How to Workout for Your Fitness Goal
Last time, I talked all about Calories and the differences in the amount of calories you may need for different aesthetic goals from losing fat, to gaining muscle, to toning up.
Today, I’ll be talking about the differences amongst workouts when you have those different fitness goals (fat loss, muscle gain, or toning up).
First off, although there are definitely some differences in how you should work out, most of the differences are due to PERSONAL reasons, and not due to the overall “fitness goal” reasons.
For example, in general, women put on less muscle than men. The reason for this is that women start out with less muscle than men, therefore, although men and women put on muscle at about the same rate (and remember you have to be in a caloric SURPLUS to put on muscle over the long-term), because they started out with less muscle, women will put on less. Normally trainers, myself in the past included, will cite the fact that women have about 40 times LESS testosterone than men as the reason why women won’t put on as much muscle as men, but that’s only true when they’re NOT working out. When women work out, both men and women can put on muscle at the same rate (women just start with a lower percentage).
Which means, some people, who think they’re dieting are actually over-eating in calories, and will put on a decent amount of muscle. If that’s the case, and all they want to do is lose fat, then I might change up the workouts for them.
Or say, someone has an injury. Their back hurts with certain movements, or they have bad knees, then I’ll include certain exercises more than others, for that person’s specific case.
Or say, someone is super coordinated and picks up on movements easy. For that person, I can do more complicated movements than someone who doesn’t pick up on movements easy .It has nothing to do with their workout goals.
Because, for most fitness goals, the goal should be the same:
1. Get strong
2. Stay healthy, while getting strong
3. Get in better cardiovascular shape
4. Don’t burn yourself out while getting in better cardiovascular shape
5. Stay flexible
6. Enjoy everyday activities because you’re flexible, which leads to the ultimate goal of…
7. Getting strong, while staying healthy, while getting in better cardiovascular shape, without burning yourself out, while being pliable enough to enjoy everyday activities and weekend sports without risk of injury, while having fitness add to your life, not become your life.
I don’t care if your goal is fat loss, muscle gain, or to simply tone up, number 7 should always be your goal. Always.
Therefore, as I’ve said, the differences in workout routines are because of the person’s needs in front of me, not necessarily their workout goals.
With that said, there are some differences when it comes to programming for different goals, but one thing that doesn’t really “need” to change are the exercises themselves.
A deadlift can help you lose fat.
A deadlift can help you gain muscle.
A deadlift can help you tone up.
You can substitute any other exercise in that sentence and it will almost always ring true, as long as it’s not a pure cardio exercise, but even then the line is a bit blurry.
Any strength exercise can help you lose fat.
Any strength exercise can help you gain muscle.
Any strength exercise can help you tone up.
Strength exercises that can apply: squats, deadlifts, push-ups, chin-up, bicep curls, shoulder presses, reverse lunges, Bulgarian split squats, etc, etc, etc
So with that said, there are certain exercises that can be more beneficial depending on the person’s goal.
For example, if you’re trying to burn fat, then a squat is going to be much more effective than a bicep curl. This doesn’t mean bicep curls are useless, but that for that specific goal (fat loss), and with limited time (unless you’re working out 7 hours per day, a la The Biggest Loser), they are not the best choice. But if you like training your biceps, and you’re trying to lose fat, you can still do them, but they should be part of your “active rest” exercises, not the core of your workout routine.
The reason for this is that your legs will burn a lot more calories than bicep curls – it’s simple biology at that point. In order to move such a large part of your body, your body has to burn more calories and the amount of resources your body has to use in order to heal your body from the workout, will be more.
With that out of the way, let me say this again, so it’s abundantly clear:
1. Your goal, if it’s fat loss, muscle gain, or toning up has to be correctly aligned with food, lifestyle, and most importantly, calories. Calories matter most for short-term benefits.
If you’re not doing the work you need to do with your caloric intake, then most of the time, the workouts you do will not make a difference. It’s just that simple.
