by Bret Contreras September 22, 2014
Below is a guest blog by my favorite young female fitness writer – Sohee Lee. She recently created a resource with Dr. Layne Norton called Reverse Dieting. I use the same methods with my clients that Sohee and Layne recommend and can vouch for their effectiveness. The product is on sale for two more days so make sure you check it out.
1. You have to confuse your muscles.
If you’ve ever bought into the hype about muscles getting confused, pay attention.
Think about it. Do your pecs ever really say:
Hey, this is a new exercise. What’s going on? What’s this called – the decline pushup? Oh, okay, cool. Wasn’t quite sure what was going on for a second there.
— Whoa! What now… cable flyes? I’m totally confused out of my mind. Guess I have to work harder to grow even stronger and blast this fat.
This idea of “muscle confusion” was fabricated by some clever fitness marketing gurus eager to sell their products. You know who they are.
Simply put, muscle confusion states that you have to change up your workout from session to session or from week to week – different exercises, varying rep ranges, and switching up rest periods – in order to get leaner, faster, and stronger. And by never giving your body a chance to adapt to a specific routine, you’ll never plateau and consequently never stop making improvements.
Exercise ADHD seems to be all the rage, but it shouldn’t be. One look at the world’s elite lifters and you’ll learn that by and large, their training regimens do not vary wildly. They probably stick to the same basic lifts and they repeat them, over and over, over a long period of time.
That’s not to say that muscle confusion is 100% bogus; in fact, it does have one tiny kernel of truth to it. Spend too much time with any one specific stimuli and your body will adapt to it less and less.
That’s the problem with much of the information you read – we take an ounce of truth and turn it into two tons of BS.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
2. You can lose tons of fat and gain muscle at the same time if you train hard enough.
Ah, that would be a nice world to live in, wouldn’t it?
For the most part, the only types of people who can simultaneously pile on muscle and melt fat are beginner trainees, those who are just coming back to the gym after a long hiatus, very obese individuals, and folks on performance-enhancing drugs.
Let me save you a good deal of time right now and tell you that, unless you’re one of the above, you’ll be spinning your wheels if you really want to try and go down this route.
Now, can you embark on a fat loss journey and put on a little bit of muscle mass while dropping a good deal of fat via proper weight training and precise nutrition? Yes, it does happen.
But is it realistic to expect that you can gain 10lbs of muscle while losing 10lbs of fat? Probably not.
You want to lean out? Then you should be in a caloric deficit.
More concerned about building them biceps? Then caloric surplus it is.
Prioritize one over the other and keep up the intensity in the gym regardless of your goal.
3. Cardio will keep the fat off while you build muscle.
I had a friend say this to me once, and he was noticeably shocked – not to mention skeptical – when I told him that it didn’t quite work that way.
In his mind, he had categorized steady-state cardio as a fat-blasting exercise, while heavy lifting was strictly for building muscle. Combine the two, he believed, and you got the best of both worlds: an increasingly lean physique, plus boulder shoulders and arms that would make The Rock do a double-take.
I wish it were that easy.
Steady-state cardio is not inherently a fat loss modality. By itself, it does have mild benefits for cardiovascular health, but it’s not going to get you the lean, ripped physique you’re striving for. If you’re an endurance athlete interested in, say, improving your half-marathon time, then go right ahead, but if your focus is on aesthetics, then it’s probably best to lay off the jogging.
Think of it this way. The more cardio you do, the less room you leave for strength training. You not only have less time dedicated to lifting heavy weights, but you also don’t have as much energy to give each training session the intensity it deserves.
Not only that, but the more cardio you do, the more efficient your body becomes at burning calories. Sounds like a good thing at first glance, but if fat loss is your goal, this is the opposite of what you want.
If you used to burn 300 Calories running for 30 minutes, you now burn 250 Calories due to increased efficiency.
Put another way, your body now requires less energy to complete any given task. If you’re starving out in the wilderness with no food in sight, this is a very good thing, as it’ll increase your chances of survival. But that’s probably not you.
Think of it like a car: if you have a car that clocks in 25 miles per gallon, that’s not so great, is it? Yet if you upgraded your vehicle to one that yielded up to 40 miles per gallon, you would say that you now have increased efficiency.
In the case of the car, that’s a good thing: it requires less fuel, which means less money spent on gas. But with the human body, the same idea is not so opportune – especially if you love food.
Moreover, study after study has shown that exercise protocols involving steady-state cardio have led to negligible weight loss and that aerobic exercise by itself is not an effective form of weight loss therapy.
That’s a whole lot of work for increasingly diminishing returns.
4. More volume is better, no matter how you go about it.
It’s true that training volume is a critical component of hypertrophy. In fact, it’s one of the greatest determinants of muscle growth, much more than any other component of exercise.
But this doesn’t mean that more volume is necessarily better regardless of how that volume is achieved. For example, you can’t perform hundreds of lighter weight, high rep sets ad nauseum and expect to experience optimal gains. And on the flipside, while heavier, low rep sets will definitely make you stronger, again, by themselves they’ll be limited in how much muscle can be built.
When it comes to exercise, there are three primary mechanisms of muscle growth, all of which should be utilized appropriately to maximize gains: muscle tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress.
Mechanical tension is the tension placed on muscles when lifting and is considered the most important element of the three. The more tension exerted on muscles, the more mechanotransduction occurs, a process by which mechanical signals initiate anabolic pathways. In this way, the heavier the weight that is lifted, the more tension the muscles undergo. And as conventional wisdom goes, those particular muscles will adapt to the tension – but only up to a certain point – by growing in size.
