How I Gained 19LBS of Muscle in 8 Weeks with Visual Impact

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It was the 25th of July, 2011.

I stepped on the scale in my bathroom as I embarked on my new Visual Impact Challenge.

A fellow fitness bloomer emailed me weeks earlier asking what the best way was to gain muscle mass.

I figured the best way to show him (and others) was to go through the process myself.

The scale read a measly 169.5 lbs. But that was fine with me because I really like being lean. I always have and, even after the changes I’m about to reveal, I always will.

So what was the mission?

I set a goal of gaining 12 to 15 lbs of muscle in 8 weeks. People doubted me but, with a solid training routine, diet plan and supplementation strategy, I was ready to rock and roll.

Eight weeks later I stepped on the scale again for the final weigh in. The number blew me away because I had surpassed all expectations.

I was a full 19lbs heavier.

Here’s what happened over the course of two months.

Before I get into the details, I want to make sure you’ve checked out the previous posts in this series. If you’re interested to see, in detail, how I’ve set up my training, how I’ve structured my diet and how I’ve put together my supplementation, you can check out the following posts:

My objective for this challenge was not only to gain as much muscle mass as I could in a short period of time, but I wanted to record all possible variables in the process so we can all learn from it. I weighed myself once a week and took body measurements (and pictures) every two weeks.

OK, let’s get into the details.

The Beginning – July 24, 2011

Here were pictures of me taken on July 24, 2011:

Pictures taken on July 24, 2011

As you can see, I was at a lean 169.5 lbs and my body fat percentage was in the 9 - 11 % range (this wasn’t measured just estimated using reference pictures). I lacked muscle mass in my arms, shoulders and lats, but those were my lean days.

Let’s fast forward 8 weeks.

The transformation – September 23, 2011

Eight weeks of hard work went into this challenge. Eight weeks of grueling workouts. Eight weeks of eating like an animal (only more strategically). Eight weeks of testing supplementation. Here were the results that came out of it.

Pictures taken September 23, 2011

That’s right, you’re now looking at a beast (jk)! But compare the pictures from July 24th to those from September 23rd. Notice the development in the shoulders and chest area. Notice the development in the arms. But, more than anything, notice the development of my back! My lats and traps came in quite nicely. My entire midsection got thicker as well, but my body fat levels remained relatively the same.

Like I said, I tracked my body measurements over the past 8 weeks so I can see where I’ve gained the most muscle mass. Here they are:

My body measurements - Before and After

As you can see, each muscle group I tracked experienced some level of gains – some more and some less. The largest gains were made in my shoulders and chest area. The circumference of my shoulders increased by a full 10 cm and my chest increased by 7.5cm!

If you’re wondering how my weight fluctuated over the 8 week period, I’ve put together a graph below to show exactly that.

This graph shows how my weight increased over a period of 8 weeks.

My largest spikes were in week 1 and week 8 of the challenge. The fluctuations are mainly due to my diet. There was a week (week 3) where I struggled to get food down. I had no appetite and didn’t realize how important it was to stick to my diet plan even when I wasn’t hungry. I thought my gains would still be consistent (like they were in the first two weeks). But, when I saw that I only gained 1 lb, I realized that I had to step my game up if I wanted solid gains. I was consistent with my eating strategy from there on.

Here is another picture showing the difference in muscle mass from before the challenge and after the challenge.

This pictures shows the muscle mass I’ve gained in my upper body over a period of 8 weeks.

This picture is probably the best representation of my muscle gains. Take particular notice to the difference in size of the arms, chest, shoulders and midsection. [I kept the hair longer on purpose until the challenge was done]

What I learned from this challenge:

Lesson: Short rest periods are extremely effective for gaining size. I used to rest way too long (1-2 minutes) between sets in the past and that’s probably why I never got the results I was after. I never actually put much thought into the length of my rest periods, but now I bring my stop watch with me to the gym every time.
What you can take away: Use a stop watch to time your rest periods. You’ll quickly notice that your rest periods go by way faster than you think. If you’re after size, shorten your rest periods down to 45 seconds.

Lesson: As weird as it sounds, it’s not heavy weights that will get you big. No way. It’s all about volume. Lower weight at higher volume will do the trick. A higher volume of lifting will increase fatigue more than a lower volume of lifting.
What you can take away: Ease up on the big weights. As odd as it may sound to you, you’ll want to save those for when you’re trying get strong and lean.

