Every year millions of people decide that they’re going to make a change and transform their bodies so that they have more muscle and less fat.
And every year millions of people fail.
You don’t want to end up like them, do you?
Lucky for you this guide will show you everything that you need to know about how to build muscle and lose fat.
Sound good? Let’s dive right in.
Why Get In shape?
Let’s start with what is perhaps one of the most important aspects of getting in shape which is why you should do it.
It matters since getting a good physique is a longterm process.
And if you don’t know why you’re doing it then you’re going to lose motivation in the long-run which will make it really hard to get a good body.
With that being said here’s why you should do it:
In 2013 The National Sleep Foundation conducted a poll where they found that people who regularly exercise get better sleep than those who don’t. They also found that only 17% of those that regularly exercised reported not getting enough sleep while half of those that don’t exercise reported the same.
How much sleep you get and your sleep quality matters for a number of reasons.
Lacking in sleep has been shown to cause a 100% increase in the risk of heart disease and a 200% increase in the risk of breast cancer.
Lacking in sleep also has somewhat of a compounding effect since it causes cortisol levels to rise.
This is bad for your body recomposition goals since high cortisol levels have been linked with weight gain.
Not only that, but high cortisol levels have also been shown to reduce testosterone levels.
This is bad since testosterone is an anabolic hormone. Meaning that it is a hormone that leads to the process of muscle protein synthesis which is the process in which your muscles are made to grow.
Having high levels of stress has also been shown to raise cortisol levels but the good news is that working out can reduce stress. Meaning that a good reason to workout is that it’s going to help you to feel better when you’re outside of the gym.
Not only that but it could be that doing regular exercise could help you in becoming smarter.
Research has found that exercise can lead to the creation of new brain cells in the hippocampus which is the area of the brain that is responsible for learning new information.
It should be noted though that it was found that the greatest response was gained from sustained moderate aerobic exercise such as walking at a fast pace, jogging or swimming.
Despite that resistance training has been shown to be beneficial too.
Another good reason that you should aim to stick with resistance training in the long-term is that it has been shown to reduce aging.
In a 2007 study, it was found that after 51 people had been doing resistance training for a period of 26 weeks 179 genes that are associated with aging and exercise had shown a reversal in their gene expression. Meaning that, at the gene level, resistance exercise had literally reversed the process of aging in those genes.
One study, that used 91 participants, even showed that in doing regular exercise can be just as beneficial as medication at reducing the probability of getting migraine headaches.
Another health benefit that has been shown to come from doing regular exercise is that it helps to lower blood pressure. It also has been shown to help in reducing your resting heart rate.
With these two things combined, it’s clear to see that by doing regular exercise you will be able to reduce the risk of having heart issues later on in life.
In fact, that has even been found in research. In a 2013 study, it was found that those that didn’t do regular exercise had a 20% higher risk of having a stroke.
One more health benefit that resistance training has been shown to provide is improved bone health. Research has found that by doing regular resistance training the bones responded by becoming stronger.
Getting in shape has also been shown to help to improve your daily life.
When you work out the body releases the brain chemicals dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine.
The release of these hormones causes your body to relax which helps in reducing levels of depression and anxiety.
This means that by doing weight training you will be able to improve your mood and to feel better when you’re outside of the gym.
Additionally, exercise has been shown to improve libido meaning that it is likely that working out often could help you to improve your love life.
You’ll also be more intelligent.
When you exercise blood flow to the brain increases which can help in maintaining brain function. It also improves your lung function which is something that is an indicator of how likely you are to maintain your memory and mental abilities as you age.
Resistance training will also help you to be more active in other areas of your life.
By doing resistance training you will improve your physical abilities meaning that you will be better prepared to do things such as lifting heavy objects like televisions, you’ll be more athletic (just look at how muscular 100-meter sprinters are) and you’ll be better able to go about your daily life as you age.
Additionally hitting the gym will help you to look better.
Obviously, one of the main reasons that people start going to the gym is so that they can look more muscular and less fat.
But, weight training could also help improve your appearance by improving your skin. Not only will weight training help to improve your complexion but it can help in fighting off skin based diseases and has been shown to reduce the risk of skin cancer.
