If you’re an online gamer, the term “noob” (n00b, newb, nooblet, what have you) is usually hurled in your direction as an insult from a more skilled player … and sometimes, rightfully so.
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Being a noob is like a mark of shame.
But in the fitness world, the opposite is true.
Those newbie days are when you learn the most about yourself (and your drive), feel the most confident, and — more importantly — pack on an almost unreal amount of lean mass.
It’s the reason your college buddy returned from the break looking almost unrecognizable, transitioning from scrawny to brawny. Envious, you chalked it up to juicing or other shortcuts.
Now, if you want to maximize noob gains and build real muscle, here’s how:
What Are Noob Gains?
Noob gains (or newbie gains) are the rapid-paced physique changes common in those with little to no resistance training experience.
These often surreal muscles and strength gains can help a beginner tack on 15–20 pounds of pure lean mass within a tight 6–12-month window.
But with a protein-rich diet, strategic split routine, and a cabinet full of supplements (optional), you can extend your steady progress two, even five years (albeit a bit slower than day one).
How Noob Gains Work
The noob gains phenomenon is quite baffling, to say the least. How in the world does a guy who’s never touched iron in his life pack on more muscle in a month than a guy with years of training?
To explain, we’ll walk you through what’s happening behind the scenes at the biological level.
How Muscles Normally Grow
When you pull or push against heavy resistance, it puts a ridiculous amount of strain on the associated muscles (ex: if it’s a bench press, your chest, anterior deltoids, and triceps).
You deplete the muscles of their ATP — energy — stores to the point where weakness begins settling in. The muscles develop nearly invisible tears within their fibers.
The body senses the damaged fibers because they release cells called cytokines, which alert the immune system to the “injury” to repair it.
With the help of the body’s stores of testosterone, growth hormone, and protein (muscle protein synthesis), the body fuses together the damaged fibers, creating new ones that are thicker.
We call this “hypertrophy.”
How This Process Differs for Noobs
Whether you’re a complete newbie or have ten years of training experience, hypertrophy follows the same pattern. But the untrained body handles nearly every step differently.
Muscle Protein Synthesis
The first difference lies in muscle protein synthesis. A 2015 literature review published in Sports Medicine analyzed how this concept compared between trained and untrained folks.
The data revealed that protein synthesis peaked around 20 hours post-exercise, lasted some 48 hours post-training, and sat about three times higher than those with training experience.
A newbie’s system is simply more sensitive to any bout of resistance training, triggering an almost unreal amount of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and, in turn, growth.
While you turn to a protein-loaded diet to shift those noob gains into overdrive, you owe at least some of your lean growth to the hormonal changes that follow exercise.
And, if you’re a true noob, you’re in luck (again).
Research published in 2008 reveals that untrained athletes touted far higher TT-to-SHBG*, cortisol, and DHEA** after superset training than resistance-trained men.
The elevated levels of these anabolic hormones allow noobies to pack on more mass than those with previous training experience, even with far less effort.
* TT-to-SHBG (total testosterone to sex hormone-binding globulin)
** DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone)
The most obvious explanation for those sweet, sweet noob gains is that you’re finally pushing your muscles to their true potential.
If your last push-up dates back to your high school glory days, then loading any number of plates on the bar when benching will activate your agonist (chest) muscles like you haven’t in years.
Continued training — in this case, benching — will lessen the role of the antagonist or opposing muscles (lats, upper back), allowing you to apply even greater force with your pecs.
The greater force causes further muscle tearing, allowing for even greater growth.
In other words, the drastic results in the early days of training result from teaching your muscles how to push (or pull) against resistance.
How Long Do Noob Gains Last?
Unfortunately, those newbie days can’t last forever because your muscles will eventually overcome the “shock” of training and learn to adapt.
That said, noob gains typically last 6–12 months.
Now, there’s a wild misconception floating around the internet that you can “waste” noob gains if you don’t take full advantage of that first year of training.
That’s not true.
The “clock” doesn’t start ticking if you begin your journey with a cut instead of a bulk. Your body will still pack on considerable size and strength at the biological level with regular training.
However, maintaining a clean diet and following a hypertrophy-based routine can help you exit that 6–12-month stage with as much extra mass as possible.
