June 10, 2021 9 min read

Are you someone who's just getting started on their muscle-building journey but is somewhat nervous to get started? If so, don't be. Because, as a beginner, the odds that you make huge muscle gains are in your favor.

This is all thanks to a concept called beginner gains, also known as newbie gains. Newbie gains refer to beginner lifters being able to build bigger muscles at a faster pace than more experienced lifters. Newbie lifters rejoice!

If you're a newbie lifter, here's everything you need to know about newbie gains, including how long you can expect your beginner advantages to last.

a male beginner training in the gym with a personal trainer

What Are Newbie Gains (Beginner Gains)?

Have you ever watched weight loss shows such asThe Biggest Loser? If so, have you ever been amazed how contestants will often drop 10, 15, or even 20 pounds in their first week of training? If so, you were witnessing the newbie gains phenomenon in action.

Newbie gains is something that people new to exercise will likely experience when they're first starting. Shows likeThe Biggest Loser demonstrate how newbies can experience rapid weight loss shortly after starting training. But, newbie gains is related to more than just weight loss.

Beginner lifters can also experience rapid muscle gain shortly after starting to lift weights. Even if their lifting sessions aren't all that intense, the gains they see are often astounding. Whether it's rapid weight loss or strength gains, it all comes back to the concept of newbie gains.

Unfortunately, like many good things, newbie gains don't last forever. After a beginner has spent a certain amount of time in the gym, that rapid increase in muscle gain begins to slow down. Specifically, after about one year of lifting, newbies typically start to see those easy gains subside.

For people who've been lifting for years on end now, this all might seem a little unfair. And, we will say that it can be a struggle to see a newbie walk into the gym and make massive gains in what seems like overnight. For newbies, though, seeing those gains can be a big motivation to keep showing up in the gym every day. Here's exactly how newbie gains work:

How Do You Build Muscle in the First Place?

The way that your body builds muscles is through a process called hypertrophy. Hypertrophy is when the size of your muscles increases due to continuously challenging them with resistance training. When you practice resistance training, including weight lifting, hypertrophy initiates and a cascade of events occur in the body where one event causes the next. Those events include:

  • Muscle fibers break down
  • Certain hormones including testosterone and human growth hormones activate
  • Muscle protein synthesis initiates

The key event for muscle growth is muscle protein synthesis.

Muscle protein synthesis initiates to help repair broken down amino acids in muscle tissues and fibers. The tissues and fibers get broken down from working out. Then, the tissues get rebuilt during muscle protein synthesis. 

When they’re repaired, they're rebuilt to be stronger than what they were when they first broke down. That is, at least, if your diet includes enough protein and calories to support muscle growth. But, when you do have more than enough protein and calories, then the re-built muscle fibers will be larger than what they were before you worked out.

So, the key to muscle growth is muscle protein synthesis which stimulates muscle growth given that you're meeting certain dietary needs. But, this doesn't explain why beginners experience such big gains right off the bat. Read on to see how muscle protein synthesis is on the side of newbies. 

What Causes Newbie Gains?

Technically, the way that you build newbie gains is the same way you build post-newbie gains. It's just that hypertrophy is hyperactive when you're a newbie. So, why is hypertrophy so powerful during the first year or so of lifting?

When you're a beginner to weight training, cardio, or any other type of exercise, your body enters somewhat of a state of shock. Not used to the breakdown of muscle fibers, hypertrophy goes into overdrive to rebuild the broken down tissues.

As a result, muscle protein synthesis occurs at an extremely high rate which leads to big muscle gains in a short period. Not only that, but newbies commonly experience rapid body fat loss in addition to muscle gain.

This rapid uptick in muscle protein synthesis inevitably increases the amount of muscle on your body. Hence, why people in their first year of training usually make significantly more gains than people who are perhaps years into their training program.

The Difference in Muscle Gains Between Newbie Gains and Post-Newbie Gains

As we mentioned above, newbie gains won't last forever. After you've spent a certain amount of time doing a weight training routine, you enter what we call the post-newbie gains phase. In this phase, you still build muscle, but not in the same way you would as a newbie. Specifically, the difference between newbie and post-newbie muscle gains comes down to two things:

  1. The size of the muscle gains made
  2. The time it takes to make muscle gains

Newbie Gains Are Greater and Come on Sooner

As a newbie lifter, you make bigger gains in less time. Period. Moreover, the rate at which newbies make gains is greater than the rate at which non-newbies make gains. This comes down to muscle protein synthesis and how it gets activated to a greater degree for beginners.

Consider one study showing the difference in muscle protein synthesis after a workout between untrained (newbie) and trained (non-newbie lifters). The study showed that:

  • Newbie lifters experienced muscle protein synthesis for on average almost 50 hours after lifting
  • Non-newbie lifters experience muscle protein synthesis for on average about 36 hours after lifting

With more time in protein synthesis, more pounds of lean muscle is built. And, with more lean muscle built from doing the same workout, newbie lifters build muscle faster than non-newbies. This goes to show how muscle gains come on to beginners both stronger and faster than to those who have already been in the gym for years.

How Long Beginner Gains Last For and How Much Can You Gain From Them

There is no exact formula or answer to how long the newbie gains kick lasts. However, there is a general consensus among professionals that the newbie gains period tends to last somewhere between 6 and 12 months after starting lifting. Different scientists and fitness professionals each have their explanations as to how long they believe the newbie kick lasts. 

One specific fitness pro who's joined the newbie gains conversation is Lyle McDonald.

