We’ll tell you how to deter­mine if your mus­cle gain is going accord­ing to plan.

Build­ing mus­cle mass can be a chal­leng­ing task at times, espe­cial­ly if you are try­ing for the first time. We know that there are a few non-nego­tiables when it comes to gain­ing mus­cle (calo­rie sur­plus, pro­gres­sive over­load, and patience), but what about every­thing else? How do you know if mass gain is work­ing? How to under­stand that you are doing every­thing right? How can you tell if it can be done faster? There are many ques­tions. Here are three signs that you’re def­i­nite­ly build­ing mus­cle.

You are gaining weight but still look thin

When you build mus­cle, you gain some fat as part of the process of gain­ing mus­cle mass. You can try as hard as you like, but you can­not com­plete­ly avoid fat gain. It is impor­tant that you accept this ear­ly on and come to terms with it. If you don’t do this, you will find it dif­fi­cult to ful­ly com­mit to the process and will end up leav­ing with min­i­mal mus­cle gains.

How­ev­er, gain­ing fat does not nec­es­sar­i­ly mean putting on weight and mov­ing from a lean and ath­let­ic body to a body that looks more like a sumo wrestler. If you’re good at it, you can min­i­mize the fat you gain.

The first thing you should do for high-qual­i­ty mass gain is to “dry out”, that is, get rid of excess sub­cu­ta­neous fat. The less body fat you have, the less weight you will gain from fat. Anoth­er key to min­i­miz­ing fat gain is to gain weight slow­ly. If you do this and then focus on mak­ing grad­ual week­ly changes, you will gain weight but keep fat gain to a min­i­mum. Some­times it can turn out a lit­tle bet­ter, and some­times worse. This depends on sev­er­al fac­tors: diet, train­ing, genet­ics and lifestyle.

As you can see, three out of four fac­tors are under your con­trol. That is, you need to train hard, use pro­gres­sive over­load, eat in a slight calo­rie sur­plus, stay hydrat­ed, and sleep well. If you do this and notice that your weight is slow­ly increas­ing but you still look lean, this is a sure sign that you are build­ing mus­cle.

(Read also: 6 rules of pro­gres­sive over­load to remem­ber)

Your waistline stays the same or slowly increases

The best indi­ca­tor of mus­cle gain (max­i­mum mus­cle gain, min­i­mum fat gain) is how much your waist size has changed. Ide­al­ly, you want it to stay the same while your oth­er mea­sure­ments slow­ly increase. How­ev­er, for most peo­ple, a more real­is­tic goal is for the waist to increase slow­ly while all oth­er mea­sure­ments also increase.

There are two main rea­sons for this:

  • Waist reduc­tion helps men achieve the desired V‑shaped physique and helps them look ath­let­ic and fit.
  • If your weight changes slow­ly while every­thing else increas­es, it’s a good sign that you’re gain­ing max­i­mum mus­cle and gain­ing min­i­mum fat.

(Read also: 5 tips on how to choose the right work­ing weight dur­ing train­ing)

As you gain weight, you become stronger.

Gain­ing strength from an excess of calo­ries is a good indi­ca­tor that you are on the right track. This proves that you are apply­ing the prin­ci­ple of pro­gres­sive over­load, which is the main dri­ver of progress in the gym. If you are gain­ing weight but not gain­ing strength, some­thing is wrong. There are usu­al­ly three rea­sons for this:

  • you’re get­ting stronger, but slow­er than you expect­ed, so you think it’s not true
  • you are not con­sis­tent in your work­outs
  • you don’t keep a train­ing diary and don’t real­ly know what’s going on

Train con­sis­tent­ly and keep a detailed train­ing log to clear­ly see your lev­el of progress over time. This is the best indi­ca­tor of whether you are on the right track. This does­n’t mean you should expect extra­or­di­nary results, espe­cial­ly if you’re an aver­age ath­lete with a good amount of train­ing expe­ri­ence under your belt. Progress may be slow­er at this stage. But remem­ber that progress is progress, no mat­ter if it’s +1 rep­e­ti­tion or +1 kilo­gram in work­ing weights.

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