Frequently Asked Questions

I’ve answered 6500+ questions in the comments on the site so far so I’ve got a pretty good idea on what people ask the most often. Here you’ll find detailed answers to your questions, or links to articles that do. If you still can’t find your answer, please feel free to ask in the comments, which are active on all of the site guide posts.

I’m always updating and adding to this page. You can keep up with those updates on the sidebar of the home page.

DIET QUESTIONS:

TIMING vs MACROS vs CALORIES vs SUPPLEMENTS: What’s most important?
THE TOP 10 NUTRITION MYTHS perpetuated by the media.
TOXICITY and INFLAMMATION: More media bullshit?

Regarding food specifics:

CARB SOURCES: Can I eat refined carbs, sugar?
FROZEN VEGETABLES: Are they OK? WATER: How much should I be drinking?
DIET SODA: Can I drink it during the fast? What about tea or coffee?
ALCOHOL: Is it banned on this diet? SALT: Is high salt intake a concern?
PROTEIN POWDER: Is it OK to use?

Hunger related:

SNACKING: Can I eat between meals?
TOO FULL: As I am on a cut is it detrimental to eat less?

Leangains Specific:

HUNGER PROBLEMS: I feel hungry during the fast, why?
HUNGER FEARS: Will I feel hungry in the mornings? SLEEP: Why is it important?
AFTERNOON NAPS: Will interrupted sleep affect fat loss?
MEAL TIMING: How should I split my meals for optimal results?
MEAL FREQUENCY: Can I eat 4 meals instead of 2 or 3?
TIMING MISTAKES: I ate lunch a little later today, should I adjust the fasting window?
IRREGULAR SCHEDULE: How do I set things up?

Supplements

SUPPLEMENTS: What do you think about them?
FISH OIL: What dosage is optimal?
CREATINE: Types, Dosing and Timing

Technical:

COUNTING MACROS: Any tips?
CHEAT DAYS: Do you recommend them?
PROTEIN REQUIREMENTS: I read a study recommending xg/lb but you recommend yg/lb. What’s the deal?
Do HARDGAINERS need greater meal frequency?
Why aren’t you a fan of MACRO CALCULATORS?
What is the best MACRO RATIO?
How quickly can I expect RESULTS?
Should I CUT or SLOW-BULK?
PALEO: I follow the Paleo diet. What should I do about carb sources?
FIBER: How much do I need?


TIMING vs MACROS vs CALORIES vs SUPPLEMENTS: What’s more important?

The hierarchy of importance for success is as follows: Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance Pyramid

What this means is that you can’t eat just ‘clean foods’ and ignore calories, you can’t supplement your way out of a bad diet, and you can’t use some special timing tricks to enable you to binge eat on the evenings.

Calorie Balance > Macros > Micros > Meal Timing > Supplements

  • If you get the macros (protein, carbs and fats) right, then the calorie balance will be right, because counting macros is just a more detailed way of counting calories. See, ‘How to Calculate your Leangains Macros‘.
  • If you eat a fist sized portion of fruit and veg with each meal, and vary your choices each day, you’ll likely have the micros covered.
  • Timing has been taken care of in the general outline.
  • Forget about supplements for now.

THE TOP 10 NUTRITION MYTHS perpetuated by the media.

High Protein Causes Kidney MythThe truth doesn’t sell well. Throw in a 24-hour news cycle, difficult-to-understand studies, and media companies scramble for the latest viral hit, and it’s no surprise that misinformation spreads like wildfire.

Myth 1: Bread/Carbs are bad for you. Gluten-free is awesome.
Myth 2: Eggs (especially egg yolks) are bad for you.
Myth 3: Red Meat causes cancer.
Myth 4: Saturated Fat is bad for you.
Myth 5: Salt causes high blood pressure and should be avoided.
Myth 6: Whole-grain bread/pasta is better than white.
Myth 7: High fructose corn syrup is worse than sugar.
Myth 8: Too much protein can cause bone and kidney damage.
Myth 9: Vitamins from food are better than supplemented vitamins.
Myth 10: Eating small meals throughout the day stokes your metabolic fire.

Details debunking all of the above over at Examine.com – excellent website, run by great people. Highly recommended.

TOXICITY and INFLAMMATION: More media bullshit?

Well, it depends on context. If you’re referring to claims that sugar is toxic and grains will cause inflammation, this is simply not backed by the breadth of scientific evidence available. These are things where someone took one PubMed study, made some conjecture, then wrote a book. Unfortunately science doesn’t work that way, you can’t pick the studies that support your claim and then selectively ignore the others (this is known as ‘cherry picking’).

When it comes to your diet, inflammation and toxicity are often code words for fear mongering and blind ideology. Grains and sugar are not harmful to your health. Moderation and balance is key.

Deadly grains“So, you don’t believe in celiac disease?”

No, that is not what I am saying. Celiac/Coeliac disease is a disease, a medical condition. In the same way that you don’t need to tell someone with peanut allergy to not eat peanuts, or someone with spondylosis not to squat, it doesn’t need to be stated that those 0.18–1.2% of adults that celiac disease affects shouldn’t eat grains. The above statement is not talking about them. It is however directed at those people that like to believe that have issues because dietary complaints are currently in fashion.

You’re free to believe what you want, but be warned that belief can turn into reality. Negative thoughts and fear can have very real  physiological consequences through the nocebo effect, as can positive thoughts (the placebo effect).

Two examples of these effects in the scientific literature:

  • A group of people believing themselves to be gluten sensitive, who did not eat gluten but thought they were, began to experience a list of symptoms. (PubMed study link / explanatory article – inflammatory title for the click bait but good content.)
  • People that thought they were taking steroids experienced steroid like growth effects. (PubMed study link 1, 2 / explanatory article by Greg Nuckols.)

If you wish to cut out grains and sugar from your diet and match carb requirements from other sources the results will be exactly the same. The only issue is that life will be unnecessarily less tasty and long-term dietary compliance more difficult.

CARB SOURCES: Can I eat refined carbs, sugar, brown vs white ‘x’ etc?

Key Points:

  • As long as you don’t neglect fruit and vegetables, as long as you make your carb choices fit your macros you will not affect your diet. This is the IIFYM philosophy, more of which you can read about in the post, Is Clean Eating a Scam? – Clean Eating vs IIFYM.
  • Less refined foods will keep you fuller for longer. Potatoes are probably the most filling, followed by rice and pasta. (Something like sugary cereal will not keep you very full for long.)
  • The Glycemic Index is irrelevant in the context of a mixed food meal as digestion and absorption will be slowed. Brown vs white rice/pasta/bread is a taste issue, not something that will affect your results.

In general then, after you’ve had your fruit and veggies for the day just make sure you get most of your carbs from whole foods (pasta, rice, bread, potatoes etc…) 80% of the time and you’ll be fine. If you wish to get geekier than that then see the glucose vs. sucrose vs. fructose part of this article by Martin Berkhan.

FROZEN VEGETABLES: Are they ok?

