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Muscle Building Exercise: How to Know If Your Are Gaining Muscle

Updated on February 16, 2022
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Michael gained 35 pounds of muscle cycling to beaches over the summer once a week, in addition to his strength training routine.

How to Build Muscle

To build muscle you need to strain them causing some minor damage in the form of micro tears. The release of feel good chemicals can temporarily make you feel stronger but the exercise continues to weaken your muscles. You experience discomfort and muscle fatigue.

Pain and muscle tearing go together but it is important to pay attention to the level of pain. Ignoring the pain can cause injuries that will prevent you from working out for a while. The goal is to cause very minor injuries and the best way to tell if the injuries are minor is by the amount of pain and your exercise performance. A sudden increase in pain usually means stop.

You can strain your muscles while lifting weights, riding a bike or doing yoga. Stop when you experience bad pain or you can no longer maintain good form. After working out the next step is to rest. Exercising makes you weaker. Resting makes you stronger.

Doing weighted calf raises to build muscle.
Doing weighted calf raises to build muscle. | Source

Strain your muscle causing minor damage, rest, repeat.

Muscle Building Workouts

When exercising to build muscle you should be working towards a goal that is impossible now. Increase the weight, the number of reps, your speed or the duration. I did a difficult 20 minute elliptical workout on day one. Eight workouts later I did a 60 minute session at a faster pace.

Think of something you can't do now. Then do a fitness challenge to increase your strength and endurance. If you are not increasing the difficulty level of the exercises then it is not a muscle building workout routine.

For best results do more than one exercise and work most of your muscles. My favorite muscle building workout is biking to a beach once a week and competing against myself.

I always try to beat my last elliptical workout.
I always try to beat my last elliptical workout. | Source

Signs of Overtraining

Forcing yourself to work through pain or weakness to do another repetition can backfire. It can cause injuries that prevent you from exercising for an extended period of time. Exercising too frequently can cause your muscles to become weaker and smaller instead of bigger and stronger.

I can't just do intense exercise everyday to bulk up. Pain and fatigue at the start of a workout is the first sign that you are overtraining. You should not still be weak from your last session. Work different muscles or take some time off.

The second sign of overtraining is that the exercise is not getting easier. Usually your body can quickly adapt to a new fitness routine. If you train hard, expect to get better every week.

Overtraining is real. Exercising damages your muscles. I like doing weekly workouts to give my body lots of time to recover.

Workout Recovery Sleep

After tearing your muscles through exercise a good night's rest is what makes them stronger. Your body does most of its healing while you are in deep sleep. So you want to spend a lot of time in deep sleep and wake up refreshed.

If you sleep for a long time and still feel tired it usually means the quality was poor or you really wore yourself out the day before. That is assuming you are eating enough healthy foods. A bad diet can make you feel tired.

To improve your quality of sleep practice being in the moment. When you go to bed don't think about a bunch of different things. Focus on relaxing your body and mind. The first step in building muscle is to tear your muscles and the second step is to give them a chance to recover. The amount of time it takes depends on the damage and how fast you heal.

I take at least 2 days off a week from intense exercise so my muscles can fully recover. There is no point in exercising to bulk up if you are not going to give your body a chance to build muscle.

Is the Weight From Fat or Muscle?

I am an adult in my 40s that gained 20 pounds. You probably would assume it was from gaining fat but I gained the 20 pounds while getting in shape for beach season. An increase in body weight can indicate muscle growth.

Most people gain weight by exercising less or eating more food. When you are exercising regularly, if your body weight increases but your waistline does not then your are probably becoming more muscular. The same is true If your body weight stays the same and your waistline gets smaller.

Weight loss can be from losing muscle. When I lose muscle my belly gets bigger.

I gained 20 pounds while losing inches of belly fat.

Muscle Size

Fat can cover up your muscles making it difficult to tell how big they are. Gain fat and the muscles can seem bigger. Lose fat and they seem smaller. If you are going to measure the size of your arms or legs then you should get rid of most of the fat first.

A good way to get rid of the fat while increasing your strength and endurance is to do a combination of weightlifting and intense cardio exercises. Your muscles may appear to be smaller but once the fat is gone you can more accurately measure them.

Fat is soft and you can pinch it. So it looks like you are stretching your skin. If you get bigger while doing an exercise routine and you did not gain anymore fat then it means your have gained muscle. Losing a lot of fat while your muscles appear to be the same size could also mean they are bigger.

My before and after photo.
My before and after photo. | Source

Strength and Endurance

I can increase the distance I can bike by biking and trying to improve. Since I can't double the distance I can bike without building muscle I know that I gained muscle if I doubled the distance I can bike. The results speak for themselves.

Significant improvements in your exercise performance are a sign that you are more muscular. If you made big improvements in your strength, speed, endurance or balance then you have bigger muscles. When I started biking long distance I could tell that my legs were getting stronger because I could bike farther.

Focus on how well your muscles function instead of just measuring them when trying to figure out if you are building muscle. I sometimes do both but I pay the most attention to my exercise performance.

Keep challenging yourself. Finger push-ups work your forearms.
Keep challenging yourself. Finger push-ups work your forearms. | Source

Muscle Building Exercise Ideas

push ups & pull ups
punching bag workouts
weight lifting
jumping rope
leg raises or ab rollers
step ups & calf raises
wrist rolls

Try to level up by getting better at an exercise and increasing the level of difficulty.

How To Tell If Your Are Gaining Muscle

  1. You feel a sense of accomplishment when you workout.
  2. You feel the burn or good pain while exercising.
  3. You beat your last workout.

  4. You can do things that were impossible before.
  5. Your weight increased but your waist did not get bigger.
  6. You lost inches of belly fat but you did not lose weight.
  7. Your muscles look bigger and they feel harder.
  8. Other people notice.
  9. The difference is obvious when comparing before and after images.
  10. You feel powerful.

Am I building muscle? If you need to ask then the answer is probably no. When you are gaining muscle it is usually pretty obvious after 2 to 3 weeks. You should feel the difference and after a month or two it should be easy to see the difference.

When you do an exercise routine for 3 months and see no changes in your body it means you are doing something wrong. Putting in the time is not enough. Exercise like you are trying to level up. Workout hard, give your muscles time to recover then do it again. Increase the level of difficulty as soon as you are ready.

While doing cardio once a week I could tell I was becoming more muscular. After 12 elliptical workouts and 8×2 bike rides my leg muscles were huge and I was 20 pounds heavier. When I bike I like to ride to the beach, rest and relax for 4 or 5 hours and then bike back home. So I do 2 bike rides in one day.

Doing the same thing over and over again gives you the same results. If you feel like you are just going through the motions then it is time to mix up your routine. If you keep improving your strength and endurance but you still look the same then switch to a difference exercise.

Wow, I did that.

I biked 38 miles, did a 3 hour elliptical workout, and did push ups with my legs in the air. If your routine is enough to build a noticeable amount of muscle then you should be able to make the impossible possible. After you exercise you should think "Wow, I did that.".

Cycling is a great way to build muscle when you compete against yourself.
Cycling is a great way to build muscle when you compete against yourself. | Source

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Michael H


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