How are some people able to gain muscle faster than other people?

Author - Stephen Griffith C.S.C.S. Pn1

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Why is it that some people seem to build muscle so much faster than others?

This is a question I think we all have as we’re in the gym training working our hardest and yet still seem to not be seeing the same results as others.

 I’ve worked as a trainer and wellness coach for several years. I’ve helped plenty of people of all different kinds achieve the body they wanted including adding muscle. Over that time I’ve observed 4 main reasons why some people add muscle faster than others.

Genetics

The first, most obvious, and least inspiring reason some people can build chiseled physiques in record time while others must work for years is genetics. Genetics is complex and there are many genes that can determine your success. There are genes that directly affect how much muscle your able to build and how fast you can build it, but there are also genes that affect your fat distribution, insulin sensitivity, your body type, body proportions, injury recovery capacity and everything else about you.

Myostatin is a gene that regulates how much muscle someone can put on . There are several examples of genetic mutations in animals and a few children where this muscle stopping gene does not work normally. The picture below is a picture of a Belgian blue bull muscled to the gills due to an abnormal myostatin gene. I use myostatin as just one example of how genetics plays a role but there are hundred of genes that ultimately affects your genetic potential for muscle growth.

This image, which was originally posted to   Flickr  , was uploaded to Commons using   Flickr upload bot   on 17 March 2009, 16:39 by   Kersti Nebelsiek

This image, which was originally posted to Flickr, was uploaded to Commons using Flickr upload bot on 17 March 2009, 16:39 by Kersti Nebelsiek

Below is another example of how genetics shapes us. The picture shows the 3 main body types - ectomorphs, mesomorphs, and endomorphs.

Image by  Granito diaz

Image by Granito diaz

Mesomorphs in the middle are characterized by their athletic physique and ability to build muscle. This is one reason people build muscle faster than others. However, each of the body types comes with their own positives and negatives and I believe it’s important we

  1. Understand the differences so we may adapt our training to our unique genetic differences.

  2. Understand the differences so we can learn to accept and love that uniqueness.

I am very much an ectomorph. Positives - Skinny, fairly high metabolism, good carb sensitivity, an ability for endurance activities. However, some negatives are that it is difficult to put on muscle, or size, or overall strength.

Endomorphs are bigger, poor carb sensitivity, more likely to put on fat, but can easily add muscle and size. These people are good at activities involving strength and mass.

I feel it’s important that we learn to understand and accept our genetic dispositions as this is important to loving who we are.

We're all unique and we should embrace that uniqueness. If we fail to do so, then we will always feel shame about our bodies or feel like we’ve been shorted in the genetic lottery.

Instead of focusing on the drawbacks of our bodies lets focus on the positives. Shame ruins self-efficacy and is a terrible motivator.

While genetics are important,  I don’t like spending time on them because I’d rather focus on what we have control over such as training and lifestyle.

It is true that we are all unique and genetics plays a large role in our differences but we are also more alike than we are different. We are all human and our bodies all work the same way.

So while each of us has genetic dispositions we can still work through them. I’ve known  of ectomorphs who through hard work and consistency built a muscular physique and I’ve seen  endomorphs lose their excess body fat and go on to run marathons.

Genetics will determine your potential and the ease or difficulty that you put on muscle. We may not all have the potential to be elite athletes, but we are all capable of doing amazing things and building physiques we love so don’t let genetics be an excuse not to try.

Training Status

How long you have been training will strongly influence how quickly you build muscle.

If you’re a beginner you’re in luck. Beginners are full of untapped potential and capable of building muscle quickly with just about any kind of training program.

A beginner can be capable of building a pound of muscle a week. Depending on their starting point a beginner can build 10 - 25 lbs of muscle over the course of a year.

However, muscle growth slows as you become fitter. Elite bodybuilders even on steroids may only build 2–5 lbs a year despite spending 20+ hours a week training.

Previously Gained Muscle

30lbs of muscle in 30 days! You’ll see lots of these claims online but are they true?

In most cases the answer is no. Muscle is a hard to gain and building that fast is unrealistic. However, it’s not impossible.

In May 1973 Bodybuilder Casey Viator began the Colorado Experiment. He was trained by Arthur Jones himself - the founder of Nautilus and the exercise machine era.

Casey was reported to have put on 63 pounds of muscle in 28 days.

It sounds impossible, but what's left out is that Casey was in a car accident in the months before. During his immobility, he could not work out and lost a lot of muscle mass.

Casey didn’t put on 60 + pounds of new muscle in a month. He was simply regaining old muscle. For any athletic endeavor there’s muscle memory where the body remembers how to move and perform  an activity.

Muscle memory allows a person to quickly relearn a motor skill after a break.  But there is also structural memory which allows the body to quickly rebuild the structures of the body such as muscle. This is why it is so much easier to regain fitness than it is to gain it the first time.

So answering your question - someone whose regaining muscle will gain it much faster than someone who is doing it for the first time.

The Colorado Experiment: Fact or Fiction | T Nation

Smart Training

The last factor that affects how quickly you can build muscle is training.

Who would’ve thought?

Good training makes all the difference but what makes good training?

A good program should:

  1. Specifically address the goals you want to achieve.

  2. Be individually tailored to your needs, fitness level ,and movement ability.

  3. Progress over time.

  4. Use exercises that match your needs, goals, and fitness level.

  5. Address recovery. Nutrition, sleep and coping with stress all help aid in the recovery process.

There is no perfect program. But what distinguishes a successful program from a failing program is one that is safe, adheres to the 5 principles I have listed above, and that you can stick to it.

For the full breakdown of the principles of training see -

Principles of Training -The keys to a successful training program

How to Individualize Your Training and Diet for The Best Results 

If your getting started and having trouble sticking to a program, then I suggest you check out our free beginner program

Zero to One - A Beginners Program for Success

 And Lastly, if you enjoy learning about fitness and how to achieve your health goals then be sure to subscribe down at the bottom of the page! 

Stephen Griffith