In a world where you can get anything you want – think: food, clothes, a date from Tinder, etc. – delivered to your door at the tap of a button (or with a swipe of your finger) in just a few hours, it’s a little frustrating how you don’t even have an estimate of how long it’d take for you to see visible muscle growth 🙃
Seriously… If you’re a guy, how soon can you expect your biceps to bulge from a muscle T? And if you’re a woman, when would you be able to show off those booty gains?
Ready for some hard truths? Building muscle takes time; lots of it. Sorry. It’s a slow (almost excruciatingly so!) process that takes much longer than you’d expect it to – unless, of course, you turn to ‘quick fixes’ like steroids or SARMs (but this is a topic for another day, probably).
But wait. How long, exactly?
Honest answer? Nobody really knows. There is so much inter-individuality variation in muscle growth rates that it's almost impossible to predict in advance just how much muscle you'll gain over a certain period. Not all hope is lost, however.
Scientists still do have a rough estimate of the amount of muscle mass you can expect to build within a given time frame – if (and only if!) you’re training hard and eating right. Let’s explore.
Explain muscle growth to me again?
First, let’s have a recap of how muscle growth works in the first place.
You probably already know this, so we’ll keep it short. Here’s a brief breakdown of how muscle hypertrophy occurs:
Each muscle of yours is made up of thousands of tiny muscle fibers.
When you lift weights (or even just do bodyweight exercises), you cause micro-tears to these muscle fibers.
Then, when you rest (e.g. sleep, take a recovery day, etc.), your body begins repairing these damaged muscle cells.
The repair process involves fusing torn muscle fibers back together, plus laying down new proteins within each muscle cell.
As a result, your muscles become bigger and stronger (i.e. muscle hypertrophy).
How much muscle mass can I build a month?
Right. So, just how fast can you build muscle, provided you do everything stated here (read: everything you need to take care of for maximum muscle growth)?
A recent 2020 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Research offers some insight into that. On average, researchers found that participants can increase their muscle size by anywhere between 1% to 6% per month.
To put this into perspective: let’s assume that your muscle growth rate is somewhere in the middle – neither too fast nor too slow – at 3% per month.
That means that if you currently have 30.48 cm arms, a realistic increase in arm circumference after a month would only be 0.91 cm.
Honestly? That’d be barely visible.
That said, this obviously accumulates (and likely compounds) over time.
Your actual age and lifting age also impact your muscle growth rate
But, of course, you have to realize that in addition to your protein intake, calorie intake, sleep schedule, and lifting routine itself, various factors may impact just how long it takes for you to notice significant muscle growth.
And if you’ve read the header above, you’d know just what these factors are:
• Actual age – Like many things in life, building muscle gets harder as you get older. Thus, explaining why sarcopenia (i.e. loss of muscle mass and function) is actually a big problem in older adults. Luckily, many of the associated issues can be alleviated through physical activity and, yep, you guessed it: strength training.
• Training age – As unfair as this might sound, it’s an unavoidable fact in the strength training world: the more advanced you are, the less muscle growth you’ll see in a month. More of a numbers kind of person? Of course; numbers are what you’ll get with Alan Aragon’s (note: one of the most respected nutritionists in the world) muscle growth model, as previously covered in his monthly review articles:
o Beginner (assuming 63.5 kg) – 0.68 kg to 0.91 kg of muscle/month
o Intermediate (assuming 72.6 kg) – 0.36 kg to 0.73 kg of muscle/month
o Advanced (assuming 81.6 kg) – 0.18 kg to 0.36 kg of muscle/month
Make sure you're doing these things to stay motivated
By now, it should be clear to you that visible muscle growth is not a matter of weeks but instead months and – quite possibly – years of consistent hard work.
But as painfully slow as the process is, you cannot give up.
That’s because, as mentioned earlier, even 0.5 cm worth of muscle growth would accumulate and compound over time. Eventually giving you the impressive arms (or butt, or anywhere, really!) you’re looking for.
But this begs the question: how do you stay motivated to stay the course?
Especially when you can’t see the progress on a day-to-day basis? Easy. If you can’t track your progress visually, then track it in another way! For instance:
• Muscle circumference measurements – You might not be able to see a 0.6 cm increase in your thigh circumference, but you’d definitely be able to measure it! Although, do consider taking the following precautions to improve the reliability of this method:
o Be consistent with where you measure (e.g. how many cm above the knee cap?)
o Take the average of multiple measurements
o Measure every couple of months or so
• Strength and rep performance in your exercises – Strength is positively correlated to the amount of muscle carry on your body. Thus, an easy way to see if you're gaining muscle is to look at your lifting records. Consistently hitting new weights and rep ranges (i.e. increased volume) in the gym? Then you're likely putting on muscle.
Find it a hassle to bring a physical notebook to the gym?
Let’s be real. Sometimes, remembering to bring all your gym accessories, including your lifting straps, can be a challenge in and of itself – what more a physical notebook (plus, there’s also the fact you’ll have to use it in the gym!) What a hassle.
Well, good news for you: there’s no need to flip through a physical notebook if you don’t want to.
Just use GymStreak – the AI-powered personal trainer app that allows you to log down your training records easily, so you can see (at a glance) just how fast you've been building muscle.
Bonus: if you wanted to, the app can also develop a personalized, science-backed training plan that'll get you building muscle as fast as you naturally could. Interested? Then check it out here:Get GymStreak
Dhillon, R. J., & Hasni, S. (2017). Pathogenesis and Management of Sarcopenia. Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, 33(1), 17–26. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cger.2016.08.002
Evaluating the results of resistance training using ultrasound or flexed arm circumference: A case for keeping it simple? (2020). Journal of Clinical and Translational Research. https://doi.org/10.18053/jctres.06.202002.004
Krzysztofik, M., Wilk, M., Wojdała, G., & Gołaś, A. (2019). Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(24). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16244897
Perry, M., CSCS, & CPT. (2011, October 13). How Fast Can You Build Muscle? 5 Factors That Affect Muscle Growth. BuiltLean. https://www.builtlean.com/how-fast-can-you-build-muscle-5-factors-that-affect-muscle-growth/
Wernbom, M., Augustsson, J., & Thomee, R. (2007). The Influence of Frequency, Intensity, Volume and Mode of Strength Training on Whole Muscle Cross-Sectional Area in Humans. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 37, 225–264. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200737030-00004