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BendtheBar 06-05-2011 09:52 AM

Rate of Drug-Free Muscle Gain
Rate of Drug-Free Muscle Gain

by Casey Butt

For most people muscle building is a slow process. Of course, there are those who are extremely genetically gifted and respond quickly to even the most poorly constructed and applied of programs, but most people are not in this category. Add the wild card of anabolic steroids into the mix and it isn’t hard to figure out why many people have only a vague concept of what they’re supposed to be accomplishing in terms of building muscle. The commercially driven mainstream media certainly doesn’t help matters.

When I started training I thought I would look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in six weeks. After that I planned to stop training and just enjoy having a perfect body. Of course, as the six weeks progressed I realized that it wasn’t going to happen, so I extended my training period and went in search of more “modern” training routines and bodybuilding supplements …because what I was doing just wasn’t working as quickly as I thought it should. This, combined with big promises made by the bodybuilding magazines and supplement salespeople, is how most beginners get drawn into their eventual roles as dollar donors for the multi-billion dollar supplement industry.

Pipe dreams and promises aside, if you’re a typical beginner you can realistically expect to build about ten to twenty pounds of muscle in your first year of serious training. Structurally very large men may even get closer to 25 pounds under the right circumstances, while structurally very small men may max out at under 10. This is partly common sense, for one would not expect a man who’s 5’6″ tall with 6.5″ wrists to be able to build as much muscle as a man who’s 6’2″ tall with 8″ wrists. Of course, the commercial bodybuilding magazines and websites usually won’t tell you this, but I wouldn’t really expect them to. In reality, 90% of them don’t seem to actually know enough about training and nutrition to even make a qualified guess anyway (sad but true).

Muscle gain, with proper training, nutrition and rest, follows an exponential decay rate that can be predicted reasonably accurately by wrist size (which is positively correlated to lean body mass in large population studies). A trainee’s expected amount of muscle gain during a particular year of bodybuilding training can be approximated by the following equation:

muscle gain in one year = 0.3 × wrist2 × 0.5(no. of years training – 1)

Where “muscle gain” is expressed in pounds and “wrist” is the circumference of the wrist in inches. So, a man with 6.5″ wrists could be expected to gain about 0.3×6.52×0.5(1-1) = 0.3×42.25×1 = 12.7 pounds of muscle in his first year of serious training. In his second year of training he could expect to gain another 0.3×6.52×0.5(2-1) = 6.3 pounds of muscle. A man with 8.0″ wrists may gain about 0.3×8.02×0.5(1-1) = 19.2 pounds of muscle in his first year of serious training. He could gain another 0.3×8.02×0.5(2-1) = 9.6 pounds the following year.

Do keep in mind that these are merely rough approximations that do not consider the trainee’s height, exact physical makeup (which would be practically impossible) or exact training, nutrition and rest habits but, for the majority of trainees, this method will provide a sufficiently accurate estimate – though there are very gifted people who may be able to slightly exceed these predictions (by a few pounds at most). Also, yearly gains will not be spread out evenly over the course of the year. Typically, after an initial break-in period when you learn to do the lifts properly, you’ll make your fastest gains early in your training “career” and muscle gain rate will slow down every month and week thereafter, although it won’t be strictly linear – there will be periods of ups and downs. So if you’re a beginner you’ll notice some quick gains at first but that will slow down to the point where gains are generally not noticeable from week to week. If you’re an intermediate you may also make a ten pound gain in a year (particularly if you’re a large-structured person or haven’t trained properly in the past), but it will require more dedication and persistence. If you’re advanced, gains will come very slowly indeed. After 10 years of proper bodybuilding training you’ll pretty much have maxed out your drug-free genetic potential in terms overall muscle mass. After 5 years of proper training you’ll be somewhere around the 97% mark. In three years it would be about 88%.

Interesting, on the subject of an experienced drug-free bodybuilder putting on just 6 pounds of muscle in a year, two of today’s top natural bodybuilding champions, who both had almost 20 years of training experience, had this to say,

“Six pounds in a year? That’s not natural!” and “I haven’t put on 6 pounds of muscle in the last 10 years, let alone a year.”

BendtheBar 06-05-2011 09:57 AM

Using the formula in this article, and rounding a bit, the rate of drug free muscle is:

Small boned (6.4 inch wrists)

--Year 1 = 12 pounds
--Year 2 = 6 pounds
--Year 3 = 3 pounds
--Year 4 = 1.0 pounds
--Year 5 = 0.75 pounds

Medium boned (7.0 inch wrists)

--Year 1 = 15 pounds
--Year 2 = 7.5 pounds
--Year 3 = 3.75 pounds
--Year 4 = 1.9 pounds
--Year 5 = 0.9 pounds

Large boned (7.5 inch wrists)

--Year 1 = 17 pounds
--Year 2 = 8.5 pounds
--Year 3 = 4.25 pounds
--Year 4 = 2.1 pounds
--Year 5 = 1.0 pounds

Note: Underweight individuals may appear to gain at a more rapid pace as their muscle size, bone density, etc. normalize.

