These “30 Day Challenges” kill me.
Not because they don’t deliver result. With a proper system and a healthy dose of motivation that comes with following a system, you can definitely make progress to be proud of.
However, most of these challenges give you the promise that you’re going to change your entire body composition in a month. Gain 20 pounds of muscle or go from 30% body fat to a Sports Illustrated cover model in a matter of 4 paltry little weeks.
But how muscular can you really get in this amount of time?
The answer is: not nearly as fast at these gimmicks promise. One reason is because you can’t slap a 30-day timeline on just anyone. This is because not everyone builds muscle at the same rate due to the many factors at play that affect muscle gain and, unfortunately, some are out of your control.
Newbie or Veteran Lifter
“Newbie gains” is a real thing. If you’re brand new to weightlifting, you can gain muscle 2-3x faster even if you’re eating the same way, doing the same workouts and at the same frequency as someone who has been lifting for 1 year+.
The reason this happens is because, when you first start lifting, the body responds in a crazy way to all of that force being put on your muscles so suddenly in way that its not used to, but it eventually adapts and the gains slow down.
That’s why many people get burnt out after a year of lifting weights because they become disappointed that they aren’t seeing the same results as when they first committed to lifting. It’s because they don’t yet understand that newbie gains happen to everyone, but once your body adapts, the magic is pretty much gone for good.
One exception to this rule is a former athlete or seasoned weightlifter who starts lifting again after a long break. That’s because the beauty of training regularly is, even when you take a break, if you get back on it consistently, your body remembers where it was pretty quickly.
The takeaway is if you’re a newbie, you have the advantage where quick muscle gain is concerned.
Jon Entine’s Taboo pretty much tells you all you need to know on this subject.
It gets very scientific in the kinesiology world, but to keep things simple, the body has fast-twitch muscle fibers that are the primary fibers needed for actions that require a lot of strength and explosive power. Think of powerlifting, high jumping and sprinting.
The body also has slow-twitch muscle fibers that are best for activities that last a long time and require endurance like rowing or long-distance running.
We all have both types, but some ethnicities have more some one than the other. For example, those of Asian descent have the least fast-twitch muscle fibers while those with West African roots have the most.
This is why all of the 32 finalists in the last four Olympic men’s 100-meter races are of West African descent and there are no notable sprinters or basketball players (a sport that requires powerful bursts of speed and high jumping) in recent history that are of Asian descent.
Jon Entine’s book also notes that only about 17% of the NBA is non-black and they rely more on strategy than physical strength.
So, what does this have to do with muscle gain? Simple. Fast-twitch muscle fibers are the most receptive to muscle growth and grow more quickly than slow-twitch muscles.
I remember when I was injured from lifting one day and I complained to my personal training manager that I was going to lose muscle if I didn't get back at it soon. She literally looked me up and down and said verbatim, “bitch, you’re black. You’re going to do two ab exercises a week from now and have a 6-pack.”
I was deeply offended.
Until I found out she was 100% right. Because in a shockingly short amount of time, I was right back where I needed to be after my injury resolved.
This is an easy one. Men have more testosterone. That’s just biology, folks. And since testosterone is the major hormone responsible for muscle gain, it just comes way easier to men than it does for females.
When women grow muscle, we rely more on a hormone called IGF, or insulin-like human growth factor, to get gains. IGF isn’t nearly as effective as testosterone, which is why I beg girls who are afraid to lift because they are “afraid of getting bulky like a dude” to listen to me when I promise them they won’t.
Even though some women have more testosterone than others, in general, we just don’t have the hormonal profile to pull off massive gains like the boys, especially accidentally.
Science says that the ideal age range for gaining muscle is 18–25 years old. This is because after the age of 25, testosterone levels start to drop, especially for men. This is just a part of the aging process that everyone goes through.
Luckily, even though it makes muscle building a little more difficult, it’s definitely not impossible because the drop in testosterone is moderate. If you’re over the age of 40, be warned. This is when testosterone levels start to plummet and gaining muscle can be significantly challenging.
This is why you begin to gain fat when you get older because even though you age, your eating habits likely do not, and you just don’t have the same hormones or muscle mass to sustain those eating habits the way you did when you were younger.
The only problem with gaining a lot of muscle after putting in months of time in the gym, effort into your lifts and attention to detail with your eating?
You always want more.
I can’t tell you how many times an athlete has come to me after already achieving a crazy amount of progress in their muscle gain asking why they haven’t been able to gain more and how they can start.
It’s because we all have a certain skeletal “frame” we’re born with. Some people are just naturally skinny or naturally burly because of the size and shape of their bones. These frames can be small, medium or large and there is a way to see which category you fall under.
Whichever it is, though, you simply can't change the size of your bones or their capacity in a significant enough way to elicit more muscle.
Basically, studies show that men and women of a smaller frame can only hold a certain amount of muscle compared to those with a larger skeletal frame.
Sometimes when you’ve reached your peak, you’ve just reached your peak.
So, How Can I Gain Muscle Then?
Now for the good news. All of the stuff we’ve talked about are out of your control. What you can control is your nutrition and training.
When it comes to your diet, consuming the right amount of carbs, protein and fat are key. You want to be having about twice as many carbs as protein for energy to get through the day and your workouts.
You also want to make sure you’re getting at least 20 grams of protein immediately after your workouts to mitigate muscle breakdown and, if you're bulking, getting fats from healthy sources will help keep you in the calorie surplus you need to be in to gain weight from muscle.
When it comes to training, you need to be committed. This means if you’re only willing to go to the gym 2 times a week for 30 minutes, you’re wasting your time. Not to be blunt...but it’s true!
The key thing is to focus on compound exercises. This means doing exercises that use multiple muscle groups at once such as squats, deadlifts, seated rows, kettlebell swings or pull-ups.
This goes against the gym lore that isolation exercises (exercises that only focus on one muscle group) like bicep curls, leg extensions, hamstring curl or tricep dips are the king. I mean, intuitively it makes sense. Do tons of heavy bicep curls and your arms get swole, right?
Not the best way to go about that, unfortunately.
Unless you’re going into a competition for aesthetics like bodybuilding or bikini competing, these aren’t going to help you get big. That’s because compound movements like a chest press work your chest, core and shoulders all at once. Whereas bicep curls just work your biceps.
By using multiple muscle groups in one movement, you are able to lift heavier weights which means more gains.
Doing compound training at least 3x a week is the key to turn on the muscle building you’re looking for.
Now to answer the question you’ve all been waiting for.
How Much Muscle Can I Actually Gain?
If you’re a newbie lifter with your training and nutrition dialed in, you can see muscle gain at a rate of up to 2 pounds in a single week.
If you’ve been lifting for a while, you can see 2 pounds in a month for women and 4 pounds in a month for men during a bulk. Keep in mind, this will slow down as time goes on and you become more trained.
Also, you aren’t meant to bulk perpetually, so it’s going to take some patience to gain a crazy amount of muscle (I'm talkin' 15+ pounds) if that’s your goal.
The bottom line?
There are many factors that affect muscle growth that are beyond your control and not everyone is going to gain it at the same rate.
However, if you can learn how to dial your nutrition and training in the right way (and not the way the magazines tell you to) you can experience steady and healthy muscle gain at your own pace.
If you want to learn how to build muscle the right way, check out my program The Athlete's Method.