If you’ve been reading my posts, you have a good understanding so far of what you have to do in and outside of the gym to build muscle, but the last thing you want to do is depend on blind faith that your fitness plan is getting you the results you want.
You need to pay attention day to day to make sure you are getting the most out of your workouts and to find any weak spots that you may need to tweak a bit.
In this post, I’m going to cover the different factors you need to pay attention to when it comes to making sure your bodybuilding progress is moving along at a steady pace.
I’ll tell you the strategies I like to use to track my results, using 3 different tiers.
- 1st tier (most important)
- 2nd tier (not as important)
- Professional Tier (for the very advanced)
I will also cover what to do if your not seeing the results you want and how to change your program to get you back on track.
How To Track How Much Muscle Your Building
When you’re building muscle the basic goals are to increase muscle size and strength while limiting fat gains since you’ll be on a calorie surplus.
Remember, I’m breaking this into 3 tiers
1st tier – These are the fundamentals that you need to start with, can’t go any further until these are correct.
2nd tier – If you’re meeting the 1st tier markers than you can use this to get even more detailed with your progression.
Professional tier – Advanced ways of scrutinizing every detail.
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In any fitness routine based around building muscle they’ll be two main components
1. Strength Gains
If you’re doing everything correctly you will notice a difference in your strength with every workout. According to bodybuilding.com on a great week in and out of the gym the max gains you will produce is 1 pound.
You have to follow the fundamental rule of progression and intensity to acquire more muscle overtime, this means that you have to either raise the amount you’re lifting or the number of reps you’re performing to successfully see muscle gains consistently.
I’m hoping you learn more than one thing from this post, but if there is one piece of advice you take away I want it to be this
WRITE Your Exercises Down
Every work out that you do, I want you to write down the exercise you performed, how much weight you used, how many sets and how many reps.
This is the best way for you to quickly notice if even 1 of your exercises is not progressing the way you want.
Say it with me out loud WRITE IT DOWN
I constantly have people tell me that they remember every workout they do, how much weight they lifted and how many reps they performed, UNTIL I ask to observe them to witness this great achievement and they all of a sudden can’t even remember their name.
WRITE IT DOWN, WRITE IT DOWN, WRITE IT DOWN…..
Okay, I’m done my rant for now.
2. Body Weight Gains
This is common sense but if you’re adding muscle on to your physique than you will also see your body weight go up on the scale.
If you’re not seeing this happen than you simply aren’t building any muscle mass.
How much muscle you will gain varies depending on your experience level, genes, age, sex and simply how much effort you’re putting into your workouts.
A rough idea would be for a beginner to gain 2 to 3 pounds a month, the more advanced you become the lower this number will become. For every year of training under your belt your gains will decrease by 50%.
Simply put, if you’re under 2 pounds a month than you need to raise your progression and intensity with every workout. You will also need to make sure you’re eating enough calories to build muscle. If you’re above 2 to 3 lbs than you are most likely eating to many calories and you’re adding fat. If you think you’re adding fat try squeezing in a couple of cardio workouts every week and try dropping your daily calorie intake down.
An increase in body weight without an increase in strength means you’re just getting fat.( I’ve done this, It’s a momentum killer and really sucks because you now have to cut again to burn the fat off ) It is possible to have gains in strength without a difference of body weight on the scale.
This happens when your body builds strength through its neural pathways, all this means is that your body becomes more efficient at using the muscle it already possesses.
How Do You Look In The Mirror.
If you’re progressing along nicely by adding weight and reps and you’re seeing weight gain without fat gains than you can start to get more detailed.
This is a crude yet effective strategy, you know better than anyone what your body looks like, you can also look at the total picture by making sure that your total physique is growing evenly, this means full body training.
I’m talking to the people out there that like to skip leg day, the only thing you’re going to accomplish with that mindset is looking like spongebob.
Big on top and a stick figure on the bottom, DON’T DO THIS.
2. Take Before And After Pictures
This is a very effective way to critique your progress over a long period of time, I hesitated doing this in the beginning because of how insecure I was about how I looked and I regretted it.
While looking in the mirror is great, it’s hard to see the small changes occurring. With your pictures you can compare your changes week to week or whatever period of time you want. I know people that took pictures everyday for months, It was really cool to see the subtle changes that took place.
The best way of doing this is to keep them the same, what I mean by this is
- Always in the morning before you eat and drink
- same room of your house where the lighting is good
- keep distance between you and the camera the same
- Use different poses, to get pictures of your front, back and sides.
3. Taking Body Measurements
If you want to focus on individual body parts you can use a tape measure to track your progress.
You don’t want to use a metal tape measure though, you’ll want to pick up a fabric tape measure used by tailors. I know this sounds like common sense and that I shouldn’t have to point this out but I’ve seen people try to use the metal kind, while it’s hilarious to watch, In the end you look like an idiot, just saying.
These are the body parts measured most of the time.
I recommended taking your before and after pictures in the morning, I’m going to do the same for taking measurements because you want your muscles to be unflexed. if you did it after a workout they would be in a flexed state or pumped up.