So, with all that being said I hope that by now I have convinced you of the many benefits that regularly working out will bring to you.
Clearly, if you want to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time it’s going to be necessary that you workout.
There are, however, a number of ways that you can go about doing it and there are also a number of mistakes that you could make.
This section is going to help you to avoid those mistakes and to leave you knowing exactly what you should be doing in the gym in order to maximize your ability to build muscle.
How often should you workout?
One of the most common questions amongst people that are starting out at the gym is how often should they workout.
In order to answer that question let’s take a moment to consider the process of how muscles are actually made to grow.
You may or may not realize that the muscle building process doesn’t actually take place inside of the gym. Instead, when you are in the gym you are actually breaking down the muscles and creating little micro-tears in the muscle fibers.
It’s when you are outside of the gym that these muscle fibers are repaired. But, when they are repaired, this time they are made to be bigger and stronger than before so that you will be better able to deal with the physical demands that you are placing on your muscles.
This muscle building process has been shown to take place for up to 48 hours after exercise.
This is why you should avoid training the same muscle more than once over a 48 hour period.
With that being said, you do want your muscles to be in a state of muscle protein synthesis (a state of repair) as often as possible.
That is likely to be the reason why one study found that working out a muscle two times per week is optimal for maximizing muscle growth.
With that being said the optimal number of times that you should workout will depend on a number of things.
If, when you’re working out, you do each set completely to failure then you’re going to need to rest more in order to avoid overtraining which is where your body becomes fatigued and your performance levels, ability to gain muscle and even your mood worsens.
The good news is though that overtraining takes more than most people seem to think and if you rest for at least working out the same muscle again before 48 hours you’ll likely be fine.
If you’re an 18-year-old then your ability to recover from a workout is going to be much higher than someone in their 50’s so you’ll be able to workout more often.
In order to maximize muscle growth without training the same muscle twice over a 48 hour period what many bodybuilders do is to follow a split routine. This is where in a weight training session you only workout a few muscle groups so that you can work out different muscle groups the next day while your muscles that you previously worked out recover.
High reps or low reps?
Something that gets debated a lot in the fitness industry is whether to do lots of reps with light weights or to do fewer reps with more weight.
In a 2016 meta-analysis, it was found that lifting with heavier weights above 65% of the one rep max gave the best results. However, it also found that using lighter weights lead to a similar amount of muscle growth, this was even the case in studies where people were doing 100 rep sets.
With that being said the meta-analysis did find that using heavy weights were significantly better for increasing strength.
What this means for you if you’re looking to lose fat and to build muscle is that you can build muscle doing low or high rep sets, provided that you use more weight for the low rep sets and less for the high rep sets.
What would likely be the best option for you to do would be to do a mixture of both, meaning that in one week you use light weights and in the next, you use heavy weights.
The advantage here would be that you could work both your type 1 and type 2 muscle fibers.
Type 1 muscle fibers are the slower type that has more endurance, you would be working these more in the high rep sets. The type 2 muscle fibers are the more explosive type that has less endurance they get worked more when you’re using heavy weights for fewer reps.
But ultimately, seeing as both high reps and low reps can give you similar amounts of muscle growth you should pick the option that you enjoy doing more seeing as you’ll be more likely to stick to it in the long run which is what really matters.
How quickly to do the reps?
It’s not uncommon for people in the fitness industry for people to give the advice that you should do your reps slowly so that you can maximize time under tension.
Their logic is that it will help to fatigue the muscles more and therefore to make the muscles grow more.
And doing slow reps is certainly beneficial for beginners since it helps them to do their reps with good form and to develop the right type of muscle memory.
But are slow reps best for muscle growth?
Surprisingly, the research says no!
There could be a number of reasons for this.
One of them could be that doing the reps slowly it means that you won’t be able to do as many meaning that you won’t be able to do as much volume.
Or it might be because going slow means that you won’t be using as many type 2 muscle fibers which are the type with more potential to grow. This was actually found in a study where it was found that going slow on the bench press makes use of 30% fewer muscle fibers.
