Fat loss has been and always will be a big hype subject online and offline. There are tens of different programs and supplements that promise you fast results with minimal results. Most of these are scam or shady to say the least.
No matter what anyone else wants you to think, there are no shortcuts to losing weight or building muscle. It takes time and it takes effort. However, what you can do in order to maximize your results is to train smart. Some training routines are more effective than others, but you will still need to put in the work.
Regardless, of your fitness goals – you maybe want to drop a few pounds, or you may want to get absolutely shredded – this article will go right down your street. We are going to look at how high intensity interval training (HIIT) can help you lose weight, and why it is probably the most effective type of training when it comes to burning fat.
So let’s get you started.
What Exactly is HIIT?
This might seem like a dumb question to ask, everybody knows it’s a way of training which consist of alternating between high intensity and low intensity physical activities over a short period of time. So it could be sprint drills or cycling really fast for 1 minute and then slower for 2 minutes or any other type of similar physical activity.
The smart question you want to ask is in fact – how intense should HIIT be? Researchers have found that the optimal intensity for fat loss is 90% of your VO2 max. If you are not familiar with respiratory capacity, VO2 max is a parameter used to determine the maximum rate at which your body is able to consume oxygen when you are training at maximum intensity.
A more common way of determining you are in the fat burning zone though is my looking at the heart rate indicator on your cardio machine (when you are using one). Apparently, the corresponding heart rate for 90% of VO2 max is approximately 85% of your maximum heart rate. So, if you are at roughly 85% you are doing great.
Now the low intensity part of HIIT can be anything from light jogging to complete resting. There are no specific restrictions here.
How Can HIIT Boost Fat Loss?
Even though HIIT has many other health benefits than just enhancing fat loss, in this post we are going to look at it only from this point of view. So, here is why HIIT is so great for lowering body fat.
Sky-High Calorie Burning
No matter what anyone wants to you believe, losing weight is all down to calories in versus calories out. The higher you caloric output will be the easier it will be for you to achieve a caloric deficit state. By training at super high intensity you caloric consumption will skyrocket.
Even though many people including fitness professionals believe that doing low and steady cardio will put you in the fat burning zone that is actually not the optimal way to train for fat loss. According to this study, doing just four to six short sessions of sprints will actually burn more calories than a 30 minute session of low intensity cardio training.
So, with HIIT you will burn more calories in less time. Of course you will also need to watch the amount of calories you are taking in. Ideally, at the end of the day you want to be in a 20-25% caloric deficit for optimal fat loss and muscle mass retention.
Increases Human Growth Hormone Production
Human Growth Hormone (HGH) aka The Fitness Hormone is a big deal for any pro or amateur bodybuilder. HGH is responsible for many beneficial effects such as anti-aging, bone density, muscle growth, anti-oxidants production, but it can also enhance fat loss.
HGH levels rise usually during the night, when we are sleeping. That is why people way we recover and heal when we are sleeping and that is why getting plenty of rest is important for muscle repair and growth.
But HGH is also telling our bodies to use fat as fuel, so the more growth hormone we can produce the more fat we will be likely to burn.
Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption
This headline may sound really complicated and intimidating but it’s really very simple to get a grasp of. It is also referred to as the after burn effect and what it means is that your body will actually continue to burn off calories (and fat) even after you are done training.
This effect occurs only after you were engaged in a high intensity physical activity. The science behind it is pretty simple as well. When you are training intense enough – at about 85% of your maximum heart rate – your lungs will not be able to supply to your muscles and organs the amount of oxygen they require.
So, during your HIIT session there will be an oxygen deficit building up. When you are doing with your HIIT, the oxygen level will need to be restored. To do this the body will go into a state called oxygen debt. During this state it will work on re-establishing the normal amount of oxygen molecules inside the blood stream. This process will can consume a considerable amount of energy, depending on how intense and low long your workout was.
So, changes are that after each HIIT session you will continue to burn off calories and lose fat, even if you are not actually doing any physical activity.
Decreases Insulin Level
Insulin is vital for a healthy life. Its main role is to carry the nutrients we take from food to all the cells throughout the body. Insulin is also responsible for storing any excess of nutrients (or calories) in the form of body fat.
Insulin level rises when we eat and drops when we fast. While the insulin level is high, your body gets the message that there are plenty of nutrients inside the body and there is no need to go after other sources of energy such as body fat. When we are running low on insulin though, our body picks up the signal that there are no nutrients from food to use and starts going for the stored fat.
Apparently, doing high intensity training increases our body’s sensitivity to insulin, which means it will need less of it in order to carry around the nutrients. Less insulin ultimately means higher chances of using body fat for energy.
How to Preserve Muscle Mass
The main focus of all bodybuilders and weight lifters is maximizing hypertrophy. Muscle growth is a slow process. So when you are dieting / losing weight muscle mass preservation is a big concern.
Excessive cardio training is known to hinder muscle growth when it’s overdone. So doing a whole bunch of treadmill running might not be the most intelligent thing if you want to get bigger. But doing just the right amount of it will most probably not affect your muscles at all.
