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Realistic Timeline on Muscle Growth, Fat Loss, and Other Fitness Goals
How Long Will It Take? As Long As It Takes.
I get asked multiple times a day how long “XYZ” goal will take. The reality is there is absolutely zero way for me to answer this question for you - even if I personally knew you.
The process of developing your physique is extremely individual and dependent on so many variables, it would be nearly impossible to account for.
With that being said, we can give a rough ballpark of what is possible based on statistical averages, physiology, and experience in this field. Although we are all unique, for the most part averages happen for a reason: they are realistic and common.
So while maybe this won’t exactly play out as listed, I can promise you if you follow the advice in the substack and at the end of this post, you will be maximizing the rate at which you can grow to your own individual body.
We’re going to break this down into what realistic timetables for muscle growth and fat loss look like—both definitely happen at much different speeds as you’ll learn as we get into this. Then at the end I’m going to hammer on the main points you need to hit if you expect for a) this timeline to happen b) to be on the higher end of the projections vs the lower end.
Factors That Control How Fast We Make Progress
We can get a better idea of our potential if we first take into account some of the biggest movers in terms of our ability to build muscle. The focus is losing muscle here because other than a few factors here, fat is relatively easy to predict and control.
The things that are going to be the biggest factors on what you can expect are:
Level of Commitment
The top 3 we cannot control, those are the cards we are dealt and we cannot change that, the bottom 3… however, we can to varying degrees for every person.
The top 3 are rather obvious, so let’s focus on the bottom 3 and how they can affect our potential progress.
Training experience matters simply because the more training years you have under your belt, the less quickly you will grow.
You have already gotten your first few years of growth which are your biggest years of growth, and the body has a limit to how big we can grow (without the use of anabolic steroids).
Lifestyle is another big player because someone who works at a desk vs someone who works manual labor is going to have a very different outcome when it comes to the gym.
Lifestyle factors like daily activity, stress, etc. are all going to have an impact on our recovery, some things are simply more in favor of the conditions of muscle growth.
Then of course Level of Commitment is going to play a huge role. Do you have all the time in the world and desire to be a bodybuilder? Or do you simply need to squeeze the gym in between a busy life.
Obviously the person more committed will see quicker results. This is just common sense, so you must be honest with yourself to give yourself an accurate expectation.
Now, onto the meat and potatoes - what can we expect and what exactly is happening as we build muscle?
How Fast Can I Build Muscle?
You are new to the gym, show up, have a good workout, and notice within the first week, even within the first workout you look bigger. This means you’re making lean muscle mass gains, right?
Wrong, unfortunately, you are just experiencing a response from the muscular damage elicited by the new stimulus on your body—this is swelling and inflammation.
In reality, it’s the adaptations to the stimulus that will give you muscle growth, a process of muscle accretion which takes place on a longer timeline, think weeks even months not days.
However, once the process has started, a newbie trainer can expect pretty drastic muscle growth within their first year.
Because the act of lifting weights is such a shock of novel stimulus on your body, you are destined to see the most rapid period of growth you will ever see in your lifting career.
Within 1-2 months you will begin to notice the size starting to pack on—this is really when we will start noticing changes in the mirror on a biweekly level (weekly is simply too short).
In your first year, there are 2 general consensus on how much muscle you can gain:
1-1.5% of body weight a month, so if you weigh 197lbs at 5’9 (average stats of American male) you can expect to gain 2-3lbs of muscle a month, which will generally begin to decline after 6 months or so or this would be 24-36lbs in a year 1 (end range slightly high IMO) and doesn’t account for fat loss.
1-2lbs of muscle a month or 12-24lbs of muscle in year one
My personal opinion? Around 15-25lbs in year one is something you can expect with consistent training, proper diet, and proper recovery protocols. This is a massive jump - you will absolutely look like a different person.
For women, this number will be about half that at 10-12lbs of muscle in year one.
You will begin to notice diminishing returns on the amount of growth you will have towards the latter part of the first year. As mentioned, for most people, around month 6 will be where you begin to see results taper off, so really take advantage of when you first begin to truly maximize this.
At this point—while still likely a “beginner” maybe beginning to enter the “intermediate” side of lifting—your growth will not be as significant, but still more than you will ever experience as you move on in training age.
At this point, more details begin to matter in terms of diet, training programming, and recovery. As a beginner everything works, but as we begin to progress, we have to learn our own bodies and what specifically works for us.
Year 2 we can expect about half the growth of year 1—about .5-1% increase in body weight a month, or .5-1lbs of muscle growth a month bringing us to around 6-12lbs of muscle based on the latter, individual dependent on the former, but my general observations and opinions fall in line with the 6-12lbs of muscle in this year.
For women, again, about half this rate at 4-6lbs of muscle in year 2.
Towards the end of your 2nd year, you should be getting a good understanding of your body and reaching a degree of mastery in the basics of fitness. You are still far from being an advanced lifter, but you will begin to see yourself edge above the crowd of the average gym goer—assuming you are doing everything well (explained later).
You should now be fully into “intermediate” status of both growth and knowledge in the gym. While you will still see decent growth in this year, it will be nothing like the first 2 years.
At this point in the gym, you are going to gain at about half the rate of year 2, expecting around .25-.5%lbs gains in bodyweight a month, or 5-6lbs of muscle a year or .5lbs a month.
Women, maybe around 2-3lbs, which will be noticeable on a year time table, but not week-to-week or really even month-to-month.
