Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Definition of Lean Gains Part Two


Time for another Leangains success story.

Success stories are emailed to me from people all across the globe and everyone has been using the simple but effective intermittent fasting guidelines I've outlined in "The Leangains Guide." 

This success story is from Spencer. Just like Tanner's success story, it is an excellent example of muscle gain without the chunk.

The Definition of Lean Gains Part Two: Spencer

"After spending two years in a relationship, I had let myself get rather chunky. As a fresh single man, I decided it was time to get back into shape. I started lifting again and focused on some cardio. After a couple months I had lost around 15-18lbs, and the result of that quick cut is this first 'before' picture."

Spencer at 183 lbs and 8-9% body fat (my estimate).

"I was happy with my results, but knew I had to pack on some muscle since I was looking kind of small. Right around the exact time that this "before" picture was taken, I had somehow stumbled upon What a coincidence this was because I was in need of finding a way to put muscle on while gaining the least amount of fat possible (I didn’t want to throw away the hard work I had just put in to lose that fat). All I can say is, damn, I am glad I had found this."

"After briefly reading a post on the site, I knew that Martin was someone that’ll provide much value to the fitness community. Everything I had read was backed by science, and it was as straightforward as it could be. I’m an open-minded person so I love to try new things. I continued to read the blog for a couple more hours until I had enough knowledge and understanding to create a schedule for myself that would follow the Leangains method."

Spencer seven months later at 195 lbs and 7-8% body fat. 

"I basically followed the guide, and kept it as simple as possible. In my opinion, simplicity is the key to this method. If you over think and over-analyze every little detail, you are just going to frustrate yourself. Follow the damn guide and keep it at that. Martin has outlined pretty much every detail you need to know in order for this to work."

"Well, after following this new lifestyle I had adopted, it has proved itself over and over that it really is an effective way of dieting. My strength has risen higher than it has ever been, my body fat percentage is lower than it’s ever been, and I feel better than I’ve ever felt. This is something that just becomes a part of you; I could never see myself not doing this."

"I still have a long ways to go, but with the knowledge and information Martin shares with us, I am pretty damn confident that I’ll achieve all my fitness goals. Thank you, Martin for the time and effort that you’ve dedicated to this community. It really is life changing if you believe in it."

- Spencer


Before stats, July '10. First picture. 6'1" 183lbs. Estimated 1RM:

Bench: 214 lbs
Pull-Ups: body weight x 8
Deadlifts: 253 lbs
Squats: 229 lbs

After stats, Jan '11. Second and third picture. 195 lbs. Estimated 1RM:

Bench: 320 lbs (+106 lbs)
Pull-ups: body weight x 25 (+17 reps) (I do weighted pull/chin-ups now, though)
Deadlifts: 375 lbs (+122 lbs)
Squats: 379 lbs (+150 lbs)


From my perspective it looks like Spencer lowered his body fat in the process, but it's also possible that it's unchanged from the first picture. He seems to have more of a tan here and the lighting in the first picture smoothes him out a bit. In either case, a lean weight gain of 12 lbs in seven months is very impressive.

It should be noted that some part of his muscle can be attributed to muscle memory. Spencer says that he was training regularly between 2006 and 2008, but adds that...

"Some of my gains are definitely from muscle memory, but I have exceeded my strength from 2008 by a substantial amount. I am feeling and looking better than I ever have, and it only took me about 8 months instead of 2 years. My knowledge with Leangains/IF, and some other stuff I have learned throughout this time has given me much more focus on the goals I want to achieve with bodybuilding."

Quote from Spencer's thread at

12 lbs of Lean Mass?

It's important to note that the raw weight difference between before-and-after-pictures rarely reflect true lean muscle gain. It's not uncommon to see non-functional weight gain of about ~1% when going from dieting to maintenance, and another 1% on top of that from maintenance to a slightly hypercaloric diet. I see this quite often with my clients.

