Every weight-lifting newbie serious about transforming their body, will eventually end up asking two questions:

  1. How much muscle can I gain?
  2. How long will it take?

Now, while sometimes the more experienced lifters will dismiss these types of questions telling you to just focus on training — keeping you in the dark about these topics could actually end up doing more harm than good when it comes to reaching your goals. You see,  it’s not that they don’t have a valid point — it’s true most people are too worried about what they can and can’t accomplish without actually trying things out to see for themselves but there’s two reasons why we believe these answers are important:

  1. Managing Expectations

This is important so you don’t set yourself up for disappointment. Meeting expectations could end up being the deciding factor between whether someone sticks to their workout routine or ends up quitting because they think it isn’t working.

Men are especially prone to jump from one routine to another if they aren’t seeing results fast enough. It’s easy to point your finger and blame the routine or even begin implementing poor habits (“Why aren’t my arms growing fast enough? I need more curls!”) when you begin working out because you think you can add 10 pounds of muscle in just a few weeks.

But it’s not just men who greatly overestimate how capable they are of putting on muscle. Women also have this problem except it affects them in a different way. Unrealistic expectations harm women trying to attain a better body because they end up being afraid of even touching any weights. After all, most women just want to get “toned” and weight lifting will make them “too bulky” right?

We’ve already covered why this is baloney in this article about toning but after you finish reading this guide it should settle any and all doubt that you’d be able to just magically start putting on muscle naturally like a bodybuilder on steroids.

  1. Protecting Yourself

If you know how much and how fast you can put on muscle realistically you’ll know when you’re being lied to or getting taken advantage of. The fitness industry thrives on exploiting uneducated newbies with unrealistic expectations looking for that “one simple trick” that’s supposed to get them results fast. We believe our community is better than that so we won’t be lying to you and set you up for failure.

If you know how fast you’re actually capable of putting on muscle you’ll sidestep all the nonsense getting thrown in your direction and save some money on scam “wonder products” over promising results.

Two Equations To Calculate Your Potential Muscle Building Rate

The McDonald Method

Lyle McDonald from bodyrecomposition.com developed an equation to help estimate how fast you should realistically expect to be able to put on muscle:

McDonald Equation for Males

Basically, in year one you can expect about ½ a pound of muscle per week. Note that this is pure muscle NOT weight which includes fat. So the average male, after a year of focused training and optimal circumstances can put on as much as 24 pounds of pure muscle. This is close to the maximum limit. Be wary of any -one/thing promising results quicker than this.

Women should use values half of the numbers above. So at best you’re looking at about 12 pounds of muscle after a year of training or about 1 pound per month. Definitely not something that’ll get you looking like the Incredible Hulk.

McDonald Female Equation

The Aragon Method

Alan Aragon is another well-respected fitness expert who has his own equation (notice that both models are pretty similar in terms of the results you should expect).

Aragon Model

Using this equation, a beginner weighing in at 150 pounds can expect to gain anywhere between 1.5 to 2 ¼ pounds of muscle per month. After a year of lifting you’ll then use the intermediate category and should expect to weigh in at around 170. After two years you’d be considered advanced and any gains that come by will slow to a crawl. The numbers for women using this equation will once again be way lower, about half of what they are for men.

Note that these models are assuming you’re getting enough rest, eating enough food and of the right kind, and also on an ideal muscle building workout plan. Most people who aren’t dedicated should expect to put on less muscle than the numbers they get using the equations above simply because most people won’t actually train consistently for a year (we hope this isn’t you).

You should also remember that while these models show you what’s possible, whether you’re on the high side or low side of the range depends on a number of things besides gender. Not everyone is the same after all.

So let’s take a look at some of these factors.

5 Factors That Will Affect How Fast You’ll Be Able to Build Muscle

1) Genetics: Like it or not, this is one of the biggest factors determining how quickly you’ll be able to build up your body. Genetics affect everything from your natural levels of key hormones like testosterone, to how thick your frame is, to your bone structure and to the length of your muscles. These are all factors which will impact your muscle gaining abilities and cannot be changed on their own without some “outside help”.

Most people fall in the middle of the bell curve and should expect steady progress but there will be a few outliers on either end who’ll have a dramatically easier or harder time. If you’re a “hardgainer” (someone who has a hard time putting on muscle), it’ll be a slower journey for sure but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. You’ll have to work for it and have less room for error but can still get there. And if you’re on the other end, well, give your mom or dad a call thanking them for the genes.

2) Age: It should be a surprise to no one that the older you are, the harder it’ll be to put on muscle. Someone in their late teens or early 20s with sky-high hormones will have an easier time than a 45 year old man with dwindling testosterone (let alone a woman).

3) Training Level: The good news for beginners is that they’ll be able to see the majority of their genetic potential in just the first year. When you’re body is untrained, you’ll make progress much quicker than someone who’s been at it for years.

Another way your training level influences your muscle building rate is if you’ve already trained a decent amount in the past and lost muscle you used to have. Regaining lost muscle will come much quicker compared to someone who never had that muscle in the first place thanks to “muscle memory” which helps keep your body in a state of homeostasis (meaning it likes to stay the same).

4) Effort: Will you be taking multiple cheat days per month? Will you be getting enough rest and sleeping at least 7 hours a day? Will you be skipping workouts because “you don’t feel like it today”? The less effort you put into your workouts and routine, the longer it’ll take for you to reach your goals. If you make a serious commitment, and don’t slack anywhere you’ll attain your dream body much faster than someone just showing up to the gym to say they did it and going through the motions.

5) Your Routine: If you aren’t getting enough protein, aren’t eating the right foods, or are focusing on the wrong exercises and workout programs (*cough crossfit cough*), you won’t be able to build up muscle as quick as someone who’s on an optimal diet and workout program.

Some of these are controllable, some of them are not. It’s up to YOU to make the most of your circumstances and use every advantage you can get (an optimal routine and effort) to overcome any obstacles ( likely age or genetics).

Summary

Putting together an impressive body while staying natural takes time. If you see anyone claiming that you’ll be able to put on muscle any faster than ½ pound per week for guys and ¼ of a pound per week for girls you should begin raising your eyebrows.

Without steroids, any faster is either a complete genetic anomaly or a flat out lie. And while it may seem slower than you’d like, remember you’ll make most of your progress in years 1 and 2 so it’s not like you’ll have to be at it for a decade to build up a respectable physique.

If you have any questions or disagree with anything let us know in the comments below!