If you could describe your ideal physique, how would it look? Would you be skinny but toned, or would you be bulky and fat? Well, ideally, many of you would be ripped and toned, with plenty of muscle mass and size in the process. The problem is that generally speaking, it’s either one or the other. Bodybuilders bulk up in the off-season with the intention of gaining as much muscle mass and size in the process. Unfortunately in order to build muscle, you need to be in a calorie surplus where you consume more calories than you burn off. This means that a little fat gain is inevitable. When they diet down and ‘cut’ they cut calories, up cardio, and attempt to burn off as much fat as possible, while preserving lean muscle. This is a very tough process, but it can be done. If you’re worried your diet and cardio regime is eating away at your gains, here’s a look at 4 ways to maintain and build muscle while burning fat simultaneously.
Try reverse pyramid training
You’ve probably heard of pyramid training, which is primarily where people begin with high reps and light weight, before slowly tapering down the reps as the loads increase in weight. A very effective form of training, but studies have found that when it comes to maintaining muscle, reverse-pyramid training is better. Here you should begin with a standard warm up as normal, but should then jump to your top rep range of 8 – 10 reps, before making the weight lighter. However, you should not even think about altering the rep ranges as you should stick with 8 – 10 reps for each working set. So, the weight for each set gets lighter, but you stay at 8 – 10 reps. You see, by beginning with the heaviest working set first, you can maintain intensity as you drop down in weight, while continuing to burn calories, keep your heart rate up, and maintain strength. In terms of hypertrophy and fat-loss, you couldn’t really ask for more. Normally you’d begin with light weights and high reps and work your way up, then back down. Here however, you start with a fairly heavy weight and work down quickly, with minimal rest.
Aim for maintenance
If you are training like a bodybuilder and are beginning a cut, usually the norm is to diet for 12 – 16 weeks, depending on how much fat you need to lose. A lot of bodybuilders make the mistake of rushing and trying to burn fat right away. If you are dieting for 16 weeks however, ideally you should aim for maintenance as opposed to fat loss, as this will help you build up your strength and maintain your muscle mass. If you diet down too quickly, after those 16 weeks you may very well have lost a lot of fat, but you will also have lost a considerable amount of muscle mass too, and that’s the last thing you want. For the first 8 – 10 weeks, try to keep calories and calorie-expenditure at maintenance. That means that if your basal metabolic rate requires you to consume 2000 calories per day, you should aim to consume 2000 calories per day, taking into account calorie-expenditure through exercise too. For the final 4 – 6 weeks however, that’s when you can really step up the intensity and start dropping calories. This is all based on the fact that you haven’t much body fat to lose in the first place. If you’re looking to drop 30 – 40 pounds of fat, obviously you can begin with a slight deficit to burn fat slowly, stepping things up as you approach the 4 – 6-week mark.
Increase rest periods
One common misconception when it comes to cutting and getting lean, is that you need to reduce your rest between sets to increase heart rate and speed up caloric expenditure. Studies however, have found that it can be more productive to have more rest between sets, and here’s why. If you’re walking around at above 25% body fat, you will have more fat to lose, and so obviously reducing rest periods in this instance is very beneficial. If you are already lean but are simply looking to get shredded, longer rest periods are better. This is because it allows you to train heavier and more intensely, so you can continue to maintain muscle, and perhaps even gain a pound or two. If you’re exhausted while on low calories, strength will already be low, and your workouts will suffer. More rest between working sets will help you lift heavier weights and up the intensity. It is your cardio exercise and your diet that will get you lean and burn fat. When lifting, you’re training specifically with muscle in mind.
Keep up the intensity
When bodybuilders are cutting, you’ll often hear them complaining about how tired and hungry they are, and how their strength has dropped. While dieting you can of course expect to lose a little strength, and on low calories you will have less energy, but this is no excuse to step back from your workouts. When you’re lifting weights you don’t just do it for fun, you do it to build muscle and sculpt your physique. If you’re going through the motions, complaining about feeling tired, and are just training to get a pump, your physique will suffer as you get leaner. It’s tough, but dig deep, keep your foot on the pedal, and keep up the intensity. Lift those heavy weights, train to failure, have a spotter help you squeeze out a few forced reps, and don’t let a little hunger or dip in strength result in you reverting back to how you used to train when you were just starting out in the gym.