Even if it will be very difficult to succeed by advancing straight ahead, it will not do to think about going at it in a long roundabout way. One’s heart may slacken, he may miss his chance, and by and larger there will be no success. The Way of the Samurai is one of immediacy, and it is best to dash in headlong. – Hagakure.
1. Use Diet as Your Primary Weapon to Strip Off Body Fat.
Talk to any natural bodybuilder, fitness model, or anyone who has ever been ripped — preferably one of the few non-drugged up, non-obsessive, non-crazy ones — and I guarantee you they will tell you diet was by far the most important factor to slashing fat and looking awesome.
I’ve been in the fitness industry for 15 years now, have personally trained hundreds of people, and have advised thousands more. I’ve worked with pro athletes, natural bodybuilders, bikini girls, fitness models, busy professionals, entrepreneurs, strippers, and crazy people alike.
There has been only one universal theme.
The clients who used diet as their primary weapon in the war on fat loss were the ones who obtained the best results. They won — swiftly and quickly.
The clients who tried to use exercise to offset a poor diet, or who thought they could eat whatever they wanted because they were exercising, obtained mediocre results at best. They tried to out-train a poor diet. They are still fighting a battle they will never win.
I learned this lesson the hard way myself. There was a time in my life where I was a good performance athlete — sprinter, martial artist, acrobat, and stunt performer. I did this all while being skinny-fat.
It wasn’t until I nailed down and implemented my diet philosophy that I was able to attain a ripped physique, and felt worthy enough to hang out with Ron Burgundy at his glorious pool parties.
2. All Formal Exercise Sessions Should be Geared Towards: (A) Building Lean Muscle if Physique is Your Goal. (B) Improving Performance if Performance is your Goal.
If you are losing fat according to schedule and have plenty of time before stepping on stage, you may not even need aerobic training to get ripped. I didn’t spend much time on cardio when I competed in the Natural Mr. Universe or the Natural Mr. Olympia, and I was in my best condition for both of these competitions. I achieved this through pre-competition diet only and no aerobic training. — John Hansen, Natural Mr. Universe & Natural Mr. Olympia
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can shape up a woman’s figure faster or better than bodybuilding with weights. Not swimming, dancing, running, cycling, aerobics, tennis, squash, athletics, hiking … nothing does it like weights. I have no axe to grind. I do not have a vested interest in weights. I do not sell them. They are, after all, mere lumps of iron. I would be just as happy telling you that jogging would shape you up, or that the way to a super body was through free standing exercises, aerobics or cheerleading even, but I would not be telling the truth. Weight training is the answer. — Vince Gironda.
If diet gives you 80% of your fat loss results, why would you spend time trying to burn fat when you exercise? The answer is you shouldn’t.
So why should we exercise at all?
When you hit the gym, you should be trying to build muscle. For muscle is what provides your body with its shape, definition, tone, and tightness. Strength training is far superior in this respect to cardiovascular exercise, and should be the focus of your exercise routine.
If you’re skinny with NO muscle tone, you will still appear loose, flabby, soft, and unimpressive despite a low body weight. That’s not quite the type of beach body you had envisioned for yourself. Don’t just watch the scale. Look in the mirror (or at photos). Lean muscle is equally as important as low body fat.
Think of it as a two-pronged approach. You want to minimize body fat and maximize lean muscle mass. As we already said, diet is your primary weapon to slash body fat.
Exercise should be your primary weapon to build lean muscle mass and shape the body.
3. Don’t Train to Burn Fat
What about all of those plans marketed as the latest and greatest, best “fat burning” workouts — cardio-based programs, running, boot camp and cross-training drills, etc.? They are all really helping you improve PERFORMANCE.
You build up muscular and cardiovascular endurance, and get better at performing the specific drills. If your sport or daily life requires those skills or physiological demands, then that’s exactly the type of program you should be following.
But my philosophy is you will more efficiently improve your APPEARANCE by using your diet to burn off most body fat, and then using your formal exercise sessions to focus on basic strength training in order to build muscle and shape the body. Its all about aligning the training program with the training goal.
The calories burned during an exercise session are relatively small compared to the amount burned the other 23 hours of the day during the recovery process (at rest). Most fat oxidation occurs between training sessions, not during.
As such your exercise sessions should primarily be geared towards building muscle and boosting the metabolism, not burning fat. Save the “fat burning” for the other 23 hours of the day when you are truly a fat burning machine.
Listen, I’m not saying those other approaches can’t work. There is more than one way to skin a cat (or peel of body fat). But I prefer this approach in terms of EFFICIENCY, and long-term SUSTAINABILITY.
