Thursday, August 26, 2010

High Reps vs Low Reps For Muscle Gain: Roundtable With The Experts

Do high reps build more muscle than low reps? This is the first hot topic up for discussion in this upcoming series of roundtables where I bring together the brightest minds in nutrition and weight training science.

Besides the original four horsemen, that is yours truly, Lyle McDonald, Alan Aragon and Borge Fagerli, I have invited James Krieger to the table.

Lyle and Alan hardly need any introduction but what about these other cats?

James Krieger has a very impressive set of credentials and his input today will be very valuable due to his experience as a published scientist. He's done a great deal of research and published several peer-reviewed articles on weight training. Most known among these is his extensive research on single vs multiple sets of resistance exercise for muscle hypertrophy.

Some of you might not be familiar with Borge but that's just because I, Lyle and Alan prefer to keep him a secret and use him for fun and profit. Just kidding... Borge is the CEO of MyRevolution, a Norwegian supplement company and fitness community. He is also a respected fitness and bodybuilding coach with a tremendous amount of real world experience and many interesting ideas. If you're looking for a new and effective way to approach weight training, check out his Myo-reps protocol.

Today we'll discuss a study that has been causing quite a stir in the fitness and bodybuilding community since it was published two weeks ago.

Read the free full text version here: Low-Load High Volume Resistance Exercise Stimulates Muscle Protein Synthesis More Than High-Load Low Volume Resistance Exercise in Young Men

My reflections and summary of the study, and questions to the attendees, follows below.


A recent study showed that 4 sets of leg extensions to failure at 30% 1RM was superior to 4 sets to failure at 90% 1RM.

In practical terms, this seems to suggest that you'd get more muscle growth from squatting with 120 lbs for high reps than squatting with 360 lbs for low reps if your 1RM squat is 400 lbs.

This was not a perfect study by any means. For example, there was a tremendous gap in terms of work volume between the 30% and the 90% group (96 reps vs 20 reps). It would also have been more interesting to see a middle group in the 75-85% range (6-10 reps), rather than only comparing extremes.

Still, I think the results came as a surprise to many, including me. Various theories and explanations for the results has been voiced, such as the lower body being more responsive to higher reps, as well as problems with the study methodology itself (sample size being too small).

Nevertheless, at a first glance this study seems to suggest that the "pump 'n' tone"-routines we so often poke fun at are more effective than lower reps - at least when it comes to leg training.

Anecdotally, I've actually had my best results from leg training with 20-rep breathing squats. However, breathing squats are a different animal in the sense that you are not performing reps in a continuous motion. Rather it basically ends up being a rest-pause protocol with your 10-12RM weight. Not quite the same as working with your 30% 1RM weight. In recent years, I have shied away from high rep leg training since I require a long time to recover from it. The DOMS is infernal and going over 15 reps on lower body movements is an overall unpleasant experience.


1. Given the issues with this study, do you think the author's conclusion, that high rep leg training is more effective than low rep leg training, may be right?

2. What are your own experiences regarding leg training? Do you think that legs should be trained in a different fashion than the upper body for optimal muscle growth? This study looked at leg extensions, which target the quads. How about glutes, calves and hamstrings?

James Krieger

1. I don't think the authors can make such a broad conclusion, given the study design. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that 4 sets of failure at 30% 1RM stimulates more protein synthesis than 4 sets of failure at 90% 1RM. This result doesn't surprise me given the much greater volume of work in the 30% 1RM group.

I know Stu Phillips personally and worked with him on a protein advisory committee. He does very good work, but I'm surprised they did this study in the way they did. Kumar et al (2008) already have a study like this, and it was better in the sense that they kept the volume load equal between conditions. They also did leg extensions, and they found an increasing protein synthesis response as you went from 20% 1RM to 60% 1RM, with no further increase beyond that.

However, when you look at Kumar's data, the young subjects showed a trend for increases up to 75% 1RM until a plateau was finally reached; I think the lack of significance in the 60-75% range was more an issue of statistical power. So that data would indicate that the middle range that is so popular likely is optimal for hypertrophy.