What will matter most is the number of cardio sessions you do per week, their length and of course the intensity of your training. The recommended amount is usually just 2-3 HIIT sessions of 30 minutes each week. Keep in mind that the 30 minutes includes your low intensity/resting interval as well, so if fact you will probably do just 10-15 minutes of high intensity physical activity.
As far as intensity is concerned, the sweet spot is just around 85% of your maximum heart rate.
Each and every HIIT session should start off with 2-3 minutes of warming up before getting to the 1st high intensity interval. End your session with another 2-3 minutes of cool down.
Good exercises to include in your HIIT training are sprint drills, running stadium stairs, cycling or rowing. Just pick the one you enjoy the most doing or whichever is more convenient to do.
Brian Ward is the content editor at Kick-Ass Home Gym, a website providing helpful articles that inspire you to stay fit and healthy at home – on your own time, in your own space.
As busy people, we know health is important. A great morning workout can change an entire day for the better, and at the same time getting sick can throw off a whole week. So it’s important to take care of our bodies even if you don’t really have that much time to spare.
Over at Kick-Ass Home Gym you will learn how to stay in shape using a home fitness approach that works. All it takes to stay fit at home is the right tool and the right mindset.
Having a home fitness setup has changed lives. It’s the opposite of “out of sight, out of mind.” We can actually get fit and stay fit because our gym is our home.
Think about all the bones in your body, from your jaw to your shoulders, arms, hips, knees, legs, and toes – did you know that one quarter of ALL the bones in your body are actually in your feet? That’s right, 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments… per foot. Every lift, lunge, and lateral raise you complete is supported by the powerful and steady foundation of your feet. In fact, it’s estimated that the average person will walk over 115,000 miles in their lifetime. For men who run, play sports, and workout, that number will of course be even higher.
When was the last time you thought about taking care of your feet? They often go unnoticed and certainly unpampered when the focus is on building mass and boosting performance. Your feet can play an important role in both, however, and definitely deserve your attention. Here are 7 ways to take care of your feet like a man:
As intense workouts and weightlifting literally tear muscle tissue so they can repair and effectively grow bigger, it also physically shortens the length of that muscle during a session. Stretching after a workout or circuit helps your body re-lengthen the muscles, release built up waste by-product and lactic acid, as well as boost blood circulation and reorganize jumbled up muscle fibers. This might make sense for your calf, back, and neck muscles, for example, but does this also apply to your feet? In a way, yes. Your foot muscles and other connective tissues can always use a good stretch to help make them more flexible and elastic, boost blood circulation to them, and support greater agility.
A good foot stretch can be as simple as sitting in a chair, crossing one leg to sit perpendicular over the other, and pulling your toes back towards your ankle, holding for 5 to 10 seconds. Or stand on the edge of a stair with your toes, heels hanging off, and lower your heels as much as possible for 10 seconds before returning to the original position. Do with both feet at once or one at a time.
In addition to stretching the all important feet, strengthening the feet and calf muscles can help prevent foot injuries like plantar fasciitis or even hammer toe. Weak tendons and muscles make your ankles and feet more susceptible to injury upon impact – think about completing plyometric jump squats with a tight tendon in your foot or weak ligaments stabilizing your ankle. Tears, strains, even ruptures are more likely to occur with stiff, weak connective tissues.
Strengthening foot muscles can be fun. Throw a handful of pens and pencils on the ground, or find that board game you never play and toss the game pieces on the floor. One by one, pick them up with your toes and place them in a designated bucket. Engaging the tendons in your metatarsals as well as your ankle and plantar fascia with a simple exercise like this gives them a quick little workout and also boosts fine motor coordination practice.
Need a good reason to ask your girl for a foot massage? Here’s your chance. Moisturized feet generate supple, flexible skin that is less likely to dry, crack and potentially cause skin irritation. While your feet may have calluses from years of workouts, playing sports, and running, moisturizing them can help prevent those calluses from growing larger and rougher. You typically want to apply a moisturizer right after the shower for maximum hydration, but if you’re concerned about the current state of your feet, moisturizing even twice daily can greatly improve appearance. A foot massage can also help break up scar tissue in the feet, work out any tightness you might have in the tendons around your ankle and the plantar fascia band, as well as increase blood circulation. Thai foot massage was even shown in one 2015 study on diabetic foot patients to significantly improve balance.
Long toe nails aren’t just dangerous to anyone who might be sleeping in bed with you, but they can cause painful and serious foot problems if not properly trimmed and managed. When you cut toenails regularly, aim to cut them straight across and not at a curve. Why? Curved edges of toenails or more susceptible to grow into your skin instead of away from your toe. Ingrown toenails typically occur on the big toe and can cause pain, swelling, and redness, and even lead to infection which requires antibiotics. Foot pain and extreme discomfort from an ingrown toenail or other nail infection might inhibit your daily workouts and like a domino effect, your progress and ability to increase gains or personal records.
