It’s All in Your Body Composition
Controlling your body composition starts with understanding the scientific principle of energy balance, which is the relationship between energy intake (calories eaten) and output (calories burned).
The three most common weight loss mistakes are: underestimating calorie intake, overestimating calorie expenditure, and overeating during “cheat meals” or “cheat days.”
To lose fat, you must consistently eat fewer calories than you burn. This produces the calorie deficit required for diminishing your body’s fat stores.
To maximize muscle growth, you must consistently eat more calories than you burn. This produces the calorie surplus required for optimizing your body’s “muscle-building machinery.”
If you want to neither lose nor gain fat and make slow muscle and strength gains, you want your calories in to match your calories out.
Protein affects your body composition far more than carbohydrate or fat does, and research shows that a high-protein diet is superior to a low-protein one in many ways.
At least 80 percent of your daily calories should come from nutritious, relatively unprocessed foods that you clean, cut, and cook yourself, like lean protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and oils. You can then use the remaining.
Welcome to the Easiest Diet in the World
Whenever you want to get leaner, you want to enter a cutting phase and consistently eat fewer calories than you’re burning.
If you’re relatively lean and you want to maximize muscle and strength gain (and minimize fat gain), you want to start a lean gaining phase and consistently eat slightly more calories than you’re burning.
When you’re happy with your body composition, and you want to prevent fat gain while slowly adding muscle and strength, you should begin a maintenance phase and consistently eat more or less how many calories you’re burning.
To achieve a toned, athletic body, alternate between lean gaining and cutting phases, where you focus on gaining muscle (with some fat gain) and then losing fat (while retaining your muscle) until you love what you see in the mirror.
Use an aggressive but not reckless calorie deficit of 20 to 25 percent when cutting (eat 75 to 80 percent of the calories you’re burning every day when cutting).
For lean gaining, eat about 10 percent more calories than you burn every day. For most people, this is 16 to 18 calories per pound of body weight per day.
As for how many calories you should eat when maintaining, 12 to 16 calories per pound of body weight per day works well for most people.
Get 30 percent of your daily calories from protein when lean gaining or maintaining and 40 percent when cutting. This is usually around 0.8 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day, and for people who are very overweight, it may be closer to 0.6 grams of protein per pound per day.
Get 30 to 40 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrate regardless of whether you’re cutting, lean gaining, or maintaining. This works out to about 0.75 to 2 grams of carbs per pound of body weight per day for most people.
If you’re not following a low-carb diet, 20 to 30 percent of daily calories from fat works well. This is typically between 0.2 and 0.4 gram of fat per pound of body weight per day.
The Little Big Things about Building Lean Muscle (at Any Age)
There are three primary “triggers” or “pathways” for muscle growth: mechanical tension, muscle damage, and cellular fatigue. Mechanical tension is the most important one.
Simply producing high levels of tension in the muscles isn’t enough to maximize growth—you must increase the amount of tension your muscles produce over time, a process known as progressive overload.
Pushing against resistance is one of the best ways to develop upper-body strength and muscularity, because it engages some of the largest muscle groups above the waist, including your pectorals (chest), deltoids (shoulders), and triceps (arms).
Pulling against resistance is another fantastic way to gain muscle and strength in your upper body, because it activates the largest muscle group in your torso, your back muscles, and your biceps (arms), as well as, in some cases, your core muscles (abs and obliques) and lower body.
When you squat, as you do in popular exercises like the bodyweight squat, goblet squat, and barbell squat, you work the quadriceps (front of legs), the glutes (butt), hip flexors (hips), hamstrings (back of legs), and calves, as well as your core muscles and your upper and lower back muscles (especially your erector spinae).
The Commandments of Successful Strength Training
How frequently you should train each major muscle group (the primary muscles involved in pushing, pulling, and squatting) depends on your schedule, your goals, and the difficulty of each workout, but a good rule of thumb is to train all the muscles you most want to develop at least once every five to seven days.
