One of the most common questions you will hear when you start working out is this: “Can you lose fat and gain muscle at the same time?” Well, the answer is yes. Here you will find out everything you need to know about body re-composition, including a workout plan, diet macros, and why it is possible.
My name is Robin. The image for this blog is my DEXA body scan taken at Bodyscan UK. The first image (on the left) was taken on 6th March 2017, and the second, three months later on 5th June. In total, I gained 8.4lb of muscle and lost 6.2lb of fat with this body re-composition plan.
Want to find out how? Well, here is everything you need to know.
Lose Fat, Gain Muscle – This is How It Works
While writing this article, I conducted a lot of research which I then used to design my body re-composition workout plan.
The amount of muscle gained is consistent with the two primary pieces of evidence I encountered while researching this article. Therefore, we conclude that it is 100% possible to build a significant amount of muscle while burning fat.
Not only did I re-comp, but my arms grew massively – as discussed in my article about building big arms. But the kicker is that I didn’t train my arms! No direct isolation work whatsoever.
So here’s how to lose fat and gain muscle:
The Law of Thermodynamics
Once upon a time, there was a man. A fantastic and intelligent man. A man of science and wisdom. His name was Isaac Newton. You’ll be greatly surprised to discover that he had absolutely nothing to do with the law of thermodynamics, and so we shall mention him no more within this article.
All you really need to know in regards to thermodynamics is that energy can neither be created nor destroyed – it simply changes forms. If you wish to find out more on this subject, hunt down an enthusiastic science teacher with nothing better to do than entertain the inquisitive mind of potential stalkers!
The Energy Balance Equation
Nevertheless, the laws of thermodynamics lead us on to the energy balance equation – which is what we are most interested in here. As described on the website bodyrecomposition.com, this equation – in its simplest form is:
Energy in = Energy out + Change in Body Stores
Now, as most will already know, if you eat lots of food and don’t exercise you will likely put on weight. This is because you are consuming a shed load of calories and that energy is then stored.
The energy is stored in cells – most typically fat and muscle cells. In contrast, if you’re eating less, cell oxidation will occur. This is where your body breaks down fat and muscle cells to release the energy stored within them.
So energy in is simply the calories you are consuming, right? Not exactly…
Different nutrients digest in different ways, and all behave differently – not simply depending on the nutrient in question, but also your genetics, activity level and other foods you may be consuming.
Here’s a good example:
Foods with a high glycaemic index stimulate insulin release, which can result in energy being stored as fat, rather than being readily used by the body. Once this energy is stored, it won’t be broken down and used as easily as readily available energy sources – such as when you eat again.
Another example is fibre. It tends to bind tiny amounts of protein and fat in the stomach, which is then disposed from the body without being digested. This means that a meal high in fibre may reduce the caloric value.
It is recognised that to grow in size (increase mass), we require a positive energy balance, and to shrink in size (decrease mass), we require a negative energy balance. Therefore, we could assume that a positive energy balance is necessary to grow new muscle, and a negative energy balance to burn fat.
This is the fundamental argument for naysayers who don’ think you can build muscle on a calorie deficit. They argue that the body does not simply change from one to the other.
Bulk vs Cut- Should I Cut or Bulk?
When looking at body re-composition, you essentially want to lose fat, not muscle. However, many people fear a caloric deficit will result in muscle loss.
Naturally, we perceive excessive calories as a fundamental necessity for muscle protein synthesis – especially in an age where the bulking and cutting cycle are regularly promoted. That said, the body re-composition allows you to bulk (add muscle) and cut (lose fat) at the same time.
Those who are new to lifting, who are carrying extra fat, should opt for a re-comp as opposed to a cut. That said, all newbies can achieve a great deal of muscle gain during the first few months of lifting. For that reason, if you’re already quite lean and want an alternative workout, check out Noob Gains for some other ideas for packing on muscle.
Maintaining a Positive Nitrogen Balance
A positive nitrogen balance is a primary objective when looking to add muscle mass.
One study examined the effect of a hypocaloric (restricted calorie) diet, and increased protein intake combined with resistance training on lean mass gains and fat mass loss in overweight police officers.[note]Demling RH, DeSanti L. Effect of a hypocaloric diet, increased protein intake and resistance training on lean mass gains and fat mass loss in overweight police officers. Ann Nutr Metab. 2000;44(1):21-9.[/note] The 12-week study compared three groups:
- Group 1 – placed on a hypocaloric diet (80% of predicted caloric needs). No resistance training, and no protein supplementation.