5. Invest In
Few things can cause a serious workout or sports injury like bad footwear. Worn out shoes that lack proper tread and arch support will inevitably and maybe imperceptibly alter your pronation, or the way you walk and run. When you’re running or working out, your ankle naturally rolls inward slightly to absorb the shock of your heel hitting the ground before transferring the weight distribution to your forefoot. Old, unsupportive shoes are detrimental to those natural body mechanics, causing under or overpronation, which overtime can lead to painful Achilles tendinitis, IT band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, the list goes on.
Trail running shoes will differ from road running shoes which differ from crossfit shoes which differ from weightlifting shoes. And yes, a good pair of shoes might be an investment, upwards of $100 or more on average. Simply put, shoes matter. Finding and breaking in a pair that fits well, marries with your exercise goals, and properly supports your feet and ankles is a must for boosting performance and avoiding injury.
Man up and give your feet some of the extra support they need. Lower extremity injuries from shin splints to ankle sprains oftentimes seem like the worst – while not always super painful, they can sideline any athlete in a minute, disrupting regular workouts and play. Bracing, taping, and wrapping has been shown to aid some leg and foot injuries as well as potentially prevent them. One 2016 study revealed prophylactic (preventative) ankle braces could actually limit excessive joint motion during ankle inversion upon a vertical landing, while still allowing normal range of motion. Foot pain during a workout may be relieved by wearing arch supports, a plantar fasciitis brace, or metatarsal pads, depending on your condition and cause of pain. Many helpful aids can be found over the counter in your local pharmacy or online.
So you have a foot thing that won’t go away. Embarrassing? Maybe. Worth seeing a doctor about? Absolutely. A pesky ingrown toenail that won’t heal, athlete’s foot you can’t seem to beat, even corns and calluses that are causing major irritation and discomfort – it is worth consulting your doctor, dermatologist, or podiatrist. Their evaluation, advice, and treatment recommendations might not have showed up on your WebMD search, however, they effectively are the experts and can help you get on a path to clean, healthy feet that power stronger, better workouts.
Want to be the ultimate alpha male – confident, generous, and strong? Don’t forget the all important feet – you can’t stand tall without them.
About the Author
Joe Fleming is the President at ViveHealth.com. Interested in all things related to living a healthy lifestyle, he enjoys sharing and expressing his passion through writing. Working to motivate others and defeat aging stereotypes, Joe uses his writing to help all people overcome the obstacles of life. Covering topics that range from physical health, wellness, and aging all the way to social, news, and inspirational pieces…the goal is help others “rebel against age”.
If you want to build muscle maximally, you’ve got to consume more calories than you’re expending. If you’re a fitness enthusiast then there is a likely chance that you have heard the terms “bulking””and “cutting”. Bulking is the phase where you eat in a calorie surplus (i.e. eat more calories than you burn) in order to gain muscle and the cutting phase is when you eat in a calorie deficit (i.e. eat fewer calories than you burn) in order to lean out and reduce fat so that your muscles stand out in all of their glory.
Now, the trouble many people have with eating in a calorie surplus is that you will put on fat. Unfortunately, we cannot control how our bodies use the extra energy we provide them through food. Most of the extra calories are guaranteed to go towards repairing and building muscles, but some of it will end up as fat – which is why the cutting phase is so important.
If you are in a cutting phase and eating at a suitable deficit and still not losing weight, then you should seek medical advice. Symptoms of low testosterone levels are often overlooked; however, low testosterone levels and high estrogen levels result in excess fat being held around the abdomen. This is definitely not ideal if you’re looking to get lean.
It is possible to make your own life easier by controlling your bulk to only gain a minimal amount of fat; which will make your cutting phase much easier. Many people see their bulking phase as a time to throw all diet rules out of the window. They think they can eat whatever they want, whenever they want because the goal is to gain weight. Unfortunately, human beings grow muscles at a very slow rate which makes the overload of calories completely pointless and even harmful to your final goals.
Here are 5 rules to keep in mind when you’re bulking in order to grow lean muscles with minimal fat:
1. Ditch Hours of Cardio and Opt for Sprints or HIIT Cardio
I know, I know, cardio is incredibly effective for fat loss. But if you’re afraid of gaining fat during your bulk and overdoing it with hours and hours of cardio then you’re doing your gains a disservice.
Do not despair, sprints and high intensity interval training (HIIT) will be your saving grace. Think of a sprinter’s body. A sprinter has minimal fat and loads of muscle. This is due to the fact that sprints and HIIT have an after burn effect which keeps on burning fat for hours after the exercise. The short period of high intensity has been proven to burn fat while retaining muscle.
2. Cycle Your Carbs and Eat Enough Protein
Carbohydrates, Fats, and Proteins are known as macronutrients and they make up everything we eat. Our bodies need carbohydrates for energy, fat for micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) absorption, and protein to build muscles.
Most men and women do not eat enough protein in their day to day lives. Protein is the building block of muscles and a lack of protein will result in a plateau in the gym. You need to eat protein to gain muscle, it’s that simple. The general rule is to eat around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight a day.
