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:

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

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.


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