The scales are NOT the way to track muscle growth!
Faaarrrrrr too many aspiring bodybuilders hop on the scales once a week (if not more!) desperately hoping to see a weight increase, thinking this is a good indicator of muscle growth.
This is a mistake. I know because it’s one that I used to make, REPEATEDLY!
You probably all know my story…
- Skinny guy turns skinny-fat (big gut)
- Skinny-fat guy wants to lose the gut and ends up very skinny again through low calorie dieting and insane cardio
- Repeat this cycle over and over for a few years….and then….
- Skinny-fat guy finally learns how to build muscle WITHOUT accumulating fat AND how to blast fat WITHOUT losing muscle – at last!
Folks, it was jumping on those scales every week that largely contributed to developing a big gut. Let me explain…
See, as a skinny bloke I REALLY wanted to build muscle fast. I believed all those ‘I-just-regurgitate-everything-I’ve-been-told’ gym rats that told me, “You have to eat like crazy to build muscle!”.
Of course, I know now that you only have to eat SUFFICIENT calories in order to build the maximum amount of muscle possible for you. But, I was dumb back then…
I ate a LOT and lifted hard. I wanted to see about a 2lb increase on the scales every week – as if I was going to build 104lbs of lean muscle in a year! :0
So, I ate until I saw this type of increase. If I only gained 1 pound a week, I wasn’t happy.
The vast majority of this weight gain was fat. As I got fatter, I looked at my belly in disbelief! “How can this happen when I’m lifting so hard and often?” I thought.
The point is this…
How much do you think the scales are going to budge, even if you have a great week as far as workouts are concerned?
Imagine you woke up tomorrow morning with 1/4 inch added to both your arms. That’s a lot for one day! However, your scale weight would have increased by mere ounces, not pounds. It’s unbelievable to think that many natural bodybuilders would be UNhappy about this weight increase!
This is THE cause of the never-ending ‘bulking’ and ‘cutting’ cycles that people go through. ‘Bulking’ is meant to mean a phase of muscle gain; unfortunately for many people it’s simply about getting fatter! Then they’ve a LONG way to go when they want to get lean in the summer.
Stop this nonsense once and for all!
SUFFICIENT calories are needed to build muscle, not EXCESS calories. Work out how many you need and add muscle, NOT fat.
Yes I know you’re not a saint; you’ll endulge in at least some unhealthy food throughout the year. It will slowly accumulate and you’ll have a little bit of cutting to do before summertime. However, cutting from 13% body fat is a WORLD AWAY from cutting from 23%!
After all, imagine a ¼ pound beef pattie in your hand. Now imagine this spread out over your body as new muscle tissue. Now realize that accumulating this small amount of muscle EVERY week without cessation will result in a RADICAL change in your appearance.
Get 52 x 1/4 pound beef patties and throw them on top of your kichen table, now imagine this MOUNTAIN of beef glued onto your body as lean muscle tissue, no fat. Pretty MASSIVE change don’t you think?
Small increases in LEAN weight is what you should be pursuing. Before long these small, incremental changes will add up to a COMPLETELY transformed physique.
When bulking I recommend you take tape measurements of certain body parts along with a body fat reading every week or so. Take weight readings bi-weekly at most.
Patience my friend. Keep progressing, eat SUFFICIENTLY and you’ll reach your goal!
Train & Eat Intelligently!
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I still can’t get the image out of my head of smearing raw beef all over myself.
It’s so true though, the scale is good for nothing… one weekend of carbing up and I’m “five pounds heavier”… it’s just a joke. A gallon of water weighs 8 pounds, so hydration alone can change the scale constantly.
I use the scale but it also measure my body fat % so I don’t get into that way of thinking the higher, the better.
@Andrew Mast: I measure everyday right after getting up and after going to the bathroom so my hydration levels are similar every time I weigh. This has consistent results because any extra water or food I ate does not add to the scale. It is true that it goes up on the weekend but not by as much as you say. (If taken later in the day is a different story.) I also use a moving average to smooth out my daily fluctuations which help keep me motivated.
What is the best way of measuring body fat? Are the scales that also measure body fat accurate?
The measurements ALSO get bigger if you’re putting on fat so it’s no different to using the scales.
I reckon you should aim for 500grams to 750grams of weight per week, and monitor your strength gains instead.
