Visual Impact Muscle Building Results: Phase 1 | Not Your Average Fitness Tips

Visual Impact Muscle Building Results: Phase 1

I’ve long advocated Visual Impact Muscle Building as the best way to gain muscle mass.  After successfully going through the program a while back, I decided that now was the appropriate time to tackle it again in full force.  You can read my complete Visual Impact Muscle Building review but the brief overview is that the program is a 3 phase approach focused on strategically gaining muscle in the right places while avoiding fat gain.  Phase 1 is all about sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.  This involves working your muscles to failure in order to maximize growth.  The focus is on high reps with light weights in order to create cumulative fatigue.  This is coupled with a diet slightly above maintenance.  It’s not an approach where you’re encouraged to eat 4,000-5,000 calories per day.  Instead you focus on gradual muscle gain to limit any fat gain.

My Approach

While I could have performed Phase 1 exactly as laid out in Visual Impact, I chose to somewhat tweak the routine.  That’s the beauty of the program; there’s enough knowledge to let you customize the program to meet your own goals and constraints.  For me, I preferred to do 3 sets of 12 reps rather than perform the scheme outlined in Visual Impact.  I also performed different exercises than recommended and added in bodyweight training, rings, kettlebells, and boxing.  On the diet side, I chose to follow the Leangains approach as closely as I could.

Visual Impact Muscle Building Results

So what ultimately happened during the 2 months of phase 1?  As you can see from the above graph, I gained 7.75lbs.  I only gained 0.25lbs of fat meaning I gained 7.5lbs of lean muscle.  By definition, lean muscle includes everything but fat (i.e. water weight).  I was just as concerned with gains in skeletal muscle, which is what you increase through resistance training.  I gained 4lbs of skeletal muscle during the 2 months.  You can read more about Measuring Body Fat Percentage & Measuring Muscle Mass Percentage if you’re interested in how I track results.

Let’s dive a little further into my results.  You can see that I only gained 2lbs during the first month while losing 1.5lbs of fat.  Because of prior experience with “bulking” in which I ate way too much food and ended up gaining way too much fat, I was very cautious in adding calories to my diet.  I slowly added in foods like fruits and nuts and expanded portion sizes at dinner rather than drinking protein shake after protein shake like the old days.

As you can see, I started gaining a significant amount of weight during the second month, primarily muscle but with some fat gain as well.  This happened because I finally found a good balance of how many excess calories to eat.  Unfortunately, there was some fat gain during this time period due to the holiday season.  Thanksgiving combined with a holiday party resulted in some bad eating habits and far more cheat days than I wanted.

At the end of the 2 months, I was thrilled with the results since I gained a significant amount of weight and only a small amount of fat.  More importantly, my wife actually noticed.  About a month into the program, she commented on how muscular I looked.  That was due to “the pump” after I exercised though.  Right before Thanksgiving, she actually thought my abs were as defined as they’ve ever been which makes sense because I had lost some fat.  I’d remind you that this came during what was supposed to be a muscle building program…muscle gains are usually accompanied by fat gains.  Finally, after I told her the final results from Phase 1 of Visual Impact, she told me that it looked like all the weight gain was in my upper body.  That’s the other key feature of Visual Impact…I didn’t want to put on weight in my lower body or abs.  The 8lbs I gained was targeted toward my upper body.

Lessons Learned

1. Forgot about muscle building approaches that advocate eating thousands of calories above maintenance.  It’s better to take a slow approach and put on muscle without putting on fat.  Where you add the muscle is just as important as how much muscle you add.

2. Get really lean before starting a muscle building program.  The first time through Visual Impact, my results were good but not nearly this good.  By being near my lowest body fat level ever, my body was primed to add muscle without adding fat.  Use the tips from Phase 3 if you need to reduce your body fat.

3. Eat clean to avoid fat gain.  When keeping my body fat between 10-12%, I can be pretty lenient on my diet and have plenty of junk food.  In other words, it’s about the quantity of calories, not the quality.  Now that I’m trying to stay between 8-10% body fat while gaining muscle, the quality of calories is just as important as the quantity.

4. My muscles don’t like to fail.  About 6 weeks into Phase 1, my strength gains pretty much came to a screeching halt.  When you train your muscles to fail, they eventually adapt and learn to fail.  I much prefer heavy weight strength training with adequate rest, ensuring my muscles don’t fail.  Good thing Phases 2 and 3 are right around the corner!

