As a skinny guy looking to transform your physique, you must set yourself realistic weight gain targets. Otherwise, you risk unfulfilling unrealistic expectations, becoming dejected, and giving up altogether! This post explains how long you can expect it to take to gain big muscles and get buff.
The average beginner typically takes 1 to 5 years to gain big muscles and get buff. Generally speaking, the longer the training period, the bigger the person will get. However, discipline in following a good training program and bulking diet also affects how big someone can get in 5 years.
I packed on almost 40 pounds of lean muscle mass to transform my skinny frame in 2 years.
Below, I share my research and experience on exactly how long you can expect your own journey to take!
Let’s jump right in.
- How Do You Gain Big Muscles?
- How Long Does It Take To Gain Big Muscles?
- How Long Does It Take To Start Seeing Noticeably Bigger Muscles?
- What’s The Difference Between Big And Buff?
- How Long Does It Take To Build Muscle, Lose Fat, And Get Buff?
- How To Bulk And Cut
- Good Foods To For Bulking
- Protein Powders Can Reduce How Long It Takes To Gain Big Muscles!
- Train Like This To Reduce How Long It Takes To Gain Big Muscles!
How Do You Gain Big Muscles?
Generally speaking, an individual can gain big muscles through a combination of heavy resistance training and dieting. Progressive overload should be applied to keep the muscles stimulated for growth. Furthermore, a calorie surplus and high protein intake are key to fuelling muscle growth.
The muscle growth (hypertrophy) process requires repeated cycles of training and resting, as follows:
- Muscle tissue is composed of muscle fibres which are in turn made from muscle cells.
- Intense physical activity like resistance training causes microscopic injuries called microtears in muscle fibres.
- Post-workout cellular repair response heals these injuries during rest.
- Muscle fibres become bigger and more numerous over repeated cycles of trauma and repair.
- Muscle size and strength increases over time.
You should also note that your muscles won’t get big through training alone. You also need to eat enough calories and protein to fuel hypertrophy (an energetically demanding process).
Furthermore, maximizing hypertrophy requires you to keep your resistance training strenuous by lifting heavy loads and continue increasing weight over time.
This process is called progressive overload (more on this later), and consistent overloading is essential to gain big muscles.
Another reason why lifting heavy weights is vital to getting big lies in the composition of the muscle itself.
All our muscle fibers fall into two broad categories- type II fast-twitch and type I slow-twitch fibers.
Fast-twitch fibers are responsible for explosive power and strength generation (like lifting heavy weights). They are also the most responsive fibers to grow.
This makes heavy resistance training perfect for recruiting your fast-twitch fibers and building big muscles.
Resistance training is most commonly done with free weights like dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells.
But weight machines and resistance bands can also work well.
In fact, any form of intense physical activity such as rowing, boxing, and HIIT could work.
How Long Does It Take To Gain Big Muscles?
An average beginner can take between 1 to 5 years of consistent training to gain big muscles. The exact time required varies depending on the definition of “big”, the effectiveness of the training program, the ability to eat enough protein and calories, and genetic predisposition for muscle growth.
First things first:
The term “big” is inherently a subjective term.
This makes it hard to define what big actually means since the definition varies widely from person to person.
However, I’ll try to give you as concrete an answer as possible!
To do this, I tracked down and compiled the responses from these Reddit and Quora threads to find out how long it took other people to get “big, sculpted, jacked, buff, or whatever you want to call it”.
You can see the majority 34% agree that it really depends on multiple factors including:
- What’s your definition of big?
- What’s your training program like?
- How is your diet?
- Are you genetically predisposed to faster muscle gains?
The remaining 66% of responses were evenly split between 1 to 5 years of consistent training to get big muscles.
Therefore it’s safe to conclude that you should be looking on a yearly time scale to get buff.
You certainly won’t get big in 2 months!
How Long Does It Take To Start Seeing Noticeably Bigger Muscles?
The average beginner can see the first noticeable signs of bigger muscles within 3 months of training. First, the individual may notice strength improvements by month 1. Then their muscles may begin to look more toned by month 2. And by month 3, their muscles will look visibly larger.
