Like Christine, who works both from home and in an office setting.
Or Heidi, who lost 40 pounds working with me, and working behind a desk.
And they all did it by sticking to a few basic principles.
Which I am going to outline for you below.
If you want to learn to lose weight while reading e-mails that say things like “let’s touch base”, or “the ball is in your court”.
Then read on.
All I ask is for you to read every single word, and every single Michael Scott reference.
Don’t skim it, like you do to the e-mails from your boss.
I don’t want to have to send you an e-mail that starts with “Per my last e-mail…”
Let’s Lose Weight Working A Desk Job
How Does Weight Loss Happen?
If you want to learn how to lose weight working a desk job, you’ll have to understand how weight loss works.
I know Cathy in accounting might tell you all about how cutting carbohydrates made her niece lose 150 pounds in a week.
And Vicky from HR swears by the ketogenic diet.
But these people work in accounting and HR, and are not qualified to give out nutrition advice.
Weight loss happens when you eat fewer calories than your body burns.
This is called being in a calorie deficit.
I won’t touch too much on what a calorie deficit is, but if you don’t know, you can find out right here.
The important part you need to know, is that your body loses fat if and only if you are in a calorie deficit.
No calorie deficit, no fat loss.
We can create a calorie deficit by taking in less calories than we put out.
So what are some simple ways to do that?
How to manage calories in for weight loss at your desk job
The easiest way to create a calorie deficit is by focusing on the calories you are taking in.
Which can be quite a struggle while working a desk job.
So let’s highlight a few simple strategies to balance calorie intake.
Strategy #1: Start your day with a big breakfast
At first glance this may seem counterintuitive.
In a world where health and fitness magazines tell us we should be eating 1,200 calories every single day, eating a large meal seems like it would be a bad strategy.
First and foremost, I want to tell you that you should not eat 1,200 calories unless you happen to be a 50 pound labradoodle. And here’s why.
When you start your day with a big breakfast, you help fill yourself up with lots of nutrients to have the energy to take on the day, and whatever crap your boss is about to give you in a harshly worded e-mail.
This is also going to keep you full throughout the day.
Later on, we will get into some other morning strategies, but starting your day off on the right foot is going to be crucial to your success.
Because it sets the tone for the rest of the day.
Imagine yourself skipping breakfast. Then you sit around starving, staring at the clock over the water cooler waiting for it to hit 12:00.
Since you’re so hungry, you’ll go out to lunch and overeat.
Then you’ll probably go home and do the same, since you’re not well fed enough.
You want to avoid this scenario at all costs, because it’s the easiest way to fall off track, by starting your day off on the wrong foot.
Something like oatmeal or eggs go a long way in the morning. They keep you full for quite some time.
Bringing lunch to work with you is a great way to help you cut back on unnecessary calories that you might get from going out.
It’s also going to save you a lot of money.
I’m not telling you to bring chicken broccoli and rice to work every single day.
I’m telling you to bring a nutritious meal, that’s going to make you feel good for the rest of your workday.
Something that’s going to be a bit more nutritious than the pastrami on rye that you’re ordering from the sandwich shop next door.
I’m also not telling you to bring an entire family size chicken pot pie to work.
But something that’s going to fill you up for the rest of your day, ideally has some vegetables in there, and is something you actually enjoy.
Strategy #3: Keep track of your calorie intake
This one can seem daunting.
It’s a skill that takes just a little bit of practice.
To do it, pull out your phone and download an app called MyFitnessPal.
First and foremost, do not use the calorie range it gives you, since it was probably 1,200. We already talked about why not to do that.
What I want you to do instead is grab this free fat loss calorie calculator, and use that number for your calorie intake.
Want to lose body fat?
Use this, it will help.
Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your fitness journey.
Now, I know you’re super excited to get going. So stop what you’re doing and go check your inbox to download your fat loss calorie calculator now!
P.S. Be sure to check your junk folder. I may be trashy, but I’m not trash.
Use this and keep track of everything that goes into your mouth.
Everything you have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Every snack. Every piece of candy Gail, the office manager brings in.
If you’re new to calorie tracking, you can use this free resource to help get started
How to manage calories out for weight loss at your desk job.
Strategy #1: Exercise before work.
Get your workout done before your work day starts.
I’m not saying you have to get up at 4 AM, and be the first one in the gym.
But before your work day starts, go get into the gym, lift some weights, and start your day on that positive note.
This one isn’t a “non-negotiable”, if you really can’t get into the gym before your work day, that’s fine.
There’s no wrong time to work out. The right time to work out is the time you can be most consistent with.
However, before work is probably that time for most people.
What happens when you save your workout for after work?
You dread it the whole day, and as you’re dreading it throughout your work day, your brain will find hundreds and thousands of excuses to not go.
The old “Oh, I’m too tired from the work day now.” Or “Wellll I have to cook dinner, and then go to the post office and then bathe my parakeet.”
Your parakeet is fine. Go to the gym.
Seriously though, things come up throughout the day, and they actually become valid excuses.
When you go in the morning, it’s out of the way early.
You don’t have time to build up the excuses, no time for dread, and no time for anything to come up that will prevent you from getting it done.
