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How to Pick Your Perfect Workout Split

“I just want to know the ‘best’ workout split”

When I first started working out I was enamored with how many different ways people could split up their training. Countless hours were spent researching all the different variations and why they were the “best.”

If you’re new to working out then chances are you’ve wondered which workout split is the “best.” And if you’ve spent any time researching your options you’ve heard people swear that the split they use is the optimal workout routine for EVERYONE. These people can be so emphatic about their chosen method that they can be quite convincing.

I’m here to say something that’s quite unpopular in fitness forums and groups – There is no absolute best training split – there is only what is best for the individual. In this article I’m going to breakdown the 3 factors you need to consider when picking a split, go over 3 of the most common gym goals and which splits work best with them, and list out the 4 most common resistance training splits.

“How do I Pick A workout Split?”

When deciding on a workout split there are a lot of things to consider such as your level of experience, genetic capabilities, age, sex, sleep habits, and a lot more. For the sake of this article I’ve simplified all of these considerations into three primary factors:

  1. How many times training sessions can you do per week?
  2. What is your current level of experience?
  3. What is your primary goal?

How many training sessions per week?

This is the biggest factor that’s going to influence what split you go with. Sure, it should be one of the other two but that’s simply not the kind of world most of us live in. Most of us have to be brutally honest with ourselves when it comes to how many days we can realistically train. If we’re not, we’re more likely to be setting up for failure.

Consider someone that currently does not work out regularly but is suddenly inspired and super motivated to get into the best shape of their life. They go online, find an Instagram model with abs that is selling their “Secret workout program to a better body,” buy the program, and they start working out 6x a week.

Here’s a week by week breakdown of how this usually goes:

  • Week 1: “Hit all 6 workouts feeling good”
  • Week 2: “Had to miss 2 workouts for work/social events.”
  • Week 3: “Felt like I fell behind last week, going to start over next week”
  • Week 4: “I’m just too busy to workout.”

This is a very common pattern for people to fall into when they first start working out. In fact, some companies actually target these types of people because they’re over eager, willing to spend A LOT of money up front, and almost always quit by week 4. The issue is simply the fitness version of ”having eyes bigger than your stomach.”

Acknowledging the time constraints of your everyday life and deciding how to make time for your training is the most important factor when deciding what kind of training split is best for your. Most newcomers to the world of fitness find good results when starting with 2-3 training sessions per week. This is because such a minimal time investment is easy to meet and therefore succeed with. Early success is critical when trying to start exercising regularly, making the criteria for success as simple as possible is one of the ways we can ensure formation of the exercise habit.

Acknowledging the time constraints of your everyday life and deciding how to make time for your training is the most important factor when deciding what kind of training split is best for your.

When you have the training habit well established and have a solid understanding of how your life schedule can integrate your training sessions you can start to explore training splits that require 3+ days per week. At this point the main limiting factor to how many days you can train is your ability to recover from each of those training sessions.

What is Your Current Level of Training?

This is another one of those areas where you have to be brutally honest with yourself. When it comes to resistance training people are usually categorized as beginner, intermediate, or advanced. It’s simple but it’s also not very clear. Most people start to consider themselves intermediate once they’ve been working out for longer than one month. To make it even more confusing everyone has different “qualifiers” when defining people.

  • Powerlifters may consider anyone a beginner until they can deadlift 2x bodyweight.
  • Bodybuilders may consider anyone with between 1 year and 10 years of training experience as intermediate.

For the purposes of this article we are going to use the time-scale method stating that anyone with less than a year of training experience is a beginner, 1 – 7 years is intermediate, and 8+ years is advanced. Here’s how your current level of training affects your choice of training split:

  • Beginners (Less than 1 Year of Training) – Don’t need a lot of stimulus to get results. Can experience significant muscle growth and fat loss while training 2-3 times per week.
  • Intermediates (1-7 years of Training) – No longer experiencing “newbie gains.” Need more frequent intense stimulus, 4-6 sessions per week, to further muscle development and fat loss.
  • Advanced (8+ years of Training) – Use very focused and precise training splits that are beyond the scope of this article.

What is your goal?

Lastly, you need to consider your goals to determine what kind of training you should be doing. For instance, an amateur powerlifter doesn’t need to be doing a body part split, and an aspiring gymnast doesn’t need to be doing a heavy whole body routine.

