Question: How do you recommend I modify my training if my goal is just to lean up and get some more tone and definition if I’m just interested in aesthetics? I’ve been training haphazardly for a couple of years now, and, although I’m satisfied with my strength and bulk I wanna get lean and muscular. I think I got my diet right but would you recommend I increase the volume overall, add in a lot more cardio, or do both?
Answer: Well first of all technically there is really no such thing as “toning” or “defining”. A muscle can get bigger or it can get smaller. The fat covering a muscle can get bigger or it can get smaller. You change the appearance of a muscle by either making the muscle bigger or smaller and making the fat covering it bigger or smaller. You can also change the perception of definition with a tan. That’s all you can really do!
So the same things that best stimulate a muscle when trying to “bulk up” will be the exact same things that best stimulate or maintain a muscle when “toning up”. Muscle size and appearance is impacted by the amount of protein contained in a muscle as well as how much glycogen it contains (how pumped it is). Glycogen is nothing but energy stored in the muscle. A person’s weight can fluctuate 5-10 pounds just based on glycogen storage.
Fat loss or gain is impacted by overall energy status. So if you wanna look defined the best way to do that is to burn off the fat by changing your overall energy status, which means burning up more calories then you take in.
A lot of people actually waste a lot of training and probably a lot of potential growth by training with too much volume during situations when they aren’t going to grow much no matter what they do, (such as during a diet).
Here’s an example of what a lot of people do: Let’s say I normally train 4 days per week with an average of about 20 to 25 sets per workout. I decide I wanna get defined and shed 10 pounds of fat so I start reducing my calories. I also really increase the volume of my workouts and start throwing in every fancy exercise under the sun in an effort to “tone up” and “get a burn”, since that’s what all the magazines tell me I need to be doing. So instead of 20 to 25 sets per workout I increase the volume to where I’m doing 50 sets per workout.
Am I gonna be able to get any growth out of that extra volume? Heck no! The fact that I’m in a caloric deficit means I’ll be lucky to even be able to hang on to the muscle and strength I already have. Most likely I’d lose size and strength from overtraining. All that extra volume is doing is making me burn more calories and increasing my caloric deficit – a caloric deficit which just as easily be met with cardio or paying more attention to my diet. That doesn’t mean all that extra volume won’t “stimulate” growth because it will. It’s just that, due to my diet, there won’t be any raw material around to build muscle from the stimulation.
It’s also my opinion that all that extra volume will make my muscles more resistant to microtrauma so that when I do eventually get in “muscle-building” mode again I’ll have to train that much harder to stimulate any sort’ve a growth response.
In actuality, if I wanted to tone up and shed some fat I’d be better off either maintaining or even slightly reducing my weight training volume whilst doing everything I can to maintain or increase the load (weight). Strength and size can be maintained with 1/3 to 1/2 the volume it took to build them.
So, I’d really have 2 options. with the first option, I’d perhaps slightly reduce my weight training volume while creating a caloric deficit. How would I do that? By incorporating more cardiovascular activity, perhaps some high intensity cardio, and being more careful with my diet. Two or three sessions per week of 30-45 min regular boring cardio (such as walking on an inclined treadmill), along with one or two 20-30 minute sessions per week of high intensity interval cardio (such as 30 seconds sprinting followed by 1:30 jogging/walking), would be all I’d need.
Here is how you might set up a workout based on those concepts:
Day 1 (Chest and biceps)
A1) 30-degree incline DB Bench Press
A2) Preacher curl
Cardio- 20-40 minutes easy slow cardio
Day 2 (Quad Dominant Legs and Calves)
A2) Calve Press in a Leg Press Machine
Day 3 (Back and Triceps)
A1) Medium-grip pullups or pulldowns
High intensity cardio- 20 minutes interval sprints consisting of 6 sets of 1 minute fast jog or sprint/ 1 minute slow jog/1 minute walk. Use treadmill, stairclimber, elliptical or run outside.
