- Newbie gains are the rapid increase in muscle mass and strength beginners experience when they first start lifting weights.
- The effect typically lasts around six months to one year.
- The amount of muscle you put on depends on genetics, age, gender, and your specific workout program.
That first step in the gym is the hardest. In a sea of ego-lifting gym bros, nursing a muscle pump, or fixating on their small calves you might leave the gym floor puzzled (or discouraged) about where you fit in. Don’t expect the feeling to last.
Newbie gains—the rapid increase in muscle mass beginners experience when they first start lifting weights—are the supreme envy of even the most seasoned lifters. If you’re new to weightlifting, you can expect your fair share.
What are newbie gains and how long do they last? Everything you need to know, below.
What Are Newbie Gains?
The term newbie gains is often used to describe the significant and sudden increase in strength and muscle mass that many weightlifting newcomers experience in their first few months of training.
To the utmost annoyance of experienced lifters everywhere, who have to fight tooth and nail for every ounce of progress, newbie gains come to beginners with relative ease. Over the same time period, people with no training experience often see significantly greater developments in strength and size when compared to those with more experience.
For example, one study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found untrained individuals gained over five times as much strength over a 21-week period in comparison to those with well-established training histories (1).
Don’t get it twisted: this doesn’t mean newbies will be as strong or have as much muscle mass as a seasoned athlete in a matter of months—that’s only earned by putting in the time. It does mean when you’re first starting out you have a higher adaptation ceiling, so it’s easier to see significant gains fast.
What Causes Newbie Gains?
Several factors. Mainly, in the initial stages of training, your muscles are hyperresponsive—answering new loads and intensity by quickly increasing in both size and contractile power. Here’s how your body does it.
Higher levels of muscle protein synthesis
An uptick in training dramatically spikes muscle protein synthesis (MPS)—the driving force behind your body adapting to exercise (2). This response is particularly robust in individuals who have never lifted weights before, as their bodies are especially sensitive to new stimuli.
One study published in Sports Medicine found MPS spikes to a greater degree in untrained individuals than trained and stays elevated for longer (3). This spike in MPS gives lifting newbies a serious edge.
Greater hormonal response to lifting
A number of hormones dictate your body’s ability to build and maintain muscle—specifically, anabolic hormones. Testosterone, human growth hormone (HGH), and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) are all hormones that play a major role.
A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests untrained individuals experience a greater boost in testosterone, HGH, and DHEA in response to exercise (4). This gives them a hormonal advantage over their well-trained counterparts.
How Much Muscle Can You Expect to Gain as a Newbie?
There isn’t a clear consensus. That’s because your ability to put on muscle is individual—and can vary greatly based on genetics, age, gender, and the specifics of your workout program.
Still, one study suggests that beginners can gain around four to seven pounds of muscle in their first three months of lifting (5). If that progress was maintained at a consistent rate, you could expect to gain around 16 to 28 pounds of muscle in your first year of lifting.
Some people might be able to pack on even more. However, if you catch someone bragging on Reddit about how they put on upwards of 40 to 50 pounds of muscle last year, they’re either a) not natty (steroids exist and work) or b) it’s not all muscle (boo). The extra weight is more likely a combo of fat, muscle, and water.
Keep in mind, muscle isn’t the only plus you can expect from your new routine. Many beginners are able to lose fat while gaining muscle, too. This process, called body recomposition, is relatively common in newbies, but nearly impossible to achieve for fitness veterans (6). Enjoy it while it lasts.
How Long Do Newbie Gains Last?
There’s no magic number, although most people have anecdotally reported the increase in gains cap out around six months to a year. You can still expect gains as you advance in lifting experience and years, just at a slower rate.
This slow in gains can be explained by the repeated bout effect (7)—the principle that the more you do a specific type of exercise, the more accustomed your body becomes to it and the less impactful it is. This phenomenon is a sign your muscles and nervous system are becoming more efficient—congrats.
Can You Miss Out on Newbie Gains?
Ironically, most lifters don’t usually learn about newbie gains until after they’ve dried up—right around when progress starts to slow, and you begin to wonder what you’re doing wrong. If you’ve been focused on progressive overload and fueling correctly, you probably aren’t doing anything wrong—though there are some tweaks to continue seeing improvements (more on that, below). It’s likely just the honeymoon phase of newbie gains coming to a bitter-sweet end.
However, if you do a lot wrong, then it is possible you missed out on newbie gains. Admittedly, most people begin their strength training journey a bit aimlessly. For example, if you’re lifting weights but aren’t lifting heavy, eating enough calories or protein, or getting enough sleep, you probably won’t gain as much muscle in your first year as expected.
Even worse, like a hamster on a wheel, many people get stuck making the same mistakes for years. If that all sounds a little too familiar, don’t sweat it. Correct course and you can still make newbie gains, even if you’ve already been lifting weights for several years.
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How to Maximize Newbie Gains
Here’s exactly how to put yourself in the best possible position to maximize newbie gains and continue making progress after they’re long gone.
Maintain a high protein intake
Since protein is the fuel new muscle tissue is made of, it’s critical to get enough. Aim to eat .7 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight each day to fuel for muscle gain (8, 9).
Struggling to get enough? Try protein powder. Whey varieties and casein are your best bet; but, pea protein is a good alternative for those who struggle with stomach woes or breakouts.
Focus on getting stronger
If your goal is to maximize muscle strength, prioritize progressive overload—gradually increasing in weight and training volume (sets and reps) as you get stronger.
Better yet, get on a training program like a PPL split or a bro split, specifically designed to systematically increase muscle strength and hypertrophy.
Stay in a caloric surplus
Building muscle takes energy. By giving your body slightly more calories than it needs to sustain everyday life and exercise, you give it the energy it needs to build muscle. To do it, aim for a lean or “clean” bulk with a calorie surplus of around 10 percent.
Prioritize compound movements
Compound movements, like deadlifts, squats, chest presses, and rows, tax more muscle groups, and build full body strength. Plus, they take years to perfect. Start focusing on them ASAP to see faster gains in overall strength, and set the foundation for more impactful strength gains as an advanced lifter.
Don’t ignore recovery
Strength training without proper rest and recovery is pointless. Without it, you can expect to feel exhausted and run down. Plus, you won’t see nearly as many gains.
Get proper sleep, drink enough water, stretch and foam roll, consider an ice bath, and for goodness sake eat enough. At the risk of sounding like my mother (cringe), take care of yourself and the results will come.