Building muscle takes much longer than most people realize. It’s a slow — almost excruciatingly slow — process that can feel discouraging when you don’t see the muscle definition you want.
How muscle growth happens
Building muscle involves the repair of microtraumas in your muscle fibers. Here’s a breakdown of this extremely complex process:
1. Each muscle is made up of thousands of tiny muscle fibers.
2. When you lift weights (or do body weight exercises), your muscles endure tiny injuries throughout their fibers.
3. Then, when you rest your muscles, your body begins repairing your damaged muscle cells.
4. The repair process involves fusing torn muscle fibers back together, as well as laying down new proteins within each muscle cell.
5. Your muscles become bigger and stronger as a result of the repair process.
Keep in mind that the above is a tremendously simplified version of what actually happens in your body after a weight training workout. In reality, the process includes more than just your muscles — your nervous system, circulatory system and endocrine system all contribute to muscle repair and growth.
How long does it take to build muscle?
There’s no one muscle-building timeline, because several factors affect your ability to build muscle mass, including:
Your protein intake: While all macronutrients have their roles, protein is king when it comes to building muscle. Your muscles need adequate protein to repair themselves after the stress of weight training. Without enough protein, muscle growth stagnates.
Your calorie intake: If you don’t eat enough calories on a daily basis, you won’t build muscle even if you eat a lot of protein. To build muscle, your body must create new tissue, and it can’t create something from nothing. Extra fuel from extra calories expedites muscle recovery and growth. This is one reason many people never reach their muscle growth goals — they aren’t willing to deal with the extra body fat that comes along with a muscle-building phase.
Your sleep schedule: Lifting weights while sleep-deprived isn’t a smart strategy. You might see some gains, but you definitely can’t optimize muscle growth when you don’t give your body a fighting chance to recover.
Your lifting routine: If you’re trying to build muscle, you should know about two key strength training concepts: frequency and volume. Frequency refers to how often you train a muscle or muscle group, while volume refers to the total load you stress a muscle with.
For example, if you perform three sets of 10 reps on squats using 100 pounds, your total volume is 3,000 pounds. More volume and higher frequency typically equate to more muscle, unless you reach the point of overtraining.