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How Quickly Can You Build Muscle?
"From Geek to Freak: How I Gained 34 lbs. of Muscle in 4 Weeks", "Pack on 40lbs in 12 weeks", "Build 10lbs of muscle in Just 10 days"... these are just a few of the claims I've seen made by various bodybuilding products and websites. But just how quickly can the average Joe expect to pack on muscle?
First, a Little Lesson - Don't Believe Everything You See (Hear, Read)
In 2007 Tim Ferriss returned to America from tango training in Argentina weighing 146lbs. This is when the Tim Ferris bodybuilding muscle experiment kicked into action. Just 28 days later, he had gained 34 lbs of muscle while losing 3 lbs of fat. Yet, his incredible muscle gains were apparently achieved working out only twice a week for 30 minute each time. He states he accomplished this feat by following 6 basic philosophies:
1. Tim followed a high intensity workout program where only one set of each exercise is performed, but it is performed to muscular failure. This means nothing is held back when executing each exercise. The program he based his workout on was established by Arthur Jones and called the Colorado Experiment.
2. Controlled steady repetitions are completed to a count of 5 seconds up and 5 seconds down. Each movement is precise to ensure an even load on the muscle being used.
3. Sessions are only 30 minute long and completed twice a week. He worked out his entire body each session while only focusing on 4-7 multi-joint exercises.
4. His diet consisted of massive amounts of protein. Tim avoided all “white” or processed carbohydrates except on days he lifted weights for more than 20 minutes. He created a short list of foods then mixed and matched them into dishes he ate over and over again. Drinks containing calories were prohibited. And once a week, he threw out all those rules and ate whatever he wanted with no restrictions.
5. As Tim's strength increased, he reduced the frequency of his workouts to allow more recovery time for his muscles.
6. Every workout was documented in a detailed logged. He listed the date, the time he entered and left the gym, the order of the exercises, the amount of weight used, and the number of repetitions performed. Specific information is required to evaluate growth and make corrections.
All that sounds reasonable enough, but would following this exact routine really cause someone to gain a staggering 34lbs of pure muscle, in just 4 weeks? After a little further digging, I realized that Tim had be economical with the truth. Tim states himself, in his published book (4 Hour Work Week), that in 1999 he fought in a Chinese Kick boxing Competition, with an initial weight of 193lbs.
Yep that's right, Tim had previously weighed the same as his "amazing" experiment had got him up to. While still an achievement in itself, for a lot of people this is misleading. It's clear that most of Tim's gains, were in fact re-gains, or muscle memory - the phenomenon that it's much easier to gain muscle weight you once had, than it is to gain fresh muscle.
What's my point here? Well, in short, be careful what you believe. There are some sneaky people out there. But that's not to say you can gain lots of muscle, and pretty fast too...
So How Quickly Can You Gain Muscle?
This is a loaded question, with a vast amount of variables. In fact there are so many different influencing factors there are no hard and fast rules. So I'll talk in terms of general observations...
(Note: please don't let these be limiting factors on your beliefs of how much you can gain, there are always exceptions!)
When I was new to weight training I made some excellent initial gains, going from 140lbs to 160lbs in 12 weeks. As time when on those initial gains began to slow. Over the course of another year I managed to take my weight up to 187lbs. But with each month that past, gains became slower and slower.
The general rule here is: The less you've trained and the less muscle you have, the more quickly you will gain muscle. Whilst the more muscle mass you carry and the longer you've trained (in terms of years) the slower gains will come. The first initial gains are the quickest and most noticeable...
If you are skinny and new to training, and follow good basic bodybuilding principles, there's no reason why you shouldn't make initial gains of at least 12-20lbs of muscle in 12 weeks, for some people perhaps as high as 20-30lbs, and for a very few people with good genetics, high levels of the right hormones, and the like, maybe more than 30lbs. And we're talking clean weight here, not slapping on tons of fat or water weight.
You can however maximize your gains by optimizing each of the three main cores of bodybuilding, those factors are the basic ones that a lot of bodybuilding articles cover...
1. Training - Train too much and you'll limit gains through overtraining. Train to little and you'll limit gains through under-stimulation of the body and your muscles.
2. Nutrition - Eat too much and you'll gain a higher ratio of fat to muscle. Don't eat enough and you don't provide your body with what it needs to build muscle effectively. You also need to supply your body with right sorts of foods, including low GI carbs (exception: in and around training), quality fats (e.g. fish oils) and quality proteins, so getting your hands on quality meat, egg, fish, casein protein, and best whey protein powder is essential.
3. Recovery - The often neglected part of the muscle building process. Adequate sleep means enough sleep to facilitate optimal recovery. When training hard and heavy, I found I needed at least 9 hours quality sleep, sometimes as much as 12 hours. And very often I needed a 20-30 minute afternoon nap. When I had plenty of recovery time I made my best and quickest gains - it's no coincidence.
So the trick to maximizing gains as quickly as possible is to hit the sweet spot of each of those 3 factors. There are other things that come into play, but if you can get those three factors in check, then there's a good chance you'll be packing on as much muscle as your body will allow, whilst minimizing fat gain.
As you progress over the weeks, months and years gains will slow. For a seasoned pro gains of 2lbs of lean muscle a month are fairly common - again, this is not a hard and fast rule, just a general observation. Some people may be able to sustain higher gains, however.
All this said, there is a factor far more important than how quickly you can muscle...
The Take Home Point About Building Muscle and Achievement Itself
The point I'd like to finish of this article with is this...
Understand what the human body is capable of, in terms of building muscle, then define your goals around that. Don't be disappointed if you didn't gain 34lbs in 4 weeks. That doesn't matter. It really doesn't.
Instead Focus on the long term target, work at it steadily and over time you will reach your target - if you consistent enough. If you manage to pack on slabs of muscle in a matter of weeks, great, but for the rest of us, know that consistency is the magic ingredient. So what if it takes you 2, 3 or 4 years to get to your target? It's better to understand that for most people building a great physique will take time, than to think you'll have the body of an adonis in just 12 weeks.
In fact the consistency principle I'm talking about here is equally as powerful applied to ALL aspects of your life, where you want to achieve a goal... Keep working hard, keep working smart, be consistent - soon enough you'll get what you're working towards.
Written by Chris Bhurrut of HealthyNewAge, the natural health blog and website.