I was training with my buddies, Dom and D-Raj two days ago and we were impressed by how ripped Dom had become. Dom weighs 155, 15 lbs less than a year ago. I weight 175, 20 lbs more than a year ago. And D-Raj weights 185, about 10lbs less then a year ago.
Who is in the best shape out of all of us? Well, it’s hard to tell. You really need to define the word “shape.” Dom is obviously the leanest and has the least fat to lose. But he’s also lost a lot of muscle and strength.
D-Raj is starting to lose some muscle, but still is quite strong. He’s getting “softer” so he might also be gaining fat. We need to get him train more regularly. I, on the other hand have gained a lot of weight in the form of muscle and fat.
The conclusion is that it’s extremely tough to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. Dom really wanted to be ripped, but he’s lost a lot of muscle in the process. D-Raj wants to be big and ripped, but can never seem to get there.
I personally don’t care what I look like. For me, it’s all about the athleticism. However, in the past 3 months, I’ve gotten much stronger and bigger while weighing more or less the same. According to my friends, I look a lot leaner than I was 3 months ago.
I could be losing fat and muscle at the same time! But to really know the answer to that question, I’d need to do a before and after comparison on my body fat percentage. Unfortunately I do not have that data.
However, what I do have is a recording of some key changes I’ve made in my training. You see, almost every winter I gain a lot of fat because it’s cold and I have a garage gym. So I get lazy and don’t train as often as I should be.
So along with the holidays and lack of training, I tend to gain a good deal of fat. And then by the summer or mid summer, I’ve lost all the weight. It’s a terrible cycle. So I decided that this year I was going to focus more on strength and mass, while focusing on getting leaner at a slower pace.
Luckily a few months back Tom Venuto released his “Holy Grail Body Transformation” program, which is basically a manual based on what he’s observed with the countless number of individuals he’s helped transform their bodies.
What he realized was that people were literally gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time! This usually happens with beginners. A new training regimen and improved diet helps them lose a lot of fat, but also gain a good amount of muscle.
So they weigh almost the same on the scale, but look dramatically different. It seems like they’re losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time.
After reading Tom’s manual, I was quite impressed. I said to myself, I’m going to try this. I’m going to stay at around 170-175lbs, and I’m going to gradually gain muscle and lose fat steadily so that I don’t go through these wild gain 10 lbs, lose 20 lbs, gain 15 lbs, lose 5 lbs, gain 20 lbs…etc.
Because isn’t that the problem with all trainees? Every time they try to gain muscle, they gain fat along with it. And every time they lose fat, they also end up losing muscle and strength. And it sucks!
So here are some of the changes I’ve made recently based on Tom’s manual that has helped me increase my muscle and strength while getting leaner (although at a much slower pace).
Longer Workouts, Less Volume
Lately I’ve been performing longer workouts then my usually 20 minutes blitz. Currently my workouts last 45 – 60 minutes, and involve a lot more rest periods. These rest periods allow my body time to recover so that I can still lift challenging weight.
Even though high intensity circuits are great at helping lose fat super fast, they’re not the best for helping you maintain your strength and mass. And they’re certainly not good for helping you get stronger.
So my previous programs would go from short, intense workouts, to a period (usually during the winter), where I would lift extremely heavy for low volume.
Now I lift heavier, while still keeping my heart rate up. The key is to recover enough. The problem I notice with a lot of individual who rest between sets is they rest too long. My rest periods are still only around 60 seconds.
If after a set, my heart rate is not elevated enough, and if I don’t need 60 seconds of rest, then I don’t rest for 60 seconds. I just go and try to handle the same weight I did on the previous set.
If you’re training with a partner, then you need to push each other to complete the set within 60 seconds. Choose movements and rep ranges that allow you to move fast so that the other partner can go.
Things get tricky when you have 3 guys training together. What you do here is that you design the workout so that after a super set or tri set, your heart rate is really elevated, and you need more than 60 seconds of rest. If the rest is too long, then change the workout right then and there. Add more reps. Increase the weight, or add another movement.
A great idea is to just do burpees at the end of each set. That will really get your heart rate up.
Alternate between Low Rep and High Rep Workouts
Switching up the rep ranges is extremely important. Moderate rep ranges are usually used for muscle building. Low rep ranges are also important. Low rep training helps you build strength and some muscle as well.