In contrast to answering “how long does it take to get big“, defining how long it takes to start seeing noticeably bigger muscles is a much easier job.
This 2004 study suggests that your body actually increases protein synthesis (the building blocks of muscle) within 2 to 4 hours after a workout has finished, to facilitate the repair response.
However, this occurs at such a microscopic level that you’ll not be able to notice it.
So what does the timeline look like for visibly larger muscles?
1) A Post-Workout Pump Can Happen Immediately
Speaking from personal experience, what you may notice immediately after your first few intense weight sessions is a “muscle pump” which results in enlarged muscles and the “swole look”.
But you shouldn’t confuse this with genuine muscle growth.
The pump actually happens as a result of temporarily increased blood flow, water weight, and microtear inflammation in the muscle that has just been trained.
So don’t get your hopes up just yet!
In fact, a “pump” usually subsides after a few days without training.
2) Strength Gains Usually Happen Within 1-4 Weeks Of Training
You’ll also likely notice the first signs of strength gains within the first month of starting your training program.
These signs include; the ability to lift heavier weights, do more repetitions, complete more sets, require less rest between sets, and generally find your current workload easier to complete.
According to this research paper, the first signs of strength gains happen as a result of increased neuromuscular recruitment (the so-called “mind to body muscle contractions”).
And whilst these strength improvements will not give you noticeably bigger muscles immediately, they are the first signs that your muscles are starting to get bigger (since muscle strength and size are correlated).
From here, you’ll need to keep training to progress in your journey to get big muscles and a buff physique!
You may also be interested in my other post which details the telltale signs of strength and muscle gains in males and females you can expect to see if your training program is effective.
4) Small But Noticeable Muscle Gains Usually Happen Within 4-8 Weeks Of Training
After you’ve persevered for around 1-2 months, you’ll probably see the first noticeable signs of muscle growth.
In support of this, a 2017 study found that untrained men saw small but detectable changes in muscle size after 4 weeks of weight training 2 times per week.
This will likely come in the form of muscle that’s visibly more toned with greater definition compared to the pre-training state.
Whilst others may not notice this yet, you likely will be able to tell the difference in front of a mirror.
5) Highly Noticeable Muscle Gains Usually Develop By 12 Weeks Of Training
If you maintain your commitment to regular workouts and disciplined eating, you should be able to see a highly noticeable physique improvement by month 3.
Not only you.
Others will likely start noticing and commenting.
Congrats! Your journey from skinny to muscular has truly begun.
Now you can keep going to get even bigger muscles!
What’s The Difference Between Big And Buff?
A big person typically has large musculature as well as significant amounts of body fat. Therefore their fat may cover any visible muscular definition. A buff person also has large musculature. But buff people also have a low body fat percentage to reveal defined muscles.
These are just my definitions for this post.
But it’s also the consensus you’ll find in most fitness and bodybuilding communities.
Both body type classifications are well-built, strong, and muscular.
But the buff body is generally more ripped, defined, and often has a six-pack since their low body fat percentage reveals musculature more easily (think of your typical fitness model and athlete).
In contrast, a big person may look outright bulky (think of a strongman).
Therefore it can often take much longer to get buff since the common procedure requires the person to bulk up first (gaining muscle and fat), and then cut (to maintain muscle and lose fat).
Most people may even have to go on multiple bulk-cut cycles to go from skinny to big, to buff.
You might also be interested in checking out my other post to find out how long it takes to bulk up and get jacked as a skinny beginner.
How Long Does It Take To Build Muscle, Lose Fat, And Get Buff?
It can take 1-5 years or more of training and dieting to build a buff physique. During this time, a person often has to complete multiple bulk-cut cycles to build muscle and lose fat, respectively. A typical bulk lasts around 2-3 months, whilst a cut can take around 1-2 months.
You may have noticed that the 1-5 year timeframe to get buff is similar to the timeframe to get big.
That’s because, in reality, 1-5 years is enough time to achieve both goals.
The question really is how big or how buff you want to get.
Are you more focused on getting big by packing on more muscle at the expense of gaining more fat?
Or are you more focused on getting buff by putting on slightly less muscle but keeping your body fat percentage under control?