Fine. They’re not as good as fresh veggies as they lose their nutrients over time but much better than not eating them at all (as is the way with most single men) and trying to rely on a multivitamin & mineral. Most people use frozen veg as it’s easy to prepare. However if you get a little steamer for the microwave then fresh vegetables can be cooked in just minutes also so consider that.

Microwave steamer

Microwave steamers make eating healthy easy. Just pour water in the bottom, add chopped veggies on top and then put it in the microwave for a minute or two.

WATER: How much should I be drinking?

Simply, if your urine is yellow then drink more – Five clear urinations a day is sports-nutrition expert Lyle McDonald’s guideline.

Of all the reason’s for this, the one you care about most is that it will help with fat burning. The liver plays an important role in fat metabolism. If I have understood correctly, if you don’t drink enough water then the kidneys can’t function at full capacity and thus the liver has to work to help them, decreasing the rate which fat can be metabolised.

We lose water at night so you’ll definitely want to drink a good few glasses to re-hydrate in the morning.

Don’t set a target water intake per day as you’ll likely be over and have to wake up to go to the toilet at night, or you’ll be under and feel dehydrated (which can disturb sleep also).

A Word On Sleep:

If you’re tapering your carb intake down as I suggest on the days that you don’t train (and eating more carbs on the days you do), you’ll urinate more on the rest days. This is because the body takes in 3-4g of water per gram of carbs that we eat and flushes it out when we don’t. (Fluctuating water balance is why I recommend you take your weight as an average over the week.)

If you find yourself waking in the middle of the night to go to the toilet, taper your intake down towards the end of the day.

DIET SODA: Can I drink it during the fast? What about tea or coffee?

Yes, you can drink diet soda and it will not affect your diet despite what the Youtube videos say.

Tea and coffee contain no calories so they are fine. A splash of milk in your coffee(s) in the mornings is fine too, but don’t put sugar in there. Try and keep the total calories under 50kCal.

If you are concerned about the media hype surrounding sweeteners/aspartame etc. and health issues:

“I personally could not find any research showing a causal relationship between artificially sweetened soft drinks and weight gain, let alone research indicating a thyroid-mediated mechanism for this phenomenon. Among the research that does exist, the majority of studies lasting beyond the acute phase have demonstrated the superior effectiveness of artificially sweetened beverages to sugar-sweetened ones for weight loss. Therefore, the claim that diet soft drinks cause weight gain is nothing but a false alarm.”  – Alan Aragon, from his monthly Research Review.

ALCOHOL: Is it banned on this diet?

No, but as alcohol has calories it has the potential to screw everything up. Why? Dietary fat can be easily stored if you go over your calorie budget for the day. On the occasions that you are going to drink, some very general rules that will take you a long way:

  • Keep dietary fat intake low on this day.
  • Drinking beer? Make it a training day.
  • Drinking diet mixers and spirits? Make it a rest day.

I’ve written a guide to drinking alcohol on a diet here with details and reasons for the above. Skip to sections on: “Once a week moderate to ‘hard’ drinking” or “Drinking in moderation a few times a week”. Do not abuse the guide and use it as an excuse for excessive alcohol consumption or you will just screw up your progress.

SALT: Is high salt intake a concern?

The evidence for whether high salt intake is good or bad for health is inconclusive. However, unless you are eating a diet very high in junk food your salt intake overall is not likely to be a concern.

Changes in salt intake in the short term however can bring with them weight fluctuations.

So if you are a bodybuilder or model with a competition or shoot in a few days then you’ll want to watch your intake. Only relative changes in sodium will increase your water retention, not overall consumption. So if you suddenly increase your sodium intake you will bloat; if you suddenly decrease your sodium intake you will lose water. The body adjusts to a set-point after time. (A few days I believe.)

So bodybuilders, whom need to look extra lean on one particular day, cutting sodium two weeks before a competition to lose water is a bad strategy, because their body will have re-adjusted to a set-point by that two week mark and nothing will have changed overall.

Cutting sodium intake 2/3 days out to look extra lean is used by some competitors, but for the regular dieter salt intake manipulation is not a weight loss strategy – the human body out-smarts our diet-tricks in the end.

*I don’t recommend you mess with salt intake to look lean on any particular day anyway. Reducing intake is just as likely (if not more so) to reduce the water inside of the muscles also, leaving you looking flat.

PROTEIN POWDER: Is it ok to use?

Yes, but there is a time and a place for it.

Protein from real food (meat, fish, eggs, etc.) will keep you feeling full for longer, which is obviously a desirable thing when dieting.

Aside from satiety reasons, we want protein to be absorbed slowly so that our blood is still swimming with aminos during the fast, preventing muscle catabolism. In terms of rates of digestion, real food is slowest, then casein protein (5-7 hrs) then whey protein (2-3hrs). If we drink a protein shake as part of a meal then the digestion will be slowed significantly and could conceivably be double this (though there have been no studies that I know of that measure rates of digestion with mixed food meals).

Protein powder can be very convenient and I recommend that people get some because it helps with diet adherence on those times where you don’t quite have enough meat in the fridge and can’t be bothered to go out to the supermarket, for example.

  • Casein, being absorbed slowest is best with the last meal of the day.
  • Whey, being absorbed quickest is better with the other meals.

How much protein powder is too much? Well this is more a satiety thing than a health issue. Try to make your reliance on powders under half your protein target for the day.

WEIGHING FOOD: Do I need to weigh everything?

Certainly not. However you do need to weigh some things, especially at the start. As a general guide, weigh your un-cooked meats and carbs and eyeball everything else. I weigh my rice, pasta, potatoes and meats, and just look on the packets for the macronutrient information for others. Get a small electronic kitchen scale. I never weigh vegetables.

SNACKING – Can I eat between meals?

Snacking won’t make a difference to your diet as you make it fit your macros. However, it’s probably better not to as it threatens diet adherence because generally snacking just makes hunger more persistent.

Hunger pangs will come and go when dieting. Keeping busy will certainly help.

TOO FULL: As I am on a cut is it detrimental to eat less?

Firstly, nearly everyone feels like this when they start. Typically your stomach will adjust to the large quantity of food within two weeks. In the meantime choosing more dense carb sources (some yummy cereal for example) is a good idea.

Presuming you have calculated your macros correctly, if you eat less you will have too much of a deficit and risk muscle loss; not have the energy needs to recover from your workouts; have an accelerated rate of metabolic adaptation (slow-down) increasing diet rebound risk.

HUNGER PROBLEMS: I feel hungry during the fast, why?

When you skip breakfast for the first time your body takes a while to adjust to this. Give yourself 7-10 days and hunger in the morning is usually no longer an issue. Just make sure that you keep your other meal times consistent, lunch and dinner for example.

If you are already doing this then the most common culprit for hunger is bad food choices, particularly for the last meal before bed. Tips in order they should be tried and implemented:

  • Cut down on any alcohol intake so that you can use those calories for food.
  • Switch from shakes or liquid foods (like juice and protein powder) to real food.
  • Eat a slow-digesting protein like eggs or cottage cheese, or eat meat with plenty fibrous green vegetables.
  • Switch from refined carbohydrates to foods like potatoes or pasta for your carb sources. Potatoes tend to be the most filling, at ~15g of carbs per 100g weight raw.
  • Coffee in the morning can blunt appetite.
  • Keep busy. An idle mind will wander and think of food.
  • Put your fish oil supplementation with this last meal as fats slow digestion (a minor point).

