To be successful and achieve your goals, whether it is fat loss or muscle building, you need to have a good diet and an effective training program. I recommend resistance training because I believe it is the most time efficient way.
What is Effective Training?
The effective training program must follow few basic principles:
Our bodies always need new stimuli to grow/get stronger so the training program should plan for the way to increase the stimulus. There are a few ways how to achieve that like lifting a bit heavier weight, lifting the same weight for more repetitions or sets, use shorter rest periods between sets etc. For more information, you can read my guide to progressive overload.
Using good form right from the start is VERY important because bad form can reduce training effect and more importantly it can cause an injury.
An example of the reduced training effect: shortened range of motion in squat or bench press because the weight used is too heavy – less work being done – smaller stimulus.
An example of the health threatening effect: knees caving in during squat or rounded upper back during deadlifting.
How to learn proper form?
- hire a good coach – the problem with this solution is that a lot of staff in commercial gyms is not able to teach you basic barbell movements properly (squat, bench press, deadlift)
- videos – Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength video series (squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press)
- book – again Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength
Training Frequency, Volume and Intensity
Frequency means how often will you train in a week and how often will you train each body part. It depends on your training status (beginner, intermediate, advanced), your ability to recover and other factors like your schedule out of the gym, your desire to train etc. For example, the more advanced you are the more training you need. If you look at professional bodybuilders sometimes they need to train 5 – 6 times a week because they need so much volume to grow. But for us, mere mortals, the most recommended frequency is training 3 – 4 times a week and hitting each body part about 2 times per week. For more details be sure to check my two-part mini series: part 1 and part 2.
Volume is about how much work you will do. It can be measured in more ways, most common being volume per body part, per exercise, per workout, per week etc. Volume, as frequency, depends on your training status, the more advanced you are, the more work you need to do to create enough stimulus.
Intensity means how much weight you are lifting. Usually, it’s defined as RM or percentage of your 1RM. RM is an abbreviation of Repetition Maximum – maximum weight you are able to lift for a given number of repetitions. For example, 10RM would be the heaviest weight you could lift for 10 reps, 5RM for 5 reps and so on. As you can see intensity is directly interconnected with rep ranges which are discussed in next paragraph.
Exercises and Rep Ranges
The effective training program should incorporate exercises and rep ranges appropriate to your training status (once again:)) For example as a beginner you should concentrate on compound exercises like squat, bench press, deadlift and overhead press because these will give you “the best bang for your buck”. As you progress you will add other exercises that will supplement the basic ones.
Rep range is a number of repetitions done in one set of an exercise. Common advice is that rep range 1 – 5 is better for building strength and 8 – 12 is better for hypertrophy. Recent findings (such as this) point out that there maybe isn’t such big difference in hypertrophy but there is a difference in strength gains.
This is probably the most boring topic but really, really important one. You can work your ass off in the gym and follow your diet to the letter but without sufficient recovery, your effort will come in vain.
Eat well, sleep well and minimize stress. The recipe for good recovery is that simple, but it’s easier said than done.
What About Cardio?
Cardio is probably the most popular method to lose fat, but is it really effective? To lose a pound of fat a week, you need to create a daily deficit of approximately 500 kcal. One hour of general cycling or running burns around 400 – 500 kcal in an hour. (check it here) So seven hours of cardio a week to lose one pound of fat.
Isn’t it more efficient to achieve the same by lowering your intake by 400 – 500 kcal a day? Throw in three one-hour sessions of resistance training a week to increase your muscle mass and resting metabolism and you are well on your way to a successful fat loss.