Another problem with this particular paper is they only looked at protein synthesis. However, hypertrophy is the result of protein synthesis exceeding protein degradation. Really you need to look at net protein accretion and not just the synthesis response in isolation. Without protein degradation data it's really hard to say which one did better.

I think this paper does indicate that there is value to "light" days, and you can obviously stimulate protein synthesis even if you're not using heavy weights. I think too many people are caught up in the notion that every work out must be heavy to get benefit out of it.

2. In terms of legs, there certainly is a lot of anecdotal evidence that people tend to do better with slightly higher repetitions and volumes for the legs. However, I don't know if anyone has truly put this to the test experimentally. Intuitively, it makes sense...since you're walking around on your legs all day, it takes a bigger stimulus to the system to see an increase in protein synthesis. Like you, Martin, I've tended to do better with legs in the 10-12 rep range while better with upper body in the 6-10 range.

Borge Fagerli

1. There are a few caveats with this study. The first and most obvious one is that it was a short-term study only looking at markers for protein synthesis, to conclude anything at all you would need a longer-term study showing actual muscle accretion. There are studies showing how endurance training can lead to rebound MPS (muscle protein synthesis or myofibrillar protein synthesis), but you don’t really see any crazy hypertrophy in these protocols over time, do you?

Another one is the mode of exercise. Leg extensions are quite a different animal than e.g. squats or leg presses and I would like to see someone surviving 4 true sets to muscular failure with squats at 30% of 1RM.

With leg extensions, you can keep constant tension on the muscle, and thus reach a hypoxic state from the occlusion effect. We know that the occlusion effect leads to higher fiber recruitment and more metabolic/oxidative stress. So you really have to look at ‘effective’ reps in this protocol.

The first reps of the first set are essentially just work needed to reach this state of higher recruitment, the latter sets will reach higher recruitment levels earlier. This is exactly what my Myo-reps protocol is based on, and you would probably need do a lot less total reps to achieve the same effect, if the rest periods between sets were 10-20 seconds instead of 3 minutes. The 30%FAIL condition probably ended up around 50-70 ‘effective’ reps, whereas all 20 reps in the 90% group were ‘effective’ from a recruitment point of view.

All in all, the study shows that there is value in metabolic type training, but with the lack of actual long-term measurements of hypertrophy, I wouldn’t disregard the heavy stuff we all know works for getting big and strong. And remember the Goto et al study where the combination group of heavy + light had even better results than the heavy or light group. So do both.

2. Yes and no. You still need heavy progressive loading with sufficient volume and frequency to get a muscle to grow. The problem with legs is that it’s painful to push yourself closer to failure, and most people (yes, me too) will usually chicken out just when it begins to hurt, way before hitting true failure. And be rewarded with chicken legs for the effort.

For safety reasons, I wouldn’t want people to get stuck with their knees behind their ears in the bottom position of a leg press or at the bottom of a squat with their spines sticking out of their back, either.

So while you can argue that legs probably need more work since you walk around on them all day, it’s also a matter of doing more reps and sets to compensate for the inability to get enough ‘effective’ or ‘quality’ reps in any given set.

Alan Aragon

1. I'll echo Borge's mentioning that this was an acute study whose long-term effects are strictly speculative. Additionally, I'm baffled about the load intensities the authors chose to compare (30% vs. 90% of 1RM), especially for the purpose of investigating what might ultimately be better for hypertrophy (as opposed to performance measures like strength or endurance).

A detailed literature review by Wernbom et al suggested that 60-85% of 1RM tends to be the most effective at causing hypertrophy [1]. Specifically for the quads, they found the highest rates of hypertrophy occurred at intensities over 60% of 1RM. Importantly, this review examined the results of research lasting well beyond the acute phase, where measuring changes in muscular cross-sectional area are possible.

This conflict of data makes the present study's short-term outcomes highly questionable. In principle, this reminds me of an acute study by Deldicue et al, who found that fasted training increased molecular markers of anabolism to a greater extent than training in a fed state [2]. While this data is interesting, we just can't firmly conclude anything concrete from it. It's still speculative whether or not these were merely compensatory responses to a suboptimal protocol.