- Group 2 – placed on the same hypocaloric diet. Engaged in resistance exercise, and consumed 1.5g per kilogram per day of casein protein hydrolysate.
- Group 3 – placed on the same hypocaloric diet. Engaged in resistance exercise, and consumed 1.5g per kilogram per day of whey protein hydrolysate.
The results showed a mean fat loss of 2.5kg for group one, 7.0kg for group 2, and 4.2kg for group 3. Lean mass gains were negligible for group 1, versus gains of 4kg in group 2 (casein group) and 2kg in group 3 (whey group). Mean increase in strength for chest, shoulder and legs was 59 +/- 9% for casein and 29 +/- 9% for whey – a significant group difference.
This great difference in body composition and strength was attributed to improved nitrogen retention and overall anticatabolic effects caused by the peptide components of the casein hydrolysate.
This is one of many studies which support the argument that losing fat and gaining muscle simultaneously is possible. Another study worth considering looked into whether muscle hypertrophy was possible with large-scale weight loss.[note]Donnelly JE, Sharp T, Houmard J, Carlson MG, Hill JO, Whatley JE, Israel RG. Muscle hypertrophy with large-scale weight loss and resistance training. Am J Clin Nutr. 1993 Oct;58(4):561-5.[/note] Biopsy samples were taken from the vastus lateralis muscle at baseline and after 90 days of weight training. The cross-sectional area of slow twitch and fast twitch fibre significantly increased in the weight trained subjects.
Calorie Restriction and its Effects on Glucose Uptake
Glucose is a simple sugar which circulates the body in the blood.
If fat cells can uptake glucose (which can later oxidise to release energy), what makes muscle cell uptake more preferential? The primary reason is this: Muscle cells lack glucose-6-phosphatase which is required for glucose to be passed into the blood. Therefore, the glycogen muscle cells store is available exclusively for internal use and is not shared with other cells.[note]Wikipedia – Glycogen[/note]
If contracting muscles require glucose,[note]Richter EA, Hargreaves M. Exercise, GLUT4, and skeletal muscle glucose uptake. Physiol Rev. 2013 Jul;93(3):993-1017.[/note] and one is looking to reduce fat and increase lean body mass, then one must ensure that there is enough energy to supply the contracting muscles. By encouraging glucose uptake by muscle cells, two birds are killed with one stone: firstly, muscles have the energy required for the next workout without oxidation of muscle cells, and excess glucose is stored within the muscle as opposed to fat cells. A study found calorie restriction increases glucose uptake by skeletal muscle cells,[note]Wang H, Arias EB, Cartee GD. Calorie restriction leads to greater Akt2 activity and glucose uptake by insulin-stimulated skeletal muscle from old rats. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2016 Mar 1;310(5):R449-58.[/note] ergo, restricting calories = greater uptake of glucose by muscle which is exactly what we want.
However, those in a caloric deficit tend to consume lower levels of BCAA (branch-chained amino acids), and therefore, to ensure necessary levels of BCAA continue circulating the body (which is essential for normal everyday function), muscle cells will break down in order to release them. By supplementing with BCAAs during times of calorie restriction, a comfortable level will remain to limit muscle catabolism, and on training days whereby calories, nutrients and BCAAs are consumed to a normal or minimally excessive level, the body will be anabolic, therefore, muscle protein synthesis will be operating in full flow.
Here you can read a detailed article on BCAAs.
How Fast Can I Re-comp?
The speed at which one can build muscle and burn fat will, as usual, vary. Two extremes are set out below:
- You are an individual who has never engaged in resistance training before. You are a high body-fat percentage (25%+ for men, 35%+ for women). You are highly likely (providing strict diet and a proper training programme) to re-comp quickly. Bodyscan UK wrote a blog regarding one of their clients, which showed a reduction in body fat of 11.5kg, and an increase in muscle mass of 6.4kg. This was achieved on a calorie deficit, with no protein supplementation and – challenging all the preconceptions that testosterone is required to build muscle – this client was female! This was achieved in less than 5 months!