The world isn’t awake yet, it’s just you vs. the gym.
The e-mails haven’t rolled in yet, and your annoying co-worker who talks too loudly on the phone isn’t there to distract you.
You go in, you feel like a badass, get a nice little endorphin rush before work starts.
Now, in order to get up a little earlier, you’re going to have to go to bed a little earlier.
If you want to get up for 6:30, get in the gym by 7, get out by 8 and at work to 9 (holy crap that was a lot of numbers), you’ll have to go to bed by 10:30.
I certainly don’t want you staying up until 1AM, getting up at 6, and running off of 5 hours of sleep.
That’s not going to do anything positive for your fat loss or your career.
Don’t burn yourself out.
I also want to state that you don’t have to go to the gym every single day.
3-4 days a week of strength training is going to be massively beneficial for your fat loss, your health, and your posture.
If you’re not sure where to start on strength training, you can grab my Free Beginner’s Guide.
Want to see results in the gym?
Look no further
Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your fitness journey.
Now, I know you’re super excited to get going. So stop what you’re doing and go check your inbox to download your fat loss calorie calculator now!
P.S. Be sure to check your junk folder. I may be trashy, but I’m not trash.
Strategy #2: Take a short walk every couple hours
If you’re getting 2,000 steps a day because you’re glued to your desk, it’s going to make things a lot harder.
Getting up and moving more, is not only going to be beneficial for your weight loss, but for your overall health.
First I want to discuss why walking is so important for losing weight working a desk job.
And to do that I’m going to give you a quick lesson on metabolism.
Metabolism is a very misunderstood process.
I’ll break it down nice and simple.
Your metabolism is the rate that your body burns calories to keep you alive.
Above is an image of how your metabolism is split up.
This is a picture of your total daily energy expenditure.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to know all of this, we are only going to discuss the first two, BMR and NEAT.
BMR stands for Basal Metabolic Rate, which is a fancy way of saying the rate your body burns calories just to keep your body functioning. This is through the processes that keep your brain functioning, your heart beating, your lungs contracting, etc. And it accounts for 70% of calorie burn.
This number is directly linked to how much lean muscle mass you have. Remember earlier when I talked about strength training? This is why.
The more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns just by doing basically nothing. Which is important, because while you are at your desk all day, you want to be burning more calories.
The next is NEAT, which stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. Which is a fancy way of saying how many calories your body burns moving around naturally.
This is why walking is going to be so important for you. It’s one of the easiest and most accessible ways to burn a few extra calories.
I want to stress here, I’m not asking you to go walk for your entire work day, and I’m not asking you to ditch meetings to go for a walk.
But what you can do, is step away from your desk for 10 minutes every few hours or so.
Get outside, get some sunlight, get away from your desk and take a little walk.
This is going to help improve your metabolic rate, help you get a little more movement in, and rejuvenate you to carry on with the rest of the day.
For me, I’m a person who’s very much into my work, and once I get going, it’s hard to pull me out of this.
So when I first tried to implement this strategy, I was skeptical.
But actually stepping away for a bit, and taking a small break really refreshed me to continue on with the rest of my day, and avoid that 3:00 slump.
Final Thoughts On How To Lose Weight At Your Desk Job
So there you have it.
You did a great job not skimming this, and I don’t need to send you an angry follow up e-mail.
You now have a few solid action items to implement into your life to help you lose weight right from your desk.
Except it won’t all be from your desk, because you’re going to get up and move a bit more.
But you might be having a few extra from your desk lunches. Which is okay, because they’re going to be nice and nutritious and even have some vegetables in there.
I hope this has helped you understand what exactly it is you need to do.
But if it hasn’t, and you still have uncertainties. E-mail me, firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will be more than happy to help you.
Walk into the gym and one of the first things you’ll see is a big rack of dumbbells that range from size tiny to massive.
You look at your workout program (that you should absolutely have, and if you don’t here’s a free one) and the first exercise is a dumbbell bench press.
You may think to yourself, okay cool dumbbell bench press. But which weight should I pick up?
You don’t want to pick up a weight that’s too light, because then what’s the point? You could just go home and lift a couple of sticks of butter instead.
And you don’t want to pick up a weight too heavy, because then you’re going to drop it on your face, be embarrassed, and also injured. And then you’re going to have to tell the paramedic that you didn’t read an article on how much weight you should be lifting, which is also embarrassing.
By the end of this article, you’ll have the confidence to know how much weight you should lift for the first time you try an exercise.
You’ll also know how and when to increase weight.
You’ll know which exercises you’ll be able to choose a heavier weight for, and ones you may need to choose a lighter weight for, and get the maximum benefit out of it.
You have just one job in this.
Read every single word of this article.
Don’t skip, don’t skim, because then you’ll miss some crucial information.
How Much Weight Should You Be Lifting?
Something to consider before you even touch a weight
Before you head straight for the dumbbell or squat rack, there’s something you need to do first.
You want to make sure you can execute a movement appropriately before you add weight to the movement.
Imagine not being able to do a bodyweight squat with proper form, and then you try and add weight to it.
You don’t really have to imagine, you’ll see this at the gym all the time.
