Georgie, I started doing a different type of training program known as German Volume training, and found that I rapidly gained about 3 lbs over my normal weight. And it’s just stayed there at this new plateau. I regularly take skinfold caliper measurements and it doesn’t seem like my body fat is increasing, so what gives? I tried paring back my calories, but those three pounds are still staying! Is it muscle? Fluid? Seems awfully quick!
Increases in training volume will naturally bring about adaptations in your body. After all, that’s why we’re training, right? You don’t mention what your training looked like before switching to this program, but I’ll assume that doing ten sets of ten per exercise is a considerable jump in volume for you.
Higher volume of exercise (more sets, more reps) is used to generate hypertrophy – in other words, bigger muscles. So yes, it’s possible that you are packing on lean mass and responding really well to this program. Especially if your skinfold measures are steady you can use that as evidence that you aren’t just gaining fat. But something else is going on you should be aware of: high volume training also makes your muscles pack in more muscle glycogen, a complex carbohydrate form of stored energy. Doing low volume training with heavier weights to focus on strength doesn’t utilize as much glycogen, so when you switched to German Volume training you likely saw an initial adaptation phase in which your body increases it’s ability to store glycogen.
The average person has about 400-500 grams total of stored glycogen in their bodies, about 80% in skeletal muscle with smaller amounts in the liver and tiny amounts other organs. With exercise training this can increase to 1000 grams or more. Because glycogen is stored along with water, increasing glycogen stores also means weight gain from the associated water. Most research studies have produced data indicating anywhere from 2.4 to 2.9 grams of water being stored with each gram of glycogen, with some estimates claiming as much 3-4 grams of water. So when you start adapting to training at higher volume, even before adding more muscle tissue, you can be looking at 3-5 pounds of weight gain simply from increased glycogen and water in the muscles.
Anyone who has ever carb-loaded for an endurance event knows how heavy and bloaty one can feel when maximally carb’ed up! On the other end of the spectrum, bodybuilders or athletes who drop weight to make weight classes such as rowers or boxers know that exhausting one’s glycogen stores with a low carb diet and high volume exercise will lead to substantial weight loss.
Is this ability to increase glycogen storage in response to increased training volume a bad thing? I’d say certainly not! That extra fuel tank capacity will serve to power you through the longer sets and extra reps, and that high volume training is what triggers hypertrophy. So admire your body for that mechanism, it’s the first adaptation toward more muscle. If you’re looking for a way to discern glycogen + water weight from actual muscle tissue increases, here are a couple things to keep in mind:
1. Glycogen storage capacity will increase rapidly (within a week of consistent training if you have good nutrition in place) but then be pretty stable if your volume stays about the same. So after several weeks in, you shouldn’t still be seeing weight increases from this.
2. Use your strength to assess muscular gain. If you are getting stronger with time, you are gaining muscle. Not getting stronger, just heavier, and been training at the same volume for a while? You might be gaining fat, so check up on your diet quality and quantity to see if it needs some tuning.