The Timeline for Building Muscle

Getting muscular and building big biceps, thick thighs and boulder shoulders isn't a quick process. Building muscle takes time and consistency in your approach to training and nutrition.

Building muscles takes time. (Image: South_agency/E+/GettyImages)

When starting on your journey from scrawny to brawny, a realistic expectation of your muscle gain timeline involved can help keep you on track.

Muscle Gain Timeline

The rate of muscle building differs for men and women. Men will naturally build muscle quicker due to their higher levels of testosterone, but for both sexes, the rate of muscle gain slows the longer you've been training.

According to nutritionist Leigh Peele, newbie male lifters can expect to gain 1.5 pounds of muscle per month. Intermediate lifters can gain around 0.5 pound per month, while advanced lifters may only gain 0.25 pound per month. For women, these numbers drop to 0.5 to one pound for newbies, 0.3 to 0.4 pounds for intermediates and 0.1 to 0.2 for advanced women.

Stages of Muscle Growth

Contrary to popular belief, you don't actually build muscle while you're lifting weights. You do need to lift weights to add mass, but training actually causes muscle breakdown. There are three stages of muscle growth.

The first stage is the breakdown, caused by lifting weights at a high intensity. The second stage is an increase in certain hypertrophy-specific hormones, which begins during the session and continues as you rest and recover. The final stage is nutrition — you must consume an excess of calories to repair the damaged muscle tissue, helping it to grow bigger. The actual muscle you build from each workout is minimal and it takes a sustained period of intense training to build any noticeable muscle.

Keep It Consistent

Your specific bodybuilding results timeline depends on your genetics, how hard you train, how strictly you adhere to your diet and how much muscle you want to build. For optimal results, consistency is key. Hitting all your scheduled workouts, striving to get bigger and stronger and eating in a small caloric surplus will get you the fastest results possible.

For an optimal hypertrophy routine, the Department for Kinesiology and Health at Georgia State University recommends training two to four times per week, with six to nine exercises per session, with each for four to six sets of six to 12 reps. The load should be between 70 and 80 percent of your single repetition maximum with around one minute between sets.

Track Your Progress

While you will eventually be able to see changes in your body as your muscles grow, Bodybuilding.com recommends several ways of tracking your progress. Keep a log of your food intake and workout routines for reference as you monitor your results. Track your weight, but also track your body fat percentage as that will give you more specific information about the changes taking place.

Also measure the circumference of key parts of your body, such as your forearms, biceps, thighs and calves to help track your muscle growth.

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