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:
- Building Lean Muscle with Visual Impact Muscle Building for Men
- Visual Impact Challenge: Eating for Size
- Visual Impact Challenge: Training for Size
- Visual Impact Challenge: The Supplements
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:
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
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!