Can Anybody Gain 34 Pounds of Muscle with the Colorado Experiment?

A Muscle Gain Experiment

Tim Ferriss recently posted an article explaining how he gained 34 pounds of muscle in 4 weeks. The best part: he claims it requires only 1 hour of gym time per week.

It sounds too good to be true. If sculpting a great body is so easy, why doesn’t everybody do it? I’m skeptical about Tim’s claims so I’ve decided to make an experiment of it.

I’m doing this for three reasons:

  1. Motivation – Documenting my progress will motivate me to stick with the program and record my exercise and diet activities in detail. In the past I’ve had difficulty creating and following a structured diet and exercise program because I’d lose interest. Turning exercise into a scientific experiment will stimulate my competitiveness.
  2. Validation – Most people will dismiss Tim’s claims as too ridiculous to be true and never go about trying them. But what if they are true? Being able to get in great shape with only an hour of gym time a week could improve the lives of many people. If I prove his claims true, it could motivate other people to get in shape. If I prove them false, at least we’ll know he’s full of it.
  3. Curiosity - I have a hunch he isn’t full of it. At least not completely. Most of his recommendations are practical and intuitive. I’ve read similar suggestions before but never acted on them in a systematic manner. I’m curious to see how well it works.

Muscle Gain Routine

The routine Tim proposes consists of 6 principles.

  1. Follow the recommendations for one-set-to-failure from the little-known muscle gain program, but with lower frequency (maximum of twice per week) and with at least 3 minutes between exercises.
  2. Perform every repetition with a 5/5 cadence (5 seconds up, 5 seconds down) to eliminate momentum and ensure constant load.
  3. Focus on no more than 4-7 multi-joint exercises (leg press, trap bar deadlift, overhead press, Yates bent row, dips, incline machine benchpress, etc.) and exercise your entire body each workout to elicit a maximal hormonal (testosterone, growth hormone + IGF-1) response.
  4. Eat enormous quantities of protein (much like my current fat-loss diet) with low-glycemic index carbohydrates like quinoa, but drop calories by 50% one day per week to prevent protein uptake downregulation.
  5. Exercise less frequently as you increase strength and size, as your recovery abilities can only increase 20-30%, while you can often increase fat-free muscle tissue up to 100% before reaching a genetic set-point.
  6. Record every workout in detail, including date, time of day, order of exercises, reps, and weight. Remember that this is an experiment, and you need to control the variables to accurately assess progress and make adjustments.

Personal Muscle Gain Implementation

I don’t actually want to gain 34 pounds of muscle. My goal is to gain 10-15 pounds of muscle while losing 5-10 pounds of body fat, so I’m going to slightly modify the program. Instead of consuming massive amounts of protein and calories, I’m going to consume a high amount of protein (1 shake per day, plus high protein diet) and stick to Tim’s slow carb diet to reduce body fat. I’ll follow the exercise recommendations as closely as possible.

Starting today, I’ll record everything I eat and every exercise I do. Each week I’ll evaluate my progress and write a short summary post. At the end of 1 month, I’ll post the results of the experiment (including changes in body weight and before-and-after photos). I’m excited to get started and discover the truth about these remarkable claims.

  • http://blog.adventurousguy.com jb

    Sorry, not possible….not even your modified version.

    You’ll be able to lose the weight though, if you do it right.

    • rt

      Any time any of you say something is impossible, there is somebody out there in the world doing it.

      Sorry folks it is possible, it was real.

      You can gain only five pounds of muscle a year? wow the scales must be messed up then and the gym is using trick mirrors on me… 157-191 since Feb is pretty good i think… A little more than five pounds. And those are initial gains. Fat? please woman you can see my abs!

      im training three days a week, but doing two-a-day. I simply cut the workout in half, doing one half in morining, one at afternoon. I do cardio on my off days. total rest sunday.

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    We’ll see if you’re right. The part I’m most skeptical about is the amount of weight gain. As an inexperienced trainer my results probably won’t be nearly as dramatic.