For many people it’s natural to start hunting for the best workout split before we’ve really thought about our goals. We tend to think “I just want to be in better shape! Isn’t that enough?” and it’s not enough. We have to be specific in defining our goals. Determine your goal and write it down! This will solidify in your mind what it is you are working towards. Here is a short list of some of the most common goals people have when they’ve taken the time to get specific.

  1. Lost ‘x’ pounds of fat
  2. Gain ‘y’ pounds of muscle
  3. Be able to do ‘z’ number of pull ups
  4. Compete in an amateur powerlifting competition
  5. Be able to run a 5k

Sometimes we have more than one of these goals simultaneously. We might want to lose fat and gain muscle simultaneously (aka bodybuilding), or we might want to build muscle and gain as much strength as possible. It’s okay to have more than one goal but try to determine which one means more to you right now. It’s okay, and it’s expected, if you change your mind later.

Fat Loss Goal

When your goal is fat loss you should try to keep your training volume as high as possible while still allowing for sufficient recovery, aka max recoverable volume (MRV). The trick is to determine what your MRV is.

As a general trend, your MRV will increase with your training experience. So if you are a newbie you may only be able to perform any given workout 1-3x per week. If that’s the case you’d want to pick a split that aligns with that scheduling.

In general, when fat loss is the goal we want to keep training consistent while being in a caloric deficit. So pick a split that you know you can maintain for a while and implement a calorie restriction to start losing fat.

Muscle Gain Goal

The primary driver of muscle growth from within the weight room is volume. So when it comes to picking a split we want to maximize the volume per body part we can fit within our MRV.

Splits that work well for this are the Body Part Split or the advanced versions of the Push-Pull-Legs (PPL) split. Each has their strengths and weaknesses, and you may have to experiment with each to figure out what works best for you.

The body part split emphasizes a single muscle group each day so we can maximally work that muscle group. However, we have to wait an entire week before we train it again when it may be fully recovered after only 3 or 4 days.

The advanced variations of the PPL split allow for more frequent stimulation of muscle growth every 3 to 4 days. However, since these sessions focus on larger collections of muscle groups we may not be working them to their full capacity.

Cultivate Strength Goal

Building strength and building muscle mass are not the same goals. Yes, a larger muscle has a greater area of contractile fibers and can produce a larger force, but when it comes to developing strength as a focus there needs to be just as much emphasis on developing neural drive as there is on stimulating muscular growth.

A lot of people see the word “neural” and think this is going to involve really complex training but it’s actually really simple. To develop neural drive we need to practice lifting heavy often but not to failure.

Upper/Lower and PPL splits work really well for developing strength, especially with the primary powerlifting lifts (Bench, Deadlift, Squat, and sometimes Overhead Press), because it’s easy to repeat workouts within a given week.

For instance, let’s say I want to use a Upper/Lower split to increase my big lifts. I can do 3 sets of Bench and/or Overhead press on the upper body day and 3 sets of Squats and/or Deadlifts on the lower body day. I can then hit each lift 1-3 times per week. That increased frequency, paired with the intensity of lifting heavy, drives synaptic plasticity that will directly result in increased strength.

Popular Splits

So now that we’ve gone over the considerations necessary to determine which workout split is best for you we can go over the most popular splits. We’re going to go over workout splits intended mainly for resistance training. If your goals involve weightlifting, bodybuilding, body transformation, or strength building then you’ll find that these splits can directly apply to you.

Whole Body Workouts

Days Per Week: 1+

Level of Training: Beginner-Advanced

Primary Compatible Goals: Conditioning, Strength Training

Whole body workouts for beginners are great when you’re first getting used to being in the gym. You can simply walk around trying every machine and exercise you see other people doing. This is actually a really good way to get familiar with all the different equipment around the gym as long as you keep the weight low.

It requires a minimum of one workout per week which is great for making success an easy accomplishment. However, you don’t have to stop at one day per week. It’s possible to do whole body workouts a lot more over the course of the week. The only downside to frequent whole body workouts is recovery: when you are frequently working all of your muscles to exhaustion it’s less likely you will be fully recovered in a single day.

Intermediate people can also experience a lot of benefits from whole body workouts. They are particularly nice for people that have unpredictable schedules – they can easily hit every body part when they get a chance. When it comes to advanced people there are a lot of internet comments stating that it’s hard to make gains at that level with whole body workouts. However, Bret Contreras (aka ‘The Glute Guy’) regularly posts his whole body workouts on Instagram and that guy is making gains on gains, so don’t be afraid to try it if you’re advanced.

