How to Know if Your Muscles are Growing (Not Fat)?

For a skinny guy, there are no other feelings as awesome as increasing muscle mass.

Putting on muscle mass and getting the shirts fit is the biggest motivation to work out regularly and consistently eat the right diet.

But how do you know that your workout and diet plan worked and your muscles are started growing? 

Let’s read on to know if your muscles are really growing or you’re just adding fat into your body. We’ll also learn the fundamentals of building muscle, what mistakes limit you, and how long you need to wait to get noticeable results.

How to Know if Your Muscles are Growing (Not Fat)?

How to Know if Your Muscles are Growing not Fat?

Here’re the five signs or ways you can easily figure out if you are gaining muscle or fat.

1. Increasing Weight but You Still Lean

The first thing you can notice is that you’re gaining weight, but still, you look lean.

One of the best ways to find whether you’re gaining muscle or fat is by checking the thickness of your skin.

If it stays the same as before, but your weight has increased, then congratulation, you’re gaining lean muscle mass.

However, if you’re in a bulking mode, you can consider gaining a little bit of fat around your skin, which you can burn out later.

If you want to gain muscle mass without increasing fat percentage, check out this article which will guide you step-by-step on gaining lean muscle naturally.

2. Measuring Body Composition

Taking body measurement is one of the most simple and easy ways to know you’re increasing muscle or not.

Note down your body part’s measurements once a week in the morning and compare them with another measurement that you’ve taken before.

Now you can clearly observe how things are going.

Remember, building muscle is a slow process, so you have to give that much time to make some visible changes.

Related: Top 5 Proven Ways Increase Muscle Size FAST

3. You’re Getting Stronger

The more weight we lift, the more muscle we can gain.

Similarly, having a good amount of muscle in the body is helpful to lift heavy and do a regular activity more efficiently.

When you’re doing weight training, you’ll notice that your strength and endurance have increased than before, which is a sign that you’re successfully able to put on some muscles around your bones.

4. Waist is Staying the Same or Slowly Increasing

Another great way to know you’re gaining muscle or fat is checking your waist (belly) width because that’s where our body stores fat first than any other parts.

When your gaining weight, keep measuring your waist-width. If it increases fast, and your core becomes a little bit soft and invisible abs, you’re probably gaining fat.

However, when you’re gaining muscle, a little bit of fat gain is fine but not too much.

Many people don’t do cardio during bulking, which isn’t the right approach and can cause excess fat gain.

So, you should perform cardio at least once a week to burn the fat and to keep your heart and lungs healthy in the long term. 

Related: How Many Times Per Week Should You Do Cardio?

5. Measure Your Bodyfat

There’re several ways you can use to measure your body fat percentage accurately, such as:

1. Skinfold test

This test requires a special scale called vernier caliper and the help of a professional. Vernier caliper is a small device that used to measure thickness of skinfold in any body parts.

There’re different skinfold locations measured for men and women, respectively.

For men:

  • Chest
  • Thigh
  • Abdomen

For women:

  • Triceps
  • Thigh
  • Suprailiac (about an inch above the hip bone)

Keep measuring these locations from time to time to know the weight you’re gaining is muscle or fat.

2. Hydrostatic (or underwater) weighing

This method involves measuring your weight on the land followed by in the water. In the water, you will be seated with the minimal dress on a chair that is half-submerged in water.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, hydrostatic or underwater weighing is the most accurate way to calculate body fat.

What the video to learn underwater weighing test:

What is Needed to Build Muscle?

There are three fundamental things to build more muscles than you already have, such as:

1. Training

The first and most important thing is, of course, the training.

If you don’t stress the muscles, they won’t grow.

Certain exercises are better suited for this purpose than others to make progress more efficiently. They’re called compound exercises or compound movements.

Compound exercises help to target multiple muscle groups at the same time.

For example, regular push-up, which isn’t only targeting the chest, but also the triceps, shoulders, traps, and abs.

Some of the best compound exercises are:

  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Lunge
  • Bench press
  • Pull up

Related: The ONLY 7 Exercises You Need to Build Muscle Fast

Remember, when doing these exercises, you must know how to perform them correctly. Otherwise, you’ll not only build less muscle but also can get injuries.

Another critical thing you should make sure to do is progressive overload.

Progressive overload is when you gradually increase your weight, volume, and repetition in your weight training routine.

This challenges your body in every workout to grow bigger and stronger over a long period of time.

Multiple studies show that training the same muscle groups twice a week with greater volume leads to more muscle growth than once a week with less volume. (1, 2)

So, you should train each muscle group twice a week while putting the weights high with fewer (5-8) reps to maximize your strength and muscle gain.

Download the free copy of How to Build 12-15 Pounds of Muscle Mass in Just 3 Months on a Budget.

2. Calorie Surplus Diet

The second most critical thing for gaining muscle is consuming a calorie surplus diet.

This means you’ll eat more calories than you burn each day.

How to find your exact number for gaining muscle?

First, calculate your BMR and then multiply by 1.8. The number you’ll get is your daily required calories to gain about 1 pound of quality muscle mass a week.

Here is the BMR formula:

  • Men = 66.47 + (13.75 * weight [kg]) + (5.003 * height [cm]) − (6.755 * age [years])
  • Women = 655.1 + (9.563 * weight [kg]) + (1.85 * height [cm]) − (4.676 * age [years])

Remember, the calories you consume throughout the day should come from in a ratio of 50% carbs, 30% Protein, and 20% fats, and all are healthy food sources.

