"The man who chases two rabbits ends up losing them both." — Anonymous
Though the origin of that saying can be traced back to Native American hunters, too often it applies today to modern lifters who train for concurrent and yet conflicting goals: maximizing size and minimizing body fat.
The majority of research—not to mention common sense—suggests that it's difficult to gain size while losing body fat simultaneously.
Optimum growth requires a caloric surplus, whereas fat burning requires a caloric deficit. Those seem mutually exclusive, right?
Not necessarily. By using your head as well as your body, you can catch both rabbits rather than coming up empty-handed. I'm here to show you how.
Metalolims: The Great Equalizer
While it may be difficult to gain size while cutting simultaneously, it's much easier to maintain body fat while increasing muscle mass. This, in turn, reduces the body fat percentage of total weight.
You can also maintain strength and even see increases while leaning out.
Contrary to what you may think, you can also maintain strength and even see increases while leaning out. Happily, increasing the amount of lean muscle you carry creates an uptick in resting metabolism, which works in your favor for improving body composition.
This can be done in a number of ways, but the approach you'll take with this program involves a thoughtful combination of heavy strength training and sweat-yielding metabolic conditioning circuits.
Here's how it all breaks down:
When trying to get as lean as possible, some lifters tend to throw the baby out with the bath water, swapping out their normally heavy sets for higher-rep work. This is a mistake! Strength in the big lifts involves more neural efficiency and excitation coupled with biomechanical alignment to lift heavy. Translation: more muscle gets used, more calories get burned.
Additionally, researchers from the Norwegian University of Sport and Physical Education in Oslo found that a group of lifters using their six-rep max (6RM) bumped up their metabolism higher and for longer than a group of lifters training with 12-rep sets.
Heavy strength training can help improve muscle recruitment throughout the entire body. This makes each rep more beneficial by taxing the body's ability to use calories effectively to power the workouts. So abandoning heavy squats, benches, and deadlifts in order to get lean is misguided.
A mainstay in any weight-loss program is some form of metabolic conditioning; that is, extended periods during which your heart rate is above the anaerobic threshold. Think of it like a quarter-mile drag racer versus a long-haul trucker. The dragster will burn through a lot more fuel in a very short period of time, while the long haul trucker will sip fuel over an extended period to reach his or her destination. Simply put, higher intensities are required to see optimal fat loss.
Higher intensities are required to see optimal fat loss.
This higher intensity also increases the neural efficiency of the brain, causing the muscles to contract harder to increase force production and work output. The repeated-bout component of metabolic conditioning helps improve nutrient delivery to the working muscles and speeds waste product removal—two events necessary to increase work capacity and power output.
Best of both worlds
A higher intensity (read: heavier) weight workout with a volume of 20-30 reps of max effort work, coupled with a metabolic conditioning component can cause insane fat-burning potential, while helping you maintain or even increase existing muscle mass and strength levels.
Now that you understand how the various factors play into your goals, it's time to get to work. This workout will be composed of different-phased intensities and volumes through the week. The goal is to burn copious amounts of calories while maintaining a relatively high training intensity.
You'll rest between sets but no enough to fully recover. The total number of reps of heavy exercises will fall between 20 and 30, but the intensity and rest periods between each workout will be varied to work on max strength, heavy strength, or work capacity with a challenging resistance.
There's no such thing as a useless or throwaway rep in this program. Every rep counts! The weights will be challenging, but you'll never take them to failure. The goal is to train you to succeed, not to learn how to give up.
Because the workout intensity will be higher, intra-workout supplementation will be important. Branched-chain amino acids can help prevent excessive muscle breakdown. A sports drink can also help you to get you through the workout without crashing by keeping your blood-sugar level, while keeping your electrolyte balance stable.
- Squats, Metabolic Conditioning, Sled Push
- Bench Press, Metabolic Conditioning, Sprints
- Deadlift, Metabolic Conditioning, Rower
- Cleans, Metabolic Conditioning, Foam Roller
Begin each session with 10-15 minutes of dynamic work to increase heart rate and core body temperature. Mild cardio, light kettlebell work, or other mobility exercises are recommended. Repeat for three weeks, adding weight as needed while still maintaining strict rest intervals.
In Week 4, cut the volume in half and increase each rest interval by 15 seconds.
In Week 5, try to see what your new maxes are in each main lift, ensuring you don't go for more weight than you can use with solid technique.