First, the good news:
Every time you add a plate to the barbell, crank out a few extra reps per set and eat 0.5-0.8g of protein per pound of body weight, you’re building strength.
Now, for the bad news:
As with any goal you may have, there’s only so much progress you can make in a month.
No matter how much protein you eat, how many reps you perform, or how much weight you add to the bar.
So how much stronger can you get in a month (realistically)?
Let’s find out what a reasonable goal would be.
Table of Contents
- Let’s Get Critical and Define “Strength”
- Making the Most Of Your Time in the Gym
- Volume vs. Frequency: Differences in Strength
- The #1 Goal: Progressive Overload
- Using Protein to Fast-Track Strength Gains
- Let’s Be Realistic: Strength Gains in a Month
- How Much Stronger Can You Get in a Month?
Let’s Get Critical and Define “Strength”
Strength describes how much force a muscle can generate at a maximum effort for one rep.
So if your 1RM on the bench press was once 150 pounds, and now it’s 170 pounds, you’ve gotten stronger!
Many people seem to think that strength and size are the same—as in, when you build one, you automatically build the other.
While larger muscles tend to be stronger by default, it’s not an exact science.
It’s entirely possible that somebody with slightly smaller biceps than you can crank out reps with a weight 10 pounds heavier than your 1RM on the bicep curl.
You can’t win ’em all, right?
Though building strength may not necessarily add inches to every muscle group, it does have long-lasting health benefits, like:
- Greater resistance to injury (no guarantees, however!)
- Less fatigue when performing high-intensity exercise
- A potentially higher metabolism (burn more calories with more mass)
- Better flexibility, balance, endurance, and power
Making the Most Of Your Time in the Gym
Regardless of your fitness goals (power, strength, endurance), how you work out will determine how much progress you make toward your goal.
For example, let’s say you want to build muscular endurance. The best way to encourage your muscles to withstand more reps for longer is by doing sets of 12-15 at 50% of your 1RM.
Now, let’s go back to the definition of strength for a second and highlight a few keywords:
With the same logic in mind, your strength-building sessions should be at a higher percentage of your 1RM for fewer reps.
If you want to maximize your strength gains during each workout, here are the specifics:
- Sets of 1-6 reps (8-12 reps per set if you want size too)
- Utilize 80% or more of your 1RM
- Rest for 2-3 minutes between sets
- Perform 2-3 sets per exercise
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Volume vs. Frequency: Differences in Strength
Many serious lifters argue that a high-volume routine is most efficient for building strength, while others believe that a workout plan that focuses on frequency is more important..
So what’s the truth?
Both are important, and both have their limits!
The Importance of Frequency
There are very few (if any) studies that advocate for ramping up your frequency to insane levels to see more significant strength gains.
There are no proven benefits of hitting each muscle group six times per week, as compared to three, so long as intensity and volume remain the same throughout the week.
The fourth, fifth, and sixth workout essentially go to waste, in this scenario.
Plus, you deny your muscles the 24+ hours they need to recover between workouts. It’s hard to build strength if your muscles aren’t at 100% at the start of the workout.
So stick to a frequency of two to three times a week, if possible.
The Importance of Volume
“Volume” explains the total amount of weight each muscle lifts throughout a workout or, in this case, a week.
One study shows that it’s possible to see serious strength gains in resistance training sessions as short as 13 minutes (three times a week).
At first glance, that sounds surprising.
But you have to consider how draining it can be on your muscles to work at 85%+ of your 1RM for multiple sets of up to six reps.
The intensity of your workout is far more critical than the total amount of weight you lift.
So don’t feel the need to squeeze in extra sets or exercises, especially if you’re already exhausted by the end of your usual workout.
In regards to volume, the goal is simple—just do more than last time!
Long story short: More isn’t always better in either frequency or volume.
The #1 Goal: Progressive Overload
There’s nothing you can do in the gym right now that can suddenly enable you to bench 50 pounds more or triple your squat 1RM.
