Everybody tries to sell bodybuilding programs under funky names such as: “Get Big Arms In 30 Days“, “Improve Your Calves In Two Weeks“, “Become A Sex God In One Afternoon“…etc. This creates unrealistic expectations and sets the wrong idea in the mind of the bodybuilding fans and muscle worshipers who end up being clueless as far as how much muscle can actually be gained in a year naturally.
An Empty Glass Is Easier To Fill
When you’re learning a new language every single word and grammar rule you remember represents a huge improvement over your previous level. That’s because an empty glass is easier to fill, and since you don’t have to worry as much about spilling water around, you can use more intense stream.
The same principle is observed in bodybuilding. When you first start out you gain strength incredibly fast and the muscle gains are also not bad, although nowhere near the claims of the over-hyped bodybuilding routines.
After 1 year or so, progress become really slow and the gains diminish as well. If you’re a natural bodybuilder with enough dedication, most of your muscle mass will be gained during your first 1-2 years of gym career.
The Magic 30 LBS
Most people will able to gain around 30 lbs over their skinny self. This means that if you’re 6’1″ and around 150 lbs, you will be able to get to 180 lbs naturally, if you train and eat ‘perfectly’.
Unfortunately, I am not aware of any long time studies done to measure how much muscle natural bodybuilders can actually gain in a lifetime. Nobody really cares and since similar study will require extensive monitoring for years, not many people are willing to invest in it.
However, if you examine the lives of true naturals, you will see that they rarely gain more than a few lbs a year after the initial beginner gains. Over the span of 2-4 years that equals about 30 lbs of overall muscle for the average or even above average individuals.
30 lbs of actual dry muscle tissue is a ridiculous amount. If right now an average dude was to gain 30 lbs over his skinny self, his friends and family would not even recognize him. It’s a lot of muscle, but there’s also a catch – it’s nowhere near as much as a steroid user will gain.
Related article: How Big Can You Get Naturally Without Steroids?
The First 10-15 LBS Are The Easiest
Skinny dudes are usually able to gain 10-15 lbs of muscle after a year of training. Those are your easiest gained muscle fibers. At this stage the body is eager to grow and is far from it’s maximum potential. The closer you get to that potential, the harder it becomes to keep on gaining mass because the glass is almost full, and it takes more effort and attention to avoid spilling water while filling it.
It’s important to note that this is also the period when people gain most of their strength as well. Going from a 95 lbs to 405 lbs deadlift will be much easier than going from 405 lbs to 650 lbs. This first can be done in a year or two depending on how well suited you’re for the lift, while the second will require 3-5 years, and to tell you the truth for some it will never happen – at least not naturally.
This is why you need to think twice whenever somebody is promising you stuff like ‘100 lbs to your deadlift in a year’. It can work, but only if you’re a beginner or an intermediate. Other than that – you’re on your own and you will have to make personal decisions based on your experience and results.
1-2 lbs A Month During The Second Year
After the initial beginner stages the muscle gains will, without a doubt, slow down in both departments – strength and muscle mass. At this point gaining 1-2 lbs a month of actual muscle could be consider a serious accomplishment. This rate equals about 12 – 24 lbs of muscle a year. Unfortunately, some people would be looking at the smaller number and 24 lbs are reserved only for absolute genetic freaks.
Over the next years the gains will slow down even further, making it even harder to measure progress. 0.5 lbs a month doesn’t make any difference in how you look. An annual gain of 6 lbs is hard to spot when the muscle is spread evenly over the entire body.
This is when most people either accept the fact they’re not going to be mass monsters and switch priorities or join the steroid world to break the plateau regardless of consequences.
How You Train And Eat Is Very Important
You may be training for 20 years and still be a beginner. What makes you advanced is improving – not the actual time spent in the gym. There are people who do the same thing every day for years and wonder why nothing is happening, never realizing that their bodies had no reason to grow or get stronger in the first place. It’s not like you’re going to walk on the street and find muscle mass waiting for you. This is when a good coach and the right information can make a big difference.
Someone who is constantly wondering around, not really knowing what to do, will progress slowly compared to somebody trained by experienced people who’ve been there and know what it takes to make it all work.
This does not mean that training is rocket science. It’s quite simple: find the right exercises for you. Add more weight when you can. Give the body time to recover and repeat the process. Avoid junk food and stick to protein rich foods.
The key in all of this is seeking progress through either heavier weights or more advanced versions of the exercise in question. If today you can bench press 200 lbs and after 10 years you’re still benching 200 lbs for the same amount of reps and sets, your appearance will reflect it.
Another factor is, of course, nutrition. You will never gain weight unless the body has something to work with. Skinny guys need to eat more while fat guys need to eat less. Unless those requirements are met, nothing will happen. Regardless of training efforts you will be skinny on a 1 000 kcal diet and you will be fat on a 10, 000 kcal diet.
It’s a little trickier with skinny fat guys who have the worst of both worlds – big guts and no muscle. If you find yourself in this group, you need to evaluate your priorities. If you are more fat than skinny – lose weight first. If you are more skinny than fat, try to first fix your dietary habits, eat at maintenance and see what happens. After that evaluate where you’re. The worst thing for a skinny fat person is doing a dirty bulk. You will just get fatter.
Remember: as a natural you cannot become super shredded and muscular at the same time except in your dreams.
Hormones Are The Most Important Factor
If you take a man and a woman with identical stats such as: age, height, dedication…etc. and put both on the same program, the man will get stronger faster and will gain more muscle mass too. Even if the woman decides to outwork the man by training more hours in the gym while also following to the letter every article on nutrition that’s supposed to give you the secret to massive growth, she will still remain smaller. That’s because women have low testosterone.
Hormones are regulators – if a woman starts taking male hormones, she will acquire male characteristics such as body hair, muscle mass, deep voice…etc. The opposite is also true – a man taking estrogen will also start to look more like a woman. This is how powerful hormones are.
What decides growth the most is not training – it’s hormones. Training tells the body that you want to be bigger but hormones remain king and you cannot overrule their decision, so to speak, no matter how hardcore your training is and what exercises you’re doing.
Obviously, someone with naturally higher testosterone will have more muscle than the average person. Those guys and women could be considered genetic freaks in the muscle world.
Waking up. The dream is over.
As you can see the overall amount of muscle mass you can gain in your whole lifetime as a natural equals muscle mass that can be acquired with 1-2 steroid cycles. This is one of the reasons true natural bodybuilders remain skinny and small in the eyes of the public forever.
Of course, the enhanced bodybuilders also have their limits. You may be able to gain a lot of muscle mass as an IFBB pro using steroids, growth hormone and insulin but sooner or later you will hit a wall too. There is only so much muscle mass that a human frame can support. Also, the internal organs cannot endure insane doses for year and years.
Problem is, you rarely hear about the bodybuilders who suffer kidney/liver/heart failure. After all, who cares about some local guys, right?