The beginning of any fitness or muscle building routine is the hardest part. Until you start seeing results, it’s hard to know if you’re making progress—and that makes it tempting to give up.
Hearing others’ muscle growth stories can be a great motivator when you’re stuck on a fitness plateau. It helps to know other people have overcome these same struggles and were better for it in the end.
We’ve picked out 12 of our favorite fitness transformation stories. Read on if you need some inspiration to keep pushing toward your muscle growth goals!
Male Muscle Growth Stories
Noah Elias transformed his physique in 10 weeks.
Like a lot of guys in his early twenties, Noah was more interested in partying than going to the gym. All the nights out late at the bar kept him from getting enough sleep—and all that beer wasn’t doing his waistline any favors, either. He’d started gym routines before only to lose focus before he made any real progress and couldn’t seem to make himself stick with it.
His breakthrough moment: Consistency was key in Noah’s transformation. He focused on improving his self-discipline, setting rules for himself that included cooking his own meals instead of eating fast food. Part of this was learning to prepare his meals in advance, since he had a 30-minute commute to work.
Elias cut down on drinking and made the gym a priority. Along with daily cardio, his weekly weight training rotation worked through every muscle group, with rest days built in to give his body time to recover.
After 10 weeks, this new routine had become a habit, and he could say he had a 6-pack for the first time in his life. Noah’s muscle growth story proves that just going to the gym won’t do the trick. Long-term success comes from making health a priority, something that often means adjusting your lifestyle.
An unflattering photograph inspired Michael Lee to get back to the gym.
Not only was he the father of three small children, he was taking college classes while working full-time to support his family. Chronic health problems and a recent move to a new state gave him even more excuses to abandon his old fitness routines.
His breakthrough moment: Shortly after moving to Colorado, Michael went to a water park with his family. Looking at the photos from the outing, he was shocked by how unhealthy he looked. He knew right away it was time to build better habits.
Setting smaller goals along the way was key in Michael’s muscle growth success. His first goal was to lose 30 pounds through cardio, especially running, which he’s enjoyed since his days in the Army. He also worked to slowly change his eating habits, focusing more on cutting out junk food and staying healthy than crash diets or calorie counting.
Once he’d met his weight loss goals, Michael added weight training into his routine. His muscle tone improved even more quickly than he’d expected. Six months into his muscle growth transformation, Michael’s ripped shoulders, back, and core made the next summer’s vacation photos a lot more enjoyable to look at.
Chris Ruden overcame his disability to become a power lifter.
Chris was born with a deformity that made his left arm shorter than his right, with only two fingers on his left hand. Growing up, doctors told him he wouldn’t be able to use his left arm for much of anything.
Being bullied led Chris down a path of frequent drinking and drug use when he went away to college. While he’d learned to adapt to his disability, even playing the drums through use of a special glove, his dreams of weightlifting always seemed out of reach.
His breakthrough moment: When Chris was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at 19, he knew he had to pay more attention to his health. Starting a workout routine was more challenging than him for most. He had to develop a new technique to do common exercises like deadlifts because of the difference in the lengths of his arms.
Ultimately, though, Chris believes your only limitations are the ones you impose on yourself. Through hard work and perseverance, Chris can now deadlift over 600 pounds and is an elite competitive powerlifter.
Today, Chris is a life coach and motivational speaker. He finds inspiration in helping other people to transform their lives, teaching them that anything is possible when you believe in yourself.
Robert Duda proves you can still bulk up over 40.
Robert enjoyed weight training since he was a teenager but he’d never considered getting into competition form. He also wasn’t especially interested in the nutrition side of the equation, though he dabbled with various approaches to his diet, even going vegan for a few years.
His breakthrough moment: Robert attended a bodybuilding competition in fall of 2008 with his wife. As they were leaving, he told his wife he’d be up on that stage in a year. And he kept to that goal; in November 2009 he entered his first bodybuilding competition.
It took nearly 6 months of intense exercise and a well-controlled diet for Robert’s muscle growth story to come to fruition. His progress was slow at first but his pace improved once he learned to listen to his body and work with its natural rhythms.
Robert’s workout plan to get into shape focused on daily cardio exercise with weight training 5 days a week. He credits the pressure of the competition with maintaining his motivation. The thought of standing nearly naked in front of hundreds of strangers was enough to get him to the gym those days he felt like breaking his routine.
Female Muscle Growth Stories
Liz Buffone got into competition shape by putting her health first.