HUNGER FEARS: Will I feel hungry in the mornings?

No, it’s just a case of your body adjusting. This whole website is littered with comments from people amazed at how they have adjusted and are feeling great. Our ancestors did this and so can you. The only difference so far is the length of time clients take to adjust. Some are fine straight away, for others it takes up to 10 days. Typically though it is 4-7 days.

SLEEP: Why is it important?

Sleep and stress elements should not be underestimated in their ability to interfere with a diet.

Sleep

  • You need to get a consistent 7-9 hours sleep a night for fat loss to work well. There is individual variance – some people need more than others – ideally you should be able to wake up without an alarm.
  • Sleep deficits cannot be ‘recovered’ over the weekend with a long rest.

Stress

Lack of sleep, weight training and any other activities are stressors to the body. Work and family stresses, though psychological, have physiological consequences.

Adding in more stress to this equation by having a calorie deficit and/or increasing activity is not a good idea when the sleep and stress elements are not in place.

It can cause significant stalls in weight loss, increase moodiness, and generally ramp up all the other negative effects of dieting.

As for working with clients, these things throw a significant spanner into the works when it comes to the predictability of things. Which bugs me, because you’ll be bugging me to get the fat loss moving, and there may be a point where I’ve tried several things but my conclusion will be – get more sleep, lower stress, which as a client I can understand being a frustrating conclusion. This is why I insist that customers have those elements in place before we work together.

Doing less, can sometimes be just the thing that you need. Don’t fight gravity.

Jason Ferruggia explains the sleep issue well,

“When you’re short on sleep your insulin sensitivity decreases and your cortisol goes up. Both things lead to less than optimal fat loss. You also miss out on the critically important Growth Hormone boost that comes each night during deep sleep. If you want to lose more fat you have to get more sleep. Most people will ignore this and some of you are probably reading this at 2am. Unfortunately this just might be the most important thing on the whole list. More sleep improves EVERYTHING. Make it a priority.”

AFTERNOON NAPS: Will interrupted sleep affect fat loss?

“Healthy sleep time” as you phrase it is going to depend on the individual. Generally this is 7-9 hours of sleep for most people. You can test this by sleeping without an alarm clock for consecutive days and taking an average – it can also be argued that if you have to wake up with an alarm clock then you’re not getting enough. – Sure, not a very practical suggestion for many, but true.

Type of Sleep

  • Sleep needs to be the deep, restorative kind.
  • So, broken up sleep (afternoon naps) aren’t ideal.
  • Sleep with distractions for your brain (TV on, people coming and going, neighbours lawnmower going next door)… isn’t ideal.
  • Sleeping at completely different times will mess with your body’s hormonal patterns and isn’t ideal.

The above is why shift workers constantly look knackered.

So what about fat loss then?

Well, there was this one study (can’t recall it, someone please find it and I’ll edit this comment) where they purposefully disrupted the sleep of the subjects so they were only getting ~4 hours sleep, and were deprived of the deep kind, a night. If I remember correctly, this blunted fat burning by around 50%. I can’t remember whether that was just during the night period or for the entire day. (If I find that study I’ll update this for you.) But the take home point is – sleep, the deep, uninterrupted kind is important for fat loss.

Sleep requirements are variable

  • On mentally and physically draining days you’ll need more.
  • When starting a training program, people find they need more.
  • Increase workout intensity and you’ll likely need more.
  • When cutting, people generally find they need more also. (The energy deficit is a recovery deficit and the body seems to want to compensate somewhat with sleep.)

Fortunately the readers of my ramblings on this blog tend to be quite an educated bunch, so I’m sure someone will correct me on my mistakes above. If/when they do I’ll come back and correct this.

MEAL FREQUENCY: Can I eat 4 meals instead of 2 or 3?

Research to date has shown that meal frequency really isn’t as important as we once thought. However, just as one meal a day may not be optimal for muscle protein synthesis, eating 5-6 meals a day isn’t necessary either, and can be detrimental to your diet success given the extra effort needed with meal planning and preparation. I suggest you go somewhere in-between.

I personally eat two meals a day. I give most clients a two meal set up also, as it’s simple, low prep, makes counting easy, and is clearly very effective.

In the case of afternoon training where there will be a few hours between the end of your training session and dinner then it’s probably a good idea to have a protein shake and some carbs – like a banana perhaps. Again, this could be real food but I shoot for ease of execution every time. The best diet is the one you can keep after all.

My guide for this: ‘The Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance – #4 Meal Timing & Frequency, Calorie & Macro Cycling

MEAL TIMING: How should I split my meals for optimal results?

Morning Training: consider a two meal set up; 50% of your calories at lunch, 50% at dinner. Evening Training: consider a two meal set up; ~35% of your calories at lunch, ~65% at dinner. Afternoon Training: consider a two meal and snack set up; ~30% of your calories at lunch, ~10% in a snack after your workout (a piece of fruit and a whey shake perhaps), and then the rest of your calories for dinner. Fasted Training: With the morning training example you will be training fasted. Take ~10g of BCAAs 10 minutes before training, then every 2 hours after until you eat your first meal of the day. This is how I set clients up where possible because it’s simple and effective.

Detailed guide here.

TIMING MISTAKES: I ate lunch a little later today, should I adjust the fasting window?

No. The key here is consistency. Just because you miss one meal time, doesn’t mean you adjust the other. Your hormones get used to when you usually eat, so eat as close as possible to that time. Keep things as regular as possible, but don’t stress the occasional day when timing is off.

IRREGULAR SCHEDULE: How do I set things up?

“What do I do if my work schedule doesn’t allow for a consistent feeding window?”

We do the best we can. First it’s important to understand a few fundamental points:

1. The reason that we try to keep the meal timing consistent is that the body regulates to our usual feeding times and tells us to eat (by dumping the hunger hormone, ghrelin, into our system) at these times. This means that we can skip breakfast everyday and experience no hunger in the morning. This doesn’t just have to be breakfast. Practically this is useful because it means we can eat just 2 (or 3) meals in a shorter space of time and thus feel satisfied despite dieting.

2. When we eat at different times the body doesn’t get the chance to regulate to this, meaning that we’ll get hungry at more random times. – The penalty is hunger, nothing more. This is an important point when considering your set-up.

3. There is nothing magic about having a 16 hour fasting window. I see people eat dinner an hour later than they had scheduled, panic, and this shift their lunch the next day an hour later so as not to “break the 16 hour rule”. – Bullshit. Totally backwards. In fact by doing this you upset the ghrelin rhythm if anything. – In that situation you’re best to not adjust anything the next day.

4. Training can be at any time as long as you can have one meal after, before starting the fast.

5. The feeding window can be longer some days and shorter on others, but they must always overlap.

So when we put this together for the person that has a varied schedule, what have we got?

