This week, we address the question of how long it takes to build muscle once you start a new training programme.
Considering that many individuals have started new training block this week with the reopening of gyms, how quickly gain you expect to see results? What does the time course look like?
Firstly, many athletes returning to the gym post lockdown are effectively detrained and will be unaccustomed to the higher stress from lifting greater loads – And potentially have an ‘untrained’ status.
During the initial training sessions, muscle soreness and damage is undoubtedly high. The magnitude of muscle damage is typically far higher during the start of a new training block. This then decreases over time as you become accustomed to the heightened stress (repeated bout effect).
Interestingly, very little muscle growth is seen during the first 1-3 weeks of weight training. The increased muscle size and fullness observed is through damage-induced muscle swelling and not ‘true hypertrophy’.
When you look at the muscle under a microscope, you’ll see that muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is very high (after exercise) during the initial stages of a new programme. However, this is most likely associated with the heightened need to repair and remodel the damaged muscle…as per image.
A few weeks of progressing through your programme, muscle damage becomes reduced and you’ll have a better platform for growth. I.e. once muscle damage settles down, then we start building muscle. Therefore, we perhaps need to change the paradigm of ‘no pain, no gain’ to ‘feel less pain and you’ll start to gain’. Perhaps so. Or perhaps not. More on this next week.
Research by Damas et al (2018) suggests the following time course in untrained individuals:
– 0-4 sessions mostly cause cell swelling (minimal growth).
– 8-12 sessions result in approx. ~3-4% increase in true hypertrophy (modest growth).
– After ~18 sessions over 6-10 weeks, a ~7-10% increase in true muscle hypertrophy are seen (meaningful growth).
Although the precise time frame for true hypertrophy is still debatable as many factors influence this (training status, responder vs non-responder, programme intensity, volume etc), it does show a general trend of what our muscles do when we start training progressively.
Lastly, it displays how important consistency is…you won’t gain significant size if you’re programme hopping or changing training modalities every 3-4 weeks
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