Lesson: Don’t let your ego get in the way. If you’re trying to gain size, you’re going to be dealing with lighter weights at higher volumes. There are going to be times where you’re struggling to lift what you used to use for a warm-up – you’re going to look like a little girl. You have to get past this if you want to succeed.
What you can take away: Leave your ego at home. It won’t help you in the gym.

Lesson: You haven’t experienced fatigue unless you train in the way I described here. And it’s not just fatigue I’m talking about – it’s cumulative fatigue. This is the process of progressively fatiguing your muscles from one set to the next. I’ve learned this is the most effective way to build muscle mass.
What you can take away: When you’re training, each set should be building upon the previous set. All your sets are leading up to the last and final set where every single muscle fiber in that muscle group is being recruited to help you get that weight up. That’s cumulative fatigue.

Lesson: You have to be consistent with your training. I didn’t skip a single day of training during the 8 week period. There were days I didn’t want to go but still forced myself in there. As soon as I got started, I was pumped and ready to go.
What you can take away: Gaining size takes dedication to your training. Don’t let laziness be your downfall. Find a way to motivate yourself on the difficult days and get your ass in the gym. Remember – whatever it takes.

Lesson: Your diet will make you or break you. You have to be dedicated to your eating strategy. I never realized how hard it actually was to consistently consume over 3,500 (quality) calories a day. You can read how I did it here. I stuck to my strategy it and it paid off.
What you can take away: Don’t neglect your diet. You can train like a beast but you will never out-train a shitty diet. Set your strategy and follow it as if your life depended on it. There are going to be days where you’ll feel as if nothing else can go into your stomach – this is your brain telling you “Fuck off with the food already – you’re full!” You gotta fight back and find a way to force it down.

Lesson: Creatine works. I’ve never tried it before and I thought this challenge would be a perfect time to give it a shot. I can definitely say I felt an energy boost when training. If you’re thinking that most of my gains were water gains – think again. Even as I write this 3-4 weeks after the end of my challenge, I’ve maintained the majority of my muscle mass (hovering around 187.5 lbs). You can read my supplement summary here.
What you can take away: If you’re struggling to gain weight, Creatine may be able to help. Just remember that this isn’t some magical pill. You don’t get results by drinking it. It helps you train harder. Point is: you still have to put in the work.

Lesson: The Visual Impact program works. All I had to do was follow Phase 1 of the program.
What you can take away: If you’re looking for an in-depth muscle building program to follow, check out Visual Impact Muscle Building for Men.

What’s next?

So now that I’ve exceeded all of my expectations, what’s the next step? Where do I go from here?

My first thoughts were to stick with Phase 1 – continue with what I’m doing. The program is customizable so you can prolong or shorten a phase as it suits your needs. Since I was on such a good weight gain trend, I was debating to prolong the muscle building phase for an extra month and push to 200 lbs. However, I’m starting to run out of clothes that fit properly and I don’t really have the money for a brand new wardrobe. Plus I don’t really know if I want to be part of the 200lb club.

So I’ve decided to move to Phase 2 of the Visual Impact program.

Phase 2 is somewhat of a hybrid phase. It is designed to help you develop strength and build muscle mass. This phase is structured similarly to the programs a lot of athletes are using – the 5 X 5 routines. It’s a mix of size and strength – something all athletes are after. I’ll give more detail about this phase in a future post, but if you’re curious, you can check out some details here.

I hope this post has showed you a few things about what it takes to gain mass. I’m by no means “jacked” but 19lbs is 19lbs and I’m happy that I surpassed my goals.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments below. I’d be glad to explain anything in detail!

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Comments

  1. Your results are remarkable! Great work! What size do you feel better at and why? Lean or jacked?

    • Thanks Jordan! I’ll be honest I’m loving the new size I’m at now. I’m still quick and agile but I feel much stronger. Also, I’m starting to get used to the new look and I’m loving it. I’d still consider myself somewhat lean (I just used to be much leaner).

  2. Hey Srdjan,

    seems you learned a ton of stuff from this Visual Impact workout program.

    Looks like that Rusty Moore sure knows his stuff, isn’t it?

    Mark

  3. Srdjan,

    Congrats on the gains! All the hard work definitely paid off. Looking forward to seeing your results from Phase 2.