I also like to perform high rep training. So I’m really stretching it here. Before I used to stick to moderate and high rep workouts during my fat loss phase. And then low rep and moderate rep ranges during my mass and strength phases.
Now I’m combining the two (and having more fun in the process). Sometimes, a workout is so exhausting that you end up doing low rep work at the end of the workout. For example, with the workout this morning:
We had lots more planned in the workout. But the workouts was so exhausting, that we decided to just end it with 20 pullups. When I got to the pullup bar, I could only pump out 3 reps. So I did sets of 3 reps, 2 reps, and 1 reps to complete the rest of the workout.
My back was on fire. Now, realize that your body does not realize how much weight you’re lifting. If you’re exhausted, then you’re going to feel like a thousand pounds when you try and lift yourself off the floor.
This is why I still believe that you can gain muscle with bodyweight exercises only. It’s all about finding ways to push yourself and place greater stress on your body.
100% Compound Lifts
Tom Venuto actually recommends some isolation movements. But I personally don’t do well with isolation moves. So I still stick to 100% compound movements. So this isn’t really a change at all, but just a reminder to all you to make sure that you’re using majority compound movements.
What is a compound movement? A compound movement is one that trains multiple muscles at once. For example, pullups train lats, mid back, chest, abs, shoulders, and biceps. Pushups train your chest, shoulders, triceps, and abs.
Lots of Super Sets and Tri Sets
I’ve abandoned my all-out circuits and switched primarily to super sets and tri sets. A super set is where you perform two exercises back to back with little to no rest in between each set. A tri set is where you perform 3 movements back to back with little to no rest in between each set.
When you have too many exercises in a circuit, your other muscle groups have too long to rest. Remember what we said about excessive rest periods? Just rest enough to recover and not any more.
So for example, lets say you are performing this tri set:
- Kettlebell Rows, 15 reps
- Stability Ball 1-Leg Hip Extensions, 8 reps
- Kettlebell Chest Pres, 10 reps
With this tri set, after performing the rows, your back probably gets about 90-120 seconds of rest. I did this routine with 2 other training partners, and we tried to keep things moving rather fast.
Either way, 90 seconds was enough rest for us to recover and pump out 15 more repetitions of the rows. If I rested more, then I would be have recovered completely, and it would have felt as though I was performing that set for the first time.
So the goal is NOT 100% recovery. Shoot for about 70-80% recovery. A lot of this is all about knowing your body. So it kind of comes with experience (like most things in life).
It’s also not a good idea to be so winded that you are unable to lift the same weight again (as I mentioned earlier). But super sets and tri sets works for me.
As my workouts change, and actually become tougher, I’ve been focusing more on my recovery. That involves getting 9 hours of sleep per night, eating on time, and supplementation. I’m not very big on supplements, but as a vegetarian, it’s important that I get my protien.
So I use the same protien powder that I’ve been using for years. However, there’s one addition to my supplementation plan – glutamine.
Glutamine is actually naturally found in your body. 61% of skeletal muscle is gluatamine. It also contains 19% nitrogen, making it the primary transporter of nitrogen to your cells. Now this is something I did not know about, primarily because I had been very anti-supplements.
Glutamine is depleted in your body after intense training. And all these years I’ve been training at a really high intensity level. When I asked the guy at GNC about recovery, he pointed to glutamine.
Smart guy, because lack of glutamine decreases your strength levels and can also lead to a decrease in stamina and….recovery. I’ve experienced decreases in all three of these, and ever since I’ve started taking Glutamine, I’ve gotten stronger, and recover faster.
Faster recovery means that you can train more often and harder, which means you have the potential for better results.
There’s even more to learn about glutamine. But this post has already gone super long. The lesson to learn here is that you need to pay attention to your recovery. If you’re sore for more than 2 days after your training session (the kind of soreness that hurts so much that you can’t train), then you need to look at how much protien you’re taking in.
Go to your local GNC and ask someone. Those guys are really smart.
Anyways, I also want you to consider grabbing a copy of Tom Venuto’s Holy Grail Body Transformation manual. There’s a lot of great information in there that can help enhance your workouts, nutrition, and results.