How Much Muscle Can You Gain In a Month? Trainers Tell Us Once and for All Whether or Not You Can Max Out

Photo: Getty Images/The Good Birgade
It's a fact of life that exercise helps you get stronger. But if you're hitting the mat every day and aren't seeing results—in other words, you're hitting a plateau—it could be because you're maxing out. According to pros, it is possible to hit an upper limit on how much muscle you can build in a short period of time, and going too hard can have deleterious effects on your body, which is the exact opposite of what workouts are supposed to do in the first place.

So how much muscle can you gain in a month? We asked trainers to weigh in so that you can reach the upper limits of your strength without having to worry about overdoing it.

Yes, it's possible to max out on muscle

No matter how many burpees and bicep curls you're doing over the course of a month, eventually you're going to max out on gains. "There are limits to gaining muscle mass," says Robert Brace, a celebrity trainer based in New York City. "The body is designed to be efficient so after you reach the pre-set upper limits of your body’s natural muscle carrying ability for life’s daily functionality, there is no reason from a survival perspective to keep gaining muscle." This, he adds, makes it physically impossible to do so—particularly over a short period of time.

In other words, it's decidedly not a good idea to push your body past its natural upper limit. "The most immediate risk is building too much muscle for your frame," says Brace. "The result can be strain on your joints, ligaments, and muscles that results in tears and injuries, setting back your fitness goals; not to mention, the pain associated with injury." Plus, overtraining can lead to muscle fatigue and increase your risk of injury, so it's worth pressing pause on your routine and taking some time to recover instead of trying to continually bulk up.

How to measure muscle

While checking out your biceps in the mirror is certainly one way to gauge how well your regimen is working, if you want the full picture of how much muscle you're gaining, you'll want to opt for a science-backed full-body scan. "The best way to measure how much muscle you're gaining is with a body composition analyzer," says Brace. "They measure muscle mass, body weight, and sometimes, water weight." He notes that the best ones on the market are the Inbody and Dexa Scan devices, which are often available at gyms and studios. That said, these tests can be expensive, so if you want to regularly track your progress on your own, it may be worth investing in a body composition scale, like the FitTrack Dara Smart BMI Digital Scale ($76).

So how much muscle can you gain in a month?

The amount of muscle you can gain in a month depends on a few different factors, and differs from person to person. Age, diet, and fitness level all play a role, but according to Brace, "a focused, healthy training program can yield an average monthly muscle gain of 0.5 to 1.5 pounds for a woman and 1 to 2 pounds for men." Men, he explains, are able to bulk up slightly faster because they have higher levels of testosterone in their bodies.

It's worth noting that, as your fitness regimen become more advanced—and as you get stronger—it can get more difficult to gain to build muscle in short periods of time. "Beginners can gain more as they are new to the muscle gaining phase—known as hypertrophy—but as you begin to gain muscle it takes more effort, focus and training to keep increasing muscle size and mass," says Blake.

The best way to avoid a plateau

To avoid maxing out on muscle, it's important to stack your routine with the right type of workouts. Over the course of a week, pros suggest integrating two HIIT-style workouts, two strength-based workouts, and one steady-paced cardio workout into your regimen.

To see the results from this type of routine more quickly, trainers suggest spending those strength training days with a set of heavy weights in hand. "If overall strength and getting stronger are your goals, you’ll want to add some weights into the mix," says Mackie Root, Onyx certified health coach. "By adding heavy weights, the difference is that you’ll be able to increase your maximum strength in a way that you can’t with bodyweight or light weight training."

While it may seem surprising, the time you spend recovering is just as important for building muscle as the time you spend going all out on the mat, which is why pros suggest taking at least one rest day each week. Workouts—particularly those of the strength-training variety—create tiny micro-tears in your muscles, and as they heal they rebuild and make you stronger. But if you aren't giving those tears proper time to heal, they aren't going to repair to their full potential. Because of this, taking a day off (and using that day to stretch and foam roll) is critical for maximizing gains.

Ready to work your way toward reaching your monthly muscle-building goal? Follow along with the video below to get started.

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