Are you new to weightlifting? If so, while you may envy those who have been lifting for a while, believe it or not, experienced weightlifters are actually envious of you. Why? – Because you have a unique advantage over long-term weightlifters. What is that advantage, you ask? It’s something known as “newbie gains”.
What does newbie gains mean? How does it work? Why is it beneficial? To find the answers to these questions and more, keep on reading.
What are newbie gains?
In a nutshell, the term “newbie gains” refers to the fast increase in muscle and strength that commonly occurs amongst those who have little to no past experience with weightlifting when they first start intensive training.
These individuals are “newbies” to weightlifting and they’re “gaining” muscle and strength, hence the term “newbie gains”. Additionally, people who have little to no past weightlifting experience also tend to gain a very minimal amount of fat or may even lose some fat while they are gaining a substantial amount of muscle and strength.
Another phenomenon that is similar in nature is often experienced among those who aren’t new to lifting weights, but who have just started to engage in proper weightlifting techniques, emphasizing the importance of three elements: heavy weights, compound exercise, and progressive overload.
In both of these circumstances, newbie gains can occur because the body is highly responsive to whatever stimulus that is offered via resistance training. The result of this phenomenon allows for individuals in these two groups – those who are new to lifting weights and those who have just started proper weightlifting techniques – can gain both muscle and strength at a much faster rate than those who are further along in their fitness endeavors.
While there haven’t been any long-term studies that have examined the amount of muscle and strength that individuals can gain when they first begin proper training techniques; however, with that said, shorter studies have been conducted, and it is possible to make educated guesses about the gains that can be made based on the findings of these short-term studies.
As an example, a study that Goteborg University scientists conducted determined that beginner weightlifters gain somewhere between 4 and 7 pounds of muscle within the first 3 months of lifting weights. If it’s assumed that these individuals continued to gain muscle at the same rate, that would equate to 16 to 28 pounds of muscle over their 12 months of proper weightlifting (which works out to around 22 pounds, on average). These numbers are right in-line with that numerous professional weightlifters and those who assist with weight training have witnessed in real-life.
Why do newbie gains happen?
Newbie gains sound pretty great, right? That’s because they are! But why do they happen? Well, the science is actually pretty simple. The reason why rapid muscle gains occur so easily in those who are just getting started on their weightlifting journey and those who have just started proper weightlifting techniques is because the rates of muscle protein synthesis dramatically spike when the body is exposed to a new stimulus.
As a result, the body’s muscle-building machinery is sent into overdrive. As if that isn’t good new on its own, it gets even better: a super-grueling workout isn’t necessary in order to experience the rapid increase in muscle and strength that are associated with newbie gains although proper whole food nutrition and adequate protein intake are also required for maximum potential.
However, it’s important to note that as you spend more time working out, the way your body responds to lifting weights changes, and it changes in a myriad of ways. One of the most notable adaptations concerns muscle protein synthesis, as it won’t remain elevated for as long a period of time post-workout. As such, less muscle gain occurs. On average, muscle protein synthesis decreases within two to three days, to 12 to 24 hours.
Evidence of this phenomenon is highlighted in a study that was conducted by University of Sao Paulo scientists. Researches assess five different studies that examined muscle protein synthesis response to training and it was found that there is far greater and a much more prolonged increase in those who are new to proper weightlifting techniques than those who have been lifting properly for a while.
In multiple studies that were reviewed by researchers, it was found that post-workout muscle protein synthesis returned to baseline in newbies within three days. To highlight the data that was represented in the studies, when the total boost of protein synthesis in both newbie and experienced weightlifters, those who had just started out lifting weights experienced a 4,000 percent increase in their muscle protein synthesis, while those who were experienced weightlifters saw a 1,500 percent increase in their muscle protein synthesis.
To compensate for this difference, at least to some extent, experienced lifters can engage in workouts that focus more on volume (sets, reps, or both each week), which will help to boost muscle protein synthesis. However, while focusing more on volume each week may be helpful for experienced lifters, it’s important to note that their muscle protein synthesis will never again return to the levels that are associated with newbie gains. Furthermore, there’s only so far that training volume can be increased before the risk of injury increases, or before overtraining or burnout occurs.
Do newbie gains really make a big difference?
As mentioned, there isn’t a whole lot of scientific researcher out there regarding newbie gains, so there isn’t a definitive answer to this specific question. Moreover, the little research that is available indicates that the body’s muscle building capabilities is extremely variable.
For example, a study that was conducted at Indiana University examined 585 untrained men and women weightlifters. The participants in the study completed basic bicep workouts with their non-dominant arms over a 12 week period. This study does not indicate how frequently the participants completed their workouts, but it’s assumed that the frequency was once a week.
In the study, the strength of the participants was documented by researchers. Additionally, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to measure the size of their biceps prior to and after the 12-week study was conducted. The average bicep growth was about 19 percent and there was a 54 percent increase in their bicep curl one-rep max.
When examining the individual data that was recorded, however, you can see a much clearer image of just how varied the individual response to weightlifting really is.
For instance, the biceps of some of the participants actually got a bit smaller, while one subject’s bicep actually grew about 60 percent larger (three times the size of average growth). Some participants experienced no notable strength gains, while one individual experienced a 250 percent increase in their bicep curl one-rep max.
To summarize, the data from this study indicated that on average, all participants saw a sharp and marked increase in both the size and strength of their biceps as a response to the new stimulus of resistance training that they were exposed to (“newbie gains”), and some saw greater gains, while others saw less.
