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The Truth About How Long It Takes to Build Muscle

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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Building muscle isn’t an exact science, so the timeline for growth can differ from person to person. However, some scientific truths about muscle gains can help us develop an accurate understanding of how long it takes to build muscle. But how long is required to build muscle? Let’s take a look.

What’s the Science Behind Muscle Growth?

The primary goal of resistance training is muscle hypertrophy, which occurs when you stretch the muscle fibers until they tear slightly and then repair. Each time they tear and repair themselves, they grow stronger.

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Amino acids are vital for muscle repair. They are the building blocks that are most commonly found in protein. Your body will constantly use the protein that enters your body, but if you don’t have enough protein coming in, you won’t see noticeable muscle growth. Taking in more protein than your body uses allows your muscle fibers to grow. Not getting enough protein can actually cause muscle loss.

Protein synthesis increases both from the protein you eat along with the resistance workouts you do. So working on both your diet and your weight-lifting routine can make all the difference.

Protein isn’t the only thing that affects muscle growth, though, Hormones like testosterone, growth hormones, and other nutrients also contribute to your growth.

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How to Tell If You’re Gaining Weight or Building Muscle

When you step on the scale, you’ll notice an increase in numbers if you’re gaining fat or if you’re building muscle. So if you’re trying to lose fat and gain muscle, you can’t use the scale as your only way of defining it.

Usually, fat gain and muscle gain look significantly different. The fat gain will add a softer bulk to your body while muscle gain will be harder and more defined.

You’ll also notice that your strength has increased with muscle growth while you’ll likely feel a little weaker and more fatigue with fat gain.

We’ll go into more detail later on in this article.

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How to Gain Muscle and Not Fat

The dynamics of muscle gain vs. fat gain are completely opposite. If you’re gaining muscle, you’ll be focusing on resistance training and eating more grams of protein. If you’re gaining fat, you’ll eat more carelessly and won’t perform the same resistance strength training.

For most people trying to gain muscle and avoid fat, diet is the biggest hurdle. You’ll likely be working out, but your calorie intake will be a problem. You might fail to get enough good calories and protein, which means your muscles suffer.

So focus on eating good high-calorie foods like starchy carbs, fruits, nuts, and dairy. These will give your body the calories and protein necessary to build those amino acids and repair your muscles properly.

An Accurate Timeline for Building Muscle

Whether you’re at the start of your muscle-gaining journey or toward the end, it can help your progress to know what to expect. Let’s look at how quickly you can build muscle no matter where you are in your journey.

Beginners

Men who are just starting to lift will experience a longer time frame of building muscle compared with those who have been working for the last 10 years to achieve the same goal.

Let’s assume that you’re sticking to a rigid training plan and eating all the right foods to promote muscle growth. For most beginners, the timeline might look like this:

1 month: 2 lbs of muscle gain from start

3 months: 5-7 lbs of muscle gain from start

6 months: 10-12 lbs of muscle gain from start

1 year: 20-24 lbs of muscle gain from start

These gains of 0.5 lbs to 2 lbs per month typically last about a year for newbies. However, some will experience faster or slower gains depending on a few factors. Genetics, experience in fitness, consistent training intensity, and diet will all impact these numbers.

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  • Tested for purity and safety
  • Creatine has no known side effects
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Experienced Lifters

Muscle gains tend to decrease after the first year of training, so experienced lifters will see a different trajectory of growth. On average, a person’s muscle gain might look like this:

Year 2 Muscle Growth: 1lb of muscle per month

Year 3 Muscle Growth: 0.5lbs of muscle per month

Year 4 Muscle Growth: 0.1-0.5 pounds of muscle per month

Years 5-10 Muscle Growth: 1lb of muscle per year

If you want to continue gaining, you must put in the work, lifting heavier weights, doing different exercises, getting enough calories, eating the right foods, and even using supplements.

Men vs. Women

Men and women also gain muscle at different rates. A man will typically gain muscle twice as fast as a woman will. That means a woman can expect 0.5-1lb of muscle every month.

