Back to the Basics: Muscle Gains

bicep curlby: Wesley Silveria AKA Iron Addict

Muscle Gains, This topic is important essential for all beginners—and hell even veterans—to read because there is so much confusion, so many myths and a ton of outright lies made about how much muscle bodybuilders gain, or are supposed to gain during a given period. A big part of the problem stems from mainstream bodybuilding magazines, which feature articles on the genetically elite between pages of bogus ads describing how good ol’ Fred, Bob and Charles all gained 30 lbs in 6 weeks using cell-tech or whatever the latest crap product being pushed is. And of course we have steroids and prohormones to blame too, because everyone gains 30-40 lbs of pure muscle in a matter of weeks when on a cycle, right? Bullshit.

The newer ‘legal’ AAS have made this even worse, with newbies swearing they are gaining 20lbs of solid muscle in two weeks on 10 mg of M1-T. And that is definitely not an M-1T bash, because I absolutely love M-1T. But…..let’s just say all those people that are talking about the 20 lbs of MUSCLE they’re seeing in 2 weeks on M1-T are talking out of their ass. Oh yeah, that brings up another BIG problem: the internet, where ANYONE can say anything. And they do, damn do they ever. To read some of the posts on bodybuilding message boards the typical novice would think that it’s no sweat at all to gain 20 lbs of lean mass every month. A few of these message board members should be right up to about 375 lbs if they would recall that they already said a couple months ago they gained 20 lbs, and 20lbs right before that, and of course the 20lbs this month…and the bullshit goes on and on. And yes, people end up confused and left with unrealistic expectations.

Let’s first talk about the BIG gains and when and how they are likely to occur and then move to what comes next. It is quite common for new trainees to gain 10-50 lbs their first year when training clean, even if they are doing quite a bit wrong. 10-30 lbs is more likely however, and a good amount of that weight may very well come in the first few months.

There is another category of newbie that may experience the same type of gains. These are the guys that are newbies to effective training. There are many, many guys that have trained for years and have barely gained a fucking ounce. This is usually because they follow the “routines of the champs,” and eat like little old ladies. When you take one of these guys and get them on a “real world” routine, and get them eating correctly they too may finally make newbie-type gains. I know, because I was one of these guys, and very often I now help people make these types of gains after training unsuccessfully for years.

Then we have steroids and prohormones, which can under the right circumstances provide rapid weight gain for many trainees. Notice I said weight gain, not necessarily muscle gain. This may come as a surprise to all of you “natural” guys out there, but most people don’t gain huge amounts of pure muscle when running an AAS cycle. However, it is safe to say that generally those who use AAS gain muscle much more easily when “on” then they would “naturally.” This is providing they don’t make too many rookie mistakes, which might consist of changing their routine to the “pro’s” style, and/or not fueling their body with enough food.

Let’s also not forget that after an AAS user’s first couple of cycles each subsequent cycle yields diminishing returns. Androgen users also typically lose a large percentage of their gains post-cycle. For all you steroid/prohormone users out there, don’t tell me you keep all or even most of your gains from a cycle. If it worked that way, the average guy starting out at 170 lbs, who claims to gain 20 lbs each cycle and keep 15 lbs, would only need to do six cycles spread out over two years to be a 260 lb FREAK. It doesn’t work that way. Sorry.

Be that as it may, a well planned 8-12 week cycle will net many people 15-30 lbs of muscle that they can keep quite a bit of if they do things right post-cycle. Typically however, the big gains are more likely to come to those that haven’t already made huge gains training without AAS, and of course to those with better then average genetics.

Okay, we have covered the periods in which big gains typically occur. Let’s now talk about what can be expected in the long-haul, after these introductory periods are over. What is realistic, and what is average? Well like anything else that applies to humans, this is highly individual. But…we can still provide some general answers to the topic as long as it is understood that many will exceed these goals, while many others will struggle to meet them.

Lets just let the math do the talking and see if that and a little common sense can answer some of the questions for us. Joe average has been training for a couple of years now. He started out at 5’10,” 150 lbs. He floundered a lot with bad training and diet, but still managed to put on 25 lbs of pretty solid muscle. He looks a lot different than he did at 150 lbs, but still is nowhere near reaching his goals. So, he goes out and reads everything he can get his hands on. He scours the internet forums, and sees how poorly he has been doing considering lots of guys out there are talking about the 10 lbs they gained just last month. Hmmmm…..let’s see where 10 lbs per month would get him: 10 lbs per month for 12 months and he now weighs 295 and is ready to make his splash on the pro circuit. Okay, we know it doesn’t work that way, so lets half that to 5 lbs per month for 12 months. That comes out to 60 lbs; he’s now a 235 lb guy ready to hit the state level…But shit, it’s pretty obvious it doesn’t work quite that way either.

Now let’s get real. He can probably average about 2 lbs per month for 12 months, giving him 24 lbs on the year. Now a year later our 175 lb lifter is a 200 lb lifter, and if he is lean at 5’10″ he looks like a million bucks, turning heads wherever he goes. Now if he can repeat that again the following year, or come close to it, he is a bodybuilder by anyone’s standards. And, if the shape and symmetry are there he can think about competing at lower level events if he is so inclined. This is much closer to what an optimal situation would look like for our typical trainee.

Still, most guys simply don’t have the genetics to do even that well without juice, and for them, their gain pattern would probably follow more along the lines of:

Year one: (if done right) 35 lbs
Year two: 15 lbs
Year three: 10 lbs

And it goes without saying that some will do much better than this, while some others will be less fortunate.

This gets you a 210 lb guy at 5’10″ in three years. I am talking about 5’10″ and LEAN. I’m not talking about a fat guy because 5’10″ 210 lbs and fat is nothing, but a 5’10″ guy that is lean is something altogether different. Done at the rate above, three years of training COULD get you to this goal.

Is that not soon enough? No—then you are in the wrong sport my friend, because bodybuilding is not “six weeks to a new you” regardless of what the supplement ads may tell you. I often have personal training clients add 10-25 lbs of muscle to their frames in a short period of time when they first begin training. And of course, when those additions of lean mass slow down, many trainees are dumbfounded—they don’t understand why they can’t just keep gaining like that.

Let me reiterate: the BIG gains only last a short time whether they are newbie-related or gains from gear use. Enjoy them while they last and then settle in for the long haul. If you do things right, you can make the long haul a MUCH shorter trip. If you don’t, it will take a L-O-N-G time if ever to achieve your seemingly ever-elusive goals.

And don’t eat your way fat like so many before you, who do so just to watch the scale go up and stroke their ego. A full 75% of the personal training clients I work with come to me because they are simply too fat from over-bulking. Yet they still don’t carry that much muscle on their frames. A large percentage of these guys got fat by using insensible bulk- at-any-cost diets, and this is simply a stupid mistake that can be avoided if you are realistic about how much muscle your body can acquire over any given time period. Yes, you can and will make great gains when doing things right, and almost everyone can build a physique that will turn heads. But it isn’t an overnight process, and those guys that make it sound like adding 10 lbs of pure muscle is child’s play and can and should happen on a monthly basis are LYING TO YOU!

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