While it is true that limited high-quality research surrounding newbie gains has been published, there is a wealth of expert testimony and anecdotal evidence that supports the phenomenon. Two experts that have shared testimony and anecdotal evidence that supports newbie gains are Lyle McDonald and Alan Aragon.
Lyle McDonald’s Info on Newbie Gains
Writer, researcher, and creator of BodyRecomposition.com (one of the highest quality evidence-based fitness information resources on the World Wide Web), Lyle McDonald offers great insights that support newbie gains.
McDonald’s estimates regarding the amount of muscle that new weightlifters can gain over their first 12 months of training are as follows:
|Years of Proper Weightlifting||Possible Rate of Muscle Gain Each Year|
|1||20 to 25 lbs (2 lbs/month)|
|2||10 to 12 lbs (1 lb/month)|
|3||5 to 6 lbs (0.5 lbs/month)|
|4+||2 to 3 lbs (too small to calculate)|
The formula that McDonald used to come to the above-mentioned conclusions is based on extensive research of the literature, as well as his own personal experience with helping countless individuals boost their body composition.
According to what McDonald has researched and personally experienced, he estimates that males can gain between 20 to 25 pounds of muscle (~2 pounds/month) over the firsts 12 months of proper weightlifting. It’s important to note that these gains refer to lean muscle tissue, not solely body weight.
As the above charge indicates, max muscle gain quickly declines each subsequent year. Those decreases fall by about half each year. Why is it that the first 12 months of proper weightlifting are associated with such rapid muscle growth? Why, newbie gains, of course!
To some, 20 to 25 pounds of muscle gain in the first 12 months of proper weightlifting might sound low, especially when compared to some of the numbers that are lauded. For instance, some claim that upwards of 50 pounds of muscle can be gained over the first year of proper, heavy training. While that might sound great, that number is invalid.
Sure, some people may gain up to 50 pounds, but that’s total; in other words, the 50 pounds is more than likely the muscle, as well as body fat and glycogen, both of which are stored within the muscles. Plus, considering that a lot of newbies make errors (which will be discussed in just a moment), a lot of the weight gain that they experience is purely body fat.
Alan Aragon’s Info on Newbie Gains
A published researcher, fitness author, and couch who has been developing diet and exercise programs for more than two decades, Alan Aragon has ample knowledge and personal experience surrounding newbie gains. According to what he’s seen first-hand with regular Joe weightlifters to Olympians, the vast majority of men can gain muscle at the following rate:
|Category||Possible Rate of Muscle Gain Each Month|
|Beginner||1 to 1.5 percent total body weight/month|
|Intermediate||0.5 to 1 percent total body weight/month|
|Advanced||0.25 to 0.5 percent total body weight/month|
As is indicated by the above chart, Aragon’s muscle-building model is based on gaining a percentage of body weight each month. It’s important to note that this model is only accurate for those who are pretty lean to begin with (body fat percentage of 10 to 15 for men and 20 to 25 for women). The more overweight an individual is, the less muscle they will be capable of gaining relative to total body weight. The following illustrates how Aragon’s model works:
Someone who weighs 155 pounds and has 12 percent body fat when they first start their proper lifting journey could possibly gain between 1.4 and 2.1 lbs of muscle/month over their first 12 months of training. These numbers are right in-line with McDonald’s findings.
Why do newbie gains stop?
Even if you’re new to weight training, you know that it’s impossible to gain muscle indefinitely. But why is that? And, why do muscle gains slow so markedly after one year of proper weight training? Moreover, why is it that the human body can’t continue to gain muscle and strength at the same relative rate until it reaches its genetic capabilities?
In order to answer these valid questions, reviewing a concept that’s known as “repeated bout effect” is necessary. According to this basic principle, the more you engage in a specific type of exercise, the more the body becomes used to it, and the more the body is used to that exercise, the less adaptation is stimulated by the workout. It’s kind of like when you’re exposed to an odor… when you first catch a whiff, it’s overwhelming, but after a while, you become used to it, and eventually, you no longer notice it.
To further explain, the more weightlifting experience you have, the less muscle and strength you gain per unit of your training efforts. In other words, when you first start lifting, your body has to work harder, and thus, it gets bigger; however, the more experience you have lifting weights, your body doesn’t have to work as hard, and as such, your muscle and strength gains plateau.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below we answer some of the most frequently submitted reader questions regarding beginner gains. If you have questions or experiences you want to share please do so in the comments section below!
How long will newbie gains last?
The newbie gains period is generally considered the first 12 months of training although the gains made during this time, with continued exercise and diet regulation, will not disappear and can theoretically last a lifetime.
Can you get newbie gains again?
While you can’t get the exact same level of rapid growth you can get semi-newbie gains if you take an extended break from lifting weight (3+ months) in which time your body re-sensitizes to resistance training.
How fast do beginners gain muscle?
Very fast because they are starting from zero. The rate of growth is unachievable for experienced lifters, thereby putting it in the category of “enhanced growth” despite it being entirely natural. TL;DR cherish those newbie gains!
How much muscle can a newbie gain in 1 month?
Beginner lifters, with a proper workout protocol and sufficient diet can achieve anywhere between 1-1.5% of their total bodyweight in muscle mass.
How should a beginner start bodybuilding?
Which a coach. Learning proper form and all the exercises is like building out a tool chest upon which all future training will be based. Learning the fundamentals correctly will set you up for a lifetime of success vs a lifetime of injury and failure.