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Setting expectations: how long does it typically take for women to build muscle mass?

LAT1963LAT1963 Member Posts: 1,404 Member Member Posts: 1,404 Member
I have lost about 80 lbs over the past 3 years by eating a 250 calorie deficit, trying to stay over target on fiber and protein (with difficulty on the latter), and walking for exercise.

Unfortunately I recently noticed about 24 lbs of that loss was lean mass.

My weight is about 178 lbs. My lean mass is now around 105 lbs, bone mass around 6 lbs.

I expect to reach a normal (for a woman) BMI of 25 at 165 lbs, about 14 lbs from now, but by my calculations that will still be about 35% fat.

If I figure on parking my weight at 160 lbs, I will need to gain back at least 10 lbs of lean mass to get to a healthy body composition. To that end I've started doing yoga (as a body-weight strenthening plan) and plan to start doing kettlebell swings with a 40 lb kettlebell to build up my glutes. I figure glutes, as the largest muscle group, should yield the easiest early signs of gain--a small % change should move the scale the most. I hope to add other exercises as well but I don't want to start up too much at once, otherwise I might burn out and quit.

I wondered how long I should expect it to take before I notice any changes in muscle mass. Should I see results in a month? In three months? At what time-frame should I conclude something is, or is not, working in the quest for lean mass?

I have no idea how fast women on a moderate re-composition program (ie: not so strenuous that I burn out on it) should start to see results on an impedence scale that measures fat %. What has your experience been?

(for weight training I plan to use dumbells at home not machines at a gym. I have adjustable multi-plate dumbbells (I think up to 35 lbs with all plates loaded--not imposing but not powder puff), the kettlebell, and a weight bench that I haven't assembled. No large scale free-weights/no equipment for bench presses etc. I live alone and have no option for a spotter. I have health issues that make a gym a bad idea until covid-19 is well behind us--though vaccinated I cannot be confident that I am protected from it.)
edited July 17


  • AnnPT77AnnPT77 Member, Premium Posts: 20,833 Member Member, Premium Posts: 20,833 Member
    Not sure if this might be helpful, but you can find some relatively short term recomp before & after photos, including women and even mature women if you're patient with scrolling, in this thread:

    So you're about 5'8", I'm thinking?

    I'd assume that probably *some* of the "lean mass" lost was likely things you wanted to lose, i.e., stuff like blood volume that your smaller body doesn't need, other tissues not really needed, not just actual muscle loss. If the 105 is correct, that doesn't sound shockingly low to me, really, but maybe that's bias on my part. Gaining muscle is always good, of course . . .
  • heybalesheybales Member Posts: 19,036 Member Member Posts: 19,036 Member
    To reiterate so not to be stressed about loss of LBM too much (easily could have lost upwards of 20% if not enough protein or resistance training, but your deficit was very reasonable so that would help).

    Lean Body Mass is EVERYTHING that is NOT FM (Fat Mass). Bone mass is part of LBM.

    Drink 16 oz of water before you weigh - you gained 1 lb of LBM.

    Additional point - how did you get your figures?
    Unless this was DEXA scan, the potential range of error on any other methods could have the % of LBM change become not nearly as scary sounding.
  • LAT1963LAT1963 Member Posts: 1,404 Member Member Posts: 1,404 Member
    This was measured by impedance on a Withings scale that estimates body water, body fat, and bone weight.

    Weight today 178 lbs, fat mass 69.5 lbs (39%). (lean mass 108.5)
    Initial weight was 264 lbs and fat mass was 132 lbs (50%).

    So that's 62.5 lbs of fat lost, but only an 11% change in fat % (because of the drop in total weight and the way %s work)

    If I want to be 25% fat at 160 lbs, I would need to lose 22.5 lbs of fat and gain 14.5 lbs of muscle.

    Alternatively if I can just stop losing muscle and lose 100% fat, my final weight would be 136 lbs, for a BMI of 20.7 and 34 lbs of fat (I would have to lose 35 more lbs of fat and no muscle to reach this.)

    I'm not sure which path is the more do-able one.

    If I continued to lose fat and muscle in the same proportions as the past 3 years, my body composition would get to 25% fat at too low a BMI.
    edited July 18
  • heybalesheybales Member Posts: 19,036 Member Member Posts: 19,036 Member
    So if you were able to present exactly the same hydrated body to the scale as last time - you can likely expected upwards of 5% inaccuracy.

    Since you would likely not know that - expect 10%.

    So 10% range last time, 10% range this time - probably not as bad as expected.

    Anything beyond FM/LBM is based on more population statistical data and the % of inaccuracy goes up more on those items - so it can be barely sometimes useful for changes to the other items like water weight and bone weight.

    BIA isn't that accurate.
  • LAT1963LAT1963 Member Posts: 1,404 Member Member Posts: 1,404 Member
    Ok, measurement issues aside, if I start weight training twice a week, how long should I expect before seeing a change in tone or on the scale? I am going to guess that even in the absence of scale-panic, adding weight training is a good idea.