In general, whole body training is going to have a big impact on your strength and conditioning. Newbies will probably experience a significant amount of fat loss and muscle gain with whole body workouts, however this will probably slow down as their experience increases.

Example of a Whole Body Workout

  • Squats (3-6 sets)
  • Bent Over Rows (2-3 Sets)
  • Bench Press (2-3 Sets)
  • Pull Ups or Lat Pull Downs (1-2 Sets)
  • Overhead Press (1-2 Sets)

Upper/Lower Split

Days Per Week: 2+

Level of Training: Beginner-Advanced

Primary Compatible Goals: Conditioning, Strength Training

When I first started training this was the split I used because it simply made the most sense – “Today I will work everything below my waist, tomorrow I will work everything above the waist.” It actually worked quite well for about 6 months for developing strength, building some muscle, and losing a bit of my fluff.

Similar to full body workouts, you are not limited to only performing these workouts 2x per week. However, you are limited by your ability to recover but since you are alternating working different halves of your body it’s more likely your legs have recovered by the time you train them again, even if you train 3 days in a row.

This is the most common split I will have new clients start out using because it is easy to follow and yields very good results for anyone at the beginner level. Additionally, it does have the benefit of defining success as “two workouts per week.” When that is all a client has to put in to succeed at their week in training they are more likely to continue their training for a very long time.

Example of Upper/Lower Split Workouts

 

Upper Body Day

  • Bench Press (3-4 Sets)
  • Bent Over Row (3-4 Sets)
  • Overhead Press (2-3 Sets)
  • Lat Pulldown (2-3 Sets)
  • Lateral Shoulder Raises (1-2 Sets)
  • Hanging Leg Raises (2-3 Sets)

 

Lower Body Day

  • Squat (3-4 Sets)
  • Split Squat or 1-Legged Leg Press (3-4 Sets)
  • Hip Thrusters (2-3 Sets)
  • Leg Extensions (1-2 Sets)
  • Leg Curls (1-2 Sets)
  • Calf Raises (2-3 Sets)

Push Pull Legs

Days Per Week: 3+

Level of Training: Beginner-Advanced

Primary Compatible Goals: Fat Loss, Building Muscle, Strength Training

The “Push, Pull, Legs” split is by far the most popular split I ever see mentioned. In fact, the majority of programs I see people use are based on this general template. This is because this is a really good template to build your workout program on.

With this split you divide upper body movements into either ‘push’ or ‘pull, categories and do any lower body exercises on ‘leg’ day. Spreading these days out across your week is usually based on your experience level.

Beginners will usually spread 3 days of training over the week, such as:

  • Sunday: Rest
  • Monday: Push
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Pull
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Legs
  • Saturday: Rest

This layout is really common and allows for sufficient recovery in most people. However, many people change which days they work out on to better fit their schedules. As long as you hit all three days in a week it works!

Intermediates and advanced trainees also benefit from this type of split, however they usually distribute to differently. The two main ways Intermediates/Advanced people distribute their training sessions are by doubling their sessions in a week or by using a ‘rolling’ schedule.

Double Schedule

  • Sunday: Rest
  • Monday: Push
  • Tuesday: Pull
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Thursday: Push
  • Friday: Pull
  • Saturday: Legs

Rolling Schedule

This one actually doesn’t fit into normal week by week schedule. It’s essentially performing your sessions in the order of push, pull, then legs but taking every 3rd day off. This type of schedule is great for people that want to maximize recovery and have very open schedules across the week – like students. However, working professionals don’t typically have the availability necessary for a schedule like this.

  • Sunday: Rest
  • Monday: Push
  • Tuesday: Pull
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Legs
  • Friday: Push
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Pull
  • Monday: Legs
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Push
  • Thursday: Pull
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: Legs
  • Etc…

In general, the Push, Pull, Legs training split is very malleable based on your availability. It simply needs a minimum of three days per week. However, if you have more days for training you can bring up any lagging body parts by adding in a second day such as:

  • Push, Pull, Legs, Push
  • Legs, Push, Pull, Legs
  • Push, Pull, Legs, Push, Legs

Examples of Push, Pull, Legs Workouts

Push Day

  • Bench Press (3-5 Sets)
  • Military Press (3-4 Sets)
  • Close Grip Bench Press (2-3 Sets)
  • Tricep Dips (2-3 Sets)
  • Tricep Pushdowns (1-2 Sets)

