Bigger Smaller Bigger

by with John Berardi & Martin Rooney

You Gotta Start Somewhere


I wake up at 8 AM, take a piss, and weigh myself.

This will be my new routine every day for the rest of this experiment.

JB said it was important to weigh myself after peeing since we tend to hold on to a couple pounds of water in the morning. And after not eating since dinner last night, I’m fasted and emptied which makes 169.6 my true weight.

I feel like a skinny little bitch.

After weighing in, Richelle (my girlfriend) and I cook breakfast together for the last time, or at least until this experiment is over.

I have:

This is a pretty normal breakfast for me. Not a lot of carbs, a good dose of protein and high-quality fat, and plenty of greens.

My weight-gain plan, I think, will certainly not look like this.

After breakfast, I head to MUST — an underground gym owned by my friend Mike — where I strip down to my boxers and socks and pose for photos. Well, I don’t really pose. Instead I stand awkwardly against a brick wall with a stupid smirk on my face.

These will be my “before photos”. Here they are.

Nate before the experiment.

After the photoshoot, I pull on some shorts, and follow Mike into his office for the next round of testing: body fat percentage and girth measurements.

Mike pokes, prods, and pinches me, and writes down a bunch of numbers on a notepad.

I know my body fat is relatively low, but I’m still surprised when we do the calculations. According to the test I’m 3.03 percent body fat. Which is way wrong.

When testing body fat with calipers, there’s always a 2 – 3 percent margin of error. Mike, who’s done this same test on hundreds of his clients, thinks I’m really about 5 – 6 % body fat. So we’ll just go with that. (Super-scientific, I know.)

The fattest parts of my body: Calves, abs, knee (?), upper back.

We wrap up the pinching, I put on more clothes, and we head back to the gym for the performance tests.

Vertical Jump

First is the vertical jump, which tests my power. Since we don’t have a fancy machine, I stand next to a brick wall with my fingers covered in chalk instead. We record my height (a very average 5’9”) and then I reach as high as I can with my right arm and touch the wall with my chalky fingers. We measure that and get my “reach.”

Now, I’ve got some pretty good hops for an average-sized white dude from Montana. I can grab and hang on the rim of a basketball hoop, which makes me feel cool. And a few years ago — when I was very, very serious about lifting weights — I actually trained for the NFL Combine for a week with strength-coach Joe DeFranco and handful of pros and top-college athletes. When I tested my vert there, I hit 34.5 inches, a respectable jump for an NFL hopeful. Which I am not.

I re-chalk my fingers, stand next to the wall, and jump. We measure and I jump again. And then we do it all one more time.

We take the average of my three jumps and come up with my vertical: 28 inches.

Not bad, but not awesome either.

225-Bench Press

After the vertical jump, we head over to the bench press. Now, I guess you could say the 225-bench test — lifting 225 pounds as many times as you can without stopping — tests muscle endurance. But really I just wanted to include it since I also did it at DeFranco’s. (I got 22 reps then.)

Because of various shoulder issues and different goals, I haven’t actually done a barbell bench press in over a year, which makes me a little nervous.

After a half-dozen warm-up sets, I’m ready. I un-rack the bar and bang out 8 decent reps.

It’s nowhere near 22, but considering I haven’t done a bench press in 12 months, I’m happy.


After the bench press it’s time for the deadlift, another exercise I haven’t done in over a year. (I’ve done variations of the deadlift, of course. But my lower back doesn’t really like heavy deads any more.)

If the vertical jump tested power and the 225-bench press tested muscle endurance, the deadlift will test my maximum strength.

There was a time about 5 years ago where I deadlifted 515 pounds. I have no delusions about getting close to that right now.

I do my warm-up sets, increasing the weight with every set, and resting a minimum of three minutes after each.

Finally I put 405 pounds on the bar and pull.

It’s not easy. But it’s not hard either.

After setting it down I entertain the idea of adding more weight and trying again. Then I decide that pulling a maximum deadlift after a year of not doing any is probably a good way to hurt myself.

So I’m gonna call 405 my max, and know that if I really pushed it I may have been able to get 435 pounds.