    Alykhan

  4. I’m wondering if you have experienced a difference in “strength”? I have always wondered about the difference between usable muscles and showy muscles? Hope I don’t offend anyone with that… Beginner curiousity.

    • Hey Brenda, that’s a great question. Although my training routine for this challenge is designed purely to increase the size of muscles, there is still somewhat of a correlation between size and strength and I definitely noticed (and recorded) decent strength gains over the past 8 weeks.

      The training strategy outlined for this challenge is not optimal for developing strength. As I move onto Phase 2 of the program, my focus is shifting to the development of strength. I’ll explain exactly how I do this in a future post.

      I hope this helps a bit.

    • Hi Brenda,

      I am nearly at the end of Phase 1 of VI and can honestly say that I don’t feel any stronger now than I did at the beginning!

      But I also don’t find this to be a problem at all, having expected this type of training effect. The goal of this stage of the training plan is to increase the underlying structure, which you then build on in the next two phases. I am quite looking forward to getting some big weights in my hands again:)

      Hope this helps,
      George

  5. Fantastic result in only 8 weeks. I can definitely see the growth in biceps, forearms and shoulders.
    Why do you think your waist became thicker? Was that due to dead lifts or squatting?
    THe workout program looks like winner for you.
    Well done and good documentation.
    And I’m glad you didn’t photoshop the photos they are very natural.
    Raymond

    • Thanks a lot Raymond! I didn’t do a single deadlift or squat throughout the entire program. I can’t say exactly why my waist became thicker, but I think it’s just the nature of the bulking phase. I think my waist thickened up in proportion to the rest of my body. Who knows? What do you think?

      P.S. I wouldn’t know how to photoshop it anyways :)

  6. 19 pounds in two months is a ton of weight to gain … you must have been eating and working like crazy!

    I’m in phase 2 of Visual Impact right now and so far I like it even more than phase 1.

    • Kevin, it was definitely a lot of work, but that’s why I had some success with it. I’m on phase 2 right now as well and I’m really enjoying it. It has taken me a while to get used to NOT training to failure – stopping one rep short of failure – but I’ve already been noticing a boost in strength for certain exercises. How’s it going for you?

      • I’m loving it. I don’t think I had a ton of weight to gain before I started but so far I think I’ve made more pure muscle gains in phase 2 than I did in phase 1.

        Plus, since it’s a hybrid approach like you said, the muscle looks more defined and toned.j

        … yeah, it’s nice not feeling so week failing at fairly light weights from being so fatigued too!

        • So far in phase 2 I haven’t gained any muscle. I’ve pretty much maintained all I’ve gained in phase 1. But I can definitely feel my strength getting up there. My muscles are looking denser as well. I’m really starting to enjoy this phase!

  7. Great transformation. You must have really stuck with the program to gain 19lbs in 2 months. After leaning out for the last several months, I’m going to begin Phase 1 now. The winter always seems like the best time for me to add muscle because I end up eating plenty of food over the holidays. I’ll probably shoot for a gain of 10lbs during phase 1 and then focus on leaning out by losing 5lbs during phases 2-3 for what will hopefully be a pure 5lb muscle gain. If it works out to be more in line with what you saw, great!

    • I wish I scheduled the program a little bit better so by the time I’m finishing up Phase 3 and bonus phase it’s almost summer time. But I didn’t want to wait anymore so I guess I’ll be fasting through the holidays :).

      Good luck on reaching your 10lbs! Let me know how it goes.

  8. Well done Serge, your lessons will be very helpful to many I’m sure. You made me laugh what you said about outgrowing your clothes, gotta take the rough with the smooth it seems!

    So since you like the bigger version of yourself, will you be eating to maintain that size going forwards?

    Michael

    • Hey Michael. I’m being serious man!! I’m running out of t-shirts to wear. But I must say it feels good to know that I moved up a size :)

      I have been maintaining a similar diet to the one I used in Phase 1, only I’ve lowered my caloric intake a bit because it takes a lot of work to eat like that! This is necessary for the type of training outlined in Phase 2. Once I get to phase 3 I’ll be really dropping my calories to lean out again. So we’ll see what happens!

  9. Hey Srdjan,
    This kind of growth is really awesome. I actually think you may see a bit more growth in the next couple of weeks as your body switches things up with the workouts in Phase 2. The cool thing about Visual Impact that never gets mentioned is that the fluctuation in the number of reps allows the body to avoid hitting a plateau effect. This avoidance of plateaus is what helps keep the body growing, staying lean and changing for the long term.