2. This varies with the individual, but I've found that it's best to go with a combination of what's been seen to work in the field as well as the research, taking sets to fatigue at roughly 6-12 reps (although Wernbom et al suggest 8-10 is best for the quads, which is appx 60-85% 1RM). As long as an uptrend in strength (increases in reps and/or load) is maintained over time in this range, hypertrophy will occur.

Bodybuilders have traditionally stuck to higher rep ranges for quads, regularly going into the teens. However, I think the increases in mass are far more attributable to progressive overload with sufficient total volume rather than the rep range per se.

For building hamstring and glute mass, I haven't personally experimented with reps outside of conventional ranges. For calves, I hate to sound fatalistic, but think that it's a matter of having picked the right parents. This is not to say that calves are impossible to bring up if they happen to suck; it's just that in my observations, people predisposed to crappy calves tend to struggle equally regardless of the load intensity imposed.

1) Wernbom M, et al. The influence of frequency, intensity, volume and mode of strength training on whole muscle cross-sectional area in humans. Sports Med. 2007;37(3):225-64.

2) Deldicue L, et al. Increased p70(s6k) phosphorylation during intake of a protein-carbohydrate drink following resistance exercise in the fasted state. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2009 Nov 18.

Lyle McDonald

1. Well, after Blade and Alan's comments, I don't really have much to add to the topic. I too would have liked to have seen an intermediate intensity group (either matched or not matched for volume, possibly both). Certainly other work (e.g. the Wernbom review that Alan referenced) suggests that intermediate intensities are probably better than either extreme.

As well, with an acute study like this, it's hard to say what the long-term results would be in terms of growth. I agree that it is at least interesting given the bias most have towards heavier work for hypertrophy.

2. Empirically, many do seem to think that legs (or at least quads) respond better to higher reps. I have to think that part of this may be biomechanical especially in terms of squats. For some people, heavy low-rep squats turn into a pseudo good morning meaning that it's mainly low back stress and/or more stress thrown onto the glutes and hamstrings. For those people, higher reps allow a more upright torso meaning the opposite: less low back stress and more thrown onto the quads.

In keeping with that, Olympic lifters (for whom high reps in squats are 5) usually have pretty decent sized legs; of course most of them are also built to squat (and squat high bar).

Beyond that, like Alan, I can't say I've ever paid much attention to training glutes or hamstrings differentially to quads, typically using some mix of lower rep work (5-8, sometimes lower) for heavy compounds and following it up with additional higher rep work (10-12 or more) on more isolation work.

I do agree that 20 rep squats can be amazing but as you point out, it's more of a heavy rest-pause approach than what was being described in the paper in question.



1. 4 sets to failure at 30% 1RM increases protein synthesis more than 4 sets to failure at 90% 1RM. This is not surprising given the much greater training volume in the 30% 1RM group. The 30% 1RM group almost did five times as many reps as the 90% 1RM.

However, as everyone was quick to point out, only looking at protein synthesis does not tell the full story. A better marker for muscle growth would be protein balance/accretion (protein synthesis - protein breakdown), but in this study protein breakdown was not measured.

2. Other studies clearly show that a higher load is more effective in terms of increasing protein synthesis. James mentioned a study* which looked at intensities ranging from 20%-90% 1RM (i.e. 27 reps to 5 reps), suggesting the 75% 1RM load provided maximum MPS with no further increase beyond that.

* Read the free full text version here: "Age-related differences in the dose–response relationship of muscle protein synthesis to resistance exercise in young and old men"

3. It's very important to think long term and not get focused on the short term. It's also important to consider the "downstream effects" of every training session.

For example, consider squats using

German Volume Training (10 x 10 at 60% 1RM, 1x/week)


Starting Strength (3 x 5 at 82-84% 1RM, 2-3x/week).

Lots of people have had success with the latter, very few with the former.

