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  1. #1
    Registered User lllllll's Avatar
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    Can't put on visible muscle

    I've weight-lifted on and off over my life. Currently 44yo. At no point in my life except MAYBE when I was 21, have I felt like I really ever grew any substantial noticeable amount of muscle (and even at 21 it wasn't substantial). At best, I've gotten shredded and increase muscle definition but not size.

    I've always been fairly slender - 6' tall and around 152lbs. 30" waist, 36" chest (coat size). I generally stay fairly lean - I guess around 10% body fat, maybe 14% tops (partly judging based on ab definition as well as experimenting with the body fat scales at a couple gyms - which probably aren't that accurate).

    I've read books like the classic Modern Encyclopedia of Body Building and also newer books like Bigger Leaner Stronger, so I understand the fundamentals of lifting, diet, and supplementation.

    I worked with a reputable personal trainer last year, every week for 9 months, just to see if technique or routine was the problem - it wasn't. No change.

    Had my T levels and growth hormone tested and they are fantastic so that's not it. Getting plenty of protein and calories (I believe). Keeping weight high and reps low. Working each muscle group once per week and focusing mainly on the big compound movements like squats, dead lifts, presses and pulls. I am basically following most of the advice in the Bigger Leaner Stronger book. I do run a lot, for my cardio, and I know that's not ideal for gaining weight, but it's a main hobby of mine and I need to keep it. I run about 30 miles per week. I have 3 rest days a week where I do not run or lift.

    I get stronger and can lift heavier as I continue training, but I don't put on size. I can't really base my progress on body weight because it is difficult to tell how much gain is fat vs muscle and the body fat scales available to me are not accurate.

    Any advice would be appreciated. I quit lifting 9 months ago because I felt I was wasting my time. Would like to get back into it. And another specific question: If I am doing things correctly, how long would it take for me to see a noticeable increase in muscle size? I feel like 9 months of lifting 3 days a week should provide that no? It didn't for me. I know everyone is different but I am hoping there is some range that can be thrown out there.

    Thanks in advance.
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  2. #2
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    Originally Posted by lllllll View Post
    I've weight-lifted on and off over my life. Currently 44yo. At no point in my life except MAYBE when I was 21, have I felt like I really ever grew any substantial noticeable amount of muscle (and even at 21 it wasn't substantial). At best, I've gotten shredded and increase muscle definition but not size.

    I've always been fairly slender - 6' tall and around 152lbs. 30" waist, 36" chest (coat size). I generally stay fairly lean - I guess around 10% body fat, maybe 14% tops (partly judging based on ab definition as well as experimenting with the body fat scales at a couple gyms - which probably aren't that accurate).

    I've read books like the classic Modern Encyclopedia of Body Building and also newer books like Bigger Leaner Stronger, so I understand the fundamentals of lifting, diet, and supplementation.

    I worked with a reputable personal trainer last year, every week for 9 months, just to see if technique or routine was the problem - it wasn't. No change.

    Had my T levels and growth hormone tested and they are fantastic so that's not it. Getting plenty of protein and calories (I believe). Keeping weight high and reps low. Working each muscle group once per week and focusing mainly on the big compound movements like squats, dead lifts, presses and pulls. I am basically following most of the advice in the Bigger Leaner Stronger book. I do run a lot, for my cardio, and I know that's not ideal for gaining weight, but it's a main hobby of mine and I need to keep it. I run about 30 miles per week. I have 3 rest days a week where I do not run or lift.

    I get stronger and can lift heavier as I continue training, but I don't put on size. I can't really base my progress on body weight because it is difficult to tell how much gain is fat vs muscle and the body fat scales available to me are not accurate.

    Any advice would be appreciated. I quit lifting 9 months ago because I felt I was wasting my time. Would like to get back into it. And another specific question: If I am doing things correctly, how long would it take for me to see a noticeable increase in muscle size? I feel like 9 months of lifting 3 days a week should provide that no? It didn't for me. I know everyone is different but I am hoping there is some range that can be thrown out there.