2. But if you eating correctly, in terms of calories, working out and the workouts you choose to do will make or break how you both:
A – Look overall, and
B – The Long-Term sustainability of your results.
No one wants to hit their goal and then go back to where they started or worse.
You want to achieve your goal and then stay there, or within the vicinity of it.
So if you ever read an article that states, “working out” doesn’t matter for x, y, z goal, then you know they don’t know how to read research, because the research is clear: For short-term benefits, working out really doesn’t matter – diet (aka, what you eat), matters more. But for LONG-TERM benefits, working out is the difference maker in order to KEEP those results. Any article that doesn’t highlight the long-term benefits of working out is just being a facetious piece of fiction that deserves to be mocked.
Now with all of that out of the way, let’s get to the actual PROGRAMMING differences between the different workout goals.
For Fat loss, if you’re in a caloric deficit, there are two main differences than simply working out.
One is that protein needs are actually higher when you’re losing fat.
Two, is that if you’re in a true caloric deficit, your workouts should actually be easier than people who are eating enough calories. For example, if you’re cheating a lot on the weekends and week-by-week, you’re not really in a caloric deficit, then nothing should change to your workouts. You should workout hard, because you have fuel to burn.
If, though, you are actually in a caloric deficit, then your workouts should actually be easier, after 6 to 8 weeks of dieting.
The Principles for Fat Loss Workout Routines:
A. Focus on larger movement patterns (squats, combination movements)
B. Keep the rep ranges, for 80-90% of your sets under 12 reps
C. Keep the weight relatively heavy
D. Do at least 2 exercises per circuit, for example a lower body and an upper body combination. You can do longer circuits as long as you’re not doubling up on movement patterns
E. Limit High Intensity cardio to about 10-20% of your workout
F. Make sure you’re getting enough rest
G. Limit volume to 2 to 5 rounds
H. Rest periods should be relatively short
I. Figuring out a weekly schedule of at least 2 to 3 strength training workouts, and at least one to two cardio workouts will work best
And honestly, that’s it. There’s nothing more magical about fat loss workouts.
Here’s a Sample Fat Loss Workout:
1A. Back Squats (10 reps, 4 sets)
1B. Assisted Chin-ups (5 to 8 reps, 4 sets)
*Rest 15-30 seconds between A & B movements and 60-90 seconds between rounds
2A. Walking Lunges (30 total steps, 3 sets)
2B. Bear Crawls (40 total steps, 3 sets)
2C. Side Band Walking (20 steps in each direction, 3 sets)
*No rest between A, B, and C movements and 30-45 seconds between rounds
3A. Rowing Machine Sprints (200 Meters as Fast as possible, 2 to 3 rounds)
3B. Slow-descent Leg Lifts (10 to 12 reps, 2 to 3 rounds)
Nothing crazy, but that is a really good fat loss routine, as long as you’re in a caloric deficit.
A similar spiel that I gave for fat loss, applies here. One, if you’re trying to gain muscle, make sure you’re in a caloric surplus. That can’t be over-stated. Again, go here to figure out how many Calories you should be having.
This means you should be eating more calories, from relatively healthy sources to fuel your body. If what you’re eating is mostly junk food, then inflammation will be high, it will cut into your overall muscle gain and you will, more than likely, gain too much fat, compared to the muscle you’re gaining. You should be getting your extra calories from single-ingredient carbs (plain rice or potatoes) and extra fat found naturally in foods (the yolks in eggs, the fat in salmon or bison, raw almonds, cashews, etc). You should not need to go out of your way to eat extra food, but for some people, you will definitely need to do so, as your appetites are really good at regulating your body weight and you will have to feel, at certain points, like you’re forcing down food. This doesn’t always feel healthy, and truth be told, is rarely healthy, but if muscle gain is the goal, it sometimes needs to happen.