  • If possible, then keep at least one meal at the same time every day and let the other be flexible.
  • If thats’s not possible then just keep the meals in the same rough time of day. i.e. The Lunch/Dinner timeframe.
  • If it’s not possible to eat at your regular times due to your shift schedule, preference, or social circumstances at all then don’t worry about it, it isn’t going to affect your progress. Note the nutritional hierarchy of importance:

Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance Pyramid

SUPPLEMENTS: What about them?

Indeed. I’m sorry if I have spooked you by not trying to sell you any. The truth is if you said to me that I were never allowed to take another supplement again it would not bother me. Nor should it bother you. To have success on this diet you do not need supplements. “You are what you eat.” There’s no magic in supplements. The supplement industry has us all convinced that we need things we don’t. I’ve written an article about this here.

Now, taking BCAAs may be optimal if you are to train fasted, and taking protein powder is convenient when the fridge is empty, but that doesn’t mean that you need them.

A fuller guide to supplements here: ‘The Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance – #5 Supplements

FISH OIL: What dosage is optimal?

What matters is meeting the EPA and DHA numbers, not the quantity of oil.

Fish oil supplement manufacturers usually take advantage of our ignorance here. Research suggests around 2g EPA and 1.5g DHA a day is optimal and has a range of benefits.

Low quality supplements will have a very small dose of EPA/DHA in them, meaning that a whole lot of soft-gels have to be consumed to hit that target. Buy good quality fish oil. Look for those key ingredients.

Take them with your last meal of the day as fat slows the rate of digestion of a meal and keeps us feeling fuller for longer.

CREATINE: Types, Dosing and Timing

Creatine is the most scientifically significant supplement of the past thirty years. Despite having been studied to death there’s a lot of nonsense out there regarding the timing, dosing and types.

It’s safe for most people, has neuroprotective properties and can improve strength and performance.

Types

There are many types of creatine on sale, don’t get sucked into the marketing hype. Get the standard Creatine Monohydrate. Other types of creatine cost more but don’t work any better, and many are inferior.

Timing

Timing doesn’t matter. It doesn’t need to be taken with carbs, pre or post workout, and doesn’t need to be ‘loaded’.

Dosing

5g a day is fine. Sure, you could do a lean body mass calculation and get more specific but it’s so cheap it doesn’t matter in terms of cost, you’ll piss out any you don’t use so you don’t have to worry about overdosing, and let’s face it, are you really going to weigh out 4.2g of the stuff each time when you can just use a teaspoon?

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking more is better, more just means fairly sudden diarrhoea and brown pants.

Bloating

Creatine can cause water weight gains. It can take up to 30 days for creatine to take full effect. For this reason I don’t recommend someone who is starting a diet to start (or stop) taking creatine because it can throw off your tracking. Tracking is important. Definitely do not change course of action half way through.

Full supplements guide here.

COUNTING MACROS: Any tips?

Sure, see my guide, ‘How to simplify macro counting for your diet‘.

CHEAT DAYS: Do you recommend them?

“Cheat day” is an abused and misunderstood term. Some people take it to mean, “eat anything that you want” which was not the original intention. I believe the term was originally coined to describe the days where a large quantity of carbs would be strategically consumed after a period of severe restriction in Lyle McDonald’s Cyclic Ketogenic Diet. This was then jumped on and abused. A better term for this would be a ‘refeed’, which is something that is done every training day with the leangains method.

I recommend periodic diet breaks, free-meals (where the calorie intake is the same, but macros are ignored), and a relaxed attitude to counting macros, but I don’t see cheat days as being part of your diet. You can easily wipe out an entire week’s deficit in one day of binge eating.

PROTEIN REQUIREMENTS: I read a study recommending xg/lb but you recommend yg/lb. What’s the deal?

Firstly, note the important difference between grams per pound of weight, and grams per pound of lean body mass.

When considering recommendations, whether that be training, diet, or otherwise, it’s important to look at the bulk of the research available and then draw conclusions, rather then just choosing one study. To do so would be what’s known in the industry as, “cherry picking”.

We have a very ride range of evidence, and recommendations vary depending on study and circumstance: surplus, maintenance or deficit energy intake.

When in a deficit, protein needs are higher – the agreement on that is universal. The range seems to be from 1.5g/kgLBM through to 2.5g/kgLBM. I go with the latter because muscle maintenance is important and I like to be conservative, furthermore higher protein levels lead to greater satiety (and have higher TEF).

  • When at maintenance the requirements will be less.
  • When in a surplus the requirements will be less, however how much less is optimal to support muscle growth is still up for debate, so I tend to leave it at the same level.

The only circumstances where we think an even higher protein intake level would be beneficial for muscle growth is if drugs are used. (Steroids allow for greater rate of muscle protein synthesis.)

Do “HARDGAINERS” need greater meal frequency?

“Hey Andy, I have a question regarding protein turnover rates for someone like myself who is generally skinny and lean year round, but struggles to gain fat or muscle easily (usually due to not always eating like a man and cycling too much to/from work)

“I listen to a podcast and although he is very anti IF, I enjoy the other content. One thing he mentions was that for people leaning more towards the ectomorphic body type, he believes stimulating protein synthesis more regularly (every 2-3 hours) is important due to a higher protein turnover rate than endos/mesos. Could you shed some light on that for me please?” – Jamie

Jamie, thanks for the question. First thing to ask is, are his conclusions based on research or observation?

I’m not aware of any research that shows there is any BENEFIT of increased meal frequency for bulking, given that protein consumption stays high enough and there is enough of a calorie surplus generally to support growth in a bulk phase. Alan Aragon, who’s pretty heavily into the research and quite impartial in these areas, concludes that as long as there is a protein containing meal around the workout and enough for the day then that’s good enough and further splitting isn’t likely to give further noticeable benefits.

- That would be 3 meals a day for example, or BCAAs before a workout and then two big meals, or a pre-workout meal, training and PWO shake, then big dinner.

Not that observation isn’t relevant, but in the case of the “hardgainer” it has it’s flaws due to the uncontrolled nature of calorie reporting. Are these hardgainers not in fact just under-eating?

Also, it’s important to bear in mind (and often overlooked) that some people suffer huge NEAT variance when compared with others. So even though there may be a theoretical calorie surplus, it may well be eaten up by increased NEAT – unconscious fidgeting etc.. I believe this has been observed to be up to 600kCal in some, and almost zero in others, in a ~900kCal surplus. (Can’t remember the exact figures off my head but it’s in the link at the end of this comment.)

So put this together and what do you get for yourself?

  1. You’re not tracking your exact calorie intake, and I know from when I met you that you don’t eat a lot of refined carbs, which means your overall carb intake will be low-medium unless you force it. So you may be eating less than you think.
  2. You may be someone with high NEAT variance.
  3. You have all the cycling on top.

Concluding advice:

  1. Track your calorie intake for a week.
  2. Increase your carb intake by a set amount.
  3. Increase your meal frequency from 2 meals to 3 so you don’t feel like ass when you teach your gym classes.
  4. Consider taking in more refined carb sources – Naughty carbs those Paleo kids don’t want you to have. Liquid carbs from sports drinks to hit your numbers and not bloat you.