Even if a GVT squatting session increases protein synthesis more than a SS squatting session, there is no way you can do a GVT squatting session more than once a week. The absurd volume (100 reps is actually very close to the study we just discussed where subjects did 96 total reps) would also lead to whole body fatigue, predispose towards overtraining, hellish DOMS and negatively affect other lower body movements such as deadlifts.

Due to the crippling effect of GVT, properly cycled SS with 2-3x/week squatting wins out in the long-term; greater frequency and less negative downstream effects make up for a lower short term protein synthesis.

4. As a closing point, while this was an interesting study, the majority of the evidence still points to intermediate rep ranges being optimal for muscle growth.

5. As for our personal experiences, no one outright claimed greater results with either low reps or high reps exclusively. If anything, there was a tendency to favor intermediate rep ranges or using low(er) and high(er) reps in combination.

Highlights and take away lessons

James: "I think this paper does indicate that there is value to "light" days, and you can obviously stimulate protein synthesis even if you're not using heavy weights. I think too many people are caught up in the notion that every work out must be heavy to get benefit out of it."

Good point which goes in line with my own experiments with high frequency training.

Borge: "The problem with legs is that it’s painful to push yourself closer to failure, and most people (yes, me too) will usually chicken out just when it begins to hurt, way before hitting true failure".

Very true. I can count the people I've seen squatting close to their limit in the 10 rep+ range on...two fingers.

Alan: "In principle, this reminds me of an acute study by Deldicue et al, who found that fasted training increased molecular markers of anabolism to a greater extent than training in a fed state [2]. While this data is interesting, we just can't firmly conclude anything concrete from it."

Alan points out that acute response does not predict long-term results. I've actually written an article about the study Alan mentions. Read: "Fasted Training Boosts Muscle Growth?"

Lyle: "For some people, heavy low-rep squats turn into a pseudo good morning meaning that it's mainly low back stress and/or more stress thrown onto the glutes and hamstrings. For those people, higher reps allow a more upright torso meaning the opposite: less low back stress and more thrown onto the quads."

Great point by Lyle. Some people just aren't made for squatting and are better off using the leg press as their main leg movement. Check out Lyle's article on this topic: "Squat vs Leg Press for Big Legs".


Hope you enjoyed and learned something new from this roundtable. There will be more in the future.

Check out some other roundtables I've participated in:

Dirty vs Clean Dieting Roundtable

Intermittent Fasting Roundtable

BCAA Roundtable

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Holy Grail Body Transformation Program Review

The Holy Grail Body Transformation Program

"Concurrent muscle gain and fat loss is the most difficult goal to achieve. That's why people call it the "Holy Grail"; because it's so elusive."

- Tom Venuto

Who is this book for?

Anyone seeking the most coveted goal of them all: losing fat while gaining muscle. Body recomposition.

What will I learn from it?

You will learn the theory and physiology behind body recomposition strategies and how to apply them in practice. The WHY and the HOW is covered in great detail.

Strong points

* Begins with an outstanding theoretical introduction to the topic.

* Tom's writing is very clean and easy to follow along. He does not get terribly repetitive either, which is a plus (this is otherwise all too common among fitness authors in general).

* The claims and the discussion regarding realistic expectations in the book are not overblown and features some real world examples. Same goes for Tom's ad copy. Going by the general standard in the industry, I'd say this is a very honest form of marketing. Look at this quote:

"But before you download the program or even read another word, I have to warn you. This not an easy goal to achieve and I have no miracles to offer you inside this new book. This is a serious and very strategic program for committed people who are analytical thinkers and hard workers". I can personally appreciate that kind of honesty, knowing that body recomposition requires more work than your general "bulk 'n' cut"-approach.

* The calorie and macronutrient-cycling strategies offered in the book are sound and I can definitely see them working in practice.

* Great value for a very low price-point at the moment (30 bucks until the "real launch" later this fall).

* I learned something new. More on this in the summary.

Weak points

* Tom still sticks by his 6-meals-a-day-setup. Since he's openly admitted that there is no physiological benefit of a higher meal frequency, I have no clue why he would at least not offer the option of fewer and larger meals. Who the hell has time to eat six times a day anyway?