Day 0 Day 28 Day 33 Day 34
Weight 169.6
Girth Measurements
Neck 15.25
Shoulder 48
Chest 41.5
Upper Arm 14.75
Waist 31.5
Hip 38
Thigh 23.13
Calf 15.5
Body Fat Measurements
Mid-Ax 2.8
Cheek 2.8
Chest 2.8
Ab 7.6
Subscap 5.7
Triceps 2.8
Suprailiac 2.8
Knee 5.7
Hamstring 3.8
Calf 9.5
Body Fat (%) 3.03 (probably ~6)
Vertical Jump
Jump 1 25″
Jump 2 29″
Jump 3 30″
Average 28″
225 lb Bench Press
Reps 8
One-Rep Max (lbs) 405
Speed (mph) 8
Incline (%) 8
Duration (min) 9:32
Duration (min) 3:11

Lunch Break

I look at my watch and it’s 1:30 PM.

I have two more tests to do, but JB recommended I break for lunch and give it some time to digest before I start again. Plus, Mike’s gym doesn’t have a treadmill, which I’ll need.

So I head out to grab a quick bite. (Large salad with turkey, eggs, black beans, carrots, beets, and balsamic dressing.)

At 2:45 I’m ready to test again.

VMax and TMax

I pull up at the local Gold’s Gym where my buddy Kyle works as a manager. He’s volunteered to run the stopwatch on my next two tests: VMax and TMax.

The VMax measures how long I can run while steadily increasing the incline of the treadmill. The goal is to start it at 8 mph and 0% incline and then increase the incline by 1% every minute, running until I can’t go any longer. (Or, as JB put it, until I nearly fall off the treadmill.) This test gives us an indication of my ability to consume and deliver oxygen.

The TMax, on the other hand, measures the amount of time I can sustain my VMax for. So if I end my VMax at 8 mph and 8% incline, I’ll start the TMax at 8 mph and 8% incline and then run for as long as I can. This test gives us an indication of my endurance.

I have a strong feeling this is gonna be ugly.

While I love short-burst exercise — jumps, lifting heavy stuff for a few reps — I absolutely hate endurance exercise. Probably because I suck at it. And because I suck at it, I rarely do it.

It’s a vicious cycle.

I saddle up to the treadmill and start walking as a warm-up. Kyle’s standing next to me, stopwatch in hand, waiting. After a few minutes I step off the belt onto the sides and bump up the speed to 8 mph.

The belt starts to whir ridiculously fast underneath me.

I look at Kyle who yells, “Go!”

Using the hand-grips, I lower my feet onto the belt and start running.

9 minutes and 32 horrible seconds later, I finish at 8 mph and 8% incline.

I stop the treadmill, take a wobbly step off, and walk over to the lobby where I’ll spend the next hour trying not to cry before I test my TMax.

An hour later, after drinking water and recouping, I’m back on the treadmill even though it’s the last place I want to be. This time I stand on the sides and set the speed to 8 mph and the incline to 8%.

I look at Kyle again.


I hop on and sprint for the longest 3 minutes and 11 seconds of my life.

Kyle pats me on the back as I try to catch my breath. I feel like I just smoked a pack of cigarettes while standing by a smoky campfire in China.

Thankfully, that concludes the testing.

My lungs hurt. My body hurts. My pride hurts. And I haven’t even started the fucking experiment yet.As I get into my car and drive home, I think about the next few weeks and what I’m really about to do.

This is gonna be a shit show.

Knowledge Bomb!

What’s Up With All The Measuring?

Aside from making this experiment slightly more official and scientific, we decided to measure for a few reasons.


You’re much more likely to follow through with something (a test, a body transformation, whatever) if you have clear and scheduled “check-in points.” I know I’ll have 4 tests for this experiment (Day 0, Day 28, Day 33, and Day 34) and that if I don’t show up, I will not only be a pathetic wimp, I’ll also screw over JB and Martin. They’re putting some time into helping me with my nutrition and training and I don’t want to let them down.


I have a pretty good idea on how my numbers will climb or fall based on which Day I’m testing, but I still want to kick some ass. I want my Day 28 numbers to kill my Day 0 numbers. Plus I’m genuinely curious to see what happens on Day 33 and 34.


This book wouldn’t be that cool if it was just me talking about random stuff for a hundred pages. I mean, that happens anyway, but at least now you get to look at pretty graphs and photos and wonder if I wore the same underwear and socks every testing day.


By measuring a bunch of different physical qualities (power, strength, strength endurance, oxygen consumption, and cardio-respiratory endurance), JB wanted to see exactly what happens when athletes manipulate weight for wrestling, grappling, and mixed martial arts. Which qualities improve – and which get worse – when bulking up, cutting down, and super-hydrating? To our knowledge, no one has ever measured this before. Mostly because no one is dumb enough to do this without the motivation of a big competition or fight. Yes, I’m dumb. But for a good cause – science!

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