Effectively you have the physical activity of an athlete, and you need to eat like one.

Why aren’t you a fan of MACRO CALCULATORS?

Though macro calculators can be a good start point for people, I see a lot of folks really mess things up by using them. An understanding of the principles involved is essential to getting things right for you. There is not, and can never be, a single one size fits all formula. It is for this reason that I did not make a spreadsheet for people, nor link to any spreadsheet / calculator myself.

An understanding of the principles is needed to get things in the right ballpark initially. From there you’ll track and adjust.

For a full guide see: ‘The Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance (for Fat Loss & Muscle Growth)

What is the best MACRO RATIO?

There isn’t one. See my article, ‘The Myth of the ‘Best’ Macro Ratio‘.

How quickly can I expect RESULTS?

I’ve written about this in detail in the article 12 Weeks: What you can expect to achieve.

Should I CUT or SLOW-BULK?

This is a good question. Let’s assume that your end goal is to get ripped abs; do you have enough muscle mass currently so that if you cut off the fat you’ll have the physique you desire? Have a look at this comparison picture of Christian Bale at approximately the same body fat but a very different base to see what I mean.

Christian Bale's Body - Machinist vs American Psycho

If you haven’t lifted before then your best bet is probably to focus on gaining strength to build your base. You’ll get a fat burning effect as well as build muscle. See my article Training Effectively: The Guide.

For those with lifting experience that are on the fence about what to do, you should probably do a cut first, even if you need to gain muscle mass to look how you would like ideally.

This sounds counter-logical but there is a very good reason for this. Leaner people can gain more muscle relative to fat when bulking. (As you get leaner, you become more leptin and insulin sensitive. Google ‘p-ratio’ for the science.)

You may find my article, Identifying Where You Are Now, Setting Realistic Goals, and Your Best Course Of Action useful.

PALEO: I follow the Paleo diet. What should I do about carb sources?

I feel the Paleo diet, while the principles can certainly work for weight loss with people that don’t wish to count calories, is overly restrictive in general, and thus threatens long term diet adherence for most people.

You can most certainly be successful and still follow your Paleo diet, but you need to hit your carb numbers for the day. Fruits, rice, sweet or regular potatoes. If you’re lifting heavy then you need to get your carbs in.

There is a discussion on this in the comments on Jayson’s interview page.

What are dense carb sources on a Paleo diet? Here’s a link to an article Marc suggested in the comments.

FIBER: How Much Do I Need?

General Daily Fibre Intake Guidelines:

  • Minimum –  20g/25g for women and men respectively.
  • Maximum – 20% of your carb intake.

Further Reading: Fibre – Nature’s Broom by Lyle McDonald. Why is it important?

  • Increases food volume without increasing caloric content, providing satiety which may reduce appetite.
  • Attracts water and forms a viscous gel during digestion, slowing the emptying of the stomach and intestinal transit, shielding carbohydrates from enzymes, and delaying absorption of glucose,[62] which lowers variance in blood sugar levels
  • Lowers total and LDL cholesterol, which may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Regulates blood sugar, which may reduce glucose and insulin levels in diabetic patients and may lower risk of diabetes[63]
  • Speeds the passage of foods through the digestive system, which facilitates regular defecation
  • Adds bulk to the stool, which alleviates constipation
  • Balances intestinal pH[64] and stimulates intestinal fermentation production of short-chain fatty acids, which may reduce risk of colorectal cancer

Source: Wikipedia, “Dietary Fiber”

Clearly then fiber is a good thing. However, it’s also possible to have too much, the side effects being gas, diarrhoea, constipation and bloating*. Keep between the above numbers and you’ll be fine.

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*Roid Gut: (Irrelevant, but fun fact)

You may have noticed that many pro-bodybuilders have distended abdomens, yet still have abs. This is usually from the steroid/growth hormone that has made not only their muscles but their internal organs grow also. However another way people sometimes get this ‘roid-gut’ look is when they try to bulk using only “clean foods” leading to a huge fibre intake and bloated intestines.

Why is this site free?

We have a lot of readers but I choose not to fill this with advertising as I feel that it compromises credibility.

Though the vast majority of people use the guides to be successful on their own, a small percentage of readers choose to hire me – this pays the server fees, keeps me in fresh underwear, puts food on the table, and allows me to keep doing what I love. Also, the goodwill from everyone else has built up a lot of beer credits around the world.

Why “.jp”?

I’m British but live in Japan. I created the site because I was fed up with seeing people get ripped off here and wanted to do something about it.

The site was originally written in both languages however at some point I figured out that nobody here understands the meaning of “ripped”, so I dropped Japanese from this site and made Athletebody.jp. – We’ve built that into Japan’s most popular fitness site. You can read more about that in this post, ‘Don’t Make It About The Money‘.

MUSCLE LOSS/GAIN: Does strength correlate to muscle mass?

Not necessarily.

1. For experienced trainees, strength increases or decreases roughly correlate to gains or losses of muscle mass respectively. However mechanical efficiency also needs to be considered. The leaner we are, the less mechanical advantage we’ll have for the big compound lifts. This is easiest to picture with the bench press. As fat is lost on the chest and back the bar has to travel further, thus the work done to perform the rep is greater for the same weight. A decrease from say, 100kg x 8reps in the bench press, to 100kg x 4reps in the bench press doesn’t necessarily indicate a reduction in muscle mass. The opposite is true as you get fatter.

2. For beginners, there are gains in strength that will occur from neurological adaptation.

3. A period of time off lifting can lead to strength losses, but usually strength is regained quickly. A week after a two-three week vacation you may be a little weaker in your workout, but you’ll quickly get back up to speed. I think this is due to neurological reasons.

AB WORK: Why do you not recommend it?

Squatting, deadlifting, pressing – their moves are ab work. There are of course exceptions to this but the majority of trainees would be better served spending their time and effort on the big compound movements, killing two birds with one stone. Here’s an excellent article on abs by Mark Rippetoe for more information on this.

SMITH MACHINE: Can I use it?

Not a good idea. From the Starting Strength website:

  • It completely removes the stabilization aspect of the squat. Try 300 on a smith machine then try it with a barbell and see how long you can keep from falling on your ass.
  • It restricts the natural range of motion. See each of us has our own biomechanics (the mechanisms that distinctly tie our individual bones and muscles together) and hence we have an individual movement pattern (range of motion) when doing the squat, or anything else for that matter. For example a guy with a long torso and stocky legs will not squat remotely close to how guy with a short torso and long legs does. The smith machine has only one range of motion for either of these individuals because the bar runs on rails in a fixed path (straight up and down or a slight diagonal). Every individual must conform to no matter their distinct movement pattern. This can be devastating to your skeletal system over time.”

“Squatting” in a Smith machine is an oxymoron. A squat cannot be performed on a Smith machine, as should be obvious from all previous discussion. Sorry. There is a gigantic difference between a machine that makes the bar path vertical, and a squat that is executed correctly enough to have a vertical bar path. Muscle and skeleton should do the job of keeping the bar path vertical, not grease fittings and floor bolts.– MARK RIPPETOE

If you are waiting to be convinced of the benefits of a full depth squat please read this article by Rippetoe. [Strong Language]

WARM UP: What should I do?