The implication of this being that a 185 lbs guy might find himself gaining 4-5 lbs within the first weeks of a muscle gaining phase, most of which is solely the result of increased muscle glycogen stores, body hydration, and more stomach content. The gain can be more or less dramatic depending on the carb content of your diet during the fat loss phase versus the maintenance and muscle gain phase.

Just a little something to think about and to put things in perspective. And perhaps something to prevent you from freaking out when you find yourself gaining more weight faster than what is reasonable when you transition from fat loss to maintenance and/or bulking.

Qualitative Weight Gain

A key lesson people should take away from Spencer's success story is the rate of his weight gain. It works out to less than 0.5 lbs per week, which is quite far from the often recommended 1 lb per week during bulking.

In my experience, aiming for about 2 lbs per month is much more reasonable for most people with some training experience (i.e. an intermediate trainer). For advanced trainers, i.e. those close to their theoretical maximum muscular potential, 1 lb per month is a good rate if maintaining low body fat is high on the priority list. 

Stay on the look out for more success stories. I have a whole pile of them stacked up. And yes, I will switch it up a bit; instead of ripped young guys, I'll feature a female and a Type 1 Diabetic up next.

If you've had success with the Leangains approach to intermittent fasting, and would like to share your results with my readers, feel free to send me your success story. Your results have the potential to inspire and motivate others.

P.S. There was an issue with subscriptions a while back. In short, subscribers did not get notified when I updated the site. It's fixed now though, so feel free to subscribe if you would like new content sent to your email or RSS reader the second it's out.


Anonymous said...

I have lost from 92kg to 82so far
another 10 kg to go before i can post my picture.

slowly but surely!

Anonymous said...

Yes, i'd like to see a female success story please!

Anonymous said...

What is Spencer's age?

Armi Legge said...

Hiya Martin!

I'm a 16yr old triathlete who has noticed some massive improvements since implementing IF in my training. I'm about 5% body fat, and just wanted to thank you for all your work. It's made a huge difference:)

Anonymous said...

Wow great progress, what were macros on workout and off days? what did your training routine look like?

Andy Smith said...

I have started doing IF and want some really good lean mass added to my frame as I am only 135lbs at 5"11 and 18 years of age. I have trained for long distance running recently and now I want to get more mass. The IF is great, but I don't really know what workout programme to follow in the gym. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

I saw this thread on and this is what inspired me to try LeanGains. Over the course of 8 weeks, I lost 11 lbs (I aimed for very slow weight loss) and gained strength almost as fast as I did when I was dirty bulking

Natalia said...

Yes, bring the female success stories, plz!

Simen said...

Great progress!

Andy Smith: Check out Beyond Brawn, 5x5 or Reverse Pyramid Training (do a search here on the blog).

Martin: What's your recommendations on kcal per kilo bodyweight for lean gains? Would 35kcal * bodyweight be an OK target for a hardgainer, or do you recommend more?

big muscle said...

Thats an amazing transformation!
The kid went from being skinny and lean to BIG and lean! Awesome gains!

functionalphysique said...

I'm super curious to see the form of these 25 pull up's. Especially the last 5 reps.

Tara said...

I'd love to see some female transformations as well!

Anonymous said...

nice progress..martin, do you think spencer is pretty close to his max musc. potensial at the moment?

Anonymous said...

i would really like to see pictures from his legs also. Like legs and waist since he had increase so much.

Anonymous said...

I'd be pretty happy right now just looking like his "before" pictures! I have a very different idea of what chunky and out of shape would look like.

Nathan said...

Wow man, great progress.

I used to be a student of the school of thought that you need to bulk with HUGE amounts of calories to gain muscle. And that gaining 4 - 6 lbs of muscle per months is more than do-able.

Now that I'm gaining more experience I have to admit that I was wrong. Two pounds a month of lean muscle is great progress, and I'm going to be subscribing to the "clean bulk" route from now on for sure.


Terry said...

Wow, great stuff. Dude has pretty good genetics too, his hips are quite narrow and seems he's particularly blessed in the arms department.

Anonymous said...

Awesome this article gives me some great inspiration. For next success stories a lacto ovo vegetarian one would be great :)

Boris said...