Reinaldo.Gomes 06-05-2011 07:00 PM

got 6,5 wrists =/

even so, got about 30 pounds within 18 months :)
with some fat though =/

BendtheBar 06-05-2011 07:34 PM


Originally Posted by Reinaldo.Gomes (Post 142388)
got 6,5 wrists =/

even so, got about 30 pounds within 18 months :)
with some fat though =/

Do you have any before and after pictures? That's impressive progress and I would love to take a look.

BigFiveFive 06-05-2011 07:47 PM

This thread = not predictable.

...Close, but not even close, genetics are one hell of a thing.

Reinaldo.Gomes 06-05-2011 07:54 PM

Thank god I don't have any pics from that time :rolleyes:

I bet you were not skinny as hell when you started, such as I was.
As I posted in my log:

at the height of 1.85m (6feet)

I was:
57,5kg (126.5lbs)

18 months later
72kg (158.4lbs)

I don't think it's that much of a gain when you're speaking of pretty skinny people :(
I plan on getting as close to 200lbs as I can :)

BendtheBar 06-05-2011 08:45 PM


Originally Posted by BigFiveFive (Post 142398)
This thread = not predictable.

...Close, but not even close, genetics are one hell of a thing.

To say they "aren't even close" is a bit baffling to me. I respect that you want to get as big as you can, and out gain these curves, but you have to view their validity through the lens of natural champions.

You can't, and won't continue to make 10 pound gains each year. In fact, with where you are at you'll be hard pressed to hit 5 pounds in a year. The more you gain out of the gate, the slower the rate becomes year in and out.

Keep in mind Kyle that I was as big as you after 18 months, and I gained maybe 3-4 pounds of muscle in 20 years after that. I think these guidelines are dead nuts, when considered as averages. I don't base this on myself, but also all the natural champions I meet and talk with on a daily basis.

These are averages and guidelines. They are not rules that can't be exceeded. But if they are exceeded, gains slow that much more in the future.

I exceeded my rate slightly the first 2 years. My gains slowed dramatically in the 2 years after.

BendtheBar 06-05-2011 09:28 PM

One thing I will mention is that Casey Butt knows his stuff. So if anyone dismisses this information without actually reading it, they are doing themselves a huge disservice. Keep in mind that Casey's research is impeccable.

In studying natural potential, and natural rate gains, Casey Butt analyzed natural 300 champions from the last 50+ years. There are the genetic freaks.

Yes, these rates can be exceeded. No one is claiming they can't. But they are accurate as averages.

Naturals have limits. The more you gain, the slower gains will come in the future. So even if you exceed your predicted rate by 50%, which surely could happen, you will hit walls faster. Your future gains will be much slower.

If anyone thinks that natural potential and growth guidelines are attempts to limit, they are mistaken. If you reach your potentials you will have an amazing amount of muscularity. This information presents goals that few reach, and does not limit, but instead it presents goals that lead to an amazing physique. The truth is very, very few people hit these goals.

The alternative to information such as this the steroid magazine tripe that pretends we can get as big as we want if we only try hard enough and wait long enough. This isn't true. How do I know? I have met, filmed and trained with the largest naturals in the industry. None of them are exceeding their potentials.

BendtheBar 06-05-2011 10:52 PM

Here's another way of looking at gains.

Each of us have a natural potential (from a normalize, non-underweight starting point). This could be 25 pounds, 30, or 35 pounds of muscle.

Consider your potential a glass of water.

The faster you gain, the less you have in the glass to gain in future years.

Potential is potential. You can't will yourself into a greater potential (a larger glass of water), nor can you will yourself into gaining 10-20 more pounds than the great natural bodybuilders of the last 60 years.

Again, this information is presented to help naturals paint a reasonable picture. This forum will never espouse the steroid magazine bullsh*t notion that gains for naturals are unlimited. Life (and the body) doesn't work that way.

Furthermore, I will not allow naturals on this forum to be mislead into believing they can gain 10-20 more pounds than the greater natural bodybuilders of all time. Some of you may not like this, but I will not allow steroid magazine nonsense to be propagated here.

big_swede 06-06-2011 02:10 AM

Very informative thread

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