takes a lot of time to build lean muscle, even if you're doing everything right.
Tailor your expectations and buckle down for the long haul. Building muscle without getting fat isn't a one-night stand; it's a committed relationship.