I Spent A Year Trying To Bulk Up And Get Swole And This Is What Happened


Let’s get real.

Posted on March 26, 2017, 14:01 GMT

Hey, I’m Spencer. Last
March I started this
cool, intense fitness project where I basically tried to
gain as much muscle mass as possible.


I’ve had body image issues for as long as I can remember.
Even in elementary school I’d compare myself to the other
kids, convincing myself that I was too small and not
strong enough. But last year, my self-esteem and
confidence were at an all-time low. I seriously
questioned the way I looked and felt because I didn’t fit
the mainstream norm. I did not think I deserved to
feel good.

After countless attempts to gain weight and muscle but
never really succeeding, I enlisted the help of trainer
and registered dietitian Albert Matheny, who’s the
founder of SoHo Strength Lab and ProMix Nutrition, to see if he could
help me change my body.

I ultimately gained 20
pounds in 12 weeks, and after the project was over I decided
to continue with the workout and nutrition plans. Here are
the most important things I learned in the last year.

Taylor Miller / Andrew Richard / BuzzFeed

Taylor Miller / Andrew Richard / BuzzFeed

1. Be patient, because you probably
won’t see changes immediately.

Instagram: @spenceralthouse

Working out can be scary and exhausting and exhilarating
and rewarding. Everyone wants to see instant results, but
that’s just not possible. I had to put in a lot of hard
work – I literally drank a thousand protein shakes in a
year – and spent countless hours at the gym before seeing
any changes with my body.

There’s nothing glamorous about sweating or having to
watch what you eat. My fitness journey has literally
been a lifestyle change, and it took a lot of time for me
to see results

2. Celebrate the small victories as
you’re trying to achieve your overall goal.

Spencer Althouse

Focusing solely on the number of pounds I lost or gained
was super detrimental to my fitness journey. Instead
of trying to hit X number of pounds within X days, I
celebrated other types of progress
, like outgrowing
my jeans, squatting a certain amount, and having to
adjust the wristband on my watch because it got too
tight. All of these were casual reminders that I was
actually making progress.

3. Understand that your goals may
change, and that’s totally OK.
Instagram: @spenceralthouse

I finished my fitness project with the intention of gaining
another 20 pounds and then trimming down from there. After
a while, I realized that I’d rather concentrate on
increasing my physical strength instead of my body weight.
I changed my goals to things like deadlifting over 300
pounds (shown above) and doing 15 consecutive
pull-ups. This allowed me to create and accomplish even
more personal goals,
rather than setting a single
bodyweight goal that wouldn’t be realistic to achieve until
six months down the line.

4. Keep in mind that there are some
things you literally just can’t control.

Snapchat: @SpencerAlthouse

I had a few setbacks throughout the year, ranging
anywhere from a blizzard closing down my gym (shown
to my getting sick.

Getting sick caused me to lose a ton of weight, which was
the opposite of what I wanted. I ended up with the
stomach flu at one point and missed multiple days at the
gym, ultimately causing me to lose nine pounds. I also
had to get my wisdom teeth removed, which resulted in
even more pounds lost and days off.

These random, uncontrollable obstacles totally sucked,
and it took a lot of time and hard work to gain the
weight back. But I learned that missing workouts was
totally OK because it gave my body a chance to get extra
rest and recovery
, which actually helped my progress.

5. If you’re ever away or on vacation,
be creative about new ways to get your workout in.


Missing a workout is never fun. It makes me feel super
guilty and can seriously throw me off my game. If I’m
ever on vacation or home for the holidays, I research
which gyms in my area offer free trials. Some may only
offer day passes, but I’ve gotten three days and even
a full week for free before

Also, I try to turn trips and vacations into new
opportunities to do different kinds of workouts, whether
I’m going for hikes or doing
full-body workouts from the comfort of a hotel room
or Airbnb (I like to do elevated pushups off of chairs or
a bed).

6. To make working out more fun, change
up your routine and join classes tailored to your
Instagram: @spenceralthouse

Working out is my favorite part of the day now. I love it.
The key is to make each workout as fun as possible for
, so you actually look forward to it. I get a
thrill out of challenging myself and seeing how far I can
push my body, so if I’m ever feeling unenthused, I try to
switch things up. Sometimes I’ll add in handstands or climb
ropes or do pull-ups with gymnastics rings. I need to enjoy
what I’m doing in the gym, otherwise I won’t be motivated
to work out in the first place.

If you’re interested in my workout routines, I put them
into two different BuzzFeed posts, which include how-to
GIFs and instructions. You can find the
warm-ups post here and the
gym exercises post here.

7. Don’t set out to change the rest of
your life — just start by making a 30-day commitment.

Instagram: @spenceralthouse

After the first month of my fitness project, my workout
schedule became so routine that I found myself actually
enjoying it (although I wasn’t totally free of any
hardship or heartache – waking up before the sun comes
out is not always fun). It was easier to look at things
in terms of month-long periods, and once those were over
I’d say to myself, “Well, I just did it for 30 days…
why not another 30?
” This relieved a lot of pressure,
and I didn’t feel obligated to do anything.

8. Find a way to make cooking less of a

Instagram: @spenceralthouse

Cooking my own meals was a great way to save a lot of
money and control exactly what I was putting in my
. I used Netflix to turn cooking into an
activity instead of a chore. I put my laptop on the
counter while preparing dinner, and by the time an
episode of 30 Rock was over, my meal was made and
the dishes were cleaned. Easy.

