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.
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.
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.
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.