Students of the weight training game, new moms, fitness models, athletes and inquiring minds want to know “How long does it take to build muscle?”
You get in the gym and you press, you pump, you sweat, you ache, you rest, and repeat. Every morning you get up to look in the mirror only to notice that your body is not quite there yet. With deflated hopes, you begin to question whether or not your training is really working. If you’re experiencing the soreness, getting winded when you do cardio, and eating a clean diet, please take heart. Though you may not see the gains instantly, they are coming.
So, how long does it take to build muscle? Well to avoid giving you the typical (but honest), vague answer like “It depends…” or “It’ll be different for everybody…” I will speak from personal experience:
When I wholeheartedly devote myself to a training routine, when I am meticulous about 5-6 days of hard training and a healthy diet, I can see changes in as little as 2-3 weeks. This is a best case scenario, but it doesn’t always work out that way. If I let my weight careen out of control and then decide to start back, it takes longer for me to see results…like 4-6 weeks or longer.
When answering the question of how long it takes to build muscle, I feel it necessary to examine exactly what factors can play a role in how fast muscle builds… for anybody. These 5 factors include training consistency, your diet, your age, your genetics, and your motivation to train.
1. Training Consistency
A solid, consistent training regimen is the cornerstone of building a solid muscular physique. In my humble opinion, it’s THE most important part, which is why it’s listed first.
It’s kind of hard to get a Sylvester Stallone, Rocky IV type of body in record time when you have a “Gonna Fly Now” week this week, and subsequently do nothing for the next two weeks. How long it takes to build muscle can be directly linked to how consistent you are with your training. If you want to see max muscle gains in minimum time, set a time to go to the gym and stick to it, regularly. If you’ve decided you’re going to workout hard, four days a week… make a firm decision to do just that, and don’t let anything pull you off of your training path.
2. Your Diet
Let’s assume you’re training like a monster in the gym and giving yourself ample recovery time to rebuild the muscle fibers that you’re breaking down. Truthfully, I believe that even if you’re eating an average Joe’s diet and training super hard, you can still see incredible gains. However, when you combine a good training ethic with a champion’s diet, muscle building magic can happen.
A clean diet is made up of high protein sources (chicken, tuna, and lean beef, etc.), healthy carbs (oatmeal, sweet potatoes, kidney beans, apples, etc.), vegetables (broccoli, lettuce, spinach, etc.), a touch of healthy fat (avocado, mixed nuts, olives, etc.), and copious amounts of water.
Stick to a diet composed of these types of foods five to six times per week without faltering. A steady source of nutrients provided throughout the day gives your body resources it needs to build muscle. Internally, eating this way creates the ideal conditions for muscle growth. If you have the will power to eat this way seven days a week, your body will answer the question “How long does it take to build muscle?” that much faster.
I only mention this factor because it adds a sense of reality to your training. I personally feel that fitness, as long as you’re physically able to do some form exercise, is possible at any age. But because we are human, we age. Our bodies get older and our metabolic process slow down as we age. You have to account for this if you start to get impatient and begin to seek fast results.
In my early 20’s I recall my body being able to recover more quickly than it does now. As I approach my mid-thirties, I find myself really taking advantage of sleep time. If my muscles or joints feel sore I make sure I get sufficient rest. In my late teens and early twenties, I could work out hard (sometimes twice a day) and the next day I could spring out of bed the next day and be ready to train some more.
Training in your 20’s is going to be different than than training in your mid thirties or your late 50’s. The knee-joints and shoulder-joints that are key for heavier lifts are markedly different when you’re twenty and when you’re fifty. Heavier weights help build bigger muscles, yep even when you’re older. But it is a rare thing indeed to see a 50 or 60-year old man squatting 800 pounds, or bench pressing 400 pounds, it can be super taxing on the joints.
Though the time it takes for a twenty-year-old and a sixty-year-old to build muscle will vary, both can accomplish their goals.
Which muscles build faster for you can really be linked to your genetics. I personally come from a family where shoulder muscles grow like weeds. It takes very little time, and sometimes very little effort, to see muscle growth in my shoulders. Now my calves, on the other hand, are a different story.
Some people just have natural tendencies to grow faster in certain areas: there are people who naturally have a coveted biceps peak before ever picking up a weight, there are others whose abs are ripped before doing any types of situp or crunch. Genetics can play into how long it takes for you to build muscle.
**Please don’t use this factor as a cop out, though. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how “genetics” can be overcome with hard work. Think about Sylvester Stallone in Rocky. When people play the genetic card, I just say look at Rocky I and Rocky IV; physiques can be changed).**
5. The Motivation To Train
Let’s say we have two different weight training enthusiasts, Peppy and Sluggy. Peppy really gets into his workouts and puts everything he has into every rep, and leaves a bit of his heart and soul on the gym floor everyday. Conversely, Sluggy easily becomes bored with pumping iron and seldom has “that feeling” when he’s training. All other factors being equal, for these two, how long will it take to build muscle? It’s hard to say the exact time frame, but I’m willing to put money on Peppy building muscle more readily than Sluggy. Put your all into your training and it becomes hard for your body not to grow.
How long does it take to build muscle? When you’re doing the right things and doing things right, faster than you think.