    Thanks in advance.
    Imo that's your issue. You won't see a ton of growth with high weight low volume all the time. I would try 4x8-12 and squeeze the muscle you're trying to target through each repetition. Just my .02 though.
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  3. #3
    Registered User lllllll's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by tbonestake View Post
    Imo that's your issue. You won't see a ton of growth with high weight low volume all the time. I would try 4x8-12 and squeeze the muscle you're trying to target through each repetition. Just my .02 though.
    Thanks for the reply. When left to my own devices, I do keep the weight high and reps low but the personal trainer I worked with switched it up a lot. We'd have weeks where I would do 10-12 or 12-14 reps, and other weeks where I'd only do 5-7.
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  4. #4
    Registered User Ghawk21's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by tbonestake View Post
    Imo that's your issue. You won't see a ton of growth with high weight low volume all the time. I would try 4x8-12 and squeeze the muscle you're trying to target through each repetition. Just my .02 though.
    This isn't true, there's a sticky on strength vs size at the top of this forum you can read up on.
    If you aren't putting on weight despite getting stronger its because you aren't eating enough. How much did your bodyweight change in 9 months of working with this trainer? Also for what its worth, any trainer who can't help you after 9 months is not reputable, they're dogchit.
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  5. #5
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    9 months isn't that long.

    How much weight did you gain during that period?

    What were your max effort lifts? Most people get stronger but part of this neural efficiency improvement. You need to keep getting stronger for a sustained period. There is no special recipe - but time and consistency and increasing your 10 rep maximums in a wide range of compound movements will all help. As will eating enough protein rich food. Staying the same weight or trying to lose fat will provide a headwind to progress. Only training a muscle group once a week is not optimal either.
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  6. #6
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    Originally Posted by lllllll View Post
    I've weight-lifted on and off over my life. ... I quit lifting 9 months ago because I felt I was wasting my time.
    Consistency over time may be an issue.

    Originally Posted by lllllll View Post
    I've always been fairly slender - 6' tall and around 152lbs.
    Diet may be an issue. If you've always been 6' tall and 150 lbs, where would you expect this muscle growth to materialize from?

    Originally Posted by lllllll View Post
    I worked with a reputable personal trainer last year, every week for 9 months, just to see if technique or routine was the problem - it wasn't.
    Results indicate otherwise.
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  7. #7
    Registered User cmacken's Avatar
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    You are not eating enough OP - you can't expect to add size without adding weight.

    Set yourself a goal of putting on 15 pounds in the next year, adjust your calorie intake to meet this goal
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  8. #8
    Registered User lllllll's Avatar
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    Thank you for the replies.

    During COVID, I have gained 10lbs - but I have not been lifting. My only exercise has been hiking, backpacking, and running my usual 30 or so miles per week. Based on looking at my body, I'm certain 100% of this weight gain is fat. So I can gain weight..... just not necessarily muscle. I do eat well (Paleo, but ensuring I eat enough starches and fruit to get enough carbs).

    In the 9 months I worked with a personal trainer, I might have gained 3lbs-5lbs or so. I was trying to hit 3000-3500 calories per day with a LOT of protein but I didn't always hit that. The problem is: if I am substantially increasing calories while lifting, how do I really know if the weight gain is lean muscle mass or just fat? I don't find the scales to be very accurate.

    I can't remember how much my 10 rep max was, sorry, but I think it using using 35lb plates. At my strongest, when 21, I was using dumbells instead and I believe I got up to using 65s. Haven't ever been able to replicate that since then.
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  9. #9
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    All you need is a small surplus, protein and a good program like Fierce 5 novice to start gaining.
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  10. #10
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    Originally Posted by lllllll View Post
    I'm certain 100% of this weight gain is fat. So I can gain weight..... just not necessarily muscle.
    There's a diff between not gaining muscle and not being biologically able to gain muscle.

    Originally Posted by lllllll View Post
    how do I really know if the weight gain is lean muscle mass or just fat? I don't find the scales to be very accurate.
    Mirrors are pretty accurate.

    As indicated by everyone above, proper nutrition (including sensible cal surplus), proper program and consistency over an extended period of time.
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  11. #11
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    Originally Posted by lllllll View Post
    Thank you for the replies.

    During COVID, I have gained 10lbs - but I have not been lifting. My only exercise has been hiking, backpacking, and running my usual 30 or so miles per week. Based on looking at my body, I'm certain 100% of this weight gain is fat. So I can gain weight..... just not necessarily muscle. I do eat well (Paleo, but ensuring I eat enough starches and fruit to get enough carbs).

    In the 9 months I worked with a personal trainer, I might have gained 3lbs-5lbs or so. I was trying to hit 3000-3500 calories per day with a LOT of protein but I didn't always hit that. The problem is: if I am substantially increasing calories while lifting, how do I really know if the weight gain is lean muscle mass or just fat? I don't find the scales to be very accurate.