Carbohydrates are essential for energy. This is why it’s a good idea to eat more carbs on training days and fewer carbs on non-training days, or less intense arm focused days. This will ensure you have enough energy to smash your intense workouts while monitoring the number of calories you consume in a week to avoid excess fat gains.
3. Lift Heavy
Lifting heavy will ensure you’re overloading your muscles; which is the only way your muscles will grow.
Compound movements are ideal for getting the heart rate up. An increase in heart rate means you’ll be burning more calories when you exercise and, in turn, burning more fat. If you’re not working hard in the gym, then the extra calories will have no muscle damage to repair.
Compound moves are ideal for building muscle mass across many muscle groups and isolated movements focus on building strength in targeted muscle groups. Combining the two forms of exercise will ensure optimal growth with minimal fat.
4. Don’t Go Overboard with the Calorie Surplus
As previously mentioned, the body gains muscle very slowly. This means that you must slowly increase your calories and try to make sure you’re eating in just the right surplus balance to repair your muscles.
You are guaranteed to gain a lot of fat if you see a calorie surplus as a time to eat anything and everything. It should be closely monitored so that you can see muscle gain and, if you plateau, then continue to increase your calories slowly.
5. Try a Clean Bulk – A Calorie is Not a Calorie
If you’re counting calories, it’s important to remember that your body will only be able to grow if it’s given all of the right nutrients (carbs. fats, and proteins). If your body receives a lot of junk food, it’s going to be much easier to overeat since these nutrient devoid foods will have a weak appetitive response. If you pump your body with nutrients, it will use the food that you give it which will be less likely to end up as fat.
An added benefit of a clean bulk is that you will be able to eat larger quantities of food which will keep you feeling full for longer.
Follow these rules and you will be able to gain muscle mass without gaining fat.
Catherine Grant is an Editor-in-Chief of America’s best bodybuilding supplements website – TopTestosteroneBoosters.org . She is a health and fitness enthusiast. She wrote health and fitness related articles for numerous reputable sites like Huffpost, EvanCarmichael, MasterHerald, Get-a-Wingman, Lifehack etc… She is passionate about helping others reach their health goals through sharing her own personal experiences.
For many bodybuilders, protein consumption is practically a religion. If you’ve been working on building muscle, you’ve probably had your fair share of protein powder. Testosterone – the ultimate male hormone – has also always been associated with muscle building, but did you know that there is such a thing as too much protein, and that it can affect your testosterone levels?
You may want to rethink your notions on protein and its relationships with muscle gains and with test levels as, apparently, the mechanisms behind these two are rather conflicting.
So does having more protein make you manlier? The answer is actually best given on a case to case basis. In this article we’ll guide you through the science and present you with the important facts you need to know to optimize protein consumption and keep your testosterone levels high.
Why you need to think twice about that off-the-roof protein consumption
No, we’re not saying that protein is bad. It’s true that protein is a crucial macronutrient for bodybuilding. We all need protein to build muscle and have a functional body. However, there is an optimal level and that level is not always at the as-much-as-you-can-eat level.
Somewhere along the timeline of healthy living and legendary bodybuilding history, there started this notion that there’s no such thing as too much protein in your diet. Some people have accepted this as the norm and even forced themselves to consume 11.5g/protein per pound of bodyweight (that’s over 40% of one’s daily caloric intake!).
What’s worse is that this notion has been perpetuated by manufacturers who are more concerned about generating hype and marketing than they are about your health. It’s high time that you know the truth and we get down to the real science!
How varied diet macros affect your body
Here’s what you’ve probably been missing: protein and testosterone, the primary muscle building hormone, have a negative relationship. Don’t take it from us but from the following studies conducted by the experts, this is not broscience my friend. Brace yourself!
Study#1. The Link Between Dietary Protein/ Carbohydrate Ratios and Steroid Hormone Concentrations in Blood (Anderson. 1987)
This study investigated whether significant hormone levels (i.e. testosterone, sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), cortisol and corticosteroid binding globulin (Transcortin)) were influenced by dietary differences in macronutrients.
Researchers mainly looked for differences between a high carbohydrate: protein dietary ratio, and a higher protein: carb ratio. As for the results, they found out that higher carb: protein diet resulted in higher levels of circulating testosterone.
Moreover, testosterone’s “check” hormone, SHBG, also had lower concentrations in high carb diets. SHBG transports the testosterone in your bloodstream in inactive form, which means that those hormones would not be bioavailable and produce any effects. This is not what you want.
The same diet ratio also resulted in lower levels of circulating stress hormones. Overall, these markers lead to better conditions for improved anabolism and muscle protein synthesis
On the other hand, the opposite has surprisingly been observed in the high protein group. Overall, their results draw the conclusion that higher protein intake is not associated with a superior hormone profile.
However, this does not mean that diets high in carbohydrates are the best. Rather, it means that you should not go too crazy on the protein. A high fat ketogenic diet has shown no negative effects on testosterone levels, so indeed levels of carbohydrates are not the issue.
