…Identifying Where You’re At Now, Setting Realistic Goals, and Your Best Course of Action.
I think one of the toughest parts of coaching people is keeping people’s expectations in check. Lofty goals are important but they must be set in the correct time-frame. If you have unrealistic expectations it’ll quickly kill your motivation when the reality doesn’t pan out. For me though, setting realistic expectations is essential to maintaining a good reputation, cause I know I will be held accountable to the predictions that I initially make.
Aside from physique focussed recreational trainees I have been fortunate to work with a wide range of people – actors, models, bodybuilders military folk, and fighters – the kind of folks that can’t afford to mess about. They hire me because of my reputation, which I have built up by sticking very rigidly to my principles of not bullshitting people about what I think can be achieved in set time frame.
[BELOW IS THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE. PLEASE SEE HERE FOR THE NEW ONE, “Physique Goal Setting“]
Intermittent Fasting is not a magic pill, just a particularly effective way of eating that will maximize hard work in the gym, and minimize kitchen time.
To know what a realistic goal is for yourself however you need to know where you are starting from.
Identifying Where You Are Now
There is a saying that,
“The quickest way to look like you have gained 10lbs of muscle is to lose 10lbs of fat.”
and I believe for many people this generally holds true*, however not for those that either have little muscle mass in the first place, or those that have a relatively high body-fat (+20%/+25% for men/women), in which case 10lbs will not be as noticeable.
*Particularly in the summer when everyone is wearing less and thus the new definition is clearly visible.
Acknowledging your current physical condition is the only way to set up realistic expectations and build towards your long-term goals. Be honest with yourself when reading below.
(To make it easier to explain)
Everyone reading this, no matter what their body shape or size is seeking improvement. I don’t see any particular classification as a negative. For sure, you may be a mix of a couple of the categories. We’re all big boys and girls able to handle real-word descriptions right? So I won’t soften things up by giving them politically correct names.
It’s better to read through all categories until you get to the one that describes yourself best as there are things I have not repeated yet are necessary to understand. Once you get to your part feel free to skip down to the last section titled “Finally.”
If there are things that you don’t understand, or more likely, you’re wondering about the macro set-up then don’t panic, I’ve included links at the end for you.
- Muscled, few pounds to lose.
- “Muscled but Fat” vs. “Weak and Fat”
- Shredded (Clear, defined abs.)
Important Points to Understand:
- Fat can be burned far quicker than muscle is gained.
- Gains from strength training, even with excellent programming will become less and less as the years progress.
- People new to serious strength training will experience the most gains in lean body-mass.
- Strength gains/losses correlate well with muscle gains/losses.
- Generally speaking, when cutting if you manage to maintain strength, you have preserved muscle mass.
1. Muscled, few pounds to lose.
Who? – Have a look at the guy above on the left. I’m referring to someone carrying slightly more body-fat or someone with the same low body-fat just wanting to get more ripped.
If you are in this category then you will see the quickest results from using Leangains. That is not to say that the actual fat loss rate will be quickest in this category, it won’t. But small losses in body fat or gains in muscle will be much more visible. It is at this point that the diet becomes really rewarding as results can be seen in the mirror almost weekly.
Option 1, Body-recomposition Macros.
This may help you to spur on further growth/strength gains in the gym, while burning off the fat. This can happen even your calorie intake is unchanged because you will be putting the right foods into your mouth at the most optimal time. This is key.
Option 2, Cut.
The fat-loss rate will be higher here. Your goal is to maintain strength and thus muscle-mass while cutting off the fat. Do this by lifting hard and heavy. You’re probably not new to strength training but might need to cut back to a minimalistic split-routine 3 days a week during the cut. When you get to the desired level of lean you can re-introduce more calories and grow again. (See the “Ripped” category below.) If you choose this, put your lifting ambitions on hold for a while. Trying to go heavier when on a cut can lead to injuries.
Which option you choose will depend on where you derive the most satisfaction: visual results alone or strength increases also.
Who? – Have a look at the guy above on the right.
Genetics, laziness, suffering ‘fuckarounditis’ with your training in the gym… whatever the reason it doesn’t matter, you are here now.
I genuinely think this is the most exciting group to be in because finally fixing your training (or starting) and getting your diet right will set you up for the best year of gains in muscle mass of your life.
Carefully planned ‘slow-bulk’ macros to facilitate growth while keeping fat gain to a minimum. Your body will be hungry for energy due to the new training stimulus; do not starve it!
I see kids not too dissimilar to the guy on the right thinking that cutting is the way to go to get abs. Wrong. Please look at the two pictures below of Christian Bale.
Though these pictures were taken years apart, Christian Bale is a man who enjoys working out and it’s fair to say he wasn’t in bad physical condition before he starved himself for his role in The Machinist. Clearly starving himself did nothing for his abs.
Hidden or not, unfortunately if you are in this category you don’t have a decent set of abs because you are weak and haven’t trained them by squatting [see page 3, paragraph 4].
Advice: Learn to relish the strength gains you get down the gym knowing that it means your body is changing too. In 12 weeks you’re not going to become batman, but you can set yourself on the right path your journey into fitness and by using the guide on this site to save you from making many of the training and diet mistakes that I did. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
*Use your common sense as to what this means. Struggle to do a full range chin-up? This is weak.
Well-planned ‘body-recomposition’* macros to facilitate growth while burning body fat. *The exact set-up will be determined by the amount of body-fat you currently have, but trying body-recomp. macros and then tracking progress is a good start.