A warm-up serves to get you ready for the work you’re about to do. You’ll be able to lift more and it reduces your chances of injury. Regardless of the routine, you’ll want to do the minimum that you can to get warm and ready for the top set, without tiring yourself for your main work sets.

  1. A few minutes of foam rolling to loosen up tight places.
  2. A few minutes on the treadmill to raise your body temperature if it’s still low.
  3. Then a few practice sets of the exercise you’re about to perform to get the mind-muscle connection going.

Always start with the bar. Perform the warm-up reps as you would your heaviest set. Take it very seriously, you’re preparing your nervous system and motor function for the big set. I usually do 3-4 warm-up sets, but do as many as it takes to feel comfortable. Do a few reps (e.g. 5-6) working up to about 80% of your top-set weight. Then have 3 minutes rest before the top-set.

Example:

(Bar x5) x5 sets, 40% x5, 60% x5, (70% x 3), 80% x2, 3 minutes rest then do the top set. – Warmed-up but not tired.

CONSECUTIVE TRAINING DAYS: Is it ok to train two/three days in a row?

In the context of dieting (calorie deficit) it is a good idea to have a day of rest between sessions at least. Recovery is important. If you fail to recover you’ll over-burden the already taxed central nervous system (because of the energy deficit), and you’ll ramp up stress levels. Stress affects your fat loss efforts. For those that must put two training days back to back, if you are using a split routine then keep your Squat and Deadlift sessions as far apart as possible, i.e.: Put your bench-press day next to one of your other workout days. Example: Monday, Deadlift day. Thursday, Bench-press day. Friday, Squat day.

STRENGTH DROP! What should I do?

It was most likely just a bad training session.

Dan John, one of the most experienced and knowledgeable strength training coaches in the world, says that you should expect 20% of your workouts to be “duds”. Off days. Days where your strength just “isn’t right”. Start a training program with this in mind and don’t let it rattle you when it happens because it’s normal. Go home, eat, rest and sleep well, and come back the next time with a determined attitude.

“It definitely wasn’t just that.”

First, be aware of the tendency for our brains to panic and immediately seek the worst case scenario. (Ah, I’m losing muscle!)

Reduction in body measurements in all areas doesn’t necessarily mean muscle loss, it can just mean fat loss, as fat does get stored on, and get burned off of all areas of the body. However if this is combined with strength losses then it may be a concern.

There are a number of things that it could be. I’ll share some things that go through my mind when assessing things for clients, this would be a general order:

  1. Are you stressed?
  2. Are you sleeping fine?
  3. Was it just a bad workout?
  4. Are you coming down with something, fever or a cold?
  5. Is it hayfever (seasonal pollen allergy in some countries) that is kicking your ass right now?

If no to all of the others, then we move onto the next stage:

  • Are the level of strength decreases within the accepted and expected range when cutting (up to ~10% depending on circumstance) due to the mechanical inefficiency of being leaner?
  • Do you need a diet break? (frequency guidelines) – If yes, take one and see how your strength is post diet break.
  • Is your protein intake sufficient? Consider double checking your counting. (protein intake guidelines)
  • Is your weight dropping, on average, more than the recommended amount for your body fat percentage at the moment? (maximal fat loss rate guidelines) – If yes, increase calories.
  • In the unlikely event that none of the above is applicable and your lifts continue to decrease without any other explanation, increase the energy intake until that ceases. Track. Reconsider options.

I’ve written this off the top of my head but it’s a fairly solid check list that’ll cover most situations.

RPT SET ADJUSTMENTS: How do I adjust the top-set weight?

I’ve written more about this in my post on Reverse Pyramid Training here. Please read that for context first.

Chin-ups and Dips – A Progression Example

However, the question often comes up with chin-ups or dips. The principles are the same as with the guide above, however you’ll want to add weight (using a belt and chain with weights attached) or take it away (by using resistance bands) so that you hit the target rep ranges.

Resistance Bands

Let’s use the rep example of 6-8 reps, 8-10 reps, and 10-12 reps, and let’s say we have three kinds of resistance bands (light, medium and strong). If today you get:

  • Set 1: 8 reps bodyweight.
  • Set 2: 6 reps bodyweight
  • Set 3: 10 reps bodyweight + strong band

Then,

  • For set one you’ll increase the load slightly for the next session because you reached the top of the rep range. Add 1.25kg.
  • For set two you were well under the 8 rep minimum target. Use a light band next time.
  • For set three you were at the bottom of the rep target range. You’re fine. No need to change.

If at the next session you get:

  • Set 1: 7 reps bodyweight + 1.25kg
  • Set 2: 9 reps bodyweight + light band
  • Set 3: 12 reps bodyweight + strong band

Then,

  • For set one you are fine. No change next time. See if you can get 8 reps next time.
  • For set two you are fine. No change next time. See if you can get 10 reps next time.
  • For set three you hit the top of your target rep range. Well done. Progress to the medium band the next time and see if you can get 10 or more reps.

Example video tutorial for resistance band chin-ups here. Another one here by Tony Gentilcore showing a way to progress the difficulty – still using the same band but by altering the leg position.

BACK-OFF SETS: How do I adjust them? Always 15% off the top-set?

I’ve written about this in my article on Reverse Pyramid Training here.

ACCESSORY EXERCISES: When should I add them?

What are your thoughts on accessory exercises for calves/biceps/triceps/abs/lower back?

Generally, I don’t use these with people while cutting.

I see accessory work as being divided into two broad categories -

  1. That which is specific and targeted to improving the main compound lifts. (Mimics the action in some way e.g. for the deadlift they would be – Shrugs, Racked DL’s, GHR, Good Mornings)
  2. That which is for vanity/hypertrophy.

Getting strong in the compound lifts should always be prioritized.

When cutting: accessory work type 1 isn’t needed, and too much type 2 can be detrimental.

When bulking: if the main lifts are improving then there is no need for type 1 work. Type 2 work can be added as long as the main lifts are going up.

Often, assuming the correct training intensity, commitment and all the other obvious pieces of the puzzle being in place, lack of progress in the main barbell lifts does not necessarily mean that the trainee has reached the point where they need to add in type 1 work, they merely need to eat more, or drop the type 2 work.

SKIPPED SESSIONS: How should I adjust?

If it’s just the one skipped session then you can just eat your rest day macros. If you’re missing 2 or 3, then it’s probably worth eating your “average macros” (meaning the average of the two days’ numbers) as otherwise the weekly deficit may work out to be a little too high*. (*It was for this reason that I previously advised that people continue cycling their macros as normal despite skipping a session.)

CARDIO: Should I do it?

In the context of fat loss, in the majority of cases the answer is no. See my article, ‘On Cardio for the Physique-Focused Trainee‘.

ENDURANCE TRAINING: How would this affect things?

I am not against anyone wanting to enter a marathon or challenging themselves in an endurance event. I would love to do one myself one day. Training like this however can severely hinder your strength (and thus muscle) gains. Whether you decide to do this then will depend on your main goal.