Then comes muscle damage. Ever heard of DOMS? That stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and is the sensation of sore, achy muscles after an exercise bout. This is what makes it difficult to sit down on the toilet or walk down the stairs after a particularly trying lower body day. In the general, DOMS sets in approximately 24 hours after a training session and can persist for up to 72 or more hours.
But the purpose of DOMS is not solely to give you a feeling of accomplishment. DOMS is a result of microtears in your working muscles. With this acute damage, an inflammatory response is induced, and in the process, cytokines are produced that then prompt the release of growth factors related to muscle development. This then strengthens your muscle tissue so that in the future, you’re better able to tolerate muscle damage.
(I should note, additionally, that DOMS, or lack or DOMS, is by no means an indicator of a good or bad workout. Keep in mind that DOMS is an adaptive response, and the more training you undergo, the better your body will be able to withstand the stress.)
Lastly is metabolic stress. This is the burning sensation you get when, say, you’re nearing the end of a high-rep set, or when you’re using a heavy load through full range of motion. Metabolic stress is brought about by a number of factors, including blood pooling (via muscle contractions), lack of oxygen supply, and buildup of metabolites, or metabolism by-product.
While the reasons are not currently fully understood, it is believed that cell swelling induces protein synthesis and hinders protein breakdown because the cell is adapting to a perceived threat. In turn, the cell strengthens its structure to protect itself against future stress.
By themselves, each of the components are limited in how much hypertrophy they can achieve. But when combined appropriately, they make for a powerful blend for muscle development.
So why won’t endless reps by themselves get the job done? It’s not a bad idea in theory, but if you stick to solely increasing volume by utilizing heavier weights, eventually you’ll reach a ceiling at which point no further hypertrophy occurs. The process of hypertrophy is incredibly complex, and you have to take into account the hormonal considerations as well. Throw some muscle damage and metabolic stress in there as well, and you’ll be getting much more out of your gym time.
5. As long as you train hard, you can eat whatever you want.
What if I told you that lifting weights doesn’t burn as many calories as you think? That, although resistance training does continue to burn extra calories up to 48 hours following an exercise session, the effect is not infinite?
I’d be willing to bet a good deal of money that you didn’t just burn 2000 Calories in that one-hour training session. Actually, it’s not even close to 2,000 Calories. Based on research at Southern Maine and Arizona State, you’re looking at estimates of weight loss being anywhere between 800-1200 Calories for a non-stop 45-minute circuit workout. (Note that this is not the type of workout most people do.) Pretty dismal, huh?
Put down those donuts and walk away slowly.
Technically, yes, you can eat whatever you want – but don’t be surprised if your jeans start feeling a little snug relatively quickly. And if your goal is to stay lean – or at least keep the fat gain to a minimum – while building some muscle, you unfortunately do still have to be mindful of not only what but how much you eat.
That’s where reverse dieting comes in.
Reverse dieting is a process in which you slowly increase your macronutrient intake in controlled quantities in order to increase your metabolism and build muscle while keeping the fat gain at bay. The key here is to bump up the calories at a slow enough rate that your metabolism can adapt to the caloric surplus without funneling all the extra energy into fat cells. Essentially, the goal is to reverse all the metabolic adaptation that occurred while you were in an energy deficit.
This is a sustainable, practical approach that allows you to not only enjoy your strength gains in the gym, but also experience hypertrophy without having to buy a whole new wardrobe.
If you’re ready to eat more food while still looking good, then this is for you.
My Reverse Dieting e-book is a comprehensive guide to not only the why’s behind reverse dieting, but it also walks you through exactly how to go about setting up your baseline intake. Furthermore, in this book, I teach you how and when to adjust your numbers, when to end this journey, and what you can expect from this process.
As well, I’ve tossed in some bonuses for you that should help you along the way: first, my How to Count Macros e-book as a complementary guide; second, a 6-week training program that’ll help you get started in the gym while you fire it up in the kitchen; and lastly, 10 different conditioning workouts that you can utilize in lieu of traditional interval sessions.
I’ve worked at this for many months with the help of Dr. Layne Norton, the main man behind reverse dieting. Our hope is that our work will help guide the masses toward a more scientific approach to fitness.
We’ve put together the latest scientific information regarding what works and what doesn’t to bring you a program that will give you the tools to put on muscle and heal your metabolism the right way.
To celebrate this launch, I’m running a 25% off sale for the first 3 days. You have until Thursday, September 25th to grab this product before the price goes up.
Sohee Lee graduated from Stanford University in June 2012 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Human Biology (Psychosocial and Biological Determinants of Health).
Since completing a summer internship at Cressey Performance in Hudson, Mass., she has worked as a strength coach and nutrition consultant at Tyler English Fitness in Canton, Connecticut as well as New York City’s renowned Peak Performance. She currently resides in Savannah, GA where she works as a fitness writer, coach, and entrepreneur.
She is also a National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.
Sohee faced anorexia and bulimia in the past, thus her main interests include eating disorders and the psychology behind relationships and decisions that we make as humans. She loves to talk fitness and admires those fit-minded people who can push and pull heavy weights.
To contact Sohee on the worldwide web, check out her fan page on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or check out her website, www.soheefit.com through which she regularly writes about training, nutrition, and her love of pugs. Her website covers exercise, nutrition, psychology and other miscellaneous musings of the exercise world.
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