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Muscle and Strength Gains for Beginners

During your first session at The Perfect Workout, you may have asked your trainer the following question: “How much muscle (or strength) should I expect to gain during my first few weeks?”

Based on your trainer’s experience, he or she may have offered an educated guess. However, the truth is we have no idea how much strength or muscle you, as an individual, will gain during your first few weeks. No one does. There is just too much variability between separate people. Sure, we can offer averages based on previous results, but results vary and outliers do exist.

This point is illustrated well by a 2005 study that involved 9 schools across the US and one in Dublin, Ireland [1]. This large study showed that you’re almost guaranteed to gain strength and muscle from a proper strength training program, but as far as how much you’ll improve is very hard to predict. The study’s researchers followed 585 men and women, 18 to 40 years old, for 12 weeks of upper arm training. The collaboration of 10 schools enabled a large sample size of participants, and this is important because large sample sizes provide better representations of the universal response.

The training featured four exercises, two for the biceps and two for the triceps. Each exercise was performed for three sets to the fatigue point of “muscle success” and the weight loads were increased throughout the training. Before and after the 12 weeks, one-repetition maximum tests and MRIs were conducted to measure arm strength and muscle size.

The researchers predicted a wide range of muscle and strength changes…and they were correct. Women and men ranged from 0 to 250% and 0 to 150% stronger, respectively. Average strength gains were 64% and 40%. Muscle size changes ranged from –3% to 56% and –2% to 59% in women and men. Average muscle size changes were 18% and 20%.

As mentioned, there were outliers. Outliers, in research terms, are considered two standard deviations away from the mean and usually make up less than 5% of any sample. In terms of strength, since no participants lost strength, outliers basically didn’t exist on the low end. On the high end, 2% of women and 3% of men were outliers. In terms of increasing muscle tissue, thirty-six people gained less than 5% and 10 people gained more than 40%.

The previously mentioned ranges included everyone in the study. Ignoring the outliers and near-outliers, participants mostly gained from 5% to 30% more muscle and also gained between 5% and 95% in strength.

The researchers listed gender, age, current physical activity level, previous training, and hormone status as as some of the factors affecting how much people will gain from strength training. The researchers did not allow people who had been weight training during the previous year to participate in the study. Hormone levels, such as testosterone, were not tested. The correlation between age and muscle size was extremely weak, so age did not predict muscle growth in this study. And physical activity outside of the study’s training was not recommended.

That leaves us with gender. While gender could explain the disparities in average strength and muscle mass gained in women versus men, it obviously doesn’t explain differences within each gender. For example, one woman gained no strength whereas another became 250% stronger. Apparently even more additional factors than the researchers listed (such as the amount of muscle fibers a person is born with, muscle fiber type ratio, length of the muscle bellies and tendons, etc.) allow some people’s bodies to better respond to strength training (and some people’s bodies have less responsiveness).

There are two observations I’ll make regarding this study. First, the trainees were given strict orders to make no dietary changes. If allowed to consume more protein in their diets (especially immediately following workouts for better post workout recovery) it’s likely that the improvements would’ve been higher across the board. Second, there are ranges for strength and muscle mass that include the vast majority, but predicting the right numbers for a specific individual’s muscle and strength gains is unlikely. A more constructive approach is to observe the gains made in the initial sessions and then perpetually work to improve those values.

By Matt Hedman, President of The Perfect Workout


References

  1. Hubal, M. J. (2005). Variability in muscle size and strength gain after unilateral resistance training. Medicine, Science, Sports & Exercise, 37(6), 964-72.

In one year Heather lost 33 pounds, 27.2 inches, and 11% body fat overall!

For others who may be at a similar point that she was, Heather says, “Get up and do it. Give it a try. You can do anything for 20 minutes. I’m over the moon about The Perfect Workout.”

