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?
Congratulations, Brock! I’m glad to read that your pursuits are fruitful. 🙂 I also like this TTL site; it reminds me very much of cognitive-behavioral therapy approaches (and, as you may already know, I favor this type of therapy rather than psychodynamic/Freudian-influenced approaches). The most recent thing I’ve done that somewhat followed the TTL model was training for the marathon. 🙂
Is this Brock? Either way, I’d love to hear your current before and after bodyweight and lifts. If you have a minute, please drop me an email and let me know!
Here’s the text of my email to Tim, in case anyone is interested in the summary:
I didn’t do any fancy body fat percentage metrics, but my start weight was about 197 and my end was 207. I definitely got visibly fitter, not sure how much muscle was gained vs. fat lost.
My exercises varied a bit, but once they settled in, my start was:
(Exercise reps weight)
Bicep curls on lat machine 5 70
Calf raises 14 210
Central lat pulldowns 3 180
Chest press 3 140
Lat pulldowns 4 180
Leg curls 6 110
Low rows 7 180
Seated leg press 7 210
Shoulder press 6 100
Tricep pulldowns 2 60
Weighted sit-up 21 50
My end was:
Bicep curls on lat machine 6 70
Calf raises 17 210 (machine max wt)
Central lat pulldowns 6 180
Chest press 7 140
Lat pulldowns 4 180 (at one point I peaked at 6 but then I got sick)
Leg curls 7 120
Low rows 6 190
Seated leg press 16 210 (machine max wt)
Should press 4 120
Tricep pulldowns 1 70
Weighted sit-up 36 50
It’s worth noting the stats were higher at the end of september, but then I got a bad cold and was pretty weak. You can see all the stats on my log if you’d like:
Thanks for your interest.
PS. I could find *no* evidence on the ‘protein uptake downregulation’ thing. Do you have any?
Wonderful experiment, Brock. I just nudged you from Edison to find out how it’s faring.
Hey – did you get a response from Tim? It’s cool that he commented 🙂
An assistant of his did respond. I suspect it was an assistant that posted the original comment, collecting data for his new book, in true 4HWW fashion.
Thanks for the post Brock. I follow Tim’s work also. I’m looking into try this program if nothing else, as an experiment to see if it works as a ‘hard gainer’. I haven’t found much on â€˜protein uptake downregulationâ€™ either. So what did you do for your ‘cheat day’. Slightly confusing because in a regular intense nutrition program they’d double calorie intake instead of drop it calories by 50%.
Regardless, appreciate the post.