Recently I have received a few messages asking about how I train, specifically things like whats the best setup to build muscle, tone or lose weight.
IMO your workout should be focused on 1 thing only…MUSCLE. Whatever your goal, whether it be to lose body fat, tone up, gain muscle, etc, your workout needs to focus on continually forcing your body to adapt and either build or maintain your hard earned muscle. Unless of course you are just in the gym for a jolly good time, in that case keep doing what you’re doing and hat off to you 😉
Women… don’t worry, you won’t end up looking like the hulk training this way, your hormones won’t allow you to get “bulky” and the image in your head of women with muscles are those that take performance enhancing drugs.
Men.. also don’t worry, you won’t get “too big”, at something like 5ft 10, the biggest you could ever get without performance enhancing drugs is around 210lbs at an OK body fat, visible abs, or absolutely shredded you would prob get to around 190lbs ish.
Our genetics put a limit on how fast and big we can grow, I assure you that 95% of the people you see in the fitness industry posting pictures of themselves on Facebook or Instagram are taking things they shouldn’t be. The truth is that if you train your ass off, eat right and remain consistent the end result will be a lean, toned, shaped physique. Think lean and toned beach body instead of big and bulky bodybuilder.
Each area of your fitness should focus on a specific outcome
Diet (either calorie surplus to build muscle or calorie deficit to lose fat)
Cardio (health and/or fat loss)
Weights (build or maintain muscle)
I wouldn’t recommend cardio to build muscle or weights to lose fat. We want to use each of these tools in the most optimal way to transform our physique and reach our goal.
As mentioned, whether my goal is losing body fat or gaining muscle, my weights sessions stay exactly the same, focused around progressive overload (more on that in a minute).
I then adjust my cardio and diet to determine the outcome of my body composition week on week.
More calories and/or less cardio (I always keep at least 30 min a day in place for health) = bulking.
Less calories and/or more cardio = losing body fat.
Why don’t I change the weights sessions?
Imagine if you are trying to lose body fat for a period of 12 weeks.
Throughout this time you maintain your strength in the gym or maybe even get stronger BUT your body weight is going down as you diet.
Logic would suggest to me that if you are maintaining your strength then your body is holding on to all the muscle you have.
Now lets say that instead of focusing on strength you decide to use your weights workout to burn fat. You use lighter weights for more reps and get weaker.
Logic would suggest to me that you are losing your hard earned muscle.
It takes SO much effort and precision to build muscle, why would you want to throw it away like that?!
Your no1 focus week in week out in the weights area should be progressive overload…what the hell is that? I hear you ask.
To put simply, this means that week in and week out you progressively overload your muscles.
Lets say week 1 you do 3 sets of bicep curls for 10 reps.
week 2 you do 4 sets for 10 reps.
this is progressive overload, you are applying a progressively higher stimulus to your muscles..
The issue here is that you can’t keep adding volume (number of sets and reps) within a few months you would be doing 20 sets for this an 40 sets for that. Instead I highly recommend that you invest in a log book to use in the gym and focus on increasing the amount of reps and/or weight you lift. Small increments in strength week in, week out with a variety of rep ranges and exercises to progressively overload the muscles.
How Many Reps?
You may have heard something like 3-5 reps builds strength, 8-12 reps builds muscle and 15+ reps builds endurance.
I’m not going to go into the science behind it all for this specific post, maybe we can cover that later. The truth is that more and more evidence is showing that you can build muscle in any rep range providing you take the muscle to failure (Failure is the point at which you can no longer move the weight with good form), however lower reps do seem to lend themselves better to building strength and higher reps do seem to increase the metabolic damage caused, all of these points are factors in building muscle.
The bottom line?
We want to get stronger in a variety of rep ranges to ensure that we are hitting the predominant factors for muscle hypertrophy (growth)
- Muscle Damage
- Metabolic Stress
- Muscle Tension
By utilising a variety of rep ranges we can cover all of our basis for building muscle and give our body the best chance possible of growing.
I like to warm up with a weight hitting about 20 reps, this is my recruitment set where I really take time to think about the target muscle, make sure I am activating it throughout and can feel it working. I then check my log book and go for my max weight I can handle for 6-9 reps. I then rest and reduce the weight enough that this time I can get 9-12 and finally, 1 last set not to failure, where my goal it to “pump” the muscle and I aim for 15 reps.