Pull Day

  • Deadlift (3-5 Sets)
  • Bent Over Row (3-4 Sets)
  • Pull Ups or Lat Pulldown (2-3 Sets)
  • Seated Row (2-3 Sets)
  • Bicep Curls (2-5 Sets)

Leg Day

  • Squats (3-5 Sets)
  • Split Squats or Leg Press (3-4 Sets)
  • Hip Thrusters (2-3 Sets)
  • Leg Curls (2-3 Sets)
  • Leg Extensions (1-2 Sets)
  • Calf Raises (2-5 Sets)

Body Part Split (Aka “the Bro Split”)

Days Per Week: 4-5

Level of Training: Intermediate-Advanced

Primary Compatible Goals: Fat Loss, Building Muscle, Strength Training

The Body Part Split, also known as the “Bro Split”, is commonly used with bodybuilding. The focus of each day is on one particular body part and the goal is to work that body part to exhaustion. Typically, anywhere between 12 and 24 working sets are completed, depending on recovery capabilities and experience. This split is useful when your goals are aligned with bodybuilding, as it allows for maximizing volume and training to failure of a single muscle group per day.

The prototypical body part split is:

  • Sunday: Rest
  • Monday: Chest
  • Tuesday: Legs
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Back
  • Friday: Shoulders
  • Saturday: Arms

Another popular version of the body part split is the four days per week variation. In this version the arms day is removed and split among other training sessions. Such as:

  • Sunday: Rest
  • Monday: Chest & Triceps
  • Tuesday: Legs
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Back & Biceps
  • Friday: Shoulders
  • Saturday: Rest

The placement of rest days and order of training sessions is completely up to the individual. Although it is wise to avoid training nearby groups back-to-back. For instance, chest then shoulders is a bad idea, but chest then legs or back is fine.

Example of Body Part Split Workouts

Chest Day

  • Bench Press (4-6 Sets)
  • Incline Bench Press (3-4 Sets)
  • Dumbbell Pec Flyes (3-4 Sets)
  • Dips (3-4 Sets)
  • Cable Crossovers (3-5 Sets)

Back Day

  • Barbell Deadlifts (4-6 Sets)
  • Bent Over Rows (3-4 Sets)
  • Pull Ups or Lat Pulldowns (3-4 Sets)
  • Seated Rows (2-3 Sets)
  • Shrugs (2-3 Sets)

Shoulder Day

  • Barbell Military Press (4-6 Sets)
  • Wall Assisted Handstand Holds (3-4 Sets)
  • Lateral Shoulder Raises (3-4 Sets)
  • Arnold or Cuban Press (2-3 Sets)
  • Battle Ropes (2-3 Sets)

Leg Day

  • Barbell Squat (4-6 Sets)
  • Split Squat or Leg Press (3-4 Sets)
  • Leg Curls (3-4 Sets)
  • Leg Extensions (2-3 Sets)
  • Calf Raises (3-5 Sets)

Arm Day

  • Close Grip Bench Press (4-6 Sets)
  • Preacher Curls (4-6 Sets)
  • Tricep Pushdowns (3-4 Sets)
  • Concentration Curls (3-4 Sets)
  • Forearm Curls (2-3 Sets)

Conclusion

When picking your perfect workout split there are three main factors to consider: Training experience, Availability, and Goals. There are an infinite number of ways you can split up your training but the most popular are the Whole Body, Upper/Lower, Push-Pull-Legs, and Body Part Split. When deciding which split will work best for you you first need to consider your level of experience, followed by your availability, and lastly, your goals.

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Everything You Need To Know About How to Lose Weight (And Keep It Off)

Download our FREE weight loss plan to maximize the benefits of this article!


Losing weight can be a frustrating experience. There are so many diet options that all seem to contradict one another:

”Bananas will ruin your testosterone and break ketosis”

”Animal fat will give you cancer”

”Bacon is the new Holy Water”

”You should eat lots of whole grains”

”Gluten will sneak under your bed and wait until you are at your most vulnerable”

Here’s a handy rule when considering a diet’s validity – “Does this diet require I completely eliminate any type of food?” If so, it’s bullshit.

You don’t have to stop eating your favorite foods to lose weight, and you don’t have to eat a bunch of crap that you hate. However, you do have to take ownership for your eating habits to create the change you want to see.

This article is a step-by-step guide to losing weight effectively and keeping it off. This article is rooted in the science of weight loss and doesn’t promise any magical transformations, but apply your willpower to the methods here and you won’t be searching for an article like this next year.

