So you want to get lean — Part 2

So you want to get lean — Part 2

You’ve established your energy needs, adjusted for exercise, and calculated your macros. Time to get in the gym and hit the weights! But where do you start?

In part one of this topic, we covered the importance of energy balance, how to establish an energy deficit and calculate our macros to help guide our nutritional choices.

In this post, we’ll cover some of the exercise protocols you can use to increase fat loss, and walk through a sample program that draws on many of these techniques.

Anything will do, right?

Given that energy balance dominates the landscape, I imagine you are thinking you could do almost anything that constitutes moderate exercise 3-5 days a week and see progress in the gym. And you’d be right.

To a point.

While anything would meet our demands for establishing a negative energy balance, it won’t meet our goals for physique transformation. Remember, we want to torch body fat while holding on to as much muscle as possible.

Hence, with our program of resistance training, we are looking for maximum impact and efficiency.

That means a couple of things:

  1. We primarily want to stick with compound, multi-joint movements that work a lot of muscle. Bang for our buck, so to speak.
  2. We want to work with appropriate intensity using techniques that can help to increase muscle protein synthesis and maximize post workout calorie burn.

There are a number of studies showing that resistance training conducted at higher intensity (think 70-90% of your single-rep maximum) can elevate muscle protein synthesis, versus working at a lower intensities [1].

Combined with a high protein intake, muscle protein synthesis is the process by which our muscles repair and grow in response to the stress of our workouts. And while we won’t increase muscle size while in a calorie deficit, spiking muscle protein synthesis will help to preserve our muscle mass.

For added fat loss, there a number of techniques and protocols we can use to increase the post workout calorie burn, or EPOC as it known in termed in the industry (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption).

EPOC is a state in which our metabolism remains elevated for some time after exercise, burning additional calories beyond those expended during the exercise itself.

Even though we use a program of resistance training to help retain our hard-earned muscle, there are a number of techniques we can use to help expedite fat loss during and after our workouts.

Protocols to maximize fat loss

  • Densityreduced rest periods
  • Super, tri and giant setsworking antagonistic or unrelated muscles
  • Complexescontinuous multi-movement patterns
  • IntervalsHIIT; intermittent bouts of high-intensity exercise
  • Circuitsgroups of exercises conducted with minimal rest

Density

As long as we are working at moderate-to-high intensity, shorter rest intervals can further increase demand on the anaerobic energy pathways during exercise and extend the EPOC effect in the post exercise recovery period.

Super, tri and giant sets

Beyond simple increases in efficiency, whenever we can do more work in less time, additional calories are burned. One way to achieve this is super-setting exercises that work unrelated or antagonistic muscle groups. For example, a push – pull combination, or curls and extensions.

Complexes

Not the kind you get in the showers. These complexes represent a series of programmed movements executed consecutively without rest. Good examples are barbell or kettlebell complexes that work all the major muscle groups across 4-7 movements.

Intervals

Everyone has heard of HIIT (high intensity interval training), or intervals for short. Essentially, bouts of maximal-effort training combined with moderate periods of recovery to create a deep training effect in minimal time. Think sprints, rowing, stationary bike, or the dreaded prowler.

Circuits

Circuit training has been around for years and is making somewhat of a comeback of late. It combines many of the above techniques, programming a series of sequential movements, conducted with minimal rest between exercises, usually over a number of rounds.

We’ve covered a lot here. Time to pull it all together and look at a workout.

Putting it all together

Drawing on some of the above protocols, one of my favorite set-ups for fat loss looks something like this:

  • MondayLower body strength
  • TuesdayUpper body strength
  • ThursdayMetcon barbell complex; LISS
  • FridayFull-body workout; Finisher

Non-workout days are either complete rest or some combination of resting and low intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio.

Monday – Lower body

  • Back squat – 3 x 8
  • Leg press – 4 x 12
  • Rack pull – 4 x 6
  • Leg extension – 3 x 12
  • RDL – 3 x 8
  • Leg curl – 3 x 10

The rack-pull is executed as a glute activated, hip hinge movement.

Tuesday – Upper body

  • Face pulls – 3 x 8
  • Floor press – 4 x 8
  • Barbell row – 4 x 6
  • Incline DB press – 3 x 8
  • Lat pulldown – 3 x 10
  • Overhead press – 3 x 12

Thursday – Metcon, LISS

The following example is a barbell complex. You could just as easily use dumbbells or kettlebells and adapt the movements to suit.

