Fitness Tips

9 Signs You Are Gaining Muscle – Even if You Can’t See it Yet

Experts say that you can gain up to 1-2 lbs of muscle per month, but I wouldn’t have believed it if you’d told me that when I first started lifting weights. It was so tough to tell if I was making any progress or not, and I couldn’t tell if any changes I noticed were real or just my imagination.

I certainly couldn’t tell by looking in the mirror, and the bathroom scale left me feeling equally confused.

If you’re not careful, doubt in your regime can be demotivating and even derail your progress. Thankfully, I’ve learned there are ways you can tell you’re making progress, even if you can’t visibly see it yet.

So if you’re feeling in the dark about your progress, here are nine signs that you’re gaining muscle and are on the right track!

Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post which means that if you make a purchase after clicking on one, I may earn a commission. Full disclaimer here.

woman's muscle gain in the shoulders

1. The Scale is Going Up

When people start working out, they’re often surprised to find that their weight goes up – even as they start slimming down. But this is the result of gaining muscle mass, which is denser than fat.

And as you add muscle, your body becomes more efficient at burning fat. So even though you may be eating more calories overall, your body is better able to use those calories for building muscle instead of storing them as fat.

I noticed this particularly when I switched from doing cardio to weight training only. I was at an all-time low weight of 112 lbs (I’m only 5’4″ with a small frame), but I gained several pounds when I ditched the HIIT to focus on lifting weights!

That’s why tracking body fat percentage is a more accurate way to assess your progress than the scale. You can also use a tape measure to measure your waist, arms, chest, and hips.

2. Your Clothes Fit Differently

As your body composition changes, your clothes might start fitting a little differently.

For example, you might notice that the sleeves of your shirts feel tighter around your arms and shoulders as you gain weight and your biceps grow.

Meanwhile, your pants may feel looser because your waist starts to shrink.

Pant-size is probably the first place you’ll notice a change. I had a pair of jeans from my early twenties that I hadn’t been able to fit into for years. After three months of training, I tried them on out of curiosity – and they fit better than they ever had!

But don’t despair if you don’t see this change right away – it can take a few weeks or even months of consistent training before you’ll start to see results in the form of looser-fitting clothes. 

3. You Have a Greater Mind-Muscle Connection

Sometimes the signs of muscle gain are subtle – but you may notice you have greater brain-muscle connections. This means that your brain can better communicate with your muscle fibers, which results in stronger contractions.

This is due to the fact that your central nervous system becomes more efficient and sends signals to your muscles as they grow. As a result, you can target specific muscle groups better to achieve the best results from your weight lifting sessions.

For example, I find I can target my glutes better than I used to when I first started strength training. That’s because I’ve developed that mind-muscle connection to contract those glutes when I’m squatting or deadlifting – rather than letting all my quads do the work.

4. Your Workouts Feel Easier (and More Enjoyable)

Anyone who has ever started a new workout routine knows how difficult it can be at first. Every movement feels like an effort, and you might barely make it through the session without feeling like you’re going to collapse.

However, this initial difficulty is because your body hasn’t adapted to the demands of exercise.

As you continue building strength, your muscles become more efficient, and the perceived difficulty of the workouts decreases; you’ll find you can lift heavier and do more reps of each exercise. This doesn’t mean that training becomes easier, but rather that your body is better able to handle the stress of exercise.

You’ll likely also notice a difference in your attitude towards working out. What started off as a chore may now be something you enjoy and even look forward to, because you can feel the difference.

I know this was certainly the case for me; I went from being a person who was afraid of dumbbells, to someone whose workout is the favorite part of their day!

5. You’re Receiving Compliments

It could take 4-6 weeks before you see any strength increases, improved performance, or increased muscle size. This is because your muscles need to go through a process of breaking down and rebuilding for them to grow. (This process is called muscle hypertrophy.)

But the changes may be so small at first that you don’t notice them when you look in the mirror every day. But if your friends and relatives who don’t see you every day may notice. If they have started to comment on your fit appearance, it’s a good sign you’re doing something right!

For example, the first time I wore shorts after I’d been doing Jillian Michaels’ Body Revolution for two months, my friend commented that my legs were looking really toned. I hadn’t noticed it myself, but when I looked at old pictures of myself from the previous summer, I could see what they meant!

6. You’re Less Stiff Between Workouts

When you start weight training, your muscles tend to get sore after every session. This is called delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMs), and it’s caused by the tiny tears that occur in the muscle cells when you exercise.

Although entirely normal, it is an uncomfortable part of the process for most.