5. The holidays are a good time to start a muscle building program.  You’re going to be eating excess calories anyway, so you might as well try to turn them into muscle.  Unfortunately, unless you’re really disciplined, fat gain is inevitable.  For me it’s all part of the fitness-lifestyle balance.  I’m willing to accept some fat gain if it means I get to enjoy time with family and friends.  There will be plenty of time to burn off the fat later.

What’s Next?

I’m moving onto Phase 2 of Visual Impact Muscle Building.  I’ll continue the Leangains approach for eating.  I suspect that I’ll gain some fat and muscle during the first month since I have more holiday lunches, dinners, and parties than I can count.  I’ll likely maintain my weight during the second month but reduce my body fat percentage by focusing on converting fat into muscle and increasing overall definition.  I’ll plan on reporting my Visual Impact Muscle Building results from Phase 2 after that before going into fat burning mode during Phase 3.

21 Responses to “Visual Impact Muscle Building Results: Phase 1”

  • Nice results, but some pictures of your transformation would be nice. In a weeks time, I am going to show how I maintained successfully on 2 workouts a week, and also show people how Visual Impact teaches you to analyse your body and apply different phases to each body part. An example is my chest definitely needs hardening up, so will apply phase 3 principles, and I will probably do phase 2 for the rest of my body while I have some time off from university.

  • @ Michael great idea Michael.A picture speaks a thousand words. Sounds like the program is really working for you, let us know how the next phase goes.

  • To read your schedule,every gymgoer will understand that how much dedication and passion is needed to get a lean and ripped body.There is no way to cheating on any worth trying program.And as you mention the balanced lifestyle that comprise on healthy eating habits,adequate rest and heavy enough weightlifting workout that can be represented by a perfect muscle build up program.

  • Pictures would be nice but I like the graphs – it’s similar to what I tried to do. I like how you separated your weight gain into fat and muscle gains. Nice post buddy :)

  • Michael,
    Sounds like a good topic to discuss.

    I’ve never been a big before and after pic person. Maybe I’ll post a pic after I finish the whole program…if I can convince my wife to take one…

    The whole fat/muscle breakdown is a good gauge but the accuracy of home body fat testers is all over the map. I find it establishes a good trend though.


  • Toni:

    How much do you weigh now?

    I’ve been eating nuts, fruit and slightly bigger dinners too in my attempt to gain weight. It’s a sound approach as opposed to not paying much attention to where the extra calories are coming from.

    It’s nice to follow a program that has flexibility so you can tweak it to your specifications. That’s what I’ve been doing too.

    The graph was a nice touch; it gave a good visual to what you wrote about.

  • Toni,
    I’m around 142lbs now. I don’t focus on weight so much any more as I do on body fat. Based on my height and build, my ideal is somewhere between 135-150lbs. Historically the closer I get to 135, the better my abs…but then my neck and elbows look too thin in clothes. Any weight gain above 145 has generally been accompanied by fat gain leading to tighter pants. Ultimately I’ll probably end Phase 2 around 145lbs (and hopefully still be below 10% body fat) and then use Phase 3 to get down to 140lbs (and hopefully down to 7-8% body fat). Even though it’s only 5lbs above 135, I’m guessing I’ll look 10-15lbs heavier based on the dispersion of fat and muscle.

  • Toni:

    I think it’s funny that we are kind of doing the same thing now (well, more or less), trying to lean out and gain “mass” at the same time. I know EXACTLY what you mean by getting to a place of better abs but then your arms and neck suffer. And your 145 leads to increased waist size (tigher pants) is *basically* the same as me going above 135. Yeah, body fat and my waist size are still my number one indicator(s) of how I’m doing. I’m really trying to stay between 16-18% body fat which requires me to be even more strict with my diet. But geesh, 142 at your height is still ultra-lean IMO. Even if you stopped now, I’d bet you’d still look more than okay.

  • Toni,
    142 sounds light, but it’s all based on individual build. Most people would probably peg me 15-20lbs heavier because I have a bigger upper body for someone my weight. That said, I still have just a little more ab fat than I’d like. Another reference point…Brad Pitt in Fight Club weighed 155-160. I’m 2-3″ shorter than him. A ballpark estimate I’ve read before is that each inch is around 7lbs different so a target weight for me would be 135-145, oddly exactly what I’ve found as a sweet spot. At the end of the day, I could probably stay exactly where I am and be fine, but I’m one of those who’s always trying to take the next step and be the best I can be. I won’t necessarily get there, but it’s worth a shot.

  • Did you take before and after measurements?