- You are an individual who is on the leaner side, and you have engaged regularly in resistance training. You are likely to find it more challenging, as your body has already acclimatised to the shock growth which occurs when first introducing your muscles to heavy weights. Your muscle gaining potential is lower, and because you are already carrying less body fat, your body will want to hold onto what it has and will be more likely to store more fat or break down muscle tissue for energy.
When looking to reduce weight and increase muscle size or simply retain lean body mass, it is advisable not to restrict calories too much. In the example above, the woman only restricted calories by 500 per day on average and lost a total of 0.32kg (.7lb) of weight per week. Reducing weight at a slower pace has been shown to be more desirable.[note]Garthe I, Raastad T, Refsnes PE, Koivisto A, Sundgot-Borgen J. Effect of two different weight-loss rates on body composition and strength and power-related performance in elite athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2011 Apr;21(2):97-104.[/note]
Body Re-composition Diet & Rest Requirements
Now that we’ve established that body re-composition is possible, let’s look at what we’ll need to be eating, and when.
Let’s start off our section on diet by addressing the elephant in the room – protein intake. There is much confusion over the level of protein required to build or maintain muscle. The level depends on many factors such as lean body mass, whether in a caloric surplus or deficit, how often you train, your sex, and fitness goal.
Conflicting arguments rage on – and if you are anything like I used to be – you will keep changing your plan based on the most recent articles. But that all ends here.
We have taken many studies and built a calculator to provide something far more sensible. It accounts for lean body mass, whether you are in a caloric deficit, and the activity you are engaging in, as well as comparing your habitual protein intake – if known.
Check out our Protein Calculator, which includes references to scientific research we used to build the calculations.
The next thing we will address is the need to cycle our diet. This means we will eat more on workout days and less on rest days. The idea of cycling calories has been looked into for many reasons: firstly, it is anecdotally reported to help prolong periods of weight loss by delaying the plateau. Other studies have shown calorie cycling can actually prolong life.[note]Brandhorst S et al. A Periodic Diet that Mimics Fasting Promotes Multi-System Regeneration, Enhanced Cognitive Performance, and Healthspan. Cell Metab. 2015 Jul 7;22(1):86-99.[/note]
For our Body Re-composition plan we recommend four days of resistance training and three rest days.
Using a BMR calculator we can establish our basic caloric needs. Once we know our BMR, we multiply by 1.5 to establish the calories required to maintain our weight. It will also be the number we eat on workout days.
A lower level calorie limit must be set to ensure we reduce the potential for muscle cells being used for energy. For this reason, we will consume the level shown as our BMR on rest days at an absolute minimum.
The net total is a weekly caloric deficit in this example of around 17%. We suggest restricting calories further if your primary aim is fat loss. What we mean here, is that two people can both be 25% body fat. However, one might already have a large amount of muscle mass.
Think of bulky rugby players who are not toned, but you can tell they have a serious amount of muscle. Then there is the “skinny-fat” guy. This person is also 25% body fat. But this is because he has little muscle mass. His aim is to build as much muscle as possible without putting on any more fat. This individual could look to consume calories at just below maintenance.
Body Re-composition Macros
On workout days, we will consume a slightly larger proportion of carbs, and on rest days we will restrict carbs for a few reasons:
- Our caloric needs on rest days are lower.
- Carbs spike insulin which can result in higher fat storage, so limiting carbs on rest days will limit the scope for this.
- Ideally, we should consume carbs after a workout to prompt a beneficial insulin response, as discussed earlier.
- Lower carbs will lead to our body resorting to fat as its primary energy source.
Your fat and carb macros will partly depend on your body type. For example, the ectomorph or mesomorph will be able to consume more carbs, generally speaking. The endomorph will look to restrict carbs much more strictly.
For this example, we are going to use the endomorph body type.
As usual, we firstly calculate our protein requirements. For this example, we are going to assume the following:
Body Fat: 25%
Fat will make up around 50% of Macros on both training and rest days.
As calculated using the unique Fitness Savvy protein calculator, 124g of protein will be consumed per day.
The rest of the calories on both days will be made up of carbs. Below is a table of our total calories on each day, and how they are broken down.
The calculator below is the basis for another awesome Fitness Savvy tool we are creating. Once it is complete, we will add the re-comp calculator link to this article. It is currently hiding in an excel file at the moment and needs to be converted.