How Much Muscle You Can Expect to Build
Will you look like a mass monster in six months? If you’re planning to stay “natty” (natural, or steroid-free), you’re on a long, long journey to that.
But just how much muscle you pack on depends on a few things, like:
- Did you strike the genetic lottery with the ACTN3 gene? If so, packing on the slow-twitch muscle fibers you activate during heavy lifts is more or less “easier.” By that, we mean you’ll owe about 2% of your 1RM and strength gains to your DNA (2005).
- How’s your diet? If you’re consistently missing the mark protein-wise, you might be unintentionally sabotaging your noob gains. To prevent muscle-wasting and 1RM losses on a short cut, commit about 35% of your daily calories to protein (2010).
- Are you following the research? If you’ve never stepped foot in a gym, even a 10-minute dumbbell routine a few times a week could trigger worthwhile gains. But following the advice of the biomechanics elites can maximize your gains further.
We’ll assume that you’re at least 90% committed to a complete physique overhaul. By keeping your diet and routine in check, you can expect to build:
|In …||You Can Build …|
|One month||1.5–2 pounds|
|Three months||4.5–6 pounds|
|Six months||6–12 pounds|
|One year||20–25 pounds|
|Two years||30–37 pounds|
|Five years||38–48 pounds|
(Source: Lyle McDonald, an expert on the topic, former athlete, and fitness research literature connoisseur)
Of course, the exact gains depend on your diet and routine. If you’re 100% committed to taking advantage of those noob gains, 15–25 pounds in that first year is a realistic goal.
Training for Noob Gains
You’re riddled with excitement and ready to join the regulars in line at the bench press. But take a moment to learn more about the training aspect behind those glorious noob gains.
It’s not just squats, deadlifts, bench press, repeat. Although let’s be honest, the typical gym rat’s schedule looks more like: bench press, curls, bench press, curls, repeat.
To maximize noob gains, training could include any — and all — of the following:
Strength Training & Weight Lifting
The first thing most newbies do is invest in a monthly gym membership, stock up on gear (weightlifting shoes, gloves, and straps), and become a regular at their gym of choice.
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Here’s the blow-by-blow of strength training and weight lifting for newbies:
Prioritizing Compound, Multi-Joint Exercises
Before you head to the free weight section and crank out set after set (after set) of curls and extensions, you need to build a strong and safe foundation in the big three:
- Bench press
Each exercise builds foundational strength from head to toe (or shoulder to calf), helps newbies enhance their core strength, and develops full-body gains with less energy.
For example, with three sets on the traditional bench press, you can target your pecs (chest), anterior deltoids (front of your shoulders), triceps, and other smaller nearby muscles.
And, according to a 2015 study, multi-joint exercises are just as effective as isolation exercises when it comes to building strength (6.10% vs. 5.83% growth in ten weeks, respectively).
Basic Training Principles to Follow
In the early days of training, rookies tend to make one of two mistakes: loading up the bar far too heavy — risking form and safety — or cranking out dozens of reps per set.
The best beginner routines follow these training principles:
- 3 days per week training
- 30–60 seconds of rest between sets
- 3–6 sets per muscle group, per week
- 5–12 reps per set
A beginner-friendly program like Superhero X12 can help you build that foundational strength and newbie size before moving ahead with isolation exercises.
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When we mention “bodybuilding,” we’re not necessarily referring to the elites who lather themselves up in oil, grace the big stage, train five hours a day, and sport 21” biceps.
Bodybuilding is the aesthetic approach to resistance training where you offer some much-needed attention to those smaller muscle groups, like the biceps, triceps, forearms, and — yes — calves.
That could mean one of two things:
- Adding single-joint (isolation) exercises to the end of your current workouts. For example, you might perform hammer curls, cable extensions, weighted crunches, calf raises, or wrist curls after finishing your multi-joint lifts.
- Starting a bro split. It may not sound all that rooted in science, but bro splits can help you build mass by focusing on 1–3 muscle groups per day. For instance, chest and triceps on Monday, back and biceps on Tuesday, and so on.
Once you master those compound exercises, add one or two isolation exercises per smaller muscle group — about three sets for each and 8–15 reps.
Note: If you notice that anyone’s muscle group is stubborn or lagging, isolation exercises are your opportunity to give them a little extra TLC.