When to Increase Weight?
I like to have rep ranges instead of set numbers. I will do 2 working sets per exercise 6-9 and 9-12.
Once I hit 9 reps with my max weight I increase the weight.
Once I hit 12 reps with my next set I increase the weight.
Body Part Split – How and What to Train
You may have read various different prescriptions for workouts, anything from the bodybuilder “bro” training split of something like; Monday- chest, Tuesday – back, Wednesday – Legs, etc..
..to a full body workout 2-3 times a week.
Which is best?
With all things being equal (volume and exercises), it has been shown that splitting your workout across the week and training muscles more often is more favourable to muscle growth than smashing the body part once per week. By this I mean that if you usually train Chest on a Monday for 30 sets of 12 reps, you would likely see better results if you split that into 3 chest sessions of 10 sets across the week.
What Would I do?
High frequency training combined with progressive overload AND the right diet is a formula for success.
How often you train will depend on how much time you have and how quickly you can recover.
Your logbook will be the key indicator as to whether you are recovering. If you don’t beat your numbers, your diet is not adequate or you are not resting enough between sessions.
Ideally you want 2-3 variations of each session for your log book, using legs as an example..
Week 1 Session 1 (LEGS a1)
Week 1 Session 2 (LEGS b1)
Week 2 Session 1 (LEGS a2)
Week 2 Session 2 (LEGS b2)
Week 3 Session 1 (REPEAT WEEK 1, a1)
etc this gives you a good rotation through exercises so that you do not stall on lifts and enough variety that over 3 or 4 months you are not bored.
LEGS a1 could be something like Squats, Leg press, Walking lunge, Leg extension, Barbell stiff leg deadlift, Seated hamstring curl, Calves.
Then LEGS b1 would be a variation Front squats, Feet wide and high leg press, Bulgarian split squats, Sissy squats, DB stiff leg deadlift, Laying hamstring curl, Calves.
You would create 2 more variants, a2 and b2, which means that it will be 2 full weeks before you repeat any one session. When you do, thats the time to either hit more reps with the same weight OR increase the weight a little and hit the same amount of reps.
Depending on how many days you can train and how quickly you recover I would recommend the following splits..
3 Days a Week
- Mon – UPPER
- Tues – OFF
- Wed – LOWER & ARMS
- Thurs – OFF
- Fri – UPPER
- Sat – OFF
- Sun – OFF
The following Monday I would then continue with a LOWER workout and so on. You could also do a full body workout 3 days a week if you were a beginner.
4 Days a Week
- Mon – OFF
- Tues – UPPER
- Wed – OFF
- Thurs – LOWER & ARMS
- Fri – OFF
- Sat – UPPER
- Sun – LOWER & ARMS
5 Days a Week
- Mon – OFF
- Tues – PUSH
- Wed – PULL
- Thurs – LEGS
- Fri – OFF
- Sat – UPPER
- Sun – LOWER & ARMS
6 Days a Week Recommended
- Mon – PUSH
- Tues – PULL
- Wed – LEGS
- Thurs – PUSH
- Fri – PULL
- Sat – LEGS
- Sun – OFF
6 Days a Week Overreaching (used for short periods of approx 4 weeks before a deload)
- Mon – CHEST/BACK/SHOULDERS
- Tues – LEGS/ARMS/ABS/CALVES
- Wed – CHEST/BACK/SHOULDERS
- Thurs – LEGS/ARMS/ABS/CALVES
- Fri – CHEST/BACK/SHOULDERS
- Sat – LEGS
- Sun – OFF
With the exception of 3 days a week training all the volume for the other splits would be exactly the same. Same amount of sets and exercises regardless of how often you are training.
Which Exercises to Choose?
The focus should be on compound movements, I would say that something like 70-80% of your workout should be compound movements unless you are extremely advanced in muscular development and/or have weaknesses that need attention.
The above is a generic setup for anyone looking to build muscle. Obviously some people have functional goals in stead of muscle building OR they have weak legs or shoulders etc that require more attention. The routines and methods outlined above are specific to me with the goal of building as much muscle as possible. Any questions or if you want to tailor this to you, please dont hesitate to DM me on social.