Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How much Muscle can you Gain?

I took 5 minutes to flip through the muscle building magazines this past weekend.

And while I'm still adamant that there are SOME things we can learn from bodybuilders I definitely DO NOT think we should ever take these magazines too seriously.

We’ve all read the headlines that scream their inflated promises at us a like a canvassing politician :

“Gain 40 pounds of rock-hard muscle in ONLY 6 weeks”.

“Gain 50 pounds of super-dense freaky lean mass in 5 weeks”.

While this sounds fantastic, it is most likely not going to happen. Not without A LOT of drugs…and even then, let’s face it, for most of us it’s just not going to happen.

While the promise of gaining unlimited amounts of muscle is a grandiose one that fuels our passion for working out, it also hurts our progress.

Simply put - It fuels false hopes.

Personally, I can see why a lot of guys love the idea of being able to put on 50 pounds of rock solid muscle without drugs...

Unfortunately, the VAST MAJORITY of published research on the science of muscle building suggests that once we become adults we may be limited in our ability to put on muscle.

The best results I have ever seen in a research study (that wasn’t studying anabolic steroids) was 13 pounds of added muscle from a workout program.

This was in about 12 weeks of training, or about 3 months…

So this doesn't sound to bad right?

After all, if guys in a 3 month research trial can put on 13 pounds in 3 months, then logically they should be able to put on 52 pounds in a year...if they kept training for another year..that's over 100 pounds of muscle in two years!

Again, this just doesn’t happen.

The truth is much more conservative. There seems to be a limit to how much muscle you can add, and the amount you can add seems to be limited by your height (The taller you are the more muscle you can add to your frame).

For hockey fans consider this:

Every time you hear about a pro hockey player putting on 20 pounds of muscle over a 4 month summer, these guys are typically 19-20 years old and about 6'3"!

And while currently research does not know the answer to the exact limit for muscle growth, for this exercise I want you to consider the number to be 13 pounds.

(This would obviously be higher or lower depending on you height, but again for this experiment let's stick with 13)

Alright so, ask yourself this question…if you knew that you could only add 13 pounds of muscle to your current body…how would you do it?

Would you add it haphazardly…wasting away precious pounds of muscle on parts of your body that are already big enough…or would you be as strategic as possible…making sure you got the most “bang for your buck” out of every single pound?

If you are professional athlete, this most likely means training the exact muscles you need to excel at your sport (generally more leg work, less bicep work).

But if your chances of making millions in the big leagues are slim to none..then what? Do you train like an athlete, or a power lifter just because these training styles are what is popular right now?

You could follow the trend and train 'functionally' but a more logical approach would be to as yourself 'why do I workout?'.

Because doing work for the sake of doing work is torture. Doing work to move towards a goal is fulfilling.

And there is a BIG difference between something that is fulfilling and something that is torture.

Simply, we want our time in the gym to give us the best returns, especially since we know these returns are NOT UNLIMITED.

Now, 13 pounds is just the number we used in this example, and depending on your height, age and training background in could be substantially more (or less), but the point remains the same.

If you want to get the most out of your workouts you need to train hard, but also train smart.

Concentrate on the exercises that work the muscles that you want to grow or make stronger.

Don’t waste your time in the gym doing things that don’t move you towards your INDIVIDUAL GOAL goal. After all, if your growth potential is limited, than you better make sure that you have done your absolute best to make every pound count.


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Anonymous said...

Nice post. Also worth noting that 13 pounds of muscle is a hell of a lot. Even 5 pounds is - I would not have thought so until I was given the analogy of steak (muscle - similar density to human muscle). If you want to see if for yourself, buy 5 pounds of steak and lay it out on a table. It's a lot!

Anonymous said...

Can you link to the research study about the 13lb muscle gain?

I'd love to see it.

Also, height is not really the determining factor when it comes to gaining muscle. The size of your joints will be the limiting factor.

So a guy who is 6'5 with tiny ankles and wrists will have a much harder time building muscle compared to a guy who is 5'6 with large wrists and ankles.



Brad Pilon said...

Hi Mark,

Your height is the main determining factor of your joint circumference.

If you took a populational cross section of 5'8" men, the variation in their wrist circumference is actually quite small.

So a 6'4" man with "small" wrists would still have much larger wrists than a 5'8" man with "large" wrists.

I hope that example made sense.


Brad Pilon said...

Hi Anon,

Couldn't agree more!

Even imagine the size of an 8 oz steak..that's only a half pound of muscle!


sallyb said...

Great info. I found an online support team that helps with fitness. It's a more healthier alternative than 'bulking' up.