Body Re-composition Supplements
The studies we looked at were clear regarding the benefits of casein protein for body recomposition. We understand that this is not possible for those on a vegan diet, so if you’re vegan, you should look for a vegan protein shake which meets the macros required for body re-composition.
If you’re intermittently fasting, we do recommend supplementing with BCAAs during the fasted period.
You might also wish to include a multivitamin to ensure your body is fully capable of utilising the macronutrients in your body re-composition diet.
Get Your 8 Hours!
You may have heard the expression: “Eat, lift, sleep, repeat”. This refers to the three pillars of successful muscle building:
- Train hard
- Eat well
- Get some decent sleep
Sleep regulates important hormones dedicated to keeping your body and mind fit and healthy. Damaged cells are broken down and repaired during sleep, too. You will maximise your body’s ability to build muscle if you sleep for 7-9 hours. Sleep deprivation affects hormones as follows:
- Growth hormone – as its name suggests, promotes cell growth. The levels of this hormone decrease from lack of sleep.
- IGF-I – short for Insulin-like growth factor – induces protein synthesis and blocks muscle atrophy. As with the growth hormone, this is suppressed, also.
- Prolactin – a hormone involved in hundreds of biological processes – follows in the same footsteps as both growth hormone and IGF-I.
- Leptin – a hormone which inhibits hunger is also restricted.
Consume 25-40g of Casein Protein Just Before Bed
Before you settle down for your eight hours of blissful sleep, be sure to ingest a good portion of protein. People often confuse the facts and believe decent sleep is important for building muscle. However, it is more likely to be an action taken to prevent muscle catabolism (the breaking down of muscle cells to release energy and amino acids while the body is fasting).
Protein synthesis is actually pretty low during sleep – even when 20g is consumed just before bed, as discussed by Jorn Trommelen and Luc J. C. van Loon in their paper: Pre-Sleep Protein Ingestion to Improve the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Exercise Training.[note]Trommelen J, van Loon LJ. Pre-Sleep Protein Ingestion to Improve the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Exercise Training. Nutrients. 2016 Nov 28;8(12). pii: E763.[/note]
While acknowledging the fact that some studies have shown whey protein as superior at stimulating muscle protein synthesis[note]Pennings B, Boirie Y, Senden JM, Gijsen AP, Kuipers H, van Loon LJ. Whey protein stimulates postprandial muscle protein accretion more effectively than do casein and casein hydrolysate in older men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 May;93(5):997-1005.[/note], they draw attention to the fact that these studies were only assessing up to 6 hours, and highlight that it remains to be established if whey protein is superior when ingested prior to sleep, with muscle protein synthesis rates being assessed over a more prolonged overnight period of 7.5 hours. Further studies have suggested that even post workout, casein protein is just as good as whey.
Given the effectiveness of casein protein in both the above-mentioned study and the one concerning body re-composition in overweight police officers, we are happy to recommend casein protein as the most appropriate supplement to use while re-comping. This is also supported by the fact that casein is a slowly digestible protein source, allowing a more moderate but prolonged rise in plasma amino acid concentrations during periods of caloric deficit and sleep.
While I was training, I tried a couple of types of casein. My personal favourite was the chocolate casein from Bulk Powders. It has 108 calories and 27 grams of protein per serving. We also have a huge selection of casein proteins to compare prices on from many of the top nutrition brands including Optimum Nutrition, Myprotein, The Protein Works, Grenade and many many more.
While re-comping, I used intermittent fasting to help me keep my calories and macros in check. Although there are various ways to do this, I fasted every day, with a 4-8 hour eating window. This type of fasting is often referred to as the Leangains method, made popular by the godfather of intermittent fasting, Martin Berkhan. I spent a lot of time on his site learning about his way of eating and training, and it helped me a lot. Definitely head over to the Leangains site and check it out.
Martin has also got a new book out which is definitely worth reading. Head on over to buy your copy, you won’t regret it!
Training for Body Re-composition
You want to know how to train for body re-composition, obviously. Well, here’s the body re-composition workout in all its glory.
Train Four Times Per Week
Body re-composition is a technique for building muscle and burning fat at the same time. In order to build muscle, you will need to undertake some form of resistance exercise. We recommend training four times per week – upper body twice, and lower body twice.