That is a pretty sweet progress and with the time frame it looks durable and not artificial plus that is some really sweet genetics. Keep going like that and don't train for women and let yourself slack off when you get in a relationship. It shows the motivations are external when it should be internal because then it is lasting!

Cole G said...

Martin for a couple months I have been using your approach to try to loose as much bodyfat as possible while maintaining leanmass. My results have been pretty drastic for a short period of time while using IF (especially my lean mass levels). As a thank you, is there anywhere I can send you some photos and #'s? Thanks

top-secret helicopter said...

phenomenal.. great work

I would like to know if he used any pro-hormones, otc supps or AAS. Doesn't matter, just curious.

It's a loaded question so I'll just stick with the compliment, great work dude.

Anonymous said...


Can you suggest a protocol for those of us at a little higher bodyfat. I'm around 18% and want to get to 10% or less for good. No more bulking/cutting for me. Unless its a leangains bulk. I've read most of your material. I recall the leangains guide stating that it works best if you are already 12-10% BF. I'm currently 214lbs and I squat and deadlift
2 X BW. Don't want to lose strength but need to drop the fat. With leangains I have dropped about 8 lbs in the last six weeks while gaining strength. I'm taking it slow. Should I just follow the guide or do you have any suggestions for those of us with higher BF. I'm thinking more deficit days and limit carbs.



Von Diesel said...

I actually talked to this guy at and he's the reason why I started experimenting with IF.

Michael said...

Like Mike up there, I'd be interested to hear Martin's thoughts on someone in the ~15% bodyfat range looking to get down to the ~8-10% range. How can I leangains and the diet recommendations (+/- 20% calorie cycling, macro recommendations, etc) into my diet to get optimal results?

malpaz said...

YAY! female success story coming :)

T said...

I too would like to see a female success story, preferably one of an "older" female. Yes, we like to train and stay fit too. (wink)

I've had to put my rookie launch with Lean Gains on hold, due to a recent surgery, but I've been given the "all systems go" thumbs up...I'm ready to resume and get the best results I'm capable of.

Great success story. Impressive, Spencer.

Anonymous said...

Definite improvement, but this guy's "before" picture looks better than a lot of other people's "after" pictures. In other words, he was pretty "swole" to begin with.

Anonymous said...

Hey Martin I've followed your site for awhile now and LOVE my results 65lbs down and stronger than ever. I just wanted to add that I used to work for lifetime fitness where they try to stay on the "cutting edge" of things and i still recieve there monthly magazine and reading through it today i noticed they have an article on intermittent fasting and reference Brad Pilon and 'Martin Berkhan' from so congratulations to you on that your definately making some noise in the fitness community keep up the good work I look forward to future post.

Jay Raymond said...

When training using the the Lean Gains approach, are we seeking myofibrillar hypertrophy versus sarcoplasmic hypertrophy? If so, why? Also, athletic fitness competitions? What website can you find out more information about it directly?

Anonymous said...

First, congratulations to Spencer, your a sexy man !!

Martin, you know what I'd love to hear about ? A couple of unsuccessful stories, there seem to be plenty of success story for every training routine and diet under the sun, and they all seem to have one thing in common, the ability to combine a set of training principles in such a way as to produce a desired result.

Unfortunately there are a lot of people who end up getting just mediocre results at best, and fail to even come close to what sexy Spencer achieved.

A bit like how your mums' cooking rocks but when you try to cook the same thing, using the same ingredients it doesn't !

So would love to hear about what not to do, what stops ever story from not becoming a success story, (except from the obvious) there seems to be a little bit of magic missing , that little something that mums know when cooking, and that some people can do or instinctively know.

Train hard, eat well, get plenty of rest. Head down, execute the plan and repeat,repeat,repeat...?

Art Vandalay said...

I am having trouble believing the before and after figures for this individual. Despite being at a very-low bodyfat and having defined musculature, he was supposedly only able to do 8 pullups, and had a deadlift of only 225lbs.