The hormones that helped her get pregnant added to her weight gain, and the stress of caring for a young child combined with her job meant her health and nutrition always ended up being her last priority.
Her breakthrough moment: A summer beach vacation put things in perspective for Liz. She saw a picture of herself in her bathing suit and hated it, feeling frustrated and embarrassed about the shape she was in. She was exhausted, too, and knew she would have more energy to keep up with her daughter if she got back into shape.
Liz started working with a trainer at age 39. She set a goal to be onstage in a bodybuilding competition for her 41st birthday. A back injury left her unable to do some exercises, forcing her to be creative to get the muscle gains she was looking for. But Liz stuck with it despite the setbacks, learning to become her own nutritionist so she could make lasting lifestyle changes.
Because she took the approach of lifestyle transformation, her fitness gains didn’t disappear after the competition was over. Years after going on-stage, Liz has been able to maintain a low body fat and excellent muscle definition, giving her the energy she needs to keep up with her growing daughter.
Vet and mom Jennifer Hennessy found time for fitness.
Veterinarian Jennifer Hennessy worked night shifts, spending her days caring for her two children. Skipped meals and too little sleep were the norm and finding time to work out seemed impossible. Jennifer knew she could be healthier and felt self-conscious and frustrated whenever she looked in the mirror.
Her breakthrough moment: This muscle growth story started when Jennifer decided to start prioritizing her own needs instead of spending all her energy caring for others. She looked for an exercise routine she could fit into her hectic schedule. Most importantly, it had to be something she could do at home so she wouldn’t have to worry about when she’d get to the gym.
One big thing that motivated Jennifer was finding a picture of competitive body builder Erin Stern. Erin had the exact physique Jennifer wanted for herself. She made it her goal to get the same tone, competition-ready body.
Jennifer’s busy schedule was still a challenge but she found spare minutes throughout the day she could fit in some exercises.
Sometimes she’d even do lunges or pushups during her shifts at the veterinary hospital where she worked. This commitment translated to progress. After a year, her body fat percentage was down to 8% and she no longer had to feel insecure about her body.
Working out made Nakia Dunigan healthier mentally and physically.
Nakia had struggled with depression her entire life. This made it difficult for her to set goals for her future and care for her health. When she had days off from work, more often than not she spent them laying in bed, or else drinking to escape the pain.
As a single mother of two, Nakia knew she should get healthier, both mentally and physically, so she could be there for her kids. Getting started on that path felt overwhelming, though, especially since she worked 40 hours a week in a cubicle.
Her breakthrough moment: A well-timed e-mail advertisement for a fitness boot camp started Nakia’s transformation. She’d just received a bonus from work and saw this ad as a sign of how she could use that money to improve her health.
Attending that boot camp was exactly the push Nakia needed. She changed her diet, eating more lean protein and vegetables, and found ways to work exercise into her daily routine. Focusing on her physical well-being helped her mental health, too. Her depression lifted and for the first time in a long time, she wanted more out of her life.
Inspired by her progress, Nakia quit her job as an executive assistant and got certified to be a fitness instructor. This gave her more flexibility so she could spend more time with her kids and let her keep her health front and center in her life.
Barb Herbert took the competitive bodybuilding stage after losing 100 pounds.
Heavy since childhood, Barb’s body started to show the strain of carrying extra weight when she was in college. Obesity ran in her family, along with other health issues like heart disease and diabetes.
Her back and legs ached every day. She hated not being able to do things other people could, like riding a horse or a bicycle. Eventually her back gave out, landing her in the hospital for a week. Barb decided she needed to make a change and get in shape.
Her breakthrough moment: Barb joined a gym after she graduated college. Her trainer started her on circuit training and she lost over 100 pounds in 2 years. Around that same time, her work moved her to Alberta, where a chance meeting with a bodybuilding trainer.
Barb hadn’t ever considered bodybuilding before, but she was bored with her old training routine and eager to take things to a new level. A year later, she took the stage in her first competition. Her biggest advice to anyone who wants to burn fat and build muscle is to set a goal and find a trainer who will help you reach it.
Muscle Growth Stories: Abs
Shreyans Sheth used science to develop a 6-pack.
When he was growing up, Shreyans was more focused on his education than eating right and exercising. After being chubby his entire life, he decided to make a change when he graduated college. Over the next six months, he lost almost 50 pounds by eating clean and using a combination of cardio workouts and weight lifting routines.