You’ll frequently see people doing a squat with 300+ pounds on their back and their form looks more like a manatee having a seizure than an actual squat.
It doesn’t improve your squat strength (though it may improve your seizing manatee impression you’ve been working on for your next charades party).
What it does do is improve your risk for injury.
So before you attempt a squat with weight, master the bodyweight squat first.
Before you attempt a deadlift with weight, try it with a broomstick first.
Do this for any movement you are unfamiliar or unsure about.
And then video yourself doing it, and analyze your own technique.
This is something I do all the time with my online coaching clients, so together we can review technique and ensure the movements are both safe and effective.
And by the way,
This isn’t something just for beginner lifters.
This is something I to this day do.
If I feel like my movement is off with weight, I’ll go back and do it without, and analyze my technique.
Being an intermediate/advanced lifter doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go back to fundamentals and just practice movement patterns.
You absolutely should.
How Much Weight Should You Be Lifting?
Alright, so you’ve mastered the movements.
You’re deadlifting properly with the broomstick, so now you can put the Nimbus 2000 back in the broom cupboard.
And you’ve mastered the bodyweight squat so now you can get on and off the toilet with perfect form. That’s good. That will come in handy later in life.
So now it’s time to pick up some weights.
But, how much weight should you be lifting?
There’s a few things we are going to cover in the coming sections to give you a solid understand how heavy of a weight you should be lifting.
The RPE Scale
Above is an image of the RPE Scale.
RPE stands for Rate Of Perceived Exertion
Which basically is a scale of how hard something felt.
A 1 on the RPE scale feels as hard as buttering and eating your morning toast.
While a 10 on the RPE scale feels as hard as your morning toast buttering and eating you.
But seriously, a 10 should be HARD.
You should not be able to get out a single more rep at RPE 10.
And your face should look like this.
Yeah, it should look like you’re about to shit yourself (don’t actually shit yourself).
The RIR Scale
And going hand in hand with the RPE scale, is the RIR scale.
RIR stands for reps in reserve.
Which means how many reps you could have done in addition to the ones you actually did.
For example, let’s take that dumbbell bench press we were going to start your workout with in the beginning of the article.
You walk in, you grab a pair of 20 pound dumbbells off the rack.
You do a set of 10, but if some dude puts a gun to your head and told you to do more, you could have got 6 more (that dude really wanted you to push hard).
This means you had 6 reps in reserve.
This works in reverse with the RPE scale. So 6 reps in reserve means you were at RPE 4.
If you had 1 rep in reserve, you would have been at RPE 9.
One thing to note about the RPE/RIR scales. It’s unfortunately, not a perfect system. And it’s left up to a lot of ambiguity, and self speculation.
So you can finish a set and think it was really hard. But in reality, you could have busted out another 5-7 reps.
Not sure what RPE you’re working at?
This is a method I’ve used with my in-person clients.
I was recently training one of my favorite clients, Katie, and she was doing a seated shoulder press. I asked her, on a scale of 1-10 how hard did that feel? She told me with the highest level of confidence that it was a solid 9.
So I said, “Cool, alright on the next set I want you to do an extra 10 reps just for fun”.
She did them, all 10 extra reps.
And I said “Katie, that was not a 9.”
Begrudgingly, she asked me for a heavier weight.
This is something you can test on yourself, if you think you’re at RPE 9, try adding a few reps. When you legitimately fail a rep, that’s where it becomes RPE 10/RIR 0. Because you had no reps in reserve, you failed the rep.
Note on training to failure:
This is something that is okay and even beneficial to do from time to time, however be careful.
Choose your movements wisely here. Training to failure on exercises where there is a danger of dropping a weight on you, or getting stuck under a barbell is not worth the risk without a spotter. I’d rather you have a slightly less optimal training than die in a freak bench press accident.
Training a pushup to failure on the other hand. What’s the risk of injury? You just go back to the floor.
Think about this when training to failure and choose your movements wisely.
When the risk is there, find a spotter.
What RPE should you be working at?
With my online coaching clients, I generally want them working at about RPE 7-9.
So this means when you’re choosing a weight, you should choose one where you if you’re doing a set of 10, you could probably only do about 1-3 reps more.
So how do you tell?
Trial and error.
Try a weight, see how it feels. If it feels too light for your set, increase.
The nice thing is, you have plenty of time in your training career to find the right weight for you.
Just make sure, above all else, you are still lifting with good form.
When Should You Increase In Weights?
So you’ve busted out that set of 10 reps of dumbbell bench press at 20lbs. And it felt challenging. It was a solid RPE 9, and your form was on point. Great. You’re crushing it.
But guess what.
It won’t be challenging forever.
Because the fun part about strength training is, that it gets you stronger.
As you continue to lift the same weight, your body starts to adapt to that.
This happens through a principle known as progressive overload.
What the hell is that?
Glad you asked.
Progressive overload is when you increase the demands of your training to increase the output of your body.
This can be achieved through lifting a heavier weight, increasing reps, increasing sets, or increasing the time under tension for your lifts.
By doing this, your body will begin to adapt to that demand by getting stronger, and increasing muscle size.