Don’t let the fancy name fool you! Calisthenics is nothing more than bodyweight exercises, like push-ups, squats, pull-ups, crunches, and — brace yourself — burpees.
The best calisthenics intro for newbies is a two-day-a-week, full-body routine.
But this training style is a bit … different from your average weightlifting routine. That’s because after capping off your 10–20 rep goal, you put progressive overload in jeopardy.
That leaves you with a few options to ensure continued gains, like:
- For standard push-ups, shifting to a more challenging variety (like diamond push-ups or decline push-ups).
- For dips, wearing a weighted vest or hanging a chain around your neck.
- For sit-ups, clenching a weight plate across your chest or using a decline bench.
Calisthenics can be just as effective as standard lifting. In fact, during a 2017 eight-week-long study, push-ups were on par with benching at 40% of your 1RM.
But once the gains begin plateauing, you’ll have to either experiment with more advanced movements or transition to traditional weightlifting.
Resistance bands are slowly making their comeback as the at-home fitness surge continues. They’re also rebuilding their reputation, proving they’re not only for the elderly or petite women.
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With a five-band set offering up to 150 pounds of combined resistance, these elastic bands can seamlessly replace your average gym equipment (barbells, dumbbells) in those early days.
Actually, it seems there’s a resistance band alternative to almost every exercise you can imagine, including crucial mass-builders like pullovers, chest presses, and deadlifts.
You can add an extra 5–10 pounds of resistance during push-ups. Or you can strap a resistance band around your foot as you work your way toward your first real pull-up.
And, just to ease your concerns, a 2019 study revealed that resistance band training offered equivalent strength gains compared to conventional weightlifting.
Resistance bands are a great launchpad in the noob gains phase.
Rest & Recovery
The time you spend outside of the gym doing absolutely nothing is just as important as the hours you dedicate to breaking a sweat and pumping iron.
But just how much rest and recovery you need depends on your training experience and intensity.
For example, a meta-analysis from 2003 discovered that training each muscle group three times a week is ideal for growth in true beginners.
A three-day-a-week full-body routine is more than enough to trigger those noob gains, leaving you four days to rest per week.
Time Between Workouts
However, the time you leave between workouts for the same muscle group is even more important than your general weekly rest days.
Most studies suggest that 48–72 hours of rest between muscle-specific workouts can encourage the most efficient strength and mass gains.
The consequences can be dire.
Ignoring your muscles’ need for rest as they repair themselves could put you at risk for overtraining, which could actually trigger muscle breakdown or lead to a painful muscle injury.
And, hopping back into the squat rack (or any equipment, for that matter) before your muscles recover fully will leave you below 100%. If you’re not at peak performance, gains can suffer.
On your rest days, take it easy (or stretch).
Create a Routine
The best way to avoid overtraining and injury is to create a steady routine and stick to it.
For example, you can agree to Monday, Wednesday, and Friday workouts, cycling through your workouts on those days.
Or you can create a less rigid schedule, like ON, ON, OFF, ON, OFF, ON, OFF.
Dieting for Noob Gains
Ask anyone worth a damn in the fitness industry, and they’ll deliver a dreaded, hard truth nugget: your physique is some 75-90% nutrition, with the rest falling to training.
But one “rookie mistake” we see time and time again is an all-out obsession with protein and supplements. Carbs, fats, and micronutrients (minerals and vitamins) become afterthoughts.
To maximize noob gains, take a moment to learn the basics of cutting and bulking:
Noob Gains and Cutting (Fat Loss)
The noob gains will kick in whenever you decide to take your training and diet seriously.
But if you’re overweight, those six pounds of lean mass you pack on in three months may go unnoticed. In that case, starting with a cut to shed some fat might avoid that disappointment.
Here’s a look at what you’ll need calorie and macro-wise for a cut:
|Calories||BMR – 500|
Because you’re cutting your usual calories by around 500, you could deprive your muscles of the nutrients they need — mainly protein — to continue growing.
You can close that gap with supplements like:
- BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids): encourage protein synthesis, increase growth hormone, and prevent fatigue (2018)
- Whey Protein: meet your protein and amino acid recommendations for growth
- Glutamine: prevent muscle loss, encourage protein synthesis, and prevent fatigue (2019)
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Although fat burners sound like the most logical solution when you’re trying to shed fat, there’s little scientific evidence that fat burners burn a significant amount of fat (as so many manufacturers claim).