* This is either a plus or a minus depending on how you look at it, but Tom offers different options with regards to cycling strategies and weight training routines. In my experience it's a minus. If it's one thing I've learned in my consulting business, it's to never provide the client with options. I make the decisions. Too many options equals angst and hesitation. I mean this in the context of training and calorie cycling specifically (naturally, food choices can be left to the client).

* One third of the main book consists of meal plans. Maybe not a bad idea for those with poor imagination but considering this book doesn't seem to target beginners, it seems like a waste of space. Space that could have been left to more useful stuff.

* I am in disagreement with Tom's cardio recommendations and consider them counterproductive. Especially if used in the context mentioned in the book. After weights, or 8 hrs after weights, is about the worst time to do cardio**. The research he cites to claim that moderate amounts of cardio can help muscle growth is also flat out wrong (or cherry-picked). However, to his credit, he does advise against high impact cardio like running.

** This is actually going to be the topic for my next article which I hope to get done next week. Stay tuned for my explanation.


The only reason I read this book was because Lyle asked my opinion of it. Don't get me wrong, I like reading and I like Tom, but considering my time is very limited these days I rarely make time for reading anything that isn't from PubMed. Anyway, Lyle thought it was a decent read, so I had no qualms giving it a read through. If Lyle thinks something is "OK", it's generally worth checking out.

And I'm glad I did, because this a very enjoyable book that I have no issues promoting. Like I told Lyle, it's a good book on it's own but "compared to the general standard out there it's even pretty damn good." I do have my gripes with it but much of it is related to how I personally prefer to do things (with intermittent fasting, training, and so forth).

I particularly liked that Tom managed to simplify a complex topic without dumbing it down too much. By presenting the various "X-Factors" and "X2-Factors" that make body recomposition more or less likely to occur - for example genetics, drugs, training status and body fat percentage - he gives the reader a clear understanding of the variables that determine body recomposition success. Along with his clean writing style and honesty throughout the book, it all goes down easily. Some fitness authors are a pain to read and can't deliver a coherent message without also endlessly rambling but Tom certainly doesn't have that problem.

I also picked up a new piece of knowledge, which I thought was fairly interesting (albeit not that surprising). You may have heard of the study where a bunch of overweight women lost a lot of weight (33 lbs) and gained muscle on 800 calories a day. It's very often cited as an example of "newbie magic", that initial honeymoon phase of a few months where weight training beginners can lose fat and gain muscle.

What's not often mentioned is that the subjects muscle mass actually decreased - the muscle growth was localized to the muscle group being trained (in this case the quads).

What we can learn from this is that targeted training for smaller muscle groups that don't get much, or enough, stimulation from compound movements, such as calves and maybe triceps and hamstrings depending on your leverages, should be part of your training regimen on a diet unless you want to risk muscle loss in those areas. Or conversely, if you want to shape your body type by reducing muscle mass in one area, you can skip targeted training for that muscle group during your diet.*

* Anecdote: I have personally experienced this phenomenon by neglecting targeted triceps training during my past diets and I definitely saw muscle atrophy of my triceps. Similarly, on my first diet I really got into running and ran a lot in terrain and hills. My calves actually grew from that, while I lost muscle mass overall (my diet and training was also retarded back then).

OK, that pretty much sums it up I guess. "The Holy Grail Body Transformation Program" is a good book by an author that never seems to disappoint.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Intermittent Fasting Blogs

I've seen lots of new bloggers reporting about their success with the Leangains approach to intermittent fasting, so I thought I'd add them here in case anyone wants to check them out.

Leangains results at SuperBootCampsBlog. Added April 7th.

Bodyrecomposition with Leangains. Added Dec 3rd.

Leangains: Martin Berkhan Means It. Added Dec 3rd.

Martin Berkhan and the Leangains way. Added Dec 3rd.

From fat to fit in 10 weeks with Leangains and paleo. Check out the before/after-pictures.

Cookie Monster tries Leangains and reports fantastic results. Young girl with killer body.

