Your Guide To Winning 2021 and Demolishing Your Physical Goals
2020 wasn’t your year? Well here’s your chance to make long-lasting physical changes in the New Year.
In this guide we will discuss the principles behind accomplishing your body recomposition goal, while weeding through all the “marketing” in the ever-trustworthy fitness industry and supplying you with a number of resources to further your education.
Table of Contents:
Priorities & Body Recomposition
When it comes to body recomposition we’re going to separate this into two categories:
That’s it. There’s an old saying that by prioritizing everything you prioritize nothing. To begin this journey of body recomposition, you need to decide which is your priority. Now, this is not to say that by choosing let’s say weight/fat loss you will not gain muscle on the way or visa versa, but it is not your priority.
If you feel you are overweight, I always recommend losing fat first. If you are skinny then go for muscle gain (no one cares if you are scrawny with a six pack, speaking from experience :).
How do I go about fat loss or muscle gain?
Believe it or not it's actually quite simple, it all comes down to energy. As humans we cannot produce our own energy, so we must consume food in order to supply our body with energy. We measure this energy in kilo-calories which we humans abbreviate as calories. By consuming less calories than you burn on a daily basis this will put your body into a calorie or energy deficit. To compensate for this lack of energy your body will be forced to pull from its energy stores, which will typically be from fat cells.If you do this consistently, over time this will result in fat and weight loss.
The best way to gain weight/muscle is to put your body into an energy or calorie surplus by consuming more energy/calories than you burn on a daily basis. Your body will naturally want to store this energy, again typically as fat, but by performing some form of resistance training we can “persuade” your body to use this energy to add muscle mass instead of fat. But we’ll get to that later…
How do I find out the number of calories that I burn?
Your metabolic rate is the number of calories that you burn on a daily basis. Your metabolism consists of three parts:
- Basal or Resting Metabolic Rate - The amount of calories your body uses to maintain homeostasis, basically how much energy you would use if you didn’t move an inch all day. Your basal metabolic rate makes up about 70% of your total daily energy expenditure.
- Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis- The amount of calories you use doing small movements throughout the day that we typically don’t think of burning energy like typing ,talking, cooking, ect.. This usually makes up about 20% of your daily energy expenditure
- Exercise - This is pretty self-explanatory… if you exercise it typically makes up about 10% of your total daily calories.
There are a number of ways to determine your metabolic rate, but it really comes down to trial & error. Track or guesstimate the amount of calories you are consuming on a daily basis and go to the scale. While your weight will fluctuate a good amount on a daily basis and even throughout the day, if you are consistently losing weight over time, be it week to week or month to month, then you must be in a calorie deficit.
If you are consistently gaining weight then you must be in a calorie surplus. There are a ton of apps, websites, and health trackers that you can use to help estimate your metabolic rate or even tests you can have performed to find it.
But again, these are all estimates and your metabolism will also change over time as you gain or lose weight. My typical base line recommendation is about 15 calories per pound of your current body weight for maintenance. For more information on weight loss I recommend checking out my most recent article “A principle Based guide to weight loss” (insert link).
Exercise & Weight Loss are Correlated not Causated
This may come across as a “hot take”, but it's the truth. Exercise just increases the amount of calories that you burn on a daily basis. If you are not eating fewer calories than you burn on a daily basis, no matter how much exercise you do, you will not lose weight. Exercising can allow you to eat more calories while maintaining a calorie deficit or increase the size of your calorie deficit.
You do not need to exercise to lose weight.
If you want to sit on your couch all day and stuff your face with flaming hot cheetos, as long as you burn more energy than you consume you will lose weight. Now if you choose to go this route, you’ll probably feel awful, but you will still lose weight.
Now this is not to say that exercise is not beneficial. Any form of intentional movement is going to have a ton of health benefits, including allowing you to eat more calories. I mean who doesn’t want to eat more? But recognize that there are no exercises that are more beneficial than others for weight or fat loss. Now, some forms of exercise are going to be more intense than others and use more energy in a shorter period of time.