What this means for you is that in order to maximize muscle growth slow reps aren’t necessary and that instead, you should do the reps at a 1 second up 1 second down tempo since that is what the findings in a 2016 meta-analysis found to be optimal.
Partial or full reps?
Often, when you’re in the gym, you’ll see people doing their reps without going through the full range of motion.
Are they just stupid? Or are they actually onto something?
The idea with partial reps is that by doing the entire lift in the area where tension is maximized you’ll generate a larger amount of muscle growth.
But this isn’t what the research found to be the case.
There have been multiple studies that compared the difference in muscle growth generated by doing partial reps vs full reps and they all come to the conclusion that doing full reps is best.
The main reason for this seems to be that when you place a stretched muscle under load it induces the largest hypertrophic response which is why full reps seem to give the better results.
For you, this means that if you want to maximize the amount of muscle that you can gain while reducing your body fat then it would be best for you to stick to doing full reps.
Are drop sets worth it?
Something that the legendary bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger was a huge fan of were drop sets.
In fact, in a recent Reddit ask me anything, he mentioned how his method of training shoulders would be to do the arnold press by starting with a weight he could do 5 reps for and then to immediately do it again with a slightly lower weight repeating until he’d reached the end of the dumbbell rack.
He claimed that at the end of the set his shoulders would be absolutely spent.
But was he right to train that way?
Well, the research seems to suggest that he was.
In one study that compared the effectiveness of doing a single drop set with three normal sets, it was found that at the end of the study the normal set group had gained 5% muscle growth but the drop set group had gained 10% muscle growth.
So, that means you should start doing drop sets then right?
The study was a small study so you can’t be sure of how it would have gone in the long-term and if you start doing drop sets in every workout your muscles won’t be as responsive to it after awhile and you might overtrain.
That means that you should add drop sets into your workouts where it is easy such as when using machines or even dumbbells but don’t make drop sets your entire workout.
Should I do supersets?
Supersets are where you do an exercise and then go off and do a different one(s) and then come back and do the first exercise again.
The exercises can work the same muscles or they can work different ones.
However, It’s most common for them to be done using different muscle groups. That way while you are working one muscle group your other muscles will be getting the chance to recover.
This method can make for very efficient workouts and can be very time effective.
And, in terms of muscle building potential, they’re good for that too.
In a study, where they studied the effectiveness of doing supersets versus normal sets, they found that the supersets were more effective at increasing the participants 1 rep maxes on the bench press and bench pulls.
What that means for you is that if you want to gain muscle but don’t have much time to workout then doing supersets would be a very effective option.
There are some issues with doing supersets though.
The first issue is that since you won’t be giving yourself a rest period it will be a lot more taxing. This means that if your cardio isn’t that good then you might struggle to be able to do supersets effectively.
Another issue is that it’s hard to do in a crowded gym since it’s likely when you’re away from one of the pieces of equipment that you’re trying to superset with that someone will start using it.
Also, it’s not so easy to do supersets with certain compound lifts like deadlifts not only because they are very taxing but also because you won’t have many other muscles that you didn’t just exercise doing the lift.
With that being said supersets can be a highly effective addition to make to your workout program.
Do I need to warm up?
Many people, at the gym, rarely take the time to warm up the muscles that they are going to be working during their workout.
But this that is not something that I would recommend that you do.
And there are a number of reasons for that.
The first, and most important, reason is that doing a dynamic warmup where you increase your heart rate reduces your risk of injuring yourself since you will be increasing your blood flow and loosening your muscles.
Additionally, doing a dynamic warmup where you work the muscles that you are going to be working has been shown to help you to increase their range of motion.
And by increasing your muscles range of motion you will be better able to work them when you are doing you’re actual workout.
What about a cooldown?
I’d also recommend doing some kind of a dynamic cooldown as well if you can. The reason for this is that it has been shown that if you do a cooldown your muscle soreness will be significantly reduced in the following days.
Meaning that you will be able to recover from the workout more quickly and to be able to get back to the gym sooner.
Is it necessary to deload?
Deloading is where you reduce the volume of your workout program for a while so that your body can recover.
This can involve reducing the number of reps, sets, and weight that you use for a week or it can involve taking the week off altogether.