(If you don’t know your BMR off-hand or want to re-calculate it as you gain or lose weight, this calculator is a great tool.)
Bulking for Noobs
If you’re currently scrawny and planning to pack on some serious noob gains, you’re better off starting with a full-on bulk.
Here’s a glimpse of your macro and calorie needs while on a bulk:
|Calories||BMR + 400|
This macro and calorie breakdown is ideal for building substantial muscle mass during that crucial noob gains period.
But with the following supplements, you can ramp up your progress further:
- Creatine: could add 15 pounds to your bench in four weeks (2006), improve strength during recovery (2009), and enhance strength, endurance, and focus during workouts (2020)
- Mass gainers: consume extra calories via a nutrient-dense powder
- Pre-workout powder: enhance peak and mean power during strength-training workouts, though pre-workout didn’t prove to increase strength (2016)
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It’s normal to gain fat mass while bulking as well, which is why many serious athletes follow a bulking cycle with a cut.
Clean Bulk vs. Dirty Bulk
That brings us to another debate — clean vs. dirty bulks.
Both can help you gain some much-needed weight and pack on some serious muscle mass.
Dirty bulking — like Bear Mode — is when you gorge yourself on calorie and nutrient-dense foods that can help you bulk up a pound or two per week with little issue.
Clean bulking is when you monitor your nutrient and calorie intake to sit within that +400 range while eating healthier calorie-dense foods.
All things considered, clean bulking is a better choice.
While it might take longer to gain weight and could be pricier, it’s also lower in the unhealthy nutrients — sugar, salt, trans fats — that dirty bulking features.
Clean bulking is simply healthier for your entire system.
Body Recomposition & Noob Gains
First, what is body recomposition?
Instead of the tiresome bulk/cut cycle where dieting can consume your entire life (and force you to miss out on a few brews and fast food runs), you’ll chase both goals at the same time.
Yes, it’s possible to shed stubborn fat and pack on lean mass at once. But it’s hardly efficient, and it can be remarkably frustrating if you’re impatient.
Because every calorie and macro gram impacts your gains and losses, calculating the right amount determines your success. Plus, it shifts the attention away from the pure lean gains.
Tip: Start with a bulk or a cut for the first 6–12 months to get some progress under your belt. Once you get tired of the sporadic jumps on the scale, ease into body recomposition.
5 Ways To Maximize Noob Gains
Now, you’re somewhat of a pseudo-expert in everything noob gains, from the training to the diet.
But if you scrolled this far, we can make a prediction:
You don’t just want to revel in those noob gains, grab ogling eyes at the beach, or read “Damn, bro. You’re ripped.” in the group chat. You want the best — and quickest — results.
Here are five tips to help you maximize noob gains:
1. Track & Measure Progress Regularly
If tracking your training progress means sizing up your reflection in a mirror or snapping before & after shots, kudos to you: the motivation to get fit — and ultimately ripped — is clearly there.
But both of these methods can be a tad misleading. And, when it takes an average of 66 days to create a long-lasting habit, not adding inches to your arms in a month can be a major letdown.
If you really want to see how your “noob gains” journey is going, track your progress with:
A Tape Measure
It’s easy to miss ¼” of growth with the naked eye.
On a weekly basis, use a cloth tape measure to get reads on your upper arm, forearm, chest, waist, hips, upper legs, and calves.
It’s your call on whether you want to flex during measurements.
Just be consistent with it.
A Bioelectrical Impedance Device
Bioelectrical impedance is one of the most reliable body fat trackers in the exercise science world. These devices send a discrete “jolt” of electricity through your body to see how quickly it travels.
Excess fat mass slows down the current, allowing these devices to get a more accurate read on your lean mass to fat mass ratio.
Most at-home BIA devices — like bathroom scales and handheld readers — are within 1.67% and 3.29% of the more scientific “Bod Pod” device (2019).
Track this and your weight weekly, but don’t panic if the number on the scale begins climbing. Packing on muscle and using supplements like creatine can cause subtle weight gain.
A Workout & Food Journal
Sleep, stress, and hydration status can sway your progress in either direction, but not nearly as much as your resistance training and diet.