Tucker Redux: 50+ and shredded with the help of Leangains. Direct link to before/after's here.

The Paleo Powerlifter: Leangains before/after pictures and this post for strength results.

Diet Free Dieting: Ben & Jerry's fueled fat loss with the power of Leangains

Firth Fitness: Scorching through stubborn body fat with the Leangains approach

Train Now, Live Later: The Leangains Experiment

This list is far from complete and I'll keep adding blogs here continuously. If you want to join the list, e-mail me at martinberkhan at gmail dot com, or PM me on Facebook or Twitter. Send me the link to the post where you talk about your experiences.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Leangains Pre-Contest Training

Here's a video of Andreaz Engström, current nordic bodybuilding champ and client of mine, preparing for the national championship in Athletic Fitness 2010.

Andreaz does about half of his training fasted. Heavy compound movements predominantely, no pikachu-stuff. He's about 6 weeks out here and strong as ever.

This is a new challenge for Andreaz and the demands are a bit different than bodybuilding. Athletic Fitness is an event where participants are judged for their physique, and their performance in body weight chins and dips, in rowing (the distance covered in 60 seconds), and on an obstacle course (time to finish). Performance is of a greater priority than perfecting the carb load and sodium/water manipulation in the final week. However, I'm confident that he will do very well.

And here's a recent pic about 4 weeks out. As you can see his conditioning is on point.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Leangains Meals Part Two

Time for some more Leangains certified meals from myself, clients and Leangains fans from all around the globe. Click the hyperlinked names after the headings if you want to see the person behind the meals.

Post-workout meal

XXXL roast beef platter with potatoes. This is a meal I've been eating a lot lately. I get the roast beef fresh from the deli since that pre-packaged stuff usually makes me bloated as hell (all pre-packaged and conserved meats are loaded with sodium). Plus fresh roast beef is juicier and tastes a lot better.

500 g roast beef
500 g potatoes fried with 200-300 mushrooms and half an onion.

I roll the roast beef slices up like wraps with the potato mix stuffed in between. Might dip it in some ajvar but I really enjoy the taste au naturale as well.

After that I usually go for one of my berry bowls.

Shown above is 1 kg strawberries with some vanilla protein milk, cacao and sweetener.

I might also go for some protein pudding.

60-90 g chocolate flavored milk protein isolate mixed with 1.5 dl water for each 30 g/1 dl powder. I enjoy this with some full-fat whipping cream. Might put this in the fridge for an hour - makes a decent substitute for ice cream.

Post-workout meal (Robert)

Robert likes oatmeal and pizza post-workout.

100 g oatmeal with 200 g chopped apple, milk, cinnamon and sweetener.

These are made from:

62 g tortilla bread
20 g tomato pure
65 g cheese (5% fat)
50 g ham
30 g shrimps
20 g mushrooms
40 g tomato
Fresh basil and oregano

Comes out to about 392 kcal, 44 g protein, 32 g carbs and 9 g fat per pizza. Pretty damn good macros for a pizza.

Post-workout meals and a rest day meal (David AKA Mr Shreds)

David enjoys chicken, broccoli and potatoes with extras.

And hamburgers with fries.

English breakfast on rest days.

Cheesecake mastery level 2 (Gary)

Gary celebrated the end of his cut with one hell of a cheesecake. This made me painfully aware that I need to sharpen my own cheesecake mastery skills to keep rivals like Gary at bay. I haven't had cheesecake for a good while now, unfortunately.

This beast weighed in at 2.7 kg.

God damn, that looks so good.

Rest day meal (Marjan)

This is what Marjan eats just before hitting the sack.

400 g beef with fried mushrooms
250 g cottage cheese
100-150 g blackberries

Post-workout and a rest day meal (Bob)

An evil insulin-spiking meal is what Bob likes to eat post-workout. No wonder he's fat.

400 g cereal
3 scoops whey protein mixed in blender

3 lbs of gyros meat is another one of Bob's favorites.