So using the 20lb bench press example, as that occurs, your body begins to adapt to lifting 20lb dumbbells.
Until it becomes easy.
So if you keep lifting those 20lb dumbbells for the rest of your life at the same reps and same sets, your body will not continue to change, because you’re not putting any new demands on it.
So when RPE 9 does not feel like RPE 9 anymore, it’s time to give the next weight up a shot. This could mean getting a 5lb heavier dumbbell, or putting a pair of 2.5lb plates on to the end of your barbell. It could also mean doing additional reps at the same weight. But, at a certain point, you’re definitely going to want to increase the weight, and that should generally be your first choice.
How quickly does progressive overload happen?
This can vary depending on whether you’re a beginner or intermediate lifter.
If for 0-12 months you’ve been following a well structured program (sorry, Beachbody and YouTube workouts don’t count), you are considered a beginner lifter.
If you’ve been training intelligently for 12+ months, you’re an intermediate lifter.
If you’re an advanced lifter, carry on. You probably don’t need this article.
For the beginner lifter,
It’s quite common to see very fast strength progression within that first 12 months.
You have probably heard this referred to as “newbie gains”, and it’s very real.
So you may walk into the gym day 1, bench press 20lb dumbbells, and then next week be able to do 25, and then 30s the following week.
Your progress will be very quick.
So enjoy this while it lasts.
If you’re an intermediate lifter, your newbie gains are done.
But that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to lift heavier, and continue to make gains.
It just might be a little slower.
It’s not uncommon to not be able to increase in weight for an entire month, or even longer.
When you step into the gym on any given day, you should know what you lifted last time.
That way you’ll know to either attempt that weight again, or go up in weight.
So by keeping a log of what you lift, you’ll have an idea of when it might be time to try and increase.
You don’t have to be crazy detailed (though you can if you want to be).
If you look at your log and see that 9 months ago you were lifting the same exact weight, and you’re wondering why you haven’t seen a lot of changes… you know why.
Should You Lift The Same Amount Of Weight For Each Exercise?
If you walk into the gym and are now able to hit 30 lb dumbbells for the bench press, should you be able to do the same for a lateral raise, or a dumbbell curl?
I think Bishop Bullwinkle can answer that for you.
Not every exercise is the same. With each exercise, you are working different muscles, and creating different lever arms.
And different muscles are stronger than others.
For example, your legs are stronger than your back.
(Lift with your legs not your back)
And your legs are a hell of a lot stronger than your shoulders.
That’s why people can do squats and deadlifts with absolutely insane amounts of weight, but can’t do bicep curls with the same weight.
In general, the smaller the muscle being worked, the lighter the weight you’ll need to lift.
Of course, with each exercise, this will be a trial and error to figure out which is right for you.
But if you’re not lifting the same for a curl as you are a bench press, don’t worry. That’s normal. And if you are lifting the same amount for a curl as a bench press, you need to increase the weight of your bench press. It’s too light.
Keep using the RPE/RIR scale to figure out what’s right for you for each exercise.
So now, you can take a nice deep breath.
Because you have an idea of how to attack the weights next time you step into the gym.
You know that through trial and error, you can find out how to get to an RPE 7-9.
And you know that you won’t stay there forever, and eventually, you’ll have to increase weight. And if you’re a beginner lifter, that time will be very soon.
Now, you’re ready to make progress, and go crush your goals.
If you have any questions, e-mail me, and I’d love to chat about it – nick@nickandersonfitness.
Ever walk into a gym, and it feels like you’ve stepped into a foreign country slewed with machines you don’t know how to use, dumbbells that are too heavy to lift, and dudes that are too big to fit in their t-shirts?
Well, if I’m being honest. Me too.
When I first started, I had no idea what I was doing.
In fact, I was so anxious about going in, the night before I had stress dreams the entire night.
I vividly remember dreaming of picking up a barbell, and all the plates fell off and I got kicked out of the gym.
Dreams are weird.
By the way, that didn’t actually happen.
And eventually I learned what to do.
I was able to train hard enough, and smart enough to get to a point where I could lift far more weight than I ever believed was possible for myself.
Who went from deadlifting just a kettlebell, to a 235lb barbell.
Who after a monumental amount of hard work, can now do unassisted pull ups.
So what’s the secret to their success?
Well, a lot of it comes from consistency, and hard work. That’s really the key to all of this.
But lying beneath that is program design.
By the end of this article,
You will know how to design a strength training program.
You will know what exercises to perform and when the perform them.
You will know how often to work out
You’ll know how to make a well structured plan that is going to have you be efficient, and get strong as all hell.
So grab a cup of coffee (iced is my go to, but whatever you like). Grab a pen and paper, or the notes app of your phone.
And let’s get into it.
How To Design A Strength Training Program
When it comes to strength training the first thing I need you to do is forget any workout you’ve seen from an influencer in tight booty shorts while doing a one legged bosu ball kickflip salchow with a flaming upside down kettlebell overhead press.
There’s one important rule to adhere to.
Stick to the fundamentals.
Heath Ledger said it best here (he didn’t actually say this, I actually think it was Leonardo Da Vinci who said this via a Tweet in 1502).