    If I lose the weight and add a bit of definition that’s still a win in my book.

  • http://www.opticdistraction.com Justin

    I’m very interested to see your results, and get your opinions of this program. I’ll stay tuned for updates.

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Justin,

    I’ll do my best to record everything and follow the program and diet as strictly as possible. Awesome photoblog by the way, I just subscribed.

  • Sukha

    no, not gonna happen.
    maybe in 6 months with four times the training.

    also before you try the low carb – high protein diet, findout what your metabolic type is . some people do good with a hight protein diet, others like me would get sick from it. we are all genetically primed for one or the other or something in between.

    and then there’s the myth that the more protein you eat, the more muscle you gain. in reality your body can only convert so much protein to muscle mass and needs much less than was previously thought, the rest is converted to fat.

    • Jb

      Wrong… In his book, Tim ferriss talks about how there were studies in France that suggested the limit for a normal persons protein synthesis is much higher than widely believed. 125 pound women consumed 75 grams of protein per day, half the women over three meals, and half ate all 75 at the same time. Both groups did the same exercises, and both experienced the same amount of gains, suggesting that both groups protein synthesis was the same.
      I eat 60-80 grams of protein per meal, 3 to four times a day. I can gain about a pound of muscle every two or three days eating that much protein. When I cut protein, my gains go down as well. Try protein loading, it works.

      • Damian

        JB. Do not trust Tim Ferriss, he cheats his way to accomplish something. Him getting the 34 pounds of muscle in 1 month was all muscle memory and supplements 

  • http://www.bodyfitnessinfo.com gain muscle

    Sounds a little hokey to me, but I like the motivation that you have. And hey, at least by experimenting at least you’ll learn some things along the way!

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    @Sukha – Thanks for the advice. Do you know of a good way to determine metabolic type?

    @gain muscle – Thanks for the encouragement. That’s basically the way I see it too. Worse case scenario I learn to get in better shape and debunk that ridiculous claim.

  • http://www.sethsblog.com Seth
  • http://computingbrain.wordpress.com/ neko

    Sounds very unlikely that this is possible, note that in the Colorado experiment, the subjects were highly-trained athletes who resumed training – not the average Joe starting from scratch.

    Worse – even if this is indeed possible, it would probably be very unhealthy. The human body isn’t equipped for such rapid changes, and the high intensity workout might induce inflammations of the muscles. I would be very careful in such an experiment, or at least consult a physician or experienced trainer.

    • http://www.boat-led.com Cameron Benz

      So you’d say the body producing lean muscle mass at it’s own rate, with minimal workout time, is somehow unhealthy?

  • http://viasenzanome.wordpress.com viasenzanome

    I like your attitude, but I agree with neko, Sukha and others surely more experienced of me in this matter. I see that there a lot of misunderstanding on muscle training around, and the science that study muscle hypertrophy is relatively new.

    This is an exciting field of science, and I can suggest you a pair of links that I found very useful and instructive:

    http://www.hypertrophy-specific.com/hst_index.html
    http://www.thinkmuscle.com/index.htm

    The most important part is to stay tuned with the science and the last experimental evidences!

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Thanks for the recommendations, I’ll be sure to check them out. I’m also excited to learn more about the science behind nutrition and muscle growth.

  • http://www.positivityblog.com Henrik Edberg

    I read that post by Tim earlier today and found it to be very interesting. I think I´ll incorperate more multi-joint exercises to boost testosterone levels and start doing my repetitions with 5/5 cadence. It will be interesting to see your results so I wish you good luck, John.

  • http://zenhabits.net Leo

    Good luck, John! This is a fascinating experiment. Can’t wait to see the results. If it works for you, I’m doing it!

  • http://www.ez2befit.com Yolanda

    I also doubt his claims. It’s very unlikely to gain that much muscle for such a short period of time. It could be possible if he used some catalyst or other enhancers. To be sure, lets just wait for the result

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Henrik and Leo,

    Thanks for your interest. I’m getting really motivated about this and can’t wait to put it to the test.

