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I Gained 20 Pounds Of Muscle In 12 Weeks And This Is What Happened

Here's my very personal journey to gain confidence.

I've always felt betrayed by my body. I didn't hit puberty until the end of high school, so I was always the smallest kid in class. I worked out longer than the other guys in the gym and ate twice as much, but I was left half their size. I didn't look like everyone else, and as a teenager, that's all anyone ever wants.

My body image issues resulted in a severe lack of confidence that made me question my self-worth. I did not think I deserved to feel good. I constantly compared myself to my two older brothers and my identical twin, who somehow always seemed to look a few years older than me. I was also hypnotized by the media's portrayal of how men were "supposed" to look.

Now, at 25 years old, I decided to try and find myself. I enlisted the help of a nutritionist and trainer, giving myself 12 weeks to transform my body and gain as much muscle mass as possible.

Note: Not everyone's body composition goals and confidence revolve around getting swole, so don't think of this as a one-size-fits-all Get a Better Body plan. Everyone has different goals and motivations, and these are mine. If they work for you too, awesome.

To get started, I met with fitness expert and nutritionist Albert Matheny. Here he is showing off.

I put my workouts into two different BuzzFeed posts, which include how-to GIFs and instructions. You can find the warm-ups post here and the gym exercises here.

Here was my plan:

* Do each of the 3 workouts twice a week

* Rest one day a week

* Do 4 sets of 5–10 reps for each exercise (resting 1–2 minutes in between)

* When able to do 10 perfect reps of a move, increase the weight

* Don't try to max out, but focus on perfect form for each exercise so there's no room for error or injury

Workout #1

First, 4 sets of 5–10 reps of:

* Goblet squats with kettlebell

* Walking lunges with dumbbells

* Alternating push-ups and pull-ups

Next, 4 sets of this circuit, working up to a minute for each one:

* Forearm plank

* Dead hang from pull-up bar

* Squat hold (sit in the bottom of a squat)

Here's a post on how to do all of these exercises.

Workout #2

First, 4 sets of 5–10 reps of:

* Deadlifts

* Bulgarian split squats with kettlebells

* Alternating push-ups and chin-ups

Next, 4 sets of this circuit, working up to a minute for each one:

* Tricep dip hold

* Dead hang from pull-up bar

* Squat hold (sit in the bottom of a squat)

Here's a post on how to do all of these exercises.

Workout #3

First, 4 sets of 5–10 reps of:

* Barbell back squat

* Farmer's carry (minimum 20-second hold each rep)

* Alternating push-ups and pull-ups

Next, 4 sets of this circuit, working up to a minute for each one:

* Hand plank

* Dead hang from pull-up bar

* Squat hold (sit in the bottom of a squat)

Here's a post on how to do all of these exercises.

Here's what a typical day on my new 3,500-calorie meal plan looked like.

Before this project, I would have just grabbed dinner from Chipotle and called it a night, but now I actually cook my dinners.

Taking these "before" pictures was actually super scary because of how uncomfortable I was with getting my body photographed, especially when I had no control over the situation.

We took new progress shots every two weeks to mark the physical changes in my body. I started the project weighing 146.2 pounds, at 6 feet tall. Here we go.

My first realization: Working out alone sucks.

And after my first few workouts, everything was sore. So, so sore.

I also felt like my body was now made up of 80% protein powder.

I gained six pounds in two weeks! I knew it wasn't all pure muscle, but it was definitely a start. My hands also started getting rough and calloused, and I loved it. It was a weird sense of validation and proved I completed a tough workout.

For me, I realized that visual changes were hugely motivating.

People I didn't even know rooted for me, and that was exactly the validation and support I needed.

I gained 10 pounds so far! Before this project, I could barely do one correct pull-up, but I just broke my record and did 10 in a row. The downside to all of this progress? My pants don't fit anymore.

I stopped focusing strictly on weight goals and celebrated other victories, like how I outgrew my pants.

Also, I had to adjust the wristband on my watch because it was too tight, so that meant I was actually getting bigger!

Halfway done! I just compared these progress shots to my before pictures, and it was the ultimate confidence booster. My shoulders got more broad and even my thighs got bigger.

I learned how to make healthy food swaps, even when I wasn't the one cooking.

I started to fall in love with my body.

I hit 160 pounds today. That's the most I've ever weighed in my life.

I felt great about my progress, but then, 10 weeks in, I was majorly thrown off...

A random man on the subway came up to me and yelled at me to get away from him. He screamed at me, got in my face, and insulted me in a way that hit on everything I had been self-conscious about my entire life. I was left shaken and speechless and stopped riding that train altogether, in fear of running into him again.

This confrontation made me want to skip the gym and just give up. But then something clicked inside my head, and I decided to use this man from the subway to fuel me.

These photos were taken after my workout on that same day. Thanks to the man on the subway, I made sure I killed every single rep at the gym.

I’ve gained almost 18 pounds in 10 weeks. Incredible.

This was a tough week because I got super sick, and the last thing I wanted to do was go to the gym.

I was that annoying kid you grew up with who only missed one day of school from first grade through college. I never broke the rules, and I was never late for anything, so having to skip two days at the gym made me feel insanely guilty. I didn't want people to read this post and not be impressed with my results, because if they saw me fail then they might not think they could succeed either. I didn't want to disappoint anyone.

I was finally comfortable enough with my body that I wore a tank top for the first time in about 20 years.

With only two days left in my project, I've gained exactly 20 pounds!

I was sort of left speechless after seeing these pictures. Yes, I was incredibly proud that I completed the 12-week project and that I gained 20 pounds. But I was also upset with myself that I needed to gain muscle to gain confidence. I should have been able to love myself when I was skinnier.

My perception of manliness used to revolve around chiseled cheekbones and cheese-grater abs. I thought my identity was bound in my physical appearance and I would not exist until I looked like a real man. I've finally realized that there's no such thing as a "real" man.

There’s no simple or sexy way to put it: If you want to see progress, you have to put in the work. That’s it. You don’t have to wait for New Year’s Eve to make your resolutions and change your life. I plan on continuing my journey, and my next goal is to put on another 20 pounds of muscle.

I learned very early on that you shouldn’t compare yourself to other people at the gym. The only person you need to focus on is yourself. So, instead of revealing the exact number of weights I lift now, I’ll tell you this: I’m squatting well more than my body weight, and I’m deadlifting twice as much as when I first started. But more importantly, I’m finally starting to like myself.

If you want to keep up with the rest of my journey, you can follow me on Instagram @SpencerAlthouse.

Training, nutrition plans, and ProMix protein shakes were provided to me free of charge.