So while a man could gain 20-24lbs of muscle in the first year with proper training and diet, a woman will only gain 10-12lbs of muscle.

Gains also slow significantly after the first year for both men and women. Women will also see about half the amount of gains as men after the first year. So while a man might gain a pound of muscle per month during the second year, a woman will only gain about 0.5 lbs of monthly mass.

Under 40 vs. Over 40

While muscle growth never stops, most people will start to see a decrease in gains after age 40. This is primarily due to your aging body losing about 1% of your muscle mass every year after age 40. So while you’re still gaining muscle from your workouts, you’ll compete against natural muscle loss of age.

Age 50 is around the mark when it becomes noticeably harder to build muscle. From then on, it’s a steady decline until around age 65-70, when the decline is more rapid.

Anyone can gain muscle, whether you’re 19 or 90. But recognize that those gains will slow as you age.

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Cardio vs. Crossfit vs. Weight Lifting

As we’ve established, weight lifting will help you see gains at about 0.5 lbs-2 lbs per month for the first year. Use this as a benchmark to compare cardio and CrossFit.

Cardio is a fat-burning, muscle-toning, full-body workout. You’ll burn fat and look more toned if you pair it with a good diet. It strengthens your muscles and improves your endurance, but you don’t usually gain muscle from cardio. So, don’t expect to see any gains from cardio sessions.

CrossFit, on the other hand, incorporates strength training, weight lifting, and aerobic exercise, so you’ll likely see a faster rate of muscle gain. However, it won’t compare to what you can gain when lifting weights. You use lighter weights in CrossFit, so you’re more likely to gain lean muscle mass.

Women doing CrossFit can expect to gain between 0.1-0.25 lbs of muscle per month and men can expect about 0.5 lb per month. At the same time, it will improve your endurance and mobility, which can be an attraction to CrossFit.

5 Signs You’re Successfully Building Muscle

When analyzing your health, it’s not always easy to tell what’s happening within your body. Are you gaining fat or building muscle?

Let’s break it down into more manageable pieces. Here are five signs that you’re actually building muscle.

1. Weight Gain

As we just discussed, weight gain is part of either fat gain or muscle gain. So as you gain muscle, you might see an increase on the scale.

This is typical for those who don’t have a lot of excess fat to lose. Muscle is heavier than fat, so if you’re seeing serious gains, you’ll certainly see an increase in the scale numbers.

Keep in mind that if you’re truly gaining muscle, you should be losing fat. So the scale increase may not be super noticeable for those with plenty of fat to lose.

2. Changes in How Your Clothes Fit

Body composition changes are among the most desirable benefits of muscle building. At first, you’ll notice a more toned body, so your clothes may fit more loosely. But if you don’t have a lot of fat to lose, you’ll see an increase in muscle size, and your clothes will become tighter.

Most beginners can expect to notice body composition changes within the first month of weight training and significant changes in the first six months.

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3. You Can Lift More

You’ll start to notice that the weights you’ve been using for the last week or two are a little easier to lift. You can lift more, which is a simple and obvious message that your muscles are growing.

At this point, increase what you lift to keep your growth on an upward trajectory. Your muscle cells and fibers will respond more quickly if you keep increasing weight at intervals.

4. You Can See the Growth in Your Muscles

It never hurts to do a little flexing in the mirror and see what definition you can see. If true muscle growth is at play, your softer edges will start to firm up and harden. Eventually, you’ll start to see the definition in your muscles.

It helps to take pictures at certain intervals so you can see the progress you’ve made. You might take one at the start of your weight training and then every 3-4 weeks after. You’ll be amazed at the progress you see.

5. Changes in Fat Content

Your overall physique will change because you’re losing fat. If you’ve been consistently working on each body part, you should see a firmer physique head to toe.

You can use an at-home scale that measures body fat to assess how much you had before you started working out and how much you have now.

You can also order a DXA/DEXA scan from a healthcare professional that gives you a more accurate measure of your fat vs. muscle tissue content.

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How Long Is It Safe to Work on Bulking?

For most people, bulking is not a dangerous exercise, and you can continue working on gains as long as you want. However, if you run into a medical complication or your healthcare provider recommends you stop or slow the bulking process, it’s time to back off.