  • Strength/ muscle gain? – You don’t want to be doing it for reasons explained very well here.
  • Get a good marathon time? – Do it.

SORENESS: I don’t feel sore the next day, should I do more?

No, just increase the weight. It is a common mistake to train to be sore the following day, and can actually stall progress due to hindering recovery.

So why is muscle soreness (DOMS) not an end goal in itself after working out?

Remember the ab-belts that sent electronic pulses to your abs to tone you up in the ’90s? People thought that because it made you sore, it built your muscles. This has long ago been debunked.

You can get rock solid abs from Squatting and Deadlifting due to the isometric contraction to stabilize and take direct pressure off the spine, yet your abs won’t feel sore the next day. Do sit-ups and you’ll get very sore. It’s the eccentric contractions that make you sore.

I feel the same when I see people screw around with tricep-kickbacks and think they work because their arms hurt the next day (DOMS). If I stabbed them in the leg, they’d expect to have pain when walking downstairs in the morning but they wouldn’t expect bigger muscles right? I promise you now, you’ll never see a guy that made big arms using triceps-kickbacks.

Excluding the initial period of neuromuscular adaptation, if you progress with your poundages, for the same number of reps, under the same conditions (rest time between sets, etc.), you’re gaining muscle. Period.

Don’t train for pain for pain’s sake.

INJURY / PAIN: What should I do? What exercises do you recommend?

I can’t give recommendations here. You need to seek your doctor’s advice. Make sure it is a specialist sports doctor/ physiotherapist that knows what they are doing.

You need to ask about a plan of recovery and rehabilitation if necessary, in the context of your overall training plan. You need to get specifics on what you can and can’t do.

I’m not a rehab specialist, nor doctor, and I can’t give advice online effectively even if I was.

It’s all too easy to just train around the pain and think it will be ok while not addressing the underlying issue. Two things that need to be considered other then the above moving forward:

  1. Was it a form issue that caused the injury? or,
  2. Was it a previous injury that just came up to bite you in the ass this time?

For the former, when you are healthy again get someone to have a look at your form and see if they can see any issue. If no-one is available then video yourself and compare with the form used in the instructional videos I have linked to on the homepage (right sidebar, at the bottom).

The body is a complicated machine. If there is one thing I have learned over the years through injuring myself doing silly things it’s that the pain you feel is only an issue with that area half of the time. Recent examples of my own to highlight this:

Knee pain – tight foot arches. Stretch Elbow pain – grip being over-trained – cut down on grip work. Shoulder pain – scapula movement problem – retrain to move correctly, very complicated. Lower-right back pain – long-term anterior pelvic tilt & left ribs tilting upward – retrain breathing & posture, paying special attention when training. Training program revamped by Eric Cressey and Tony Gentilcore. Very complicated.

The take home point it this folks – don’t guess, see a pro. Get them to advise you on moving forward. If you are cutting currently, ask them if you are fine to be in a calorie deficit or whether it will be detrimental. If the latter then take a diet break.

BODY TYPES: Should training vary depending on body type?

Some people are more prone to gaining muscle. Some aren’t. That’s the genetic lottery. I’m not one of the lucky ones either. I don’t buy into the idea that there are three distinct body types. Some people can get away with less focussed training than others; most people need to train focusing on programmed strength increases. I don’t think that there is a need to separate training programs for hardgainers and gifted folks.

STRENGTH vs ENDURANCE: How does training for one affect the other?

It’s a little complicated but I’ll try and summarise the key points and then have a recommendation at the end for the guy looking to improve his physique: 1. Strength training will improve a persons endurance. “There’s simply no better way to increase your work capacity than increasing your ability to produce force. If your primary interest is being more effective at moving yourself and/or sub-maximal or maximal loads more efficiently, training for strength contributes much more to your goal than training for endurance.”Mark Rippetoe 2. Endurance training will impact strength development “The mechanisms furthering adaptations in one trait – AMPK for mitochondrial biogenesis for endurance, suppress those that would have allowed optimal adaptation in the latter case, mTOR for muscle protein synthesis – all things being equal – looking at concurrent endurance/strength training vs strength training sans endurance training. “It should be noted that it’s primarily endurance training that impairs strength and muscle growth, not the other way around (strength training even has some modest, but positive effect on endurance in beginners). “There’s no discussion here – in fitness, you cannot have the cake and eat it. There is a give and take, and you will have to find your priorities. Just don’t sit around and daydream. And for all that is sacred, do not join the mediocre masses, with their haphazard routines and ill-thought programming, if you insist on combining endurance and strength. There is much to be gained by a proper and well-thought out weekly cycle. Do your research.”Martin Berkhan 3. Strength is gained slowly, whereas Cardiovascular / Respiratory Endurance (CRE) can be increased quickly. “This is because CRE gains are mostly chemical / metabolic alterations, whereas gaining strength involves architectural changes in the body. This is a long, slow process that accumulates over a lifetime.”Michael Wolf Recommendation: So, if you’re an endurance guy but wish to focus on your physique goals then it would be best to put your endurance goals on hold for the short term, do the minimum you can do to maintain a level of stamina you deem tolerable, and put your focus into chasing strength gains. – Endurance goals can always be chased down later, and you’ll likely quickly surpass your previous records because you’ll be working with a stronger base. If you’re not interested in endurance, rather physique goals, then just chase strength. You’ll still improve your CRE (as anyone that has done heavy barbell squatting will attest to).

What are your thoughts on a ‘DELOAD’?

A deload is a reduction in overall total training load: mainly volume, intensity or frequency.

A deload generally is used during a bulk, before working into another phase of training to push into new boundaries (often meaning heavier weights, or the same weight for more reps).

I wouldn’t recommend a purposeful deload during a cut because any non-beginner isn’t likely to be making progress with their lifts anyway.

If you would like to (or feel you need to) take a small break, say a reduction in any of those three main variables, then I’d combine it with a diet break so you’re roughly eating at maintenance and thus avoid any muscle losses during that time. (I admit this is a cautious approach, as muscle losses when protein intake is high, calorie deficit modest, and break from training relatively short, is not likely to happen to any significant extent.)

So, I currently deadlift 140×3. Can I deload to 130×5?

I wouldn’t consider that a deload.

A reduction in total weight and an increase in number of reps done for that weight is a reduction in intensity but an increase in volume. Thus, the net change isn’t necessarily going to be a reduction in training load. So feel free to do that without taking a diet break while doing so.

I’d like to note that there may be times when you need to reduce the weight. If you have an off day, never force yourself to lift something you can’t do so with good form.

Also, when getting leaner your top lifts may drop simply due to the mechanical inefficiency of being leaner (think of the bench press and the bar having to travel further).

Should I train with a BELT?

The reason the internet may appear split regarding use of training belts is because there isn’t a one size fits all answer.

If you are reasonably strong (a 2xBW deadlift, 1.5xBW squat for example) and haven’t been using one then it is likely that your form is good (otherwise at that weight you’ll have caused yourself a hernia). In which case I think it’s fine to use a thick belt. – This is not for injury prevention reasons however.