Highlights

  1. Weight Loss is primarily affected by energy balance
  2. You consciously eat at your TDEE for at least 3 weeks before starting a calorie deficit.
  3. Heavy Weight Training > Cardio for weight loss
  4. Cardio is best used minimally at first and gradually increased
  5. You can either restrict calories gradually in steps (easier/slower results) or do an aggressive caloric restriction (harder/faster results)
  6. Cheat meals reflect an unhealthy relationship with food
  7. Refeeds, Diet Breaks, and “If it fits your calorie days” are healthier alternatives to cheat meals
  8. Losing the weight is half the battle, keep it off with Reverse Dieting

It’s all about Energy Balance

The Primary determining factor of Weight Loss is your calorie intake. Specifically, the level of your caloric deficit.

Weight loss is simple in theory. You need to use more energy than you put in your body to lose weight. This is because our bodies can harvest energy from our tissues – such as fat or muscle.

Calories are the unit of energy we use to measure the energy content of food and how much energy we use during exercise.

So if we are eating 1500 calories per day and using 1800 calories per day then we create a 300 calorie deficit every single day. Our bodies make up for that by taking those 300 calories from itself.

Body fat is an efficient way for your body to store extra energy. If you’re overweight you have a very large excess of stored energy, therefore your deficit calories are likely to come from fat. Calorie deficits rarely affect muscle tissue significantly if you have a high body fat %.

 

Do food choices matter?

You can interpret this information to say “I can eat 1500 calories of fruits, veggies, and quality meats. Or I can eat 1500 calories of candy. As long as I’m under 1800 I’m good.” Technically this is accurate but in reality it’s not, mostly because things like candy are not going to fill you up. For this reason it is wise to adopt the approach of 80-90% of your food comes from filling foods and the remainder can be some sort of junk food.

Filling foods are foods that leave you feeling very full without completely eating up your calorie budget. Fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber, and lean protein rich foods are a solid foundation to build a weight loss meal plan on.

Eating vitamin rich vegetables and leafy greens may have an additional benefit on weight loss. In 2010 researchers published an article suggesting that the perception of hunger is altered in nutrient rich diets. That is to say that you can lessen the intensity of your hunger cravings by making sure the foods you do eat are rich in vitamins and minerals.

To answer the question – yes, food choices matter but not for the reason you think! The first, and foremost, factor determining your weight loss is your overall caloric intake. Food choices play a bigger role in making it harder or easier to stick to your diet in the long term.

 

people man exercise jogging sport run road green grass trees clouds sky healthy

Know your TDEE – For Real

Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) refers to the amount of energy we use in a given day, typically measured in calories. It is composed of three parts – Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), Activity Thermogenesis (AT), and the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF).

BMR is the amount of calories we use just to stay operational. This is the amount of calories you would use if you were in a coma.

AT refers to calories burned through activity, this can be further broken down into Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT) and Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT).

TEF refers to the amount of calories burned digesting the food we eat.

There are a lot of TDEE calculators on the internet, all claiming to be more accurate than the rest. In reality, they’re all pretty close.

As a bioengineer I can tell you that there is nothing more frustrating than trying to determine an absolute constant within a biological system. Let alone trying to determine the exact amount of energy a human is burning on a day-to-day basis. It’s going to change every day based on what activities they’re doing, how well they slept, what they eat normally, what they ate that wasn’t normal, etc…

This is why I say you need to know your TDEE FOR REAL. Start by using a calculator (Our Calculator) to get an estimate and adjust from there. Most TDEE calculations are accurate for ~90% of the population within an error of +/- 200 calories.

A common point of failure for people is that they use these calculators, cut the calories to 80% and then they start tracking their calories. This is setting yourself up for failure.

Instead, start tracking your calories at the TDEE suggested by the calculator and watch your weight. Is your weight going up? Then you need to decrease. Is it going down already? Then your TDEE is higher than the calculator predicted. Spend 2-3 weeks figuring out where your actual TDEE is.

 

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Learn what to eat at maintenance

When you’re figuring out your TDEE your also going to have to figure out what to eat on a regular basis. Leaning how to establish your eating patterns while at maintenance is important because you’re going to have a lot of questions that will make you feel stressed out if you’re also trying to restrict calories while answering them.

Should you eat 3 meals a day? 5? 7?! What about protein, carbs, and fats? How much of each should you eat? There are a lot of people on the internet that will tell you “You need to ‘x’ to lose weight.” But that recommendation is still just a guess. You’re going to have to experiment to find what’s best for you.

