A Realistic Look At Goal Setting: Muscle Gain – 2

We last left off discussing how muscles are built and the important factors needed for the building of muscle. Now I want to touch on logical muscle gain expectations and percentage of surplus needed for both male and female.

I’m providing percentages that will help you gain modest amounts of muscle. I wouldn’t increase your caloric intake too much, or else you’ll gain fat as quickly as you gain muscle. It should also be stated that this is only in conjunction with a training program involving progressive overload.

Percentage of daily intake increase to gain mass

8 percent: Roughly 0.2 – 0.3 pounds mass per week
10 percent: Roughly 0.4 -0.5 pounds of mass per week
15 percent: Roughly 0.75 pounds of mass per week
20 percent: Roughly 1 pound of mass per week

You’ll also gain muscle faster if you’re starting out, versus someone who’s been lifting for years. Take not of this when determining which percentage of increase is right for you. Here’s how it breaks down:

Men
Newbie: 1-2 Years of serious lifting = Roughly 1.5 pounds a month in muscle
Intermediate: 2-4 years of lifting = 0.5 pounds a month in muscle
Advanced: 4-plus years of lifting = 0.25 pounds a month in muscle

Women
Newbie: 1-6 months of serious lifting = Roughly .75 to 1 pounds a month in muscle
Newbie: 6-12 months = .5 pounds a month in muscle
Intermediate: 1-2 years of lifting = 0.3-0.4 pounds a month in muscle
Advanced: 4-plus years of lifting = 0.1- 0.2 pounds a month in muscle

Note 1: I recommend that newbies increase their caloric intake by 10-15 percent starting off and adjust as needed. Since gains can be made during this stage even in absence of a noticeable surplus, a surplus is still important on small levels.
Note 2: Since females gain muscle at a slower rate than men your excess intake should be at a smaller percentage to decrease excess fat storage.
Note 3: Age is also a important factor both for men and women. As you get into the 30’s and above you can start to decrease the surplus amount.

Do men and women gain muscle differently?

Yes, dramatically so as you can see. While the newbie rate of gain can run a little closer the slowing point is met at a faster rate and comes to a near halt when gaining more experience. If you listen to my recent podcast (Episode #13) you can hear me discuss this a little more.

Understanding your base

Before I talk about program design you need to understand your base. It might seem as simple as  “I don’t have any muscle, does that count?”  Like I stated before age, gender, and experience play a role. People naturally develop a base of muscle as they age. Sometime this muscle comes with fat as well. For males and females this can create a problem with understanding what their base is. Before starting a muscle gain program it’s recommend that you:

  • Give a proper assessment of  your level
  • Get as low in body fat as possible.  I recommend 8-10% for men and 15-16% for women.
  • Give a proper assessment of where you might have compensations or synergistic dominance in your body.  This could cause you to see variables in a increase in your gains from correcting these alone.
  • Give a proper assessment of your lifestyle and what kind of effortless muscle through activity you may have put on through the years.

Only after doing those things should you even think about program design for muscle gain.

Training for your goals

Training for what you want is a simple concept but rarely practiced. There is no denying there are basic lifts and moves for all situations but the volume and load of those lifts is the important detail. Another crucial detail is the addition, if needed, of accessory work to help improve main performance or look. I am not going to turn this into a huge rant on program design, but I will say the first thing you need to do is take a look at the program you are doing and ask “Why am I doing this and is it serving my goal?”

A good question to ask right now is “What is an example of a program not serving a goal?” Here are a few examples:

5-day body part split programs, for an athlete
Long term maximum strength program, for fat loss
Cardio and Plyometric program, for stage prep

To put in other words…

Crossfit programs for a bodybuilder, heavy loads and volumes for someone in a caloric deficit, or chest and bi day for a baseball player.

This may seem like obvious answers but most people don’t grasp the concept. This is also things like 3 days of HIIT with high volume lifting and 1 day off every once in a while, in a deficit. That isn’t productive to your goals. At best this will  cause less than optimal results and at worst burnout or serious injury.

A last point should be made towards women. There is a lot that can change in your look and posture when involving the addition or removal of muscle.  If you are working towards a strong hypertrophy program while eating an excess of calories it may be just the thing you need to improve you look or the nail in the coffin to your look.  If in doubt you can always move a little slow and work first and foremost in the area of correcting posture and compensations. This alone with body fat adjustments (gaining or losing) can provide you with the end goal you desire.

Application

Here is how you would use all this information to set a goal.

