by Niall Doherty

Let’s start with the raw data:

Body WeightBody FatLean Body Weight
May 16184 lbs22 lbs (12%)162 lbs
July 13202 lbs28 lbs (14%)174 lbs
Difference+18 lbs+6 lbs+12 lbs

So, in two months, I gained six pounds of fat, and twelve pounds of muscle.

Before/after pics

I don’t think I look much different in the pics, but I’ll show them anyway (any excuse to appear half-naked and flash my sexy farmer tan on the Internet)…

What I did

I put together a diet and exercise plan based on recommendations from The 4-Hour Body, and stuck to it pretty closely. Here’s how it went:

Diet

I remained ovo-lacto vegetarian throughout the experiment. The most significant change I made was to drink one gallon of milk per day (approximately four liters). Besides that, I wasn’t too picky, though I tried to consume more protein-rich foods such as eggs and peanut butter while staying away from carb-heavy grub like pasta and potatoes.

About five weeks into the experiment, I found I was gaining too much fat around my midsection, so I cut back on the milk intake, down to 1-2 liters per day.

Exercise

A few things to note here:

  • I went to the gym fourteen times, each session lasting less than 25 minutes. About 5.5 hours total gym time in two months.
  • As much as possible, I tried to work out at the same time of day, usually at 10:30 each morning. Each of my workouts began within an hour of that time.
  • I went to the gym once every four days in the beginning (e.g. Monday, Friday, Tuesday, etc.), then, after about the one month mark, once every five days.
  • I did five exercises each gym session, usually these (links are to YouTube vids): pec deck butterfly, smith machine squat, dumbbell shoulder press, weighted decline crunches, smith machine bench press.
  • For each exercise, I did just one set to failure, aiming for at least 12 reps each time.
  • For each rep, I used a 5/5 cadence; five seconds up, five seconds down.
  • I used a timer to ensure just three minutes rest between each set.
  • Throughout the two months, I continued to do my daily fifteen minute stretching routine.
  • I avoided cardio as much as possible. I had a scooter so I didn’t even do much walking.

On June 24th I weighed in at my heaviest ever: 205 lbs, with 30 lbs (read: too much) body fat. It was at that point that I decided to make a few changes. So, during the last two weeks of the experiment:

  • I started doing a dozen myotatic crunches after my daily stretching routine.
  • I ditched the scooter and started walking a lot more.
  • I began running the steps of the monkey temple approximately three times per week.
  • I built a 25 kg T-handle (homemade kettlebell) and did brief kettlebell swing sessions with that 2-3 times per week.

Success or failure?

I stated back on May 15 that my goal was to add 20 lbs of muscle, so in that respect I failed, only making it a little over halfway there, while adding more fat than I would have liked. Also, the reason I wanted to gain all this muscle in the first place was to simply look better naked. Unfortunately, I don’t think I look all that different, despite the extra weight.

Still, I’m quite happy with the results overall. Adding twelve pounds of muscle in two months ain’t bad. And I grew significantly stronger on some exercises, such as…

  • Pec deck butterfly: 12 reps at 38 kg –> 13 reps at 62 kg
  • Smith machine bench press: 5 reps at 50 kg –> 10 reps at 50 kg

But the best thing to come out of all this? I believe I learned a few lessons that should ensure better results in my future muscle-building attempts…

What I’ll do different next time

1. Drink less milk

The gallon of milk a day (GOMAD) seemed to be working wonders in the beginning. By June 10th (3.5 weeks into the experiment),  I’d already gained 16 lbs while my body fat had apparently dropped one percent. It proved too good to be true in the long run though, as I started to gain way too much fat around my midsection.

I think a steady dose of one liter of milk per day (double that on workout days) would have been better throughout the two months, resulting in minimal fat gain and nare a need for cardio.

2. Better exercise selection

Methinks I would have fared better doing the following five exercises each gym session (links to YouTube vids):

I’d leave out the dumbbell shoulder press because I found it too easy to break form with the free weights. If I had access to a shoulder press machine, I would have definitely used that instead, because it allows for smoother motion, more consistency.

And the myotatic crunches seem far superior to the weighted decline crunches simply because they hurt more. Last week I was using a 20 lb weight on my chest and still getting to 17 reps with the decline crunches, whereas I could barely do a dozen myotatic crunches even without added weight.

3. Use a belt while squatting

I had to skip doing squats during several gym sessions simply because they hurt my back too much. This was partly due to poor form, but I think the use of a weightlifting belt would have helped correct that. Squats are apparently one of the best exercises for bulking up, and I believe I lost out on a couple of extra pounds of muscle by not doing them more often.

4. If possible, ditch the caliper method for measuring body fat

You can read more about the caliper method here. I used the Jackson/Pollock 3 for my calculations. It’s the fastest, cheapest and most common method for measuring body fat, but it’s also not very accurate. Even though I had the same trainer at my gym take the measurements before every workout, the numbers were all over the place. For example, here are my thigh fat measurements for six consecutive sessions (all in millimeters):

  • 12, 16, 14, 15, 11, 15

Simply put, there’s too much room for human error using the caliper method. My July 13th body fat measurement listed up top may be a percentage point too high or too low. No way to tell without using a more sophisticated method of measurement.

5. Leave more time for rest

The first couple of weeks of this experiment, I found myself needing ten hours of sleep each night to feel fully rested. I usually only need eight. I likely skimped too much on sleep during the two months, meaning my body didn’t recover as much as it could have between workouts.

What’s next?

I’ll continue on with the diet and exercise for a couple more weeks, until I head off on a 10-day meditation retreat. After that I’ll likely go back to my regular diet and ditch the gym for a few months, then launch into another two-month experiment once I get set up in Thailand in October.

How’d you do?

A few of you committed to joining me with your own physical challenges these past two months. Now’s the time to check in and let everyone know how you did. Did you reach your fitness goal? What did you learn along the way? What will you do different next time?