I’m going to break down building a killer physique for you into 10 simple steps.
Why would I do that?
The truth of the matter is that if you want to build a lean, strong body that has show AND go it’s way too easy to get lost in the sea of information out there. Turn on the TV and you’ve got workout infomercials hitting you in the face, click on the radio and you get blasted by ads hawking some stupid wrap, and with a single click of a mouse you’ll be buried under a deluge of information. There’s basically no end to it. Quite frankly, it’s frustrating at best and maddening enough to throw your hands up at worst.
At Relentless we’re well known for being “BS Killers”. Sometimes that means that we’re a little blunt, but so be it. My clients hire my coaches and myself to cut through all the noise, kill the mumbo-jumbo, and get them great results without the stress and missteps of having to hunt down and then figure out how to apply all that information.
So, in light of that goal, let’s cut to the chase.
1. Strength train 3x/week while emphasizing the basic human movements of pushing, pulling, squatting, and hinging.
These fundamental movements will give you the most “bang for your buck” as far as time invested in relation to muscle built, fat burned, and performance improved. The human body is designed to work as a unit, with multiple muscles being recruited to help with the task of moving heavy loads and working in certain patterns. Make use of that innate efficiency and get those muscles working together in the ways they should to build up the body you want.
Why strength train at all? Short answer: You can diet and do cardio all you want and you’ll probably get skinny, but chances are you’ll still look a bit soft while having the strength of a kitten. That’s just not good. Repeat: Skinny-fat is no way to go through life.
Longer answer: Strength training does the opposite of this. It adds muscle to your frame, which is going to make you look good both in and out of clothes. It makes you stronger, which feels great and makes you more useful. It also is the most potent form of metabolism-boosting exercise, which means that you will burn more fat at rest. Burning more fat and calories at rest means that you can (and should) eat MORE and probably will have a little more leeway for when you do indulge in the occasional beer, pizza, and birthday cake… so it won’t all go right to your gut.
You could get away with less strength training sessions if health is your only concern, but being jacked is good for you, and that’s going to take most people about three sessions per week.
2. Do at least two sessions of low-intensity cardio work per week. Keep the heart rate between 120-150 and just move.
Walk, jog, cycle, do a mobility circuit, what you do really doesn’t matter all that much as long as it’s continuous, you don’t hate yourself, and it’s not too intense. At least one of these sessions should be something fun and relaxing like a hike or other outdoor activity.
Aerobic training (ie “cardio”) has, in a lot of circles, fallen out of vogue in the past few years. This is, of course, the typical pendulum swing in response to it having been so popular in the 70’s and 80’s. If something is hugely in favor at one point then chances are it’ll be called the worst thing ever at another point. I know, because I used to be one of those guys who shouted from the rooftops that cardio was stupid. Luckily, Alex Viada of Complete Human Performance slapped my head back on straight. The truth of the matter is that, from a health standpoint, some aerobic work is good for you. Probably more interesting, though, is how much it can help the rest of your training.
That’s right, being in better aerobic shape will help your strength training! Think of your aerobic capacity as the foundation of your house. It sets the stage for everything else. The better condition you’re in the faster you’ll recover both between sets AND between workouts. This faster recovery will help you be able to train harder and/or more frequently and thus improve faster. This enhanced ability to perform at a high level and recover to do it again is what we call “work capacity”. Basically, with smart aerobic work you’ll be building a bigger foundation, and then you can use the other types of training to build a bigger and better house.
The issue is that too many people view their aerobic work as simply as doing some “cardio” or “going for a run” after they lift. If that’s you then chances are that you’re going too hard and you end up wearing yourself down with overuse injuries while burning up muscle, which is how aerobic work got a bad rap in the first place.
To realize the positive benefits of aerobic capacity work (fancy term for cardio) you really don’t need to be going that hard. For a lot of athletes and trainees who are used to hitting everything with intensity we really need to hold them back at first!
Shoot for a heart rate in the 60-70% range of your max heart rate, which for most people is going to be around 120-150 beats per minute.
Also, use this time to do something fun as a mental break. Go for a hike, if you can, swim, be outside, play a game with your friends, just do something that you actually enjoy versus slogging through another half an hour or hour on the treadmill if that makes you want to add some bleach to your post-workout shake.
3. Sprint or do some intense energy system work once per week. You’ll be working hard AND smart.
Sprinting, or at least all-out, high intensity rhythmic exercise, is a very useful tool in the toolbox when it comes to building your body to both look good and perform up to par. Whether you’re truly sprinting, doing high intensity intervals on a bike, swinging a kettlebell, or what have you, it can greatly increase your endurance, power output, and set your metabolism humming so you’re operating at an accelerated fat burning rate. Sprinting also tends to promote the release of hormones we want (testosterone and growth hormone), so you’ll burn fat faster while keeping muscle mass, which is exactly what we’re looking for.
Here’s the thing with sprinting, though. It’s hard. Yes, I know that’s the point, but it goes deeper than that. Since it’s so hard it can really tap into your recovery reserves and it also can be a great way to get injured if you’re not ready for it. I usually start people with some highER intensity work for a few weeks, once or twice per week, to ramp them into it and to see how they recover. If you’re feeling super run-down or start getting joint pains or pulls then I would back off of it and start out slower.
To get most of the health benefits from sprinting you basically need to be pushing the body. That doesn’t mean, however, that you need to be trapped in one type of movement. If you’ve got a bad knee, jumping right into sprinting and plyometric work is probably going to end in disaster. Smashing a round of bike intervals, however, might be just fine. Figure out what works for you, but keep in mind the goal is the effect, not necessarily the method.
Three points down! Stick with me for the next article in this series where we start to hit the nutrition angle through points 4-7. In the meantime, head on over to the right-hand side of the page and sign up to get your free gift as well as more killer info like this delivered right to your mailbox.