How Tim Ferriss REALLY Gained 34 Pounds of Muscle in 28 Days

Although I plan to do a full review once I’ve finished reading the 4-Hour Body, I have to stop and comment on the chapter From Geek to Freak. In this chapter author Tim Ferriss gained 34 pounds of muscle in 28 days. It is a trick and I’m going to tell you how he really did it.

The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman
The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman by Timothy Ferriss

Before I expose the trick, let me say that I believe everything Tim posted about having his measurements validated by the Human Performance Laboratory. I also agree that his training and eating protocol are solid programs for gaining mass. It’s the expectation that bothers me. Gaining 34 pounds of muscle in a month is not even close to being a realistic goal. I wish it were.

#1 The Easiest Way to Gain Muscle is to Regain Muscle

Gaining a pound of muscle is hard work. It is far easier to let an existing pound of muscle atrophy and then regain it. Anyone that has had an arm or leg in a cast knows this to be true. Did Tim gain new muscle or regain lost muscle? Let us put together the clues on Tim’s true weight. From page 183.

I weighed 152 pounds throughout high school, but after training in tango in Buenos Aires in 2005, I had withered to 146.

The implication here is that Tim was weight stable at 152 and then dropped 6 pounds. But that isn’t true. In Tim’s first book The 4-Hour Workweek, he openly discussed weight manipulation tricks he used in a 1999 kickboxing competition.

Using dehydration techniques commonly practiced by elite powerlifters and Olympic wrestlers, I lost 28 pounds in 18 hours, weighed in at 165 pounds, and then hyperhydrated back to 193 pounds.

By not stating the extreme weight fluctuation between high school and the start of the experiment is highly misleading. Since high school, Tim had gained and lost a significant amount of muscle. The easiest way to gain muscle is to regain muscle. I covered this in the post How Mickey Rourke Gained 27 Pounds of Muscle For The Wrestler. In that post, I dropped in a quote from the Journal of Applied Physiology.

data suggest that rapid muscular adaptations occur as a result of strength training in previously trained as well as non-previously trained women. Some adaptations (fiber area and maximal dynamic strength) may be retained for long periods during detraining and may contribute to a rapid return to competitive form.

Tim’s trick was Mickey Rourke’s trick. Gain a bunch of muscle. Let your muscles atrophy. Take some before photos at a ridiculously low weight and then regain the muscle quickly. The problem with this chapter is that most of the readers are not in a position to regain what they never gained in the first place. This is why Neil Strauss gained 10 pounds of muscle in his 4 weeks and not 34 pounds. Ten pounds is commendable and it is more realistic for an untrained lifter who is working out hard and eating like crazy.

#2 Steroid Use?

On page 154 Tim Ferriss wrote:

I have legally used low-dose anabolic steroids and other growth agents under medical supervision both before and after joint surgeries.

Has he used any other steroids? Ever? Legal where? How long before? How long after? That sentence seems like an awkward way to end a path of questioning. I don’t know if Tim Ferriss ever took anabolic steroids outside of his joint surgeries. The way that sentence was written makes me suspicious.

Does anyone remember the original Body For Life contest back in 1997? A few of the male competitors made amazing transformations in 12 weeks. So much so that when pressed they confessed to prior steroid use. At the time I was living in Florida and I met a bodybuilder that was working on getting into the Body For Life contest. He stopped taking steroids and stopped lifting weights. He was working on his before photo. He knew that regaining his muscle would be no problem for the contest.

How Tim gained muscle from high school to 1999 is the least relevant part of this story. I only bring it up because this is the part some people will focus on. Muscle is muscle regardless of how it is built.

#3 Lean Mass and Water

Here is a secret that the supplement companies don’t want you to know about. It has to do with how lean body mass is calculated. By super-hydrating, you will increase your lean mass. Brad Pilon exposed how this was done in a video last year. In a single workout, he was able to increase his lean mass by 8 pounds. The gain was all water, but since none of it was fat, it is counted as lean mass. Not lean muscle. Lean mass. This is one trick used to sell muscle-gaining supplements.

How I Gained 8 lbs of LEAN MASS From Just 1 Crazy Workout (JAN 2020: video no longer on YouTube)

Let’s review Tim’s sentence about his hydration tricks again.

