For this article, we interviewed personal trainer and physical therapist Clyde Staley, PT, DPT, CSCS. Clyde is a Doctorate of Physical Therapy and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, he has over 6 years of experience training athletes and clients to increase hypertrophy and perform their best in their sport.
Some athletes seem to gain muscle overnight. Other athletes hit the gym for weeks and months, yet it feels like forever before they notice changes in the mirror.
Many gym-goers do weight training in hopes of building muscle size, a process known as hypertrophy.
How long does it take for muscle hypertrophy to occur?
For beginners, hypertrophy begins to occur after about 6-8 weeks of consistent, progressive strength training. For advanced athletes, hypertrophy occurs in less time, but occurs at a slower rate than it does for beginner athletes.
The rate hypertrophy occurs is dependent on several various factors, including training experience, training parameters, nutrition, age, sex, hormone levels, and genetics.
To maximize the rate hypertrophy occurs, you should be consistently performing a hypertrophy-focused strength program, eating enough calories and protein, and recovering properly.
Parameters That Affect Hypertrophy
The rate of hypertrophy is variable and highly specific to the individual. Some individuals gain muscle faster than others, with modifiable and non-modifiable parameters dictating how fast hypertrophy occurs.
Modifiable parameters that affect how fast hypertrophy occurs include:
- Training parameters: those who perform hypertrophy-focused strength training programs gain muscle faster than those who perform other types of programs.
- Training consistency: those who have a regular, consistent training schedule make more and faster gains than those who are inconsistent.
- Calorie intake: A caloric surplus is (almost) always required for hypertrophy to occur.
- Protein intake: Adequate protein intake (about 1.2-2g per kg of body weight) is necessary for maximum hypertrophy to occur.
- Training experience: Athletes of different training ages experience hypertrophy at different rates- beginner athletes experience faster gains, while advanced athletes experience slower rates.
- Recovery: Adequate sleep, hydration, and rest days are necessary for faster rates of hypertrophy.
Non-modifiable parameters that affect how fast hypertrophy occurs include:
- Age: younger individuals typically experience faster rates of hypertrophy than older adults.
- Sex: males typically experience faster rates of hypertrophy than females.
- Hormone levels: greater concentrations of testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin-like growth factors lead to greater rates of hypertrophy.
The First 6-8 Weeks (What to Expect)
For beginner lifters, hypertrophy does not occur on the first day or even the first few weeks of strength training. The first 6-8 weeks are about neuromuscular adaptations- hypertrophic adaptations come with time as a result.
Most beginner lifters tend to notice increases in strength as they increase the frequency and volume of their training. This is a result of neuromuscular changes more than changes in muscle size.
When starting a weight training program, the strength changes occur as a result of improved motor unit activation and sequencing. The brain improves muscles’ ability to contract, and more motor units are recruited.
The result is stronger muscles that are capable of overcoming greater levels of resistance.
Do hypertrophic changes in muscles occur during the first 6-8 weeks along with these neuromuscular changes? Yes, to a small extent.
The physiological processes responsible for hypertrophy are still occurring, but the resultant muscle growth takes time to present itself.
Usually, beginner lifters will notice their first signs of hypertrophy after about 6-8 weeks of consistent strength training, about 2-4 times per week.
Beginner lifters can expect to see marginal amounts of muscle growth in the first 6-8 weeks. 1-2 pounds of muscle mass gain can be expected.
8 Weeks And Beyond (Steady Increases)
Once the initial neuromuscular adaptations occur, muscle hypertrophy occurs at a much faster rate. Athletes should expect steady increases in hypertrophy if they remain consistent with training and nutrition.
The initial 6-8 weeks of resistance training are mostly about neuromuscular adaptations and accustoming the body to the demands of strength training.
Once the neuromuscular system adaptations develop, hypertrophy occurs at a faster rate. The body begins to respond to the demands of strength training by increasing the number and size of muscle fibers needed to overcome the resistance of the weights.
Hypertrophy is largely dependent on a combination of consistency with productive habits. High-volume strength training, appropriate calorie and protein intake, and proper recovery are all essential for hypertrophy.
Athletes who follow these principles consistently can expect to see about .5-1 pounds of weight gain per week, most of which is muscle weight due to hypertrophy.
When maintained consistently, this rate of increase can last for months to 1-2 years.
Growth Based on Your Genetic Potential
Hypertrophy doesn’t occur as rapidly for experienced athletes. Athletes who have been training for years will experience slower rates of hypertrophy than those who are just starting or less experienced.
After 2-3 years of consistent weight training, the body’s ability to gain muscle starts to decrease.
Our bodies have a limited capacity as to how much hypertrophy can occur naturally. This is known as our “genetic potential.”
Once we get close to our genetic potential, our rate of muscle gain starts to slow, and eventually plateau.
Experienced athletes who have been training consistently for 2-3+ years can expect to see a slower rate of hypertrophy compared to beginner to intermediate athletes- anywhere from 1-5 pounds of true muscle gain per year.
How to Increase Hypertrophy Rate Effectively
Hypertrophy occurs at a different rate for all athletes, but all athletes can increase the rate of hypertrophy by consistently strength training, eating adequate calories and protein, and prioritizing recovery.
Strength training should be performed at least 2-3 days per week. Programs should be focused on compound movements performed at a high volume and moderate intensity.
Eating enough calories and protein is essential to ensure weight gain is primarily hypertrophy.
Recovery is when the process of hypertrophy occurs. Getting at least 8 hours of sleep, drinking enough water, and managing stress levels are critical for our muscles to recover and grow adequately.
Austin is the author of loveatfirstfit.com and a personal trainer with extensive knowledge in nutrition. Austin is passionate about helping others to find a suitable healthy lifestyle and feel good about themselves. Austin’s goal is to help people push their limits and achieve their physical performance.