Study#2: The Relationship Between Testosterone and Cortisol Concentration in Resistance Trained Individuals Relative to Dietary Intake (Volek. 1997)
This study refutes the belief that the “peri workout” window is the most important time to load up on protein with the aim to maximize muscle growth. However, the results show that fat may actually be responsible for one’s gains as a result of post exercise test spikes, not protein!
These findings were mainly reflected in the baseline levels they collected from subjects who consumed a diet with more calories derived from fat, who correspondingly had higher testosterone levels.
This trend has been consistent even more interestingly when testosterone was plotted against saturated fat intake and monosaturated fats. Again, this study points out on the relevance of nutrition for optimal test levels. And as in the previous study, it suggests that you don’t have to stick to the all high protein or high protein + low(er) carbs diet. Focus on healthy fats!
Study#3: Protein Supplementation Does Not Alter Anabolic or Endocrine Hormonal Response Following Resistance Training (Gonzalez. 2015)
In this study, a placebo was tested against a protein supplement consisting of 20g protein, 6g carbs, and 1g fat post workout on the hormonal response of 10 healthy, young men who engaged in resistance training.
Their results show that hormone-wise, there is no significant difference between the two groups — not in testosterone, cortisol, insulin, or even in growth hormone levels.
This cements the notion that protein is indeed crucial in bodybuilding, but there is no need to consume so much. More importantly, this study might make you consider if spending so much money on those protein powders are really worth it.
So who actually needs a high protein diet?
As hinted at in the first study mentioned, it’s older people who have a need for more dietery protein, and this is shown in at least one study. In the study, the subjects are in age ranges from 40 to 70.
The results showed that men who consumed the lowest protein also had highest levels of SHBG, the binding protein which inactivates testosterone and the other sex hormones. And with lower levels of these hormones means less are free to elicit beneficial effects on the body.
However, lets not forget the limits of the study and wait for more studies on men with a younger age range.
So when should you use protein supplements?
Ideally, protein supplements are only advised if you are unable to meet your nutritional requirements or trying to lose weight. You may use online protein intake calculators to find out, or consult a bodybuilding dietician or nutritionist.
When you have established that you do need that extra protein from supplementation, skip the protein powders and instead consume a real post workout meal consisting of real meat or eggs. Enjoy a diet of steak and eggs, which incidentally is highly recommended by legendary body builder Vince Gironda. There is no need for pre workout supplements. Make sure your diet contains ample fats, some carbs, and decent amount of protein. I recommend aiming for 0.8-1g/ pound of bodyweight in protein.
What do we focus on now?
When you break things down into it’s chemistry, you’ll notice that testosterone is in fact closely tied to fatty acids. You’ve might have heard about boosting test through the selenium in Brazilian nuts (popularized by Tim Ferriss) but another way to go is through working on omega 3’s and 6’s, particularly the modified omega 6 fatty acid known as Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). You can always conveniently pop CLA from supplements or you can also just get your CLA from grass-fed meats and butter.
When you’ve established that you’re consuming all the protein you need, it’s time to save some cash and stop buying all those protein powders.
Remember that if your daily requirements for protein does not entail a need for protein powders, a post-workout meal with a good servings of fat and modest servings of carbs and protein will suffice. It’s always better to go for real food whenever you can instead of buying supplements.
Keep in mind that animal protein is an essential part of your diet specifically for your vitamin B12 needs, red blood cell health (iron) and many other vitamins, minerals and fatty acids such as CLA.
In fact animal foods contain more nutrients than the majority of plant foods. This is especially the case with organ meats such as liver though keep in mind that animal protein alone will not give you higher testosterone levels!
About The Author
Alex Eriksson is the founder of Anabolic Health, a men’s health blog dedicated to providing honest and research backed advice for optimal male hormonal health. Check out https://www.anabolichealth.com/ to learn more about Alex and his work..
Just because someone is big and jacked doesn’t mean they’re in good shape. Furthermore, having more muscles doesn’t necessarily mean you’re strong or make you more effective in a fight. In fact, if you train like a bodybuilder, chances are you’re less healthy than the health-conscious dad who doesn’t lift weights; and probably slower too. (Read This:5 Reasons Why Real Men Train for Strength)
Truth is, though, it doesn’t have to be that way. With a properly programmed workout routine, it’s possible—and even more beneficial—to build muscle, maximally, while improving your conditioning, experiencing better heart health, and becoming more athletic in general.
In this article, I plan to go over why you should train like a man, not a bodybuilder, so you can not only get strong and jacked, but become a more useful part of society; so you can become a better protector and defender.
1. Train for Strength, Not Size
Whenever I hear a “man” say that he wants to build muscle but has no interest in gaining strength, I cringe. Not only is that superficial and beta, but it isn’t possible to any significant degree.
Here’s how it works: We subject our muscles to a certain stress, our body then recovers and adapts to the given stress in order to handle it again later. If we continue to subject our body to the exact same stimulus, our body finds no reasons to grow; it’s already adapted. If, on the other hand, we lift more weight—be it by adding 5 more pounds to the bar or keeping the weight the same and squeezing out a few more reps—we’ll stimulate further adaptations and grow.
