‘Traditional training goals’ – generally speaking we associate this expression with weight loss or muscle gain, or we may understand it to mean we are ‘leaning up’ or the opposite ‘bulking up’. We’ve all heard it, attempted it, or perhaps currently have it as one of our personal goals.
Arguably the best way of achieving these traditional goals is to follow a bodybuilding approach – and with due warrant. A professional bodybuilder aims to gain as much muscle mass on their frame that is humanly possible whilst achieving the lowest percentage of body fat. Their approaches have been formed and honed over decades so they obviously know a thing or two about putting on muscle and getting shredded. They are the pinnacles of human extremities.
Traditionally, these goals are achieved through a heavy hypertrophy based training program with the majority of exercises comprising compound movements or exercises that allow for maximal weight for each body part. The ‘cutting/leaning up phase’ will still hold the hypertrophy range but in the higher end of the scale, incorporating more isolation exercises in the belief that they will bring out ‘detail’ in the targeted muscles. These phased workouts will generally vary from 40 – 60 minutes, with it not being uncommon for some to hit the 1.5 hour mark.
Granted we are generalizing here but a very typical and traditional bodybuilder’s approach is to ‘off season’ – putting on as much mass as possible while maintaining a body fat percentage within a moderate range and then ‘competition prep’ – hold as much muscle mass as possible while dropping body fat levels into ideally low single digit percentages. This cutting up phase is traditionally achieved through increased cardio, daily calorie and macro-nutrient ratio alterations.
So, we need to ask ourselves, is this two phased approach of bulking followed by the cutting up phase the optimal way to achieve the traditional goals of hypertrophy – lean hypertrophy? Perhaps the answer is still yes – if maximal humanly possible extremities of both size and leanness is the goal with plenty of time available – but is this approach your only option?
If maximal extremities in both muscle mass and leanness is not the goal then my firm believe is that both can be achieved simultaneously with impressive results. You may have to get a little unconventional here – blending both muscle gain and the dropping of body fat. You also need to be aware that doing it this way requires careful program structuring and precise nutrition because you’re after a very specific goal and asking the body to essentially perform two things at once.
Your training becomes unconventional in the sense that it essentially requires a mix of mass movements combined with detailed exercises, performed across all hypertrophy ranges from low strength hypertrophy, to highly detailed hypertrophy to cover everything. You can be forgiven for assuming that your workouts would have to become longer to ensure you do justice to every area and this is where it becomes unconventional because the fact is you actually need to shorten your resistance training session times! Remember you are trying to achieve two things at once ~
- Calories need to be at a lower range to ensure they never slip over into fat stores, meaning your work out sessions can’t be too long otherwise they’ll deplete your calories too much. If that happens you’ll never have enough nutrients to grow.
- Your resistance training needs to stimulate muscle growth, in turn triggering the body to undergo the physiological responses responsible for making the body grow. However, this should be done in the shortest and most calorie efficient way possible
Training still needs to cover the proven scientific principles of hypertrophy training – ample volume, intensity, muscle fatigue under correct and varying hypertrophy loads, progression and overload but all this needs to all be packaged in effective shorter sessions.
Once you have your resistance training sorted its time to look at the keys responsible for ‘getting ripped’ making sure your approach is effective and compliments your muscle growth goal. Cardio is key here and for it to compliment and not work against your hypertrophy goals correct intensity and timing of your cardio sessions is critical.
If your carbohydrates have been ‘dropped out’ at an appropriate time the day before, your glycogen stores should be close to zero on waking, making light cardio ideal to compliment your muscle building while addressing the ‘getting lean’ side of your goal. Done correctly your body’s only choice of fuel will be your fat stores during this morning period. Your intensity should be at a consistent moderate rate, sufficient for you to maintain a continual rate of work for 45-60 minutes. This session is designed to ‘look after’ your growing muscle mass and protect all your hard weight training work, relying solely on fat stores for fuel. Following your cardio you will need to refuel your body’s glycogen, to ensure a constant supply of amino acids is available throughout your body in your lead up to and preparation of your resistance training session. This session needs to be intense and short; just enough to stimulate the necessary body triggers for growth. This done you start working on depleting your glycogen again so that by bedtime you are left with only protein passing through and supplying your body. The process is then repeated all over again.
Diet – the key to making this all work. In fact 80 -90% of what makes this all a success is your diet. Your calories and macronutrients need to be spot on in food selection, food quality and timing. Timing your food intake becomes paramount in the element of nutrition. You have to be continually fueling and delivering a constant supply of nutrients to your now ‘stimulated-for-growth’ muscles while simultaneously depleting at the correct times so your body is forced to use fat as fuel.
It does take preparation, it does take foresight and it does take constant monitoring. Your body composition will change making it necessary to supply it with the correct nutrients at the correct times for your ever improving body composition. The reason so many either fail at this approach or at best only achieve moderate results is because they continue to think traditionally. Trying to perform a traditional mass building phase and traditional cutting phase together just doesn’t work. Blending the two, cutting your training times down to be just enough to trigger growth, using supporting nutrients and taking advantage of key fat burning times is the key to achieving one of the most difficult goals in training – two goals at once.
If you train too much when you’re using the traditional bulk then cut up approach, you can counter that with eating more during your bulk. Likewise, if you don’t get your cardio in during your cutting phase you just drop your calories a little lower that day. Not so when you are trying to do both at once! You don’t have the luxury of latitude. If you mess up in one area and try and counter it by adjusting your nutritional intake then you mess up the other side of the goal because the counter you just used works directly against your opposite goal. Being unconventional means you have to remain smart. There is no room for error.
Unconventional also means you’re not afraid to go after what’s hard, not afraid to ‘break’ with traditional approaches. More importantly it means being smart – using scientifically sound reasoning. Just be sure your unconventional approach has all the elements needed to get you to your traditional goals.