We’ve all got that friend on facebook who just started a fitness journey and clearly has access to a fancy weight scale which tells them how much muscle they have gained. “Wow it’s only been 3 weeks and I’ve already gained 4lbs of muscle” they exclaim before adding in mini emojis of a bicep curl.
But all you can think of is that 4lbs of muscle seems like quite a lot of muscle to add within such a short time frame.
The problem is because you don’t know exactly what is/isn’t possible when it comes to muscle gain, you can’t correct them.
Well good news! They’re talking rubbish. Because you cannot gain that much muscle within such a short time frame, well you can’t do it naturally in any case.
In this article we will look at how much muscle you could actually gain in a year, factoring in the many variables that affect an individual’s ability to gain muscle.
First things first
What you need to understand about muscle building is that we all have a genetic potential for how much muscle we can naturally build.
If you are an incredibly lean guy who’s 5 foot 6, then you shouldn’t expect to grow enough muscle to become the next Eddie Hall (6 ft 3 and 185kg strongman).
Now everyone has different genetic potentials, but eventually after years and years of training we will all get very close to it.
A huge factor in how much muscle you can expect to gain within a year is how long you’ve been training. You might be thinking that the more experienced you are means the more muscle gained, but it is actually the opposite.
Somebody who is brand new to lifting will be able to gain a lot more muscle than someone who has been training for years.
Think of it like a video game, it is very easy to level up your character at the beginning of the game. Completing very easy tasks gives you 100 experience and the gap from level one to level two is only 150 experience points. So you fly through the first eight levels with little difficulty.
But once you’ve been playing the game for a long time, the experience needed to increase your level grows exponentially. At level 32 you need 1,000,000 experience points to progress, performing that same task for 100 experience points is as effective as it ever was, but it is not going to make much difference to your levelling up.
It’s the same with lifting, even though an experienced lifter might be squatting 200kg more than a novice, because they are so much nearer than their potential there is only so much more muscle they can gain.
What they can gain is smaller and smaller, and requires much more work.
How much can a novice lifter gain in a year?
According to Lyle McDonald  the brand new lifter can gain around 20 to 25lbs of muscle within a year, based on around 2lbs of muscle gained per month. For this to occur thought the lifter would have to be consistent and avoid injury.
They would also need to be eating enough calories to gain muscle, as it is almost impossible to gain that much muscle whilst in a calorie deficit.
For the first couple of months this may be possible, it’s known as newbie gains, and is probably the best period to be training. But it doesn’t last long, and as a result calories should be high for maximal muscle gain.
How much can a regular lifter gain in a year?
A regular lifter would be someone who has been lifting regularly for around 2-3 years, now clearly there will be a lot of variety in the type of person and what program/nutrition they are following.
But on average, a regular lifter could expect to gain between 0.5 and 1lb per month in muscle. This can lead to between 6 and 12lbs within a year.
Surprised by the difference in pounds gained? Well remember that some regular lifters will be training 5-7 times per week and be able to afford the best food available, whilst other lifters might only manage 3 times per week. There is enough variation between people to make a huge difference over the course of the year.
How much can an experienced lifter gain in a year?
According to Lyle, an experienced lifter (anyone who has been lifting consistently for 4 years plus) can expect to gain no more than around 2-3lbs in a year without resorting to non-natural means.
Still when you add all of this up you could be looking at 60lbs plus of muscle mass added over 5 years! So the average per year is 12lbs, it’s just top loaded.
 Lyle McDonald. 2015. What’s My Genetic Muscular Potential? [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/muscle-gain/whats-my-genetic-muscular-potential.html. [Accessed 31 January 2017].