  • Roy

    When Casey Viator “grew” all that muscle during the Colorado experiment, he was already a top-level competitive bodybuilder who had been off the weights (and the juice) for some time, so his muscle tissue had simply shrunk. He probably actually “built” very little new muscle during that period. His existing muscle tissue simply re-enlarged due to the resumption of training and “supplementation”.

  • http://blog.adventurousguy.com jb

    I’d suggest the Book of Muscle if you want to learn the facts.

    I still wish you good luck, but the premise is something out of an infomercial.

    Also, it’s extremely hard to lose weight and gain muscle. You can gain strength, but not really muscle because the body needs excess nourishment to gain mass…..in fact, you need to ingest more than your body requires to keep your current mass. Very detrimental to weight loss.

    Good luck though.

  • http://blog.adventurousguy.com jb

    “..in fact, you need to ingest more than your body requires to keep your current mass.”

    Should be….

    ..in fact, you need to ingest more than your body requires to keep your current mass to gain mass.

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Yes, I don’t really regard adding 34 lbs of muscle as a realistic goal, especially since I’d like to lose fat as well. I actually asked Ferriss a few questions via email and he mentioned how muscle gain and fat loss are opposing goals, and that it’s important to choose one or the other.

    Following this advice, I think I’m going to adjust my goal a bit, to try to cut body fat and add strength. Once I’m a bit leaner I can adjust my diet to add muscle mass. I’ll have to see how it goes and adjust accordingly. Thanks for the advice.

  • http://vvvlad.blogspot.com/ Vlad

    Hi,
    I have a few questions…
    The 5/5 cadence… would it be good for not whole body exercises? How do you breath when you do that?
    How many repetitions of each exercise you do?
    What about abdominal muscles?
    In the original article (from 70′s) they talk about constant weight, what does that means?

    Thanx and good luck with your experiment!

  • Brion

    I decided to try this yesterday and I’m going to keep track of my own results. My situation is different in that I just turned 50 and am very overweight (read: fat) at 290 on a 6’2″ frame.

    From 2001 to 2006 I went from normal physical activity and an average weight of 200 lbs, to almost zero physical activity while my weight zoomed up to 326 lbs. I got so bad that I had almost no energy, even tossing a softball with my son for a few minutes tired me.

    In January of this year I began coming to my senses and started eating better and exercising; which pretty much consists of walking and some stretching exercises. When I started, I could barely manage a few blocks before becoming exhausted. Now I’m up to 3-4 miles daily and can recover fairly quickly. I added infrequent games of Tennis this past month for enjoyment, although it quickly tires me yet.

    The first 36 lbs came off fast, but I’ve been stuck around 290 since the end of February. I can’t jog at this weight because I’m sure it’ll injure my knee’s or worse, plus I don’t want to keel over from a heart attack by pushing myself just yet.

    I feel it’s time to begin strengthening my muscles though, but I’m going to cautiously begin without weights doing pushups, squats, calf raises, dips, and isometric exercises; following a similar schedule as outlined in the article, and combined with the slow carb diet which interests me.

    I really haven’t been on any particular diet up until now. I’ve just been eating a balanced diet but in fairly small portions while drinking lots of water and avoiding most sweets. The idea of cutting out bread and rice etc., doesn’t thrill me, but that “free day” to enjoy what I want certainly does.

    I’ll be following your progress, and I wish us both positive results!

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Brion,

    I’m glad you’ve decided to give resistance training and the slow carb diet a shot too. The “eat whatever you want” day was something that appealed to me as well. I’ve read that adding muscle is great for weight loss because additional muscle helps to burn fat, even when you aren’t exercising.

    I’ll be very interested in comparing our results. Be sure to keep us posted.

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  • http://www.simpleweight.com Scott

    After reading that article, I am intrigued. I can’t wait to see what your results are.