Fundamentals are essential.
As a general rule of thumb, the flashier the exercise looks, the less effective it actually is.
Let’s use basketball (a sport I actually can’t stand) as an example to drive this point home.
If you’ve ever watched the Slam Dunk competitions they have, where guys will do some kind of double backflip and then dunk the ball and it looks cool as all hell…
And then you watch an actual basketball game and see that literally never happens.
This becomes a prime example of how fundamentals are important.
Because while doing a double backflip slam dunk looks cool, it has no practical applications.
It’s much more practical to work on dribbling, shooting, defense, being tall (a skill I’ll never have), and whatever else it is basketball players do.
So let’s apply to strength training.
The 5 Foundational Movement Patterns
These 5 foundational movement patterns should be the meat and potatoes (mmm… potatoes) of your programming. These are the essential movements. These are the ones you probably do in every day life just walking around your house.
Squats are probably the most well recognized movement pattern. We all know what a squat is, and we all know how to do it (for the most part).
Of course, there are many different ways to do a squat.
You can do
A bodyweight squat
A goblet squat
A barbell squat
And I’ve put these in order of how you should progress these.
You want to make sure you have the fundamentals down at each level, starting with bodyweight, and working your way up to a barbell.
You’ll see a lot of sweaty dudes around the gym doing barbell back squats with 400+ pounds on their back, but their actual squat mechanics look closer to that of a chimpanzee having a mild stroke.
Make sure you have your form on point for each progression, and before adding further weight.
This one is the most elusive for new lifters to figure out. Some people get it down right away, other people can’t seem to differentiate it from a squat.
But that’s okay.
I’m here to help.
The hip hinge occurs when you are sending your butt back and forth (not twerking, that’s different).
In this quick deadlift tutorial video, you can see me sending my hips back to the wall behind me, then pushing forward. Think of it like closing a car door with your butt when you have heavy groceries in your hand. You know the one.
The hip hinge is a great way to target your posterior chain. Which is a fancy way of saying all the muscles on the backside of you. The ones you don’t see in the mirror are some of the most important ones to train for your overall health.
Examples of the hip hinge include (but are not limited to)
The Romanian Deadlift
The Single Leg RDL
The Hip Thrust
These aren’t in any particular order like last time. But make sure you have the basic hip hinge movement pattern down before you start adding weight to it.
Okay everyone hates this one, it’s cool me too.
But we still should be doing at least some variation of it.
So what classifies a lunge?
A lunge is any exercise where one leg is forward with your knee bent, and your other leg is behind you.
A lunge is similar in mechanics to a squat, but a lunge forces you to work one leg at a time, which helps you to correct any muscle imbalances you may have (we all have them by the way).
There are many variations to lunges
and my personal favorite Bulgarian Split Squats
Walk into any gym, you’ll see no shortage of pushing exercises. A push refers to any time you are pushing a load away from the primary muscle being worked.
Like a bench press is pushing the barbell away from your pecs, and a pushup is pushing the floor away from your pecs. This one is a foundational exercise because how often do you have to push things in real life? And you never know… what if you’re in a situation where something really heavy falls on you, and all that bench press training finally pays off?
In general, pushing exercises work your chest, shoulders, and/or triceps (there are some exceptions to the rule, but we don’t really need to dive into that today).
Some examples of pushing exercises:
Walk into any gym, and you may see a shortage of pulling exercises. Which in my opinion is a huge mistake. As far as general strength goes, having a strong pull is important. Most people don’t do them as much because they don’t work the “mirror muscles”. Most pulling exercises are going to work your back, (remember that posterior chain we talked about) as well as your biceps.
When you think of a pulling exercise, it’s an exercise where you are pulling a load towards the primary muscle being worked.
Some examples of pulling exercises:
Strength Vs. Muscle Gain Exercises
Alright so we talked about the different kinds of forces that can be applied to exercises, now let’s talk about the different types of mechanics that can be implemented.
Your strength exercises are going to be your big compound exercises. A compound exercise is an exercise that recruits more than one muscle at a time. When you are thinking about how to design a strength training program. These are the exercises you want to put at the beginning of each workout.
The reason being, you want to be able to give your all to these exercises. They are the ones that you can lift the most weight with, and are going to contribute most to your overall strength gains.
In general, you should do 3-4 sets of these.
Anywhere between 3-8 reps. When you choose a lower rep range, aim to lift a heavy weight that challenges you for those few reps. Obviously, the less reps you do, the more weight you can lift, and the higher reps, you’ll probably have to scale back on weight. For more tips on how to choose the correct weight to lift head here.
Rest periods should be anywhere between 2-5 minutes per set. The higher the weight you lift, the longer the rest period should be.
Choose 1 compound exercise to start your workout with that you want to work on.
Barbell Overhead Press
Bent Over Row
Muscle Gain Exercises
These exercises can be compound exercises, or they can be isolation exercises (exercises that work just one single muscle, a bicep curl for example).
The difference between strength and muscle gain exercises really lies in how much weight you lift, and how many reps you do. To make an exercise effective for muscle growth, it should be somewhere between 6-12 reps. Again, the weight should be heavy, and the last 2-3 reps should feel like you’re not sure if you can do it
For these choose 2-6 exercises to incorporate into your program to be done after your strength exercises.