Cheeseburger mastery level 4 (Josh)

Josh is well known for his cheeseburger mastery and was kind enough to share some of his secrets with us.

"Start your session by sitting in an upright position and place both hand on the table. This will prepare your body and mind for the task at hand" says Josh.

"There is much debate about the optimal meal drink in cheeseburger mastery circles. The old guard tends to favor milk shakes but coke is quickly gaining popularity among the younger and more liberal masters. Unfortunately, I will not provide details about what I'm drinking here - I'm saving that for the book."

"It is crucial to employ a rest period of 15 seconds every 8th chewing. Beginners typically go at it too fast and risk burnout."


Ok, that's all for today. If you have you have a favorite meal you like to eat on your Leangains plan, you can send them over and I might include them in future food posts. Just make sure they follow the general guidelines for rest and training day meals, and ideally include some measurements the way I've done here. I'd appreciate your contribution.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Definition of Lean Gains

It's time for another success story. I'm sitting on tons of these. People are getting amazing results following the Leangains guide and I'm stoked to see success stories dropping in by the dozen. This one is pretty damn impressive.

I was quite pleased with my results after an intermittent fasting style "bulk" back in 2006. I gained about 20 lbs of weight in a little more than three months. When I did the math, I came to the conclusion that the ratio of muscle:fat gain was approximately 2:1, meaning 67% of the weight gained was muscle.

What's a standard ratio of fat and muscle gain for the average weight trainer with a non-retarded diet and training routine? Based on the DXA readings I've seen from some folks that have been tracking this, I'd say about 50-60% of the weight gain is typically muscle. With that in mind, I certainly didn't complain. Even though I did gain some fat, I started out very lean and ended up lean - with a lot of extra meat on my bones. Heck, my results after that bulk inspired the name of this site (which is a tad ironic, since most people are using my approach to cut).

However, my results pale in comparison to those of Tanner Maluchnik. Without futher ado, I'll just let him tell you his story.

The definition of lean gains

"Though I personally have not consulted Martin on my IF approach, I have learned everything from him by reading his blog from start to finish including a majority of the comments.

A little over 6 months ago I started eating paleo nutrition style, I was sitting around 170lbs of a short (5'6") and stocky muscle and fat. Due to personal reasons, I stopped working out and eating very clean paleo style. I dropped my weight down to an unhealthily 135lbs in a matter of a couple months. Tons of muscle mass as well as fat dropped off while following the paleo nutrition lifestyle along with my own form of intermittent fasting - as in, I ate whenever I felt like it. Which was like once a day probably only consuming 800-1200 calories at most. I felt excellent from eating the clean paleo foods but I knew this was just not an healthy lifestyle, being sedentary and eating so little. No matter how clean.

Tanner at about 170 lbs back in October. This was before he dropped a ton of weight by undereating.

A little over 3 months ago I decided to get back into my passion. Strength training and nutritrion. Throughout my life since 7th grade I have always been in some form of strength training program for baseball, football and hockey. Then in college I decided to join the cheerleading squad for a large Big 10 University and was in decent shape through all of that. So my base and knowledge of many different routines, styled to quite a few different sports and activities, was there.

However, I decided to pick up a few books, specifically Supertraining, Starting Strength , The New Rules of Lifting, and also read Martin's entire blog (could not afford his consultation at the time), Alan Aragon's work, and Lyle McDonald's work.

I devised my own strength training program of sticking to the basic compound movement: squats, deadlifts, standing overhead military, bench press, incline press, and bent-over rows. A lot of what I do I learned from Martin as well in the sense that I do not worry about the accessory exercises and focus on compound movements. However I am not currently on a high-intensity approach. I train fasted with 10g of BCAAs beforehand (per Martin's recommendations and research study he provided) and have never felt stronger.

Deciding to pick up strength training again was a wise choice...

I devised my own nutrition program based on what I learned from Martin, Alan, and Lyle. The paleo lifestyle had its merits while I could afford it, but at the moment I find that I am not sensitive to grains, nor carbs, and find my strength and weight climbing up nicely in a high carb/high protein/low-moderate fat routine. I strongly believe the intermittent fasting approach provides wonderful insulin sensitivity with its nutrient partitioning effects.