For this programme, the high-intensity sessions which we will call “strength days” (heavy lifting, low rep days) are to help improve strength, while the high-volume sessions (more reps and sets) are to promote hypertrophy (building muscle). We’ll refer to these as “hypertrophy days”.
All of these exercises can be performed either at your local gym or in your own home gym setup. If you’re interested in setting up your own home gym, but need to buy some gym equipment, then don’t worry! You can compare prices on weightlifting equipment such as power racks, barbells, weight benches and more, right here at Fitness Savvy.
On strength days, we’re looking to perform core compound movements. We will rest for longer periods, and perform fewer reps and sets.
As these are high-intensity exercises, we will perform in the 4-8 rep range. We’re not solely looking at strength, so there are no 1-rep sets, and for exercises such as barbell row and Romanian deadlift, we can work in slightly higher rep ranges. Rest periods are longer than on hypertrophy days to allow more time to recover. That way, we can lift heavier. We will perform 4-5 sets of each, and aim for 2-3 minutes’ rest between sets, as follows:
- Bench Press – 5 sets of 4-6 reps
- Barbell Row – 4 sets of 6-8 reps
- Overhead Press – 5 sets of 4-6 reps
- Deadlifts – 5 sets of 4-6 reps
- Squats – 5 sets of 4-6 reps
- Romanian Deadlifts – 4 sets of 6-8
“Why are deadlifts on lower body day?!” I hear some people ask. If undertaking a push/pull/leg split, the deadlift will typically fall on “pull” days. Anyone new to lifting who doesn’t complain of soreness in their back after deadlifts is probably doing something wrong! Nevertheless, the quads, hamstrings and glutes are all massively active during this exercise.
So the reasons for putting deadlifts on lower body are as follows:
- We want to keep our workouts shorter, and performing four exercises on one day, and two on the other seems silly. Upper-body strength days would be much longer than lower-body days.
- The deadlift works out a good chunk of the lower body so it can be incorporated on lower-body day, naturally.
These workouts are designed to get us pumped! Rest periods will be shorter, rep ranges higher and we will perform more sets than on strength days. Aim for 1-2 minutes’ rest between sets.
Upper Body Day:
- Pull-ups – perform as many as you can for one set between exercises. Aim for at least 3 sets
- Incline Barbell Bench Press – 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Dumbbell Bench Press – 2 sets of 10-15 reps
- Wide Grip Lat Pulldowns – 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Shrugs & Farmer’s Walks Superset – 2 sets of 15 reps. For the walks, I did 4-10 rounds of the garage gym (one to three minutes), holding a 20kg (45lb) plate in each hand.
- Seated Barbell Shoulder Press – 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Arnold Shoulder Press – 2 sets of 10-15 reps
Lower Body Day:
- Cable Crunches. If you don’t have cables, a few sets of challenging ab exercises of your choice between each exercise – no cheating!
- Squats – 3 sets of 8-12
- Rear Lunges – 3 sets of 5-10
- Romanian Deadlifts & Calf Raise Superset 3 sets of 8-12 (deadlift) and 10-15 (calf raise)
I designed this routine and successfully added muscle and lost fat using the garage I built in my gym. I did, however, have to change the adjustable dumbbells I was using. Originally, I had a set of Bodymax dumbbells. However, not only did they seize up (making it difficult to change the weight), but during some dumbbell bench presses, one of the plates actually came off. Very poor quality, and I would not recommend them. I have added a ton of popular, good quality adjustable dumbbells to the price comparison section of Fitness Savvy, so go check them out (see below) and see who has offers on. We compare prices from tons of retailers, and they are always changing the prices.
It was a tough choice between the Power Blocks and Bowflex, but I opted for Bowflex in the end, and they work really well!
While tending to your body composition, you should consider whether building muscle or losing fat is the highest priority. I know you might question this, given that re-composition means doing both at the same time. However, let’s look at two individuals who are both 25% body fat:
- Both are 6 feet tall.
- One of them weighs 170 lbs and the other 210 lbs.
- The first guy is “skinny-fat”. No one would ever say he looks “fat”. He needs to prioritise adding muscle mass.
- The second guy is larger – someone you’d call “bulky” rather than fat. He should prioritise losing fat.
