News & Tips
ACHIEVING YOUR DREAM BODY SHAPE
Everyone seems to want that ‘toned’ look but most people are disillusioned on the process of achieving this look, in my opinion. And if you ask most experienced personal trainers.
Achieving that look is a multi staged process and it’s usually not something most people can achieve in 8 weeks. It takes years! Years of consistent hard work, years of approaching your training and food at different angles. Here’s the thing that most people don’t understand – to get that toned look, you must grow muscle by lifting heavy weights and getting stronger. To reveal that muscle you must drop body fat. To do both at the same time is very difficult, our bodies tend to not work that way unless you’re very new to exercise.
Firstly, if you are brand new at the gym and any kind of training or you’ve had considerable time off, then it might be possible to drop body fat and gain a small amount of muscle simultaneously. This is often referred to as ‘newbie gains’. A newbie usually has lower amounts of muscle and higher amounts of fat in the first place and generally joins a gym to lose weight. They start exercising and maybe making modifications to their food intake. This process can result in a small amount of muscle gain and usually a larger amount of fat loss (if they do it right). Even if they are not losing actual scale weight, they can change their body composition (drop fat, increase muscle) if they work at it hard. This can reveal a more desired physique.
After about 6 or so months of just gym classes, these ‘newbies’ often feel disappointed because their body has stopped changing. No surprise to me though, they’re doing the same thing/same gym classes every week and probably eating the same amount of calories each week too. If you wish to make further changes you must actually change what you’re doing. You must now decide which direction to go in.
Knowing that to get the ‘toned’ look you must grow muscle and lose fat, you must choose ONE of these directions, work hard at it then change direction.
How to build muscle
You need to lift heavy weights. Not just gym classes. Lifting heavy tells your body that muscle is needed. Lifting weights is stressful for the body, your body responds by increasing strength and growing larger as it prepares for this exposure to stress again and again. The more often you do this, the more your body responds (ie, if you’re lifting heavy weights only once a week, this provides your body with a weak signal to hold onto muscle). In addition to this – THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART – you must eat more food. Muscle growth requires fuel, much like a plant needs fertiliser. Growth is minimal without fuel. In particular you must eat adequate protein and MORE carbohydrates. Carbs deliver protein to the muscles, carbs are important for metabolism, energy, good sleep.
With a calorie surplus in conjunction with adequate stress to the muscles, you will grow muscles and you will also add some fat to your frame. This is the uncomfortable but necessary downside to this important process. Please become comfortable with this, I know it’s challenging but it’s a necessary part of it. Here’s the important tip, to minimise fat gain – TRAIN HARD. Lift heavy weights ideally more than 3 times a week. Lifting only moderately heavy once a week will not result in much muscle changes and will certainly result in more fat gain in a calorie surplus.
The muscle building process takes much longer than the fat loss process, so ideally I aim for more than 6 months of the year, ideally 9 months to grow muscle.
Remember – building muscle requires a calorie surplus, adequate protein, high carbs, heavy weights sessions often, restful sleep and adequate recovery.
How to lose fat
Essentially, fat loss happens when your body is in a calorie deficit. You need to consume less food and beverages (bring less calories in) and move more (burn more calories out) to shift the energy balance. When this state is created in your body, you will lose weight. You don’t even need to exercise to lose weight, just eat less, however, in the absence of exercise you will almost certainly lose much muscle and some fat. This is not a desirable outcome. Often creates a thin, unhealthy look.
Your actual gym training approach should not change in a fat loss phase. You still need to lift heavy weights. What builds muscle in the first place is the same stress/stimulus that is required to maintain muscle in a fat loss phase. So, don’t suddenly shift gears and stop lifting weights to replace it with high amounts of cardio. You usually do need to add more movement in though, so anything in the form of added cardio and added walking/steps. Again, don’t necessarily do less weights, just add more calories out by moving more.
The main change you need to implement is a reduction in food and therefore calories. Protein levels should remain the same if not, higher to help retain the muscle you’ve built. Carbs and fats drop as there’s less room for them now that protein is the same and calories are less. It’s quicker to lose fat than it is to grow muscle so, ideally, you should aim to spend about 3 – 6 months in a fat loss phase.
Remember – losing fat requires a calorie deficit, adequate protein, less carbs and fats, heavy weights sessions often, more cardio and other movement, restful sleep and adequate recovery.
NB – simply avoiding carbs does not result in weight loss unless you’re actually reducing calories. Often people claim that avoiding carbs makes them lose weight but they are in fact avoiding entire foods that contain carbs and are therefore consuming less food overall (ie, a calorie deficit)
Where do you fit into this equation?
If you are overweight and need to drop weight (for health reasons or you’d like to fit into your clothes more comfortably), start with a fat loss phase. Again, don’t spend too long pushing this. I like to break this process into a few mini phases.
If you are already relatively lean but not necessarily at your ideal weight or body shape, please think about building some muscle. Girls especially. You won’t become huge and bulky like men unless you’re producing high levels of testosterone (very rare). Please consider gaining some weight to grow muscle and spend considerable time doing this.
Cycle these 2 phases for the rest of your life to build the body shape that you want. You don’t just do it once and you’re done. It takes consistent effort year after year.
If you’re constantly chasing the weight loss demons, you’ll forever be unhappy and you’ll very unlikely achieve your dream body shape. Trust me on this. I’ve been there and I’ve come out the other end absolutely happy that I made the decision to not be scared of lifting weights, gaining quality lean muscle and overall weight.
Yay for enjoying lots of food too!