He believes newbie gains last about 1 year and result in a 2-pound muscle gain per month. As a long-time fitness pro, McDonald has helped hundreds of people get fit in the gym.

From his own experiences plus research, he put together a table that shows how many pounds of muscle a lifter can expect to gain over a few years, starting with the newbie phase. Here's a synopsis of his table:

  • First-year: 2 pounds of muscle/month
  • Second-year: 1 pound of muscle/month
  • Third-year: .5 pounds of muscle/month
  • Fourth-year: between .1 and .5 pounds of muscle/month

As you can see, your ability to gain muscle mass drops significantly after the first year of training.

A Few Factors That Determine How Long Newbie Gains Last

Not everyone's newbie gains experience will be the same. Some will gain more in less time and with less work, while others will have to work harder for more time only to see fewer results.

This explains why it's really difficult to determine exactly how long the newbie phase lasts and how much muscle you can build during it. Here are some factors that determine how long your newbie gain phase will last:

  1. How new you are to fitness: The newer you are to fitness, the more gains you should see. That's because, if exercising is completely new to you, it’ll be more of a shock to your body and you'll break down more muscle tissues. As a result, protein synthesis will kick into overdrive to fix the tissues and you'll see more results in less time.
  1. Your genetics: While hard work is important in the gym, there is research that suggests genetics plays a big role in how big your muscles can get. Consider Dr. Casey Butt's research in which he states that the maximum muscle mass one can attain is largely dependent on the size of their skeletonHe's even put together this calculator for people to get an idea of the maximum muscular bodyweight they can attain based on some specific skeletal measurements. 
  1. The intensity of your training: The more intense your workouts are as a newbie, the more gains you should see. By intensity, we mean how much the workouts challenge your muscles.  Given that you have proper form, the harder you go in the gym, the more gains you'll make.
a beginner and expert flexing muscles in a gym

How To Keep Making Gains Once Newbie Gains End

It can be frustrating to watch first-time lifters make big gains so quickly while you as an experienced lifter have to work ten times harder just to make small gains. But, that doesn't mean you should stop strength training. It means you need to keep lifting while integrating some helpful tips to keep the gains coming. If you're beyond your newbie gain days, then use these tips to keep making those gains:

1. Keep Lifting Heavier Weights

If you want to keep on seeing muscle gains, then you need to continuously increase the weight of the weights you lift. This is what's known as progressive overload and it's essential if you want to keep on getting stronger over time. It's simple: Let's say you spend six weeks doing bench press at 225. At first, that weight would be challenging.

But, over the six weeks, the muscles in your chest muscle group will get stronger, and lifting 225 will become less difficult. Therefore, once the six weeks are up, you need to up the weight on your barbell because your muscles will have adapted and need more of a challenge again. Failure to progressively increase your lifting load will result in stunted muscle growth.

2. Do Different Exercises

If you're never switching up your workout routine, it's easy to get stuck in a rut. As a result, you won't make progress with your gains and you'll also probably get bored with the workouts. The key to switching things up with your lifts is to continuously introduce new stimuli into your workout. By that, we mean doing new kinds of lifts that stimulate your muscles in new ways.

 For example, deadlifts are a can't miss exercise that we don't necessarily suggest removing from your workout routine. But you could try switching them up a bit by using dumbbells instead of a barbell (while upping your weight of course to reach a progressive overload).

Changing the tool that you do deadlifts with will target some different muscles. Or, a different exercise that you've never done before could be a new stimulus. The point is, don't get stuck in your same old workout routine. Keep changing things up to keep making gains. 

3. Do Compound Exercises

Compound exercises are exercises that work out several muscle groups at a time. For example, squats are considered a staple leg day exercise. But, they work more muscles than just the quads and hamstrings.  They also work the glutes, hips, core, and shoulders.

Because they get many muscles working at once, they induce more muscle protein synthesis throughout the body. Therefore, turn your workout into a compound lift session filled with different compound exercises. 

4. Reach a Calorie Surplus

When you are in a bulking phase, you need to make sure you have more than enough calories to fuel muscle protein synthesis. You must monitor your calorie intake to make sure that you're eating at least 500 calories above your baseline calorie intake.

For example, the average person's daily caloric needs is about 2,000. If this person wants to have a calorie surplus, they should eat about 500 more calories per day for a total of 2,500.

As long as you’re hitting your lifts every day, those extra calories from the surplus should result in muscle gain, not fat gain. For a better idea of how many calories you need to eat to reach a surplus, talk to a personal trainer. 

5. Focus on Getting Enough Protein and Carbs

Macronutrients include protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Getting enough of them, particularly protein, is essential for gaining mass. As a rule of thumb, try to eat one gram of protein for every pound of body weight to build mass. For a more specific idea of how many grams of protein you should have per day, we again suggest talking to a trainer. 

6. Take a Creatine Supplement

As a heavy lifter, you should also take at least a protein supplement such as classic whey protein. However, one supplement that you should also consider taking is creatine.  

Creatine is an organic compound produced naturally by your body. When taken as a supplement, it not only helps build muscle but also improves recovery times and gives you more energy. To keep gains coming, add a creatine supplement to your everyday supplement diet.

Final Thoughts on Newbie Gains

So, if you are a newbie lifter, then congratulations! You're about to go through a period where you'll quickly see results and feel like a new person in no time. Just beware that it won't last forever. And, when it does end, you've got this article as your guide to continue making gains even once your newbie phase is over with.

 

Bonus tip: Are you a newbie in need of some more lifting workout ideas? If so, then check out our top bodybuilding YouTube channels.


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