I’ve learned a lot from a guy many people love and many others love to hate. There’s no question he does things in controversial ways, and I don’t doubt the reports of his ruthlessness when it comes to his business ends. Nonetheless, he’s dispensed a lot of sound (if not always original) advice.
The guy I’m talking about is Tim Ferriss. He wrote a blog post a little while back called “From Geek to Freak: How I Gained 34 lbs. of Muscle in 4 Weeks”. I found that post at a time when I’d been struggling to figure out how to weight train correctly. I thought surely there must be some good scientific information on weight training, but what I found online (I later found a pretty good book) was a massive mish-mash of pseudoscience and mythology.
What I wanted was to build some muscle mass to improve my strength and appearance. The only thing that’s ever worked for me before for that purpose was lap swimming, and it took a ton of time and a nearby pool. I have neither of those now, so I decided to give Tim’s technique of lifting large weights for only a few reps a try. It promised significant improvement in only about 30 minutes per workout, twice per week. I was skeptical, and my wife was doubly skeptical.
To avoid as much bias as I could, I logged my progress in a Google Spreadsheet and published it here. I logged other observations on Think, Try, Learn’s new “Edison” platform, also publicly visible: Attempting the “Geek to Freak” muscle building technique.
The short version: it worked splendidly! Both my wife and I were pleasantly surprised at the results.
It was very important to keep my protein and overall calorie intake up to the level I was burning. Using whey protein I maxed out my safe weight training protein allowance every day, and I used FatSecret.com to track all of my nutrition (which I do when losing weight anyway). I noticed that whenever I didn’t eat enough calories I stalled out pretty badly. If I hadn’t been tracking my nutrition and my lifting stats I probably would have been mystified as to the reason for my trouble, or just frustrated that I wasn’t making progress. I’ve had that problem before, and realized in retrospect that I was able to gain muscle well while swimming because I was eating things like two steaks or an entire wok of home-made General Tso’s Chicken every night for dinner. (Sort of a ‘duh’ thing now, right?)
At first I was trying to both lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. That worked for a week or two, but then I quickly stalled out on the muscle gain. I read a bit about this and it seems that when you first start a weight training regimen, there’s a ‘honeymoon’ period where your untrained muscles grow to meet the new load. After that period, I had to give up on losing fat simultaneously. However, now that I’m taking a break I’m finding it’s easier to lose weight as my increased muscle mass burns more calories per day even at rest. (I injured my leg stepping over a baby gate and then had to travel a bit. I’m planning on getting back to the weight training soon.)
I tried another one of Tims’ ‘hacks’ to improve my reading speed and found less dramatic results. His metrics for that technique are biased in favor of finding an improvement, even if there isn’t really one. I also logged my results carefully there and abandoned the technique after a few trials.
In the end, the Think, Try, Learn treat-everything-as-an-experiment approach worked well for me in vetting suggested lifehacks. I’m going to continue using both the weight training technique when I want to gain muscle, and the TTL experiment approach for trying new things.
Have you tried any experiments like this?