    I think my measurements may be more consistent than most because I drink the same amount of water every morning an hour before weighing, at roughly the same time each day, due to taking levothyroxine for hypothyroidism, then pee before weighing.

    add: based on what you say I am also thinking I should seek out a more accurate measurement method (at a doc or gym) to use when I hit 160 lbs to get a better idea where I really am and whether to consider myself at maintenance yet or not.
    edited July 18
  • LAT1963LAT1963 Member Posts: 1,404 Member Member Posts: 1,404 Member
    So it sounds like even with a dialed in, ideal program it would take me about 2 years to regain the muscle mass lost in 3 years of dieting. So a more reasonable goal would be to stop further losses and aim for an endpoint weight of 135-140 instead of 160 lbs. This would put both BMI and % fat into the normal ranges.

    Niner I understand what you mean about progressive programs of increasing kettlebell weights so I don't plateau. But right now I'm thinking just of getting started and the first three months. What should I expect? If my scale (or a more reliable measuring device) reports no further losses or, reports gain of, say, a pound, consistently enough to rise above the measurement noise, then I could consider that an indication of success. But I'd eventually have to increase my weights to avoid a plateau.

    I'm not currently doing kettlebell swings, so starting to do them should gain me some muscle mass, until that weight & rep level is no longer a challenge. Right?

    add: AnnP--yeah I know we need some fat, I'm trying to get to a reasonable fat level for a woman of my age, 25%. I'm not looking to become a well-cut competitive body builder or a rail-thin anorexic. I'm driven more by health concerns than vanity over appearance.
    edited July 18
  • heybalesheybales Member Posts: 19,036 Member Member Posts: 19,036 Member
    If you think it'll take 2 yrs at 1 lb a month to put back on the 24 lbs of LBM you lost in 3 years - you need to reread 2 initial replies.

    You don't understand what LBM is yet.

    You have a good concept of what needs to be done though.
    Hold weight steady for now.
    edited July 18
  • SnifterPugSnifterPug Member Posts: 659 Member Member Posts: 659 Member
    Those scales are a road to misery if you are as conscious of the figures as you obviously are. That is not a criticism of you - I'm into my numbers too. I also have impedence scales and I am utterly consistent in how I use them. Still the fluctuations they tell me I have are ridiculous. By all means use them, as they can give a vague indication of a trend long term, but to use them for results in the short term (and 3 months is short term) - forget it.

    Doing resistance training is a great idea - but building muscle is hard and very slow work. Especially for women, as a general rule.

    My advice to you would be to do your training and strive for increases over time (in weight, or time spent, or reps or whatever).

    Otherwise, get to your 160lb target. Then maintain that while you engage in training heavily geared towards hypertrophy. Take photos before you start, plus measurements, and if you have some items of clothing that are tight then make a mental note of how they look/feel (and maybe take pics in them, too). After 3 months your scale weight should not have changed much, but you should be able to notice some difference in your photos or measurements or clothing fit - or all 3. If your weight is stable but you are losing size it is pretty much a given that you are gaining muscle and losing fat. Recomp is slow but should serve you well, given what you've said about yourself and your aims.
  • zebasschickzebasschick Member Posts: 413 Member Member Posts: 413 Member
    back in the day, i put on leg and butt muscles by walking hills, using a stairmaster and doing heavy leg presses and hack squats. my knees don't do well with regular squats, so i never did them heavy.

    when i weighed 170 and was at my highest ever muscularity, i got there by working out 5 to 6 days per week and working at heavy intensity, and i worked every body part. i started out by working on the stairmaster 4 days per week (a real stairmaster, not a home unit with smaller step height) and working upper body, abs and lower back lightly, working up to heavier resistance.

    in my personal opinion only, 2 days a week won't put muscle on you, and progress will be slow. i didn't get a lot of improvement at 3 days per week, which is why i upped it to 4 at that time, but i'd consider monday, wednesday and friday to be a good place to start as there's recovery time between each working, and you'll want to up your protein intake, as well.
  • wiigelecwiigelec Member Posts: 486 Member Member Posts: 486 Member
    My suggestion would be to focus on the journey and not the destination. Work on developing healthy habits and discipline in eating and training. With those in place the results will work themselves out.

    If you consider how long it took for you to get where you didn’t want to be, it will likely take a similar amount of time to get to where you do want to be.
    edited July 22
  • CerizezCerizez Member Posts: 132 Member Member Posts: 132 Member
    it depends on the person.

    I've been doing 20 push-ups 3 times a week (Nothing else on arms/upper body) for the past year, and have arms like Linda Hamilton in Terminator.

    I've had to stop cycling as my legs were getting too big. I can't squat or lunge, legs get really big. I've been doing 25 donkey kicks on each leg, and 25 fire-hydrants, 3 times a week for the past year. Have a J-LO rear-end.

    I began doing 100 crunches every morning a month ago, and already have a really defined pack of abs. The 6pack isn't there yet, just the 2 lines down the side and the central pack of muscles.

    Am 5'5" and weigh 137lbs. Would love to weigh 10lbs less. Gyms have opened up here, so can get back to elliptical. That's the only cardio I can do and not get huge thighs.

    Hard to get enough exercise in to create a calorie deficit, as exercise makes me bigger.
  • Pipsqueak1965Pipsqueak1965 Member Posts: 364 Member Member Posts: 364 Member
    Just carry on eating at a deficit and start weight training. Body weight is fine initially. But you need to do a fair amount of resistance type training to build muscle. Particularly as a woman. Forget all those numbers - they are a rough guess at best. Concentrate on your workouts and your food and you will gradually see changes.
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