9. Try to keep track of all your

Spencer Althouse

I use the Notes app to record the number of sets, reps,
and weight of my big lifts during each workout. This
shows me how much I have to lift during my next workout,
and it always pushes me to outdo myself. It’s a

10. Instead of comparing yourself to
other people, compare yourself to your old self.

I remember spending so much time looking at other people
in the gym and in magazines and wishing I looked like
them. I compared our bodies as a way to measure my
success. It’s totally fine that some people have specific
goals tailored to their body composition, but doing this
made me doubt my own progress.

To counter this, I started looking at old pictures of
myself and thinking about all the things I couldn’t do
before starting my fitness journey. This allowed me to
see how much progress I’ve actually made
, and it
motivated me to keep going.

11. Consider trying to become a morning
workout person – it may help you meet your fitness


It was super important for me to get into an early
morning routine. It didn’t even take long for my body to
adjust. My morning workouts allowed me to unconsciously
make healthier decisions throughout the rest of the day:
I felt less tempted to dive into all the snacks at the
office, I always tried taking the stairs instead of the
elevator, and I even found myself substituting parts of
my meals for healthier options.

There are also fewer distractions for me if I go to the
gym in the morning. If I went at the end of the day,
I’d have more time to come up with excuses to skip the
: coworkers wanting to grab dinner or drinks, my
being overwhelmed or tired and just wanting to go home,

Here are some clever tips for becoming a morning

12. Don’t deprive yourself of certain
foods just because of your diet.

Spencer Althouse

Look, I’m on a weird and amazing high-fat, low-carb diet
(I eat ice cream as soon as I wake up, for crying out
loud). But for a while I was too strict and deprived
myself of my favorite foods, simply because I didn’t want
to ruin my progress. It took me a while to learn that an
occasional bowl of pasta, stack of pancakes, or midnight
snack won’t throw me off. Life’s too short to not eat
your favorite foods

13. And don’t give up on your social
life or quit eating at your favorite restaurants.

Instagram: @spenceralthouse

I found myself turning down a lot of fun times with
friends because of my new lifestyle, which was kind of
paradoxical because my whole fitness journey was
supposed to be about putting myself first
. Eating out
did not mean I couldn’t take a break from my nutrition
plan every once in a while. There were also plenty of
ways to follow my diet while eating out, like making
simple substitutions. I often replaced French fries with
side salads, and I’d ask for ranch dressing because I
wanted a fattier dressing, rather than something lighter
or oil-based.

14. Teach yourself about the foods
you’re eating and how they affect your results, but try not
to obsess over it.

Instagram: @spenceralthouse

When I first started the project I was so worried about
not getting enough fat into my body, so I’d literally
just melt butter into my dinners and late-night protein
shakes. The
MyFitnessPal app was great because it counted my
daily calories and intake of fat, carbs, and protein.
After a while it was pretty easy to automatically figure
out the
macros of what I was eating, so instead of tediously
planning my meals and inputting data into the app, I
started using it more sporadically. This made me feel
more in control, and it also got rid of the stress that
came with the word “diet.”

15. Find someone who’s as committed to
your journey as you are.

Taylor Miller

Getting to work with Matheny was sort of a dream come
true. Before I started my fitness project, he ended up
being even more optimistic than I was about my potential
progress. He became someone who I didn’t want to let
down. He also pushed me harder than I sometimes pushed
myself. There were times when he sort of just expected me
to lift a certain amount, and I’d do it, not even knowing
that my body was capable.

Having someone who wanted to keep tabs on my goals and
progress was super motivating
, and it got me through
my toughest workouts. This showed me how important it was
to have a support group.

16. As a way to hold yourself
accountable, share your goals with friends, family, or even

Instagram: @spenceralthouse

I was lucky enough to work with a personal trainer once a
week, but not everyone has that luxury, so it was
important for me to find other ways to create support
groups. Telling people – even if they’re strangers online
– about my goals and progress put a little added pressure
on myself to actually follow through with everything.
This provided me with people I could rely on, and it
also allowed other people to follow and be inspired by my

17. And most importantly, you should
continually try to discover new reasons to love

I spent my whole life questioning my own self-worth, and
to be honest I sometimes still do. But my fitness
journey helped me discover new things that I actually
liked about myself
. Some were physical attributes,
like my butt, but others were about my character, like
how determined I can be.

My relationship with my body has definitely changed too.
I never thought I’d weigh more than 150 pounds (let alone
hitting 165 when I finished my project). I just accepted
it as a fact, because no matter how much I ate or worked
out I could never put on the weight. But there was a
moment last year when I got really sick and my weight was
getting closer to that 150-pound mark again. Instead of
letting the fear of falling below 150 control me, I tried
to own it. I asked a friend from work, who’s a
professional photographer and typically takes half-naked
pics of guys, to take some photos of me (shown above
on the left)
. Something clicked for me during the
shoot, and for the first time I truly felt comfortable
with myself. I’d normally be so shy in front of the
camera and hate every picture that was taken, but this
time I was actually feeling my look. My relationship with
myself became less about the number on the scale and more
about how I was actually feeling.

Being totally OK with my weight and body was sort of
groundbreaking for me. I learned that my body and
determination were a lot stronger than I originally
thought. Wanting to look more fit was one thing, but
actually feeling stronger was another.

Overall, continuing with
my fitness journey has totally helped me push the boundaries
of what I thought my body could do.


I like feeling strong. I actually enjoy going to the gym
early and lifting 300 pounds and doing things I never
thought I’d be able to do. It’s fun to walk into a gym
and actually feel welcome. It’s fun to know how to use
the equipment and not feel intimidated. It’s fun to look
in the mirror with actual confidence while working out.
This project allowed me to finally feel like I’m in
control of my body.

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

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