I came into the intermittent fasting approach from a different perspective than a lot of others on this approach as I wanted to put on as much weight as fast as possible while limiting body fat gain.

While going from 140 lbs to my current weight of 164 lbs in a little over 65 days, there has been no increase in pant sizes and no increase using two different body fat calipers (Jackson-Pollock 3 Point skinfold measure).

I eat tons of "unhealthy" stuff such as sugary cereals (just love em), lots and lots of plain bagels, pasta, lots of protein, and some healthy fats. My post-workout meal is around 2500 calories with around 300g carbs and lots of protein. After that, I eat whenever I am hungry again which is usually within the hour or two.

If you want to see some of the psychological and physical benefits I had on intermittent fasting before my recent mass building phase, I actually did a blog post on intermittent fasting on my blog. Some of the guidelines in that post have changed since I have changed my approach to intermittent fasting a little bit.

I can truly attribute a lot of my progress to what I have learned from Martin at and am thinking of setting up a consultation with him whenever I can afford it.

I am now at 164 lbs at a little over 65 days from the first picture. I have never had abs before intermittent fasting but the top 4 are showing through on this lean mass building phase. The abs are solid from top to the bottom from just strictly heavy deadlifts, squats, weightup pushups and chinups. I seem to actually have leaned out a bit as well, which I guess sounds crazy. Over 20 lbs of lean mass AND body fat loss in a little over 60 days possible? The only explanation in my mind is the intermittent fasting approach and my previous base and years of strength training. I am also quite an easy gainer if I incorporate heavy weights."

- Tanner Maluchnik

24 lbs of muscle?

I asked Tanner about his strength stats before and after the weight gain, and here's what he said:

" Squats - My favorite exercise (deep squats)
Before - 135 x 10
Currently - 315 x 6 - Just got out of a new gym today hitting that, when I get to around 6 to 8 reps I will add 10lbs to lifts like squats, deadlifts, bench.

Bench Press - I was struggling on progress here so switched up my workout routine to include two bench sessions a week.
Before - 135 x 10 - was a struggle at first
Currently - 245 x 10

Deadlifts - Second favorite exercise
Before - 135 x 10
After - 335 x 4

Standing Overhead Press - Least favorite exercise
Before - 65 x 6-10
After - 160 x 8

Barbell Bent Over Rows
Before - 85 x 6-10
After - 160 x 10

Chins - Without weights to gauge strength since my own bodyweight was increasing week by week
Before - 8
Now - 27

Before - 30
Now - 85 "


Needless to say, Tanner had jaw dropping results following the Leangains approach with a few modifications of his own. 24 lbs of muscle, probably more since he looks leaner in the most recent picture, is almost unheard of.

However, it's important to have in mind that Tanner started out fairly emaciated and untrained. With that in mind, he had a lot of room for improvement. The more muscle you have, the slower the gains will be, and vice versa. I've seen similar results (rapid weight gain, most of it muscle) in beginners, and it's not a stretch to put Tanner in that category. Once he upped his calorie intake and started weight training, he blew up. The fact that he had prior weight training experience, from before his undereating phase, certainly might have helped.

Also, a short comment on the paleo diet for muscle gaining. Tanner's experience with the paleo diet should not be interpreted as him being anti-paleo. However, some people have a hard time getting sufficient calories in when adhering to exclusively paleo-based foods. For that reason, they ultimately fail to gain any appreciable amount of muscle mass - especially in combination with intermittent fasting. Personally, I don't have such a problem. I can eat enough meat, veggies and berries to satisfy a small village if I have to.

By the way, for another example of rapid muscle gain, check out Neto's results. He too gained a lot of muscle once he upped his calorie intake after a very long diet stint.

And whenever someone says "ya can't gain muscle with fasting"...just direct them here.

My name is Martin Berkhan and I work as a nutritional consultant, magazine writer and personal trainer.

Welcome to the Internet's leading resource on intermittent fasting and all things related.

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