Where should you put your focus when you’re looking to get yourself into the best shape of your life?
Should you start by focusing on dropping body-fat or building muscle?
Obviously this depends on where you’re currently at, but I’m going to explain into detail why this system and my approach with clients not only works but sets them up to achieve incredible results and build a lifestyle.
Firstly you have to take into consideration that building this into a lifestyle and getting into shape is more than just a simple equation of calories in vs calories out, step count and a training programme. Because if this was the case then very few would struggle with their journey.
Most of the results come from your habits, routines, knowledge, resilience and will power.
Understanding what drives you to make the change, what your goals actually are and what you’re willing to trade off to achieve them is a key part of starting your journey.
Majority of clients who come to me say they want to get into shape but once I dive more into the reason why they want to make the change, it’s actually because they want to improve their health, have more energy, have more control, improve their moods, be more focused and present at work or with their family & friends.
It’s really important to find out if this is more than just a physical change because for most it is. This means this system is most likely going to work for you and I’ll explain why.
When you go through your fat loss phase you tend to pick up some incredible habits that can allow you to make the most of your lean gaining phase and when you build this into a lifestyle. It’s very difficult to progress with your fat loss journey without building some sort of routine and structure within your days/weeks. This is a great tool that can not only be transferred but also give you great confidence in what you’re doing moving forward.
You will find a different level of self control & will power when it comes to making decisions throughout your day. This will allow you to gain back that control that is probably a big reason why you started your journey in the first place. This will give you the confidence that whatever you put your mind to you have a strong chance of achieving it. These are incredible skills to develop and they develop a lot during the fat loss journey.
Not only this but the benefits you get just from becoming healthier during your fat loss journey can massively change your day to day life. Having more energy and focus puts you into a great position when you decide that you want to aim to build more muscle or maintain your current physique. Often people over work themselves by using an approach that’s unsustainable and that’s why people struggle to keep hold of their progress.
When you’re leaner you put yourself into a position that gaining a bit of body fat won’t have too much of negative impact on your health, how you look and how you feel. This means that when you enter a lean gaining phase you can actually spend more time doing it and this will usually lead to more muscle. Being able to feel comfortable with how you look and feel mean you will have a much more enjoyable journey growing than if you was out of shape and feeling sluggish.
Once you’re in the shape you want to be in then I’d recommend just pushing that little bit more so you’ve given yourself a bit of leeway when it comes to gaining body-fat.
Just as an example say you’re comfortable at 12% body fat and want to enter a lean gaining phase.
If you was to push yourself down to 10% and then slowly increase your calories whilst improving other variables that lead to growth you will be able to increase your lean muscle more between that 10-12% without feeling uncomfortable and looking in great shape. This means by the time you get to 14-15% body fat you would have made a lot more progress whilst still maintaining a great physique.
Now before you go into a lean gaining phase you should be in a good routine, have training programme that you’re following, have structure within your nutrition, be in a good position with your body fat and fitness levels.
This is where the fun begins!
Lean gaining phase
This is just like your fat loss phase, you should approach it with the same attitude and mentality to really maximise this window of opportunity. In a very similar fashion you might find that it’ll start off slow but once you have kept consistent and make the adjustments needed that momentum will pick up. Once you get into this place you will find your body is changing at a pretty rapid rate.
Not only will you start to see more density within your muscle and look a lot fuller but if you’ve set this up correctly you might even appear leaner due to the fullness you get from the accumulation of the slightly higher calorie intake. This put you into a great place to progress.
To achieve the most from this phase, you want to be keeping yourself fit and healthy.
Because this will help aid your recovery between sets & workouts, ensure you’re consistently performing well during your sessions and also keep you in a good place mentally.
This phase will also allow for some balance within your lifestyle, meaning the social events can become more frequent and used as a weight to actually contribute to your growth by having some higher calorie days. This is a great tool to help you find that balance and It has been extremely useful with myself and clients.
The progress you can make within your training shouldn’t be rapid but it should be consistent. What do I mean by this? You should be able to make some sort of progress on some exercises each week. This doesn’t need to be a huge difference because once again things will accumulate. If you’re adding 1.25kg-2.5kg to an exercise and getting to the point you’re doing more reps you will find that your progress will be huge within a few months.
Just as an example with an incline barbell press
3 sets of 10 reps using 60kg
3 x 10 x 60kg = 1,800kg pressed
3 sets of 10 reps using 62.5kg
3 x 10 x 62.5kg = 1,875kg pressed
4 sets of 10 reps using 62.5kg
4 x 10 x 62.5kg = 2,500kg pressed
This small adjustment means your overall volume can increase without completely writing you off and over doing it when it comes to increasing weight within your training. By adding in an extra set you massively increase the volume. This can also be done when manipulating rep ranges, weights and other approaches. I’m not going to write out all the different approaches because I’ll be here all day but as you can easy you ability to increase the volume with a slight adjustment can go a very long way.