4. You’re a dude. Is it the same for women? Yes.
Muscle growth is a healthy process that provides many physical benefits. Too often, people (frequently women) do not engage in resistance training because they are afraid it will make them “too big”. This unfounded fear can prevent them from obtaining the full benefits of a strength training program. Not only do women have fewer muscle fibers than men, especially in the upper body, but additionally, the primary anabolic (muscle-building) hormone — testosterone — is dramatically lower in women than in men. Therefore, women rarely develop overly large (or “manly”) muscles without the use of anabolic drugs. With a well-designed resistance training program, women typically see an increase in the muscle size with a corresponding decrease in body fat, resulting in smaller dimensions and improved muscle definition. — National Strength & Conditioning Association
Combining a solid diet with a strength training routine is the fastest way to attain a bikini-ready body, but many women shy away from lifting weights for fear of bulking up.
The real explanation for the difference in bulking up and looking masculine between men and women is a difference in hormone levels. Men have higher amounts of testosterone, a highly anabolic hormone that leads to increased muscular growth.
Women have higher levels of estrogen, which leads to more body fat accumulation and is the reason why women, on average, carry more body fat than men.
Women have miniscule amounts of testosterone compared to men, and their propensity to bulk up from weight training is very limited to that of a man. By the way, the overly masculine female bodybuilders you sometimes see in magazines are injecting themselves with steroids (synthetic versions of the male hormone testosterone) in order to attain unnatural levels of muscularity. Unless you are “juicing” it up, you have no reason to fear you’ll morph into The Incredible Hulk.
This also means, however, that women must work even harder than men to build lean muscle, increase their resting metabolism, and get lean. I’ve seen several couples begin a body fat reduction program at the exact same time. With all things being equal (training, diet, adherence to the two), the man always gets results faster than the woman because of these testosterone/estrogen differences.
Women, you have to work twice as hard as a man to get half of the results. It is not fair, but it’s the genetic truth. You have to hit the weights hard to change that stubborn metabolism and overcome your hormonal disadvantage.
But it’s worth it. Muscle is denser than body fat. A lean, firm, sculpted triceps takes up less space and appears less “bulky” than a triceps covered in body fat (turkey arms syndrome). Which would you prefer?
5. Stick to Basic Bodyweight & Free Weight Exercises
Much of the fitness industry has it backwards. The gym is full of complicated, wild, and new exercises and exercise systems backed by little scientific basis. It’s all about the trends and the fads and what sells (products or services), not about what is truly effective.
Efficient training for physique development is exactly the opposite of the fitness trends and fads. It uses the complicated science of Kinesiology and Biomechanics to yield relatively simple exercises and simple programs.
Now don’t misunderstand me. That means simple on paper, but it is actually challenging in its implementation and execution.
With all of the complexities of the human body, human movement really comes down to nothing more than a simple lever system. Attach some resistance onto the end of that lever (ie a dumbbell) and you have yourself a results producing exercise.
It’s not rocket science, it’s physics, and the actual real world application is simple common sense.
You don’t need crazy, weird exercises that have you balancing on balls, twisting, and flipping all over the place, unless you are training specifically for those performance needs (I used to train that way for stunt performances by the way).
You need simple movements that overload the muscles and provide the initial spark for the adaptation process. That’s how you efficiently build a body. The basics may not be cool or hip or innovative or cutting edge, but they damn sure are effective!
“Old-school”, basic exercises get bashed in the modern fitness industry as unintelligent and uninformed. I will concede that many juiced up meatheads and pill-popping fitness diva’s DO give basic strength training a bad name.
The problem in fitness, however, is that because of this negative association with old-school training methods, the industry is going too far in the other direction. Anything even remotely basic in nature is considered worthless. Everything has to be new and cutting edge to be effective.
On a side note, is the cutting edge stuff really effective? Many of the people I see balancing, flipping, bouncing, or meditating around don’t look like they’ve ever stepped foot inside a gym.
Exercise fads come and go, but the basic exercises are the basics, and have stood the test of time for a reason – because they work. This is a highly informed and intelligent way to train. And quit frankly, it’s the most effective and efficient way to build and shape a body.
Sure, I may use some machines and isolated cable systems work for weak-point training and/or to correct muscle imbalances and computer posture, but the majority of the training should be focused on basic bodyweight, barbell, and dumbbell exercises.
If you can’t get the job done with that, nothing more “cutting edge” is going to help you, despite the magic-pill marketing.
6. Increase non-exercise specific activity levels for the final 20% of fat loss.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has become a conditioning staple. But what about another simple but hugely effective fat-stripping activity, namely steady-state walking?
Fact is, for the typical reader that’s muscular, lifts weights regularly, and looking to get a bit more cut, walking can be the perfect compliment to a rigorous weight lifting routine…
However, if on a diet and lifting weights, glycogen stores are depleted. If you add regular intense cardio on top of this, the body will release cortisol to help convert amino acids into glucose to be used as fuel. Those amino acids can come from your hard-earned muscle tissue… Fancy energy system workouts and complex lactic acid routines are fun and definitely effective, but they aren’t mandatory if you want to get into great condition. The fact is, to get lean, you needn’t look further than your own two legs. Walk, lift, and follow a reasonable diet, and the leanness will come. — Tim Henriques
Diet takes care of 80% of fat loss, strength train to build/maintain muscle and shape/tone the body. What takes care of the final 20%?