Your #1 goal in the gym when building strength should be progressive overload or doing just a little more than last time.
Let’s put that in layman’s terms.
Every time you lift a barbell and crank out reps, you’re causing microtears (damage) in the muscles involved.
Don’t worry: Your muscles will rebuild themselves when testosterone and protein kick in.
So when your muscles build themselves back after a tough training session, they come back a little stronger, a little bigger, and a little denser than before.
It’s now going to take a little more exertion during your next workout to cause tears again and continue to increase your strength.
Confused? Here’s an Example
Let’s say you’re working on your bench press.
And let’s assume you’re using a 3×6 rep scheme as you work on your strength.
Now, in week one, let’s say you use 100 pounds. By the end of your last set, you’re nearing failure by the sixth rep—a sign that you’re using a weight that’s appropriate for your strength.
Now, let’s say you’ve been sticking to this exact weight, rep, and set goal for weeks now.
If you’re getting to your last set and still have several reps left in the tank, but you’re ending at the six-rep mark, you’re not pushing your muscles hard enough to build strength.
How To Apply Progressive Overload
Many guys at the gym assume that progressive overload means adding an extra plate to the bar next time they do squats.
That’s not entirely incorrect, but there’s a lot more to it.
Progressive overload can come in the form of adding weight, adding reps, adding sets, or adding exercises.
The goal is to put your muscles under more tension than the previous workout to encourage this strength adaptation.
So when you reach your rep goals for every set, add an extra 2.5-5 pounds to your lift the next time. And if you’re still working toward your rep goals, work to add one or two reps per workout.
Let your body tell you that you’re ready for more, don’t decide for your body!
Using Protein to Fast-Track Strength Gains
There’s a little bad news on this one: The positive effects of protein, undeniably, have their limits.
Loading up on 300g of protein in a day won’t give you superhuman strength, add 50 pounds to your deadlift in a week, or add 6 inches to your upper arm.
But getting enough protein to your diet can play a role in your strength gains.
Shoot for a diet of 1.2 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight.
However, you may want to eat up to 1.7g/kg if you’re a slow-gainer and want to ensure maximum gains during the next month.
Let’s Be Realistic: Strength Gains in a Month
Assuming you’re sticking to all of the tips we’ve already mentioned, you’re well on your way to building strength at a consistent rate.
But what’s realistic, and what’s nothing more than a lofty goal?
Well, you have to look at it from a percentage standpoint, rather than a pound-for-pound increase. Some people will say you can add 20 pounds to your bench press a month.
For argument’s sake, let’s say that was true.
Adding 20 pounds to your 200-pound bench is a 10% increase, which is fantastic. Adding 20 pounds to your 50-pound bench is a 40% increase, which is demanding on your body.
It’s not impossible, but it’s not necessarily likely.
So What’s the Answer?
For beginners, you may be able to increase your strength by 20% or more in the first month.
For intermediates (after those noob gains slow), an increase of up to 15% is more realistic.
Generally, a 10% increase in strength in a month would be “typical.”
Now for mass gains, that’s a bit of a different story, as there’s no 100% accurate method for determining how much of the weight you pack on is muscle mass and not fat.
Mass-wise, it’s more realistic that you’ll gain 1.5-2 pounds a month in muscle, though an extra 1 pound of muscle a week isn’t abnormal if you’re brand new to lifting and have great genetics.
How Much Stronger Can You Get in a Month?
It’s entirely possible to add 10-20% to your lifts within a month or two, assuming you’re sticking to strength-building principles.
This translates to about 1.5-2 pounds of muscle mass gained in a month if you’re focusing more on the hypertrophy aspect of training.
To guarantee maximum strength gains, stick to 2-3 sets per exercise, 1-6 reps per set, 80%+ of your 1RM, and 2-3 minutes of rest between each set.
It’s also crucial to ensure you’re eating enough protein a day to guarantee your muscles recover.
With that in mind, 1.2-1.7g of protein per kilogram of body weight is ideal.
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