  1. Take an assessment of where you are
  2. Write down the goal you want to achieve
  3. Use the formula to reach your goal based on your variables

An example would be:

Age: 33
Gender: Male
Body Fat: 10%
Training Experience: 3+ Years
Lifestyle Activity: Fairly active lifestyle with office job
Goal: Muscle gain of 10 pounds for physical aesthetics

Estimated need for surplus intake: 10-15% surplus of intake
Estimated time for goal achievement: 1.5 years including slight cut cycles as well. Could see a increase in light of possible muscle gain due to weak muscle increase.
Type of program: Bodybuilding program/Hypertrophy

While there are always slight exceptions to the rules this will land you in a very good range. Setting your goals up like this will automatically remove any false expectations, useless programs and supplements, and a quicker reach towards the end result.

Before starting any new diet and exercise program please check with your doctor and clear any exercise and/or diet changes with them before beginning. I am not a doctor or registered dietitian. I do not claim to cure any cause, condition or disease. I do not provide medical aid or nutrition for the purpose of health or disease and claim to be a doctor or dietitian. This is merely an opinion blog. Read full disclaimer here - http://www.leighpeele.com/disclaimer

 

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23 Comments

  1. sunshine

    Is it realistic to base one’s mucular potential on the amount of muscle mass seen in family members?

    For example, I come from a long line of family members with limited muscle mass. Even the males from both my mother’s and father’s sides did not carry large amounts of muscle.  Currently, I have more muscle than both my brothers and my dad and yet I’m probably only carrying about 100lbs LBM on my 5’4″ frame.  

    Is it fair to assume that my muscle mass will be limited because carrying alot of mass is not in my genetic lineage?

  2. James

    Top notch article Leigh. Maybe I am biased but this is by far one of my favorites.

  3. Ann

    I’m confused. If I’m a beginner you say I should focus my efforts on fat loss to get to the 15-16% fat level for a female before concentrating on muscle gains. But doesn’t the addition of muscle help you to get to this goal? Won’t I just be getting more “skinny fat”? I’m so frustrated with the confusing information I seem to get. What sort of workout plan should I be doing then? Should I be in a calorie deficit now? How much? I’m currently 5’4″ 128 lbs with about 23% body fat. Please help! Sorry for the barrage of questions, but I’m ready to throw the towel in!

  4. Mitch

    Great article Leigh. I am depressed as hell now though. Ha.

  5. Lara

    Is the calorie increase percentages listed the percentage of your normal maintenance calories?

  6. Sinead

    Good stuff, Leigh!

  7. Rob

    Leigh,  in your example you said:

    1.5 years including slight cut cycles as well.

    My question is about your definition of “slight”.  Is there a rule of thumb or design ratio of cut/gain time if you’re trying to add muscle.  I get the idea that the higher the surplus, the more cutting will need to be done, but using the example of 10-15% surplus, what amount of time will he need to spend cutting to maintain his current 10% BF?

    Thanks!

  8. Erin Elberson

    Thanks for adding the detail here and in the podcast Leigh.  As much as it may be fun to eat and GFH, for an experienced female that would obviously be an exercise in futility.  I’ve been doing some carb and calorie cycling to correspond to training days in intensity.  I’ll take a couple pounds over the next 6 months please and thank you!
     

  9. Matt

    Thanks for the info.
     
    http://RippedMatt.com

    • Alana

      Leigh, forgive me, but I am so new to this, I do not want to assume I understand anything. Are you saying that these programs are not “matched” to these goals?
      5-day body part split programs, for an athlete
      Long term maximum strength program, for fat loss
      Cardio and Plyometric program, for stage prep
      I picked up NROL4W and am anxious to start. However, it is a strength building program (I think) and my goal is to lose weight (a LOT–80+ pounds) and retain some of the muscle I have. And if I am understanding you rightly, I’ve mismatched the program to my goals. But where is the program for my goal? What would it even look like?

      I have to say I am frustrated by almost everything I am reading about exercise and weight loss.  I am afraid some of that frustration may have leaked through in this post. It is in no way personal. In fact, I would love your help sorting all this out, if you can.
      Here would be me:
      Age: 45
      Gender:  female
      Body Fat:  no clue. Likely 35% (5’6″, 217 lbs)
      Training Experience:  none, ever
      Lifestyle Activity: Fairly sedentry. SAHM. I do my best to walk or get on a stationary bike for 90 minutes a week. I have no acess to a gym.
      Goal:  Lose 80 lbs. Hopefully at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds a week. Retain and build lean muscle mass.
      I have already lost 40 pounds in 18 weeks, eating a portion controlled mostly whole food diet of 1600 calories/day.
      Now what?
      Step 3?  “Use the formula to reach your goal based on your variables”  I missed it, I think.  What formula?
      And more specifically, how do I meet my goals?
      I have been reading you, and Lyle MacDonald and I can’t seem to figure this out. Does no one have a weight training program for someone like me–or is it irrelevant because no one will “see” any results for a long, long time. You yourself wrote:
      Before starting a muscle gain program it’s recommend that you:

      Get as low in body fat as possible.  I recommend 8-10% for men and 15-16% for women.