If you want to burn as many calories in as short of a time as possible then you should choose a form of exercise that matches this. But I would tell 99% of people to just find a form of exercise that they actually enjoy doing. If you enjoy doing it, you’ll actually adhere to it over a long period of time, even after you accomplish your weight loss goals.
Sadly, when it comes to weight loss there are no shortcuts, it just comes down maintaining a calorie deficit over a sustained period of time. Businesses like orange theory will convince you to believe that they have found the golden ratio for fat burning by maintaining whatever heart rate for a given amount of time.
While this is backed by little to no science, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it in fact works to burn fat and maximize your calories burned. But here’s the flaw… if we do this fat burning class, burn all our fat off and then go and eat enough calories to match the amount of calories you burned, your body will just replace it.
What about the keto diet which “burns fat as fuel”? Well the keto diet actually does burn fat as fuel through a process known as fatty acid metabolism, but the same principles apply. If you do not eat fewer calories than you burn, then your body will replace the fat you burned with the fat you just ate.
Same thing goes with “fat burner supplements”, “fat loss shakes”, fasted cardio and god forbid, the shake weight. But you see what I’m getting at here? Now if you enjoy orange theory or the keto diet, by all means go for it, just don’t try to sell people that it's better than any other form of exercise or diet.
Fat Loss Myths/ FAQ’s
- _______ makes you fat
- Fat doesn’t make you fat, carbs don’t make you fat, protein doesn’t make you fat. Excess of any/all of these will make you fat over time by putting you into a caloric surplus. We need all of these macronutrients for our body to function optimally.
- Spot Fat Loss
- You cannot target fat in a given area. Doing a 20 minute ab circuit is not going to somehow vacuum all the fat off your stomach.
- Cheat Meals/ Cheat Days
- The idea that you can basically wipe a day off your calendar and forget about it is kind of an absurd premise don’t you think? If you consume enough calories in your cheat day to put you in a calorie surplus for the week, or for that month, you just wasted that whole week of dieting. Instead plan ahead and account for meals or treats that you love into your calories/diet. Or accept that sometimes that piece of cake or extra chocolate chip cookie is worth the calories. I mean, come on we’re humans after all, not machines. And don’t get discouraged or feel guilty if you eat more than you should have one day, who cares! Move on and try to do better the next day. It's a marathon not a race. But also recognize that the more often you exceed your daily calories, the longer you’ll have to maintain a deficit to lose weight.
- Refeeds / Diet breaks
- By maintaining a calorie deficit for a sustained period of time, eventually your body can start to adapt by lowering your metabolism. For this reason it can be beneficial to include periods of diet breaks or refeeds, be that a day, week, month, to allow your body to recover from the stress of being in a calorie deficit.
I mean let’s face it, dieting sucks and sometimes weight loss isn’t our main priority or we need some mental release. Don’t feel guilty for letting loose a bit on Friday night at the bar, instead reward yourself and account for it. Again, just make sure to account for the extra calories you are consuming. If you want to do an extended diet break (week or longer) I recommend trying to remain around maintenance calories so you do not lose any of your hard-earned progress.
- Alcohol in general is pretty much void of nutrients, but it can also be a lot of fun :). As long as you account for the amount of calories in the alcohol (or any drink) that you consume and deem that they are worth it then by all means…
- Meal Frequency
- When it comes to weight loss how many times or how frequently you eat throughout the day does not matter. As long as you maintain a caloric deficit you will lose weight. So find whatever meal frequency you enjoy and stick with it, be it once, twice or three meals a day (or more).
- Intermittent fasting can be a helpful way to make calorie deficits easier by saving your calories for the end of your day. This allows you to eat bigger, and often more satiating meals.
Weight / Muscle Gain
There’s one golden rule when it comes to gaining muscle.