You see, there’s a major difference between training for strength and preparing for a powerlifting meet. I’m not telling you you’ve got to aim for a 600 pound deadlift—although that may very well be a byproduct of training for strength—I’m simply stating that if you want to get bigger, you’ve got to get stronger and there’s no way around it.
Now, this is not to say that one should aim to increase their one rep max each week; to the contrary, unless you’re competing, you should never attempt your one rep max in the gym. What we should aim for, however, is better performance:
More weight without sacrificing reps
More reps without sacrificing weight
And so on…
If you’ve added 5 pounds to the bar, you’ve gotten stronger.
If last week you were able to push 135 pounds for 8 reps, and this week you’re able to push it for 10, you’ve gotten stronger.
And if you bench pressed 135 pounds last week and it took 2-3 seconds to get the last couple of reps up, and this week you pushed those last two reps easier, you’ve also gained strength.
Haven’t gained much size on your legs? Look back for the last 6-12 months and tell me how much stronger your squat has gotten. I can guarantee there is a strong correlation between the amount you can bench press and the size of your chest and triceps.
2. High Frequency Training
If you’ve been training for years and your legs are still getting sore, you’re doing it wrong.
You see, if you’re crawling out of the gym once per week on “leg day,” it’s not because you “killed it.” You’re crawling out of the gym each week because you’re not training your legs frequently enough.
A study that was published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared training 1 day per week using a split body workout vs. 3 days per week using a full-body approach. Researchers found that subjects who trained a single muscle-group more frequently throughout the week, despite no changes in total volume, experienced significantly more muscle growth than the low frequency group.
The reason for this is twofold:
Repeated Bout Effect: the adaptation whereby a single boutof eccentric exercise protects against muscle damage from subsequent eccentricbouts.
Muscle Protein Synthesis: the driving force behind adaptive responses to exercise and represents a widely adopted proxy for gauging chronic efficacy of acute interventions, (i.e. exercise/nutrition).
If we can synthesize more protein than we breakdown, we end up with more muscle than we started with.
Studies suggest that MPS is more than doubled at about 24 hours following an intense training bout. It then begins to drop back to baseline about 12 hours later.
So let’s look at an individual who trains his legs once per week. He elevates MPS once during that week, a couple of days later it’s back to baseline, and it’s not elevated again for another 5 days. If, on the other hand, this individual had trained his legs twice per week—despite the volume being equal—he would have spent more time building muscle.
3. Train for Progression, Not Fatigue
Bodybuilders believe that it’s in those last few reps that we grow, and thus, training to failure is critical for maximizing muscle hypertrophy. What makes a muscle grow is not the last 3 or 4 reps, however, but a pathway known as progressive overload: adding more volume through increased reps and/or weight, over time (i.e. getting stronger).
That said, our main focus in the gym should be performance. If we’re fatigued, then our performance suffers and the rest of our efforts are in vein.
I’ll give you an example: you walk into the gym and you are aiming to bench press 185 pounds for 3 sets—here’s what it might look like when you’re training to failure.
Set #1 – 185 lbs x 8
Set #2 – 185 lbs x 5
Set #3 – 185 lbs x 3
You exert so much energy squeezing out those last few reps on the first set that the second set suffers. Despite feeling fatigued, you push as hard as you can on the second set and fail at 5 reps. By the time you’re on your third and final t set, you’re toast. Not only did you hinder your performance on the bench press, but you’ve made yourself useless for the remainder of the workout.
If we look at the bench press alone, the total workload would have been 2,960 pounds.
Now let’s look at how your bench press may have gone, had you ended a couple of reps short of failure, instead.
Set #1 – 185 lbs x 6
Set #2 – 185 lbs x 6
Set #3 – 185 lbs x 5-6
In this example, you didn’t exert too much energy on the first set, thus the second set doesn’t have to suffer. Now, after two pretty intense sets you may not be as primed, but certainly not taxed.
Although the difference in workload during the bench press may not have been drastic, the real disparity happens as you get further into your workout.
4. Build Your Body, Not Your Arms
Although there isn’t anything inherently wrong with biceps curls and leg extensions, they should never make up the bulk of our workouts. When these small, insignificant movements become the focal point of our training, we leave a lot of room for growth on the table.
If you want to build the most amount of muscle in the least amount of time possible, the exercises that are going to provide the best ROI on your time must be the focus of your training.
Think of your pecs as a house, your triceps as a shed, and the workers as the muscle you’re recruiting to do the work. Performing isolation exercises (i.e. biceps curls and triceps pushdowns) is like hiring 10 workers to build the house and telling 8 of them to work on the shed. Sure, you may eventually end up with a nice shed, but the house will never get done.
Now imagine if you hired 100 workers to build the house then told 20 of them to build the shed. Both jobs would get done faster. Focusing your efforts on big heavy compounds is like hiring 100 workers instead of 10.