Contrary to the popular recommendation of the fitness industry to eat 1g per pound of bodyweight of protein, I find that I’m happier with significantly less (close to 0.6 g/lb). It may not be the perfect approach, but the okay plan you’ll stick to is a million times better than the perfect plan you’ll quit.

I recommend starting out as close to your current eating habits as possible and making small changes. For most people this means eating 3-4 meals per day and some snacking in between. So start with dividing your calories between those meals and focusing on eliminating snacking. You might find that works for you and you don’t need to experiment any further, OR you may find you still have the urge to snack and need to plan in an additional meal.

When you’re brand spanking new to weight loss you don’t have to worry about your macronutrient division as much as someone that’s relatively lean trying to get leaner. In reality, people with a lot of weight to lose need to focus on limiting their calorie intake and deciding on a minimum protein intake.

  • Your TDEE is your calorie limit.
  • To find your protein minimum start with 0.6 – 1.0 grams per pound of bodyweight per day (tend towards the lower end if you are heavier) and try keeping your minimum at that number for at least a week.

Remember – there is no perfect amount of protein to eat everyday for fat loss, it’s about finding an amount you can be consistent with.

Have a regular training regimen

This is another factor of weight loss that is best figured out BEFORE you go into a calorie deficit. If you’re completely untrained then you’ll actually see good results from staying at maintenance calories and starting a training program. People often set themselves up for failure by starting a very intense training program and a severe calorie deficit simultaneously. It’s simply too much new stress to keep up with.

If you’re starting a training program after being inactive for a long time then you need to resist the urge to do too much. Don’t start going to the gym for 2 hour long workouts 5 days per week, again it’s too much new stress. Start slow.

I’ve seen two different approaches to starting an exercise routine be consistently successful:

  1. Start with training 2x a week for one hour each.
  2. Start with training 5-7x a week for 15 minutes each.

The determining factor in figuring out which of these approaches works best for you largely depends on your personality and time constraints. Can you easily carve out a little time each day? Or does reserving two one-hour slots during the week for training match your schedule better? Whichever you pick, the determining factor in it’s effectiveness is your consistency.

 

girl woman fitness exercise gym weights leg press people health

Picking a Training Program

You want to lose weight, so you go spend an hour on the elliptical – right? Wrong.

Don’t buy in to the BS that you have to do a ton of cardio to lose weight. Cardio can have a lot of benefits but if you don’t enjoy it, then there are much better options to consider.

Strength training has a profound impact on fat loss, especially if you are new to it. However, it’s important that you have ample guidance when you’re getting started. Ideally, a qualified trainer would design an effective training program for you to follow. Unfortunately, not all trainers are good at program design and they simply tell you to do what worked for them. Do your research when hiring a trainer – ask them tough questions, talk to their current clients, and try to find any reviews online for them.

Not everyone can afford a trainer, but that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to ineffective workouts. There are plenty of materials available that outline great strength training for beginners to learn from. The hard part about about this approach is finding a program geared towards true beginners and not intermediate exercisers.

This is why I wrote From the Ground Up, as a guide for people with absolutely no experience to build up their strength, lose weight, and start living a healthy lifestyle. If you’re looking for a book that really starts from absolute zero and takes you through all the steps of building a healthy lifestyle, this is the book you want to read.

Whatever kind of training program you choose make sure that it’s intelligently designed and allows for sufficient recovery. When I’m in a calorie deficit I need to take a ‘deload’ week every 4th week, while normally I can go 8-12 weeks between deloads. Taking the time to ensure your recovery is often overlooked despite it being so critical for long term adherence.

Should your program include cardio?

Firstly, if you genuinely enjoy doing cardio (running, biking, hiking, etc.) then continue to do it in an enjoyable fashion. However, if you’re like most of us then cardio is not the most fun thing you can imagine doing.

Cardio has a reputation of being the type of exercise that’s going to enable you to burn the most calories. This reputation is due to the fact that cardio can greatly increase your calorie expenditure while you do cardio. Lifting weights on the other hand won’t burn as many calories while you are lifting. However, the resulting muscle damage and subsequent healing of those muscles will use more energy over the course of 1-3 days! Essentially, cardio burns more now but lifting burns more over time.

That all being said cardio can have it’s place in your training routine to help with weight loss. The trick is to try and use the minimal effective dose of cardio. That is, you want to find the absolute smallest amount of cardio you can do while still getting benefits. The reason you want to do this is that our bodies can adapt to the demands of cardio quickly and we constantly have to increase to continue getting results. When a fun one-mile run turns into a mandatory 6-mile run, life just isn’t as fun.

