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On topic of bodybuilding, while there are many resources telling you how you should exercise, they usually don't tell you what rule-of-thumb signals and changes show if you're actually doing things right.

Let's take a look at these two example sentences:

  • After a year of training, I went from doing 4x20 abdominal crunches with 65kg, to 8x20 with 85kg.
  • After two years of training, I went from 55.4kg with 7.8% fat, to 61.2kg with 14.4% fat.

Is there any way to take a look at these sentences and say "these are reasonable changes for 5-day-a-week training regiment", or "you are definitely not training right"? Are there any rules-of-thumb that help making these assesments?

Or is the only answer "you need to consult several trained professionals"?

  • Please note that while there are several question marks ('?') in the question, these are used for clarifying the single thing I'm asking about. – Dragomok Jun 5 at 18:56
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The total muscle mass that you've built is THE determining factor in whether you are progressing in bodybuilding. The size of certain muscle groups is secondary to this, but also very important. Therefore, tracking your FFMI score would be a quick way to track progress.

Lyle McDonald has a popular model of muscle growth which suggests the potential rate at which muscle may be built, and I've extrapolated that data in the chart below. My chart assumes an average height of 5'10" (1.78m), and the expected potential will change with height.

Extrapolation of The Lyle McDonald Model of Muscle Growth


Another model by Alan Aragon suggests the following rates of growth...

  • Beginner: 1-1.5% total body weight/month
  • Intermediate 0.5-1% total body weight/month
  • Advanced 0.25-0.5% total body weight/month

(* Both charts assume that a woman's potential is half of a man's.)

1

JustSnilloc's answer is good and quantifiable. My answer is going to be more qualifiable and subjective.

Progress can be anything. If I weigh 350 lbs and I lose 100 lbs, that can be seen as progress. If I weigh 350 lbs and have 40% body fat but then lose 25 lbs and 10% body fat, that can also be seen as progress. Both are valid progressions and while one seems more drastic than the other (100 lbs is a bigger loss than 25 lbs) maybe reduced body fat is the goal vs reduce weight overall.

Common metrics can be aesthetic: weight lost, body fat percentage lost, or muscle growth; which one looks in the mirror, steps on the scale, uses calipers, etc and determines if they're going in the right direction. In your second example, the person gained weight (which could be good or bad because that weight could be muscle) but nearly doubled body fat percentage. Sub 15% is still good, but that person probably doesn't look shredded like they probably did two years prior.

Or they can be practical: Lifting more weight, more reps/sets. Typically the big goals I see online are to be able to bench 1.5x your weight, deadlift 2.5x your weight, and squat 2x your weight. If you are currently benching your bodyweight now, but several months ago you were benching only 75%, then there's progress (and you're now at about 3/4 of the way to meeting the big 1.5x). Your first example falls in line with this metric.

In summary, determine what you want to get out of the gym and find benchmarks to help you determine if you're going in the right direction. Do you want to get stronger? Figure out how much you can lift. After some months, if you're lifting heavier than before, you've made progress. Do you want to look better? Figure out your body fat percentage and figure out what the percentages are of the people you want to look like and shoot for that. After some months, if the percentage is going down, you're progressing.

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