How Long Does It Take To Build Muscle?
It is day 3 of your training career and you still don’t have that so-desired 18-inch bulgy bicep peak.
You start looking for training tips online and ask Google how long it will take you to reach that objective.
You become so obsessed with time that you shift your focus out of the main goal – Building muscle.
In this guide, we are going to tell you how long it takes, to build QUALITY muscle, as a natural athlete.
However, we will also give you handy, practical tips to implement in your workouts, in order to reach your muscle building objectives QUICKER.
First and foremost- KNOW what muscle building is.
Be aware that building muscle, literally means – Stacking slabs of meat on your skeleton, through resistance training.
Now, after you’ve read that, picture those 20 lbs of meat you want to put on in the next 6 months – quite unlikely as a natural trainee.
Let us give you a quick brief on the ACTUAL, physiological process of hypertrophy (muscle growth).
How and why do muscles grow?
There is a very simple reason behind the growth of the musculature, that undergoes certain resistance and that reason is…
… The lack of energetic compensation in the musculature.
In other words, our bodies use the glycogen (end product of carbohydrates) stored in the muscles, as the main fuel during weight training workouts.
However, these glycogen stores inside the muscles, do not reach a state of hyper-recovery and therefore, the adaptive reaction of the organism, is expressed through growth of the muscle fibers.
So, important point number one: Muscle growth requires glycogen depletion.
Knowing this, we will give you the first muscle building tip in this article- Train up to 15-20 seconds at a time (per set), as this will allow the glycogen stores in the MUSCLES to be used optimally.
After you pass the 20 second mark, your body starts using glycogen stored in the liver.
This, in turn, favors the aerobic, cardio-vascular properties of the organism, which, is not the main goal when it comes to muscle building.
After each set, take a short rest to allow the muscles’ energetic reserves to replenish, so that you will have energy for the next round (set).
Beware however, this rest should be no shorter than 60 and no longer than 100 seconds, as you want your musculature to be warm and still filled with blood before the beginning of each set.
Summarized in one sentence-
Muscle growth is an adaptive reaction of the organism, that occurs when the musculature endures previously unknown levels of resistance, because the body cannot adapt to that resistance on an energetic level.
What makes or breaks muscle growth?
The simple answer to that is – Intensity.
However, many people misunderstand this term and consider, for example, the technique we call “Supersets”, as something intense and muscle building.
This of course is far from reality, as supersets are in no way a good principle to use when building muscle.
Intensity is simply one of the 3 defining characteristics/parameters of each and every weight training workout.
These 3 parameters are – Intensity, volume, density.
To help you understand your workout better, let us briefly explain what these 3 characteristics mean.
Is a characteristic of a workout, which is value increases or decreases the closer or further we get to and from our maximum strength capabilities.
In other words, if you can bench press 100 kg for one repetition but not more, this is a 100% intensity for you, for that given exercise and therefore, 60 kg would be 60% intensity, etc.
As the chart below shows, the closer you get to your strength limit (One rep max), the bigger the intensity is.
Is the total amount of weight lifted for the given set, exercise or workout.
So, for example, if you complete the exercise “Flat barbell bench press” in 3 sets of 10 repetitions with 60 kg, that would equal 1800 kg, as the total volume of the EXERCISE (10 reps x 60 kg= 600 kg, multiplied by 3 sets= 1800 kg).
It is good to know that as intensity grows, volume decreases.
5 reps of 100 kg < 10 reps of 60 kg
Is the total volume, referred to the time needed to complete from start to end.
So, if we take the flat bench press example, given above and say, for example, it takes 20 seconds to complete each set and then 60 seconds of rest between sets…
…that would be roughly 3 minutes needed, to lift the total volume of 1800 kg, meaning that 1800 kg ÷ 3 minutes = Density of 600 kg/minute
When it comes to building muscle, we’re mainly looking at the first parameter- Intensity
What is the optimal intensity for muscle building?
It is good to know that a 100% of the muscle fibers are activated at around 75-80% of your maximum strength capabilities.
What this means, is that the only way for the body to endure further increases in intensity (85~100%), is to increase the frequency of the muscle impulses, sent by the brain, rather than activate more muscle fibers.
From this simple, yet valuable information, we can conclude that if you train like a powerlifter (Constantly at the 85%+ intensity, 1-5 rep range), your organism will prioritize the development of the nerve paths.
With such strength-oriented training, muscle growth won’t be the main result, but only an accompanying factor.
The optimal approach to training for muscle growth, would be-
Starting off from the lower levels of intensity to warm up and prepare the musculature and then, gradually move on to working weights.
This will allow you to complete a challenging 6~12 repetitions per set, within the 20 second, glycogen depleting time window.
This is usually around 70~80% intensity.
However, we cannot measure our maximum capabilities for some exercises. It would be irrational to test your one rep max on an exercise like lat pulldowns.
Stick to the 20-seconds per set and over 6 repetitions principle, if your goal is building quality muscle.
Now to the main question-
How long does it take to gain muscle?
Building muscle is a constant process and it takes every day.
As you stay consistent with your workouts, you will notice more and more changes in your body composition.
The longer you stay consistent, the more muscle you will build.
Simple as that.
However, these so-called ‘gains’ do not suddenly occur, but rather stack up overtime, to become actual, visual progress.
We can definitely say this:
The total time, during which you have done workouts doesn’t matter.
What matters is: Consistency.
How long did you stay consistent?
If you trained for 3 years on and off and have zero to none progress, that is completely normal!
If you see someone who has been training for just a year, but has progressed twice as much as you have during the past 5 years, that is because they stayed consistent and had a correct approach to training and nutrition.
As we mentioned in the beginning of the article, the musculature undergoes a process of recovery, which reaches a peak (hyper-recovery) at around the 72th to 96th hour AFTER a workout.
And that is EXACTLY when the musculature MUST be trained and exposed to new resistance AGAIN, in order to get stronger and bigger.
Otherwise, if you miss that window, the muscles will simply get back to their previous state and no change will be observed- Plateau!
The newbie stage
For a beginner trainee, training 3 to 4 times per week with no track of nutrition, will still result in, what we refer to as “Newbie gains”.
However, with time, it gets harder and harder to put on quality muscle and a well-structured training and nutrition plan becomes mandatory for optimal gains.
As our gym experience increases, we should also avoid having numbers on a scale as goals.
That is simply because, first, the amount of muscle gained, measured in kilograms/pounds decreases gradually overtime and that may be discouraging.
Second – a scale may show how much weight you have gained/lost, but it cannot show you the MOST IMPORTANT factor, when we talk about a good-looking musculature, namely – MUSCLE MATURITY!
As time passes and the musculature undergoes an increasing number of resistance workouts, not only does it increase in size, but it also matures.
This in turn, leads to a more, in-depth, detailed, striated development, which accounts for a bulkier, more aesthetic look, even though the numbers on the scale didn’t change all that much.
So, there is your answer…
Muscle gains may be counter intuitive!
You think you need to do supersets and drop sets to grow muscles, when the reality is – You need heavy, compound movements, done consistently, over the course of months and years!
The longer you train correctly and stay consistent, the more gains you will observe.
Simple as that.
What we gave you as information is just the tip of the iceberg and there is much more about correct training, which we would like to share with you.
So, if you have set hypertrophy as your main goal, but are uncertain of whether or not your workout regimen is right for the goal, check out our Top 5 muscle building tips.