I recommend doing 2-3 sets of some sort of High Intensity Interval Training, specifically on a bike or sprints. This way it’s very easy to start out low (2-3) sets and gradually add a set every 5-10 training sessions. It keeps the intensity at the edge of your abilities without increasing the volume to an unmanageable level.

 

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Restricting Calories

So now we’re finally at the sweet candy filled center of this article – Calorie Restriction.

As we discussed in the beginning of this article, food choice does matter in the sense that certain foods can make it easier to stay in a calorie restriction but there are no magic foods that you can start to eat or eliminate that will cause all the fat to melt away (Yes, that means you can even eat ice cream and pizza – within reason). Calorie Restriction is going to be the primary factor responsible for weight loss.

By now you should have an idea of what your TDEE is and what kinds of foods you can eat regularly while staying within your TDEE. Now it’s time to put those habits to use, restrict the calories, and watch the scale drop.

Have a plan when cutting calories

When you’re starting a calorie deficit it’s important to have a few things written down:

  • Current weight
  • Current TDEE
  • Goal Weight
  • Amount of time you’re willing to diet for (I limit myself to 12-16 weeks before I require a mandatory reverse dieting period).

From here you have two options – gradual dieting or aggressive dieting. In my personal experience one of these is usually better than the other but that changes for everyone. Personally, I like gradual dieting and tend to crash on aggressive deficits.

With a gradual dieting deficit you’ll want to have a series of steps planned for when your diet stalls. For example let’s say I have a TDEE of 2000 calories – I’ll make my planned steps 1800, 1600, 1500, and 1400 calories (90%, 80%, 75%, and 70%, respectively).

I’ll start at 1800 calories and keep track of my weight diligently. When I’m at a point that the scale hasn’t moved in 7-10 days I’ll go down to the next step. I’ll continue this plan until I’m at the bottom of my planned steps and I’ll need to either increase my training volume to continue losing weight or reverse diet back to a point that I can cut from again.

An aggressive calorie deficit will simply have one large cut from my TDEE (~70%). Aggressive calorie deficits have the benefit of facilitating faster weight loss however they can be harder to stick to as it is a more drastic change from your norm.

 

forget Cheat meals – try this instead

It’s inevitable, and we’ve all done it. You get through 5-10 days on your new diet and suddenly you look down and you’ve eaten a Big Mac, half a pizza, a bowl of ice cream, gummy bears, the other half of the pizza, and a snickers. After that meal you proclaim that that was your cheat meal which likely turns into an entire cheat day. It’s called the ”Screw it” effect.

When we restrict food, we want food more. Psychologically we don’t like being told we can’t have something. This is especially true for diets that eliminate food entire types of food like processed sugar, grains, meat, etc.

This is exactly why I am a supporter of the flexible dieting approach. No foods are “off limits,” but you are responsible for whatever you eat and you have to track it. If you want a burger, then have a burger but plan accordingly and be aware that it may make it more difficult to fit your overall calories later.

Let’s break down why people the reasoning behind a cheat meal and develop better strategies to meet the needs we feel are addressed during a cheat meal.

First and foremost, it’s normal to get to a point of calorie restriction where you’re exhausted and need to eat a little more than your restriction will allow. A good approach to this is to implement a refeed day. A refeed refers to increasing your calories back to your TDEE for a single day, usually by increasing carbohydrate intake. I find refeeds work best for me when the the increased carbs come from a 50/50 mix of whole plant sources (fruits, veggies, grains) and sugary sources (cookies, and snickers bars). Traditionally refeeds are limited to one day per week.

Secondly, some days we are sick of tracking the macronutrients to the degree we are and we just want to step back from the need to consistently track. For this it’s good to have a “if it fits your calories” day. On these days you’re not worried about carbs, proteins, or fats. You’re simply making whatever you eat fit within your calorie allotment. Again, it is wise to limit these to once per week.

Lastly, your willpower and determination have been worn thin over the course of dieting. When this happens you’re likely to slip up A LOT. It’s okay, it happens to all of us. When you find yourself regularly slipping every other day or so then it may be time to implement a Diet Break. A diet break is a week where you’re eating at your TDEE again. Diet breaks are amazing when you’ve been dieting for a very long time but aren’t ready to start reverse dieting yet.