Either way, the journey can take around 1-5 years or more.
Speaking from personal experience, it took me 2 years to build the buff body (big muscles and low body fat percentage) you see in the photo above.
And I’m still working on my own journey. I’m still bulking and cutting to keep getting bigger and leaner.
How To Bulk And Cut
A bulk is achieved by consuming a 5-20% calorie surplus to fuel muscle growth. A cut is achieved by eating a 5-10% calorie deficit to promote fat loss. Bulking and cutting both require a protein intake of at least 1g per pound of bodyweight to build and maintain muscle mass.
Therefore protein intake should be kept high regardless of whether you’re bulking or cutting.
Furthermore, bulks can be further subcategorized into lean (clean) and dirty bulking.
The real variable here is your calorie intake, as follows:
|Bulk vs Cut||Daily Calorie Intake||Minimum Daily Protein Intake|
|Lean/clean Bulk||+5 to 15% above maintenance||1g per pound of body weight|
|Dirty Bulk||+20% above maintenance||1g per pound of body weight|
|Cut||-5 to 10% below maintenance||1g per pound of body weight|
You can use TDEE to find out your maintenance calories.
For example: if a 140lb male uses 2500 maintenance calories per day, then a 15% surplus would mean he would need to consume 2875 calories per day (2500 x 1.15). He would also need at least 140g of protein per day.
You should also stick to heavy weight training even on a cut. Whilst you’ll unlikely be able to apply progressive overload on a calorie deficit, but you should still be able to maintain your current strength levels.
Very Skinny Guys Can Bulk For Longer
If you’re a very skinny person, you may also get away with bulking without cutting for extended periods of time.
That’s because your naturally low body fat percentage gives you a degree of flexibility in terms of gaining fat.
Doing this means it won’t take you as long to gain big muscles, compared to someone who goes on a series of small bulk-cut cycles.
However, if you go down this route, I’d advise you to stick to a mild calorie surplus (i.e. a lean bulk) to prevent too much fat buildup.
By doing this, you can expect to gain 10-20lbs of lean muscle in around a year.
Good Foods To For Bulking
These are some of the best bulking foods:
|Bulking Food||Typical Calories / 100g||Typical Protein / 100g||Typical Fats / 100g||Typical Carbs / 100g|
|Protein Powder (serving)||150 cal||25g||2g||2g|
|Weight Gainer Powder (serving)||1000 cal||50g||20g||30g|
|Cow’s Milk||40 cal||3g||1g||5g|
|Soy Milk||40 cal||3g||2g||6g|
|Nuts & seeds||580 cal||22g||50g||22g|
|Whole Eggs (single)||150 cal||13g||11g||1g|
By including these foods in your diet, you can reduce how long it takes to gain big muscles.
You may also be interested in my other article to find out how much muscle you can gain in 1-3 months.
Protein Powders Can Reduce How Long It Takes To Gain Big Muscles!
Protein powders can help beginners get bigger by contributing to nutrition targets. A typical protein shake can contain between 20 to 50 grams of protein and 100 to 1000 calories. This makes protein shakes a convenient and cost-effective way to consume calories and protein.
You mainly have 2 options when it comes to protein shakes- lean powders and weight gainers.
Lean powders are my personal preference.
They pack a lot of protein with minimal fats and carbs. This makes them an ideal supplement (together with your daily meals) for lean bulking.
I use the MyProtein Impact Whey (you can find the cheapest price here). Each serving contains 21g of protein and 100 calories at $0.30 per serving. A 5.5lb bag will last you between 2-3 months.
In comparison, weight gainer powders are pricier but they also pack more nutrients.
If you’re new to bulking, you may find a weight gainer like the Optimum Nutrition Serious Mass (you can find the cheapest price here) to be more suitable. Each serving costs $3 but packs 1250 calories and 50g of protein. A 12lb bag will last you half a month.
When I first started bulking, I used mass gainers in my first 2 months and then switched to a leaner protein shake after I had learned how to increase my calorie intake from whole food meals.
Train Like This To Reduce How Long It Takes To Gain Big Muscles!
Some people take longer to gain big muscles than others because their workout program is ineffective.