If you can focus on these small wins over a long period of time you will see much greater progress. Also understand there is nothing wrong with taking a step back to reduce some of the volume for you to start lifting a heavier weight as I will outline below.
3 sets of 6 reps using 65kg
3 x 6 x 65kg = 1,170kg pressed
3 sets of 8 reps using 65kg
3 x 8 x 65kg = 1,560kg pressed
3 sets of 10 reps using 65kg
3 x 10 x 65kg = 1,950kg pressed
4 sets of 10 reps using 65kg
4 x 10 x 65kg = 2,600kg pressed
This is completely theoretical and you have to take into consideration other exercises you’re doing but this can give you the visual understand that sometimes taking a step back with volume to increase the weight can also be very beneficial in the long run. This will mean you’re unlikely to get injured and more likely to progress as time goes on. Play the long game and don’t rush the process. If you followed this approach you would see more noticeable progress over just doing the heaviest weight you can lift consistently every single week and not moving forward.
Whilst in a lean gaining phase, how much weight should you look to put on? This is very much individualised but anything between 1-2lbs a month is the sweet spot for most. It doesn’t sound like a lot but say you followed this for a year and only gained 1lb per month you would accumulate 12lbs of weight gain whilst probably staying fairly lean. This is incredible progress and more than most gym goers achieve by far.
Once you’ve gone through these 2 phases in order you now have the understanding of what it takes to get lean, build muscle and how to keep yourself in a good place to do either.
You can now have the option to go back into a fat loss phase and maintain this or maintain your current structure and keep progressing.
This is where it becomes vital to have some self awareness of what your goal is and what’s currently going on in your life. This has been a huge game changer for me when going through different phases such as becoming a dad, building my online business, focusing on clients, working my full time job and just being around for others in general. The focus moves and as long as you have the habits in place that I’ve labelled above you will see this will just naturally happen in the background.
There are a few musts that I keep within my lifestyle and I believe you should do.
Daily weigh ins - These are vital for accountability and knowing when to pull it back in. Sometimes social events pop up more than once or twice a week and can lead to over consuming calories. This is fine but I hold myself accountable to stay within a certain weight range and this means by weighing in on a regular basis I keep more in control of my nutrition, training and daily activity. When I’m in this phase I will often see that my weight goes up over the weekend and then comes back down by Friday. This for me allows me to control my bodyweight but maintain balance within my lifestyle when it comes to my nutrition & training.
Monday - 159lbs
Tuesday - 158lbs
Wednesday - 158lbs
Thursday - 157lbs
Friday - 156lbs
Saturday - 156lbs (Meal out or take away with family/friends)
Sunday - 158lbs (Out and about with family so eat on the go)
Monday - 159lbs
This is how I maintain balance and use my bodyweight as a tool to keep me accountable and maintain a healthy body fat percentage.
Preparing your food - Something I’ll always do because the way I see it is if I don’t prepare my food I don’t eat. Back in the stone age before we called it meal prep or made it seem like only bodybuilders did it, I used to make my own lunch and snacks to take into work. This meant I didn’t spend £10+ a day on random food, it helped me save money and kept me from starving. Don’t build this negative relationship with prepping your meals, it’s just so you can have food the following day and it’s not something you should look at as a draining task.
Training structure - Being realistic with the amount of times you can train each week is also very important. I have a good understanding of what’s achievable and don’t stress if life gets in the way of my workouts. For this reason I am for a minimum of twice a week, maximum of 4 and I use full body training so I can ensure my muscles are getting worked frequently. Also this means that If I miss a day it doesn’t matter too much.
Cardio - Keeping up your cardio is a very important part of just having a healthy lifestyle. This allows me to keep myself in check with not just my body fat levels but also my fitness. Having better fitness levels means I’m capable of recovering faster and taking on more. Often this is the thing that people remove or massively reduce because they associate it with fat loss. Personally I keep to around 30 minutes a day on the bike or focus on a step count. This keeps my fitness levels up and I often test them on the stair master or longer durations on the bike. Remember at this point it’s to keep you in the routine, help with your health and maintain a good foundational fitness level.
These phases can be incredible to understand when you’re going through your journey. Life throws all sorts of things at us and sometimes certain phases aren’t as achievable as others but having this understanding will give you the confidence to manage your physique and most importantly know when it’s time to push.
Setting yourself up for a fat loss phase will lead to an easier and more enjoyable journey. Understanding that certain phases of your life will need you to be in a lifestyle phase is key to remove the stress of feeling like you need to be constantly progressing. Once I understood this I started to enjoy my training, nutrition & cardio all year round.
Hope this helps.
Any questions leave in the comments.