3 Signs You Are Building Muscle
Building muscle and getting stronger is what you want. But how do you know if you are making progress towards that outcome? A lot of guys come to me and ask variations of the following question, “How do I know if I am making progress?” There are many ways you can measure your progress and some ways are more important than others, so I’m here to share with you what actually matters so you can save time, stress and never feel confused about where you’re heading.
You have to track your strength, meaning, you have to know exactly how strong you are right now and how much stronger you are compared to the past. You must know how much weight you can lift on bench press, squat and deadlift and ideally you should know your numbers on every other exercise in your workout program. It’s up to you how specific you want to be with this but knowing how much you can lift on ‘The Big 3’ (bench press, squat and deadlift) is important data. These three exercises are referred to as ‘The Big 3’ for a reason – you are your strongest and most powerful on these exercises and your muscle building potential with these trumps all other exercises you can do in the gym.
A lot of guys are lazy when it comes to tracking their workouts and I understand why – you want to be resting between sets rather than logging your numbers after a heavy set of deadlifts. But the big problem with burying your head in the sand and avoiding tracking your key numbers is this – you won’t know how much weight you can lift in your next workout. This is critical data that you need, otherwise, how will you know what weight to use next time you’re working out? How will you know how much weight you could add to what you were squatting last time? How will you know what your one rep max could be? You won’t and that means lack of progress and use of progressive overload, the most important part of any training program. Tracking your key numbers means you’re avoiding facing problems down the road such as guessing how much weight to put on the barbell and seeing what happens. Don’t be this guy. This guy either doesn’t train hard enough or trains too hard and ends up getting injured. He doesn’t know his key numbers so he doesn’t have a clue what weights he needs to be using.
Strength has a linear relationship with muscle size. Generally speaking, the stronger you are the more muscle you will have. This relationship between strength and muscle size isn’t 100% linear long term, but you’re less experienced with resistance training and only have a few months to a couple of years under your belt so the relationship is much stronger and therefore tracking your strength during this period in workout trackers like the one you get in my coaching program is very valuable to you. If you are getting stronger and adding weight to as many exercises as you can in these workout programs you will inevitably build muscle in the coming weeks and months. It’s just a matter of time. Increased strength means you are increasing the tension placed on the muscle. The weights you are using are heavier than they were previously, which means increased muscular tension and this stimulates more muscle growth.
The second most obvious sign that you are building muscle is body part measurements. I cannot stress this enough. You must take measurements of your arms, chest, back, shoulders and legs periodically throughout the year. If you are completely new to resistance training you should take measurements right now. I know this is something you probably don’t want to do because it will give you some numbers that you don’t like the look of, but it’s critical long term. Having these numbers will initially annoy you which is a good thing, but you can channel this frustration into your workouts and use it to motivate you over the coming months to make sure you get the results you want. Simply track your numbers in an excel spreadsheet and keep taking your measurements every four weeks, being as accurate as possible with your measurements every time you take them. You get a complete breakdown of exactly how to take body part measurements properly in my coaching program. Once you see these numbers start to increase you will be very motivated and will continue to strive for new results in your workouts.
The third way of measuring progress over time is taking pictures. This might seem really simple and basic but it’s very powerful for giving you that boost of motivation you need after a few months of training have gone by. You tend to forget how you used to look because you see yourself in the mirror every morning so noticing changes in your body is harder. Taking before and after pictures is powerful stuff and you should keep doing this every few months to give you that inner drive when you’re feeling a bit demotivated in the future.
There is certainly a right way and a wrong way of doing this. Don’t just take any random pictures that are in different places in your home, different lighting and different times of the day. Take them in the exact same spot every time and at the same time of day so the lighting is as consistent as possible with every picture you take. Also, make sure you are taking pictures with the same poses. With your arms resting by your sides take one picture from the front, one from the back, one from your left side and one from your right side. You can take some pictures flexing if you want to but always remember that you need to do the exact same pose when you come to taking pictures again in the future.
These pictures will fuel your motivation more than you think. They’ll remind you of why you started in the first place and they’ll keep the fire alive inside you to keep going. Use all three of these ways of measuring progress and you’ll be firing on all cylinders.