With home workout suggestions absolutely everywhere given the current unprecedented Covid-19 global lockdown, most of us who are lucky enough to still be training are doing so at a much reduced resistance level using dumbbells, resistance bands, kettlebells, if we are lucky enough to have them or indeed every day house hold items to provide some sort of resistance into our training routines.
With all of this change it can be easy to forget some of the key principles which are the difference between a good workout routine and a great one.
Full Range of Motion of the working joints
Time under Tension
Activating the Correct Muscles for the Exercise
Exploring Variations of an exercise that work best for you
What is more or less important for you depends on your own particular fitness level and goals but below are some general guiding principles in the context of Fat Loss vs Muscle Gain.
Consistency – regardless of your fitness goal, consistency is key, however you can be flexible in different areas depending on your goal
Fat Loss – Calories are non negotiable and you must ensure you are in a deficit regardless of how you get to that deficit. However you can (although you shouldn’t) be a little more flexible in your training…
Muscle Gain – Training is non negotiable and you must ensure you train hard and consistently to gain muscle. However you can (although you shouldn’t) be a little more flexible in your nutrition…
Fat Loss – Less important for fat loss directly, but if you are lifting weights you should maintain a progressive overload. Otherwise you are just going through the motions and not getting the optimal value out of each session.
Muscle Gain – Absolutely key to gaining muscle, you must continue to consistently overload your muscle. If a weights session feels easy you are doing it wrong.
Fat Loss – Less important for fat loss directly, but if you are lifting weights as part of your fat loss regime (and you should) then you should focus on bigger compound exercises to get the greatest bang for your buck.
Muscle Gain – Lots of people when entering a bulk phase forget a little about the compound exercises and focus on a lot of machine or isolation. Heavy lifts using multiple muscle groups must continue to form the backbone of your muscle gaining plan. Squats, Deadlifts and Bench press are always cool.
Fat Loss – Forget about them for fat loss. If you really want to then you can but your time in the gym for fat loss would be better spend on improving your compound lifts and cardiovascular levels.
Muscle Gain – Less important than your compound lifts but still pretty important to isolate target muscle groups for a true gaining phase. The key thing is that you plan your isolations in line with the weak points of your physique.
Fat Loss – Important to increase your daily energy output and while not strictly needed for fat loss it is important to have a good cardio routine from an overall health perspective. Appearing below Compound exercises may be surprising to some, and with neither strictly needed if you are in a calorie deficit I more put more emphasis on the compound exercises that can radically improve your overall shape as you lose fat.
Muscle Gain – Less important in a gaining phase but should still form part of your overall routine. Normally a shift from high intensity cardio of a cutting phase to a lower intensity cardio of a gaining phase. Walking is usually perfect, and keeping a relatively active step count is the most important when not doing hard cardio during a muscle gain phase.
Fat Loss – Very important to keep your protein intake high using whole protein sources. Key for health and muscle maintenance during a calorie deficit and also helps to make you feel more full after eating.
Muscle Gain – Protein, Protein, Protein! Obviously very very important for gaining muscle but be careful there is a maximum effective level of protein intake which you should adhere to. More Protein does not equal more gains after you reach your target protein intake and those calories are better spent elsewhere.
Fat Loss – Please don’t cut out carbs for fat loss. While less important than Protein or Fats, they are still extremely important. Less important does not mean less carbs, it just means that you calculate your protein and fats caloric targets first and what is remaining goes towards carbohydrates.
Muscle Gain – Carbs are so important to gain muscle. You simply can not train hard without appropriate fuel, and if you can not train hard you will not gain muscle. The difference in energy levels that you can bring to a work out when you have carb’d up vs when you haven’t is incredible. To gain muscle, you need to be on it every single time you get into the gym. Carbs are your fuel.
Fat Loss – Good healthy fats are so important when attempting to lose fat in a healthy way, particularly over a sustained period of time. Fats intake does not equal fat storage in your body! Over a sustained period of time under eating Fats will lead to issues for your body which needs them for regular functions. This is particularly important in a fat loss phase are you are already eating to a calorie deficit.
Muscle Gain – Less important purely because with the additional calories that one needs to gain muscle, Fats are usually inherent in the planning. Eggs, Avocado, Peanut butter etc. NOM! Most people eat enough fats in a gaining phase without too many issues but if your plan only includes carbs and protein then you should definitely review and ensure you are getting enough fats. It can be an issue for some who when attempting to do a lean gain focus too much on lean meats and chicken + veg, without too much variety which can cause problems.
Fat Loss – Personal preference. Like breakfast, eat breakfast. Like 3 big meals, eat 3 big meals. Like fasting, fast. Like little and often, eat little and often. Just whatever you do make sure that you stay in a calorie deficit.
Muscle Gain – Meal frequency becomes much more important than for fat loss. 6-8 meals per day is standard for two main reasons. Firstly you will be eating a lot of food and it can be hard to get all of that in without spreading across a lot of meals. Secondly you want to make sure that you body stays topped up with what it needs to gain muscle when your body needs it. If the body is looking for protein to repair and grow a muscle you want to have it available for optimal growth, if its been a long period since you last ate your body may not have what it needs to grow and the opportunity is lost.
There are numerous ways to create a progressive overload; add weight, add reps, add sets, reduce rest time, etc. but to ensure that you are testing yourself in every single set the above easy formula should be used when it comes to weights training. If you want to make the best possible progress in the shortest possible space of time you have to challenge yourself on every single set and to do that you have to find your level.
Form is key. Its the start point of your training and the item that you must learn to master on every single exercise. If you are lucky enough to have a coach or a personal trainer then they will help you here. The best coaches are obsessed with form and you should be too. Even if you do not have a coach or PT you should be familiar with the various phases of an exercise, start position, end position and transition phase. The desired range of motion between start and end position is also key to know. Use the mirrors, use the diagrams present on all gym machines, use Google, use whatever you can. At an absolute minimum you should know where you should be feeling the exercise, the machine diagrams will usually highlight these but for free weights you should become familiar with what body part is being primarily targeted during an exercise and what body parts are being targeted on a secondary basis. If you are feeling the exercise anywhere else or indeed not feeling it at all in the primary target area then it’s usually a good indication that your form may be off. This is something that I constantly ask my clients during a PT session to ensure the correct muscles are being worked.
Performing exercises without proper form and/or without full range of motion is your biggest blocker to success. You must get these right before even thinking about increasing the weight you are lifting.
When your Form is perfect (or near perfect) and you can perform the exercise for its full range of motion, you next need to look at your reps. For simplicity lets imagine you are doing 10 reps at the same weight for a set. You must pay attention to your form and rep range for ALL 10 reps. It usually happens something like this:
Reps 1-5: Form Good & Range of Motion Good
Reps 6-8: Form Ok & Range of Motion slightly less then full
Reps 9-10: Form lost & Range of Motion halved
If the above is the case, you need to look at lowering the weight you are training with to ensure that you have correct form and range of motion for the entire set.
However, if you make if from 1-10 perfectly then you must immediately review the weight you are lifting!
If your Form is correct and you maintain that Form for the desired Rep range