    I too find that my strength gains stop (in fact I lose a lot of strength) if I train to failure too much. I rarely do it now. But also if I train at 12 reps for too long, strength declines too, as the weight is too light to build strength. I think you need 5 reps or less to effectively build strength.

    I’m doing a lighter phase at the moment, but in an undulating periodisation style, so I get some 5’s in as well. But I try not to let the muscles fatigue much when I’m doing the 5’s

  • Nicely done on the lean muscle gain. Body composition tends to be a secondary priority as my training focuses more activity specific. But who doesn’t want to look good with their shirt off. How has your strength endurance faired on Visual Impact? For instance, I train for kettlebell sport with big compound movements, etc. If I take a cycle off to do Visual Impact what is the potential performance impact?

  • David,
    I’m the same as you in regards to losing strength. As I said, I plateaued after a few weeks. Now that I’m doing 5 reps avoiding failure, strength gains are coming a lot faster. I did before and after measurements although they are just as flawed as body fat testers in my opinion. I supposedly added 1.5″ to my shoulders while losing 1/4″ on my waist.

    Visual Impact is really more about appearance than endurance. You’ll definitely get stronger during Phase 2 and 3. Phase 1 is more like a bodybuilding workout. Still, I like to perform bodyweight training, rings training, and kettlebell training after the main workout to help improve muscular endurance. The problem during Phase 1 is that my muscles were exhausted already. It’s much easier to add functional training in during Phases 2 & 3. Bottom line, if you can afford to let performance take a backseat for 6-8 weeks during Phase 1, I think you’ll find that Phases 2 & 3 will allow you to simultaneously train for looks and specific activities. Just my opinion though. I’ll know more once I finish documenting results from Phases 2 & 3.


  • It’s good that you lost a fraction on your waist on a mass gaining routine. Although as you say, 1/4″ could easily be down to the time of day, your posture, what you’ve eaten etc. and doesn’t really mean anything. But at least it didn’t increase.
    Did your arms, chest and thighs get bigger?

    And just out of curiosity, what is the difference between phase 2 and phase 3, as it seems they are both about increasing strength and density?

  • David,
    My arms increase by 1/4″, chest increased by 1.5″, and thighs stayed the same. As for phase 2 vs. 3, phase 2 still has a mass component built in while phase 3 is really dedicated to getting lean and defined. So in phase 3, it’s less reps, more rest time, more cardio, and a stricter diet.

  • Toni:

    Was Visual Impact written specifically for the gym-goer causing you to tweak it since you workout at home? I know you mentioned that you adjusted your routine to include things like KB’s.

    I ask because I was thinking of doing the women’s version and workout at home too. That’s what drew me to the New Rules because it was written for everyone regardless of where you exercise. Some of the programs out there aren’t unfortunately.

  • Toni,
    VI Muscle Building and VI for Women are both meant to be done at home or at the gym. I’m simply at a stage in my life that I like to include a lot of functional exercises like bodyweight training, kettlebells, and gymnastics rings exercises. Plus I sort of know what works well for my body.

    VI for Women includes a home workout with a 2 day split and 3 day split and goes into details on setting up a home gym. Happy to go into more details if needed.


  • Toni:

    What method are you using to measure body fat, if you don’t mind me asking? I’ve been using the hand-held caliper and have had luck with it. However, I saw one of the digital body fat scales at Target and almost bought it. It wasn’t that expensive but I don’t know how effective it is and if it takes special batteries or not.

  • Toni:

    Disregard the above question, I found the answer in one of your older posts. Sorry.

  • Toni,
    Glad you found the answer. I actually missed this question from a couple days ago. Sorry about that.

  • Rick:

    I am going to start this program next week and I’m a bit nervous about not getting the results. Right now I used to weigh in at 191 lbs 16% body fat but now I am around at 178 11-12% which I think gives my body fat and I actually increased my strength quite a bit but I seem to be lacking on the size on my arms but I can still curl up to 55 lbs in one rep. Througout this program my goal is to go down to 7 or 8 body fat percentage and gain at least 10 lbs of muscle and gain at least 5 lbs of muscle on the bonus. So I hope to get to see results.

  • Rick,
    To be successful, you’ll really need to focus on limiting fat gains. By my understanding, you’re looking to drop 5lbs of fat and add a significant amount of muscle mass. Are you hoping to gain 10lbs of muscle and another 5lbs in the bonus phase? Depending on how long you’ve been lifting, that could be a lot. Take it one phase at a time. I’ll be posting my Phase 2 results and tips in another 3 weeks. Happy to help you along the way if I can.

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