Core Isolation Exercises
Okay, let’s talk six packs.
Personally, I like a nice Blue Moon in the summer. Nothing quite like an ice cold beer with a warm sunset.
Oh sorry, six pack abs.
How often should you train your abs?
Once a week? Once a day? Once a minute?
Well, the abs are just like any other muscle. They need to be stimulated and then subsequently rested to grow (we will talk about rest later in the article).
In general, muscles need 2-3 days of rest before it becomes optimal to work them again. So you should not be training them every day. Furthermore, you don’t need to do incredibly high reps of abs.
Treat your ab movements just like a muscle gain movement. 1 or 2 exercises between 6-12 reps, and the last few should feel challenging.
And by the way, this doesn’t have to be just sit ups and crunches.
You can also do anti-rotational exercises like
The Pallof Press
Or stability exercises like
Hollow Body Holds
How often should you work out?
There’s going to be a lot of individual variance here, that all comes down to one very important factor.
You should work out the amount of days per week you can be most consistent with.
And you want to allow adequate time for rest.
One thing that most people don’t realize is that muscles do not grow in the gym during your workouts.
They grow after the gym with adequate rest.
When you’re at the gym, pumping out a sick bicep curl, you are actually damaging your muscle fibers.
After resting the muscle, your body will repair the muscle by fusing it with nearby satellite cells, and through that repair is where it grows.
You want to maximize your training by allowing for sufficient rest time.
In general muscles need 2-3 days of rest before it becomes optimal to work them again.
So, you can choose anywhere from 2-6 days working out. Though, I recommend staying somewhere in the 3-5 range. However 2 times a week is great for beginners, and 6 times a week can be effective for advanced trainees.
So let’s get into how to split some of these up
The Full Body Split
This is every workout consisting of working full body. Upper, lower, abs, all of it’s jam packed into one efficient workout. This can work well for those who choose to workout 2-3 days a week. Anything over that and I would choose a different split, as you are not going to be able to get that ideal rest time in between workouts.
The Upper/Lower Split
This is splitting up your workouts into designated upper body days, and designated lower body days. This one works great for 2 or 4 days a week. Again, because you’ll get plenty of time to let your muscles rest in between. In fact the 4 days a week upper/lower split is probably my favorite one, as you get to hit each muscle group twice a week with plenty of time for recovery in between. And besides, who doesn’t love training legs twice a week?
The Upper/Lower/Full Body Split
This one works well for a 3 day a week only.
Many people freak out about only working out 3 days a week. Personally, I’ve done many many phases of training at 3 days a week. And during the 3 day a week training phases is where I’ve seen some of my best results, both for strength and muscle growth.
If you are giving your all to those 3 days, they will be plenty, and you will feel it.
Advanced trainees only. This one works great for a 5 or 6 day a week program. For 6 days, you can do all pushing movements one day, all pulling movements another, all legs the next, then repeat. This way while your “pushing muscles” are resting, you’re working your “pulling muscles”, and vice versa, and everything is all happy with rest periods.
You can also combine this with an upper/lower split for a 5 day a week program. So your week would be Push/Pull/Legs/Upper/Lower.
Putting It All Together
Alright, your coffee you started at the beginning of the article is empty by now (go refill it).
And you’ve just received a fuck ton of information (yes that’s an actual metric).
So now what do you do with all this?
Want to know the secret, dirty truth?
There is no such thing as the perfect training routine.
A lot of this comes through trial and error. Seeing what works, and what doesn’t work.
Researching (hey step 1 complete, nice work!), hypothesizing, experimenting, and repeating. You know… the scientific method you learned about in 7th grade and never thought you’d use again.
But as far as actually putting this in to practice goes, if you want to work out 3 times a week for example, go look at the 3 times a week option listed above. Choose a few compound exercises to start with, choose muscle gain exercises, and an ab movement or two. Put them together into three nice little workouts, and then go try it for four weeks. Not just one week. Try it for four, so you can really see how the results develop, how your strength progresses, and how your form on each exercises progresses.
After that, try something else. Keep the concepts the same, try more movements, different set/rep schemes. And most importantly, have fun with it.
If now that you’re end of this article, there’s a monkey in your head banging two cymbals together, it’s okay. I know I just threw a lot of information at you.
The rain was driving into your face, cleansing the stress of your day.
As you pull up to the finish of your run, you glance down at your watch.
677 calories burned!
So the big question is, does this mean you get to add a 677 calorie meal as a treat for running?
Well, if you want to lose some weight, you might want to read on.
All of it.
Don’t just read the headings, and skim your way through.
Read every word, so you don’t miss important information.
How weight loss occurs
Before we dive in, let’s have a discussion on how weight loss actually happens.
There is only one way to lose body fat.
It’s by taking apple cider vinegar while washing it down with a detox tea.
Just kidding, that doesn’t work (it is a great way to accidentally shit your pants though).
The only way to lose weight is to eat less calories than you expend.
This is called a calorie deficit (you may have heard the term once or twice, but if not that’s okay, you can learn more about it here).
