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A Realistic Look at Goal Setting: Muscle Gain – Part 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 males and females.

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 of 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 note 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 pound 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, their excess intake should be at a smaller percentage to decrease excess fat storage.
Note 3: Age is also an important factor both for men and women. As you get into your 30s 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 experience is gained.

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 previously stated, age, gender, and experience all play a role. People naturally develop a base of muscle as they age. Sometimes 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:

  • Assess your current level.
  • Lower your body fat as much as possible. I recommend 8-10% for men and 15-16% for women.
  • Assess where you might have compensations or synergistic dominance in your body. This can help increase your gain by correcting and controlling those variables.
  • Assess your lifestyle and what kind of muscle you gained effortlessly from general activity throughout the years.

You shouldn’t even think about program design for muscle gain until you have completed the above.

Training for Your Goals

Training for what you want is a simple concept, despite it being 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 your 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 yourself, “Why am I doing this and is it serving my goal?”

A good question to ask at this point is, “What is an example of a program that is not serving my goal?” Here are a few examples:

5-day body part split programs (for an athlete)
Long-term maximum strength programs (for fat loss)
Cardio and plyometric programs (for stage prep)

To put it 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 obvious but I assure you most people don’t grasp the concept. This also applies to doing three days of HIIT with high volume lifting and one day off every so often—while in a deficit. That isn’t productive to your goal. At best, this will cause less than optimal results, and at worst, burnout or serious injury.

A last point should be directed toward women. There is a lot that can change in your look and posture when you involve the addition or removal of muscle. If you are working toward a strong hypertrophy program while eating an excess of calories, it may be just the thing you need to improve your look or provide the final touch. If in doubt, you can always move a little slower and work, first and foremost, in the area of correcting posture and other compensations. This alone with body fat adjustments (gaining or losing) can help you reach whatever 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 particular variables.

Here is an example:

Age: 33
Gender: Male
Body Fat: 10%
Training Experience: 3+ Years
Lifestyle Activity: Fairly active lifestyle with an 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 an increase due to weak muscle increase.
Type of program: Bodybuilding/Hypertrophy

While there are always exceptions to the rules, this will put you in a very good range. Setting up your goals in this manner will automatically remove any false expectations, eliminate useless programs and supplements, and help you reach your end result as quickly as possible.

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