With that out of the way, and you’re actually in a caloric surplus, here are,
The Principles for Muscle Building Routines:
A. Focus on larger movement patterns (squats, multi-joint movements for the upper body, etc)
B. Do less combination movements and more isolation movements (think bicep curls, lateral raises, etc)
C. Keep the rep ranges, between 2 and 10 reps for 80-90% of your sets for your first two exercises. In other words, you should be going heavy and trying to build strength on your main exercises.
D. You can do exercises in a 2-exercise circuit, or simply by themselves with “an active rest” exercise.
E. Rarely do longer circuits
F. Limit High Intensity cardio to about 10-20% of your workout, and potentially do cardio in a steady state fashion
G. If you’re doing high intensity cardio, make sure it works the same things you’re already working out for that day. For example, if you’re doing legs, you can do the AirDyne bike. If you’re doing shoulders, you can do the Heavy Rope. If you’re doing back, you can do Medicine Ball Slams.
H. If you’re doing steady state cardio, try to do it with at least a 4 to 6 hour difference than when you’re doing strength. There is an interference effect that can sometimes make it harder to build muscle if you do them together.
I. Make sure you’re getting enough rest between sets. Rest periods should be about 2 to 4 minutes per body part.
J. You can increase volume and do up to 10 sets per exercise
K. You can do more advanced techniques such as drop sets, slow descent sets, rest-pause sets, but don’t overdo it with those techniques
L. You can also do back-to-back-to-back exercises that work the same body part. For example, a high pull will work the mid-delts, followed by shoulder press which works the mid-delts, followed by lateral raises which works the mid-delts. Certain body parts work better for this than others and always be careful to not overdo it with the smaller muscles (forearms, low back muscles, etc) as they will fatigue quicker.
M. Building muscle also is contingent on being able to find a system that works for you. Some people do better with low volume (1 to 5 reps per set), others do better with medium (6 to 12 reps per set), others with higher (12+ reps per set).
N. Whereas some people do better by constantly switching it up and others do better with sticking to the same routine, week by week, month by month
O. Whereas others do better by being explosive and others do better by doing very slow sets.
P. Working out 3 to 4 days with strength training workouts, and either doing some high-intensity work at the end of ONE of those, or one cardio workout on its own, should be the baseline you’re trying to achieve.
Your goal is to find a workout system that motivates you and delivers you the results you want.
With that said, for every 6 months that you spend trying to gain muscle, you should take 3 months to simply maintain that muscle, while losing some of the extra fat that you’ve probably accumulated. So the ratio should be 6 months on, 3 months maintenance/fat loss and so on. That is an initial ratio that most people should at least follow for the first few years of trying to gain muscle.
Also, remember gaining muscle is much harder than losing fat, at least from a workout perspective, so you have to ensure that you’re getting enough sleep otherwise it will eventually, in some way, shape, or form, catch up with you.
Here’s a Sample Muscle Building Workout:
1A. Back Squats (2 warm-up sets, 5 sets of 5 ramping up to 85% of your max, and one set of 20 reps with your first working set).
1B. Assisted Chin-ups (6 sets of 5 reps – make the assistance lighter as you move through the sets)
*Rest 45 seconds between 1A and 1B, and rest 2-3 minutes after 1B.
***Did you notice that the first two exercises were the same for both fat loss and muscle building. The only differences are in the amount of sets and the rest periods.
2A. Walking Lunges – 20 total steps, 3 sets
2B. Lat Pulldowns – 10 reps, 2 second pause at the bottom, slow ascent, 3 sets
2C. Side Band Walking – 15 steps each direction
*Rest 45 seconds between 2A and 2B. No rest between 2B and 2C and 1 to 2 minutes after 2C.
3. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row – One long, continuous set. 16 reps on the right, 16 reps on the left, 12 reps on the right, 12 on the left, 8 on the right, 8 on the left. One set and then move onto
4A. Alternating Dumbbell Bicep Curls – 6 to 10 reps on each arm, 2-3 sets
4B. Straight Arm Pressdowns – 8 to 12 reps, 2-3 sets
No rest between exercises. 1 to 2 minutes after 4B
One last time, for those who may be skimming this article and only reading the highlights: You need to ensure your calories are in check. If they aren’t, then it will almost be impossible for you to hit your aesthetic goals (go here for my write up about calories).
With that out of the way, yet again, when it comes to toning up, you’re just mixing strategies. I’ll explain below.
There are two different types of people who are trying to Tone Up and two different strategies for them to achieve their goals:
1. Skinny fat
You’re relatively thin, but don’t have much muscle definition and you want to be able to see some. In that case, what you really need to do is to eat like you’re toning up (at maintenance with your calories), but workout like you’re trying to gain muscle. It’s just that simple. You need to gain muscle. That paltry amount of fat that you have isn’t holding you back. It’s your lack of muscle and you need to workout like you’re trying to gain muscle, except you will be keeping your calorie levels at maintenance.
2. You already have good muscle definition, but you’re holding onto a little more fat than is ideal
What you should be doing is eating like you’re trying to lose fat, and work out like you’re trying to gain muscle. Let me repeat that, if you have good muscle definition, and you’re holding more fat than you’d like, then you should be EATING like you’re trying to lose fat, but WORKING OUT like you’re trying to gain muscle.
And that’s it for Toning up.
There is nothing special about toning up, except knowing what group you fall into and then doing the work with eating and working out, depending on which category you fall into.
Random Q & A Time
Are there other ways to work out? Absolutely.
Are there other things you might want to consider, from your overall stress levels, to your sleep schedule, to your actual schedule and time to recover, along with other factors, such as if you travel often, or it’s not really a priority for you right now because you have a newborn at home, etc? Yes, you should absolutely consider those things…but for most people, these are the general rules.
Do you have to do any specific exercise? No, no you don’t. Hate jogging? Don’t jog. Hate squats? Don’t squat.
And I already know what some of you are going to say, “I hate all exercises, does that mean I can avoid them all?” I’m going to go with no with that one. Sorry. Life isn’t always about doing things you love. It’s sometimes about doing things that are worth it.
Are there any other ways to workout? Yes…obviously. These are just the ways that work best, but at the end of the day, what works best and what you will actually do tend to be two different things. So if something isn’t as effective, but you’ll stick with it, then by all means, do that.
What about something like Barry’s Bootcamp or Rumba? It’s all geared towards fat loss workouts. If you enjoy them, do them. But also remember, if you’re doing them AND eating in a caloric deficit, for a decent amount of time, you will start to feel sluggish, your overall energy levels during everyday life will decrease, AND you will eventually put yourself at higher risk of injury, mainly due to micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) deficiency. #JustSayin In other words, be careful.
Creator’s Course is an Online Nutrition and Coaching Program where we focus on 5 Foundational Habits, starting January 14th.The Break Down Goes Something Like This:
You focus on 2 habits, until you’ve hit 80% compliance with those 2 habits. Then you add in a 3rd and/or 4th and so on until you hit 80% compliance with the first 4 habits:A. Sleep 7 to 9 hours per night
B. Workout at least 5 times per week
C. Eat 40 grams of protein per meal
D. Limit alcohol to 4 drinks per weekOnce you’ve hit 80% compliance with all of those habits, then we start working on calories and macros, more specifically macros (protein, carbs, and fats)And your goal during that time is to hit a 90% compliance with your macros, weekly. At that point, you should be able to hit your aesthetic goals. During that time, you will also be learning how to maintain/hit a plateau and stay there for a bit, when to pick it back up, and then if you want to focus on the lifestyle factors of being healthy. You can cancel at any time, but also, you can stay in the program for as long as you’d like.
There are Only 3 Remaining Spots left at $7 per week. The program officially starts on January 14th, but people who sign-up early will get started on the 7th.