The only way to maintain weight is to eat the same amount of calories that you expend
This is what’s referred to as your maintenance calories.
The only way to gain weight is to eat more calories than you expend
This is called a calorie surplus.
A calorie is a unit of measurement for energy.
How many calories in your food is simply how much energy is in it.
Your body uses the energy to make your heart beat, your liver function, to walk, to exercise, or to get freaky (nice)
Any energy that your body does not use for the above activities get stored as fat.
So when we talk about calories burned, we are talking about how much energy you are using.
When you go do a HIIT workout, lift some weights, or get freaky (still nice), you are expending energy, or… burning calories.
Logically speaking, burning calories through exercise would change this balance.
So, should you eat back your calories burned for weight loss?
Are Calorie Trackers Accurate?
First off, I want to say that the only way to accurately measure calorie expenditure is in a laboratory.
The way it’s done in a lab, is by measuring the amount of heat that’s released from your body, or how much carbon dioxide is released from your body.
The piece of technology on your wrist that makes you look like a Spy Kid can’t do that.
But I can also cite this study which investigated energy expenditure among 62 participants performing various degrees of intensity of activity.
The study found some pretty lackluster results with a mean absolute percentage error varying between 16.85-84.98%.
I’d say 84.98% inaccuracy is pretty damn inaccurate.
Especially if you think you burned 600 calories and it actually means you burned 120.
Which would mean you’d eat an extra 480 calories, which is pretty damn significant. That’s almost an extra Big Mac’s worth of calories.
But Nick, we spend so much money on these devices, why aren’t they accurate?
A valid question that I’ve put in your mouth…
Every person on the planet Earth is different.
That means we all expend calories in different amounts.
This can be based on several variables.
Not least of which is how much lean muscle mass you have. This is a huge variable in how many calories you burn. The more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn by default.
Unfortunately, your Apple Watch does not know how much lean muscle mass you have.
You can find out how much your lean muscle mass is by getting a very expensive DEXA scan. However, this comes with a degree of inaccuracy as well. On top of that, your lean muscle mass is constantly changing, so it is a constant variable.
How many calories do you burn through exercise?
Let’s break down how your body burns calories
Shown in the image above is a breakdown of your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)
Which is a fancy way of saying how many calories your body burns.
70% comes from your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
This is basically how many calories your body burns to keep your functions, well… functioning. This number, just like every other number, is different per the individual.
20% comes from Non-Exercise Activity Thermogensis (NEAT), which is a really fancy way of saying how many calories you burn through unintentional movement. You know that kid in 2nd grade who was fidgeting all the time? That kid burned a lot of calories through NEAT.
15% comes from the Thermic Effect Of Food (TEF), which is the calories your body burns just from digestion. Digestion takes energy, so just by eating calories, you burn a small percentage of those through the digestion process.
5% comes from Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT). So yeah, that’s that run in the rain you did.
It accounts for a measly 5% of your daily calorie burn.
Should I account for these calories?
Most calorie calculators (my favorite one is here) are already accounting for calories burned in the calculations.
If you’ve ever used a calorie calculator to figure out how many calories you should be eating (in my opinion, you absolutely should), it will probably ask you how active you are.
And that, my dear friend, is taking your activity into account (this includes NEAT and EAT).
The best you can.
Because as mentioned above, calorie burn can only be measured accurately in a lab. So we estimate.
So if you’re estimating yourself at an activity level of “moderately active” and then eating back calories burned by exercise, you’re negating the extra calories the calculation gave you.
And you probably won’t actually be in a calorie deficit.
Let’s break it down with math (don’t skip this part, I’ll keep the math simple, and this is arguably the most important part of the entire article).
Let’s say your Basal Metabolic Rate (which is simply how many calories your body burns per day at rest) is 1450.
And you chose an activity multiplier of 1.375, because you’re fairly active. You’re on your feet most of the time for work, and walking around having a grand ol’ time.
So now your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (how many calories you burn daily in addition to your Basal Metabolic Rate) is 2,000.
You’re eating 1,750 calories a day, for an average weight loss of half a pound a week.
Your watch tells you you burned 600 calories from running a few miles.
You add those 600 calories to your 1750.
You’ve now eaten 2,350 calories, which is 350 over your maintenance calories.
Now you’re in a calorie surplus for the day
This estimation is not always accurate (after all it is an estimation).
But there are ways to work around that.
What you need to do is be RUTHLESSLY CONSISTENT for 30 days.
Weigh yourself every single day.
When I say ruthlessly consistent,
I mean track every single thing that goes into your mouthhole.
Every ounce of chicken, every drop of olive oil, and every ice cube.
Weigh it all out, track it accurately.
Because 99.9% (made up statistic alert) of the time people aren’t losing weight in a calorie deficit, is because they either intentionally or unintentionally are not accurately reporting their calorie intake.
At the end of 30 days, if you were in a calorie deficit 25 out of 30 of those days and you have not lost weight, you may have overestimated your activity multiplier. Drop it down a notch and repeat the process.
Well, if you’ve made it this far in the article, congratulations.
You’ve probably learned something.
And now you know that eating back those exercise calories could actually be putting you in a calorie surplus causing you to gain weight.