His breakthrough moment: Real change happened for Shreyans when he started to think about why he’d always been overweight and analyzed the real causes. He took the time to understand his body’s shape and needs and come up with a fitness plan that would work best for him.
Instead of focusing just on muscle growth and fat loss, Shreyans aimed to improve his overall health. He found a healthy diet he could stick to in the long term, instituting permanent lifestyle changes that yielded the positive results you see in these before and after photos.
Joel Runyon shredded his abs in less than 30 minutes a day.
His lack of self-control was the main thing working against him. Joel had a sweet tooth and wasn’t good at self-moderation. Even though he was active, his eating habits kept him from seeing the ab definition he wanted.
His breakthrough moment: Joel started seeing progress when he committed to his goal. Instead of thinking about getting a 6-pack sometime in the future, he set a deadline and put some money on the line, paying hundreds of dollars for a photo shoot in 8 weeks to show off his progress.
To start, Joel went on a strict Paleo diet, cutting out the sweets he was so tempted by. After eating clean for a few weeks, a strange thing happened—he realized he felt better and he actually liked it. Removing most of the sugar from his diet helped Joel get the lean look he wanted.
Another problem with Joel’s plan: he hated going to the gym. Instead of making excuses, though, he created a workout routine he could do at home without just a pull-up bar and a jump rope.
Instead of targeting just his abs, he focused on exercises that work the entire body like pullups, pushups, squats, and lunges. Using high-intensity interval training for cardio cut down on his workout time, letting him fit the routine into his schedule.
What Joel learned was consistency was the most important factor in a successful fitness routine. In 8 weeks, he had a 5.4% body fat percentage and the ripped abs he’d scheduled a photo shoot to showcase. And he did it working out less than 30 minutes a day, 6 days a week, without paying for a gym membership.
Vicky Sheldrake used a work injury as a pivot point to get her fitness back on track.
Working long hours as the manager of a care home had a serious impact on Vicky’s mental health. She suffered from anxiety and panic attacks and wasn’t taking care of her health. Instead of regular, healthy meals, she snacked throughout the day and ate take-out food at night and didn’t have time in her schedule for regular exercise.
Her breakthrough moment: In 2017, Vicky broke her foot and was forced to take time off of work. This ended up being a blessing in disguise. Stepping away from the stressful environment at her job let her take a close look at her life and reprioritize.
This started with making her own food at home instead of eating take-out for dinner every day. A diet of whole grains helped her feel full so she wasn’t tempted to snack throughout the day. Thanks to her improved diet, she had more energy and found she was able to fit a work-out routine into her schedule.
Vicky started with light workouts, using simple exercises like push-ups and squats, increasing the reps and length of her workouts as she gained strength.
The changes she saw in her body inspired her to make other changes in her life. She now works as a personal trainer, helping other people to transform their health.
Desk worker Saint focused on nutrition to meet his 6-pack goals.
Like many Americans, Saint’s sedentary lifestyle as an office worker left him out of shape and overweight. After two years of unsuccessful attempts to get his fitness back on track, he was fed up with disliking what he saw when he looked in the mirror.
He reached out to a friend who worked as a fitness instructor for advice. Saint cut out junk food and increased his weekly cardio. Three months later, he’d lost 30 pounds. It was definitely progress, but he wasn’t where he wanted to be yet.
His breakthrough moment: Saint was getting married the summer of 2011. He knew there’d be tons of pictures of both the wedding and honeymoon, and he wanted to like the way he looked in them. In December 2010, he made a bet with his friends that he would cut his body fat down below 10% by Memorial Day, or else he’d pay them $500.
This extra motivation turned out to be just what Saint needed to kick himself into a higher gear. He added strength training to his exercise routine, shifting his focus from losing fat to building muscle. At the same time, he switched to the Paleo Diet, cutting out most carbs and focusing on lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables.
The results of Saint’s hard work paid off big time. He didn’t just win his bet with his friends—he beat his own deadline. By early April, over a month before Memorial Day, he had a body fat percentage of 9.9% and the flat, firm stomach he wanted for his honeymoon pictures.
Muscle Growth Motivation: It’s All About Your Mindset
There’s a common theme in all 12 of these stories. Once they made the decision to get in shape, they committed to a lifestyle change that would get them to their health goals. Consistency is key, whether you’re trying to lose weight or getting ready for your first time on the competition stage.
Can you relate to some of these stories? Maybe there’s one in particular that inspired you. We’d love to hear about it in the comments, especially if they’ve pushed you to reach your next fitness milestone!