Using dehydration techniques commonly practiced by elite powerlifters and Olympic wrestlers, I lost 28 pounds in 18 hours, weighed in at 165 pounds, and then hyperhydrated back to 193 pounds.

Did he gain 28 pounds of lean mass in 18 hours? Yes, but it was all water.

Putting it All Together

Tim’s weight in his own words went from 152 to 193 back down to 146. He then gained 34 pounds of muscle in 4 weeks. No, he didn’t. He regained it using some combination of lost muscle from previous gains and hydration. One summer I had my left leg in a cast. I lost a lot of muscle, but once the cast came off I made miraculous muscle gains. There was no miracle. It was just my leg returning to where it left off before the cast. Tim’s experiment was a grand version of the same thing.

I’m not a hater. I am a fan of Tim Ferriss. He is the brother I wish I had, however, this chapter is a hoax. Gaining muscle takes time and effort. Once you get past your beginner gains, it can be a slow process. Don’t be fooled by ridiculous claims. It is usually someone trying to profit from your desire to take a shortcut.


Add yours

  1. If it sounds too good to be true….

  2. I’m still working my way through the four hour body. The section on nutrition leaves much to be desired. He doesn’t even go into how eating legumes requires proper preparation if you don’t want them to bind to nutrients and minerals, preventing proper absorption.

    While I do believe it is possible to pack on that much muscle in a short amount of time, perhaps even without steroids, it will mostly be sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (size not strength). This is just a matter of being willing to put in 20 or 30 reps in multiple sets.

  3. I thought the same thing when I read the chapter. Great post!

  4. Michael,
    I like your style of providing honest reviews.

    Just as I think Tim’s first book is best appreciated when viewing the title as a metaphor (i.e., it’s not that you only work four hours, it’s that you can boldly challenge assumptions), I think this book is best understood in the same way (i.e., it’s not about becoming superhuman, it’s about taking control of your health via personal experimentation). In fact, it appears to mesh well with your back pain posts. I also think that Tim’s uber marketing approach (i.e., “superhuman”) often gets in the way of the interesting ideas he puts out there.

  5. @Jim – Thank you. I do appreciate what Tim is doing. I’m not sure what the impact of this chapter will be. Will it encourage young men to lift weights or discourage them once they don’t see the monster gains?

    @Matthew – Another huge factor not mentioned in the chapter is body type. The expectations of an ectomorph versus an endomorph or mesomorph are significant. There is a reason most bouncers have thick wrists.

  6. First of all, judging my the picture of him on the back inside sleeve…he sort of looks like you. Secondly, most of the book is sound however filled with hyperbole (like the title). I wondered how he could a master martial artist, master dancer, breath holder, weight gainer, businessman, ladies man, traveler, etc. To some extent it is a function of free time and money.

    Overall, I too liked his book but it is like reading a men’s magazine (maxim, mens health, mens journal) wherein a lot of the “tips” they give you are inapplicable or have some outlier that is determinative. For example, every one of those magazines advertise “what women like to hear, increase alpha-trait, and so forth” but don’t mention the obvious in that you need connections, looks, money, or something else that REALLY led to the end result.

  7. Joint Surgeries? What kind of joint surgeries? Why?
    If he needs these his whole lifestyle is wrong.

  8. @Thomas – My guess is Tim is a mesomorph. This is ideal for staying lean and building muscle. His first book covers how he freed up the time to pursue these hobbies. He also has a great mind for hacking systems and coming up with novel solutions.

    @Mike – Probably from kick boxing or some other young male “extreme” sport. If he enjoys it then more power to him.

  9. Hi Michael,
    Great analysis! What are the long-term effects on the body from doing these wacky sudden weight gain and loss programs? Also, people could end up having some crazy expectations and really jack up their metabolisms.

  10. @Nancy – I honestly don’t know. It seems like there would be such a small number of people that engage in these “rapid” muscle gains programs to get good data.

  11. Im having trouble getting weight to stick I’m 29 and only weight 98 lbs I want to gain 10 lbs what do I do? Don’t say eat I do enough of that. I just stop eatting red eat 40 days ago ..

  12. @Latoya – I don’t know what your health issues may or may not be. You may need more calories or more fat or more carbs. I don’t know. Experiment. Try a few weeks where you eat a high protein diet. Then try a few weeks with a high fat diet (coconut oil or coconut cream). Measure and tweak. You’ll find the solution.

