With our archives now 3,500+ articles deep, we’ve decided to republish a classic piece each Sunday to help our newer readers discover some of the best, evergreen gems from the past. This article was originally published in April 2021.
You’ve started a serious weightlifting program.
You’ve increased your protein consumption.
Now, how long before you start looking jacked?
While the primary goal of weightlifting should be overall health, for many dudes, one of the aims of strength training is to get swole. It’s understandable. Big muscles make you look and feel manly. Nothing wrong with wanting to look and feel a little more virile.
The problem is, guys often have inflated expectations of how quickly they can pack on muscle mass. Consequently, when they don’t start getting the results they wanted, in the timetable they had imagined, they give up on their strength training program.
It’s therefore important to set reasonable expectations when embarking on a fitness regimen. To help you do that, below we outline how long it’s likely to take to get stronger and put on muscle.
You’ll Get Stronger From Lifting Weights After a Few Workouts
After starting a weightlifting program, you’ll likely notice that you’re getting stronger, before you notice that you’re getting bigger.
In the beginning of a weightlifting program, any strength gains you see are primarily being driven by improvement in neuromuscular processes and not an increase in muscle mass. When you start to lift heavy weights, your brain learns to recruit more muscle fibers during a lift, allowing you to contract more muscle and enabling you to produce more force.
This force-enabling improvement in your mind-body connection begins immediately after your first strength training workout. And according to a study out of Japan, you’ll likely see the biggest strength gains from improved neuromuscular activation occur within two months of starting a consistent workout routine.
Even though neuromuscular improvement will help you get stronger right away, you won’t notice a big difference in your physique right away. In order to elevate your fledgling strength gains further, and start making your body look bigger, you’ll need to create new muscle fibers. And that takes a longer time.
You’ll Notice Muscle Gains From Lifting Weights In About 3 Months
After your first weightlifting session, you may notice that your muscles seem a little bigger.
But they’re not bigger.
Blood and inflammation are simply making them look bigger.
When you work out, blood flow increases to your muscles, temporarily enlarging them. This “pump” effect is why some dudes do push-ups or curls before a date.
The next day after your first weightlifting workout, you may notice that your muscles still look a bit larger, even though the increase in blood from your last workout will have subsided. What you’re then seeing is some swelling from inflammation. When you first start lifting weights, your body responds to the unfamiliar stress placed on your muscles by triggering the inflammatory response. One way that the inflammatory response manifests itself in your muscles is that they retain more water, which also makes them temporarily look a little bigger.
When the inflammation subsides, the muscle swollenness goes away. After a few months of consistently lifting weights, your muscles adapt to the stress, and the post-workout inflammatory swollenness starts to happen less and less.
While the perceived increase in size generated by blood and inflammation doesn’t constitute actual gains in muscle mass, actual gains in muscle mass are likely happening right alongside it.
According to a study by researchers at Texas Tech, muscle growth starts after four weeks of consistent weight training. However, muscle growth early on is small and hardly noticeable to the naked eye. The researchers were only able to see the increased muscle growth thanks to ultrasound.
According to the above-mentioned Japanese study, noticeable gains in muscle mass are seen in about three months of consistent strength training. Some research subjects gained noticeable muscle mass in less than three months, while for other participants, it took a little longer. Three months was the average.
Both of these studies demonstrate two insights about putting on muscle mass:
- Muscle growth begins early on in your strength training program. You may not notice it in the mirror, but it’s happening. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results right away.
- Noticeable muscle growth takes a long time. Expect it to take at least three months before you start looking bigger and more muscular.
Knowing that it will take a while before your strength training workouts start making a difference in your physique will hopefully keep your expectations in check. Instead of getting discouraged from not seeing instant results, you’ll just keep doing the work. And then, after a few months of consistently not missing a workout, you’ll look in the mirror and think, “Dang, bro. I’m looking jacked.”
How to Increase Muscle Mass
We go into detail about how to put on muscle mass in our article on how to gain weight, but here’s a quick recap:
- Strength train consistently. Ideally, with compound movements that use the most muscle mass possible. Think squats, deadlifts, bench press, shoulder press, and Olympic lifts.
- Increase protein consumption. If you want to put on more protein (muscle mass), you need to eat more protein. Aim for at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. If you’re a 200-pound man, that means you should look to get about 200 grams of protein a day. For more exact specifications for how much protein you personally need to consume, check out this article.
- Consume more calories. Muscle mass is calorically expensive. You’ll need to eat excess calories if you want to increase muscle mass. Check out our guide on how to track your macros for suggestions on how many calories you need to eat to put on muscle.
- Get rest. Muscle growth doesn’t happen while you’re lifting; it happens while you’re recovering. Part of that recovery is managing your stress — cortisol is a muscle killer. But the most crucial component of recovery is sleep. Be sure to get plenty of it.
Follow those four steps, and you’ll notice an increase in muscle size in three months.
More or less.
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