Stimulus + Recovery = Adaptation
We create a stimulus by performing some form of exercise or training. Recovery consists of everything we do outside of training, eating, working, sleeping. Adaption is our end-goal, to produce lasting physical changes in our body like muscle growth. If you do not recover from the stimulus placed on your muscles in the gym, then you will not be able to gain muscle.
The best way to improve your ability to recover is by providing your body with extra energy through a caloric surplus. As we now know. a calorie surplus results when you consume more calories than you burn on a daily basis. While there may not be any exercises for weight/fat loss there are definitely exercises for gaining muscle.
When it comes to gaining muscle resistance training is key, whether that comes from calisthenics, weight lifting, cycling, sprints, rock climbing, whatever. All of these forms of exercise can produce the stimulus required for hypertrophy (muscle growth), but they are not equally efficient at doing so. Muscle growth occurs in the last few repetitions as the given muscle approaches its failure point, meaning an inability to perform another repetition.
You do not need to go to this failure point, but we need to get close to it. Think of it this way, if you want to become a better sprinter, you need to sprint as fast as you can, casually walking another mile around the track is very unlikely to make you faster. In the same way we need to use our muscles to their full potential in order for them to grow.
When it comes to muscle growth the name of the game is tension. Think of tension like the “pull force’ in a game of tug of war. Whichever team pulls the hardest and creates the most tension will win. In order to maximize the amount of tension placed on our muscles, we need to minimize the amount of balance or stability required.
Think about it, if you can normally squat 200lbs there’s no way you’ll be able to squat 100 pounds on one leg because there’s so much more balance required . And when you approach failure within these unstable exercises, more likely than not, it's not the target muscle itself that is failing, rather the muscles required to stabilize your body. The more stable an exercise the more force our muscles will be able to produce.
Optimal & Efficient
As I mentioned before, for the majority of people I recommend performing whatever form of exercise that you enjoy, as you are most likely to adhere to this for a long period of time. But when it comes to gaining muscle, it's a bit different. The way our muscles work, they are stronger in certain positions than others. If you’ve ever flexed your biceps (or any muscle), you are putting it into its shortened position, when the two connecting joints are closest together. This results in a strong cramp-like contraction, this also happens to be when your muscle is the weakest. Your muscles will be strongest in the mid-range and experience a small drop-off in strength in the lengthened or stretched position, when the joints are as far apart as possible.
What does this mean?
When looking to gain muscle we can maximize the stimulus placed on our muscles by choosing exercises that match the force that our muscles are capable of doing. i.e. easier in the shortened range and hardest in the mid-range.
To illustrate this idea let’s take a look at the Dumbbell lateral raise. As you move the dumbbell up towards your side, the exercise becomes increasingly harder, as the deltoid/shoulder muscle shortens. Meaning the exercise is hardest when your muscle is the weakest.
For muscle growth this is very inefficient, as you are only taxing a small portion of the muscle’s range of motion. Imagine trying to improve your quarter mile time by only sprinting the first 100m and walking the rest. Eventually your quarter mile time may improve, but it's going to improve a lot more slowly than if you sprinted the whole quarter mile.
If we want our muscles to grow as efficiently or fast as possible we want to tax our muscles as much as possible through their entire range of motion. The difficulty of an exercise throughout its range of motion is referred to as its resistance profile. Your muscle’s ability to exert force throughout its range of motion is known as its strength profile. The closer these two are to matching, the more stimulus will be placed on the muscle, meaning more potential muscle growth.
If you do not care about “optimizing” your workouts/ exercise selection to grow muscle as fast as possible, then my advice is to again find your tribe. Whether that is in bodybuilding, powerlifting, crossfit, calisthenics, olympic weightlifting, sprinting, swimming ect., if you enjoy doing it then you are that much more likely to stick with it long-term. It is possible to gain muscle through doing any/all of these forms of movement; not necessarily the most efficient to do so. And I mean who cares? At the end of the day if you doing any of these forms of exercise, you’re much better off than the bum eating cheetos on the couch.