You can see the number there go up and down more times than you and your prom date did at the end of the night.
It is a good tool to measure how much your body weighs at any given moment.
And it can even be a good tool to give you an idea of whether you are losing body fat over time. But not always.
By the end of this article, you will have some reliable ways to track your fat loss progress besides what the scale tells you.
And by the end of this article, you will be able to improve your relationship with the scale.
All you have to do is read the entire article.
No skipping, no skimming.
Sit down and read it.
Cool, let’s get into it.
Why Is The Scale Not The Best Tool?
Before we get into the ways to track your progress aside from the scale, I want to talk to you about its flaws.
You may have been led to believe that the most reliable tool to track body fat loss is by stepping on the scale every morning.
Now this might include a little ritual beforehand.
Maybe you’re praying to the scale gods, and hoping (oh please oh please oh please) that the scale is down today.
Aaaand then you step on and it’s up two pounds from yesterday.
You immediately freak out, and wonder how the hell you could have gained two pounds overnight.
First thing I want you to do here is take a big, deep breath.
In through the nose, out through the mouth.
Next thing I want you to do is understand that the only way to gain 2 pounds of body fat overnight is by eating 13 Big Macs worth of calories over your maintenance calories.
One pound of fat stores 3,500 calories. So you have to be in a 7,000 calorie surplus to gain that much overnight.
So how did the scale go up two pounds?
There are many ways that water retention can make the number on the scale higher than it was the day before, including but not limited to:
– Eating more carbs or sodium
– Needing to poo
– It being that time of the month.
I’m not going to go into why these things happen here, since this is supposed to be an article about OTHER ways than using the scale to track progress. However, if you’re interested to know more, you can check out herewhere I deep dive into that.
BUT, I want you to remember, that fluctuations in the scale are normal, and even to be expected. It does NOT mean you gained body fat overnight.
3 Ways To Track Fat Loss Progress Aside From The Scale
1.) Progress Pictures
This is my favorite way to indicate progress.
A picture is worth a thousand words.
And two pictures side by side is worth more than a three digit number.
She’s been working with me for about 8 months, and is one of the most hard-working, consistent humans I know.
Your first thought is probably… wow Christine lost a lot of weight, good for her!
Well, guess what…
Between these two pictures, she is the same weight.
But she clearly made a lot of progress.
How is that even possible?
Read on, my friend.
Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss
Losing weight and losing fat are two very different things.
You can lose 10lbs of fat, and gain 10 lbs of muscle, and you will look completely different.
However, that 3 digit number we so highly read into will be exactly the same.
(Case and point in Christine)
You may have heard that muscle weights more than fat.
While there is some truth to that, it’s important to understand something.
One pound of muscle and one pound of fat weigh the same thing… one pound.
On the same note, one pound of leaves weighs the same thing as one pound of steel.
But they take up a different amount of space.
So one pound of muscle takes up less space on your body than a pound of fat does.
So when you go back and look at Christine’s pictures (feel free to scroll up for a second look), you can probably surmise that she lost fat, and gained muscle.
She was in a calorie deficit, eating plenty of protein, and strength training hard.
Next, I’ll tell you another story about another online coaching clientwho would like to remain anonymous, so let’s just call her Jane.
Jane was another one, who wasn’t losing weight on the scale, and she was frustrated. I mean real frustrated.
She was so frustrated that every one of her check ins with me I put on a full suit of medieval heavy armor before opening her messages. Just in case she came at me.
So I told her to take her scale and hide it in her closet for a month.
Instead, we’d take measurements once a week.
After a month of measurements, she lost 1.25 inches off her waist.
She took the scale out of the closet, stepped on, and it was the same exact weight as it was four weeks prior.
But now she knew she was losing inches.
She was making progress.
And now that she knew that, I put my battle armor away for our check ins.
3.) How Your Clothes Fit
Sorry not sorry, I’m going to hype up one last online coaching client here. Incidentally, her name is also Christine. And it’s not the same Christine. And these two aren’t even the extent of Christines I coach (so if your name is Christine click that link directly above, you’ll fit right in).
Here’s a tale of a young lady who has lost weight on the scale, but the number isn’t super high. Again, just like Jane, she was frustrated. Especially because she was struggling with consistency. But she never ever gave up.
And then one day she sent me this picture.
I don’t think I need to explain this… but in case I do.
Here’s an undeniable fact for you.
If your clothes are getting to big for you, you are losing body fat.
So, is the scale bad?
All it is, is a way to measure how much your body weighs at a given point in time.
That includes your body fat, muscle mass, organs, bones, the food in your stomach, and the poo you may have not let out yet.
It is just data.
And you can use this data, along with all the other forms of tracking your progress mentioned above, to paint a picture of your entire fat loss progress.
If any of the above things apply, you are making progress.
That means if you are losing weight on the scale, seeing progress in your pictures, losing inches, or your clothes fit differently… you are making progress.
Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your fitness journey.
Now, I know you're super excited to get going. So stop what you're doing and go check your inbox to download your fat loss calorie calculator now!
P.S. Be sure to check your junk folder. I may be trashy, but I'm not trash.