The good news is that, as you increase in strength and muscle growth, you’ll feel this stiffness less frequently.

7. You’re Standing Up a Little Straighter

If you’re wondering if your weight training efforts are working, look for changes in your posture.

You should start to see an improvement in your posture as your muscles get stronger. By three or four months, you may notice a difference in how you stand and sit.

That’s because your chest, back, and core will all be stronger, facilitating a more stable spine.

I’ve struggled with good posture for many years, and although it’s still an ongoing effort, it’s gotten so much better since I started lifting weights!

8. You’re Ravenous – Even on Rest Days!

If you’re working out regularly and notice an increase in appetite, it could be a sign that you’re gaining muscle. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, and consumes energy even when you’re at rest.

Therefore, the more muscle growth you have, the higher your metabolism.

So if you’re noticing a sudden increase in appetite, don’t be alarmed – it could just mean that your body is adjusting to your new workout routine and starting to build muscle.

Just make sure you have a way to calculate your calorie intake each day so that you’re consuming the right amount. When your appetite increases, it’s easy to get over-zealous with the carbs! And if you overeat, you may end up gaining more body fat than muscle.

9. Day-to-Day Activities Are Easier

You know you’ve been hitting the weights right when everyday activities become easier. Carrying groceries, climbing stairs, and running errands likely required more effort before you started making muscle gains.

Once you’ve built up these muscles, these same activities become a breeze.

That’s because weight training and building muscles improve your functional fitness levels, which for many of us, is the goal of working out in the first place!

For example, I received a heavy box containing my new standing desk (which helps me mitigate the effects of sitting all day while I’m working) a couple of weeks ago, and it weighed a good 50-60 lbs. But I was able to hoist it up the stairs without too much trouble – something I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do a few years ago!

Final Thoughts About Signs You Are Gaining Muscle

Woman flexing her shoulder muscles from the back

There are other methods for determining how much muscle you’ve gained, but if you want an objective, cost-efficient way to gauge your progress, keep an eye out for these signs.

If you’ve experienced one or more of them, it’s a good indication that you’re heading in the right direction! With consistency and dedication, you’ll be well on your way to reaching your fitness goals.

It can be a long and arduous process, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.

In the meantime, try not to focus on the visual aspects of your strength training. Instead, think about how it’s benefiting your overall health right now, today!

From a better mood to more functional fitness, your workout regime is already giving you a return on your investment of time and hard work.

Keep it up, and don’t give up!

FAQ

How can I tell if I am gaining muscle mass?

It can be tricky to tell, but there are several signs to look for. But if you’ve experienced weight gain, can perform more reps, and are moving away from lighter weights, these are all excellent signs that you’re making progress.

I do not see any of the above signs. What can I do?

There could be a few things at play. First, make sure you’re giving yourself enough time to recover between workouts and getting quality sleep every night.
Secondly, check that your form is on point and that you’re using the proper technique. Finally, ensure that you’re eating enough food to support your muscle-building goals.
If you’re still not seeing results after a few months, you may need to add weight or more reps to your lifts; progressive overload is essential to continue seeing results.

I see some of the signs, but not all of them. Is that normal?

Absolutely! Everyone is different and will notice different changes at different rates. Just because you don’t see all of the signs doesn’t mean you’re not gaining muscle- it could just mean that your body responds differently to exercise. Don’t forget there are many factors at play, so be patient, and you’ll start noticing a difference soon!

How long does it take muscles to repair themselves?

The time it takes for muscles to repair themselves varies depending on the person. For some, it usually only takes a few days for your body to rest and recover.

What are the best exercises for gaining muscle?

The best exercises for gaining muscle depend on your goals. If you’re looking to gain strength, then compound exercises that work the entire body are ideal. For example, squats, deadlifts, and bench presses are excellent exercises for gaining strength.

How many calories do I need to eat to gain muscle?

The number of calories you need to eat to gain muscle depends on your goals. If you’re looking to build muscle and bulk up, you’ll need to eat more calories than you burn. If you’re looking to replace fat with muscle, try eating at maintenance or slightly above what you’re burning.

What is the best time of day to work out?

The best time of day to work out is whenever you can fit it into your schedule.

Should I lift weights or use machines?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. It depends on your goals and what you’re most comfortable with.
I prefer to use free weights over weight machines because I have more control and can target specific muscles more effectively.

Corrie Alexander is an ISSA certified personal trainer, home fitness advocate, and founder of The Fit Careerist. A proponent of personal growth and a self-proclaimed fitness app-junkie, Corrie shares tips and product reviews with the goal of helping others on their own fitness journey.

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