It’s been three and a half years since the first time I entered the gym, vowing to once and for all get serious, to change my potato-shaped body into one I would be proud of.
It’s been a rollercoaster. I’ve gotten leaner, then fatter, then leaner again, then fatter. I’m constantly locked in battle with an inconvenient truth:
If I want to get leaner, I’m going to lose muscle mass and strength. If I want to gain muscle and strength, I’m going to put on fat.
This is, of course, an extremely frustrating proposition. When I set a new PR, the last thing I want to do is something that will ensure that I’m not going to hit that number again, for a long time. I take a lot of pride in being able to deadlift 415, bench 265, and… well, my squat is really nothing to get excited about.
Still, I love being strong. I love being “big”. It’s a great feeling. But even as strong as I am, I’m doing it with a gut, with a layer of fat over my entire body which doesn’t allow my chest, my shoulders, and my arms to show the sort of definition that makes guys like Victor Pride appear to be cut from marble.
Late 2012 was a pretty wild time for me. I had just gotten myself into the gym, as I said. I was violently pushed out of a life-defining job. I was also in the process of ending a six-year relationship, which would also cost me my home.
In less than three months, though, I managed to drop 50 pounds of fat, and gain some muscle.
I didn’t look great, but had noticeably improved over that three-month period. I was stronger than I was at the start, but very weak compared to right now. I had harnessed the magical power of “NOOB GAINZZZ” to simultaneously burn fat and build muscle at the same time.
But what I really want to focus on is the fat loss during that period of time. It was a DRASTIC loss. What was I doing that made this possible? I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year or so really analyzing that time period, as the fat loss was so dramatic and effective.
- Lifting “upper body” one day, and “lower body” the next. Then one day off, then back on.
- Taking BCAA (Scivation Xtend) and Beverly International Lean Out.
- Lifting with high intensity and relatively short rest periods. I was quite sweaty after a session was over.
- Eating primarily eggs, pre-packaged chicken portions, cottage cheese and whey.
- Spending the majority of the day hungry.
- Having very few cheat days.
I fell off in early 2013, but got my shit together again by the end of the year.
From October 2013 until June of 2014, I got both leaner and stronger, but with slower results. I was lifting at work, during my daily lunch break.
- Lifting on a four day split (like a bitch, I always skipped leg day).
- Taking no supplements other than very cheap whey (I was seriously broke at the time).
- Lifting with moderately high intensity and relatively short rest periods, due to having limited time to complete my training sessions.
- Eating primarily eggs, cheap steak, cottage cheese, spinach, apples, and chicken breast.
- Spending the majority of my day hungry, as I was intermittent fasting.
- Having frequent cheat days, sometimes unscheduled, but almost always during my eating window.
It took longer, but I saw fat drop even further during this period of time.
Shifting gears for a moment, I recently visited a friend in Florida. He’s a NSCA-CSCS trainer, and has more knowledge of strength training and fat loss than anyone I know. I did two sessions with him and his partner, and was utterly shocked.
I was fairly convinced that my workouts were relatively “high intensity” but after a morning of supersetting 315lb deadlifts with pull-ups, then collapsing to the ground in a puddle of sweat and drool after six sled pushes with 30 second rests between, I realized that I’m terrible at determining the intensity at which I’m actually working.
Afterwards, I had a few conversations with him about intensity. There’s quite a bit of evidence supporting the fact that the most efficient loss of fat comes not from steady-state cardio (which should be apparent from the body composition of the average cardio-drone), but from very high-intensity resistance training. This is how he trains his fat loss clients, and sees some pretty significant results.
So back to the comparison of those two time periods, late 2012, and late 2013-early 2014. My training intensity level (and volume) was higher than it is now, but the other key component was how hungry I was for the majority of the time.
In 2012, I had a lot on my mind. I simply didn’t have an appetite, sometimes eating under 1000 calories in any given day. When I started seeing fat melting off of me, I kept it up. Four eggs here, some chicken breast there… I would relish the sensation of my stomach growling, delighting in my ability to deny my body the food it wanted so badly. When I did eat, the portions were small, almost insignificant compared to the amount of work I was doing during my grueling, sweat-drenched sessions in the gym. My body had no other option; it had to burn fat for energy.
2013-2014 was different, though. Intermittent fasting was the name of the game. I never ate before 2:00 PM, and in a lot of cases was going until 6:00 PM or so before eating anything, waking up, completing an entire work day and a moderately high-intensity 45 minute workout. I didn’t see as drastic and instantaneous a change during this time, though. This was due to the fact that:
- I was not eating as clean as I was in 2012. As often as 2-3 times a week, I would stop at Sheetz to order a mountain of food like breakfast burritos and pulled pork nachos (but, as I said earlier, still within my eating window).
- I regularly had “cheat days” which slipped into “cheat weekends” filled with pizza, burgers, pancakes and sugar-laden Chinese food.
Even though this was the case, I was HUNGRY for the majority of my waking hours. Walking around with nothing in my stomach told my body that it had to burn fat to keep going, unfortunately a decent percentage of the food I was taking in wasn’t very good. This shows that (although not as drastic as eating very clean) as long as I was fasting most of the time and not going completely overboard on junk, I would still end up with a net loss.
Although this is the case, the results would not be anywhere near as significant as they would be if I was extremely disciplined.
It’s not difficult for me to see glaring differences in these two areas (hunger and intensity) between now and then. I’ve tweaked my program a bit, and the changes are aimed squarely at shredding body fat. For now I’m strong enough, I’m “big” enough, but I am unhappy with the amount of body fat that wants to keep sticking around for the long haul.
- Timing my rest periods. 30 seconds between sets, two minutes between exercises.
- No more isolation work. nearly everything is a compound movement now.
- Supersets. My goal is to keep my heart rate up. Supersets (working an agonist muscle group, then it’s antagonist directly after) are a great way to do this.
- No more one-rep maxes. For now, I’m concentrating on repping out the heaviest “working weight” I can manage.
- Grading my workouts based on how sweaty and wiped out I am. I haven’t been breaking a sweat in the gym until I started timing rest periods and doing all compound movements. Sweat is good. Feeling “worked” is even better. I want to struggle to even make it to my car after a workout.
- Monitoring my heart rate. I have a pretty rudimentary device for this (FitBit Charge), but in addition to making sure my heart rate is at least in the right neighborhood, I can also use the stopwatch to time my rest periods.
- Intermittent Fasting. Staying hungry throughout the majority of the day. I’m watching calories, but as long as I’m just staying hungry, we’re good.
- Eating the majority of my calories from protein sources. Sticking to less than 30g of carbohydrates per day, as well. Meat, eggs, and vegetables. That’s it.
- Using Osta-Red to hang onto muscle while shredding fat. This is my favorite supplement of all time, because it actually works as advertised.
- Being rigid and inflexible when it comes to cheat days. Once a week, no more justification of three-day burrito benders.
I’m headed off to the coast again in eight weeks. I’d like to see some serious progress by that point. Realistically, all of the pieces are in place, I just need to be disciplined enough to follow through.
Thanks for reading,