I’m currently nine months into a strength training program. I’ve gained an extra thirty pounds of muscle and made significant increases in strength on the standard compound lifts. My friends and family have noticed a real change in my physique and describe me as ‘strong’, jacked’, and ‘beast.’
Achieving these results took a little experimentation on my end. This is the first time I have ever dedicated myself to a strength program and I wasn’t sure which one to choose.
Around the time I made the decision to gain thirty pounds of muscle I read Tim Ferriss’s book The Four Hour Body. The book discusses a number of unconventional methods for improving different aspects of one’s physical health.
One section of the book is titled “A Minimalist Approach to Mass.” It’s about just what it sounds like: how to gain mass using a minimalistic approach to body building and nutrition.
The strength program Tim outlines in this chapter is called ‘Occam’s Protocol’. The concept of the program is to lift the minimum amount necessary to stimulate muscle growth. According to Tim, “it is possible to get huge with less than 30 minutes of gym time per week.”
Now, that sentence right there should have been enough to tip me off that something wasn’t quite right. In my experience, nothing good is every easy.
Tim’s wildly successful first book was about how to create a cash-flowing business that creates time and location independence. I like The Four Hour Work Week, and Tim’s work in general, but the common trend here is making things appear easier than they actually are.
That’s right, apparently a lot of people would rather take a prescription medication than work out and eat healthy. Would prefer to use a sleeping app that actually inhibits their ability to get deep sleep, than simply cut out caffeine after noon and screen time before bed. Shocking, I know.
To be clear, I’m not saying there’s no value in creating a business, or in automating systems in that business. I think those are things anyone interested in maximizing the value of their most precious resource (time), should be thinking about. I’m just saying that the reality of creating a business to automate is going to require much more up front work and time than Tim really acknowledges.
The same can be said of his ‘get fit by doing less’ workout scheme.
Occams Protocal consists of two different workouts each consisting of two compound lifts, beginning with two rest days between them. After doing these two workouts twice, you add an extra rest day between the workouts (bringing the total number of rest days between workouts to three). After this, you add a rest day any time more than one of the exercises in the workouts have stalled.
If this sounds like a lot of rest days, that’s because it is.
The premise here is that as you increase in size/strength, so you must also increase the amount of days you rest. Like everything else in the book, Tim backs up his assertions with a few scientific and anecdotal studies–in this case getting his friend and fellow famous author Neil Strauss to gain ten pounds in a month.
This anecdotal evidence should have been the second red flag that tipped me off to the fact that Tim’s strength/mass gaining program was, and I’m just going to come out and say it, a crock of shit. I mean, an extra ten pounds or no, Neil Strauss isn’t exactly someone whose physique you should be modeling.
Nevertheless, because I didn’t know any better at the time I decided to give Tim’s program a shot. Doing so almost stopped my strength gaining journey before it ever started.
I did Occom’s Protocal for two months. After eight weeks I had gained a measly three pounds and was only nominally stronger in my lifts. Discouraged, I talked to a friend who had achieved an enviable physique. He suggested I give a push, pull, split routine a try.
After some quick Googling, I came across this Reddit post outlining a variation of the classic Push, Pull, Legs or ‘Bro’ Split. I attacked this program with a vengeance, stuck to my high protein, high calorie diet, and after two months began to see real results.
The “Simple” Complicated Program
When you’re trying to form a new habit like going to the gym, consistency is key. The key to consistency in turn is to make your habit as simple to follow through on as possible. You need to eliminate your greatest obstacle to improvement: yourself, by making the habit as brain dead simple to accomplish as possible.
This is not the case with Tim’s program. Because the amount of rest days in Occam’s Protocol is always changing, there’s no set schedule. Some weeks you’ll be lifting on Monday while on others you may not. The program’s lack of regularity makes it a terrible routine for beginners like myself, who would benefit from a strict regime.
Tim himself acknowledges the importance of simplicity while endorsing a program that is more complex than it needs to be. With Occam’s Protocol, I had to keep track of which workout I was on and when I plateaued on certain lifts in order to know how many rest days to add between workouts. While this isn’t exactly rocket science, it did add an extra layer of complexity and another excuse I could make to myself to not go to the gym.
With the PPL split, I go to the gym six days a week, Monday through Saturday, hell or high water. I know I’m doing two days of pulling, two of pushing, and two of legs every week, with two days of rest between each muscle group.
There’s a reason the push, pull, legs, split is the de facto routine of beginner and intermediate gym bros the world over: it’s a simple, linear based strength program with proven results.
It’s not easy, but it’s effective. It requires you to push yourself on every lift, every session, six days a week. This requires hard work and discipline, but those who adhere to these simple directives will achieve results (assuming proper sleep and nutrition).
While the physical results of this process have been rewarding, I’m equally interested in the tertiary lessons learned.
When Striving to Achieve a Goal, Choose One Model Who Possesses it to Emulate.
I respect the fact that Tim Ferriss is a renaissance man who dabbles in many different areas of life. I’m somewhat of a Leonardo Da Vinci myself (or, as some would say, a dilettante). Nevertheless, in the areas of increasing strength and mass, I’m going to model someone who has actually achieved the results I’m looking for.
Good Things Take Hard Work and Consistency.
Tim is all about rejecting conventional ideas. While I respect his ability to approach things from a new angle and subject himself to experimentation, too often these experiments result in a ‘you can achieve more by doing less’ conclusion that could be harmful to the people who believe it.
If entrepreneurship and achieving/maintaining a top 10% physique were easy, there’d be much more jacked and tan millionaires than there are out of shape office drones.
Clearly, this is not the case.
This process has taught me that while gaining mass and strength isn’t complicated, it’s far from easy. Good things never are.