I'm running into a bit of a hard time finding what the driving factor for newbie gains actually is. My google fu is only returning articles explaining at surface level what newbie gains are.

The basic consensus describes newbie gains as the phenomenon where new lifters gain muscle much faster than experienced lifters. I can't find what drives this though, and it doesn't mention the fact that many people experience newbie gains after years of improper diet once they actually go into a caloric surplus.

My basic assumption for newbie gains is simply that the further we are from our current hormone limits, the faster we will accumulate muscle tissue. On a very basic level, I believe our bodies just have excess building materials that it can comfortably dump into muscle mass. As we get closer to our limits our bodies become more conservative with those materials. This could also explain why fixing your diet/sleep habits can lead to newbie gains years after starting training. Both of those, when done properly, have been shown to increase testosterone and consequently free testosterone.

Does anyone know the true reason for newbie gains?

Edit: I suppose I should have been more clear, I am not asking about neuromuscular adaptation or the related strength gains. I am only asking about why muscles grow faster. There are several studies that indicate that protein synthesis is sped up. For example in this study, they took cross-sectional area measurements of muscle 4 times over the study. It showed that the newbies to training gained on average 3x more muscle tissue than those with previous experience lifting. Or this meta-analysis where it again showed that protein synthesis remained higher for several times longer in untrained subjects. I'm asking what the biological reason is for this, theories and articles are welcome.

  • Skills: applying the right muscles at exactly the right time is probably a part of it, especially in the beginning.
    – Andy
    Sep 22, 2021 at 11:41
  • 1
    @Andy Apologies, I should have been more clear in my question. I think you are right that a good portion of newbie gains is simply neuromuscular adaptation, I am more intrigued as to why we seem to see increased levels of protein synthesis in newer lifters. See the edit above. Sep 22, 2021 at 17:08

3 Answers 3


When you don't lift and suddenly start lifting your muscles will still grow at normal pace, unless you change your hormones.

But your brain adapts faster than muscles...you can increase your strength without much muscle gain, due to neural adaptations.

As a beginner you will add 5 kilograms on the bar every week, this is an incredible amount of progressive overload which will indeed force an incredible amount of growth.

As you get stronger, your neural adaptations start to reach a limit...and you put weight on the bar slower, which means you put weight on your muscles slower.

No magic to it... Thats why people periodize their training in phases to still maintain a semi-beginner growth through the years.

As a beginner your squat max can go from 45 kg to 110kg in one year....that's why your legs will grow fast...

  • When you don't lift your muscles aren't necessary growing, specially when you're older. So when you start lifting your muscles grow at a different rate, or not?
    – Luciano
    Sep 22, 2021 at 14:00
  • @Luciano old people can grow muscle, and if your muscles do not grow from lifting, check a doctor.
    – Autofill
    Sep 22, 2021 at 14:11
  • Not what I said: muscles don't grow when not lifting. Your first paragraph implies that muscles grow at the same rate, lifting or not, which can't be true.
    – Luciano
    Sep 22, 2021 at 14:28
  • Interesting. You are claiming that newbie gains is simply driven by the ability to rapidly increase the weight that is driven by neuromuscular adaptation? This brings the question of how long it takes to complete the NA since newbie gains typically a couple of years progressively lowering until a type of plateau. You say that periodization drives newbie like gains, but typically periodization isn't performed over the course of several years so they are simply juggling the faster growth period of different types of NA to become well rounded instead of specialized athletes? Sep 22, 2021 at 17:45
  • "But your brain adapts faster than muscles" - I'm not sure I understand the details of this statement. What specifically does this mean, and do you have any sources?
    – Alec
    Sep 22, 2021 at 18:03

I do not know or understand the details of protein synthesis but I have an idea about what may be happening at a mathematical level. Say a person has a max muscle mass creation ability of C=10 g/day. Unfortunately muscle mass is also destroyed and this is proportional to the amount of muscle mass: D = (0.1 g / day) / kg of muscle mass. Net change in muscle mass per day is: N = C - D

Say the person is a newbie and has 40 kg of muscle mass:

N = 10 g/day - (0.1 g / day)*40 = 6 g/day.

After some time the person has 60 kg of muscle mass:

N = 10 g/day - (0.1 g / day)*60 = 4 g/day.

We see that as the amount of muscle mass increases the rate of change of muscle mass decreases. As the person in this example trains his muscle mass will asymptotically approach 100 kg.

The muscle mass creation ability is probably a function of hormone levels. It may be 10 g/day for this person at 18 but declines with age.

  • 1
    This would actually make sense, but we'd need to see if muscle catabolism increases with mass. Was that hypothetical or is that the case?
    – DeeV
    Sep 23, 2021 at 13:25
  • It seems plausible but unfortunately I do not know if this is the case.
    – Andy
    Sep 23, 2021 at 13:29
  • That is certainly an interesting point and if catabolism increases with mass it certainly would make sense. Sep 23, 2021 at 17:19

Why do astronauts lose muscle mass?

Because every single time you breathe or do any movement, your muscles are damaged. They are continuously repaired through the day and at a faster rate through the night.

If the stress that caused the damage get's easier every day, you will lose muscle, because the body isn't gonna waste resources for nothing. If the stress that caused the damage gets harder then the body will reinforce the muscle, because repairing it every day can cost more energy in the long run than reinforcing it now.

The base of evolution is egoistical randomness.

We get sore for the sole reason that our bodies want us to stop doing whatever stupid workout we decided to do for muscle growth, because it's energy inneficient to build muscle. When the body realises you are gonna train anyway even if sore, it stops sending the signal.

Lions in the wild are never sore, even if they have to take down a half a ton wild animal, the same way endurance running hunter-gatherer villagers today don't get sore but villagers using traps and light bows get sore when doing hard work.

Like everything in life, getting to baseline is the easiest part and as you progress it get's harder. Base arithmetics are easier than calculating if a bridge will collapse under the wind or not, so ofcour going from zero to learning divisions is easy and create faster adapatations in the brain of a child.

In the same way, if you start from 0, the distance between you and baseline is infinite, which means there's a lot of growth for you.

If you are a beginner and start training for the first time in your life, expect to grow easily until you reach a baseline.

Baseline = what a human being was supposed to look like in the wild

enter image description here

The image above, is when you stop being a beginner.

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