Article last updated: January 2020 by Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer
(1) You can gain about 20-25 pounds of muscle mass in your first year of training. Second year is 10-15 pounds and after that it’s less than 10 pounds (less than 1 pound a month). That is if you do things right and you follow a muscle building training routine and caloric surplus diet plan. Here’s the full breakdown:
- 1st year of proper training: 20-25 pounds (2 pounds per month)
- 2nd year of proper training: 10-12 pounds (1 pound per month)
- 3rd year of proper training: 5-6 pounds (0.5 pounds per month)
- 4th year of proper training and onwards: 2-3 pounds (not worth calculating)
Adjust your diet and expectations accordingly.
(2) If you don’t have great genetics, progress is slow so you can’t see it in the mirror. It’s difficult to see a 1 or 2 pound monthly muscle gain. (This is especially true for taller lifters since they have a bigger frame to fill out). That’s why you need to track measurements weekly and keep track of the progression in hard numbers to stay motivated. Here are the measurements I like to track:
When my waist and hips decrease I know I’m losing fat. When my shoulders, arms and chest increase (without getting softer), I know I’m gaining lean muscle mass. It’s that simple.
(3) When you try to gain muscle mass you will gain some fat along with it unless you are naturally lean with close to no fat cells. The trick is to start your bulk lean (10-12% body-fat) and stop it once you start losing your abs (about 15% body-fat). Sometimes this will take 2 weeks. Other times it will take 6 weeks, but no matter how long it takes you better make sure that you don’t use bulking as an excuse to be a fat-ass who can squat a house but struggles doing a set of 12 pull ups.
(4) Not everyone is meant to have a 6-pack. For some people (most skinny-fat men), a 6-pack is only obtainable through consistent caloric deprivation. In other words, maintaining a 6-pack throughout the year comes at the price of always being hungry, thinking about food, taking stimulants to surpress appetite, not being able to concentrate, having no sex drive and being a miserable person to be around. Now ask yourself if that 6-pack is really that important to you. Also, some people only have 4 visible ab muscles (google Arnold Schwarzenegger and see his bodybuilding pictures in contest condition). I’m not saying you should forget about abs, but I’m saying you should consider a more “realistic” approach where you have a decent 4 pack most of the year and give yourself some space to enjoy yourself and live life.
(5) There’s a big difference between natural lifters and steroid lifters (more on that later). Steroid lifters can get shredded while maintaining a muscular and full-looking physique. In contrast, +90% of natural lifters lose muscle mass when they try to go below 8-10% body-fat. You can ask anyone who’s naturally skinny-fat or fat who has been in the gym for over 5 years… Whenever we try to diet down below a certain body-fat percentage, we start going “flat”, losing muscle mass, fullness, strength, sex drive, concentration and feel like shit all day long. The truth is that to maintain a full-looking physique that looks big in person (and not just in pictures with good lighting) you need to train your ass off every week and that requires you to eat enough calories and carbs. When you want to shred down, you need to restrict the calories and carbs and over the long term your training starts to suffer along with your muscular size and fullness. So, what’s the solution? Stay at a healthy body-fat percentage (10-12%) while adding muscle mass in the right places to create the illusion of having more size than you actually do.
(6) Bodybuilding is not only about building a better body. It’s also about learning to accept yourself as you are. No matter how long and how hard you train:
- There will always be body-parts which are lacking. (I have small calves and small shoulders).
- There will always be part of your body which hold onto more fat than others. (I hold a lot of fat in my glutes and hips).
You can improve on most of these through diet and training, but there will never be a day where you think: “That’s it, I’m perfect. Today, I can start living my life and stop thinking about my physique.” That day won’t come as a result of building your physique. It will come the day YOU decide that you are “enough”.
(7) Just like there’s something called anorexia, there’s also a term for us gymrats: “bigorexia”. Bigorexia is the opposite of anorexia and means that you are obsessed with getting bigger and bigger. You’ve probably seen that guy at the gym before who’s so big that he can’t fit into normal clothes, yet he keeps coming in every day to get even bigger. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be big, there’s an underlying issue in play if you are much bigger than the average person, yet you still see yourself as small and weak.
(8) Everyone has a “natural weight” that looks good on them. My natural weight is 200 pounds. I started at 200 pounds and 5 years later I’m 200 pounds. The difference is that I carry much more muscle mass and less fat. I’ve tried being everything between 175 pounds and 235 pounds and the conclusion is:
- 175 pounds: I looked “skinny”, “flat” and “starved”. My face was sunken in and I felt terrible.
- 190 pounds: I looked ripped and cut, but I went hungry for small parts of the day and had to train my ass off to maintain that look.
- 205 pounds: I looked very muscular and strong, but I had to eat all day and train my ass off.
- 235 pounds: I was fat, bloated and slow. I looked like a big teddy bear.
So how does 200 pounds feel? At 200 pounds I just eat when I’m hungry and train for 1.5 hour about 4 days a week. I have a bit of love handle at this weight (that’s why I have a shirt on in the after pic above) and I don’t look as good as at 190 pounds, but I feel my best which is much more important than how you look.
Be proud but stay hungry,
– Oskar Faarkrog