What Does 5 Pounds of Muscle Look Like?

Well, in short: it depends. For some people, an additional 5 pounds of muscle can be quite apparent. But depending on who you are, reader, it might not be.

As with anything to do with health and fitness there are very few black and white answers. Nuance is around every corner. And rightly so.

5 pounds of muscle is a lot. But due to the varied populations of lifters and fitness freaks, that 5 pounds will look different depending on the body it’s on.

How my body reacts to training will be different to how yours does. And that goes all the way to how a person’s body grows muscle mass.

So, is what does 5 pounds of muscle actually look like? We first need to discuss all the different variables involved in order to answer this question effectively.

Body Types and Genetics

5 pounds of muscle looks completely different on different frames. A tall skinny person, otherwise known as an ectomorph, has a much larger surface area to cover than, say, a much smaller person or a mesomorph.

3 Different body types

If you were to put these two people on the same diet and exercise regime, you will notice differences on both bodies, however you will likely find that the mesomorph will appear to gain much more muscle than the ectomorph.

Simply because the muscle has less space to grow. Appearing more pronounced. If both people gain 5 pounds of pure lean muscle mass, it will look like the ectomorph has in fact gained much less.

5 foot 9 man who gained 5 pounds of muscle
5’9″ mesomorph man who gained 5 pounds of muscle (courtesy of myprogresspics.com)

VS

6 foot 7 man who gained 5 pounds of muscle
6’7″ ectomorph man who gained 5 pounds of muscle (courtesy of myprogresspics.com)

Further to this, how lean you start off will factor just as much as your frame. 5 pounds of muscle on a skinny person will look much more noticeable than 5 pounds of muscle on someone who’s carrying more body fat.

Whilst a larger person will likely go through some noticeable body composition changes through their training, and maybe even lose some body fat as a result, if they are still carrying a large amount of body fat then the muscle growing underneath won’t be that noticeable.

6 foot 4 man who gained 5 pounds of muscle
6’4″ man carrying large body fat who gained 5 pounds of muscle (courtesy of myprogresspics.com)

A skinnier person who gains 5 pounds of muscle mass will be able to showcase it much more because there’s very little on the frame to hide it. 

5 foot 10 man who gained 5 pounds of muscle
5’10” man who gained 5 pounds of muscle (courtesy of myprogresspics.com)

Genetically speaking, men and women who have thicker bone density, and thicker limbs, will have wider diameters for the muscle mass to grow upon. This will hinder how noticeable the muscle mass will be as it again creates a larger surface area to grow within. 

Biological sex will also play a part in how noticeable 5 pounds of muscle will be on a person. As men are able to drop their body fat more safely than women, they have more opportunities to showcase their gains than their female counterparts.

Due to hormone production, menstruation and child bearing hips women tend to have a slightly higher body fat percentage than men. This means that dropping body fat is a risky decision and they tend to have a higher body fat percentage on average.

Any muscular hypertrophy tends to appear slower, even though women can gain muscle at almost the same pace as men. 

As you can see, even before we’ve begun discussing how training and nutrition plays a part in if 5 lbs of muscle is noticeable, there are many genetic variables that play a part. 

Related: Is 10 lbs of muscle noticeable?

Training History

Outside of these, training age also dictates how noticeable 5 pounds of muscle is. Beginner gains result in fast muscular development for the new lifter. This is because the further away from your ultimate genetic training potential you are, the quicker you progress.

Or in other words, the more you train the slower your progression over time. This is because muscular hypertrophy is a response to a novel stimulus presented on the body.

Resistance training is simply putting your body under stress and making it think it needs to be stronger to survive. The more you train, the more stress required, and the less ‘novel’ this becomes to the body. 

Beginner lifters in their first year or two of training will find that they will progress incredibly fast. They will often find they will be able to progressively overload pretty much every week. Adding plate upon plate on the bar as their body adapts and grows. 

What this also means is that the changes will be quite noticeable early on. To the new lifter, 5 pounds of muscle will be very noticeable in comparison to their starting physique.

Further to this, 5 pounds of muscle shouldn’t take much longer than five or six months to appear. 

In contrast, the veteran lifter, who’s been visiting the gym for years and years will find that 5 pounds of muscle will take a year or more to develop as their body is already conditioned to resistance training and they will need to find more novel stimuluses to instigate further muscular hypertrophy.

Not only will it take a while, visually speaking the changes will be less noticeable, especially as they will have years of growth already on their frame. Meaning any new adaptations will be less obvious. 

Programming

An athlete’s training protocol will also determine if 5 pounds of muscle is noticeable. How their workouts are split across their body, how much volume is applied to different muscle groups, will determine where the most adaptation will occur.

We’ve all heard the jokes about people who skip leg day. If you’re focussing on one particular muscle group over another that is where the majority of the adaptation will take place. 

If you’re mainly focussing on lower body, a rarity, then if you’re wearing jeans all week no one will notice the 5 pounds of extra muscle accrued around your quads. In contrast, if you’re only focussing on ‘mirror muscles’ then you may find that these adaptations will be more noticeable. 

Your training split, your goals, your choice of training protocol will all determine whether or not 5 pounds of muscle is noticeable. 

Nutrition

Nutrition also plays a big part in how noticeable your gains will be. As we know, nutrition is just as important as a training split. Muscle mass is very calorically hungry. If you don’t eat enough, and if you don’t eat enough protein, you will not get the most gains for your time. 

Further to this, if your calorie intake is too far above maintenance you risk developing more body fat than you’d probably like alongside muscle mass.

If you’re in a dirty bulk as well as training in the gym you may find that you’re putting on more body fat than muscle mass, which could obscure your gains and make your new 5 pounds of muscle mass unnoticeable. 

A lean bulk, which is simply eating one or two hundred calories over maintenance, reduces the risk of gaining too much body fat and will help ensure your gains are visible to everyone. 

Bottom Line

So how quickly does it take to gain 5 pounds of noticeable muscle mass? As mentioned, there are many variables involved. However, if training and nutrition is on point then the new lifter can expect to see 5 pounds of muscle mass in about five months.

The veteran lifter will see their progress slow down and it could be closer to a full year. 

But ultimately, is it noticeable? Yes. 5 pounds of muscle is noticeable, if the conditions are right. If your body frame allows for it, your training is on point and your body fat is low enough then your gains will be visible very quickly.

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Mike Julom

Mike is an ACE Certified PT and a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. He is an avid lover of all sports. Basketball, tennis, athletics, volleyball, soccer, squash, golf, table tennis, even darts, you name it! He's a very active CrossFit athlete and has been WOD'ing for over 7 years. With such an intense fitness regime, Mike has learned to take care of his body physically, nutritionally, and spiritually. Mike founded ThisIsWhyImFit as a way to share his vast knowledge of exercises, diets, and general fitness advice.

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