How Long Does It Really Take to Build Muscle?

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To build muscle, it’s important to add strength training to your exercise routine, while also including cardio and protein-rich foods in your diet.


Incorporating strength training into your workout routine is essential for building muscle, even though it may seem intimidating at first.

Although it may take a few weeks to several months, a consistent strength training program can yield noticeable muscle gains.

Learn more about the process that is needed to build muscle, foods that nourish the body, and tips to help you get started.

How do muscles grow?

Intense exercise, like weightlifting, causes muscle injury that triggers the activation of satellite cells on the outside of muscle fibers. These cells work together to repair the damage, resulting in increased muscle fiber size. This makes skeletal muscle the most adaptable tissue in the body for building muscle.

Some hormones play a crucial role in promoting muscle growth by regulating satellite cells, which are responsible for repairing and increasing muscle fiber size. They are also responsible for:

  • Sending cells to your muscles post-exercise
  • Forming new blood capillaries
  • Repairing muscle cells
  • Regulating muscle mass

Engaging in resistance exercises can stimulate the release of growth hormone from the pituitary gland. The amount of growth hormone released depends on the intensity of the exercise performed.

Growth hormone plays a critical role in metabolism and facilitates the conversion of amino acids into protein, which helps to build muscle.

How to build muscle?

It’s not essential to spend your entire day at the gym to build muscle. Weight training for 20 to 30 minutes, 2 to 3 times a week, targeting all major muscle groups at least twice, can yield significant results.

Though immediate results may not be apparent, a single strength training session can trigger protein synthesis within 2 to 4 hours which can last for up to 24 hours after exercise, promoting muscle growth.

How can you know if your muscles are growing? You may observe increased muscle definition or experience greater ease lifting heavier weights over time.

Here are a few examples of strength training exercises you can try:

  • Bodyweight exercises like pushups, squats, and lunges are simple yet effective.
  • Resistance bands are a versatile and affordable option.
  • Free weights or even household objects such as soup cans can be used for a range of exercises.
  • Stationary weight machines, such as leg curl machines, are great for targeting specific muscle groups.

When lifting weights, aim for 8-15 repetitions in a row (one set) and rest for a minute in between sets. Each repetition should take approximately 3 seconds to lift, hold for a second, and 3 seconds to lower the weight, back to starting position.

Resistance vs repetition

You should choose a challenging weight, also called resistance, for your strength training exercises in order to build muscle. The weight should fatigue your muscles after 12 to 15 reps. When the weight feels too easy, gradually increase it. One set of 12 reps with a heavy enough weight can be more effective than three sets at a lighter weight.

The reason why rest is important

When starting a strength training program, it’s crucial to allow your body to rest adequately. Overworking your muscles without proper rest can result in injury and hinder your progress.

It’s recommended by experts to avoid targeting the same muscle group two days in a row during strength training.

Do women build muscle at the same rate as men?

The process of muscle development differs between men and women due to the varying levels of testosterone present in their bodies. Although testosterone is present in both sexes, men generally have more of it.

However, according to this 2000 study, both genders exhibited similar gains in muscle strength and mass after completing a strength training program.

Muscle growth is influenced by several factors, including:

  • Body size
  • Body composition
  • Hormonal levels

In general, individuals who have greater muscle mass to start with tend to see more significant changes in muscle size regardless of their gender.

Cardio and muscles

Aerobic exercise, commonly known as cardio, is beneficial for your cardiovascular system as it increases your heart and breathing rates. There is a belief that doing too much cardio can hinder muscle building, but current research suggests otherwise.

Aerobic exercise has positive effects on muscle growth, muscle function, and exercise capacity. These benefits are particularly shown in older individuals or those who were previously sedentary.

In order to build muscle through cardio, it’s important to find the right balance of intensity, duration, and frequency.

Experts recommend exercising at an intensity of 70 to 80 percent of your heart rate reserve (HRR) for 30 to 45 minutes per session, 4 to 5 times per week. To calculate your HRR, subtract your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate.

Food and muscles

Eating certain foods can help to build muscle, with protein being a crucial component in providing fuel for muscles. To determine the appropriate amount of protein intake, it is recommended that individuals over the age of 19 consume approximately 0.8g (grams) of protein per Kg (kilogram) of their body weight each day.

For example, a woman weighing 150 pounds (68 kg) would need to consume around 54g (grams) of protein per day (68 kg x 0.8 g = 54.5 g). On the other hand, a man weighing 180 pounds (82 kg) would require an intake of approximately 66g (grams) of protein daily (82 kg x 0.8 g = 65.6 g).

If you’re unsure of what to eat, search for foods that are high in protein and contain a significant amount of the amino acid leucine. Leucine can be found in animal-based products such as:

  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Milk products, such as cheese

Plant-based sources of protein include foods like:


If you’re interested in getting started to build muscle, the initial step could be visiting your nearby gym and scheduling a consultation with a personal trainer. Numerous gyms provide a free session as part of their membership promotion.

A personal trainer can assist you in mastering the correct technique to build muscle using free weights, weight machines, and other equipment. Proper form is essential in preventing injuries.

Below are some additional tips for beginners:

  • To prevent injury from exercising with cold muscles, it’s important to warm up with some type of aerobic exercise for 5 to 10 minutes. Brisk walking is a good option.
  • If you need to, begin with just 1 or 2-pound weights and start light. Alternatively, you could go through the motions of strength training with no weight, as you’ll still be lifting the weight of your arms and legs.
  • It’s important to gradually increase your lifting weight during strength training. Lifting too much weight too soon can be dangerous. However, it’s also important to challenge your muscles to see gains. Try lifting weights that tire your muscles after 12 to 15 repetitions.
  • When lifting weights, it’s important to use controlled movements. Avoid swinging weights that are too heavy by using uncontrolled motion at your joints, as this can lead to injury.
  • Remember to breathe during your workout. Breathe out as you lift or push a weight, and breathe in as you relax.
  • It’s normal to experience some muscle soreness and fatigue for a few days after exercising. However, if you’re feeling extremely sore and exhausted, you may be doing too much. Remember, your exercise should not cause you pain. If you experience pain, take some time off to allow your body to recover.
  • Including cardio exercises in your workout routine can be beneficial. If performed at the right intensity, duration, and frequency, aerobic exercise such as running can help build muscle.
  • Maintain a healthy diet that includes an adequate amount of protein. Foods high in protein provide the necessary fuel for your workouts and help build muscle through specific amino acids like leucine. While animal sources have the highest protein content, plant-based sources can also be sufficient.

It’s important to always consult with your doctor before starting a new workout routine, especially if you have a health condition. They may provide recommendations for exercise modifications that can help ensure your safety.

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