Ordinarily we wouldn’t want to go from a large calorie restriction back to TDEE immediately because it’s possible to put on a lot of rebound weight quickly, however in the context of a single week it’s okay. However, if you find diet break week has turned into a month and you’ve effectively stopped dieting it is time to reverse diet back to your TDEE.

Weight Loss Supplements

As a rule – this entire category of supplements is a snake oil scam. 99.999% of the time someone is selling a pill for weight loss

Remember that the primary determinant of weight loss is going to be the caloric deficit you create through diet. There are no magic supplements that are going to miraculously make the fat disappear. However, there are supplements that can help make certain parts of the dieting process easier.

Caffeine

Caffeine can help weight loss through two indirect means – It can suppress appetite, thereby making it easier to eat less calories in a day. It also can increase the amount of energy we use in day during exercise (EAT) and outside of exercise (NEAT).

NEAT is often overlooked when people are trying to lose weight. NEAT is related to things like fidgeting or the amount of steps you take in a day. When you go into a calorie deficit NEAT starts to decrease, you can mitigate this by tracking your steps with a smartwatch or smartphone app that counts your steps.

Fat Burners

This is the motherload of modern day snake oil! Fat burners are often marketed as “thermogenic fat burners” and usually are just loaded with caffeine and other cheap ingredients that will make you feel like you have a fever. You’re better off just having the caffeine as a cup of coffee or in a pre-workout shake and saving your money.

Fat burners are going to rely on sleazy marketing methods to get you to buy their products. Rarely is the model that’s selling these products ever have to use them to lose the weight. Chances are they took it a handful of times after they lost the weight through diet and exercise.

If you come across a fat burner product and are considering buying it, remember that 99% of these products fall under one of two categories:

  1. It doesn’t work at all and is a waste of money
  2. It does work, but is detrimental to your health (2004 Ban of Ephedrine)

There is one case in which it’s okay to consider a fat burner supplement. This is when it’s very straightforward about the fact that you still have to exercise and be in a calorie deficit to lose weight AND 100% of the ingredients are listed as well as their amounts! If you see the terms ‘Proprietary blend’, ‘special blend’, ‘performance matrix’, or ‘thermogenic blend’ anywhere on the label DO NOT USE THAT PRODUCT!

Personally I have only found one brand that makes a fat burner falling under this category – Phoenix and Forge by Legion Athletics. If you’ve read some of my past articles then you know that one of the few supplement companies I will actually praise is Legion Athletics. This is solely because they are the only company I have seen that lists their ingredients, the amounts, and the studies they are referencing to justify their formulation.

Forge by Legion Athletics

Phoenix by Legion Athletics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: I am affiliated with Legion Athletics. I do receive a small payment when you purchase any Legion products through my links.

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The Aftermath – Keeping the weight off

I’ve mentioned Reverse Dieting a lot over the course of this article. That’s because it’s often overlooked at the end of dieting and it is absolutely crucial for keeping the weight from coming back.

In short, when we diet we have certain metabolic adaptations that occur that prime us for putting fat back on rapidly. Reverse dieting is a method of gradually increasing calories back to TDEE to mitigate this effect. You can read more in my article on Reverse Dieting.

In addition to reverse dieting it’s important to taper off the amount of work you put into your gym time to a more manageable level. This is only necessary if you feel like you cannot keep up the effort you’re putting in. Primarily, this means slowly reducing your cardio efforts.

With reverse dieting and slowly bringing down the amount of effort you are putting in at the gym you should start feeling like your activity level becomes more manageable without the dreaded ‘rebound’ weight gain.

The ideal is to become healthier in the long run and that takes a long term view on things. You have to look at your dieting efforts as a small piece of your whole life. Make sure whatever approach you take is one you can picture yourself doing consistently in 3 months, 6 months, a year, or 10 years. Because at the end of the day what you did won’t matter as much as how consistent you did it.

Summary

  1. Weight Loss is primarily affected by energy balance
  2. You consciously eat at your TDEE for at least 3 weeks before starting a calorie deficit.
  3. Heavy Weight Training > Cardio for weight loss
  4. Cardio is best used minimally at first and gradually increased
  5. You can either restrict calories gradually in steps (easier/slower results) or do an aggressive caloric restriction (harder/faster results)
  6. Cheat meals reflect an unhealthy relationship with food
  7. Refeeds, Diet Breaks, and “If it fits your calorie days” are healthier alternatives to cheat meals
  8. Losing the weight is half the battle, keep it off with Reverse Dieting