You also need to make sure you measure in the same exact spot every time or your results will vary.
You’re trying to gain muscle mass but you’re not seeing any results.
1st solution – Increase your daily calorie intake.
Your body sort of has a priority list in which it abides by when it comes to how it spends its energy allowance AKA calories.
People sometimes forget that when your body performs simple actions like breathing, laughing, even sitting on the couch it is using calories to do so.
This is why in order to build muscle you have to create a calorie surplus to give your body enough materials to carry out this process. Or it simply won’t be made one of your bodies priorities
I know there are formulas to find out how many calories you should eat daily and they are great to find a baseline to start with, but everyone is different and you have to tweak your fitness plan as you go.
if you”re not seeing any results at all, I would increase your calorie intake by 200 calories a day.
if you’re seeing minimal muscle growth but feel like it should be more significant try increasing it by 100 calories a day.
Keep measuring after you increase and make sure to tweak again if necessary, just make sure you don’t go to high and start to add fat. No one wants to start an unwanted cutting phase.
2nd Solution – Reduce Your Cardio.
Excessive cardio workouts can impact your muscle gains two fold, it can impair muscle recovery which will hinder your growth results and it can cause you to burn to many calories which will keep your body from having enough material to build muscle. See above
Remember that cardio comes in many forms such as walking around, a physical job, recreational sports, physical hobbies. My point is that cardio activities don’t just happen in the gym. if you’ve think this is the problem you will just have to figure out what you can limit and what you can’t,
For example, if you play football after work a couple days a week, you can cut this back a bit without any problems.
What would be a harder fix is if your excess cardio is coming from a physical job. I’m hoping you don’t quit your job for the sake of building muscle, what you would do in this case is add more calories to your daily diet to make up for the extra activity levels.
3rd Solution – Did You Track Your Workouts?
Remember when I went on my rant about writing all of your workouts down.
If you didn’t do this then I guarantee that’s why you’re not seeing any results, because you’re probably not progressing your weights or reps as much as you think.
Let’s say you did write it down, that’s awesome, now is the time to go back and look to see if your weights and reps were progressing at a steady rate.
If you realize they weren’t, then this would be a definite reason why you’re not happy with your results, if you are satisfied by your progression than you can disregard this and you know to look elsewhere for your problem.
4th solution – Are You Giving Every Workout All You Have?
It’s time to be honest with yourself, are you killing every workout and leaving the gym with no regrets?
You have to push your body and muscles to the point where your body actually considers your workouts as a threat so that it feels like it has to adapt to the rigors you’re putting it under.
In other words you have to work your bleeping ass off and give it your all.
I could use a number of cliche’s and motivational quotes to make my point but in the end you have to put the work in to get the results you want,
You want to bring every set you perform within 1 rep shy of complete muscular failure. This is the only way your body will give you the results that you want.
The last 2 paragraphs have gone over the most important fundamental rule of bodybuilding and that is the law of progression and intensity. Earlier in this post I left a link that will take you to my article titled Bodybuilding Guidelines that gets into more depth about this rule. if you’ve haven’t read this please find the time to do so, it will answer most of your questions about the habits you need to practice in and out of the gym to receive the best results.
5th solution – Sleep, Sleep and More Sleep.
Negative side effects from not sleeping enough
- Hinders muscle recovery
- Loss of motivation
- Lack of energy
- Increases cortisol which will help store more fat
- Decreases testosterone which will hinder building muscle
I don’t think lack of sleep alone would be why you’re not seeing results but it will play a major role if it becomes a recurring problem.
if you feel focused and energized through out the day then most likely your receiving an adequate amount of sleep each night.
if you’ve don’t feel these positive affects than you may want to adjust your sleeping schedule.
You’re successfully building muscle but you realize you’re also gaining an excessive amount of body fat.
1st solution – Decrease Your Daily Calorie Intake.
You already know that you have to eat enough calories to build muscle, but the catch is that your body can only make a small percentage of muscle over a short period of time,
This unfortunately makes it easy to be on to high of a calorie surplus where you will start to gain fat.
Remember you’re not on a “see food diet” you know, the diet that some bodybuilders go on where they eat all the food that they “see” throughout the day.
The food that you put into your body is just as important as how many calories you eat everyday.
if you’ve find that you gained some fat simply decrease the amount of daily calorie intake and also make sure that your diet consists mainly of whole foods and not any processed foods.
2nd solution – Increase your cardio.
This is self explanatory, if you are confident that your diet and calorie intake isn’t to blame then you may just need to add a couple days of good cardio sessions in.
You may have read that you want to avoid cardio if you want to build muscle, and we already went over how to much cardio can hurt your gains but you should always add 2-3 days just to keep ant excess fat from storing on your body.
3rd solution – Increase workout Intensity.
Are you just going through the motions when you’re performing your exercise routines, slacking off will definitely cause you to not burn as many calories as you normally would if you were giving it your all. which will turn those unused calories into extra fat.