animal eaters toggling approach to muscle gain and fat loss
Toggling for muscle gain and fat loss
I am far more of a creature of observation as opposed to a scientist. It is just the way that my mind works. I am quite envious of those that have a mind which naturally looks at the world with a scientific viewpoint. While I do really enjoy researching science, I know enough about myself to know that it does not come naturally. What does come naturally for me though is the ability to recognize results and patterns. I think the greatest aid to this skill is simply doing something long enough and having a keen eye for cause and effect. At 42 I have spent more than half of my life instructing people. Initially it was more martial arts based and exclusively strength training for the last 15 years.
What do most people who read this board have in common? They are after muscle gain and fat loss. For health reasons alone this is what we should all be after. It comes down to efficiency. Anyone who ponders their long term outlook should realize that a lean and muscular body will help prevent a myriad of conditions and illness. Naturally, metabolic health is forever improved when you have a better ratio of lean muscle mass to body fat. Additionally, heart disease, blood pressure and joint and bone health should be at the forefront of our thinking. But none of these reasons are likely to turn the head of a prospective partner. For today, let's invoke the ego and narcissist within and admit, “I want to look my best not only for self esteem’s sake but that I will have the ability to be attractive to others.”
While I can’t sum up all of my training and teaching experience in one article, I will do my best to detail some of the components of what I call Time Managed Fitness and Supply & Demand Nutrition and how it pertains to toggling for muscle gain and fat loss.
In the world of personal training the biggest factors that I and my staff have to ascertain is what are the short and long term goals and what amount of time are you willing to put forward to achieve these goals. There is no sense in telling someone who, say, works 60 hours a week and has the time availability to dedicate 90 minutes in total a week, that they must exercise everyday for an hour a day/7 days a week, because it just will not happen. Some clients can dedicate 30 minutes a week. So you better be damn efficient in that time. And before everyone thinks that you can’t accomplish anything in that time frame, I will tell you that you are wrong.
There are obviously many ways to skin a cat in the gym. Obviously genetics, hormones (natural or assisted) and sheer will have a huge impact on the end result. In terms of your own training, if the goal is strength and size (and for the most part they are related) I am going to give you my favourite rep scheme and integrate them with some cardio options to ensure adding muscle while leaning out. Naturally, diet is the other component which will pull all the pieces together.
Animal eater's favourite rep scheme is this: After a few warm ups use a weight that allows for 3 reps with a slow controlled negative and an explosive positive. Follow that by lightening the load and aim for 9 reps with a similar cadence. Rest a minute or two and repeat another set of 3 then 9. The total reps used are 24 reps on that exercise. Now as mentioned earlier, I am not a scientist but what I have found is that there is a bit of magic in the strength world when it comes to that number. Historically we have found that the most popular lifting schemes for some reason seem to add up to 24 or 25 reps. Lets have a look at some of the old classics:
1. 5X5 AKA Bill Star’s system
2. Many a successful bodybuilder routine have been 3X8, 2X12, 4X6 etc.
3. Many successful power lifters and Olympic lifters use 8X3
For whatever reason the volume is just about right with 24 reps. Why the 3 and 9 done twice? I am a big believer that tendons need to be strong enough to facilitate increased weight lifting. I find that using 3-5 rep range is spot on in creating strong tendons which in turn allow heavier 9 rep lifts, which obviously keeps time and tension on the muscle higher. Also I have noticed that powerlifters and Olympic lifters just flat out look strong in a different way then bodybuilders do. This is not to say that bodybuilders are weak, but I want to not only look strong, I want to be strong and I want the same for our clients.
With the 3 reps it is crucial to be able to control the weight and not vice versa. As stated earlier the negative must be in control and really it isn’t a bad thing if you have a rep left in you before hitting the lighter 9 reps which should be taken to failure. If someone has unreal recovery skills they can even add on one higher 15-20 rep set to completely blow torch the muscle. Again, you better have some fantastic set of recovery skills to take this on.
Another point worth making is that the 3 and 9 don’t have to be on the same exercise to be effective. Here is an example. Get three reps on decline bench and then move on to 9 reps of incline dumbbell bench presses. This can be handy if you want a lightening quick changeover and can be used where spotters are unavailable. Obviously if you do not have a spotter for the heavier set then you better perform it in a power cage, use a machine with a safety or pick an exercise that always ensures that your safety comes first. Yesterday I did 3 rack deadlifts followed by 9 barbell rows. Many times I will just use the same exercise and lower the weight. Again, safety ALWAYS comes first!
You have the freedom to pick and choose the exercises which works best for you. As for the always controversial range of motion debate, I will also say it again, safety always comes first. So if you are long limbed going down to your chest on, say, a bench press, it might be hazardous to your rotator cuffs. You might find that by stopping the bar a fist or two above your chest still pounds your chest while not hammering your shoulders or even worse going beyond what is your natural range of motion. I also enjoy the benefits of lifting heavy and sometimes limiting the range allows me to lift heavy for muscles without destroying the joints. This is not a ticket to never use a full range on all exercises. Again pick and choose what is right for your body type to where you feel the muscle and not just the joint. Also worth noting is the great majority of our clients train naturally (what do you expect in Australia), so the heavier weights are crucial to have impact on testosterone and growth hormone production.
