If you’re new to strength training, you’ve probably asked: How much muscle can I gain—and how fast? The question matters, because unrealistic expectations may lead people to give up too soon. Some bodybuilders report adding as much as 10 lbs. of muscle in one month. Very few people will see results like that. Here’s some information to help you set realistic goals.
The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports lists strength training as an important part of fitness. Strength training not only builds muscles, it can boost confidence and self-esteem. In addition, weightlifting has been shown to help seniors stay active and maintain their independence.
Scientific evidence on muscle building is scarce. No studies indicate how much muscle can be built in one month. However, research can help newcomers set reasonable expectations. For example, a study in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise tracked a group of newcomers to weight training for 14 weeks. The men added 9.5 pounds of muscle in that time. That’s an average of about 3 lbs. per month. A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reported that weight training helped participants add about 2.2 percent of lean tissue over 6 weeks. That would mean a 150-lb. man would have gained about 3.5 lbs of muscle in that time frame.
Adult women gain muscle more slowly than men. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, women have fewer muscle cells. Most muscle growth happens in existing cells, so women have a lower potential for growth. Again, actual results will vary by individual.
At almost any age, people can benefit from strength training. Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest that children can begin lifting weights around age 7 or 8. Pediatricians recommend that an emphasis on developing good habits, rather than a focus on building muscle at that age.
Older people can also benefit from strength training. It has been shown to help maintain balance, reduce joint pain and reduce the risk of falls. Some studies indicate that people older than 80 will not gain muscle, but can still benefit from toning their muscles through strength training.
1) Muscle-building causes weight gain. In truth, studies show weightlifters lose more weight in fat than they add in muscle. Weightlifting can also help the body burn calories more efficiently.
2) Strength training can lead to high blood pressure. Actually, weightlifting can have benefits similar to aerobic exercise in improving general health.
3) Muscle building takes too long. In fact 20 to 30 minutes 2 to 3 times per week can lead to appreciable results in a few months.
The National Institutes of Health recommends a slow and steady approach to strength training. An emphasis on quick muscle growth can lead to overtraining. That can damage muscles and lead to recurring injuries. Combine realistic expectations with a commitment to regular workouts, and you will reap the benefits of strength training—in time.