As long as you’re gaining strength, you know that the weight you’re gaining includes muscle mass.
But if you don’t gain strength and still gain weight, that is a pretty good indicator that you’re not gaining muscle, but gaining fat instead!
@Jono. I’d rather have calipers but these can be quite tricky to get accurate for heavier guys. They work a treat when you’re leaner though.
If you want to use those electronic body scales, take flest’s advice and take the readings first thing in the morning after a trip to the bathroom.
@Fitnews. The idea is to use tape measurements in CONJUNCTION with a body fat measurement weekly. Then take weight readings bi-weekly as well.
Good article! Whereas there’s still controversy on the issue, I have started following this method as well.
“I reckon you should aim for 500grams to 750grams of weight per week, and monitor your strength gains instead.”
My guess is Mark is advocating a lot slower rate of weight gain.
If you were to gain 500g per week, you’d gain 26 kg per year which we all know can’t be all muscle mass. Many experts seem to conclude that a reasonable muscle mass expectation for a natural per year is around 5 kg. That equals a gain of about 100 g per week which obviously can’t be monitored unless you have access to DXA. 🙂
I agree with you that strength is a good indicator of muscle gain if you’re working in the 8 – 12 rep range.
I’ve seen studies where people have gained 500 grams of muscle per week and I’ve read in other places that it’s about the maximum you can gain for a man under the best conditions. I myself have made pretty decent mass gains in short periods of time without increasing body fat percentage, but it’s not something I can do consistently. I still believe on those occasions I have gained much more than 100grams of muscle.
The reason I recommend trying to gain 500 to 750 grams of bodyweight per week is because your goal is to TRY and achieve the 500 grams of muscle per week and you don’t want to limit your gains just because you didn’t eat enough calories.
If you only gain 100 grams of bodyweight in a week, the most muscle you can gain is pretty much 100 grams, but if you had eaten enough calories to gain 200 grams of bodyweight in a week, the most muscle you can gain is 200 grams.
So your only hope of achieving 500 grams of muscle in a week (if you are capable of doing so) is by gaining 500 or more grams of bodyweight per week.
Now I personally think that you do not grow muscle at a consistent rate throughout the day. I think you grow it faster at different times of day depending on when you work out, eat, and sleep. (I’d love to be proven wrong if anyone has any proof!)
So to ensure that at all times you’re gaining the most muscle that you possibly can, you’re going to have to make sure that at all times of the day you have enough energy in your body to make the muscle.
That’s why I would say aiming to gain 750 grams a week is good to ensure that you gain the most muscle possible. You ARE going to gain fat of course, but at least you’re not losing potential muscle.
What are your thoughts on that one? Does anyone know for a fact that you cannot gain 500 grams of muscle per week? Does anyone know if muscle grows faster at certain times of day?
I started weight lifting ion order to lose weight… or at least to lose far.
I read somewhere that muscle used up more calories than fat, so if you wanted to speed up your metabolic rate, build some muscle.
It’s certainly worked for me… I lost the fat and am putting on muscle gradually.
I’ve recently found this site and my rourines now follow the guidelines set out here.
I don’t diet at all and (dare I say this) I do eat carbs.
Wish that I had started with the weights ten years earlier.
Keith D you might find this article interesting from Fitness Black Book
Apparently, your metabolism BARELY speeds up due to having more muscle. What makes the difference is that the more muscle you have, the more energy you are ABLE to burn in every single repetition.
Lifting 50kg is going to require more energy than lifting 5kg, so if you’re strong enough to lift 50kg, you’re going to burn 10 times as much energy doing the same workout and someone who can only lift 5kg.
I appreciate your response, Fitnews.
“Does anyone know for a fact that you cannot gain 500 grams of muscle per week? Does anyone know if muscle grows faster at certain times of day?”
If you gained 500 grams per week for say, five years, you’d be 130 kg heavier at the end of that five year period… One would be like 200 kg – lean! 🙂 Jesting aside, most natural bodybuilders have trained more than 10 years to gain the muscle mass that they have now. Layne Norton’s video “Dave Goodin: 20 Years To Put On 30 Lbs Of Muscle” gives, in my opinion, a good overview of what it takes for a natural bodybuilder. I’d be interested in hearing what Mark would consider to be a realistic rate of muscle gain! Of course studies would be the best source for information on this, but to be honest, I couldn’t find any at a quick glance.