I have found that 3 and 9 is incredibly effective in building strength and muscle. It is easy to track and keeps your sessions short and intense. It should be highly focused around compound movements. So the meat and potatoes are: focus on squats and its variations, deadlifts and its variations, rows, chins, dips and presses. Personally I think there is enough indirect arm stimulation to create arm growth but if you want to do a few sets for arms, knock yourself out and do them. Regardless, aim to increase your numbers for as long as possible and when you hit a plateau, dial down the intensity for a few weeks. NOBODY can train on the edge forever. Periodization and/or blasting and cruising are important to avoid getting injured or burned out. And when I say burned out, it is as much mentally as physically.
Ok we now have an idea of what builds muscle and strength when it comes to an effective reps scheme. At the article’s end I will give a sample split but again this is generic as we all have different amounts of time, strengths and weaknesses.
On days that I am not lifting and I want to facilitate fat loss, I will do the following:
1. Eat far less calories, especially from carbohydrates. I still eat a reasonable amount of protein and healthy fats along with vegetables, of course. That said, if someone is on an intermittent fasting or alternate day fasting plan, it would make sense to use them on days where the training isn’t hard and heavy.
2. Have a longer steady state cardio session which isn’t too tough on the central nervous system and can act as a more meditative session as opposed to oppressive. Remember that keeping cortisol in check is important for growth and repair. Because of this I wouldn’t do an extremely taxing high intensity cardio session the day following a challenging weight training session, especially on a day where my calories are limited. I want to recover in time for my next muscle building session. Not likely if my CNS system is fried after doing say 200 meter sprints or prowler runs the day following a brutal session.
3. Aim to have your last meal of the day earlier as opposed to later. Some may want to use either branch chain or essential aminos acids before bed. They are low in calories and “may” prevent some muscle breakdown.
Remember that you have days that are all about muscle gain and days that are more geared toward fat loss. I will put up two different scenarios involving two different body part splits to give an example.
Monday: Strength session focusing on back and shoulders using 3 and 9 rep range. An example could be one exercise for back width such as chins or pulldowns and another for back thickness including both deadlifts full or partial and a row. Add to that a shoulder pressing movement such as smith machine presses and if you have anything left you can finish with a lateral raise. Session should be short and sharp
5-7 varied meals with the greater percent of carbs coming earlier in day and before training. I have never been a great advocate of huge carb post workout meals. 30 grams or so always has been plenty without me walking around feeling bloated and sick to my stomach. I would aim to eliminate all carbs by 4PM and if I had any time or additional energy I might consider a short sharp cross training session before dinner to really ramp up the fat loss.
Tuesday: Aim for a longer less intense cardio session done without any carbs in the system. Lower general amount of calories especially from carbs. This day is about burning some excess fat stores and letting both CNS and digestive system recover.
Wednesday: Follow Monday’s protocol but the focus will be on legs. Squats and Romanian deadlifts will more often than not top my personal favourites with Bulgarian split lunges, trap bar deadlifts and leg press thrown in now and then. Any session that includes legs will be the hardest of the week and therefore I will eat more throughout the day but will still bury the carbs no later then 6 PM.
Thursday will mimic Tuesday
Friday will mimic Monday but with emphasis on Chest and arms for those who are so inclined. Main movement for chest include presses whether barbell or dumbbell and dips. I do not think that flat barbell pressing is the devil. That said I do also like declines and dips and LOW incline presses. I really avoid those pre made incline barbell presses which feel half like an incline bench and half like a shoulder press. I like propping a bench on a low step to create about a 20 degree angle. Floor presses are also used every few weeks. I am also guilty of loving finishing chest with either cable crossovers or my own version of panther pushups which are ballistic pushups where one hand is ahead of the other and then explode and have the other hand further forward.
If your energy is good on Saturday then go for a high intensity cardio session but still eat as you did on Tuesday. If your energy is low your intensity should be low for cardio as well. Come Sunday you might wish to do nothing at all and just eat like a normal everyday person. If you are so motivated you might go carb free all the way up to your pre workout meal on Monday. The point is to keep your sanity and have a plan that you can live with.
OK, that is one plan where you are hitting each muscle group once weekly. At the moment I am doing the following personally:
Monday: One quad and one hamstring exercise with intensity being very high
Tuesday: Two chest movements, two back movements and one shoulder movements (intensity is moderate not crazy)
Wednesday: steady state cardio
Thursday: one quad, and one hamstring movement plus something like lunges at the end which effectively hit both quads and hams. Intensity is moderate not crazy
Friday: One chest, back (usually rack deads or heavy row) and military press all done with very high intensity.
Saturday: High intensity cardio/ cross training and free to eat what I want while stopping carbs around 6PM.
Sunday: Steady state cardio in AM done on BCAA’s and low calories throughout
These are just a few examples of how in the space of a week you can both create muscle and lose unwanted body fat. These protocols have worked time and time again and really are not anything too earth shattering. I think the only thing which is truly unique here is my method of 2 rotations of sets including 3 heavy followed by 9 lighter. The end result will be increased muscle mass and decreased adipose. Again, these are a couple of generic workout plans. We never recommend anything to anyone without knowing their current health/injury status and time frame. What I will say is that they have been effective for natural trainers and would be probably even more mind-blowing with the assistance of anabolics and peptides etc.
If you have any questions, feel free to post them and I will do my best to follow them up when time allows. Again, sorry that this article is more experiential then scientific in nature.