    I can't remember how much my 10 rep max was, sorry, but I think it using using 35lb plates. At my strongest, when 21, I was using dumbells instead and I believe I got up to using 65s. Haven't ever been able to replicate that since then.
    Gaining weight in the absence of resistance training will pretty much guarantee the majority is fat. If you only gained 3-5lbs in 9 months working with the trainer while actually doing weight training then nutrition was the problem. You should of been aiming for gain around 2lbs per month. Slowly gaining, while increasing weights, and hitting a protein minimum of 0.7g/lb of BW is the best you can do to try and keep the majority muscle gain. If 3500 cals, consistently every day, was not enough then you need to eat more. Remember its an average weekly amount of calories that will determine weight loss, gain or maintenance. If you sometimes hit 3000-3500 but only hit 2000 or less other days then you end up gaining 3-5lbs in 9 months. Consistency is the common problem you're having.
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  12. #12
    Registered User jademonkey's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by lllllll View Post
    Can't put on visible muscle
    Originally Posted by lllllll View Post
    I've always been fairly slender - 6' tall and around 152lbs.... I don't put on size.
    You need to gain weight. While lifting, not during no-lift COVID.

    Originally Posted by lllllll View Post
    Getting plenty of protein and calories (I believe).
    Incorrect.

    Eat 350 calories per week more than you burn, while consistently lifting. You should see a few pounds in the first week (water and glycogen). Track every calorie you eat. You probably also need to track every calorie you burn because you do various activities. Weigh every day in the morning under the same conditions (i.e. before breakfast, no clothes, after peeing, before drinking). Keep a running average and you should see 2 lbs gain in 3 weeks (after the first week). If you aren't seeing gain, you are calculating something wrong. Fine, just increase your calculated surplus to 450. If you are gaining too fast reduce surplus. If your lifts are improving don't worry if thee weight gain is muscle or fat (it will necessarily be both) until you gain a good 10-15 lbs.
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  13. #13
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    Originally Posted by jademonkey View Post
    You need to gain weight. While lifting, not during no-lift COVID.


    Incorrect.

    Eat 350 calories per week more than you burn, while consistently lifting. You should see a few pounds in the first week (water and glycogen). Track every calorie you eat. You probably also need to track every calorie you burn because you do various activities. Weigh every day in the morning under the same conditions (i.e. before breakfast, no clothes, after peeing, before drinking). Keep a running average and you should see 2 lbs gain in 3 weeks (after the first week). If you aren't seeing gain, you are calculating something wrong. Fine, just increase your calculated surplus to 450. If you are gaining too fast reduce surplus. If your lifts are improving don't worry if thee weight gain is muscle or fat (it will necessarily be both) until you gain a good 10-15 lbs.
    I'm assuming you meant 3500 per week? Or did you mean 350 cal surplus per day?
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  14. #14
    Registered User lllllll's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by cmacken View Post
    I'm assuming you meant 3500 per week? Or did you mean 350 cal surplus per day?
    Saying I was shooting for 3,000 to 3,500 calories per day total.

    The difficult thing about the calorie intake part is that the calculators to determine BMR are just estimates using averages. So many variables to consider in terms of how many calories you need, and how much of it is going to fat vs muscle.
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    Originally Posted by lllllll View Post
    Saying I was shooting for 3,000 to 3,500 calories per day total.

    The difficult thing about the calorie intake part is that the calculators to determine BMR are just estimates using averages. So many variables to consider in terms of how many calories you need, and how much of it is going to fat vs muscle.
    Right which is why you need to be consistent and then can see a trend and make adjustments accordingly.
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    Originally Posted by cmacken View Post
    I'm assuming you meant 3500 per week? Or did you mean 350 cal surplus per day?
    I meant 350 per day surplus. Apound a week (500 surplus per day) is a bit too much fat, and half pound a week (250 per day) is tough to measure accurately, but may be a bit better in theory.
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    Originally Posted by lllllll View Post
    Saying I was shooting for 3,000 to 3,500 calories per day total.

    The difficult thing about the calorie intake part is that the calculators to determine BMR are just estimates using averages. So many variables to consider in terms of how many calories you need, and how much of it is going to fat vs muscle.
    I had almost exact calculations by using the "sedentary" calories burned estimates (1.2x BMR IIRC) and adding all my activities. Every walk, hike, bike ride, weight session, even add a couple hundred when I'd see live music (RIP).
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    Pre-COVID..............335 / 295 / 499..............185 lbs
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    Oct, 2018..............175x6 / 145x6 / 275x5......163 lbs
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