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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.

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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.

I wanted to finally gain confidence. Also, to be honest, I wanted to look good naked.

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.

Taylor Miller

Matheny is the founder of SoHo Strength Lab and ProMix Nutrition. He clearly knows his stuff. He was also gracious enough to create three separate workouts for me, but I think that's because he likes to see me in pain.

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


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.

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.


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.

Matheny had me on a low-carb, high-fat diet. This, in combination with my workouts, allowed me to gain a lot of weight in the form of muscle instead of fat. My minimum daily intake was 3,000 calories.

My daily food intake was supposed to be made up of roughly 25% protein, 55% fat, and 20% carbs. I didn't know what any of that meant, so I downloaded MyFitnessPal, a free app that literally counts all the food macros for you. It was a lifesaver.

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

Andrew Richard / Taylor Miller / BuzzFeed

I drank four protein shakes a day when I worked out, and three on days I didn't. I worked out six days a week, so that equals 27 shakes a week. Help.

I started each morning with a ProMix protein shake and a cup of ice cream. Matheny told me to always eat ice cream before a workout ’cause it's a great energy booster and helped me up my fat intake. After the gym I’d drink another shake and eat my second breakfast.

Matheny was strict about my high-fat diet, ’cause that's how I was gonna gain a lot of mass, so I melted tablespoons of butter into my meals. My second breakfast was a half-cup of oats, a tablespoon of peanut butter, two tablespoons of butter, and a glass of whole milk.

For lunch I'd grab a wrap or a burrito — something quick that had a lot of fat and calories — and eat two cups of full-fat Greek yogurt. Then I'd drink my third protein shake.

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

Instagram: @spenceralthouse

For dinner, I'd melt three tablespoons of butter into a protein (either two chicken breasts or three sausages), and sauté broccoli as my side. I cooked my dinners while watching Netflix to help pass the time and make it less of a chore.

I'd also eat an avocado or a cup of ice cream as a snack and then drink my fourth protein shake before bed. Phew.


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.

Instagram: @spenceralthouse / Via Taylor Miller for BuzzFeed

I worked out with Matheny once a week, but lifting on my own was extra hard. This meant I could easily give up and pretend that I completed everything. I won't lie: I really wanted to do this sometimes, but I didn't want my trainer to be disappointed in me, and I didn't want anyone reading this post to think, "He gave up on his second workout, so I'm gonna give up too."

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

Instagram: @spenceralthouse

Having sore muscles was both the best and worst feeling in the world. On one side, you could actually feel your body changing and reacting to the workout, but on the other side, literally everything hurt.

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

Instagram: @spenceralthouse

If someone stabbed me, I would have spewed out protein powder instead of blood. That, on top of all the calories I ate, left me feeling nauseous for about a week. I wouldn't let myself throw up though, ’cause that meant I would have had to re-eat all those calories.


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.

Twitter: @SpencerAlthouse

I normally wouldn't post pictures like this, but dammit, I worked hard and wanted people to know. I also started to see subtle changes in my appearance and wanted to see if other people noticed them too.

Side note: The biggest mistake people make is that they expect to see huge results immediately, and if they don't see changes they'll give up. Working out and watching what you eat is tough. It's literally a lifestyle change. But getting that first unsolicited compliment about your progress sort of makes up for that.

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

Twitter: @SpencerAlthouse

If you decide to start working out, whether you're trying to gain muscle mass or lose 50 pounds or just get fit, tell someone. Friends and family will help keep you on track and provide inspiration when you need it. I got through my toughest workouts because my trainer kept pushing me. I also posted about my journey on Instagram, ’cause it helped knowing that my followers were going to keep tabs on me.

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.

Instagram: @spenceralthouse

I couldn't button my pants anymore, and I was ecstatic. I knew I should just go out and buy new ones, but I wasn't even halfway done the project, and I didn't want to outgrow those pants too, so I relied on a belt and hoped for the best.

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

Instagram: @spenceralthouse

I finally adjusted my wristband from the smallest notch! Even if you couldn't tell just by looking at me, this proved that my wrists and arms got bigger.

With all of that said, I did have a setback this week. I wore a long-sleeve shirt to work, and it was my size and everything, but it made me look so skinny. A co-worker even asked if I lost weight, which made me feel even worse. I threw the shirt away the second I got home because I was so frustrated with myself and what I now worried was maybe a lack of progress.

But that didn't mean I wasn't improving. I increased my lifting weights again, and I felt more confident at the gym.

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.

Instagram: @spenceralthouse

It was obviously easier to follow my diet when I was making my own meals, but sometimes there was no way around that. For example, I went out to eat to celebrate with some co-workers, and I subbed out a traditional burger and fries for a turkey burger without the bun. The bun and fries would have exceeded my carb limit for the day, so I replaced them with greens and a fatty dressing.

Because I worked out in the mornings, my body was already in healthy mode, so that helped me make better decisions and food swaps during the rest of the day.

I started to fall in love with my body.

Instagram: @spenceralthouse

The thing I started to love most about myself was my butt, because that's the main thing people kept complimenting me on. I'm coming for you, Kim Kardashian.

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.

Instagram: @spenceralthouse

I've thought about the subway incident every single day since it happened. It helped me realize how much I've grown in the last 10 weeks. Obstacles like this had always been in my life, and I couldn't let them get in the way anymore, so I turned anger and frustration into motivation.

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.

Instagram: @spenceralthouse

I once heard girls in college say, "Guys shouldn't wear tank tops unless they have huge muscles to fill them out." Even though I still saw myself as skinny when I looked in the mirror, I knew I was getting bigger, so I put on a tank top to prove those girls wrong. I guess I've gained some confidence after all.

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.

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


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