      Surely this isn’t right. Is what I want not a muscle building program, then, but a muscle maintaining program? Why am I beginning to feel completely ignored in all conversations and articles about weight lifting?

      I appreciate your goal is to educate the public out there about all these issues: but I’m not sure who you’re even talking to in the article above. What does this even mean? “Give a proper assessment of where you might have compensations or synergistic dominance in your body. ”
      Anyway, I’ll stop venting now. Thanks for doing what you do–all good, sound  information is always appreciated in my world.
      Cheers.
      A.

  10. Leigh Peele

    Sunshine – Family genetics are a crap shoot (we have seen anyway) but environmental factors can play a much bigger role. Are the two always connected? I think they often are, but it becomes a very technical chicken/egg argument. Is a boy lanky and skinny because dad was, because they had no food, because he has a hormonal imbalance, because he has issues with food, etc.

    I think the why is best discussed for fun with a beer around a fire. Forget the why and focus on the “what to change” in my opinion.

  11. Leigh Peele

    Ann – Muscle gain or having muscle has very little to do with fat loss, contrary to popular belief.  Just ask people in third world countries.

    Muscle has to do with performance, health, and look.  Performance can help you move more, therefore burning more calories. Health increase can make you healthier and therefore more efficient. Look is liking what you look like when the fat moves. So you see there is a factor but at the end it means nothing if you aren’t in a deficit to lose the fat.

     

  12. Leigh Peele

    Lara – Yes, they are increase from assumed daily maintenance level.

    Rob – It depends on how well you partion really and your level of body fat. At a 10% range you are going to lose defintion faster and likely need to cut down after hitting 12%.  If you calculate it properly with your training and increase (and this is not about “clean” eating really) then you can go a good 6-8 weeks without needing to cut back down because you are gaining at the ratio that is proportionate to your needs.  Meaning that you are making mostly lean mass gains, carry good levels of glycogen, and you should look your best ever in a bulk versus bloated, lack of definition, etc.

    That doesn’t mean there is no room for a higher  level bulk but I just don’t think they are needed for the average lifter.

  13. Leigh Peele

    Alana– I am quoting some of your work for clairty. See below.

    “I picked up NROL4W and am anxious to start. However, it is a strength building program (I think) and my goal is to lose weight (a LOT–80+ pounds) and retain some of the muscle I have. And if I am understanding you rightly, I’ve mismatched the program to my goals. But where is the program for my goal? What would it even look like?”

    With 80+ pounds to lose the only thing you really need to be worrying about is a basic lifting program (if that) and general activity mixed with a caloric deficit so you can lose fat. That doesn’t mean you can’t use the NROL program but it just mean that has nothing to do with your fat loss. See my statement to Ann above about muscle.

    “I have already lost 40 pounds in 18 weeks, eating a portion controlled mostly whole food diet of 1600 calories/day.
    Now what?”

    Now what? Keep going and congratulations. You may find as you get lower in weight you will need less calories, you will need to take a some breaks before you are done at your level, but why rock the boat? Is it not sexy enough the portion control, its working right? Why fix what isn’t broken?

    “Get as low in body fat as possible.  I recommend 8-10% for men and 15-16% for women.

    Surely this isn’t right. Is what I want not a muscle building program, then, but a muscle maintaining program? Why am I beginning to feel completely ignored in all conversations and articles about weight lifting?”

    Why are you so worried about losing muscle? The muscle you gain being that overweight is more than enough  and will be there just fine as you lose. If concerned just a basic program of lifting with enough protein will help you maintain a lot of it.

    The question you need to ask yourself is “why am I lifting?” If it is because you love it and it goes with your goals, great, keep it up and enjoy just don’t overdo it.

    If you are lifting because you are afraid you wont lose fat, it isn’t true.