    -Sam

    • Sam, I’ve been in Phase 2 for just over a month now. I haven’t experienced any more growth, but I’ve managed to maintain the weight I’ve put on from Phase 1 and my strength has really started to develop. You’re absolutely right in the fact that this program really gives your body something new to work with every two months. I’m even more excited for phase 3 now.

  10. Great job Srdjan! I have made similar transformations before and I completely understand how happy you feel with your own transformation :) Good job

    It takes an incredible amount of dedication to be eating like that you did, so you deserved every bit of your gains. I have done Visual Impact for a while, but I personally like to stick to low volume, high intensity workouts. Keep us updated with your phase 2 and phase 3 transformations!

    • Hey Tim, do you have any pictures/info about your transformation? I’m curious to see if we progressed in a similar fashion.

      And I just completed Phase 2. I’m taking a week of rest like I did after Phase 1 and starting up Phase 3 next week. I’ll have a Phase 2 update post coming out soon :)

  11. Wow, I love it. I’m into gym and I’m doing boxing. I gained muscles.

  12. Good job Srdjan!

    I am nearly at the end of Phase 1 and have gained a few decent pounds myself, and this is despite not eating any more calories than maintenance (over the weekly average)!

    I would like to question one of your lessons though:
    “Lesson: As weird as it sounds, it’s not heavy weights that will get you big. No way. It’s all about volume. Lower weight at higher volume will do the trick. A higher volume of lifting will increase fatigue more than a lower volume of lifting.
    What you can take away: Ease up on the big weights. As odd as it may sound to you, you’ll want to save those for when you’re trying get strong and lean.”

    I think this tells only part of the story; if you’ve been lifting heavy for a while then this is totally true, but if you’re accustomed to this type of workout then you would get more new muscle growth/size from doing heavier weights. That’s the whole point of changing ones training. Part of the work of the HST guys has been to show how important progressive tension and heavy weights are to hypertrophy, and is something that Rusty sure didn’t overlook when he put VI together.

    Keep up the good work,
    George

    • You bring up a good point George (sorry for the late response here). Your body is an amazing machine and it knows how to adapt very well. So, yes, if you’ve been training with heavy weights for a while then you could benefit from making some changes (and same vice versa). But here I’m just talking about the science of it all. Lifting lighter weights at higher volumes allows for greater cumulative fatigue to develop which in turn results in greater muscle gains (with proper dieting). Working with heavier weights requires lower volumes which does not create the same cumulative fatigue effect. It creates fatigue, but not nearly to the same degree (I’ve only realized this after going through the training myself). Keep in mind that training with lower weight/higher volume does not mean there is no progressive tension. You’re increasing your weight from set to set and your first 4-5 sets are simply preparing your muscles to maximally fatigue. This is why we call it ‘cumulative’ fatigue. Rusty has done a wonderful job structuring this program.

      Thanks for your insightful comment!

  13. Sounds like this is a good programme, and I’m going to look at some of your other posts about it soon. You certainly got a good result, but I’m thinking as you waist increased in size quite a bit you may have put too much fat on with the muscle. Maybe if you didn’t eat quite so much you would have still gained all the muscle but less fat.

    Do you take a week off after each 8 week phase? That would be something I would recommend personally, especially if you have been training for a while.

    • Hey David thanks for the comment. I’m sure some of the mass I’ve gained is excess fat (which is normal for any bulking phase). However, if you compare the before and after pictures you can see that my body fat levels have not increased dramatically. The reason my waist increased in size is the same reason my shoulders and chest increased in size. It was the manner in which I was training them. If I chose to eat less, I definitely would not have gained the muscle mass that I did. Even if you do gain some excess fat, it’s very easy to get rid of in Phase 2 and 3 of the program.

      And yes I do take a week off in between every phase to let my body recover.

  14. Hey,

    Looking at all this inspires me to do it as well. Congratulations on your results by the way. I have a couple of questions for you.
    1. How well do you think this will work for me? I’m a thin guy and haven’t worked out in awhile. I’m 5ft 10 and weigh 147 lbs. But I definitely want to make a change in my body.
    2. How time consuming is it? I’m currently in college, work, and in a couple of organizations
    3. Does the package include a diet plan?

