There’s a lot of false information out there on “building muscle fast.”
There’s also A LOT of companies making money selling useless supplements, many of them promising “toned” muscle within weeks.
These two things are not a coincidence.
Today, we’ll provide the truth you so rightly deserve:
- How fast can I build muscle naturally?
- How fast can a beginner gain muscle? (Initial gains)
- How do you make your muscles grow faster? (Strength Training 101)
- Should I worry about getting bulky?
This will help you separate fact from fiction on building muscle when training naturally.
Make no mistake about it, this stuff isn’t easy.
Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading about it on the internet!
If you’re somebody that’s worried about wasting time, or you want to have an expert hand craft a workout and nutrition program that’s based on your current situation, consider checking out our really popular 1-on-1 Online Training Program! I’ve been training with an online coach since 2015 and it has been the biggest boost for me in the world.
Alright, onto “how much muscle can I build naturally?”
You’re here for an answer, so I’m going to get the ugly truth (that will probably make you sad) out of the way:
Under OPTIMAL conditions, you can expect to gain around 1-2 pounds of muscle per month.
We’ve found that for most Rebels here in the Nerd Fitness Rebellion (our community), closer to one pound per month is the reality.
“Optimal conditions” mean that you are eating the right amount and the right kinds of food, potentially using 1-2 supplements (protein and creatine), AND you are training perfectly for muscle growth (which we explain in this section here).
Proper sleep is also absolutely necessary.
This also means you are trying to thread the needle of eating JUST enough to build muscle, but not too much that you put on a lot of fat, too.
Yeah, you could go full hulk mode (“dirty bulk”) and just eat anything and everything, maxing out your muscle building… but it’ll be buried under fat, which you’ll have to trim again and restart the cycle.
While it is certainly one effective way to gain muscle and strength, we more often recommend fiddling with your diet and training so you can find that sweet spot where you’re building muscle and not gaining too much fat.
All of this to say: Yes, can build muscle quickly, but it will NOT be the crazy amount you read about in the magazines, unless you’re taking Dr. Stark’s super serum (ROIDS!).
If you had grand visions of looking like the dudes in the ads you see in muscle and fitness, don’t expect to do so in 90 days with a few days of training and protein shakes.
Remember: Expect 1-2 pounds of month of muscle gain…under optimal conditions.
The one possible exception to gaining strength and muscle fast? Noob gains.
Yes, we’ve all heard the stories of guys that have gained 40 pounds of muscle in two months.
We’ve also seen all the ridiculous ads about “the workout supplement doctors don’t want you to see” with a guy that looks like Bane.
99% of that stuff is absolute bullshit, so let’s just get that out in the open!
HOWEVER, If you’re really skinny, young, training hard, and eating all day every day, as a newbie you can produce results very quickly.
It is possible, in the first year of true strength training with intense focus and dedication, to gain 15-20 pounds of muscle. Combine that with 15-20 pounds of fat gain and you can drastically change your appearance if you started out very skinny.
When I started to take strength training serioulsy, I felt like I was invincible. I even gained 18 pounds in a month, and I foolishly assumed most of it was muscle.
But due to taking the supplement creatine (which allows your muscles to hold more water weight), almost all of it was water weight, along with some fat… and then probably 2 pounds of muscle!
I’ve since come to learn “TEH MUSCLE GAINZ” aren’t that easy. Fortunately, that’s only part of what I learned in that month.
If you are new to strength training and you are eating right, you’ll not only pack on muscle, but you’ll see some incredibly impressive gains in your strength training:
- Going from 1 pull up to 3 sets of 15?
- Adding 100 pounds to your squat?
- Adding 150 pounds to your deadlift?
I can’t predict what sort of results you’ll see in that first year, but it can be pretty epic if you attack it right!
Muscle growth might happen slower than you want, but I expect something different will happen along the way – you’ll fall in love with this idea of building STRENGTH! In fact, getting hooked on progress, and strength training is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
So, if you are young, growing, and brand spankin’ new to strength training, you’ll be able to pack on muscle at a decent clip. Our goal will be for you to do it in a way that’s sustainable!
Hopefully I didn’t put a big damper on your Captain-America fueled dreams! I just want to set proper expectations so you don’t get discouraged with slow progress, and instead get SUPER encouraged with any progress. Getting strong should be freakin’ fun!
Weirdly enough, once I stopped trying to get there quickly is when I started to actually make permanent progress.
Good? Good! Now let’s build you some muscle!
We’ve covered this at length in the “How to Bulk Up Fast” Guide but I’ll give you the abridged version:
How to build muscle quickly and bulk up:
- Lift heavy things.
- Then, lift heavier things than last time (progressive overload).
- Specifically include squats and deadlifts and compound movements – they target the muscle building triggers in your entire body.
- Target sets and reps in the 4-5 sets of 6-10 reps per set.
- Sleep as much as you can.
- Eat more calories, especially on training days (with plenty of protein and carbs, and vegetables). Head here to calculate your caloric needs.
- Use a protein supplement if you cannot consume enough protein via regular sources.
- Consider supplementing with creatine.
- Repeat month after month after month.
- When in doubt, eat more than you think.