I do not question the end figures, which are reasonable (although with an inflated bench and questionable low-end deadlift for a 25-repping 200lb man). However, the before figures appear unreasonably deflated.

Obviously full disclosure of his diet is not a reasonable request. Perhaps average calories and macros, or a sample meal?

Very interesting blog.

Ahmed said...

Great results, more proof of your program's efficiency Martin!

Spencer said...

To Art Vandalay,
My deadlift was reasonably low because I began working out in my garage. I did not perform any squats nor deadlifts for about 3-4months. Once, I got back into the gym with proper equipment, I began my regular routine.

This is why my bench is about 3-4 months ahead of my squats and deadlifts. My current lifting stats are more balanced:

320 lb (145.5 kg)
379 lb (172.3 kg)
429 lb (195.0 kg)

Anonymous said...


I was hoping to hear how you managed your diet, how did you manage to pack on the muscle without packing on the pounds(fat)?

Did you monitor your body fat and adjust the calories accordingly ? 

Anonymous said...

Martin, you're getting some love over at T-Nation today on Shelby Starne's 'Diet Duration' livespill, fyi.

Anonymous said...

i have a feeling the next sucsess story with a female will be kristine weber:)...Just take a look at here amazing progress here:

Darin said...


How about posting your routine-training days/split?

That would help a bunch.


Matt said...

Great work Spencer! phenomenal results from leangains.

One question though? How do you track such a small change in weight?

There are so many other factors that could cause a fluctuation that it would be difficult to gauge?


Chris said...

Nice work. I have a question though and I'm a bit confused about leangains and IF. Is it possible to gain muscle mass while on a calorie deficit? Was Spencer in a deficit? I've always wondered if leangains was a way to keep in a deficit but was confused when I see people gain mass with minimal or if any fat.

Anonymous said...

Hey Spencer,
Great job and inspiration! Can you give me an outline of what you ate during your weight gain transition? I want to gain 10 lbs but only if I can keep my abs.

Anonymous said...

Wow, most all of the questions from the comments could be answered by checking out the guide -

Michael said...

Hey there Martin.

Just to post again what I've said before: I just went through an InBody testing and concluded, once again, that I've gained 1kg of solid muscle over a year, and my strength levels are at least 150% higher than last year.

With that said, I'd love an opinion on Cardio, even though you've established your view. What do you think about cardiovascular health? How would I go about "caring for my heart" on Leangains? I have a friend who does light jogging two days a week and says it's for cardiovascular health, not straight out calorie burning cardio.

Since I've given up HIIT workouts due to having a greater emphasis on strength training and handbalancing, is there any way for me to "strengthen" my capillaries, as Mark Sisson says? rather, is there any point in this? Or is walking just too low to do anything for my cardiovascular health?

Anonymous said...

I would like to know how well this diet works for training such as crossfit, p90x, mma training, etc. Anyone have any first hand knowledge? Or Martin have you had any clients doing this type of training? Thanks for the help.

cryx said...

Hi Spencer. Just wondering what kind of set/rep you do? 5x5? Or did you do 3x8?

Anonymous said...

Hey, great stuff here, its a pleasure to read!

I was just wondering what would be a reasonable muscle gain per week (or rather month) for an average female??
Perhaps an average female intermediate training which has no gifted genetics, like me? :-)


tptrash said...

jacked athletic base, congrats!

James said...

Hey, I'm just about to get started with this and will be doing an early morning work out....For the sake of saving a bit of cash I would like to know one thing.....Can I get away with taking L-Leucine rather then BCAA's? Or should I just suck it up and front the extra cash? I'm not being tight, just I have to support my family and even an extra few bucks here n there are useful!

James said...

BCAA's Or Leucine that is the question ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm a male, 30, 5'6, 168lb with about 17% bf. I'd like to be around 180 but drop the bf to ~8%. That's a tough goal. Shall I drop fat first then attempt gain, or reverse, gain then lose the fat?

Also, for gain, how does one consume 4000+ kcals per day in just an 8 hour window and do so cleanly, i.e. keeping good macro nutrient ratios?

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

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