If you’re going to be putting in the hard work by diligently performing challenging workouts, you definitely want to see results.
You want to be able to look in the mirror or feel in your body that you are not only getting stronger, but you can also see improvements in your body composition and muscle tone.
Therefore, when you first start working out or head back to the gym after some time off, one of the most pressing questions you may have is, “How long does it take to build muscle?“
Unfortunately, there is not a simple, straightforward answer for how long it takes to gain muscle that can apply universally to everyone, but in this article, we will explore the factors that affect how long it takes to build muscle and when you can expect to start seeing results from your workouts.
We will cover:
- How Does Strength Training Build Muscle?
- 7 Factors That Affect Muscle Gains
- How Long Does It Take To Build Muscle?
Let’s get started!
How Does Strength Training Build Muscle?
Before we try to answer the question, “How long does it take to build muscle?” it’s helpful to discuss how muscle growth occurs.
Strength training aimed at increasing the size of your muscles is referred to as hypertrophy training, as hypertrophy refers to muscle growth.
In order for muscles to grow, they need a stimulus and then resources to respond to that stimulus.
The stimulus is where your workouts come into play. When you perform any type of exercise, but particularly resistance training with heavy loads at high volumes (reps, sets, and frequency), microscopic tears occur in your muscle fibers.
Essentially, hypertrophy workouts exceed the capacity of your muscles in their current state, which causes damage to the muscle fibers.
This damage triggers the reparative process that ultimately builds muscle mass in a process termed myofibrillar protein synthesis, also called muscle protein synthesis.
The muscle protein synthesis process requires specific resources in order to repair your muscles.
Amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins, are shuttled to the muscles so that they can be assembled into new proteins.
The new proteins that are synthesized are inserted along the existing muscle fibers in the areas of microtears and structural damage, reinforcing these weakened spots.
This process is somewhat akin to spackling cracks or caulking cracks in a tub. In either one of these analogies, the spackle or caulk can be seen as the new protein fixing or filling in and around the damaged areas.
In areas where you do this reparative work, the tub or wall will appear thicker, with excess material spilling out.
In much the same way, the process of myofibrillar protein synthesis thickens the existing muscle fibers, which ultimately enlarges the muscle.
Thus, hypertrophy training primarily increases muscle size and builds muscle mass by thickening, strengthening, and reinforcing the existing muscle fibers rather than adding or building brand-new muscle fibers next to the existing ones.
7 Factors That Affect Muscle Gains
The reason why it’s tricky to answer straight out, how long does it take to gain muscle, is that there are several factors that can affect your rate of muscle growth or how quickly you will build muscle when working out. Some of these factors are out of your control, although others can be modified.
Here are some of the primary factors that affect how quickly you can build muscle:
#1: Your Sex
In general, men tend to build muscle more easily than women because they have higher testosterone levels and usually higher levels of human growth hormone, both of which promote muscle growth.
However, some studies have shown that the response to strength training in terms of increases in muscular strength and size are similar between men and women.
#2: Your Age
Younger adults tend to gain muscle faster than older adults due to higher levels of anabolic hormones, but studies suggest that even elderly adults can build lean muscle mass from resistance training.
#3: Your Genetics
Some people are prone to building muscle more easily due to their genetic makeup. For example, our genetics largely determines the relative percentage of Type I muscle fibers to Type II muscle fibers.
People who have a greater percentage of Type II muscle fibers tend to put on muscle more easily because these muscle fibers are more responsive to hypertrophic training.
#4: Your Training Status
The less fit you are, the easier it is to make appreciable gains in muscle mass, so beginners might notice rapid gains that eventually taper off.
#5: Your Workout Routine
A primary factor that affects how fast you build muscle is the workouts you are doing in the strength training plan you are following.
So, what is the most effective type of strength training to build muscle?
The key to effective hypertrophy training is to cause enough muscle breakdown through your workouts to maximize the stimulus that triggers muscle protein synthesis and then to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to actually repair the damaged muscle fibers.
Hypertrophy training to build muscle size is mainly achieved by way of increasing training volume over time (sets x reps) through progressive overload.
In practical terms, the most effective way to build muscle in your workouts is usually using loads that are 65-85% of your 1 RM. Typically, you should perform 6–12 repetitions per set, and at least 3 sets per exercise, with 30-60 seconds of rest in between sets, focusing on compound, multi-joint exercises.
Of course, building muscles through strength training is also a game of balance because you don’t want to induce too much damage such that you’ve injured your muscle tissue beyond the level of typical recovery and repair via healthy muscle protein synthesis.
#6: Your Diet
As much as it is important to perform the right exercises, use heavy resistance or weights, and perform enough repetitions and sets to have a training volume sufficient enough to stimulate muscle growth, it is also important to be following a diet that supports muscle growth.
As mentioned, workouts are only part of the equation of hypertrophy. Your workouts break down muscle fibers, creating the stimulus needed for muscle protein synthesis.
But, in order to actually respond to that stimulus in a favorable way and repair the damage in your muscle fibers to build thicker, stronger muscle fibers, your body needs to have enough of the right resources on board for muscle protein synthesis.
This primarily comes down to having enough calories—usually a 10% surplus over what you burn in a day—and enough protein.
In terms of protein, evidence suggests that eating at least 0.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight at each meal—aiming for a total of 1.6 – 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for the day—is effective in eliciting muscle growth when combined with appropriate resistance training.
It’s important to get complete sources of proteins so that you are getting all of the nine essential amino acids and supplying your muscles with a well-rounded, balanced pool of amino acid building blocks to synthesize any type of protein necessary.
If you are following a vegan or plant-based diet, make sure that you are eating complementary foods (such as beans with quinoa together) or getting complete plant-based sources of protein (such as soy).
Taking certain supplements, such as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), certain protein powders, and creatine have also been shown to increase the rate of muscle growth.
How Long Does It Take to Build Muscle?
Given the numerous factors that can affect your rate of muscle growth, there’s not a single answer for how long it takes to build muscle or how much muscle growth you can expect per month.
Research is limited, but most experts say that the average person can put on 1-2 pounds of muscle per month, or 8-15 pounds per year, with the right diet and exercise program. Your own rate may be higher or lower based on the aforementioned factors.
Again, to try and increase your rate of muscle growth, make sure you are working out frequently enough (3-5 days per week), using loads that are 65-85% of your 1 RM.
Aim to perform 6–12 repetitions per set, and at least 3 sets per exercise, with 30-60 seconds of rest in between sets.
Vary the exercises you do from workout to workout, but focus on all of the major muscles in the body in a given training week, whether you do total-body workouts or split-body routines.
And, not enough can be said about focusing on your diet as well. Increase your caloric intake and make sure you’re getting enough high-quality protein with every meal.
Your body transformation might not be instant, but you can expect to build a couple of pounds of muscle per month. Keep going!
Now that you are familiar with all of the ins and out that answer, how long does it take to gain muscle, why not get started with your diet?
For help to get you started on a meal plan focused on muscle gain, check out our Ultimate 7-Day Meal Plan For Muscle Gain.