Non-exercise specific, informal increases in activity levels. Walk more as part of your day. Go for a walk at lunch, or to take care of an errand. Go for a hike on the weekend.
What’s wrong with modern society? We just sit around too much. Human beings were made to move. We can always look back to caveman times, to what we evolved from, to see what we should be doing for optimum health.
We were hunters and gatherers. For most of the day we performed sub-maximal activities. We walked around, gathered food, tracked prey, cooked, cleaned, etc. We may have sprinted towards prey or away from predators (anaerobic activity — like adding interval cardio or strength training), but 90% of our activity came in the form of walking.
We didn’t run to keep the heart rate up or “hit some cardio”. And we certainly didn’t ride a stationary bike, pedal away on an elliptical, run on a treadmill to exercise for the sake of exercising, or to try and formally “burn off” calories to make up for last night’s ice cream bender.
None of what we did was formal exercise; we just completed the necessary tasks of the day, whatever that may be. In fact, we used as little energy as possible during most of the day in order to conserve energy for when it was absolutely necessary for survival.
And when it was time to move, we frickin’ moved, baby. We sprinted away from predators or towards prey. We climbed trees, hoisted objects, swung weapons, clubbed stuff to death, and had crazy cave person sex with maximal exertion. These are all predominantly anaerobic activities.
We’re not meant to reach arbitrary fat burning zones for arbitrary amounts of time. We’re meant to alternate periods of kicking back with periods of kicking ass. That’s how you efficiently build an attractive, functional body.
So we can take three things away from our cavemen brethren:
- The majority of our formal exercise sessions should be anaerobic in nature (ie strength training).
- Walking is one of the most underrated forms of activity around, and should be somehow incorporated into your day.
- If we all just walked around with a leaf covering our goods, we’d all probably be a lot happier.
And I don’t mean walking on a treadmill or anything “exercise” specific. I just mean real, outdoor walking as an informal activity. During a targeted fat loss phase, get out there on a daily basis.
7. Perfect Your Physique Technique
Yes, I believe in training to failure…but not in the sense that you mean. I believe in training to failure of FORM. It is useless to continue an exercise if you have to use every muscle in the body to hoist it up in bad form. – Vince Gironda
If I was forced to put a number on it, I’d say that 75% of the average gym population is exercising improperly for physique enhancement. Nervous system and cardiovascular overload are different than muscular overload.
A good percentage of those people are just plain exercising dangerously. You know what I’m talking about. The heaving, limbo barbell curls. The sternum crushing, bouncing barbell bench press. The swinging, hip thrust pull-up. The knee shredding, lower back crushing rebound squat. The totally jacked up push-up. The list goes on and on.
That all may seem cool and “hardcore” and makes for nice catch phrases and slogans and whatnot. And if you’re young, you might be able to get away with it for now. But don’t come crying to me when it takes you an hour just to get out of bed in the morning, you can’t walk without a limp, and you can’t raise your arm above your belly button without pain because your joints are sawdust.
If you have millions in the bank and a couple of world championship rings, that may be worth it. But its not worth it for a few gym high-5′s or to impress a cheerleader-like coach, and its not necessary to look good at Da Beach.
If you do happen to keep jacking yourself up with lame lifting technique for show, time away from the gym is time you could be building your body and getting better. And if the injuries become chronic, it may impair what you can do in the gym indefinitely.
Fitness and physique training is different than explosive combat or competitive performance sports. Its a controlled environment. So I don’t think you need a laundry list of injuries, surgeries, and rehab stints to build a good body. But I could be wrong.
Appearance-based training, as opposed to Sport Performance training, is all about stimulating and overloading the muscle. It is less about how much weight is actually on the bar. We are not trying to get better at various exercises for competitive purposes if physique is the goal. The exercises are simply a means to an end. They are tools we use to achieve our ultimate goal — physical transformation.
I’d rather just show people I work out by running around naked than have to prove it by performing a bunch of contortionist acts. Maybe you feel the same.
Cheating, using momentum, performing the electric boogie under the bar, etc., just to move something from point A to point B reduces tension and workload on the target muscle and allows it to shift to the other muscles and/or joints. At best this is ineffective for physique development. At worst it can predispose you to training injury.
Now don’t misunderstand me. We DO want to get stronger and/or improve our performance. The muscle building process is dependent upon progressive overload. And although I use various lifting tempos, I do believe in acceleration techniques and lifting with some controlled explosiveness to maximize motor unit recruitment. This is different than just wrecklessly flinging the weights around. Think localized muscular explosion vs. full-body heaving.
When in doubt, slow the negative down a little. Lower under control, lift with a forceful but controlled contraction, don’t lockout the joints in between reps, use only the muscles you are trying to target, etc.
DA EXERCISE LIBRARY
We set up an exercise library with video demonstrations and technique cues for a variety of bodyweight and free weight exercises, as well as dynamic warm-up drills and corrective exercise stretches. You can head on over to our YouTube Channel to check it out.
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