    Recently, I started tracking what I eat every day. It is so motivated to see what you eat. I know I want to eat between 1500 and 1800 calories a day. So, when I want a snack late in the evening, I can go look at what I ate, and decide whether I should have a snack. I have found it is much more difficult to change something if you do not measure it. Measuring really keeps you motivated.

    I am curious how do you plan on tracking your food?

    My brother and I created Simpleweight.com to track our diet, exercise, and weight management. You might want to check it out.

    Thanks for the great blog and experiments.

    I look forward to reading some more great writing tips too.

  • http://www.MyHealthyLifestyleCenter.com Pat

    Just another claim that needs enough evidence to prove it’s effectivity. I guess everybody is excited to learn the truth behind this muscles gain within a month.

  • http://www.psychic-aus.com/harassment.html Psychic

    No I think that is way to many pounds of muscle mass within too short a period of time. I will however, follow this with a great deal of interest. Sounds also like a lot of hard work and punishment to me.
    TerryG Psychic ability

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  • http://freeworkoutvideos.blogspot.com free workout videos

    I hope it works! good luck

  • Brion

    Tomorrow will be the end of my first full week on this plan, but I’ve just finished my third workout and wanted to post what I’ve experienced so far:

    Compared to my previous diet of eating 3 daily “balanced meals” in fairly moderate proportions; I’m eating far more and haven’t felt deprived or hungry at all which is great. The limited food selection might not be as boring for me as I first thought – but of course, this has just started. But a week ago I wouldn’t have imagined me enjoying Lentil soup for breakfast.

    In the last two days I’ve noticed my energy levels going up. Today’s workout was strenuous but satisfying, and I already feel myself beginning to recover only two hours later. My first workout left me feeling like I’d been run over by a truck for 3 days, and my second was only a mild improvement.

    I now feel noticeably stronger than when I began, even though I’m exercising less frequently and for a shorter duration. It’s an odd feeling; I feel guilty in a way because I’m not exercising as much as I had been previously while comparatively I’m eating like a pig. But there’s no doubt I’m putting in far more effort on the days that I do.

    I’ve been weighing myself daily first thing in the morning, and while I won’t put much stock in the results after so brief a period; it is at least encouraging: 286

    This next week should be more telling; whether or not I’ve really beaten my 290 sticking point. I haven’t as yet noticed anything detrimental to the regimen, so it’s full speed ahead for now.

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Thanks for the letting us know how it’s going, Brion. My first week has been very positive as well and I’ll be posting a full update tomorrow morning. I definitely agree with the strenuousness of the workout and the increased energy levels.

  • http://clonereagan.com Robb

    I think I might start the diet portion f this next week, but I’m still in the dark about the exercise portion. Does anyone have a list of the actual EXERCISES involved? Can I just hit my local YMCA and do the machines in the 5/5 cadence? I guess I just need some clarity.

    Good luck, John, this may just change both of our lives!

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Robb,

    I recommend checking out the original article. It suggests doing multi-joint exercises, such as dips, bench press, leg press, squats, etc. The idea is to get the whole body involved to induce the greatest possible surge of testosterone.

    For many of these exercises I’m sure the machines at the YMCA will work great.

  • Mike

    i never quite gained 34 pounds i gained 28 in 28 days…but after that point my body was exhauseted for 3 days…it is possible and you really dont have to work out much…but the main key to it is ENTIRE muscle fibre depletion…hit multiple andgle to tear as much fibre as possible…it works…

    • anth

      Mike. Wow thats great you gained 28 lbs in 28 days. I am 18 years old and am starting this program monday. What exactly was your workout and how many days a week ddi u perfrom 2 or 3? thanks

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    I’m glad to hear someone confirm Tim’s claims. Thanks for the insight, Mike.