There is no point stripping off the body fat to reveal a very weak figure. As with the above your body will be hungry for energy due to the new training stimulus, so you must not starve it.
I think as with the ‘skinny’ group this is quite an exciting position to be in. However in terms of managing expectations this is the biggest problem group when working with clients.
People in this group generally underestimate how much of their ‘muscle’ is actually just fat. Please don’t think that big arm size means you’re muscled. Such thinking keeps many people fat as they can’t bear their biceps to become smaller. You can probably think of a couple of guys like this in your gym.
Given that fat burn happens more quickly than muscle growth you will lose weight and perhaps feel skinny, yet in reality be stronger and more muscled. Sometimes cutting can be a harsh reality-check.
Years of sitting on the couch can’t be fixed in a few months of barbell training, but you can get a good start. A long-term focus and attitude is necessary. But then given that your life is a long-term thing don’t use this as an excuse for inaction.
4. “Muscled, but Fat” vs. “Weak and Fat”
As I have stated before, fat can be stripped off more quickly than muscle can be put on. Given this, if in an instant we could remove all the fat obviously the stronger guy would be looking better.
If you are strong but carrying too much body fat you can focus on simply maintaining muscle mass with a simple ‘hard and heavy’ abbreviated training routine and go for a cut.
-> Tracking body-measurements and scale weight is key here.
If you are weak and fat then you are in a similar, exciting position as people in the “skinny” category in terms of muscle growth you can expect during your first year. Given that your body will be hungrier than the “muscled but fat” guy as it adapts to the new training stimulus you won’t be able to have as severe a cut as those guys can go with.
-> Track strength gains here too and remember that your muscle gains will hide some of the true fat-loss figure that the scales can’t show.
Obese people, due to the sheer weight of the extra poundage they have to carry around every day are going to have a more muscled frame than the skinny guy. Fat loss should be your goal. Lifting heavy will help you with this also. Obviously go for a cut.
If this is you then hats off to you for deciding to do something about it. Here, consistent weekly tracking of weight and body measurements, rather than the mirror, are essential to keep you motivated.
You can find a couple of interviews with guys that were obese but used Leangains to get lean by themselves here.
6. Shredded (Sub-10% body-fat)
The “Ripped” category gets a little complicated so unless this is you, feel free to skip it and come back to this article when you get there.
Why? Being lean you will generally be more insulin sensitive. The more insulin sensitive you are, the more muscle you’ll be able to gain per pound of fat.
Quite obviously you are going to want to do a bulk.
Option 1, Traditional Bulk.
If you just want to get big and strong and don’t care about the fat gain then you can’t go far wrong Rippetoe’s recommendation of drinking a gallon of fresh, full-fat milk every day in addition to your usual diet. He swears by this approach and I am not in any position to argue with the man’s experience here.
Option 2, Leangains-style Slow-Bulk
If you care about the fat gain and want to stay as lean as possible while gaining muscle then I’d highly recommend a Leangains style slow-bulk.
A typical set-up it would look like Training days +30%kCal Rest days -10%kCal.
Many people ask, “What the purpose is of the “under maintenance-calorie rest-days” when doing a slow-bulk?”
The answer is quite simple, you need to have enough of a calorie deficit on the rest-day to burn off the fat that you laid down on your excess calorie training-day. This happens both from dietary consumption and any conversion of the unused carbs to fat (de novo lipogenesis) over what the liver and muscles can store as glycogen.
Giving the body days where it has less energy coming in than it needs is one of the keys to the Leangains slow-bulk and it’s effectiveness for gaining muscle with minimal fat.
Theoretically in this way it is possible to not gain any fat while bulking. It does happen. What is more likely however is that you will gain a little fat too. In a few months you may find yourself in what I like to call a “one month out” physical state. That is to say that you will still probably have visible but ‘softer’ abs where one month of cutting will bring you back to ripped again (but hopefully more muscled). I feel this is a very small price to pay compared with the traditional bodybuilding bulk-cut systems which sometimes require 3-5 months of cutting to get ripped again after the bulk.
How long you can continue to gain muscle before getting to this point will depend on your skill and diligence in manipulating your macronutrient intake. Martin Berkhan actually wrote that he himself did a couple of cuts after his slow-bulk to his current shredded condition back in 2007 and 2008.
-> Track progress by working toward progressive poundage increases in the gym or body measurements. Remember, if your strength is going up then you’ve probably gained lean body mass.
Everyone is different, everyone’s results will be different. I.F./ Leangains isn’t for everyone, but it works for many people.
At the minimum, if you’re used to the ‘many small meals’ method you’ll probably be feeling more focused and energetic in the mornings, won’t become sleepy mid-afternoon, and have much less kitchen stress.
This is part of a detailed guide I’ve written. I’ve tried to give you everything so that you can have success by yourself, so please give it a go and don’t think that you have to hire me.
The purpose of the english-language side of the site is primarily to help me get my thoughts together before translating into Japanese. I’m just really happy to see that people have been finding it useful, and the kind responses I’ve had. I’ll write more about the plan for Japan soon, and thank Martin for his support.
Thanks to the kind folks that made suggestions on what I should include here. I hope it wasn’t too painfully detailed. Further suggestions for improvement most welcome!
- The Guide Main Page – How To Do It By Yourself
- Quick Introduction to Intermittent Fasting, ‘Leangains’ and the Benefits.
- How To Calculate Your Leangains Macros
- Lyle McDonald’s series of excellent diet books.