A compound lift refers to an exercise that engages two or more joints (e.g. bench press, squat, deadlift, etc.). Because you’re involving multiple joints, you can train more muscles at the same time. The main benefits of training with compound movements are twofold: (1) you’re accumulating more volume for multiple muscle-groups, and, (2) because multiple muscle-groups are involved, you’ll be able to use heavier loads.
As someone who is looking to gain the most muscle and strength in the least amount of time, your primary goal is to focus on the exercises that’ll give you the biggest bang for your buck. And although there is a time and a place for smaller isolation movements, focusing solely on compound lifts will yield about 90-95% of your potential muscle growth.
5. Do Not Avoid Cardio
Over the years, cardio has been demonized and defamed by popular bodybuilders and fitness magazines. Ask any meathead in the gym why he doesn’t do cardio, and he’ll tell you it’s because he’ll lose his muscle mass.
And although excessive cardio has been associated with muscle loss, the right type of conditioning work can actually aid in muscle growth. This happens, primarily, for two main reasons: (1) it serves as active recover and thus increases the rate at which we recover from intensive workouts and (2) it increases our work capacity which allows us to do more work in the gym.
Now although 2-3 days of running on the treadmill won’t hurt—to the contrary, it may actually improve recovery and performance—GPP may be a better option.
GPP or General Physical Preparedness lays the groundwork for later specific physical activity. In your case, it’s meant to increase conditioning, strength, speed, endurance, structure and skill.
Failing to incorporate at least 1-2 days of GPP work, per week, may not hinder your ability to gain muscle, but it certainly won’t maximize it either.
You see, being strong and muscular is great—and that can be achieved without any conditioning work—but what is it good for when a fire breaks out and you’ve got to count on your lungs to save your family?
In short, make sure you’re performing your GPP work—not only does it make you more useful and harder to kill, but it will increase recovery and improve work capacity.
Train Like a Man, Not a Bodybuilder
Bodybuilders may be big and jacked, but most of them aren’t strong or athletic. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that, despite appearance, most of these guys are typically out of shape and suffer from poor heart health. It’s not rare to see these big buff bodybuilders gasping for air from simply walking from their car to the gym. And let’s not even get into the constant injuries and nagging joints that come from poor training habits.
Want to be—and look—like a complete badass? Train like a man, not a bodybuilder.
About The Author
Alain Gonzalez is a former skinny guy turned jacked fitness pro whose transformation story has been featured in articles on websites all over the internet. He has dedicated his life to helping naturally skinny guys like himself to overcome their genetics and take their physiques to the next level.
Yet somewhat depressingly, these same people (even despite all their hard work), see very little results. They absolutely smoke themselves in the gym day after day, but can’t seem to lose any substantial amount of fat, or build any appreciable amount of muscle.
Now, for most people I would say that putting in hard work and eating a caloric surplus would be enough to build a strong and muscular physique – and most people would probably agree with me. While programming does indeed play a part (increasingly so as we become a more advanced in our tanning lifetime), often it doesn’t have to be perfect – as long as you work hard you will see results.
But for some people, this does not seem to be the case – and it can often be put down to a single factor: testosterone.
Most people think of testosterone as a sex hormone. They know it can influence our libidos significantly, while also impacting our physical development during puberty. But what most seem to forget is that testosterone also has a host of other important qualities.
Testosterone promotes the breakdown and mobilization of fat from the body’s adipose tissue (fat tissue), which in turn can play an important role in maintaining a lean physique. It also promotes the development and repair of muscle tissue, and as such can have large implications on our capacity to build muscle mass.
It therefore stands to reason that if we do suffer from low testosterone, our ability to build a strong and muscular physique will be severely limited – even if we are training hard.
Signs of Low Testosterone
While testosterone is most well-known for its androgenic and anabolic qualities, it also plays a number of important roles integral to maintaining the health of the human body. As such, there are numerous signs and symptoms of low testosterone – so if you are demonstrating even one of the following qualities, you may actually be suffering from lowered testosterone levels.
As previously mentioned, those suffering low testosterone may presenting with a difficulty losing weight and building muscle. In fact, they may even be putting on fat (most commonly around the stomach and pecs) and losing muscle tissue – even despite regular exercise.
As testosterone does play an important role in maintaining a healthy sex drive, low levels of testosterone demonstrate a direct relationship with a reduced libido, often coupled with difficulty achieving a full erection. Low testosterone can also result in a reduced (or lowered) volume of semen during ejaculation, due to a reduced semen production.
Low testosterone have shown to cause an increased rate of hair loss, and has shown extremely strong associations with fatigue and lowered energy levels. This lack of energy is also shown in conjunction with somewhat erratic mood swings.
While it is important to note that if you are showing one of the aforementioned symptoms, it does not mean that you do undoubtedly have low testosterone – but they are indeed symptoms of lowered testosterone, which could be seriously limiting your capacity to build a lean and strong physique.
Fortunately, while low testosterone does have a host of negative implications, it is by no means a death sentence.
There are a number of changes that can be made to our diet that can maximize testosterone production naturally. These changes can seriously improve the testosterone levels of those suffering low test, while also maximizing both fat loss and muscle growth.
