Before we talk about how much you can expect to gain in a year, its very important what we specify what we are talking about gaining! Weight? Muscle? Fat? The reason this is so important is that many people who report astronomical gains, are reporting weight gain and not muscle gain. Its easy to gain lots of weight fast, just eat at McDonalds 3x/day but it adds fat and not muscle. The only way to know with any degree of accuracy how much muscle you gained is to measure your body composition using a skinfold caliper and scale, a scale alone will not do it! OK, so having that important technicality out of the way, how much muscle can you expect to gain in a year?  To find out how much you can expect to gain, use my Muscle Gain Calculator, it provides a pretty darn good prediction of how much muscle you can gain in a year but of course there is a wide variation.  The chart below shows the wide range of muscle capabilities:

Yearly Muscle Gain Expectation Ranges for Natural Bodybuilders
Age 10 – 16* Age 16 – 20* Adult newbie Adult who has lifted more than 2 years Adult who has lifted more than 5 years Adult who has lifted more than 10 years
no working out3 square meals/day 0-24lbs/yr (note 1) 0-30lbs/year (note 1) 0lbs/year muscle loss (Note 5) muscle loss (Note 5) muscle loss (Note 5)
3hrs/wk weights 3 square meals/day 2-26lbs/yr 4-45lbs/yr (Note 2) 4-15lbs/yr 3-10lbs/year (Note 6) 2-7lbs/yr (Note 6) 0-2lbs/yr (Note 6)
7hrs/wk weightsStrict Bodybuilding Nutrition 4-28lbs/yr 8-50lbs/yr (Note 3) 8-20lbs/yr (Note 4) 5-15lbs/year (Note 6) 3-10lbs/yr (Note 6) 1-4lbs/yr (Note 6)



Many people believe the locker talk they hear about gaining 20lbs of muscle in a summer, it just isn’t realistic for a natural bodybuilder no matter how hard you workout!  The biggest problem is that people want to believe that you can add massive amounts of muscle quickly – you cant! First, lets talk about how people get these unreasonable expectations. Teenagers will gain weight yearly as they mature whether they do bodybuilding or not, sometimes quite rapidly. Many of the anecdotal stories you hear about adding 30lbs muscle in a year are just due to rapid puberty growth spurts, not any specific workout plan or supplement. When you hear someone in the locker room saying how MegaMassCreatine5000 put 30lbs of muscle on them, don’t believe a word of it, they would have gained the 30lbs even if they ate dirt instead. Lets talk about another dirty little secret that leads to unreasonable expectations – steroids. Lots of people use steroids but don’t admit it, even to their close friends – Why? Its illegal! Jail term 1-5 years.  Also, any bodybuilder wanting to make it to the pros cant admit to steroid use.  The Weider fitness empire controls professional bodybuilding and to win contests, get into the magazines, and get sponsorship requires that you promote the company line which is that bodybuilding is a healthy natural sport.  Any winner of a national bodybuilding contest is going to praise some Weider supplement for their success, not steroids.  Many beginning bodybuilders go up to a massive bodybuilder at the gym and ask them – “what are you taking to get so big?” Of course, he isn’t about to admit he uses illegal steroids (you never know who is a DEA agent) so he says:

“Mega-creatine 1000 and JinaHyrdroCynine400 let me gain 60lbs muscle in a year! Try them!”

Don’t bother asking people at the gym if they use steroids, you will never get an honest answer. You might as well ask them if they robbed the Wells Fargo bank last weekend, only an idiot admits to a crime that can put them in jail. No wonder so many people think they are “hardgainers” or are somehow weak and deficient when they are actually quite normal, they are comparing their results to steroid users! How can you keep from comparing your progress to a steroid user if you dont know who is a user and who is not?  The first way is FFMI (Fat Free Mass Index).  Research has shown with a high degree of certainty that the maximum FFMI possible for natural bodybuilders is 26.  If you know someones height, weight, and bodyfat you can use my body composition calculator to calculate their FFMI, if its over 26 they have almost certainly used steroids.    Below are some telltale signs of steroids so you don’t compare your progress to that of steroid users, remember though that often you cant tell for certain if someone is using steroids by looking at one image or by one telltale sign!  

Signs of Steroid Use:

