Craig Leonard

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An Inconvenient Truth… It Takes Time To Build Muscle Mass

Craig Leonard February 2, 2015
Building Muscle Takes Time

Fat loss clients are notorious for not allowing themselves to be satisfied with results that are categorized in their minds as “decent”. Losing one or two pounds of fat just isn’t enough for most clients most of the time.

And so I must take the time to remind them that improving the body’s composition takes time. You don’t gain fifty pounds of fat overnight – and you don’t lose it overnight, either.

Yes, an effective program of training and nutrition will typically allow you to lose it faster than you put it on. Still, it takes time.

Sadly, misconceptions of how much fat one ought to be losing in a given week has caused certain clients of mine to jump ship. I’m always sad to see them go, of course, but I can never satisfy someone whose expectations are unreasonable. It should go without saying that this is a tough position to be in as a fitness coach.

While watching some of the pound-for-pound, most muscular athletes on the planet compete in the Super Bowl last night, I was reminded that as much as the goal of losing body fat lends itself to unrealistic expectations, those wanting to gain muscle mass have it even worse.

They have it worse because changes in muscle mass take considerably longer than changes in fat mass. Those who’ve never seriously endeavored to build a number of pounds of muscle mass invariably believe that muscle accumulates on the body faster than it actually happens.

Without the use of dangerous hormone manipulating drugs, human biology limits a person’s muscle gains, and it does so very well (there’s a reason for this, which I’ll touch on in a moment).

We’ve all heard stories of adults changing their fat composition by losing (or gaining) a hundred or more pounds of body fat naturally. But I have yet to meet an adult who can make the claim that they’ve naturally gained a hundred or more pounds of muscle. And I will never meet one because such a person doesn’t exist.

As I alluded to earlier, the limitations that have been placed on us through the laws of human biology preclude this from happening. As frustrating as this can be, it’s actually a good thing. You see, it’s a safeguard that keeps us from building an amount of muscle that would be too great for the tendons that hold our muscle fibers to our bone structures to support.

So, whether we like it or not, changes in muscle mass take place slowly. Having this understanding will go a long way towards preventing disappointment. Having realistic expectations is an integral factor in the equation of success, regardless of the goal.

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So, what should you realistically expect in terms of muscle gains?

Male beginners to weight training – under the right conditions – may put on three to five pounds of muscle in their first month. Things quickly slow down after that, though. That’s just the way it is.

In fact, it isn’t uncommon for natural male bodybuilding competitors to gain 3-5 pounds of lean muscle mass after a full year of competition-minded training (it’s even less for women). Consider Arnold’s 15-year progress in the picture below:

Arnold Muscle Gaining Progress

I don’t know his body weight in the first photo of teenaged Arnold, but I know that his greatest competition body weight was around 235 pounds. For the sake of argument, I will estimate that he weighed around 190 pounds in the 1960 photo and 235 pounds in the 1975 photo.

His body fat percentage is greater in the first photo than the last, but in order to keep things simple, let’s assume his body fat is equal and that he gained 45 pounds of muscle over those 15 years. That’s 3 pounds of muscle gained per year over that 15 year period where Arnold was constantly competing and training consistently and intensely.

Remember, we’re talking about three pounds of muscle mass gained per year by a man with stellar genetics – who admitted to using small amounts of steroids to help him maintain muscle mass while in a caloric deficit – and is arguably the greatest bodybuilder the world has ever known.

And, yet, my experience has been that people believe 15-20 pounds of muscle growth after a year of training and eating for gains is a reasonable expectation. Arnold would beg to differ. It just doesn’t happen naturally. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t.

Anyone who’s ever endeavored to gain a substantial amount of muscle mass already knows this truth full well. In fact, the slowness with which muscle is naturally accumulated on the body  – even under the best conditions – is precisely what has led so many down the dangerous (and wholly unrecommended) path of using synthetic steroids and other prohormone agents.

In one of her recent posts, Craig Leonard Fitness’ own Coach Amber announced that she’s currently working hard to add lean muscle mass to her body.

As far as I know, Amber has never made it a specific goal of hers to build muscle. And, in speaking with her recently, I know that she’s personally coming to the realization of just how much patience and determination such a goal takes.

She is noticeably more muscular, but has only gained 2 or 3 pounds of muscle in the 2 months or so she’s been training and eating for it. I sensed her frustration and I felt for her, because I’ve been there.

But the truth of the matter is that she’s making great progress and should be proud of the results she’s achieved so far.

So allow me to save you from the disappointment and frustration that so many experience when setting out to pack on some additional sexy, lean muscle mass. Building muscle requires patience, LOTS of patience, and a long-term perspective.

The inconvenient truth is that building muscle mass takes time.

Like it or not, that’s just how it is.

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