After 3 months of Starting Strength (SS) and eating 3500 Calories per day, I’ve gained 16 pounds and apparently only 3 pounds of Lean Body Mass (LBM). However, I made decent gains on my lift weight. While I did not know my 1 rep max (1RM) for most lifts, I know my bench press 1RM went from 135 lbs. to 150 lbs.
While I certainly did not see the crazy gains reported by Tim Ferriss, I consider 16 pounds in 4 months (albeit mostly fat) to be a success of my efforts. More importantly, I’ve made gains in my base strength, which will help in future workouts.
I spent years in the gym and neither gained nor lost much strength, weight, fat, etc. After this experiment, I concluded that diet is as important, if not more important, than the workout. I aimed for 3000-3500 Calories per day with an emphasis on protein, fat, and water (you need water in excess to offset the massive intake of protein). I cycled on then off of creatine and L-Glutamine. To be honest, they didn’t seem to have much of an effect. To be fair, I don’t know if I was using them correctly. Here is a sample of my daily diet. I maintained this regimen 5 days per week and did my best to eat 3500 Calories on Saturday and Sunday.
The most important thing I learned was that saturated fat was necessary for your well being – especially if you’re taxing your body with heavy lifting.
3 days per week, I followed Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program as outlined in the original Starting Strength book. Because my fairly active hobbies over the past few years (Taekwondo, Swing Dancing) were so leg-centric, my upper body needed a lot more work. Using the lifting standards found here, I set my lifting goals for novice (2-6 months of strength training) in the 149-165 lbs weight class (my target body weight). I looked up my target lifting weight for each of the 5 major lifts in SS. Given these goals, I used this formula to calculate my gaols for 5 rep max (5RM) based on the 1RM goals. With the 5RM goals, I worked backward with this Starting Strength schedule so that my 5RM goals would be met by the end of April. The only exceptions were my deadlift and squat weights. I actually stopped increasing the weight for these two exercises once I hit my 5RM goals. I wanted to give my upper body a chance to catch up so that I didn’t end up with freakish tree trunk legs.
After I completed this entire routine (February – April), I tested my 1RM for all 5 lifts. I listed my final working weight (5 reps), 1RM goal, and 1RM actual tested weights:
These results put me in the novice category of the lifting standards, which means I met my goals for strength (and makes me extremely happy). I also closely monitored my weight throughout the whole process and graphed it against my body fat percentage. Body fat was measured using the 3-point Jackson/Pollock formula.
Interesting to note from this: I made the best gains in LBM during the first month, when I attempted Tim Ferriss’s workout. After that, all gains seemed to be fat. However, my strength noticeably improved. From this, I can conclude that muscle volume does not equal strength. However, because you need strength to make LBM gains, being strong is definitely important. As a result, I actually recommend doing the opposite of what I did – build strength first using a routine like Starting Strength then moving to mass building (which are slightly different routines/theories).
Finally, I looked at weight gain versus sleep. The gain of weight per day is measured and plotted against my sleep for that night.
While it seems fairly random, it appears that biggest gains in weight were made after 7+ hours of sleep and most losses were made when I got 6 or less hours of sleep. This makes sense, but I wanted to see how much difference it makes. I would like to spend more time analyzing sleep vs. weight change, but I think common wisdom rules here: get as much sleep as possible. Period.
All in all, I think this experiment was a success. Phase 2 will consist of a cutting phase that focuses on conditioning – I would like to do the Zombie Run in October. In the future, I would like to do a 3 or 4 phase cycle throughout the year: Strength -> Bulk -> Conditioning -> Cut/Endurance. I will post the results as I try each phase. I hope this helps – get strong, stay healthy!