  • RAPID MUSCLE GAIN. This is by far the best and most reliable indication of steroid use bar none. Gaining muscle naturally is a very slow process so its easy to spot someone by watching their progress a few months. If someone is gaining muscle faster than my muscle gain calculator predicts, there is a good chance they are using steroids. If someone gains 10lbs of muscle in a single month, its steroids.
  • gyno. Some steroids cause gyno. Gyno is 1.5″ – 2.5″ diameter volcano shaped “boob” that sits over the nipple even when bodyfat is very low. Many teens get pseudo-gyno which goes away naturally after a few years but the difference between gyno and pseudo-gyno is very apparent. (See image below)
  • stretch marks. Many people get stretch marks naturally – on the quads, in the lower back, on the stomach, and many other places. When people use steroids, their muscles get big so fast that the skin growth cant keep up and stretch marks occur.  The place that stretch marks seem to be a fairly reliable indicator of steroid use are on the front of the torso in the fold between the pec and the shoulder, probably because the shoulders grow so quickly with steroids.   (See image below)
  • large delts and rear delts, out of proportion large. For some reason, traps and shoulders seem to respond better to steroids than other body parts and not only that, but these parts are very stubborn to grow in natural bodybuilders. When they are suspiciously large in comparison to the rest of the physique it is a good sign of steroid use.
  • greasy skin. Skin that looks like its been doused with baby oil at the slightest exertion
  • blotchy skin. Very faint dark irregular patches, kind of a purplish tinge that look like they might be a bruise or a zit about to erupt.
  • large traps, out of proportion large. For some reason, traps and shoulders seem to respond better to steroids than other body parts and not only that, but these parts are very stubborn to grow in natural bodybuilders. When they are suspiciously large in comparison to the rest of the physique it is a good sign of steroid use.
  • changes in personality, typically more aggressive and less patient.
  • severe body acne. This is not really a reliable sign of steroid use because many people, especially teens, have severe acne without steroid use. However, if someone well out of puberty has bad acne, its a much better indication of steroid use.
  • puffy and retaining water. Not all steroids cause this so its not a reliable indicator
  • hair loss. Not a reliable indicator of steroid use because 60% of men carry the gene for baldness and are bald by age 60 so unless the person losing the hair is very young, its not a good indicator.

gyno-bodybuilder steroid-stretch-marks

Remember that except in extreme examples, you cant tell for certain if someone is using steroids by looking at one single image! The best indicator is how rapidly they have gained muscle mass. The mistake that the naive public and beginning bodybuilders make is that assuming that anyone who is big, muscular, and ripped has used steroids. If a mature adult goes from 150lbs to 200lbs over 10 years adding 5lbs of muscle a year, that’s probably natural. If they went from 150lbs to 200lbs in 2 years, that’s steroids! You cant tell by looking at the “after” photo.

If they have gained weight faster than the above expectations chart shows then there is a reasonable chance they are using either pro-hormones (illegal in USA, Canada, and EU) or steroids (illegal in USA, Canada, and EU).

The ranges are quite broad, I would be surprised if more than 1% of the population falls outside the chart I have shown regardless of “bodytype”. So when you hear some workout plan or products that promises faster muscular gains the above chart shows, remember that I have no reason at all to lie to you but THEY do! They will gladly lie to you to get your money! Before you plunk your hard earned money down on something promising better results than this, I suggest you demand university published, peer reviewed, double blind research showing their product achieves the results promised. But you know what, they wont have it! They will point you to some “study” where they paid a professor a few thousand to come up with the conclusion they want drawn – that is not scientific research, that’s marketing.


Explanatory Notes On Expectations Chart

CDC Weight vs Age Chart

Note 1) From US Center for Disease Control growth rate charts. Note several things here. First, teens gain weight naturally without lifting weights and with ordinary nutrition. People have their growth spurts at different times and in different amounts. Someone might tower up to 97th percentile (196lbs) at age 15 but then never add another pound, conversely, someone might remain on the 3rd percentile (100lbs) till they are 16 then have a massive growth spurt taking them up to the 97th percentile (222lbs). This is all natural growth.

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Note 2) The value of 4-45lbs/yr was obtained by taking the natural teen growth rate without lifting weights (0-30lbs/yr) and adding the adult newbie muscle gain expectation (4-15lbs/yr)

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Note 3) The value of 8-50lbs/yr was obtained by taking the natural teen growth rate without lifting weights (0-30lbs/yr) and adding the adult newbie muscle gain expectation (8-20lbs/yr)

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Note 4) Westcott et al. 2009; Westcott, Tolken, & Wessner, 1995; Campbell et al., 1994; Fiatarone et al.,1994

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Note 5) Any adult who works out and gains muscle, then stops working out completely will lose muscle mass. How much is lost is determined by how much was gained in the first place and how much physical activity is curtailed.

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Note 6) There is a point of diminishing returns with lifting weights. At first, the strength and muscle mass gains are very rapid (the newbie effect). In each subsequent year, the gains are less and less until at some point you reach your genetic maximum and all gains cease despite intense workouts and flawless nutrition. How long it takes to reach the genetic maximum depends on many factors including genetics but most importantly on the intensity of the workout program. If someone lifts casually and does a whole body workout for 30min 3 days a week, they will never reach their genetic max. After 20 years, if they get serious about lifting, they could have a second chance at the newbie effect and spectacular gains despite their “ole” age. On the other hand if a teen starts professional powerlifting at age 16 then they might hit their genetic max very early, perhaps in as few as 6 years.

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* Teens are even more difficult to calculate actual muscle gain because they are adding bones, organs, and internal structure as they get bigger and taller thru normal human growth. That is, they are adding lean body mass that is not muscle. In these two columns, its really lean body mass gain that is being called out, not actual muscle mass gain.

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Where did the other numbers in the above chart come from? My experience and observations over 30 years of bodybuilding. Scientific? Certainly not, but we don’t have a lot of real research to go on here. The expectations chart above is to illustrate these very important points:

  1. Teens gain large amounts of weight whether they lift weights or not
  2. Newbies to weightlifting gain muscle much faster than people who have been lifting a long time
  3. The harder you workout, the bigger your gains
  4. The better your nutrition, the bigger your gains
  5. Diminishing returns until you reach your genetic maximum
  6. Any eBook promising muscle gains larger than those shown in this chart are very suspect.
  7. In any product or program promising fast gains to teens, remember that even without working out you could gain 30lbs/yr!