The goal is to have the barbell in-hand for a full 20 minutes, completing as many rounds of the complex as you can without rest (if possible).

Bar weight should be selected relative to your weakest movement, likely bent-over rows or hang-cleans in this particular complex. Keep the weight manageable – complexes are brutally hard and you want to maintain safe form throughout and especially as you tire.

Make a note of how many rounds you complete. Try to improve the following week.

Complete 6 reps of each of the following, in sequence, for as many rounds as you can in 20 minutes.

  • Deadlift x 6
  • RDL x 6
  • Bent-over rows x 6
  • Hang cleans x 6
  • Push press x 6
  • Squat x 6

Take a few minutes of rest and then clean-up your puddle of sweat.

  • Finish with 25 minutes of steady-state cardio

Friday – Full body and Finisher

A full-body workout utilizing supersets to work antagonistic muscles in a short amount of time.

Complete one set of each exercise in the superset, rest, repeat for the indicated number of sets. Then move on to the next exercise pairing.

Rest 30 seconds between exercises and 60-75 seconds between supersets. e.g. RDL, 30 seconds rest, front squat, 60-75 seconds rest etc.

  • A1: RDL – 3 x 8
    A2: front squat – 3 x 12
  • B1: Bent over row – 3 x 10
    B2: Dips – 3 x AMRAP*
  • C1: Lat pull-downs – 3 x 10
    C2: Overhead press – 3 x 12
  • D1: Face-pulls – 3 x 10
    D2: Pallof press – 3 x 15

* As Many Reps As Possible (but stop 1-2 reps short of failure)

Friday finisher

  • Kettlebell / Burpee pyramid

Alternate KB swings and burpees, starting at 11 reps and descending through 1 rep. No rest, where possible. 
i.e. 11 KB swings, 11 burpees. 10 KB swings, 10 burpees. 9 KB swings … etc.

Time your finisher and try to improve on your performance the following week.

Training notes

  1. All exercises are examples only. Adapt the workouts to meet your needs and/or limitations, such as injuries, ROM issues or equipment availability in your gym. For example, RDL and front squat could be DB RDL and goblet squat or KB front squat.
  2. Work with comfortable range of motion and control the weight in both the concentric and eccentric portions of the movement.
  3. Weight selections will vary based on exercise and individual performance. Select a weight that will allow you to complete the first set with at least two reps in the tank. i.e. you could definitely complete two more reps.
  4. Unless otherwise stated, keep rest intervals shorter in the range of 60-75 seconds.

This workout is NOT the Konami Code.

While the format and protocols for this workout have been carefully selected to preserve muscle and torch body fat, there is nothing magical about the exercise selection as written.

Feel free to adapt the exercise selection, finisher and cardio to your needs.

On the topic of cardio

While I don’t push cardio for fat loss, I do program cardio for a variety of reasons.

Personally, I find cardio hugely restorative, both mentally and in terms of post exercise recovery. And the benefits of steady-state cardio on heart health are well documented.

However, given our goals for muscle preservation, cardio should definitely not be the primary way you establish a deficit. You’ve all seen the skinny-fat dude pounding away on the treadmill for hours on end, right? You know, definitely losing weight, but still covered in fat.

Cardio can be a potent weapon for fat loss when used appropriately.

But given our body quickly adapts to the increased energy expenditure, we want to minimize cardio in the early phases of fat loss, saving any increases for later stages when managing your energy balance is more challenging.

For me, “cardio” frequently comes down to walking the local reservoir with my wife. Something I’ve since termed #BLISS vs simple #LISS. Or, when that’s not possible, simply walking on the treadmill or Stairmaster.

Regardless, walking is hugely underrated as a form of exercise, and really does represent the perfect contrast to a stressful day job and program of intense resistance training.


In part 1, we set out all the facts you need to understand your maintenance calories, how to establish an energy deficit and how to calculate your macros to guide your food choices.

And today, we’ve walked through the importance of resistance training to preserve muscle mass, the protocols and techniques we can use to expedite fat loss and a workout that pulls it all together.

Did you find this two-part article useful? What did I miss? What else do you want me to cover?

Start a conversation below or hit me up on Twitter or Facebook and let me know.

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