T Nation

How to Gauge Hypertrophy Progress?


#1

Like a lot of guys, I originally started training with the goal of building muscle. I read bodybuilding magazines and, of course, the Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding. Over the course of a couple of years, I did ok and went from 175 lbs to 230 lbs at 6’1", but at 20% body fat. One thing I struggled with is determining if my training was working, so I based it on if my weight, measurements, and strength were going up. This lead to putting on a lot more fat than necessary.

A couple of years ago, I switched over to a powerlifting/strength focus, one of the draws of it being the objective measure of improvement.

About a month ago, I came to the realization that it had been a long time since I was able to kneel down without stiff, aching knees; my lower back wasn’t constantly tight; and I felt athletic, etc. I’m 37, but felt a lot older. All of that and I didn’t end up much bigger or stronger than when I just trained for size. I know a lot of it was my fault, not the programs I used, but at this point it is what it is.

I have decided to go back to what originally drew me to training and made me fall in love with training and the process. First off, I’m dropping a lot of this fat, down to around 10%. Once I get there, the plan is to go back to focusing on hypertrophy. I can say that already, my knees, back, and shoulders feel better than they have in a long time.

What I need to figure out is how to judge progress properly and determine if I need to tweak my training. Building muscle takes a long time, especially at 37 and after 23 years of training. After say, 12 weeks, how do you know if the couple of pounds you’ve put on is muscle or fat; if the exercises for chest, quad, back, arms, etc are working or need to be changed; if the intensity techniques are working or not; and so on.

Do guys take regular measurements, such as body fat, tape measurements, etc and base decisions off this? How often? 6 weeks, 12 weeks, longer?

Thanks in advance for any advice anyone can give me!

Ben


#2

Photos. Take pics once a week, on the same day of the week each time. Take one relaxed from the front, one from the back. Wear underwear, or shorts that expose your thighs. Take the pics first thing in the morning. Importantly, the pics should be taken under maximally unflattering conditions–standing against a white wall, direct (not overhead) lighting, camera flash on. (In short, the goal is not to hide your flaws; it’s to highlight them.)

Compare the photos week to week. If your body composition is changing (for better or worse), you’ll be able to tell. If you feel you can’t tell, consider hiring an online coach to eval them, and to give you feedback you can use to adjust your training/nutrition.


#3

Thanks! That’s awesome advice. I’ve considered photos before, but not with the set up you suggested. How long would you go before changing up some training parameters (volume, exercise selection, intensity techniques, etc)? A couple weeks? Months?


#4

That depends. Observable changes in muscle mass don’t come quickly (assuming natty status). OTOH, if you’re doing a hardcore cut, the resulting changes in riptitude (copyright EyeDentist 2017, all rights reserved) should be readily apparent week-to-week.

Either way, start taking pics. Once you have 5 (equals one month’s worth), lay them out in order and assess for 1) changes in muscle mass, and 2) changes in bodyfat. Evaluate them in terms of your goals (bulking vs cutting, etc). If they demonstrate progress (again, in terms of your current goals), it’s all good. If you seem to be gaining too much fat (or not losing enough), adjust your diet (not your training). Likewise, if your BF is holding steady but you don’t note any increase in muscle mass, once again, adjust you diet (this time up, obviously). I would consider changes to training only after I felt I had the diet dialed in.


#5

if you’re running a good program, you pretty much never have to change training parameters. The same basic movements will work, essentially, forever. A good program will include the most effective exercises, appropriate volume, and will provide for alterations of intensity/volume based on progress.


#6

Great points all around.

EyeDentist - diet is definitely an area I need to shore up. Not as much of a knowledge issue, as practice one. Laziness, perhaps. Whenever I wanted to put on weight, I just ate more and if the scale was going up, I was happy. Part of the problem was, being in the 18-20% bf range, a couple of extra pounds of fat didn’t necessarily make me look fatter, just bigger. I’m hoping once I get down to a lower bf, an extra pound or two of bf will be noticeable and using a series of photos will keep me honest.

What’s it going to cost me to use “riptitude?”

flipcollar - that’s very true. Pretty much the majority of the muscle I have was based off simple programming, with the flexibility to throw in some extra stuff here or there depending on how I felt, but not with the intent that I was changing my training.

I appreciate the advice!