In double progression, you work with a weight in a rep range (a minimum and maximum number of reps to strive for in a set, such as 10 to 12 reps), and once you hit the top of that rep range for a certain number of hard sets in a row, you increase the weight.
Proper form is achieved when the right weight is moved through the right range of motion with the right technique.
If something hurts or feels “off” while you’re doing a set, stop immediately and rest for a couple of minutes, before trying the exercise again. If it’s no better the next time around, do something else, then come back to the problematic exercise in your next workout and see how it goes. If it’s still a problem, substitute a different exercise once again and stay away from the offender until it’s no longer bothersome.
A winning motto for strength training is “progress is progress,” understanding that sometimes you’ll advance quickly and other times slowly, but so long as you’re moving forward, you’re playing the game well.
The Best Strength Exercises for Building Your Best Body Ever
|Pushing Exercises||Pulling Exercises||Squatting Exercises|
Machine Chest Press
Machine Shoulder Press
One-Arm Dumbbell Row
Bodyweight Split Squat
|Intermediate Primaries||Dumbbell Bench Press
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press
Seated Cable Row
|Dumbbell Goblet Squat
Dumbbell Split Squat
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
|Advanced Primaries||Barbell Bench Press
Incline Barbell Bench Press
|Barbell Back Squat
Barbell Romanian Deadlift
|Accessories||Cable Triceps Pushdown
Dumbbell Triceps Overhead Press
Machine Cable Fly
Alternating Dumbbell Curl
Cable Biceps Curl
Primary exercises will be responsible for the lion’s share of your results because they train (and develop) the most muscle mass and produce the most whole-body strength.
Accessory exercises are used to develop muscles that are particularly stubborn and slow to respond to training, and muscles that aren’t adequately trained by primary exercises alone.
Pushing exercises involve moving your hands away from your torso either horizontally (in front of your body) or vertically (above your head), and primarily train three major muscle groups: the pectoralis (major and minor), triceps, and deltoids.
Pulling exercises involve pulling toward your torso, either horizontally (perpendicular to your torso) or vertically (parallel with it), and primarily train four major muscle groups: the latissimus dorsi, upper back muscles, lower back muscles, and biceps.
Squatting exercises involve lowering your butt to the floor by bending at your knees and hips simultaneously, often with resistance provided by bands, dumbbells, or a machine or barbell.
The Right (and Wrong) Ways to Track Your Progress
To track your body composition, weigh yourself every three days and calculate the average every two weeks, and take body measurements and progress pictures every two weeks.
Your weight can change daily for reasons that have nothing to do with fat or muscle loss or gain, including fluid retention, glycogen levels, and bowel movements (or the lack thereof), so expect regular ups and downs, and don’t fret over sudden increases.
Measure and record your waist circumference every two weeks, because the size of your waist is a reliable indicator of fat loss or gain.
Tracking your strength training is just as important as tracking your body composition because it’s the only way to ensure you’re progressively overloading your muscles.
To track your strength workouts, the two easiest options are a pen and paper or the notepad app in your smartphone, though in both cases, the process is the same: all you do is write out a workout and then record your performance of it.
The Smart Supplement Buyer’s Guide
A great protein powder has several hallmarks: it tastes good, it mixes well, it’s high in protein and low in carbohydrate and fat, it’s rich in essential amino acids, it’s absorbed well by the body, and it’s affordable.
Artificial sweeteners and food dyes may not be as dangerous as alarmists would have you believe, but studies do show that they can cause adverse reactions in some people.
Whey isolate and hydrolysate have advantages—more protein by weight, no lactose, better mixability and digestibility, and some would say better taste—but as far as bottom-line results go, a high-quality whey concentrate works just fine.
Casein protein comes from milk and is highly effective for muscle building, but unlike whey, casein digests slowly, resulting in a steadier, more gradual release of amino acids into the blood—a property that makes it no better or worse for our purposes.
If you’re a man, avoid soy protein powder because it may negatively affect male hormones. If you’re a woman, however, soy protein is a wonderful plant-based source of protein with no known risks or downsides.