    Sorry for all these random questions, I’m a little new to all this.

    Thanks,

    • Hey Edgar, thanks for your comment and I’m happy to see that my results have inspired you. Here are your answers:

      1. I think this program can work for anyone. However, the effectiveness of this program is much greater for those new to training, so there’s no doubt that you will make great improvements.

      2. The muscle building phase of the program is roughly 2 months, but you can go longer (you might want to) or shorter depending on your goals. The workouts rarely last more than 50-60 minutes and you’ll be in the gym 4-5 times per week. It’s a bit of a time commitment but it’s completely doable.

      3. The program comes with rough dieting guidelines but I’ve put together my own pretty solid diet plan that I’d gladly share with you.

      I hope that helps. Let me know if you have any other questions!

  15. Srdjan,

    Thank you for your response. And yes, if its ok with you, I would like to see your diet plan. Also, does the VI include a workout for the lower body or is it just for upper body?

    Thank you once again

  16. Alejandro Rosales says:

    Hi! I have a question regarding your training proccess: did you do any cardio at all during those two months?

  17. Well I am in the beginning stages of a similar program aimed to obtain muscle size. I started roughly 4 weeks ago, yet I have been missing the last 2 weeks due to sickness; tomorrow I will hit up the gym for the first time in two weeks. My goal is to gain anywhere between 6 and 10 pounds of muscle for the next two months. I find your progress quite inspirational and I hope that in two months I will achieve my goals. My excercise routine is chest/bicep on monday; 25 min cardio on tuesday (I want to drop my body fat percentage from 15 to 10%); legs/abs on wednesday; back/tricep on thursday; and on friday shoulders/traps/forearms. The reps are usually 8-12 for most excercises but I will definitely do more for some of them, particularly bodyweight excercises. I take weekends off from the gym, but I still like to do some kind of physical activity (i.e. playing basketball, soccer, or even sprinting). I hope that everything goes well; I want to know if you have any tips for my routine. I wanted to follow your program exactly the way you did it, but I have a lot of time available and I am able to afford 5 times per week at the gym. Any tips? I am a beginner at this, barely 18 years old 5’5 and 139 lbs. I have been lifting weights for probably a year but I am barely know realizing the need to target all my body parts in order to avoid imbalances.

    • A few things to consider: when building muscle, the idea is to be in a caloric surplus so doing a lot of cardio when trying to build muscle will hold you back (I found this was hard for me to resist but I had to); focus on working similar muscle groups on the same day – so instead of doing chest/biceps on one day, do chest/triceps or chest/triceps/shoulders on the same day because this initiates the cumulative fatigue effect that you want (do the same thing for other days like combining back and biceps).

      Being that you’re a beginner, you shouldn’t have too many problems putting on muscle mass. Just focus on the principles outlined and eat like a mofo. You’ll do great!

      • Ok thanks for the tips; one last thing, I know the cardio may hold me back but there is something I cannot avoid: the gym is about 40 minutes-walk away from my house, would walking all that distance (40 minutes on the way there and 40 minutes on the way back) will hold me back from my progress? I read in one of your articles that cardio should always come after lifting weights, but I have to walk in order to get to the gym. I think that in order to help myself more I will not do any other cardio (no more sports…) during these months of training.

        • Walking is fine. It’s not a very metabolically taxing form of cardio so feel free to walk as much as you need. The more intense cardio I would avoid, however. And yes, cardio should always be done after lifting weights.

  18. Can women follow this as well if they want to gain muscle?

  19. Bernt Abitbol says:

    Hey Srdjan,

    Thanks for the great posts! I’ve just started phase 1 of the visual impact challenge thanks to your posts.

    To put things in perspective, I’m curious to know how tall you are.

    Thanks!
    Bernt

  20. Hello Srdjan! I’ve loved this post when I first read it. I’m currently in phase 1 and have a question – do you think you would have gotten the same results if you didn’t take creatine? How was phase 2 for you?

    • Hey Mike, sorry for the late response! How’s phase 1 working out for you so far? Have you transitioned to phase 2/3 yet? I don’t think I would have gained as much muscle without the creatine, but I can’t say for sure. I’d have to test it out. Phase 2 was actually really short for me I was anxious to get into the leaning out phase.

  21. 19lbs of muscle is nothing to look over… that’s amazing. Well done, I’m sure you worked your booty off!!

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