It is possible to lose a lot of fat while adding muscle, as we’ve already discovered. So, if you’re the second guy, you should cut your calories a little more or add some cardio – or both. If you’re the skinny-fat individual, skip the cardio. Cut your calories so you’re still losing fat, but don’t potentially compromise muscle gains by overdoing the cardio. Once you add some muscle over the first 10-12 weeks, you will look far better than you did to begin with.
Steady State vs HIIT Cardio
If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you might not continue long enough to reap any rewards – and that’s the worst possible scenario.
I read a study by Foster et al., 2015, comparing HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) with Steady State Training on Aerobic and Anaerobic Capacity.[note]Foster et al. The Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training vs Steady State Training on Aerobic and Anaerobic Capacity. J Sports Sci Med. 2015 Dec; 14(4): 747–755.[/note] The biggest point they make in their concluding remarks is that HIIT was found to be less enjoyable and that:
Perhaps variety in the type of exercise is as important as the type of exercise per se, particularly considering that the health benefits of exercise have to be viewed in the context of the likelihood that exercise is continued for several years, not just the weeks of a controlled study. Perhaps, in our quest to find the ‘perfect exercise’ we have missed the more important issue of how to make exercise enjoyable enough to be continued long-term.
If you prefer HIIT, then go for it. For me, I walked four or five times per week for an hour or so at a time. That was ideal for me.
Where are the Isolation Moves?
You might be asking yourself why there are no isolation moves in this workout plan. This is because we wanted to investigate a few common myths to prove or disprove them. They are as follows:
- Optimum Protein intake – our findings suggest that common recommendations are too high. We used our very own protein calculator which might show lower requirements than other calculators.
- Isolation moves are not required for larger arms – many will say that their arms grew with little or no isolation moves. There are guys out there with arms as big as hams who have never performed a biceps curl in their lives. This may be genetic, and so we are not performing any isolation moves in this workout. Our article on growing bigger arms proved they’re unnecessary.
- You should never workout for longer than 40-60 minutes – the stress hormone cortisol is released after lengthy workouts which adversely affects muscle hypertrophy. We will aim to keep all workouts below 60 minutes – including warm-ups.
- Body re-composition is a myth – the science said that it is possible, and after 3 months with this routine, we proved it. In fact, the muscle mass put on was exactly in line with the studies we researched.
Time Under Tension
The reps are performed in a slow and controlled fashion. If you’re rushing the reps to get them out of the way, you’re either lifting weights which are too heavy, or you’re not truly enjoying being in the gym. Heavy reps are naturally slower. If you’re benching more than your bodyweight, it will be difficult not to perform them slowly. However, on hypertrophy days, aim for 3-second negatives (so on the bench press, that is when you’re lowering the bar towards your chest) and 1-2 second positives. Some advice “exploding” to push or pull the weight during this part of the move.
Don’t Aim for an Exact Number of Reps
Some routines say “3 sets of 10”. So, you pick up a weight where you can manage 10. It’s not too heavy because you think “hey, I have another two sets of this. With this weight, I’ll manage 10 reps on all sets, just like the guide told me.” Research has shown that the first couple of sets have the most benefit. So why would you “save” your energy for set three or four?
We are aiming for 3 sets of 8-12. Pick a weight where you can perform 12, almost to failure. On set 2, it is likely you will only manage 10 or 11. And set 3 maybe 8 or 9. This is fine. You are in the correct range, using a weight that is challenging on set 1, and you’re fighting to get 8 reps on the last set. Next workout try to make it 12,11,11 – for example. This will ensure you are progressively overloading the muscle which is essential for building mass.
Dropsets for an Extra Pump
If you’re looking at increasing strength, building muscle or “toning up”, you’ll want to get as much work done in the time available. By incorporating dropsets, you’re effectively upping the amount of work you’re doing during the session. This is an important element of the workout plan, and plays into the progressive overload concept.
For this workout plan, however, I’m not referring to traditional dropsets. Firstly, we will only perform them on hypertrophy days. In this current routine, I only used this technique for lat pulldowns and seated shoulder presses. The way to incorporate them into this routine is as follows:
You’re aiming for 3 sets of 12. You reach 12 on the first set and it’s challenging. You manage to hit 12 on the second set – but you are at failure. On set 3 you only reach 6 or 7 reps. You’ve totally exhausted the muscle. But you have fallen short of the range you are aiming for. Drop the weight down by around 20-30% and rep out to failure. You will find that the total volume (reps X sets X weight) will usually be higher than the 12 you were aiming for.