Day 4 (Hip Dominant Legs and Shoulders)
A2) Seated DB Military Press
Day 5 Off
Day 6- Start over with day one
Alternate between exercises A1 and A2 until you complete the desired number of sets and reps for each exercise. For example, perform A1, rest one minute, perform A2, rest one minute, perform A1, etc.
Repeat the 5-day rotation back to back for the duration of program. One element of this program is it calls for short, frequent training sessions;You should leave the gym feeling fresh and motivated, not tired and run down.
Phase 1 of this program will run for four weeks; the set/rep scheme will be 4 sets of 7. Select a load that you can handle for 9-10 repetitions in good form. If you successfully perform 7 repetitions on all 4 sets, bump the weight up 5-10 lbs the next time you perform that particular exercise. If you do not successfully get your reps on each set, stick with the same load until you can do so.
Phase 2 of this program will also be conducted for a period of four weeks; 5 sets of 5. Again, select a load that you can handle for 7 repetitions in good form. If you successfully perform 5 repetitions on all 5 sets, bump the weight up 5-10 lbs the next time you perform that particular exercise.
After 4 weeks on this program, go back to the 4 sets of 7.
And That’s Essentially It
What if I didn’t wanna do any cardio and I really liked leaving he gym dog dead tired? No problem. I could simply economize my weight training. Instead of training on a split routine I’d simply put everything together and do 3 whole body workouts each week consisting of 4 to 5 exercises of ~6-10 reps each. There’s a big time calorie after-burn effect from whole body type weight training. There was a study a couple of years ago looking at the fat burning effects of weight training. Subjects did 4 sets of 10 reps of bench press, squat, and power clean. They burned about 300 calories during the workout itself yet burned an ADDITIONAL 700 calories over the next 48 hours due to the way their metabolisms were stimulated.
Rest assured the afterburn effect mainly comes from the intensiveness necessary for the lower body movements. Upper body workouts won’t create this effect and neither will regular cardio. After a bout of regular cardio you might burn an additional 50 or so calories during the post-workout period. But with intensive lower body weight training, whole body type workouts, and to a lesser extent, HIT cardio, you really will stimulate the metabolism. So, with this option, at each workout I might do a push, pull, squat or deadlift, along with a couple of sets of arms and call it a day.
What about Diet?
I’d generally recommend eating 1.5 to 2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day, up to 100 or so grams of carbs and 30-50 grams of fat. Basically just get your protein in and eat all the non-starchy fibrous carbs you want. Every 4th day I’d have a night-time meal carb-up consisting of an extra 200 or so grams of carbs. For 90% of the population that’s all it would take to get them as defined as they’d like!
Here’s a sample food list.
Proteins: 1 oz = 7 grams protein. (Meats are weighed before cooking) Chicken breast Turkey breast Fish Eggs- 1 egg = 8 grams protein egg whites (2 large whites = 7 grams protein) Lean beef: 93 to 96% lean ground beef, lean sirloin, filet mignon, round steak, flank steak Fat Free or 2% Cottage Cheese (1/2 cup = 2 oz lean meat), Protein power (11 gm / Tablespoon
Non-Starchy Vegetables: 1 serving ( 5 grams carb) = ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw Asparagus broccoli green beans cabbage (all varieties) carrots (small amounts…) cauliflower celery cucumbers kale lettuce (all varieties) onions peppers (green, red, yellow, hot, etc.) radishes spinach string beans squash (summer varieties only) tomatoes.
Fresh Fruits (not dried or canned): 1 serving (15 grams carb) = 4 oz (on average) Apples, cantaloupe, cherries, grapefruit, grapes (small amounts), honeydew melons, nectarines, oranges, papaya, peaches, plums, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, mangos, watermelon, etc. (Unsweetened frozen fruits are acceptable as part of your total fruit intake.)
Starchy Carbohydrates: Brown rice (37 gms / cup), white rice (40 gms / cup), medium potatoes (with skins), yams and sweet potatoes= 25 grams , oatmeal= 25 grams per 1 cup cooked or 1/3 cup uncooked, cream of rice 3 tbsp= 25 grams , beans and legumes 1 cup = 30 grams