If you’re like me and want to gain muscle as fast as possible then I highly recommend checking out @n1education / @n1training, @coacheugeneteo and @hypertrophycoach on any social media platforms. These guys are some of the leaders in the industry when it comes to muscle physiology and biomechanics and offer a ridiculous amount of free content on their social media platforms of which you can learn from. For step by step programs for building muscle and losing fat make sure to check out our UMZUfit platform.
Weightlifting myths / FAQ’s
- The perfect training split
- It doesn’t exist. Training splits are the gym equivalent to your calendar as in how you schedule out your training. For the majority of people lifting 3-4 days per week will provide more than enough opportunity to create the stimulus for your muscles to grow, but you can always choose to do more or less than that if you want. If you want to prioritize a muscle group, schedule those targeted exercises more frequently and earlier in the workout, while you are fresh.
- High reps for toning and fat loss, low reps for strength
- You cannot “tone” your muscles. Muscle tone actually refers to the amount of muscle fibers that are contracted when at rest. Looking “toned” or ripped is accomplished by lowering your body fat %, so there is less fat covering your muscles.
- Rep Ranges are determined both by the actual movement and your goals. For muscle growth we want to stick in give or take the 6+ rep range. But less stable movements like lunges require higher rep ranges in order to approach muscular failure
- Free weights, machines or calisthenics?
- None of these are inherently better than the others, they are just tools that can be used within the gym. As we discussed, some can be more efficient than others in terms of muscle growth, but this is dictated just as much by the exercise itself as the category we place it into
- Compound (Multi-joint) Exercises vs Isolation (Single-joint) Exercises
- Compound lifts are by no means better than isolation for muscle growth. If you are training to grow our muscles, you need to make sure the targeted muscle group approaches failure within the chosen exercise. At times in compound exercises, the muscle that is failing is not the intended muscle group, rather a “stabilizer” muscle. This can inhibit our ability to grow the target muscle group with this exercise because the target muscle group is no longer the limiting factor. Now don’t get me wrong, certain compound lifts can be great for muscle building, just understand that one is not inherently better than the other.
An Argument for Simplicity:
How many cues have you heard for squatting? Head up, ass back, screw the feet into the ground, push through your heels, ect.. It might take a new gym goer months to become proficient at a complicated movement like the squat. The same person could walk into a “fixed” hack squat machine, find a comfortable stance and likely produce more stimulus in their legs on day one than they would for months doing a regular squat. Every exercise we do requires some level of skill, the more complicated or unstable the exercise the more skill it will require to do correctly.
If you want to take the time to learn the skill, by all means go for it, but if you’re looking to grow your muscles as much and as fast as possible then choosing simpler, more stable options might be a better fit for you. Just because you can grow muscle doing a given movement (like olympic lifts, sprinting, swimming,ect.) doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile or efficient to attempt to do so. Additionally, increased stability in a movement will allow you to have a larger force output, generally more force = more tension = more stimulus placed on the muscle. This is why for example you will always be able to squat more weight in a smith machine than with a barbell.
A Counter-argument for Stability:
Generally we want more stable exercises for muscle growth; unstable exercises might help to perfect our form/technique but require time and skill to perfect. A lot of times in movements we will have inefficiencies in our form or what some may call “energy leaks”. By performing less stable versions of movements like bosu ball squats, earthquake bar bench, we may be able to improve our technique which will translate to more stability and power output or force production when we return to the original exercise. For the majority of people, I would not worry about this until you become very proficient within the given movement/exercise or your progress has stalled.