I performed lat pulldowns on 40kg with a 15kg and 5kg plate on each side. Reached 12 reps on set one. 10 reps on set two, removed the 5kg plate from each side and performed another 4-8 reps.
Do drop sets work? Well, as I said, the idea is to get more volume into your workout. A study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics in 2012[note]Claudio Melibeu Bentes et al. Acute Effects of Dropsets Among Different Resistance Training Methods in Upper Body Performance. J Hum Kinet. 2012 Oct; 34: 105–111.[/note] concluded that:
“The dropset method in both pre-exhaustion or in post-exhaustion may promote higher total work when done in multi-joint exercise, regardless of the order in which it was employed. Dropset procedures may prove valuable in attempts to increase total work during a training session when increased strength or hypertrophy is the goal.”
Work on Your Weaknesses
My biggest weakness is – and always has been – pull-ups. So, to help with this, my personal workout plan incorporated a lat activation routine. I added to the end of a day when my workout hadn’t gone over the hour mark. This was typically on leg strength days. It’s only a 5-minute routine or so, but helped me improve this exercise. Add similar activities to your shortest workout. The shortest workout will differ between individuals. If you’re leaving shorter rest periods between heavy bench press, you might find you have completed your workout in 40-45 minutes. On leg day, you might be taking much longer rest periods and find your workouts are lasting over an hour. Naturally, you will add any weakness activities to the shortest workout – regardless of body part.
The idea is to look for moves, stretches, routines – anything really – that can help you improve the exercises you are struggling with. Some people struggle with hip mobility for squats. If this is you, check out some stretches you can do to improve this. As I said, mine was activating the lats for pull-ups. It might also be something like shoulder mobility.
Here is the routine I used to help improve my pull-ups. It is by Damien Patrick – one of a handful of really great guys on YouTube whose workouts have added enjoyment and diversity to my sessions in the past.
HOW TO GET BETTER AT PULL-UPS : FULL PROGRAM
What Results Can I Expect from This Workout Plan?
Here comes the typical vague disclaimer: results will vary. If you’re new to resistance training you can expect far greater results. The longer you’ve trained, the harder improving body composition gets. That said, this workout routine would suit many situations.
As I already mentioned, I managed to put on 8.4lb of muscle while losing 6.4lb of fat. Regarding muscle size and fat storage, I ended up more proportionate. I was not new to training but had not worked out in six months due to injury, and had lost all gains I had previously made, so I was essentially back to square one.
Body Re-composition Summary
So, in a nutshell, here is how to body re-composition:
1: Restrict your calories on non-training days, aiming for a level calculated as your BMR. Supplement with BCAAs to ensure enough branched-chain amino acids are present in the blood to prevent muscle being broken down to free some up. You have limited the ability to break down muscle for fuel and primed your body for improved insulin-induced glucose uptake, as previously discussed.
2: Consume around 40g of Casein protein just before you go to sleep. Aim for 8 hours sleep. This will limit muscle atrophy, and in some cases (provided enough protein is taken prior to sleep) promote muscle growth.
3: Engage in resistance exercise on training days, concentrating primarily on heavy, compound lifts. Remember – a training day is only one where you lift weights for at least 40-60 minutes. The combination of restricted calories and exercise contribute to greater glucose uptake into muscle cells, priming your body for optimum re-composition.
4: Eat at calorie maintenance (or a minor surplus – of 100 calories or so) on training days to fuel protein synthesis and replenish glycogen. Consume the bulk of your calories shortly after your workout (preferably within an hour), as many studies have shown meal timing to be an important factor for protein synthesis.[note]Biolo G1, Tipton KD, Klein S, Wolfe RR. An abundant supply of amino acids enhances the metabolic effect of exercise on muscle protein. Am J Physiol. 1997 Jul;273(1 Pt 1):E122-9.[/note]
So there you have it. A workout plan that has proven to work, and all the evidence required to pull off the ultimate body re-composition. If there is anything that you feel has not been covered in this, or the associated articles, please leave a comment and we’ll get back to you. Happy re-comping!