As a former 103 pound skinny runt I wanted nothing more than to build muscle. I figured more strength and muscle would help me in sports and more importantly, to get laid.
Unfortunately, I fell prey the same misinformation you probably see today.
“Add an inch to your arms this week!”
“Add ten pounds of mass in BulkTober!”
Whatever the marketing hype, I bought it…along with the supplements and miracle workouts programs sponsoring the overhyped programs. Chances are, you’ll have the same experience.
Realistic Muscle Building Expectations
Before setting any goal, you must know what’s physically possible.
For example, I’m 5’9”. It’s an unrealistic expectation that I can make a living playing left tackle and protecting Aaron Rodgers blindside.
Just as I can’t expect to make a living playing left tackle, the average bro can’t expect to eat, train, and look like a bodybuilder.
Further, for most guys who want to look bigger, they’d be best served by getting leaner first. Getting leaner-10-12% where you can see some abs–will show more definition through your chest, arms, and back. Plus, the leaner you are, the less body fat you’ll store when bulking up.
Consider getting leaner first before trying to build muscle.
The Scientific Models of Muscle Growth
The Lyle McDonald Genetic Muscular Potential Model is the golden standard when it comes to determining “how much muscle you can build.”
For starters, this model is built for natural, drug-free guys. Second, this is the maximum potential–meaning if you do everything right, this is what you can expect. Most guys don’t do everything right, whether they’re not eating enough, not training correctly, or skipping on sleep.
What does this mean?
Building muscle is a slow process. Agonizingly slow, to be exact. Most guys scoff at the idea of only adding one or two pounds of muscle per month, trade in their beer money for weight gainer shakes, and add up building their FUPA faster than their biceps.
When it comes to building muscle, play the long game. The longer you lift and train correctly, the longer it’s going to take, likely capping your muscle growth at 40-50 pounds, total.
As you progress, it gets exponentially harder to build lean muscle.
For example, a 30-year-old or 40-year-old silver-back bro will struggle to gain as fast as an 18-year-old male with the testosterone of a raging bull.
Realistic Muscle Building In Action
Let me tell you about David.
David is a 21-year-old college student. He lifted weights in high school and as a freshman in college but fell off every few weeks. David would rather play Call of Duty, drink cheap beer, and chase girls. Not a sad life too different from my college days.
Unfortunately, girls don’t often date quiet, timid guys who resemble their cute nephew.
David grew sick of the same old same old and decided to build muscle once and for all.
At 140 pounds, David follows a workout plan based on getting stronger in the gym with exercises like squats, deadlifts, rows, and bench presses. He’s training four days per week and tracking his workouts.
He’ll no longer eat “a lot.”
To find how many calories he needs to eat, he took his bodyweight (pounds) x18.
140x 18= 2520 calories.
He’s eating 1g of protein per pound, (140g) and plenty of carbs and fats to fill the rest of his diet.
He’s tracking his diet, drinking less beer, and even sleeping eight hours per night.
Here’s what he can expect.
Year One: Beginner
Woohoo! David built a decent amount of lean muscle. Here’s how it breaks down:
140lbs x .0125 (rate of total body weight per month) = 1.75 pounds per month = 21 pounds per year.
David gained nearly 2 pounds of lean muscle per month and now weighs 161 pounds. Goodbye, little t-shirts and hello, mediums.
Year Two: Intermediate
For the first time, David started to hit a wall with his workouts. Luckily, he tweaked his routine by working with me as his online coach (shameless plug, I know; did I mention I now have a mortgage, a beautiful lady to please and a dog to feed?) David started to add lean muscle again.
161 lbs X .0075 (rate of total body weight per month) = 1.2 pounds per month or 14 pounds in a year. David is still gaining at an impressive rate.
David gained about a pound per muscle and now weighs 175 pounds. He’s lean with a few abs showing and appears much bigger than he is. David deadlifts 405 lbs and looks better than 90% of guys in the gym.
As to whether his dating life is improving, I leave that to your imagination.
Year Three: STILL Intermediate
David has learned a lot. He might not be a gym Jedi, but he’s every bit a Han Solo.
He knows how to make subtle adjustments to his training. He tracks his workouts and “feels” when he needs to push harder or dial back. He’s in the zone and pushing his body to the max.
175 lbs x 0.0037 (rate of total body weight per month) = 0.65 pounds of muscle per month, or 7.7 pounds in a year.
David gained almost eight pounds in his third year and now weighs 183 pounds.
His strength gains slowed down, so he added more training volume to focus on building muscle. Right now, he’s at a level most folks won’t ever reach in the gym.
How did David do it?
Well, he’s been consistent.
David can continue making progress, but the process will be slow. He’s creeping towards his genetic limit for size and strength. He might gain a few pounds per year, but he’s not piling on 30 pounds of new muscle like a newb.
After a few years of solid training, your progress will slow to a trickle. No biggie, it’s part of the game when you’re no longer makin’ newbie gains.
Again, your reaction to slower progress is key. Don’t try every method under the sun and end up with information overload, like most lifters. Instead, reconsider down on your expectations and review your progress.
Are you willing to dedicate every aspect of your life for bigger arms or a more symmetrical body?
If not, consider continuing on your path and understanding you’ll still make progress, but it’s going to be a journey.
Remember most guys can build around 40-50 pounds of lean mass.
Gaining more than the aforementioned 40-50 pounds requires an elite level of discipline (like competitive bodybuilders) and potentially, a good pharmacist. Not here to judge in either way, but facts are facts.
You can gain 1-2 pounds of lean muscle as a beginner and gradually less; .2 – .5 lbs per month after. The process is slow when looking forward, but well worth the journey.
Follow Eric and get tons of awesome fitness advice on his Instagram at Bach Performance.
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