How Much Muscle Can You Gain In 6 Weeks?

Have you ever wondered how much muscle an average leader or executive could gain in 6 weeks?

This experiment is for business people who understand the value of fitness and strength but don’t have the time or inclination to live in a gym being a weightlifter.

What Can You Expect?

It’s worth pointing out that individuals will gain muscle and lose fat at different rates based on their particular situation:

  1. Out Of Shape and/or Overweight
  • Progress Rate: 1–2 lbs of muscle gain per week, 1–2 lbs fat loss per week
  • If this is you, the good news is you can expect to make rapid health and fitness progress which is highly motivating!
  1. Some Exercise But Could Lose 10–15 lbs
  • Progress Rate: 0.5–1 lbs of muscle gain per week, 0.5–1 lbs fat loss per week
  • If this is you, the good news is that just 2–3 changes to your diet and exercise can produce significant results in 8–10 weeks.
  1. Good Fitness, Seeking That Extra Edge
  • Progress Rate: 0.25–0.5 lbs of muscle gain per week, 0.25–0.5 lbs fat loss per week
  • If this is you, you have good nutrition and fitness habits and are aiming for elite performance.
  1. (Note: Progress Rates above are for men. Women will gain muscle at about half this rate due to having less testosterone.)

Most executives and leaders get the connection between health and productivity. In my experience 75% of them fall into Case #2 above (lose weight), with the remaining 25% falling into case #3 (elite performance). You can see some of their results here.

The main issue I see as a coach is that most people know what to do, but lack the motivation to do it.

What Is Lean Bulking?

Weightlifters “dirty” bulk (eat everything in sight) for 6 months of their training cycle then extreme diet (eat almost nothing) for several months to look good for 1 day (competition judging).

But for the rest of us, we’d be happy being lean and fit 365 days with only modest changes that fit into our busy work and travel schedules.

And while we can learn a lot from crowdsourcing weightlifters knowledge base, it’s not necessary, easy, or even healthy to follow their cycle of extremes muscle building (sometime known “bulking”) , followed intensive fat loss (sometimes know as “cutting”).

My approach in this experiment is use a more reasonable and manageable 70-day cycle consisting of 6 weeks of adding muscle, followed by 4 weeks leaning out. The Red/Green cycles in the diagram show the Healthy Executive cycle versus the weightlifters approach show in Blue/Orange.

Work Smarter, Not Fatter

While it is possible to add muscle and lose fat simultaneously, its not optimal. I’ve tried this approach for years, threading the needle between catabolism and anabolism. And while I’ve been happy with my results, at the same time I never felt I was reaching my fuller potential.

As it turns out, our body works optimally when it does once thing at a time (synthesize protein versus oxidize fat). Hence this experiment with a cyclic approach.

I set a goal of gaining 6 lbs lean muscle (154 to 160 LBM) and expect to gain 6 lbs of fat in the process (9.5% to 13%).

How To Build Lean Muscle

For this experiment the high level approach to building lean muscle mass looks like this:

  • Train 2x week
  • 1x high weight, low repetitions
  • 1x low weight, low repetitions
  • Add 350 calories a day
  • Maximize muscle protein synthesis (anabolic growth).
  • Cardio
  • Replace High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) with walking
  • The purpose of this is direct all of the bodies energy into new muscle growth

Why this programming is optimal is several lengthy articles in themselves (please drop me a note if you really want to know the detailed science and my system).

My Lean Bulk Results

Business people know that:

An ounce of experience is worth a ton of theory

This is why I provide you with exact details on how I achieve particular results. (I will NEVER recommend anything I have not personally verified first as my clients know).

Executive Summary

For this experiment I programmed my nutrition and training to gain 6 lbs lean muscle and 6 lbs fat in 6 weeks. You will see in the detailed data (below) that I gained 4.6 lbs lean muscle and 5.5 lbs fat.

I trained at 75% intensity and volume instead of 100%, so my lean muscle growth reflects this (6 lbs x 75% = 4.5). The reason for the lower intensity was I used several new-to-me exercises and wanted to develop good technique and avoid injury. I suspect that at 100% intensity and volume I would have gained the full 6 lbs.

Even though I gained a little less fat than expected, I think I could have kept this number even lower (see Lessons Learned below). One interesting observation (see graphs and tables below) is that the fat accumulated almost exclusively around the stomach area. This is a genetic trait for men — the dreaded “pooch”. It turns out we have more alpha-2 receptors and not very many beta-1,2 receptors around our stomachs which makes it easy to deposit fat there but harder to mobilize it (for women these receptors are located more on the thighs). This is why our pants or belt is a great early warning signal that we are gaining/losing weight.

Body Changes During Lean Bulk
Fat Accumulation During Lean Bulk

Detailed Lean Bulk Data

Note: You can see my exact food log for this experiment here or in my MyFitnessPal food diary.

Note: For my lean mass building program (exact logs here), I started out at 50% of my capability Week 1 and worked up to 100% intensity and volume by Week 6.

Lessons Learned

Pre-experiment I made upfront decisions that I thought were optimizations. A post-experiment review of the data shows they actually were mistakes:

  1. Avoid HIIT
  • I decided to stopped High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for 8 weeks.
  • My reasoning was the high fatigue HIIT generated in my legs would detract from ability to strength train my legs with maximum intensity.
  1. Eat All My Cardio
  • Normally I “eat half my cardio”.
  • That is, if I burn 400 calories I add 200 to my daily calorie total and “invest” the other 200 calories towards fat loss.
  • My reasoning was that I want to stay fully anabolic (protein synthesis for building muscle) and that any cardio deficit might make me catabolic (muscle loss).

Here’s what I should have done instead:

  1. Relax HIIT
  • In hindsight, I should have switched from HIIT to less demanding Lactate Threshold Training.
  • From: 3 x 8 @ 120% V02 Max
  • To: 1 x 12 @ 80% V02 Max
  • Schedule Lactate Threshold Training on rest days between strength training
  1. Eat Some Cardio
  • Instead of eating 100% of cardio deficits, keep a little of it (100–200 cals) towards fat loss maintenance.
  • I realize now that eating 1g protein per lb lean body mass (or 1 g per 1kg total body mass) will keep my strength training anabolic and protein synthesis high.
  • Even if heavy lifting or cardio were to deplete all my glycogen stores, the body will preferentially burn fat for fuel not muscle.
  • In the event unwanted catabolism did occur, this would be quickly noticed if strength levels plateaued.

Coming Next

  • How Much Fat Can You Lose In 4 Weeks?
  • Carb Cycling (a form of Intermittent Keto)

Originally published at The Healthy Executive.