There are a number of reasons that you may want to deload with the main one being that it is a good way to prevent yourself from overtraining.
If you workout regularly for months on end without taking a break then it’s likely that you’re going to get to a point where it feels like you have stopped making progress, you feel tired, more stressed than usual and your muscles are feeling sore for longer.
That’s because you will have overtrained which is why it would be beneficial for you to do a deload week at least once every 4 weeks.
Another reason that you might want to consider doing a deload week is that it can help your muscles to become more responsive to training.
In one study it was found that the participants that trained continuously over a 15 week period got the same results as those that took a 3-week break in-between.
Not only that but in another study, it was found that in the period where the participants returned to the gym after taking time off their muscles were a lot more responsive to the training and had a larger growth response.
This means that by taking a reducing the volume of your workouts for a week or by just taking the week off you will be able to increase your muscle growth potential when you return.
Another reason that you might want to consider doing a deload week every once in a while is that it can help motivate you. If you workout consistently without taking a break then you might find that your motivation levels begin to drop after a while which is why taking a week off might be a good idea.
How long to rest between sets for?
The advice in the fitness industry can be somewhat varied on this topic some people say that all you need is to rest long enough to catch your breath while others advise resting for longer periods.
Thankfully there has been a recent systematic review that can help us shed some light on this topic.
In the review, they looked at six studies comparing the effects of taking a rest period shorter than 60 seconds versus taking a rest period longer than 60 seconds.
What they found was that taking a rest period longer than 60 seconds gave better results than taking a rest period of fewer than 60 seconds.
So, that would imply that taking a rest period of between 1 to 3 minutes would be ideal for getting maximal muscle hypertrophy.
With that being said, there are some things that you should consider.
If you have not been working out for a long time then regardless of if you take long rest periods or if you take short ones you’re going to build muscle so you should just do what you prefer.
If you’re doing isolation exercises then you’re going to be able to recover much more quickly so you’ll be able to take longer rest periods.
Yet, if you’re doing compound type exercises like deadlifts then you’re going to need to take a longer rest period.
Additionally, the amount of weight that you’re using is going to be a factor as well.
If you’re using lighter weights then you’re going to be better off taking shorter rest periods, while with heavier weights you’re going to need more time to be able to recover enough in order to be able to do the lift properly for as many reps as you did in the set before.
Machines vs free weights
Many people say that if you’re looking to maximize your muscle growth then you should stick to using free weights.
But the reality is that they both have their advantages and disadvantages.
The reasons for using free weights include:
A wider range of possible exercises.
With just one pair of dumbbells, there are a large number of different exercises that you can do making them ideal for home use.
Being perfectly suited to your frame
The nice thing about using free weights is that they are perfectly suited to your frame. This means that you will be better equipped to go through the range of motion that will be optimal for your body, which means that you should be able to build more muscle with drop sets.
The advantages of machines are:
They are convenient
Since, with most machines, all you have to do is to select the weight it means that they can help you to get a more time efficient workout in. It also means that they are easier to superset since you can start the exercise right away with them.
They are good for isolation movements
Since you will be restricted to a fixed range of motion it does have the advantage of meaning that you will be forced to work the target muscles. This means that you are forced to avoid cheating the reps like you can with free weights meaning that you will be able to isolate the target muscle more effectively.
They can be used to work around an injury
When you’re injured it is likely to be the case that free weights are going to give you issues since most exercises using free weights will use all of your muscles at least a little bit but with machines that is not the case making them ideal for when you need to work around an injury. This is especially the case for when you have a back injury.
They can be easily used for drop sets
Since machines usually use a pin to select the weight it means that you can use them to do drop sets easily.
With that being the case, overall, both machines and free weights have their uses and if you are looking to maximize your muscle growth they will both be of use to you.
Compound or isolation exercises?
Compound lifts involve moving more than one joint and work more than one muscle at the same time.
Isolation exercises move one joint and only work one muscle.
Often you’ll hear people, in the gym or online, say that compound exercises are better because they work more that one muscle.
But in reality, they both have their advantages and disadvantages and they will both be of use for you when trying to build muscle.