  13. The logic does make sense that this would be more water weight than anything. I tried out the protocol, doing 2 exercises per workout and two different workouts a week (chest press & row one day and leg press & bicep curls on another). I took N.O.-Xplode before each workout, and because I’m not made of money did the PAGG stack with actual green tea and garlic (not pills) but did get the alpha lipoic acid (which does seem to support some very good health benefits.) My weight started at 200 lbs and through this I went up in weight to 225 pounds over 2 months. My chest press went from me struggling at 115 lbs per side to 160 with this protocol, and I’m not talking about with shitty form either. I was blown away.

    I did not gain 35 pounds of muscle in one month, I gained 25 pounds of muscle in 2 (only 2.5 pounds more than Tims friend Neil in the same amount of time, but the effect lasted while used continually for 2 months). To me this is still impressive: it is not water weight and I’ve kept it on for months. I’ve kept this mass on and am very impressed with my results. I’ve never been this massive or strong so its not like I am having the atrophy effect to simply regain muscle. I agree that 35 pounds in one month is ridiculous and is way too unrealistic, but 25 pounds is 2 months for me was insane, especially being someone who has never used steroids.

    I am cutting weight right now, using techniques from Burn the Fat Feed the Muscle, fasting from Eat Stop Eat, and supplements & techniques from 4-Hour Body. I feel amazing.

  14. I’m also a big fan of Tim Ferriss — mostly how he uses the 80-20 principle — but what I found the strangest about that chapter was the fact that he used slow lifting. Why slow lifting? All the studies I can find show it to be pretty brutally ineffective.

    As for his lean gains being regained muscle, glycogen, muscle, water, etc … he always seemed pretty open about that. I don’t see much deception going on (and he sets more realistic expectations in the book).

  15. @Shane – He was deceptive about his weight and prior muscle gains.

    I’m a huge fan of slow lifting HIT. It is the most effective lifting strategy I’ve ever used. I can’t speak to “the studies”, but learning to create high levels of intensity while slowly moving weight isn’t something that happened in 8 weeks.

  16. Hey Michael,

    great post. Thought exactly the same. Also reminded me of the transformation Christian Bail went through after he acted in “The Machinist”.
    Tim’s gains are sooo extraterrestrial, ridiculously, jawdroppingly good that at first, I could not believe that he would have the impudence to write this chapter if he hadn’t done it. Unfortunately I’m almost convinced now that he really did fool us all into believing that this was true. With this chapter, to me, he has proven that he would do all in order to push sales on his products. I mean, even with massive anabolic steroid use, these gains would almost impossible to achieve.
    Me and a friend both work at the University of Salzburg for sport science. When we read about his experiment, we were already suspicious, but wanted to give it a shot. So we did a slightly modified version for 5 weeks. We meticulously documented everything; every gram of food we ate, to make sure we would consume enough protein and calories to make the gains possible. We gained considerable amount of weight. But on alle the sophisticated testing we did, we were lightyears away from tims numbers. 6 lb of muscle was all we got. While gaining almost twice the amount of bodyfat. One could argue that we didn’t do exactly the same thing, and I agree, but I would really have absolutely no problem doing 4 more weeks on tims original food and training plan. I’m pretty sure it will be a waste of time.

    I also really like tims ideas and posts, but this has been really disappointing to me.

    Thanx for your thoughts.


  17. Schalk Dormehl

    Jan 6, 2014 — 11:29 pm

    How do you explain what happened to Casey Viator?

  18. @Schalk – Same as Tim. Big weight loss + muscle memory


    Casey Viator was a genetic freak, this guy won his first Mr Universe at age 19. More important to you is that he lost over 30lbs before doing this experiment (he almost died from an allergic reaction to a tetanus injection). So what you’re seeing here is a guy who gained 45lbs, but of which over 30lbs is just muscle memory combined with genetics. Some even say Casey Viator used steroids.

  19. Hey There!!! I tried this Tim Ferriss experiment and it did not really work out, even though I was regaining muscles as you said. Still would love to get some feedback from you guys, but I can’t link my blog so if you interested just look for Till H. Groß and Geek to Freak

  20. You obviously have never used the program. And don’t know what the hell you are talking about. Not only have gained 30 pounds of lean muscle using this program I have also helped several others gain between 10 and 30 pounds of NEW lean muscle in thirty days. Not easy but has been done over and over again.