    • http://www.does-p90x-work.org/ Kim, doing P90X

      Hi John, when I first read this, I found it hard to believe that it’s possible to get these results by limiting yourself to just 1 hour of training a week, even with the 5/5 cadence. If this is possible, then it’s truly remarkable. Also, with the regard to the nutrition side of things, I assume that to gain so much muscle, a lot of protein must be consumed, and not just 1 shake a day. I am of the understanding that you can only really absorb about 24 grams of protein at one time, with the rest just going to waste. – So, I assume that a lot more shakes are involved, or at least, loads of small, protein rich meals, for this to be possible.

  • Mike

    not to go back on what i said…but realistically, we need to assume a few things about the person beginning this.
    first off he cannot be an ectomorph as they have a most difficult time gaining weight due to their metabolic rate…suffice to say im gifter with the ability to gain weight at will…sadly it can go either way…(muscle or fat)
    also we need to assume this person knows what they are doing and how thei body can and WILL react to the overdoses in proteine, not everyone can consume so much without poisoning their bodies
    so many variables involved , but its a great goal to pursue nonethe less if you want as its a hella good motivator…

    i have a great deal of stretch marks as a warning…remember the body is not meant to grow this quickly…hence the exhaustion as well as stretch marks

    be careful..intelligent and dilligent in your efforts and no matter your structure it WILL pay off for you…just be realistic….

    if anyone has any questions, and i may be able to answer them…ask away as i have many sources of unbiased info (unbiased is the key)

  • http://basetta.pupazzo.org basetta

    I’ll stay tuned for the result. :))))

  • Mike

    oh well…to the nay sayers…i gained 13 pounds of LEAN muscle and lost 7% BF in 9 days so far…5 training days…will continue…also made a profile on http://www.bodybuilding.com for progress….great site for it too

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    That’s impressive, Mike! Way to go.

  • Mike

    but im seriously spent lol…ill take 3 days off…also im using 3 additives to my diet now…just starting
    NO-Xplode…
    Humagro…
    and “Syntrax – 5.0 Matrix proteine”

    read up and draw your own conclusions…the proteine is the best ive ever tasted and the NO-Xplode is great as for the Humagro its tough to tell if its doing anything as my metabolic rate has always allowed me for quick gains and also certain intensity levels will increase HGH production as well…

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  • joe

    John Wesley,
    What ever happened with this? How did things turn out? Updates?

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley
  • http://www.tesco.net Andy

    To be truthful, even the late Mike Mentzer realistically said that you be looking at gaining 5 lbs of muscle within the year. Now that’s more like it, and I too am suspicious about big claims.

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  • mark

    The real “Colorado Experiment”: Injured Casey Viator didnt train 6 months, shrunk to 190lbs. Arthur Jones put Casey a 500 cal diet, got him to 168lbs. In 28 days, under maximum intensity training, (& perhaps what insiders claim: extra training on his own & drug use), Jones claims: Viator was +63lbs muscle-18lbs fat. All we really know: +45lbs. 22 of those pounds came back just from eating again,(168 to 190), probably in just a few days. Really, it’s 23lbs, added to a frame that had recently lost those 23 lbs, a genetically freakish super-elite BBer w/ almost super-human motivation, (& probably the re-introduction of the same steroids that he admits to taking before & after this experiment). No big deal.

  • http://www.kellypersonaltraining.com/method.html John Personal trainer Austin

    “It sounds too good to be true”.

    If something is too good to be true …then it is too good to be true. It is tautological.

    “If sculpting a great body is so easy, why doesn’t everybody do it?”

    It is not easy. Everybody responds differently to exercise, and some will have far greater results that others. Others will have minimum results.

    • Mike

      if you say its not possible…perhaps its time to find a different job…as being a personal trainer youre more than likely holding many people back from their goals and potential…i have trained 30 people in the last year and 18 of them had similar, albeit not results like mine, but similar results…thats over 50% success rate. that being said its not too good to be true…just not for everyone as it requires a great deal of willpower and knowledge…

  • justin

    I personally have done the workout and its 100% real.
    I literally raise my max every week. Right now im benching 360lbs and squating 820lbs. Before, my one rep max on bench was 300lbs. This is over a period of about a month too.
    Plus, doing the reps at 5/5 cadence and till failure gives me more control over my muscles.

