What's a typical rate of muscle gain? Unfortunately the short answer is "It depends," because everyone's body responds to stimulus a little differently. But in general, the average exerciser can expect to gain about 3 pounds of muscle in two months of strength training.
Ultimately, every body responds at a different rate to the stimulus that promotes muscle growth. But as a general rule, the average adult adds about 3 pounds of muscle after two months of strength training.
How Muscle Growth Happens
If you've chosen muscle building as a fitness priority, it helps to understand how your body puts that extra muscle on — otherwise you might find yourself doing things that are actually counterproductive to your goals.
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The nutshell version, drawn from a discussion by exercise physiologists with the University of New Mexico, is that intense exercise (such as resistance training) causes minor trauma to your muscle fibers. This activates satellite cells on the outsides of your muscle fibers that then multiply and fuse, forming new muscle fibers and repairing the old ones.
But this doesn't happen during your workout; it happens during the rest period after your workout. That's why a mindset of "More is always better" can be counterproductive when it comes to weight training. The truth is that more stimulus usually does provoke more results — but only if you also allow your muscles sufficient rest and recovery time in between bouts. Otherwise you're just repeatedly traumatizing them but leaving them no time to put themselves back together, in a very literal sense.
Your Rate of Muscle Gain
How can you quantify the amount of muscle that's gained — especially in the face of sometimes contradictory studies about exactly which methods provoke the most muscle growth? ExRx.net reports that, as a general gauge, an average adult adds about 3 pounds of muscle after two months of strength training.
But if you get less (or more) muscle gain than that, don't worry: You're not necessarily doing anything wrong. As noted in a small study of 20 subjects, published in the April 2019 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, individual strength and hypertrophy (muscle growth) responses can vary quite a bit, even under the same stimuli.
Of course, retained water, hormonal changes, shifts in body fat and even what you had for breakfast can affect your weight on the scale — so weighing yourself isn't always the best way to measure how your muscles have grown.
On the simplistic side of things, tracking how much weight you're able to lift can give you a relative idea of your muscle gains. Although the relationship between muscle strength and muscle size is a little different for everybody, increased muscular strength almost always correlates to some degree of increased muscle size too.
A pound of muscle takes up less space on your body than a pound of fat, so even if the scale doesn't budge, tracking how your clothes fit can also give you an idea of how your body composition is shifting from adipose (fatty) tissue to muscle.
But if you're really serious about tracking your rate of muscle gain, the best item in your home arsenal is a flexible measuring tape. Whip that puppy out and start measuring the circumference of whichever muscles you want to track — for example, your upper arms or your thighs — at set points in relation to anatomical markers such as the crest of your hipbone or the point of your elbow and the bump at the top of your shoulder.
Write those measurements down, and then recheck them periodically, making sure you always measure at the same point in relation to those markers.
Read more: How Fast Can I Build Bigger Legs?
Tips for Muscle Growth
If you want to pack on more muscle, there are a few things you can do. One of the first is to add more sets: According to a systematic review published in the June 2017 issue of the Journal of Sports Sciences, there's a clear dose-response between the number of resistance-training sets you do in a week and the rate of muscle gain in the trained body part(s). In other words, the more sets you do with a given muscle, the more that muscle will grow.
Adding additional workouts for the week can help too. In a meta-analysis published in the November 2016 issue of the New Zealand journal Sports Medicine, researchers placed the ideal strength-training frequency at one to three times each week per muscle group, and noted that strength-training twice a week yielded notably more gains in muscle size than doing so once a week. However, they note that there is not as yet, clear proof of whether strength training three times a week is more effective than twice a week for muscle gains.
You still need to allow each muscle group at least 48 hours of rest time between intense workouts. And finally, make sure you introduce any increases in workout frequency or intensity gradually, so that your body has a chance to adapt to the new challenges you're presenting it with. Doing too much, too fast often leads to injury, and that's guaranteed to set back your muscle-building journey.
Read more: What Is the Fastest Way to Build Muscle Naturally?
Muscle Building Through Nutrition
Just hitting the gym isn't enough to build bigger muscles. Your body also needs the right nutrients — in particular, protein — for creating the new muscle tissue. Think of sports nutrition as if you were asking a child to build a tower out of plastic blocks, but you don't actually give them the blocks. That exchange won't end well, and you certainly won't get the tower you wanted. In a similar way, the only way to get results from your body is by giving it the proper material for assembling that new muscle.
Of course, scratch a dozen nutritionists and you'll get at least a handful of different approaches to how much protein you need. One of the most authoritative guidelines possible comes from the International Society of Sports Nutrition — in the June 2017 issue of the Society's Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, it notes that for most individuals, a daily protein intake of 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is enough to maintain and build muscle mass.
Nutrition labels list macronutrients such as protein in grams, but if you're in the U.S. you probably think of your weight in terms of pounds. That works out to 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per every 2.2 pounds of body weight; for most people, the math is much easier if you just convert your body weight to kilograms. For a rough and ready conversion, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms.
So, for example, if you weigh 150 pounds, that works out to 150 ÷ 2.2 = 68.2 kilograms. So your ideal protein intake would be between 1.4 × 68.2 = 95.5 grams per day (a low limit) and 2.0 × 68.2 = 136.4 grams per day (a high limit).
And if you weigh 200 pounds, that works out to 200 ÷ 2.2 = 90.9 kilograms. Your ideal protein intake would be between 1.4 × 90.9 = 127.3 grams per day (a low limit) and 2.0 × 90.9 = 181.8 grams per day (a high limit).
- ExRx.net: "Toning With Weights"
- University of New Mexico: "How Do Muscles Grow?"
- Sports Medicine: "Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and Exercise"
- Journal of Sports Sciences: "Dose-Response Relationship Between Weekly Resistance Training Volume and Increases in Muscle Mass: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "Individual Muscle Hypertrophy and Strength Responses to High vs. Low Resistance Training Frequencies"