Because you’re consuming excess calories to build muscle, you want to make sure you’re doing it safely and correctly. Otherwise, you could end up simply overeating and gaining fat.

5 Strategies for Rapid Muscle Growth

Your muscle growth journey will vary based on your routine, habits, and genetics. So if you’re not happy with your results, check yourself. Here are five strategies anyone can use to increase muscle growth.

1. Eat Plenty of Protein and Productive Calories

Replace empty calories with productive ones like complex carbs, protein, and good fats.

Dairy, lean meats, eggs, dark green leafy veggies, avocado, nut butters, plant-based oils, seafood, starchy vegetables like potatoes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will give your body the nutrients and calories it needs to gain.

Avoid junk food, sugars, and other foods that don’t do your body any favors.

2. Focus on Regimented Strength Training

Floating around the weight room doing whatever lifts strike your fancy won’t provide the gains you seek. You need a regimented strength training routine. Three days per week should be devoted to weight lifting and bodyweight exercises and the rest should be lightly active rest and muscle recovery days.

At this time, you want to avoid too much cardio. A light jog or bike ride on a rest day is great, but if you take it too far, you’ll start to burn too many calories that you need for gains.

3. Let Yourself Max Out

You might not be lifting heavy enough weights, which challenges your gains. Choosing the right weight can be a delicate balance. Lifting too much could result in injury while not enough won’t do you any favors.

As a general rule, your weights should be manageable enough that you can lift them, but heavy enough that you can’t do more than the allotted number of reps you’re doing.

So, if you’re doing 8 bicep curl reps, the eighth and final rep of the set should be so difficult that you can’t possibly perform another rep. This is called maxing out, and it’s essential for gains.

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4. Don’t Forget to Rest

Without rest, your muscles can’t repair and grow. While you lift, your muscles experience tiny tears. When your body repairs them, it forms new tissue to fill the space in the tear, leading to growth. Daily lifting will constantly tear your muscles, giving you no time to repair and grow.

This is why it’s vital to target different muscles on your lift days and to take rests. It gives your body the necessary time it needs to repair and grow. Make sure you get plenty of sleep as well.

Rest days should be spent with lightly active exercises to keep the body engaged without stressing the muscles.

5. Give It Time to Work

Don’t lose hope if you haven’t seen major muscle growth within the first month of training. Consistency and patience will win this game. Stick with your training plan, increasing weights as you go. Continue tracking your progress, and you’ll see the results you want with time.

FAQs About How Long It Takes to Build Muscle

Is Cardio a Good Exercise for Building Muscle?

No, cardio is great for burning fat, but it won’t help you build muscle. It can help you gain endurance, which has its merits in weight training. But typically, lifters want to avoid overdoing cardio so that the caloric burn doesn’t take away from the muscle gains.

Do Men Build Muscle Faster Than Women?

Yes, men will build muscle at about twice the rate of women. This always depends on a person’s genetics, diet, and routine, but it’s genetically much harder for women to build muscle.

How Important Is Diet in Gaining Muscle?

Diet is vital for gains. If you’re not getting enough calories, your body won’t have the fuel it needs to put toward your gains in muscle mass. Lack of protein is also a disadvantage to your muscle growth, so getting enough whole-food protein is required.

You also want to avoid empty calories, focusing on foods full of nutrients and value.

Do Sore Muscles Mean Growth?

Sore muscles are directly related to muscle growth. Sore muscles usually mean that your muscles have experienced those tiny little tears needed for growth. However, this feeling isn’t required for growth. You don’t have to feel sore for your muscles to grow. Some people are more prone to feeling sore while others are not.

How long does it take to lose muscle?

While it takes a month or more of hard work to see noticeable gains, losing muscle is a much faster and easier process. Within 2-3 weeks of being out of the gym, you’ll already see a loss of muscle mass. Some research suggests that young, new lifters can lose as much as 30 percent of their muscle strength within a month of being out of the gym!

So stay consistent and dedicated to your routine, and you’ll see gains from your hard work.

About

Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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