Related: The 17 Worst Foods to Avoid When Muscle Building

3. Rest

The third thing the completes the foundation of muscle building is adequate rest.

Working out hard and consuming the right diet is half of a puzzle. You have to give your body enough rest to complete it.

Because that is when your body will repair and recover muscle tissues that are broken down during training, and that is the time when your body will grow bigger and stronger.

So, never compromise with taking at least 7 hours of quality sleep every night.

What is the Reasons You’re NOT Gaining Muscle

If you’re not noticing any visible results of all your hard works, then you might be doing something wrong that limits your gains.

Here’re the five things you should avoid/fix to make your muscles grow.

1. Not Getting a Good Pump

The number one reason, I guess, is that you’re not getting a good quality pump.

That is because you’re over-relying on only one method — progressive overload and building strength to increase your size, which sometimes lacks a good muscle pump.

So, you can train for hypertrophy instead, and the best way to do that is through metabolic training.

Metabolic training involves more repetitions done with a little bit of lighter weight.

It does not dry up as quickly as progressive overload does, which means you can’t add more weight continuously to the bar to produce more gains.

So, include metabolic training in your routine to get a quality pump and put extra stress on the muscles — force them to grow.

2. Not Building Neuromuscular Connection

The second mistake you’re probably making is that not building the neuromuscular connection.

The neuromuscular connection is the ability of your brain to communicate with your muscles efficiently.

For example, you want to grow your biceps and doing biceps curls. It would be best if you were concentrating on the biceps muscle that you intend to work with.

Although it takes time to build a solid muscle and mind connection, a couple of things you do to speed up this process, such as:

  • Go slow on your weight down and increase your repetition. Focus your mind on the muscle that you’re mainly targeting.
  • Then, flex the muscle during and in between sets and ensure that you’ve proper form.

This way, you’ll build muscle mind connection that helps you break down the working muscle more efficiently, which is essential to increasing new muscle tissues.

3. Not Consuing Anough Calories

The next reason you’re not building muscle is that you’re not eating enough calories.

To figure out the exact number of calories you need per day, first calculate your BMR, then multiply with 1.8 to get your daily required calories to build about 1 pound muscle mass a week.

  • Required daily calories: BMR x 1.8 = 1lb gain/week

When you’re trying to build lean muscle mass, your macro breakdown should be 50% carbs, 30% protein, and 20% fat of the total daily calories. 

You should make sure that you’re calculating your calorie consumption, and it should be in a surplus mode in order to gain weight and build muscle.

Related: 30 Best Muscle-Building Foods to Include in Your Diet

4. Not Pee Clear Enough and Often Enough

The next thing is yellow, and that’s the color of your urine. You shouldn’t be peeing yellow. It’s not actually a good thing.

If you’re not peeing often enough or its color is too dark, you are likely dehydrated.

No matter how good your training is, that is a major problem because your body can’t build muscle in a dehydrated environment.

So, make sure you’re increasing the water intake (at least 3-4 liter) throughout the day to keep your muscles hydrated to keep them growing.

5. Not Recovering Well

In order to put on muscle mass, we have to recover well enough from each bout of training.

Although training the same muscle groups twice a week leads to greater gains, but also training too much can create a negative calorie balance, leading to weight loss — that’s what we don’t want during muscle building.

Related: How Many Times a Week Should You Workout?

Many people are making the mistake of doing tons of cardio because they’re afraid of putting on some fat while they’re bulk up or build muscle.

If you’re doing tons of cardio or training multiple times a day, you’ll probably be draining away energy from your calorie surplus while you are trying so hard to create.

Related: How Often Should You Do Cardio a Week?

So, whatever training plan you’re following, listening to your body is the actual KEY here.

Sometimes, your body isn’t properly recovered, so you may have to give it an additional rest day which is critical for your muscle recovery and growth.

Okay, these are the five things you should work on or fix right now. However, the other mistakes you should also keep in mind are avoiding compound moves, low-frequency training, low protein intake, etc.

Related: 13 Common Muscle Building Mistakes to Avoid!

How Long Does it Take to Build Noticeable Muscle?

Building muscle is a slow process, and it depends on multiple factors, including your fitness level, age, gender, etc.

However, we can estimate how much muscle can gain in a certain period.

You need to understand that when we consume 3500 calories, we gain 1 pound weight. 

So, when we talk about lean muscle gain, we should consume extra 500 calories on top of our daily calories.

This means at the end of the week; the number goes around 3500 calories. So, we’ll gain 1 pound muscle mass in a week and 4 pounds per month.

Remember, our carbs, protein, and fats ratio should be 50%, 30%, and 20% to gain lean muscle mass. Otherwise, you may end up getting excess fat in the body.

So to wrap it up, we can see a visible change after about 3-4 weeks, but the real results you can expect after about 12 weeks.

However, it’s just an estimated number that mainly depends on your goal and what type of training you’re doing.

You can read this article to know the deep answer to this question and what can affect your muscle-building progress.


Okay, I think you got everything you need to know about your question “how to know if your muscles are growing not fat.”

Remember, building muscle naturally is a slow process. So, stay patient and consistent with your workout and diet to make amazing progress.

Now, I want to know, what did you find difficult to your muscle-building goal?

Or, if you have any questions, drop a comment below. I will be glad to help you!

Download the free copy of The PERFECT Beginners’ Guide to Gym: 3-Month Workout Plan

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