- Full vs. Partial Range or Motion
- In general, for muscle growth we always want to take a muscle through as large of a range of motion as possible in a given exercise. But if you’re following the trend thus far in the article, you may realize that things aren’t as black and white as we would often be led to believe. More often than not, the value of a given exercise comes down to our intent. As I mentioned before, the dumbbell lateral raise is an inefficient exercise for muscle growth but what if we decide to separate the movement into thirds, the top ⅓, middle ⅓ and bottom ⅓? If we start with the top ⅓ using the lightest weight, go until we can’t do anymore reps, pick up a heavier weight for the middle ⅓ and repeat for the bottom ⅓, we have now drastically increased the amount of stimulus placed on our muscle, making it much more efficient. Another example is the leg extension machine, which is designed to tax the quads in their fully shortened position not through their full range of motion.
- How many times have you seen an athlete hit an “ass to grass” squat mid-game? Probably never. While the demonized “quarter squat” might not be useful or efficient for muscle growth, athletes might use this exercise to become more efficient in that position.
- I genuinely have no idea how the idea for ab circuits/workouts came about and am honestly curious. If you have too much fat covering your abs you will never be able to see them, but there is no reason to train abs differently than any other muscle group. If you train them through their full range of motion and progressively overload them they will grow.
- I have bad ________ genetics
- There are two main things that are affected by your genetics in muscle growth, the muscle’s insertion point (where it attaches to the joint) and muscle fiber composition. The insertion point will dictate how the muscle looks and having poor muscle fiber composition might limit the muscle’s maximum potential size. But regardless of these factors if you train the muscle properly, prioritize it, choose good exercises, it will grow. And I guarantee if you’re claiming you have poor ____ genetics, that muscle isn’t growing because of your “poor genetics”, but probably from your lack of effort (waving the genetic white flag) and because you are not following these principles.
Read More: The Best Way To Build Athleticism In The Gym
If you’ve ever read anything on goal-setting you may have heard of the very popular acronym “SMART”, which stands for:
While this is a great way to go about setting and accomplishing goals, I honestly do not recommend setting numerical goals for body recomposition. Why? Because numbers are deceiving and we are not machines. Whether your goal is to gain or lose weight, it is not a linear journey. The scale is going to fluctuate, some days you will be heavier, other days you’ll be lighter. Some days you’ll look great in the mirror, others not so much.
Even the “most accurate” body fat % tests often are off by 1-5%. It is nearly impossible to track short term progress on a day by day or week to week basis. Even if I had you in a lab and was able to run blood tests on you 24/7 and monitor your every breath, it is very unlikely that I would be able to tell on a physiological level whether you are losing fat or gaining muscle in the short term.
In the short-term we must believe in these principles and take ownership for our actions. In the long-term this will allow us to assess our results and re-calibrate our approach if need be. You may not win everyday, but as long as you win more days than not, you will progress.
We must believe that we are doing the right things on a daily basis which will result in our desired outcome.
Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with setting numerical or deadline based goals. Like I want to gain/lose ______ pounds before our vacation. And they can honestly be very motivating. But they can also be very destructive. So many times today we set goals and believe that once we accomplish them, our lives will be so much better for it or we’ll be happy.
But then what? How do you know that gaining or losing 10 lbs is enough? How do you know that it's not too much? As cliche as it is, life is about the journey not the destination. Maybe it's time to stop focusing on the end-game and instead focus on the steps that will bring us there...
With all of this said I do highly recommend getting guidance in some form or fashion, and one of the best places to that is UMZUfit, our all new fitness platform. This platform has a community of like minded members and professionals you can interact with along with various courses on these subjects. You can find out more about UMZUfit here.
I really hope you found this article interesting because honestly I had a blast writing it :). There is so much misinformation in the health & fitness industry that it becomes almost impossible to tell right from wrong at times.
My goal in writing this article is to provide you with logically-based principles that you can apply to form your own conclusions regarding any information you may come across. If you have anything to add to this article, or any comments or criticism feel free to reach me on our facebook groups (The Thermo Diet Community Group, The UMZU Community Group) or on Instagram @tylerwoodward__.
Until next time… be good