In this article, we’re going to answer one of the most often sought out (as well as asked) questions that people ask when they’re ready to get serious with their workout and are trying to dial in on their ultimate results when working out.
How much muscle can you actually gain?
To dispel myths regarding weight gain vs gaining lean muscle, we at TotalShape.com want you to get the best information from the industry itself.
Often many people will say they don’t want to “bulk up”, which as you read this article, you’ll learn that “bulking up” and adding “lean muscle” are two totally different things, and are based upon your goals, what you’re doing and how hard you’re willing to work to get those results.
So, without further ado:
How Much Muscle Can You Gain?
First things first: when your goal is to increase your lean muscle, it is called Hypertrophy.
Hypertrophy refers to an increase in muscular size achieved through exercise.
When you work out, if you want to tone or improve muscle definition, lifting weights is the most common way to increase hypertrophy.
Hypertrophy is affected by many things, and to get started answering the big question, we must first take in several factors, including:
- Body Type
To clarify the above factors, let's address each of them below.
Factors That Affect Muscle Gain
As we age, we start to lose lean muscle (after the age of 30), as much as 3-5% a year. To slow down the aging process, as well as muscle loss, strength training (lifting weights), is a MUST!
Working out 2-3 times a week minimum can halt the diminishing of lean muscle, which can in turn help to increase our metabolic rate as well as help those who have osteoporosis and/or have been advised to add weight-bearing exercises to their daily routines.
Do you know your body type? Although there are more than the “basic 3” (most of us are a combination of the two), for this article, we’ll focus on those three (3): Ectomorph, Endomorph, and Mesomorph.
Ectomorph “Hard gainers”: Ectomorphs tend to be lean, smaller body frames
Endomorph: Tend to gain weight very easily, often overweight, has to work harder to lose the bodyfat
Mesomorph: Broad shoulders, narrow waist, more muscular and athletic
Knowing your body type can also be a factor in how easily (or hard) it can be to add lean muscle to your body, whether you are male or female.
*Keeping in mind that there is no absolute and again, most of us are a combination of two (2) of the above.
How many days a week are you working out?
When your goal is to increase lean muscle (isn’t this everyone’s goal…whether they know it or not lol), the frequency of your workouts can make a big difference in your results.
Now, this is not to say that you must work out multiple hours a day to get great results (unless perhaps you’re getting ready for a competition, and if so, this doesn’t really apply to you). If you train hard AND Smart, working out with a strong plan of action as well as documenting your workouts will get you further in your result than just working out without that plan.
Planning to workout 3-4 days of Strength training along with 3-5 days of cardio will get you great results!
Your Genetics greatly impacts your muscle growth and muscular strength, as well as the decline of both.
In some areas, we can’t fight our genetic makeup, such as height, eye color, and features.
But in others such as muscle growth and strength, it has been shown time and time again that we can fight and win!
This is especially true if you’re an Ectomorph (who has a hard time gaining), where you’re working out hard, but not seeing any gains.
Bottom line: Don’t give up on your goals nor your body! Some of us just have to work a little (or a lot) harder, but it’s worth it!
Are you lifting heavy weights? Reps? Sets? Are you lifting 75% of your max weight?
To see visible results, lifting “light weights/heavy reps” just won’t do the job. A general rule to increasing lean muscle is by lifting about 75% of your one max rep.
If you’re working out at home, outside, or someplace where you don’t have access to heavier weights, not to worry. You can still add lean muscle to your workout using your body weight (i.e. squats, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups, etc.)!
To gain muscle mass, you have to lift weights with more intensity.
Weight training with a moderate tempo should be done in any training program 2-3 days out of the week. This is a state of hypertrophy, where your muscles are engaged for a higher number of repetitions.
Hedrick (1995) and Schoenfeld (2010) suggest repetition ranges should be performed with ranges between 6 to 12 reps.
The determiner of such repetitions depends on the percentage of 1-RM (repetition maximum).
If someone is performing a lift at 85% of 1-RM, they should do this exercise with 6 repetitions. Those who perform their lifts at 75% of 1-RM should perform this exercise for 12 repetitions instead of 6. It is important to note, someone who is a beginner at weight training should only perform such reps with a low and slow intensity rate.
Repetitions should also occur in tempo. In general, NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) recommends repetition tempo of 2/0/2 .
This means that 2 seconds of the exercise should be done in eccentric action-when muscles extend, 0 seconds occur with an isometric hold, then the last 2 seconds should be done with a concentric hold where the muscles lift and shorten through contraction.
Whether someone is lifting weights or doing cardio, nutrition plays a role in gaining muscle.
ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) recommends individuals who eat anywhere from 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of their body weight each day . Another way to gauge this is to eat around 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
Majority of the time, supplements are not needed to gain muscle if one’s nutrition is in line with their goals.
Protein intake depends on different factors and the individual. Activity level factors into how much protein you should be eating a day.
Precision Nutrition recommends for adults who do not train to eat 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (or around 0.36 g per pound) .
For instance, individuals who do high-intensity level training need to consume around 1.4-2.0 grams per kilogram (or around 0.64-0.9 grams per pound) of body mass. The body stores protein, fats, and carbohydrates at different rates depending on the activity level.
Often people are confused about what are great sources of protein (and not just protein shakes). Whether you're Vegan, Plant-Based, Vegetarian, Paleo (or somewhere in between), the following are just a small list of the many protein sources that you can use:
- Beans (pinto, black, navy, butter, red, kidney, black-eyed peas, etc)
For those who consume animal sources for protein:
- Beef (lean)
- Chicken (lean, skinless/boneless)
- Turkey (lean, skinless/boneless)
- Pork (lean)
- Dairy products (low/non-fat)
Your current weight can play a major factor in your goals.
While you can increase your lean muscle while trying to lose body fat, keep in mind that as you do lose body fat will start becoming more visible not only to you but to others!
Don't get too caught up in what the scales say. Instead, focus on knowing your bodyfat percentage as well as your measurements.
Those are the true indicators of your success!
So, How Much Can You Really Gain in a Year?
If you are a beginner at lifting weights, you can gain anywhere from 2 to 3 pounds of muscle within a month according to co-authors of The Lean Muscle Diet Lou Schuler and Alan Aragon.
When lifting weights, the amount of fat you gain decreases as your muscle mass gains increase.
For those who have been lifting for more than a year, these individuals gain fewer amounts of muscle mass within a month due to the constant stress they put on their muscles over time.
The above gains will greatly depend on some or all of the above factors.