Are you trying to gain muscle but not sure if it’s working? Are you worried that you’re not seeing progress when you look in the mirror? Here are 11 signs you’re gaining muscle!
The good news is that just because you aren’t seeing more muscle that doesn’t mean you aren’t gaining muscle. In fact, it takes a lot of muscle growth before the results become visibly obvious. There are many other signs to look for to confirm that you are gaining muscle.
This article will detail 11 ways you can tell that you are gaining muscle. If any of these signs sound familiar, you’re on the right path in your fitness journey. Use these signs as an encouragement to keep going and to keep building muscle.
11 Signs You Have Started Gaining Muscle
There are many different signs that you are getting stronger and gaining muscle, and they aren’t all visible. Some are related to how you feel and others are based on what you experience during your strength training workouts.
Signs that you have started gaining muscle include:
- You’re gaining weight but not gaining fat.
- You’re not as sore after workouts.
- Your workouts don’t feel as difficult as they used to.
- You don’t need as much rest between sets.
- Improved form and weight with compound lifts.
- Functional activities in your daily life are easier.
- You have greater mind control over your muscles.
- Your grip strength has improved.
- Your posture has improved.
- Your clothes fit differently.
- You have an increased appetite.
While many of these points may seem obvious, there are some details with each one that is important to know. Understanding how your body gains muscle can help you get the most out of your strength training routine. In the rest of this article, I’ll expand on each of these points in more detail.
You’re gaining weight but not gaining fat.
Muscle is dense tissue and weighs more than fat. So if you are gaining weight, that could be a sign that you are gaining muscle. The key is to determine whether muscle or fat is the source of the weight gain.
A good starting point is to weigh yourself every day at the same time. The morning before you’ve eaten any food is best. Average those daily weights each week to determine your average weight for the week. If the average weight goes up, you’re gaining weight.
The next step is to use something called a body fat caliper to track your body fat. These are widely available online. They are simply tools that grasp the loose skin on your gut or abdomen. It then delivers a body fat percentage reading based on the amount of skin that can be grabbed.
For most men, a toned muscular body means a body fat percentage somewhere between 10% and 20%. For women that number is between 15% and 25%. Men shift into overweight territory with a body fat percentage above 30%, while that number is 40% for women.
Measure your body fat percentage with the caliper each morning and average those readings. Track it over time. If the number is trending up, that means you’re adding fat, not muscle. If the number trends down, that means you’re losing fat.
If your weight is going up, but your body fat is not, that’s a good sign that you are gaining muscle, even if you cannot yet see the muscles on your body.
You’re not as sore after workouts.
When you’re new to weight training, you usually feel very strong soreness a day or two after working out. This is called delayed muscle soreness. It happens because your muscles are not yet used to that kind of physical activity.
Of course, as you continue working out, your muscles become more accustomed to the training. You also gain new muscles that make the workouts less difficult. Overall, your soreness should go down. If that’s happening, that’s a sign that you are gaining strength and muscle.
Not all soreness is bad though. You want to challenge yourself. Muscle growth actually comes from very small rips and tears in your muscles during weight training routines. You actually damage your muscles slightly when you work out.
That’s a good thing. Because on your offdays, the muscles rebuild themselves and repair the damage. That process results in new muscle growth.
So reduced soreness is a good sign that you are growing your muscles. But you don’t want zero soreness. If you aren’t sore at all, that may be a sign that your body has grown too accustomed to the current workout. Change it up by adding some new exercises or even increasing your weights.
Your workouts don’t feel as difficult as they used to.
Your first ever workout was probably extremely difficult. Again, that’s because your body and your muscles aren’t used to that level of exertion. Over time, though, it may become easier to progress through your workout.
When it’s not as strenuous to complete sets or lift weights, that means you are adding muscle and strength. However, that also may be a sign that you should increase the amount of weight you are lifting or the number of reps. Remember, you gain muscle by pushing yourself, so it should be somewhat challenging.
You don’t need as much rest between sets.
Did you need to take a lot of rest and breaks in between each set when you first started? Again, that goes back to your body’s condition at the beginning of your fitness journey. Your body wasn’t used to that kind of pressure. The rest helped you prepare for the next set.
As you gain muscle, your body isn’t as depleted from each set. Therefore, you don’t need as much rest to get prepared for the next set. You should be able to take shorter breaks and continue on with your workout quickly.
Shorter breaks are a good thing. Your body needs some break between workouts, but you always want to push yourself. If you take a shorter break, you don’t give your muscles as much time to recover. That will test your muscles more on each set and lead to greater muscle growth.
If you find that you don’t need any rest at all or barely any rest, you may want to consider increasing the amount of weight you’re lifting for that exercise. It’s possible that your current weight level simply isn’t challenging enough for you anymore.
You have improved form and weight with compound lifts.
Compound lifts are some of the most important in any weight training regimen. They’re exercised that include a push and pull motion, which works for multiple muscle groups. Some common compound lifts include bench press, pullups, pulldowns, shoulder press, squats, and deadlifts.
Many beginners struggle with the form on these exercises because they are so difficult. For example, on a bench press, the bar might shake in your hands and you may have trouble lowering it all the way down to your chest. On a pullup, you may not be able to get your chin above the bar.
As you gain muscle, your form in these exercises should get better. You should be able to do a bench press with the bar coming down to your chest and straight back up. On a deadlift, you should be able to complete it with minimal bending in your legs. One way to track your form is to record yourself on camera and then compare it to examples online.