All it takes is a few key changes, and as always, some serious hard work.
Diet and Testosterone
There are a number of factors that can influence our testosterone production, although none more so than our diet.
What we consume can seriously influence how much (and how efficiently) testosterone is produced within our bodies. By eating correctly and maximizing the consumption of the correct foods we can cause large increases in testosterone production, which in turn, can influence our ability to build muscle and lose fat.
Now, the traditional western diet is typically high in carbohydrates, while containing relatively low amounts of protein, and moderate amounts of fat.
If we break it down a little further, the type of carbohydrates consumed are highly processed. These carbohydrates are typically high in GI, and contain very few actual nutrients (meaning they are not very nutrient dense). A high consumption of these carbohydrates have shown to influence our ability to handle the hormone insulin, lead to systemic inflammation (and a subsequent rise in cortisol production), and reduce testosterone production.
Moreover, the fats we consume often come from highly processed vegetable oils (such as vegetable oils, safflower oil, and cottonseed oil), which similarly to highly processed carbohydrates, have shown strong associations with limited testosterone production and increased inflammation.
So ultimately, the typical western diet is death to testosterone.
As a result, we can make some key changes to our diet that can lead to improves testosterone production.
Fat and Testosterone
Firstly, we need to increase our consumption of natural fats, such as monounsaturated fats (think nuts, avocados, and fish) and saturated fats (think red meat, eggs, and dairy). These fats do not cause the systemic inflammation associated with highly processed, polyunsaturated fats, and also contain naturally occurring cholesterol.
Testosterone is known as a steroidal hormone, and Cholesterol is actually used in the production of steroidal hormones. As a result, by limiting our cholesterol intake we can seriously limit our testosterone production.
As a result, 20-30 percent of our daily energy intake should come from fats directly. As previously mentioned, majority of these should be saturated and monounsaturated fats – we should try to limit our intake of highly processed, polyunsaturated fats entirely.
And a quick note: While fats were once thought of as the root cause of all our health related problems (hence the low fat diet craze that once swept the nation) this has since been debunked. In fact, those who consume diets low in fat have since been shown to have greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even cancer.
This means that there is no need to fear fatty meat or fish, butter, or full fat dairy. In fact, these unprocessed fats are going to have the most positive association with testosterone.
Carbohydrates and Testosterone
Secondly, we need to limit our intake of highly processed carbohydrates. As these have shown to increase fat deposition and reduce testosterone levels directly, the need to go.
The majority of our carbohydrates should come from vegetables, as they are low GI (and as such barely influence insulin levels) and contain a huge amount of vitamins and minerals. These vitamins and minerals can improve cell function and hormone production, which can further increase testosterone production at a cellular level.
It is important to note that we don’t want to avoid carbohydrates completely, as they provide essential energy that is used to fuel our workouts – we just want to avoid highly processed carbohydrates as they influence health negatively.
If we want to look at it simply, if it looks like it grew in the ground then it is good to eat, if it looks as if it was made in a factory, it should be avoided.
Protein and Testosterone
Interestingly, protein consumption has shown to have very little influence on testosterone levels.
Despite this, it is worth mentioning that maintaining a relatively high protein intake (much higher than that recommended by the national guidelines…) is terribly important. Having adequate protein intake is essential to maintaining effective hormone production and the development of new muscle tissue.
Moreover, protein is the most filling of all foods. By consuming adequate protein, we can limit hunger signals and cravings, which in turn will reduce our likelihood of eating highly processed foods.
1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight should be more than enough to ensure healthy hormone production, while also providing a high level of satiety on a day to day basis.
Low testosterone can have some seriously negative implications, two of which are the limited ability to lose fat and the inhibited capacity to build muscle mass. While lowered testosterone levels is a pain in the ass, it is not the end of the world – testosterone production can be improves through smart dietary interventions.
The largest part of this is moving away from the traditional eastern diet (typified by a high consumption of processed foods) to a diet high in natural, unprocessed foods.
This means increasing fat consumption by eating more dairy, meat, buts, eggs, fish, and avocados. These foods are high in monounsaturated and saturated fats (which are also known as healthy fats) and are known to improve health and play an important role in the production of testosterone. It is because of this reason we shouldn’t fear full fat dairy, butter, or fatty meat.
All our carbohydrates should come from natural sources such as vegetables (think, sweet potatoes, legumes, potatoes, pumpkin). These sources are relatively low in GI (and subsequently reduce insulin secretion and fat accumulation), while also containing a huge amount of vitamins and minerals (which are essential for hormone production).
And while protein intake does not directly influence hormone production, having adequate protein is essential to maximizing fat loss and muscle development.
So by making these key dietary changes, we can optimize our body’s testosterone production, vastly improving our capacity to lose fat and build muscle – assuming we are still working hard in the gym.
About The Author
Luke Cafferty. Luke is a fitness junkie, personal trainer, and blogger.
He’s passionate about living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a strong and well-rounded physique.