Here are my top training tips to reduce the amount of time it takes for you to get big and buff (based on personal experience and research):
1) Choose a good training split
Your workout plan should target every muscle in your body if you want to get big. Popular training splits include push-pull-leg, muscle group, and full-body.
I would recommend beginners to start with a full-body split because it’s easy to structure and follow.
Do 3 training days per week, with each workout separated by at least 24 hours of rest.
Each workout should include 1 compound exercise that that hits each major muscle group (see next)
2) Don’t waste time on isolation-type movements
It will take you much longer to gain big muscles if you waste time on isolation-type lifts like the bicep curl and chest fly.
These only work single muscle groups per movement.
In contrast, the 5 big compound movements work multiple muscles in one go:
|5 Big Compound Movements||Muscles Worked|
|Bench press||Pectorals (chest), deltoids (shoulders), triceps (arms)|
|Shoulder press||Deltoids (shoulders), triceps (arms)|
|Row||Trapezius/rhomboids/lats (back), biceps (arms)|
For a complete step-by-step guide on how to gain your first 10lbs of lean mass as a beginner, you can go to my other post here.
3) Apply progressive overload
As your muscles adapt to your training and get bigger, you need to keep them challenged and fatigued by overloading.
This keeps them growing.
Adding weight is the quickest and often the most enjoyable way for beginners to overload.
This method also has the least room for error in terms of keeping your program structured effectively.
That’s because it can be easy to overdo reps/sets (another way to overload) which can harm muscle growth.
Additionally, mechanical tension (i.e. weight) is a key driver in muscle growth.
Generally speaking- the more mechanical tension, the more muscle damage, and the greater the repair response.
I recommend adding 5% weight for upper body exercises and 10% weight for lower body exercises once every 1-2 weeks (or whenever your current workload becomes easy).
4) Practice time under tension training (TUT)
Time under tension (i.e. how long your muscles are contracting for) is another key driver for big muscle growth.
You can practice TUT do this by slowing your lifting tempo.
I do this by counting 2-3 seconds on the upward phase and another 2-3 seconds on the downward phase.
Whilst lifting heavy is important, the weight shouldn’t be so heavy that it forces you to swing and heave your weights uncontrollably.
Instead, find the perfect weight that fatigues your muscles and also allows you to lift slow and in control.
5) Optimize your training volume
The number of sets and reps you perform per exercise and throughout the week has a big influence on how long it takes you to gain muscle.
Training frequency (how often you train a muscle) is also important.
Together, they make up your training volume.
Here’s the ideal training volume for hypertrophy:
- 6-10 different exercises per workout (enough for 30-60 minute session)
- 4-5 sets per muscle group per workout (or 10-20 sets per muscle group per week).
- 8-12 reps per set.
- Target each muscle group at least twice per week over seperate workouts.
This type of training volume is popular in many bodybuilder-type workout programs.
6) Don’t forget to include sufficient rest days
Remember- your muscles grow on rest days (not during the actual workouts).
So you must give them enough time to recover and repair themselves.
Ideally, each muscle should be given 24-48 hours of full rest before being trained again.
I use a cheap foam roller like this Trigger Point (you can find the reviews here) to massage my muscles on rest days.
You can also stretch on rest days.
Stretching and rolling both help a lot with sore muscle recovery to ensure you’re as fresh as possible on your next workout!
I’ve explained how long it takes to gain big muscles and get buff as a skinny beginner.
Most skinny guys will take anywhere between 1 to 5 years to get truly big and muscular.
However please remember that this is a subjective endpoint.
“Big” to one person may not be that big to another.
But the first signs of muscle growth can generally be seen by the third month of starting a training program.
After that, you’ll need to go on one or more bulk-cut cycles to reach your desired goal!
Additionally, you’ll also reduce the time required to get big by following the diet and training tips I share!
How long many years do you expect it will take to get big muscles?
Let me know in the comments!
You may also be interested in the downloadable Kalibre Blueprint PDF which details exactly how I gained 40lbs of lean muscle (it’s 100% free!). It details the exact exercises and nutrition I used to go from skinny to ripped!
Thanks for reading guys!
(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)