    I do, though, disagree with only 7 exercises max. I do about 12 multi-muscle lifts. I just feel you cant target all the muscles fully with only 7 or less.

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  • http://www.stretch-marks.ws/ stretch marks removal

    Keep working.

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  • Bob

    Its called muscle memory. He gained back quickly what he already previous had. Haven’t you ever made some significant gains while lifting and then stopped for a period of time? I have and when started up lifting again, the previous size came back in a few weeks after lifting hard and eating more.

    So if you already were 210 lbs of solid muscle, droped 45 lbs and then starting working out again and eating a lot of calories, you could easily gain back the weight and muscle size you once had….that’s what muscle memory is all about.

  • Austin

    Not possible. Scientifically, you can only gain, maximum, 1 pound of muscle a week with perfect diet and exercise (usually people gain about .75 pounds of muscle in a week). So it would take you 34 weeks to gain 34 pounds of muscle. Otherwise, it would just be fat that was toned and not really muscle.

  • james garey

    the program works if you work the program!!!!!!

  • William

    The Colorado experiment did work.

    But they were on Steroids! Anybody can gain on those nasty, chemical-enhancing things!

    Read Mentzer’s works (Arthur’s protege) and concentrate on gaining good honest muscle over the course of a year.

  • http://www.kellypersonaltraining.com austin tx personal trainer

    Result may vary. Casey gained 68 pounds with extenuating circumstances. Arthur Jones gained 22 pounds but he did not complete the study.

  • Vianueva

    I gained 15 lbs of muscle since Feb 16th it works if you have the right commitment.

  • BS76

    Since March 5, 2010 I’ve gained 25lbs and lost 7% body fat. I only did this routine until mid May when I hit the wall on it and then did the break-in program from New Rules of Lifting (great book by the way). Since then I’ve been doing a mix of Crossfit style circuit training and spinning 3-5 days a week for my military PT since I need to get back on my cardio goals for my testing purposes. Bottom line it’s an excellent routine for bulking up.

  • http://www.boat-led.com Cameron Benz

    It works. Also works if you’re trying to grow specific parts and isolate those parts. Good to hear your results. Always love the conventional wisdom crowd.

  • http://aaronhall.org Attorney Agnus Kelleher

    You are a very articulate writer. This is a fantastic site.

  • http://www.worldclassnutrition.com Gil

    If the body was to naturaly put on 34lbs of muscle, we wouldn’t have a problems with tendons tearing. Secondly the workout is nothing new and has been around for a long time. it is very similar to the DC (Dog Crap) Routine. You can put on muscle with this, but like everything else it comes down to nutrition.

  • Goran Novakovic

    @William

    They were not on “steroids”, the whole point of the experiment was to show that you can get those big gains without using steroid, read the experiment before posting random stuff!

  • Paul

    Hey ya,

    I haven’t found the results of the experiment.

    Where can i find them?

    Greetings

    Paul

  • Pierre

    What on Earth is a 5/5 cadence ?
    I can’t find this info anywhere ? Should i stay 5 long seconds down, and then go up, or should i go from up to down in exactly 5 seconds?
    Can anyone tell me ?

    What is a 2-10 exercise ?

    All this programm seems great, but where are the actual explications ? i’m holding the book in my hand and i can’t see any explanation on how to do it exactly

  • PB

    Pierre,

    Read the book my man. He clearly states that a 5/5 cadence is one direction(push/pull) for 5 seconds and then back to start for 5 seconds. 2-10 isn’t a radio call it just means two to ten. As in only perform two to ten exercises per workout.

    Hope it works for you.

  • http://greenteaace.com/ Green Tea

    I would like to thank for the efforts you’ve put in writing this blog.

  • Darrenwood747

    Aint this just the Colarado Experiment of the 1970′s by Artur Jones on his Nautilus kit?  Interested in results though.