As for diurnal variation in muscle growth – it, of course, happens. The rate of protein synthesis changes constantly due to hormonal variation due to exercise and nutritional status. For instance, in the presence of insulin, muscle catabolism is reduced and on the other hand, L-leucine for instance, stimulates the mTOR anabolic trigger even without the concomitant insulin presence – making it a potential anabolic supplement for ketogenic dieters. And then of course GH/IGF-1 and testosterone are increased due to exercise – but seem to respond opposingly to energy balance variation.
“Apparently, your metabolism BARELY speeds up due to having more muscle.”
I’m afraid this is not true. For instance, I’m now three weeks into a diet. I’m having 3000 kcal per day and have lost 1 kg of fat per week without any aerobic exercise. That means I’m in a 1100 kcal deficit per day – making my resting metabolic rate quite high. If the regular Joe wanted to burn 4100 calories per day, they would have to expend about 1800 calories through aerobic exercise. This wouldn’t do very good for CNS or the endocrine system, let alone muscle glycogen levels.
To support the validity of my personal experience, I’m tracking circumference of limbs and trunk, mean weight loss using a scale and fat percentage with calipers. Additionally, they indicate an increase of 200g in LBM so far. However, I would be very cautious with interpreting that result as muscle growth due to inaccurate method of measuring fat percentage. I would take that, plus the fact that I’m progressing in weights, more as a sign of PROBABLY no muscle lost so far.
One interesting study on the lean body mass and BMR: Zurlo, F., Larson, K., Bogardus, C., Ravussin, E. Skeletal muscle metabolism is a major determinant of resting energy expenditure. J Clin Invest. 1990 November; 86(5): 1423–1427.
Finally, I’d like to mention that I do agree with many of the things you’ve said.
Awesome, thanks for the response.
I have always been skeptic about how much you can gain, but it was in fact Layne Norton who stated that one of his clients gained a ridiculous amount of lean mass as a beginner, and I remember calculating it to roughly 70grams of muscle per day, or 490grams per week, over a period of several weeks. (30 pounds 30 weeks or something)
I do agree that you could not make those gains consistently. This guy was obviously new to bodybuilding and that’s where I think you CAN make the ridiculous gains for a while, but like you said, you can’t reach your maximum potential as quickly as that. We all know how long some of the pros have been training for, and some of them come back each year with an added 5kg to 10kg of mass.
However I have met naturals who have been training for 2 years and have reached their almost maximum potential.
They’re the type of person who can stick to a perfect diet though, kind of like Layne as well. He got his 20 inch arms at age 20 from what I remember. I can’t remember exactly how long he was training for but it was probably only 3 years.
As for your second part of the reply on muscle burning more calories than fat, you ARE still doing anaerobic exercise, right? What I mean is that by having more muscle, you have the potential to burn more energy than someone who doesn’t have muscle. If a small person did a 12set heavy workout they could burn 50 cal, but if a muscular person did a 12 set heavy workout, they could burn 500cal.
When I’m not doing any exercise, I can live off roughly 2000 calories a day and put on weight over time.. but when I’m working out every day I can eat 3000 calories a day and lose weight. Even though my workout will only burn 500 calories, the energy required to heal my muscles, plus to process all the food I eat, boosts my calorie expenditure up heaps.
So I don’t believe it’s the fact that I have muscle that’s burning heaps of energy, it’s just when I USE it that it burns heaps of energy.
Sorry if I misunderstood what you said.
By the way, have you seen Tim Ferris’ 34 pounds in 28 days article? Now that’s a mind blower. 5000 calories a day with 10 second reps. It’s hard to believe…
I’m skeptical, but I will defend myself by saying that we all have been into bodybuilding for quite a while and if there was a way for just anybody to accomplish this, it would be way more out there in other people’s hands.
Mark (and anyone else that might be interested),
I came across this article tonight about BMI that I found through lifehacker.com – https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106268439&sc=fb&cc=fp. I know you have touched on a few of these points before, but I’m not sure that I’ve read them all on your site as of yet.
It amazes me that people still use such an antiquated system to measure themselves. While I’m not yet down to the body fat percentage I want to be I know I’m not overweight as the BMI might lead me to believe.
Thanx a bunch for all the great tips, and inspiration. Keep up the good work!