This is the final year you will see any significant results compared to the rest of your training career, unless you were to either come off for an extended period and come back or you were to take PED’s.
Year 4 and Beyond
While I’m hesitant to give anyone less than 5 years “advanced” status, in terms of muscle growth you will be going from intermediate to advanced around year 4 and beyond.
Here you will fight tooth and nail for each new ounce of muscle growth until you hit your genetic potential—which can take well over 10 years. This is what separates the “good” from the “great” in terms of size and progress.
By this point you should be pretty dialed into your training and nutrition regimen and understand your own unique needs and demands.
From this point on, you can only expect about 2-3lbs of muscle growth a year, which won’t be noticeable in anything less than maybe a 2-3 month basis and even then will take a detailed eye, others likely won’t notice.
Women, unfortunately, your growth will be so small that it’s not noticeable unless we zoom out years - about 1lbs of muscle growth a year. All dependent on genetics and other factors listed.
Welcome to the big leagues folks, how far you go from here depends on how far you want to take it.
Key Assumptions and Caveats
Of course absolutely none of this is going to happen without creating favorable conditions for muscle growth and the assumption here is you will be in a caloric surplus to gain muscle the entire time—not likely.
While by year 4 I do believe you will have maxed out exponential growth, how long it takes you will depend on what your dieting phases look like. Realistically you will have had periods of caloric deficit to lose fat and look leaner/better.
This could mean less growth overall one year, but more growth in subsequent years or however you want to divy it up (doesn’t really matter—actually none of this does, all that matters is just doing it).
Now, the key considerations:
1. You Lifted Consistently and Properly
This is only possible if you actually dig in, follow good programming, lift with adequate intensity and volume, and progressively overload your lifts the entire time.
For the principles of what promotes optimal muscle growth, refer back to this article on the SAID Principle and what conditions best promote muscle growth.
Don’t expect any of this without training hard and not skipping lifts consistently—this potential must be EARNED.
2. You Had Adequate Protein Intake and Nutrition
Nutrition, and namely protein, is the building block of muscle—growth cannot exist without adequate energy and adequate protein to create the anabolic environment possible for muscle growth.
Your diet needs to be as close to on point, consistently, to yield the potential results listed here. This is a nonnegotiable aspect of muscle growth.
3. Proper Recovery (Sleep)
Muscle growth is a process of recovery and sleep is the hallmark of recovery. As often as possible, you need to be sleeping 7-8, for some even 9 hours a night to yield the best possible result for muscle growth.
Within this too, we also need to regulate training to accommodate our recovery capabilities (some need more rest days than others) and periods of deloads , or taking a week or so off every few months to allow the nervous system to recover.
If you’re new here, there are over 100 articles that will provide you with more information than you ever wanted to maximize your muscle growth and progress in the gym.
Fat Loss Timeline
This is much more cut and dry than muscle growth—fat loss is rather predictable, less genetic dependent, and much easier to control.
This is because fat is simply an energy equation:
Fat is stored energy
1 pound of fat is 3500 calories
To lose 1 pound of fat a week, we need to eat in a 500 calorie deficit
As you can see, this is rather simple and we can predict this out as far as you’d like to estimate how long it will take to lose the amount of fat we’d like to.
We can use this equation to predict fat loss: Fat Wanted To Lose ÷ Fat Lost a Week (Weekly Caloric Deficit ÷ 3500 ) = How Long It Will Take To Reach Goal.
If we have 50lbs of fat to lose and want to lose 2lbs of fat a week, then it will take us 25 weeks to lose the fat or just under 6 months.
Generally speaking, a safe rate of fat loss is going to be 1-2lbs of fat a week, which is a 500-1000 calorie deficit. If you’re very new here (and didn’t start at the “Start Here Page”, a caloric deficit is eating under our maintenance calories, which we can calculate in various ways).
Now where a wrench will be thrown in our calculations is the fact weight loss is not exactly linear—some weeks will be less than others, some days we will suddenly drop 5lbs, but over a long enough timeline, the relative caloric deficit you are in and subsequent rate of fat loss weekly will average out over time.
It’s also important to note weightloss does not always equal fat loss. We have various reasons why we might have lost weight such as losing water weight and glycogen (stored glucose). These can make significant weight drops in short periods, but it does not mean it was all (or even mostly) fat loss.
Sorry I don’t have as much of a detailed timeline here, this is largely “non-sexy” and just takes time and dietary discipline.
Putting It All Together
These are rough guidelines to predict what is capable in terms of (mainly) muscle growth and then the rate of fat loss we can have and predict within whatever timeline we’d like to expand it out to.
The key point here is we need to be consistent and we need to do the right things right.
There are limits here yes, but in terms of reaching your maximum potential in terms of muscle growth and fat loss is going to be your own ability to do the 3 main things I’ve listed here:
There is more to each we can optimize, sure, but these are the main 3 to focus on. It’s that easy, overcomplicating this is something that holds a lot of people back. Do not major in the minor—get these 3 right and you will be successful. (While I wish I could give you the perfect answer to these 3 in this article, I don’t want to write a book and fortunately have 100’s of articles on these in great detail.)
So there you have it, a tentative answer to my most commonly asked question on Twitter.
However, I cannot help but mention this is very arbitrary and truthfully it will simply take you as long as it takes you!
This is not Legal, Medical, or Financial advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any workout program, diet plan, or supplement protocol. These are opinions from a Cartoon Ox.