    This article is about how to gain muscle for those looking to add a significant amount of muscle to someone who is basically DONE with fat loss. You are assuming that one must “build muscle and lose fat” at the same time to achieve your goal. While it is a nice tagline it just isn’t needed for someone at your level.  If you want to be lean it’s all about your diet. If you want to maintain muscle it is all about your lifting. If you combine the too, do it correctly but realize they are separate.

    Hope that helps.

  14. Alana

    Thank you so much, Leigh. It is very gracious of you to reply so thoroughly to my late night ramblings and fears.
    What you wrote to Anne, I think, needs it’s own article (and you’ve probably already written it) –and that article needs to be stickied to the site somewhere. It is extremely difficult to get my head around this:
    “Muscle gain or having muscle has very little to do with fat loss, contrary to popular belief.”
    I think I get it. I’m not to worry about my muscles with respect to my weight loss. No wonder I felt “left out” of the conversation! It teally doesn’t include me, does it? And yeah, portion control isn’t very sexy at all! 🙂
    I have always believed, though, that Building (or maintaining) the muscle I already have will help me lose weight. I was under the impression that a decent weight training program would increase that deficit: (due to the amount of calories it takes to build up one’s muscles, the greater calories one burns at rest when one has a nice amount of muscle–though I did just read McDonald’s latest research review and it seems that it’s truly not that much!) and then I would have a choice–whether to use it to up my calories should I be feeling like having an extra slice of toast or “use” it to speed up my rate of loss.
    But, no?
    One further question. If that’s asking too much, that’s fine. I’m quite happy with the time you’ve taken so far– but you wrote:
    “If you want to maintain muscle it is all about your lifting. If you combine the too, do it correctly but realize they are separate.”
    How does one “do it correctly?” You wrote: ” If concerned just a basic program of lifting with enough protein will help you maintain a lot of it.”
    This is interesting. I am worried about becoming skinny and squishy.
    And yeah, I’d rather have this conversation over a brew, too.
    Many thanks.
    Alana
     

  15. Tom

    There’s a lot of contradictory advice on what an optimal hypertrophy workout constitutes. There are 3 factors I would like you to clarify:
    Rep range ( I do 8-12)
    Inter-set rest (I do 40-60 seconds)
    Number of sets per exercise (I do 3-5)
    I would love to hear your opinion on the matter. Thanks a lot.
    (Additional info:
    Male, 19 years old
    Weight 148 lbs, height 6’1, BMI 19.5
    Body fat 6-8%
    Goal: 40 lbs of muscle for aesthetic reasons
    Time period: Whatever it takes)

  16. gabi.k

    @Alana:  In my personal experience when you reach your current imagined ‘goal weight’ you are squishy then you still have more fat to lose.  The squishy stuff is fat, toning is a myth, etc etc.  You can’t ‘turn’ fat into muscle, Leigh’s school of thought is to lose the fat first then put on some muscle if you want a different look.  NROLW is fine if you want to do that and it doesn’t make it harder for you to stick to your deficit.  The main thing is the deficit.  If working out too much or too hard makes you hungry or makes you sit around on the couch more then you should scale back the intensity.

  17. George

    Leigh,

    That is solid info and true for me for sure. Supplement companies try to push the idea of 10-20 pound gains. Nice to see realistic numbers. I think people also underestimate the difference 2-3 pounds of pure muscle can make on a physique.

    -George D

  18. Lady

    Not sure if you’ll still reply to this, but…

    I totally messed up my body with an eating disorder many years ago in high school. I destroyed most of my muscle mass in the process and even though it’s been 5 years, I have yet to rebuild it (even after gaining my weight back). At 5’5, I am currently 130lbs with 25% body fat. I have an extremely small frame, but I know that’snot the only thing that’s contributing to my lack of muscle mass.

    Right now I focus on circuit training so I can get back down to my normal, usual weight (120-123lbs) and then focus on composition (losing fat while gaining muscle without a drastic change in weight).

    In this scenario what is the best course of action? How do I even get down to 15-16% body fat from here without losing a ton of weight? I remember at 115 I still had like 18-20% body fat (though again, I had no muscle–couldn’t even flex my biceps to be visible). I now have a lot more muscle than I did so your number of 115 makes sense. The question is, should I start focusing more on muscle building within 5lbs of 115, now, or just wait until I’m stable at the low weight?

  19. Elizabeth R.

    Hi, i am an ex athlete, lean, 5’6″, 21 years old, about 113 pounds. I do weights once a week, circuits once a week, and cardio three times a week. I would like to gain about 5-6 pounds of muscle. What would be a good approach, and about how long would that take?

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