How to Tell if You’re Gaining Muscle – OMB 1.2
In this video, Francis and I talk about the various methods you can utilize to determine if you’re gaining muscle.
If your goal, in bro-science terms, is to ‘get swole’, ‘get buff’, or ‘get big AF’ then you are by default working towards muscular hypertrophy.
Muscular hypertrophy is an increase in muscle mass and cross-sectional area. Other methods are muscular strength, power, and endurance, however, in this specific post, we are focused on making your muscle grow like a fichus.
In order to promote muscular hypertrophy, progressive overload will be your best friend. Progressive overload is the gradual increase in exercise volume, intensity, frequency, or time for a training goal; in this case muscular hypertrophy.
NOTE: While progressive overload is key when training, your gains in strength will be much slower than if you were strictly strength training.
Tracking for Muscular Hypertrophy
No. 1 Track Your Workouts
Workout logs are one of the most useful tools when it comes to progressive overloading.
First, your log becomes an accurate record of your previous workouts and takes out the guessing game of trying to remember the weights and reps of your previous workouts.
Secondly, your log becomes a reference point of what aspects of your program are providing you with success and what isn’t working. For example, if your bench went up 20 lbs. in the past two months then it’s likely your current training protocol for bench press is working. On the flip-side, if your squat has stagnated for weeks and you are no longer seeing any improvements then it’s likely that you need to alter your squat training protocol.
Last, but not least, your workout log becomes a tool of motivation. Go back through your workout log and see your phenomenal progress over the past few months/years of working out and you’ll feel empowered to keep pushing yourself to reach your next milestone.
While gaining lean muscle mass is a marathon race, having a log to keep you accountable and give you motivation is an invaluable tool if you’re genuinely serious about consistently gaining muscle.
No. 2 Track Your Body Composition
Your body composition is an in-depth look at the composition of your body. More specifically, we are looking into the values that make up your body weight – fat mass and lean muscle mass.
Body compositional analysis is most useful when you’ve been performing tests over a longer period of time. Just like with a workout log, you’re able to see what aspects of your program are working by determining what changes are occurring beneath the surface (e.g gaining muscle and/or losing fat).
NOTE: I say beneath the surface because if you look at weight alone you sell your progress short. It’s entirely possible to see no changes in your weight, but have dramatic changes in your body composition. If you check out the AFL 1.1 post you can read an example of a client of mine who was capable of dramatically changing his body composition, but had an entirely underwhelming change in his weight.
Body Fat Testing
Body fat testing is the most accurate way to determine changes that are going on beneath the surface; body compositional analysis will provide you with your body fat percentage which is used to determine how much of your body is composed of fat and lean muscle mass.
PS When you’re working towards muscular hypertrophy you should regularly see increases in your lean muscle mass.
I talk about the various different methods you can utilize to track your body composition in the AFL 1.3 post. However, in quick summation, the most accurate methods are DEXA Scanning and Hydrostatic Weighing, and the most accessible is BIA (Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis).
PPS If you’re interested in gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time I recommend pairing lean bulking with intermittent fasting. This will optimize your fat burning potential through fasting windows and by eating in a small caloric surplus you’ll be able to give your body the nutrients it needs to support gaining lean muscle.
A low-cost alternative to body compositional analysis is tracking circumference measurements.
Circumference measurements entail you measuring the circumference of certain areas of your body and comparing them to previous measurements over a period of time. For muscular hypertrophy, you’ll probably want to track your chest, shoulders, waist, hips, thighs and arms.
Changes in your circumference measurements will be on the scale of 1/8″ – 1″ per month. When gaining muscle mass, increases in your measurements tend to be smaller than the changes you’ll observe while losing fat; this is because muscle is more dense than fat.
NOTE: While lean bulking your waist measurement should not have any drastic increases; an increase in your waist measurement is a good indication that you are gaining fat.
Frequency for Body Composition Testing
Body compositional analysis is best performed on a regular basis – about once per month and should be compared to your measurements and your measurements alone (Johnny Meathead’s gains in muscle don’t benefit you in any way).
Additionally, you want to test under similar conditions every time. For example, first thing in the morning after going to the restroom.
No. 3 Progress Pictures
To this point, we’ve only been talking about quantitative measurements for determining changes in your body composition. However, qualitative measurements can arguably be worth more than any form of body compositional analysis. There’s a reason the phrase “pictures are worth 1000 words” was coined.
If someone walks up to you and says they used to be overweight but they turned their life around 12 months ago and they’ve been gaining muscle regularly, killing their workouts, and now they’re at 10% body fat, what does that transformation even mean? Without having a visual representation (i.e. seeing progress pictures or something comparable) you don’t know.
This is one of the biggest reasons you want to have a visual representation to accompany your body composition measurements, by regularly taking progress pictures you’re able to portray your physique at various stages of your journey.
Wrapping up, we looked into a few methods you can utilize to determine if you’re gaining muscle. While tracking your workouts, body composition, and taking progress pictures are extremely useful standalone tools. Observing gains in lean muscle mass consistently, and most effectively, comes when you combine all three tools together.
While it does become a more involved process, you become aware of how all the small things you do culminate to your overall success. This allows you to stay motivated to keep your diet on track and to keep pushing yourself in the gym because the positive things you’re doing results in you making continuous strides towards your goals.
Furthermore, your increased awareness allows you to know when you’ve strayed off the path and allows you to purposefully and intelligently course correct to the nonmagical kingdom of gaining muscle week in and week out.
In summation, tracking your workouts allows you to consistently strive to better yourself in the gym, testing your body composition allows you to determine what changes are going on beneath the surface of your weight, and taking progress pictures allows you to have a qualitative portrayal that is the direct outcome of your labor in the kitchen and gym.
Next, I want to mention the freebie that comes with this post which is the Muscle Potential Building Calculator; this calculator was specifically created to help you determine what your genetic potential is for muscle building and how much muscle you can expect to gain in a given period of time. Just scroll down to the bottom of this post and click on the box to get your free copy.
Finally, I want to thank you for taking the time to go through this OMB post. Consistently gaining muscle doesn’t happen by accident and by tracking you become capable of regularly seeing success from your program.
This post concludes Series I of Optimum Muscle Building, in the next series we will be going over Optimum Muscle Building 101; an in-depth look at everything you need to know to gain muscle regularly, what to avoid, and tips and tricks to make your journey more streamlined.
In the meantime, keep gaining muscle, track your progress, and enjoy the journey!