Instructor Lauren Le Blanc remembers the very first time Heather Frederickson came in to check out The Perfect Workout. “Heather told me she was not a believer, and that I had a finite amount of time to prove that this method worked. I assured her we would find a way to work with her body issues and injuries and that I would challenge her safely.”

Heather admits, “I’m quite a skeptic, but I was at the point I knew I had to do something.” Even though she was skeptical about the claims that you could do a full body strength workout in just 20 minutes, twice a week, she signed up right away. “I figured it was worth a try. It was better than what I was doing – nothing!”

As a nurse, Heather spends a lot of time on her feet, and over the years she developed osteoarthritis in her knees and hips. It caused a lot of pain, and doctors suggested a possible knee replacement, which she wasn’t ready for. “Before I came to The Perfect Workout,” says Heather, “I was sluggish, stagnant, and stiff. I didn’t like the way I looked, and I didn’t like the way I felt.”

The first three weeks, Lauren was very cautious, especially with Heather’s bone-on-bone knee situation. They worked around that by adjusting the leg press to a half-rep, and in general took things slow. After nine weeks, Heather says she noticed changes every time she went. The inches and weight started coming off, then her endurance increased, and slowly her strength did, too. “I’ve taken weight off my joints and no longer have discomfort. That’s huge. I sleep really well now, too. I haven’t slept this well in years.” Lauren says the biggest payoff has been seeing Heather’s workout clothes get baggier and baggier by the day! Since starting in March 2013, Heather has lost 27.2 total inches, dropped 33 pounds, and gone from 41.8% body fat to 30.7.

Heather says, “Lauren makes it fun. She has a great, bubbly personality. She knows how to get me through the workout. When you have a relationship with someone it makes it easier. Consistency is the key, and I enjoy going. I actually look forward to it.” Lauren enjoys having her, too. “Heather always walks through the door with a big smile and an enormous amount of enthusiasm. There is an equal amount of groaning and laughter in every workout!”

Meet Kim Minervine, Personal Trainer at The Perfect Workout’s Memorial & The Woodlands Studios

After losing 40 pounds three years ago, Kim wanted to help others get in great shape, too. She joined The Perfect Workout’s team last winter and has been helping clients lose fat and gain strength ever since.

If Kim Minervine had followed a different path, you might recognize her name as another Leann Rimes. In fact, a producer once asked her to be Leann’s backup singer, and to this day, one of Kim’s passions is singing in local Opry houses. Her second love after singing was baking, and she pursued that at the Texas Culinary Academy in Austin. She ran a successful bakery for 12 years, but being surrounded by sweets, Kim’s weight crept up on her until she got to a point where she asked herself, “Did this happen?!” That was four years ago, and since then she’s made dramatic changes. No more sweets, no sodas, and running helped her lose 40 pounds, and she’s kept it all off for three years.

Fueled by enthusiasm from her weight loss transformation, Kim had a new desire last fall to help others get in great shape, too. Kim became the very first trainer The Perfect Workout hired in Texas, and she couldn’t be more thrilled. “We have a passion for training clients in this method. It’s safer and more effective,” she says. And it’s more than just physical. “Clients come in for 20 minutes and their outlook changes. They leave with a smile on their face.”

Kim has seen results from slow-motion strength training in her own body. “I have more definition in my 30s than ever,” she says. “It’s a huge difference.” Kim is helping her clients get great results, too. One client who has some physical limitations has already shown improvement in her first month, including toning and building muscles in her legs that she never had before. Another woman says it’s helped her golf swing, and another client reported back that she can now lift her mom’s wheelchair. “It’s exciting that I can help them with everyday things,” says Kim. “They tell me, ‘If you weren’t here, I couldn’t do this.’ “

Kim has even gotten her 73-year old grandma into the studio, who exclaimed, “It’s amazing how good you feel after a workout!” Kim trains every client the way she’d want someone else training her grandma. “You need patience, you have to listen to clients, and you have to love what you do. How many people can say they love going to work?!”