My Decade-Long Journey to Building Muscle: Hard Lessons Learned 2024

Today 21 January 2024 I’m Ajay In this guide I’ll share my muscles building struggle so let’s dive in!

I still remember when I first stepped foot in a gym over 10 years ago, armed with ambitious dreams of getting swole and rocking a six pack in just a few months. Oh, how naive I was.

After a decade of ups, downs, gains, plateaus, mistakes, and lessons learned, I’ve realized that building an impressive natural physique takes a lot more time and strategic effort than those transformation photos would have you believe. No one tells you about the dark times when your arms look the same size no matter how many bicep curls you do.

Through trial and error, I’ve learned what it really takes to make consistent progress as a natural lifter. I want to share some hard truths with you all so you can avoid the common pitfalls and set realistic expectations on your muscle-building journey.

Managing Expectations: Gains Take Years, Not Months

ajay photo

When I started lifting, I truly thought I could gain 20 pounds of muscle in my first year if I put in solid effort. The charts, calculators, and inspirational before/afters had me convinced it was that simple.

Well, I did put in consistently solid effort year after year, and my gains looked more like this:

  • Year 1: 5 lbs gained
  • Year 2: 4 lbs gained
  • Year 3: 5 lbs gained

I was showing up to the gym consistently, eating a high protein diet, managing my recovery properly…yet the rapid transformations I envisioned never came to fruition.

The hard truth is that building muscle takes years of consistency, not just intense effort for a few months. Our bodies don’t work on convenient linear timelines – some months you’ll gain rapidly and visibly, while other months all your hard work seems to disappear into thin air.

This long feedback loop between work and visible results makes it extremely tempting to constantly change up programs, chase new tips, and make irrational training decisions out of frustration. I can’t tell you how many times I Googled “how to speed up muscle growth” and considered dropping my life savings on fancy workout equipment.

But dramatic program hopping will almost always slow your long term progress rather than speed it up. If you stay patient and trust the process, those gains will come. Maybe not as fast as you hoped, but faster than never sticking with anything long enough to see success.

The Perils of Being Too Lean

jacked ajay

Many novice lifters (my former self included) fall into the trap of staying too lean year-round to “maximize muscle growth potential.” This is flawed logic on multiple fronts.

First, getting extremely lean to the point of feeling miserable makes it nearly impossible to recover properly and make progress. I once dieted down to 6-7% body fat because I thought it would help me gain more size in the long run. Well, at 6-7%, my hormones crashed, I had no energy, terrible sleep, non-existent libido…you get the picture. It was NOT an environment conducive to building muscle.

Secondly, you likely can’t maintain single digit body fat levels as a natural lifter without destroying your metabolism in the process. The majority of shredded Instagram influencers are simply not natty, no matter what their captions claim. Don’t kill yourself trying to look like them year-round.

Instead, I’ve realized the key for sustainable, long-term muscle gains is to minimize the amount of time spent cutting. Use conservative calorie surpluses designed to build muscle, not fat, and don’t rush back into a deficit at the first sign of belly fluff. Staying a bit fluffier facilitates more accelerated muscle protein synthesis. And a little fluff looks worlds better stretched tight over well-developed muscle anyway!

Gains Get Fragile the Bigger You Get

ajay first start lifting

When you first start lifting, you can get away with ballparking your training, nutrition, and recovery. Noob gains will come even with suboptimal programming and MOGA (Mother of All Growth Accelerators!) levels of protein. Plus hardcore partying on weekends doesn’t even put a dent in your squat progression.

But the more muscle you build, the more precise you must become to continue building upon that base. When I got close to my muscular potential, I noticed my capacity to recover from intense training and lifestyle stress diminished substantially.

Where I once could train 5-6 days a week no problem, I now struggle to recover from just 3-4 intense lifting sessions plus a long walk or two. My gains rapidly disappear if I have more than a couple alcoholic beverages per week or skimp on sleep.

And during extremely stressful life periods, maintaining my strength and physique takes monastic levels of discipline and lifestyle management. The margin for errors or undisciplined indulgences becomes paper thin. Let me tell you, consoling oneself with pints of ice cream after a bad week does NOT make sense nutritionally or aesthetically after making considerable gains.

The natural muscle building process is a delicate balancing act once you graduate out of newbie territory. You must diligently manage training stress, nutrition, recovery, and lifestyle factors long-term to continue progression. Some mass monsters make it look easy to be shredded 365 days a year, but that level of unending intensity requires…ahem…pharmaceutical-grade dedication.

For us natural folks, it’s wise to simply accept that you may spin your wheels for months – or even lose some size – during especially chaotic life periods. Stay as consistent as realistically possible, keep your chin up, and those gains will return when the storm passes!

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Final Thoughts

I hope sharing some hard-earned lessons from my decade-long journey gives you a healthy sense of optimism AND realism as you build your natural physique. Understand that substantial muscular gains happen in years, not months. Avoid unnecessary misery and metabolic damage from chasing stage-lean conditioning year round. And be prepared to precisely manage training, nutrition, and lifestyle when the first signs of newbie gains begin fading.

Armed with realistic expectations, a strategic plan, and determination to stick it out for the long haul, I promise you WILL make progress you can be proud of. Maybe not as fast as those Instagram influencers with their not-so-natural leanness, but faster and healthier than spinning your wheels with no plan at all.

Now go grab a weight and start lifting something…those gainz won’t build themselves! Just remember patience and smart programming will reward you in due time.

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