What you need to know:
- Nutrition, so long as you are not on drugs, will be the driving force of all body composition changes. This needs to be addressed first.
- Your training program should address weaknesses while maintaining strengths so you can build the body in uniform.
- You need to have a plan and train according to that plan. This is known as a program. Programs do not get changed unless needed.
- Whether the goal is muscle size or fat loss, cardio is an adjunct. It is not a tool to be abused.
“I Eat Healthy & See No Changes”
This is the one of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to change their body. It’s the classic illustration of the misunderstanding of wording used all across the internet, pseudo-trainers, and ignorant folks alike. One can eat healthy (and by “healthy”, we are speaking about whole, nutritious foods) but still overeat (if the goal is fat loss) or undereat (if the goal is muscle gain).
While you can “eat healthy” for either goal, it is theÂ quantity, not the quality that effects body composition, primarily. You will need to be in a calorie deficit to lose fat and a calorie surplus to gain muscle size. For the latter, because of the surplus, you will indeed put on a little fat. The caveat to this is to track your macros/calories the same way you would while losing fat. You want to be able to put on size with minimal fat as possible. This makes dieting down much easier to handle, not only physically, by psychologically (in my opinion of course).
If you are trying to lose fat, you need to understand that until you give up the idea that “healthy = fat loss”, you will never lose it. Healthy =/= fat loss.
I wrote about it HERE about how to set up a fat loss plan in MyFitnessPal. If you are looking to put on size, you multiply your current bodyweight x15 to start then add as necessary.
At the end, for the goal you are after, you need to eat according to the goal. This will take a bit of sacrifice but if your goal of being lean means more to you then being overweight or if you want people to stop calling you “tiny” (like they did to me when I first started), then you need to set a plan and stick to it.
“I Work Out 5-6 Days A Week.”
“I usually do some chest on Monday. I might do legs on Tuesday. I just got in and do what I think I missed or feel like doing”
Then you wonder why you don’t look any different or better than years past.
If you have no plan, you have no road, then you have no true desired result.
Your training plan, coupled with proper nutrition, should ultimately lead you to a desired result.
This means strengthening your weaknesses, maintaining your strengths, then building them up together.
What you should do is this; take selfie photos of the front, back, and side. Be objective (but not critical!!!!) and say, “if I can enhance a part of my body or make it better, what would it be?” then prioritize it in your training while maintaining the other areas you can hold off building even more.
You don’t need to be in the gym 5-6 days/weekly. In fact, with an adequate program, you need not be in there more than 4 days; 3 days if you are a beginner or on the cusp of being intermediate.
Train hard and smart and give your body enough time to rest.
In fact, this is what my old program looked like for almost 2 years..no lie.
I haven’t done a body-split in a long time. Why? Because I can address volume and frequency to areas of the body I am building within those days. Even then, this is only 1 way to set it up.
And when I dieted? I cut the volume back and kept the training as is until something needed changing.
“I Tried This Plan From This Magazine. It Worked For Him/Her.”
First and foremost: You are 1 of a few hundred thousand or million to read a magazine source or online website where said publication is written. Just linger on that for a moment. There is nothing specific about it. Also, while it may have worked for the author, sit back and ask yourself, “who is this author and how did it work for them?”
- How long were they on this plan?
- How long have they been lifting?
- Are they taking any drugs?
- Is this something they made up for publication?
The list goes on. While for a new person or someone looking to “change it up” it looks intriguing, often times it’s a dream sold for $4.95 ($7.45 CAN). If you are looking for a program, one that works best for you, then you must learn and understand the basic fundamentals of lifting. This would include a squat, hinge, push, pull, lunge variation and working the muscles in isolation fashion such as calves, biceps, triceps, lateral/rear delts, etc.
“I Want To Be Shredded & Muscular”
Again, I will jump straight in to it with this; unless you are on drugs, have *great* genetics, and/or are a newbie lifter, body recomposition (building muscle while losing fat) is a very slow process and almost pointless, in my opinion, unless you have all the time in the world to wait. So they go to the gym and a “lifting” 5-6 times, doing cardio 6 days week, and HIIT 5-6 days. Many people do too much with too little and wonder why they get worse and not better.
The goal of creating a physique you want is to do, with intensity, as little as possible (this does not mean nothing at all) to stimulate the greatest change. This may mean lifting 3-4 times week and having 1 HIIT session or doing 20-30 minutes steady-state cardio 1-2 times/week.
Cardio is meant to be a tool. It is not meant to be abused which many trainees often do and wonder why they gain weight. Cardio does not make you gain weight. That said, when you are doing too much (work) with too little (calories) you body adjusts to intake and adapts.
If the goal is maximum muscle, my colleague Greg Nuckols summed it up best here, “So, there’s one major takeaway here, aerobic training does not hamper strength training in and of itself. The effect starts materializing when it begins causing additional stress to the muscles and soft tissues. Running, with its impact element, affected strength and size gains especially as volume increased, whereas cycling didn’t. I’d venture that the old-school bodybuilding staple of incline treadmill walking would also have minimal effects, just like cycling, due to its minimal impact, and hence its minimal addition to training stress.”
If the goal is fat loss, cardio increases the deficit (this is good if deficit isn’t too large) but you will want to prioritize strength training and add cardio when needed; not the other way around.
This all said, it would be wise to choose a goal, fat loss or muscle gain, and attack one at a time. Cycle each one whenever you feel you’ve reached your potential.
A cool (and sane) way to diet down is to pretend you are doing a show (even if you aren’t). This gives you a goal and a direction. Depending on bodyfat levels, you should give yourself anywhere from 16-20 weeks to really diet down (with structure and sustainability). Then, enjoy your leanness and build from there.
If your goal is to build, this is even better (because more food, duh). You can build and build until you get where you want to be. There are people who build for 18-24 months before they diet down, especially if natty. You be the judge. The boom, diet down for 16-20 weeks (or longer if needed).
Fail To Plan, Plan To Fail
I always find that this is the time where the gym becomes a busy place again; much to the like of the Jan. 1 crowd. People are trying to get ready for the summer, the weather is nicer around this time in North America, and now everyone is doing all they can hoping for a miracle.
If you take hold of this article and use it accordingly, you can end up doing more good than you would have ever imagined. There is a sane way to get your dream body. It just takes getting rid of the old antics and trusting that truly, “less is more”.
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