You don’t need to work out in order to lose weight. That’s true.
But in order to have the body that most guys want, you’re going to need to build some muscle. And that means strength training.
If you don’t get this piece of the puzzle right, you’ll end up looking skinny fat when you lose weight. And it will be hard to sustain your progress with diet alone.
On the other hand: if you get the training side of things right, you’ll achieve that “superhero look” as you lose weight (broad shoulders, big arms, six pack). And you’ll be able to eat a lot while still maintaining it - since the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism.
Here are the three levels of training that I help clients go through:
Consistent movement - doing 30 minutes of movement each day that you enjoy
Training type - doing the appropriate type of training for your goals (for most guys this means heavy, compound weight lifting with sufficient rest periods)
Progressive overload - having a system for increasing the amount of weight or reps that you’re doing over time so that your body builds strength and muscle
Let’s break each of them down one at a time…
First, Build The Habit Of Daily Movement
Most people try to change their entire life at New Years.
They tell themselves they’re going to work out hard for 2 hours every day.
And then...they fail.
It doesn’t matter if you have the best training program in the world if you can’t adhere to it.
So before you try to optimize your training, I suggest you build the habit of training consistently.
Start small by doing 30 minutes a day of something you enjoy. It could be walking, yoga, soccer, weight lifting, whatever. Just don’t force yourself to do something you hate.
Schedule that activity into your calendar and treat it like you would any other important appointment. If social accountability is something that motivates you, invite a friend.
Reschedule that appointment if life gets in the way. Don’t just skip it and move on. It’s okay to miss once, but don’t make it a pattern by missing twice.
Remember that it’s consistency, not intensity, that matters at this stage.
Once you’ve proven to yourself that you can fit in some sort of movement every day, then you’re ready to think about how to maximize that time for your goals.
This approach may not seem as exciting as going all in, but it works much better.
Next, Choose The Right Type Of Training
Quick: What’s the best way to train if your goal is to lose fat?
If you guessed cardio, I wouldn’t blame you.
For years we’ve been taught that cardio is absolutely essential for weight loss.
While you do burn calories when you go for a run or take a spin class, cardio shouldn’t be your main priority. Strength training should.
Our bodies are adaptation machines, and each type of training encourages your body to adapt in a different way.
Strength training tells your body to add and conserve muscle. Muscle helps speed up your metabolism. The more muscle you have, the more you’ll be able to eat each day.
It’s the difference between putting your money in a checking account (cardio), versus investing it (strength training).
Here’s what to keep in mind with your training:
Focus on compound lifting. Exercises like the squat, bench press, and deadlift will give you the most bang for your buck. They recruit more muscles at once and you’ll be able to use heavier weights.
Do 3 sets of 4-6 reps. There are a lot of different factors that can dictate how many sets and reps you should do. But for the sake of simplicity, choose a weight that you can do for 4-6 reps while maintaining good form, and then do 3 sets of that exercise.
Rest 2-3 minutes between sets. None of this CrossFit circuit training bullshit. Since your goal is to build strength and muscle, you need to be able to give your maximum effort to each set without cardio or fatigue playing a role.
Most people go to the gym with the intention of sweating and making themselves sore. But the truth is, not all types of training are created equal.
The best way to train, whether your goal is fat loss loss or muscle gain, is by lifting heavy weights and resting fully between sets. You’ll build more muscle, get stronger, and look better as you lose weight.
Do cardio if you want, but don’t use it as your primary way to get into a caloric deficit. That’s what diet is for.
How To Make Progress In The Gym
If you go into the gym to train and do the same amount of weight, sets, and reps every week, what do you think will happen?
Exactly: Your body won’t change.
If, on the other hand, you’re able to add a rep or two each week, and increase the weight every few weeks, you will continue to get stronger. And in order to get stronger, your body will usually need to build more muscle.
The technical term for this process is “progressive overload,” and it’s the next step up once you’ve built the habit of consistent strength training.
Here’s how to ensure that you’re progressing in your training:
Keep a workout log. You can use a phone or a notebook for this. Write down the exercises, weights, sets, and reps that you do for each workout so that you can keep tabs on where you’re at.
Add 1-2 reps each week. Use a given rep range, for example 4-6 reps, and keep adding reps until you can do all of your working sets with 6 reps for that exercise. Then you’ll add 5-10 pounds and start back at the bottom of the rep range.
Take time to recover. I recommend taking a “deload” week every 3-6 weeks. This is a week where you reduce your overall workout volume and do things like yoga or bodyweight work. After the deload, you can go back to your original program or start a new one.
Remember that the main goal is to keep getting stronger on compound movements like the bench press, squat, and deadlift. If you do that, you can manipulate your diet in order to lose fat and/or gain muscle.
Now It’s Your Turn
Most people view working out as a way to get sweaty or sore. Others see it as a way to make up for a cheat meal. Some people view exercise as a way to punish themselves or their bodies.
That’s not how I view working out.
In fact, I prefer the term “training” to “working out” because it suggests that you’re developing a skill and working towards a long term goal.
I suggest you view training as a way to release tension, see what your body is capable of, and improve that capacity over time.
Here’s a summary of what we covered in this article:
If you want some help losing fat and/or gaining muscle and strength, apply for a complimentary strategy session.
We’ll help you turn the above advice into a custom game plan that works for your life. And, if you’d like, we can talk about whether our online fitness coaching would be a good match for you.
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