Of course, it’s normal to strike a plateau in both.
If you struggle to hit your 12-rep goal or have yet to advance to a heavier bench, your routine isn’t meshing with your diet or gains; rework it. The same goes for unexpected weight gain.
These tools can also serve as a wake-up call for bad habits.
A Tip Within a Tip
Don’t just record this daily, weekly, or monthly data … use it to your advantage.
If you’ve gained eight pounds, but your body fat reading didn’t change much, your current routine is a keeper (at least for now). If your 1RM is plateauing, it might be time to revamp your program.
2. Give Your Body Time to Rest (Don’t Overtrain)
Here’s a major buzzkill when it comes to training: there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.”
And, in the fitness world, there’s a delicate balance between pushing your body to its limits and putting yourself at risk for things like:
- Severe dehydration
- Plummeting testosterone levels
- Weakened immunity
The last thing you want to do is accidentally reverse your progress or sideline yourself for a few weeks as you recover from a shoulder injury or frequent illness.
Work 2–3 rest days into your schedule, and avoid hitting the same muscles on back-to-back days (a 2008 study found three consecutive days of training could encourage three days of weakness).
Leaving 48–72 hours of rest before circling back to your chest, for example, can maximize your 10RM results. Of course, read your body; if it’s not a “pump” pain, pause or call it a day.
3. Add Supplements to Your Routine (But Don’t Overdo It)
There’s no legal “quick fix” that’ll make you the second-coming of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
And, if any product advertises “too good to be true” claims, like melting 30 pounds in 30 days or adding 50 pounds to your bench press PR, let’s be clear: they’re 100% bullshit.
But these three supps can lend a much-needed helping hand:
Always, always, always look at the nutrition and ingredients labels before tossing a supplement into your cart. We’ve seen far too many pre-workouts that are simply caffeine in disguise.
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4. Emphasize Progressive Overload
Setting PRs and sliding an extra ten on the bar might be enough to motivate you to return for your next workout, despite the aches, pain, and stiffness.
It’s also the basis for a theory deeply rooted in exercise science, known more formally in the bodybuilding world as the “principle of progressive overload.”
The concept is simple.
When you perform heavy dumbbell curls, it forces microscopic tearing in your biceps.
Over the next 48 or so hours, your body works to repair these damaged muscle fibers by fusing them together and relying on hormones like testosterone and growth hormone to thicken them.
The muscles return denser, thicker, and — often — stronger.
They now require more stress and heavy lifting to undergo those same muscle tears, meaning you need to ramp up the volume of your workouts.
Add a 5-pound plate to the bar for major lifts (2.5 for minor) when you hit your rep goal or knock out more reps and sets.
5. Learn the Science
There’s a concerning amount of misinformation on the internet, and when you have health “personalities” like Dr. Oz peddling false theories, it’s hard to decipher what’s “fact.”
Perhaps the most important advice we have for you on your journey is keeping your bullsh*t detector powered on, charged, and at full volume.
Don’t fall victim to false promises. Instead, here are a few things to ask:
Who’s Saying or Suggesting This (and Why)?
Is it some random forum-goer convinced they discovered a weight-loss or mass-building cure?
Or is it a personal trainer, exercise scientist, or fitness enthusiast who can back up their claims with science and research?
Does It Sound Too Good To Be True?
Sure, we all want the path of least resistance.
But remember that logic doesn’t always make sense (which could explain the results of a CDC study from 2020 that revealed that 19% of respondents added bleach to their food to kill COVID).
If it’s promising more than the standard 1–2 pounds of weight loss per week or topping off the barbell with another 25 pounds by the end of the month, it might be more hype than anything.
Can You Verify the Claims?
Before you splurge on a supplement, commit to a 12-week routine, or add some bizarre fat-melting spice to your diet, spend about 15 minutes researching the basics.
Can you find any studies supporting their claims? Or is there a slew of studies advocating against this supplement, ingredient, or routine?
For example, if most research reports about an 8% increase in strength with creatine, but one rogue diet plan claims it’s closer to 30%, they’re clearly inflating their plan’s value.
Also, how long has this thing been in the public eye? If it’s been two weeks and it’s topped “viral” status on Facebook, it could be a fad that’ll disappear suddenly (like the Master Cleanse).