When we first embark on a muscle building regime, everything comes so easy. We gain a lot of strength and muscle size quickly and it seems as if we have developed a touch which would make even Midas jealous. Then, before we know it, it all seems to grind to a halt: Our beginner gains are over, and this is where the winners continue and the losers quit.
A tape measure and bodyweight scales, once able to reliably tell you on a weekly basis whether or not you were making progress will no longer be able to give you decisive proof, and over time it’ll only become less obvious and require more faith. At this point, how do you know whether you’re really making progress or your muscle building efforts are in vain? Here’s 2 pretty reliable ways to tell…
1: You ache in the days that follow
A muscle which aches in the days which follow a workout is a muscle which has been worked beyond its previous capacity. Anyone can make a muscle ache if they hammer out endless repetitions and sets, however. I’m talking about the muscles aching by performing reps-sets within the common muscle building range (i.e. the accepted range for hypertrophy, and nothing excessive compared to your normal routine).
Such muscle aches are often mistakenly thought to be due to lactic acid build up which normally accompanies high volume training. However, even with low volume and no lactic acid burns we can experience muscle soreness, because the soreness isn’t from lactic acid but from micro-tears in the muscle fibers, indicating sufficient workout stress and that desirable changes (increases in strength and mass) are likely to follow.
You will also notice that your muscles start aching more upon changes of exercise and stop aching so much after you’ve performed the exercise several times consecutively. That’s because the muscles are adapting to the movement and the effectiveness of the movement is waning and change should be forthcoming.
2: You get stronger
As with muscle size gains, getting stronger will become a slower process with time, but the fact is, over the long term it’s likely to provide a much more microscopic view of what’s going on with your muscles than a tape measure or bodyweight scales. What I’m saying is, generally, strength gains will be much more noticeable to you than muscle gains, and although the connection between muscle size and strength isn’t as close as many think, it can be used as an approximate measure in the right context. The right context would be getting stronger within accepted muscle building rep-set protocols (i.e. bench pressing heavier this week with 7 reps 5 sets compared to the 7 reps 5 sets you did last week). If you get stronger in this context, chances are your muscles have gotten a bit bigger, too.
Muscle building takes a lot of time so hang in there, be patient, take comfort from the above indicators and pretty soon the tape, scales and even mirror will confirm your progress, too.