Muscle adaptation – How fast can you gain strength and how does it happen?


The neuromuscular system quickly adapts to imposed demands. What are the key factors behind this adaptation and how can you aim to maximize it?


So you are a beginner? Aim for fast strength gains!

The training age of an individual has a huge influence on how fast one can gain strength. Beginners have realized little, if any, of their potential for strength gains. So their window of adaptation is huge. 

That’s why strength gains in beginners are, and should be, very fast. Maximum strength can increase up to 10% in just a couple of training sessions. Strength gains during the first couple of months are usually at least 20–30%. If strength is tested with same movements used in the training program, gains are usually even bigger: 30–70%, even up to 100% in the first 2–3 months. If you are not gaining strength very fast in the beginning, you are making some serious training, nutrition and recovery mistakes. Only a couple of percent of people seems to have extremely lousy genes in terms of strength and muscle mass gains, so most likely the reason for minimal gains is not in your genes.


Intermediate and advanced level trainees – facing more challenges!

Strength gains will slow down with intermediate level trainees. But with proper training, you still have a great window of adaptation. Studies have shown that strength increases up to 10–15% percent are typical with intermediate trainees that are introduced to training programs, which include a planned overload and periodization techniques. These are typical, acknowledged methods among strength training researchers.

Let’s be honest with ourselves: Most of us are intermediate trainees. Do you sincerely think that you are elite level lifter in terms of strength levels? 10–15 percent doesn’t sound like much, but look at it this way: Now you bench 220 pounds (100 kg). How about benching 250 pounds (113 kg) in a few months by optimizing your training and recovery?

In the elite level, strength gains of athletes are restricted to only 2–5% over a training period of one year. Now the window of adaptation is much smaller, but it’s still there. When you do break the plateau at elite level, absolute gains are substantial, however. 5 percent gain for 700 pound (315 kg) squatter or deadlifter means 35 pounds (16 kg). The  more experienced you are, the more you need to pay extremely close attention to individualizing your training, nutrition and recovery. If you have more tools to evaluate your training, recovery, sleep, nutrition and stress, you might not be limited by this 2–5% margin, but could make even gains similar to an intermediate lifter!

Strength gains are much harder to achieve for intermediate and advanced trainees. Take this as a great challenge. In order to continue gains, you really have to start to train, eat, and rest properly. Most of us still have way larger window of adaptation than we actually realize. It’s up to you to make sure you realize your full potential! And this is when RecoApp Muscle Recovery comes in handy. It gives you a great platform to analyze your workout results among body parameters like stress, nutrition and sleep. With RecoApp, you will have the tool for learning your individual supercompensation (recovery) times.


What are the mechanisms behind fast strength gains?

So advancing is quite fast in the beginning. The question is, what kind of an adaptation process is behind this fast strength gain? Most development during the first training months is due to neural adaptations. The nervous system learns to activate more muscle fibers and the firing rate of neural impulses increases. Neural impulses mainly originate from the brain’s motor cortex and they travel through a complex neural network to activate muscles. This neural drive increases rapidly. Imagine an electronic muscle stimulation belt, such as AbTronic, that is turned up to 12 instead of 10 – that’s basically what it is all about.

There are also improvements in intermuscular coordination. In plain English, this means that muscles learn more efficient ways to work together. For example, when you perform a biceps curl, triceps are doing some work in the opposite direction. This co-contraction of muscles diminishes as a result of regular strength training. Over time, synergist muscles like brachialis and brachio-radial is also learn to help bicep muscles in the curl. Got it? Remember the times when you were a beginner. Ever wondered why you got muscle soreness for your biceps while doing pull-ups? Your nervous system didn’t know how to properly activate the big muscle groups of upper back and your synergist muscles (biceps) did most of the work. But once you figured out how to use lats, your pull up numbers quickly went up. All these changes in muscle activation contribute to strength gains – meaning that your intermuscular coordination got better and learned more efficient ways to work together.


Tips to maximize adaptation

How to maximize the results from all the hard work we go through? This is what we all want, right? To maximize adaptation one needs to train with optimal frequency and load, follow a solid nutrition plan and minimize stress levels outside training. Ok, these are really just broad guidelines and we’ll get more into these topics in following articles, but for now, let’s concentrate on a person’s training background and its effects for load and training frequency.


Beginners can usually gain strength with lower intensity. 60% of 1 RM and 10–15 rep range cause neuromuscular adaptations and strength gains. This rep range is also optimal for the so-called general adaptation period. This period of relatively low training intensity is recommended for beginners by many leading authors of strength training and periodization. Simply put, beginners need less variation in their training: same program can give great results for months, if progressive overload is maintained. Thus, it’s better to load the muscle relatively often in the early stages of training. Train one muscle group 2–3 times per week

Intermediate level trainees usually need a higher training intensity to realize gains. Intensity up to 80% 1 RM and 5–10 rep range is usually needed. More variety is also called for. Periodization of your training becomes more and more important. You need to vary workout routine methods every 6–12 weeks (known as mesocycles) to avoid stagnation (also known as plateau) and make slight changes in the intensity and/or volume of training during this period.

Advanced trainees need even more intensity and more variety. Using only loads below 80% of 1 RM tends to decrease their strength levels and training program must be constantly manipulated in terms of intensity, volume, exercise choice etc. In my experience, major mistakes among beginners and intermediate trainees are that they follow too complicated training programs. Thus, they are not concentrating enough on the golden principles of progressive overload and variety – in terms of intensity and volume. If you pick a solid program and optimize muscle groups with workout-specific recovery times by using RecoApp, I’ll guarantee you’ll realize that the window of adaptation is bigger than you thought!


Luckily, it’s not only these neural adaptations that can lead to strength gains. Muscle fibers also start to grow stronger and bigger – learn more about hypertrophy!


Data analysis for your smart clothing

To achieve best strength gains you need to avoid over- and undertraining by hitting the supercompensation. RecoApp's methodology aims for the supercompensation by evaluating input data. Taking advantage of this methodology and RecoApp’s way of the data interpretation in smart clothing would give impressive results.

RecoApp’s efficient, visually pleasant and quickly readable way of the data interpretation is a user-friendly experience. Smart clothing is a rapidly growing business and manufacturers need more efficient ways to interpret the data. RecoApp’s patent covers using an image of a human figure in a form of traffic light color coding for receiving and displaying optimal training information regarding muscle recovery times. Therefore it is a significant asset for smart clothing manufacturers to protect their smart clothing portfolio.

RecoApp has demonstrated the function of the patent through MVP mobile application. RecoApp's MVP has over 10 000 users.

Learn to listen to your body - and discover your ideal supercompensation times with the help of RecoApp. The U.S Patent Pending. Global PCT Patent Pending.

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Timo Haikarainen, MSc, Finnish personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach.

Markus Mäntynen, the CEO and founder of RecoApp Oy.


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