Rather then helping avoid injury, belts can easily cause injuries, as they can easily mask poor form. Even with experienced lifters it can be very hard to judge for yourself when lifting at your max whether your form was tight (good) or not, so if you don’t have a training partner to check, set up a camera every now and then to make sure that you’re not messing it up.

You will often see me tell people to stay away from belts, because the people asking are invariably beginners.

The argument for belt use is to increase intra-abdominal pressure to help manage heavier loads, to train the abs harder and thus aid more growth overall. Beginners, even advanced beginners will do well to stay away from belts, as it forces them to train with good form. Whenever I try a new technique (front squats onto a box recently for example) I am sure to not use a belt to help make sure I don’t / can’t mess up my form.

I of course realise that by saying this publicly that a lot of beginners, believing themselves not beginners, will now rush out and get a belt. Unfortunately I don’t have any good defining points for when someone is best off starting to use a belt. Just don’t kid yourself that you need one to be strong. Plenty of people have gotten strong without belts. Martin Berkhan for example can deadlift over 600lbs and squat over 400lbs without one.

Why do you prefer BARBELLS OVER BODYWEIGHT workouts?

Bodyweight workouts can be effective, but in general there are too many ways for the untrained & unguided beginner to do them wrong.

We’ve all got friends that have played around with bodyweight routines at home, but how many of those people do you see real physical change in? A lot of movement that hasn’t translated into strength suggests that many of those workouts were tantamount to flapping the arms around aimlessly, they simply haven’t realised it yet. This certainly wasn’t for lack of effort or good will (in most cases), but the curious part of human nature is that many would prefer quit and blame their body than admit they need to change things up.

Too much focus on things that don’t matter, too little focus on things that do. The fix in many cases is re-focus or start focusing on barbell strength work.

You can cheat yourself out of a good training effect on a lot of exercises, but not barbell work.

Let’s take pushups for example – potentially a brilliant chest as well as shoulder stability exercise, but the way most people perform and progress with them renders them (almost) useless. (The rep range goes up rather than the intensity increasing, the neck creeps forward and rep range shorter, the reps quicken, back arches… sound familiar? I’ve done it, we’ve nearly all done it.)

This is why, if you are new to training, and don’t have someone to show you how to train effectively, I strongly suggest you make barbells your staple. Well, that’s one big reason anyway. For a more in-depth explanation see Why Barbells Are Best.

Q: So what about the home workouts I keep seeing then on Youtube?

The people showing you these “easy home workouts” have actually built their body doing the basic movements. Then they try to present you a shortcut to get their physique. These pseudo-experts take advantage of the fact that you trust in them just because of the way they look. What it comes down to is that there are three reasons why someone looks muscular:

  • They either achieved progressive overload doing the basic movements,
  • They used drugs,
  • They have amazing genetics.

With these pseudo-experts it’s usually a combination of all three, then they present themselves with their shirt off in every video. – Jonnie Candito

BODYWEIGHT/ HOME WORKOUT: Got an example?

I believe barbells are going to give you the best result. However, I appreciate that some people can’t get to a gym and don’t have the space (or budget) for a full set at home. Enter the often asked question about bodyweight work…

Is it possible to get an effective workout exclusively from bodyweight work? Yes absolutely, and when you’re away without gym access I would definitely suggest it. However, when it comes to an effective training program there needs to be progressive overload, and that can quickly become difficult as one becomes stronger, especially for the back and legs. So in the following example I’ve assumed you won’t mind buying a few cheap pieces of equipment as you get stronger.

Example Home Workout:

  • Warm up
  • Chin-ups – 3×6-10 Resistance bands to help, a belt and weight added in future to add resistance.
  • Push-ups – 3×8-12 Slow and controlled. 2 seconds up, 2 seconds down. Adjust the foot height to help or progress intensity accordingly.
  • Goblet Style Squats 3×12 With a dumbbell or weight plate or sandbag clutched to the chest.
  • One leg pistol squats 3xX* – Work into these slowly and only if you are strong enough. The Goblet squats will help build strength. Rep target is whatever you can get but no more than 8 per leg and stay well away from form failure to keep your knee ligaments safe.
  • Dips 3×8-12 – Perhaps between two very study chairs. Again, a belt and weight added in future to add resistance.
  • Kettlebell / Dumbbell swings – 10-12kg (~25lbs) is probably a good starting point.

Always use good form. If in doubt, video yourself and compare with videos online or ask a trainer in person.

Notes/Application:

For the above you’ll need a chin-up bar (which you can attach between a door frame), a lifting belt that you can add weight to, weight plates, and a dumbbell / kettlebell. – Not too expensive overall, especially if you get second-hand weight plates.

Bodyweight work can be very good and effective when done properly. However one huge problem when recommending bodyweight work to people is that, as is the human condition, we have a tendency to cheat. Usually this will be either through poor form, or rep speed, which at the end of the day only cheats ourselves of an effective workout.

(Push-ups are a classic culprit. I used to do 40-50 rapid fire pushups and think I was tough. But as the set progressed the rep length got shorter, my back caved, and my chest didn’t change as a result. Why? Poor form and the wrong rep range for hypertrophy.)

The effective range for hypertrophy is somewhere between 8-12 reps: below this puts more focus on strength; above more on muscle endurance. With bodyweight workouts it’s more difficult to adjust the difficulty so try and keep within the range 5-15 with bodyweight work.

When traveling you won’t have your weight plates/belt available. Increase the intensity in this situation by slowing down the rep speed.

Clearly the above is not an exhaustive list. There are a huge variety of bodyweight exercises that can be performed and with their variations they number in the hundreds. Apply the principles above and you’ll be fine.

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If you think this as a full blog post would be useful, as well as videos, then leave a comment and let me know and I’ll make the videos in the coming weeks.

BAR HEIGHT: How high should the bar be for a deadlift?

The bar should be around 8.5″/21cm off the floor. This is the standard height when loaded with 45lb/20kg plates, this will make 135lbs/60kg total.

Deadlift bar height sketch

Beginners will likely need to use less weight for the first few workouts. This means smaller plates and a lower bar height (unless olympic plates are available). Beginners are also more likely to round their backs and have flexibility issues when starting, so make sure that you adjust the height by either putting padding or other weight plates under either side, until you can lift 135lbs/60kg.

TRAINING: Do I have to?

Training is the catalyst for change; diet allows the change to happen. Though I have stated elsewhere that diet accounts for 70% of physique change, really the two are inseparable in my eyes. Dieting without training is very likely to set you up for a rebound. You’re also likely to only become a skinny-fat version of your current self as you will lose muscle mass as well as the fat. This diet is designed to be used in combination with training to prevent that – I’ve written why in a detailed guide to minimalistic effective training, which can be found here.

FREQUENCY: I’m doing well with 3 days at the gym, surely 6 will double my results?

No. If you are ready to go again the next day, you didn’t train hard enough and you may as well have stayed at home. Hit it hard, eat, sleep, repeat. This is the success formula.

LADIES TRAINING: What should I do?

The simple answer is exactly the same as men, despite all the nonsense you’ve read in magazines.