- If you put on too much fat, slightly cut back on calories on non-training days.
The goal here is to thread the needle where we pack on size and muscle but not fat. If we don’t eat enough (generally a problem for us skinny people), we will struggle to put on either.
However, if we overeat we’ll build muscle and add some fat. We can then trim the fat, if after a few weeks we notice our body fat percentage creeping up.
“But Steve, I don’t have access to a gym – can I pack on muscle with just bodyweight exercises?”
Yes, you can pack on size while only doing bodyweight exercises. Look at any Olympic gymnast!
I personally managed to pack on some weight while traveling the world.
However, this can feel like playing Halo on Legendary difficulty. It can be done, but damn it can be challenging – especially for lower body movements.
If your sole goal is to get bigger as fast as possible, access to a barbell for squats and deadlift is almost a requirement.
Note about all of the above:
If you’re confused about how to start with strength training, or you want to start with bodyweight training before trying a gym, or you just want to make sure you’re squatting and doing pull-ups right, we cover ALL of that in our free downloadable guide, Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know.
Get your free guide when you sign up in the box below, and we’ll show you exactly what to do:
- Everything you need to know about getting strong.
- Workout routines for bodyweight AND weight training.
- How to find the right gym and train properly in one.
“I want to put on muscle, but not too much I don’t want to get too bulky, Steve!”
We get this comment via email a LOT, from both guys and gals.
In fact, I heard this fear so frequently that I included it in our top 7 myths of strength training for women. Mostly, this comment comes from folks who are new to strength training and fitness, which makes sense.
The unknown is scary, and we’re scared to start something if we’re not quite sure how our bodies are going to adapt.
Combine this with mainstream magazines saying things like “lift light weights to tone arms!” and we conjure up visions of lifting heavy weights producing a Hulk-like response.
Here’s a before and after from Staci, our Lead Female trainer in our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program, who picked up VERY heavy weights and actively tried to get bulky.
Let’s see the results:
Here’s the truth: YOU DO NOT GET BULKY WITHOUT DEVOTING YOUR LIFE TO IT! Unless you are training with hypertrophy (increased muscle size) as a focus, have superior genetics, take steroids, eat like a horse, and focus on nothing but muscle size for months/years, you are NOT going to get too bulky.
I run a fitness site. I have dedicated my life to health and fitness for the past twelve years, and I have actively been trying to put on weight and muscle throughout that entire time.
I am nowhere close to looking bulky, despite all of my efforts to do so, and dedicating my last 13 months to building muscle and size.
Yes, genetically some people MIGHT put on muscle more easily than others, but even then it’s fractions of a degree, not DRASTIC sweeping differences. We tend to get this question from men or women who are so thin and have such fast metabolisms, they probably need to put on 40-50+ pounds of both fat and muscle, before they would ever even think to use the word “too bulky.”
So, remove this from your vocabulary!
Build Muscle and Get Strong Now.
I want to talk about one final thing: all of the above info about muscle building is true, if you are 100% focused on muscle building.
Your results will vary if you are trying to build muscle while also:
- Running regularly
- Doing martial arts
- Participating in sports that require endurance
Why? Well, because instead of using the calories from your food to grow big and strong, the calories are going to fuel an extra long run.
We dive deep into the subject here in “The Ultimate Guide to Building Any Physique.”
Now, all of this information comes with a caveat: do what makes you happy! If you love to run, or play ultimate frisbee 4 days a week, go for it. Just be sure to temper your goals if you’re ALSO trying to accomplish a billion other things too. Just temper your expectations as to what will be possible.
If you are looking for more specific guidance on how to build muscle naturally, or you’ve been at it for months/years without getting results and think you’re a lost cause, you’re not alone!
I honestly thought I was a lost cause because I spent 6 years training to bulk up and saw no results. Despite the story I told myself, it wasn’t because of my genetics. It was because I was following bad advice, had a bad training program, and didn’t have the right nutritional strategy!
If you are tired of not getting results, want to avoid trial-and-error, or you just want to be told exactly what to do to reach your goals, check out our popular 1-on-1 Coaching Program. You’ll work with our certified NF instructors who will get to know you better than you know yourself and program your workouts and nutrition strategy for you.
Now, if you are somebody that is more of the “do-it-yourself” type, check out our self-paced online course, the Nerd Fitness Academy. The Academy has 20+ workouts for both bodyweight or weight training, a benchmark test to determine your starting workout, HD demonstrations of every movement, boss battles so you know when you to level up your routine, meal plans, a questing system, and supportive community.
What else can I answer for you about healthy strength and muscle building?
We can become superheroes, and we have dozens of stories to prove it 🙂 – just remember it’s going to take time. Attack the problem with the right game plan, and your ascension to superhero status can come a bit quicker.
What do you want to know about building muscle and strength? Leave questions in the comments!
PS: Not ready to commit to one of our programs? That’s cool too! Make sure you sign up for our email list so we can send you BOTH the “Skinny nerd’s guide to bulking up” and also our entire “Strength Training 101: What you need to know” ebook! You can get both free when you sign up in the box below:
- The Nerd Fitness "Get Bigger" Shopping List
- Bulk like the Hulk with our rules for getting bigger