Once your form has improved, that means you are strong enough to do the exercise. At that point, it’s time to think about increasing your weight or reps so you can continue adding muscle.
Functional activities in your daily life are easier.
Activities in the gym aren’t the only way to track your muscle growth. If you’re getting stronger and adding muscle, you’re probably seeing improvements in your daily life.
For example, you may find it easier to do simple things like put things on a shelf or carry in groceries from the car. If your job is physical and requires carrying large items, you may notice that is easier too. You may want to try carrying larger items from around the house to see what happens and if it feels easier.
There are even some daily activities that mimic gym exercises. For example, anything that involves pushing is similar to the movement you do with a bench press. Lifting something overhead is similar to a shoulder press. Pulling is compatible with a rowing exercise.
Try functional activities at home or work that mimic these gym exercises. If they start to feel easier over time, you’re gaining strength and muscle.
You have greater mind control over your muscles.
As a kid, did you ever try to flex certain muscles in the mirror or maybe in front of friends? Perhaps it was your biceps or maybe your pecs? As a kid, there probably wasn’t much of a difference between your resting muscles or your flexed ones.
As an adult, though, you may see more results. That’s especially true after you start gaining muscle. As you gain muscle, two things happen. One is that your muscles get bigger which leads to a larger visible difference when you flex.
However, the other thing that happens is that your nervous system creates more connections with your muscles, which means your mind has more control over each muscle group. You may find that you can flex muscles that you couldn’t before, like your pecs or even your thighs.
You also may notice that you can flex smaller muscles that you didn’t even know existed before. For example, in your calf, there are multiple different muscles that can all be flexed differently. The same is true in your back. As you gain more muscle and more nervous system connections, you’ll notice these muscles more and more.
Your grip strength has improved.
Have you ever had the experience where you held something that was so heavy or held it for so long that you felt you were going to lose control of the item? Maybe a heavy bag or maybe a piece of furniture?
This is a result of grip strength. Grip strength is simply the strength of your hands and forearms to grip certain items. It increases significantly as you build muscle. It increases due to the added muscle, but also the added nervous system connections with the muscle groups.
There’s actually a very simple way to track your grip strength. Simply pick up a bathroom scale and grip it as hard as you can. See what weight the scale maxes out at. Track that number every day over a period of time. If the figure increases, it means your grip strength is increasing, which also means you are adding muscle and nervous system connections to muscle.
Your posture is better.
Do you have a natural slouch? Do you ever notice that people with lots of muscles generally don’t slouch? Very often they stand straight up with good posture. There’s a reason for that.
As you build muscles in your chest and your back, your upper abdomen is naturally pulled upward. Some of the most important for good posture are your lats, rhomboids, and traps in your back. As they grow, your posture should naturally straighten out.
Pictures are a good way to track your posture. Stand sideways in front of a mirror every day and take your picture. Don’t exaggerate your posture one way or the other. Simply stand as you normally would if you were relaxed and take a picture of yourself.
The changes each day will be gradual, but over time you should notice your back becoming more straight and your posture improving. If there is a significant change, you may even gain a little bit of height!
Your clothes fit differently
As you gain muscle, you will likely feel it before you see it. That is, the increase in muscle will be there, but it takes a lot for it to be visible in the mirror. What will likely happen first is that you will feel your clothes becoming tighter and tighter.
People often think of their arms first when it comes to muscles. Perhaps that comes from the preoccupation with having big biceps and arms. However, arm and leg muscles can take time to grow in size because they are so long. That’s especially true if you are a tall person.
Your chest, back, and shoulder muscles are more likely in grow first. You may feel tightness in some shirts when you put them on. They might stretch across your chest tighter or they may even feel more difficult to put on. Shirt sleeves may seem shorter because your shoulders are taking up more room and fabric.
You may not want to drop money on a new wardrobe, but otherwise, this is a good sign. Tighter clothes usually means you are gaining muscle.
Of course, you want to be sure that is really the reason and not because you are gaining fat. If your clothes are tighter in your gut and abdomen, that probably means you’re gaining fat instead of muscle. Again, a body caliber is a good way to determine this.
You have a larger appetite.
More muscles mean more appetite. Muscles are active tissue. That means they consume energy even when they aren’t being used. If you have more active tissue, your metabolism increases and your body craves more calories.
If you find yourself feeling hungrier, even on your off days, that’s a good sign that you’ve added muscle.
Be careful about overeating though. You don’t want to turn all your hard work into fat. A good practice is to track what you eat along with your carbs and macros. Macros are common nutrients like protein, carbs, and fat.
Generally, protein is the best macro for building muscle. Foods like lean meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables can help build muscle. However, you also need carbs and fat to fuel your energy needs.
There are many different online tools and apps that can help you determine the right mix of macros for your goals. You can use the apps to track what you eat, track your macros, and make sure you’re staying on course.
One common mistake people make is eating the wrong foods when their metabolism increases. Then all that hard work isn’t visible because their body has added fat instead of muscle. Don’t make that mistake. An increased appetite is a good thing, but you need to feed your body the right foods to fuel your muscle growth.
Everyone wants to see their new muscles in the mirror. We all want bulging biceps and defined pecs. However, it takes time to get to that point. It requires a lot of muscle growth for your muscles to get that big.
Even if you can’t see the results, your muscles are still growing. If any of the signs in this article sound familiar, it means you are growing your muscles and you are seeing progress. Use that to encourage your strength training routine and to keep pursuing your goals.