Since they work more than one muscle at once compound lifts make for very time efficient workouts meaning that if you don’t have much time to workout then they will be a good option for you.
However, as you get more advanced the need to target specific muscles is going to grow since you’ll likely find that some of your muscles grow more than others. This is where isolation exercises come in handy since they allow you to improve on areas of your physique that are lagging behind.
Also, when you’re injured, you’ll often find that compound exercises won’t be an option especially if you have a back injury. This is another area where isolation exercises are useful since they allow for you to target weak areas.
Diet and Lifestyle
Since your goal is to gain muscle and to lose fat it’s going to be really important that you pay close attention to your diet.
In order to reduce your body fat, it’s going to be necessary that you eat at a caloric deficit. However, the issue here is that when you’re eating at a deficit your body is going to naturally become more catabolic meaning that it won’t be building muscle as easily.
There are a number of things, however, that you can do to increase your chances of success.
These include getting 7-9 hours of sleep, drinking lots of water, eating lots of protein, working out regularly and avoiding alcohol.
How do I know how many calories and what macros to eat?
In order to minimize muscle loss, I wouldn’t advise you to eat anywhere below a 10% caloric deficit. This means that your total daily amount calories shouldn’t be more than 10% lower than what you should be eating.
So, if you burn 2000 calories in a day then you should aim to eat 1800 calories if you want to lose fat and gain muscle.
If you want to get a better idea of how many calories you should be eating and what macros to eat based on your lifestyle and physique then I would advise you to use the free online meal planner at http://custommealplanner.com/
Importance of water
How much water you drink will have a much larger impact on how much muscle you will be able to gain than the fitness industry makes out.
They talk about the importance of protein all the time but rarely mention just how important water is for your physique.
A recent study showed that by being just 3% dehydrated you will be 19% weaker than what you are capable of.
This means that if you are not fully hydrated when you workout then you will not be able to workout as effectively as you could be meaning that you won’t be able to build as much muscle as you could.
Some ways that you can tell if you are dehydrated include having yellow colored urine, nausea, dizziness a headache, thirst, dry skin and a decreased need to pee.
It can also take around 6 hours to recover from a slightly dehydrated state meaning that your hydration efforts need to start well before your workout.
The recommendation from the Institute of Medicine is that men get 13 cups (3 liters) of water in per day and women get in 9 cups (a bit more than 2 liters).
Why alcohol hurts your ability to get in shape
If your goal is to lose fat and to build muscle then you are going to have to make some sacrifices and alcohol is one of them.
There are a number of reasons why alcohol will hurt your ability to build muscle and to lose fat that I discuss in more detail here, for now here are just some of them:
Alcohol dehydrates the body.
As discussed above being dehydrated can seriously reduce your ability to build muscle and studies have shown that drinking alcohol dehydrates the body. The main reason for this is that alcohol is a diuretic that causes you to need to pee more often resulting in you losing a lot of water.
It’s full of empty calories
Often people don’t realize that alcohol contains a lot of calories especially beer. As a result of this when people binge drink they are putting months of fat loss efforts down the drain.
So if you’re looking to lose weight then it would be a good idea for you to stop drinking alcohol since it comes with a lot of calories but not many useful nutrients meaning you’re getting the calories without any of the benefits.
It makes you weaker
Studies have shown that drinking alcohol can cause you to have an impaired performance for up to 48 hours after. This means that for 48 hours after drinking alcohol your workouts are not going to be as good as they should be resulting in you not being able to build as much muscle as you could.
Importance of sleep
The amount of sleep that you get will be a factor in determining how easy it will be for you to achieve your goals.
It is recommended that you get between 7 – 9 hours of sleep every night.
A 1997 study found that testosterone levels begin to rise on falling asleep, peak at about the time of first REM, and remain at the same levels until awakening. This means that you build more muscle while you are asleep meaning that if you don’t get enough of it you will be hindering your ability to gain muscle.
In addition to that, it has been shown that when you are lacking in sleep your cortisol levels rise which leads to a decrease in your testosterone levels, so you won’t be building as much muscle during the day either.
Ultimately, it is important that you realize that losing muscle and building fat is a long-term process because of this the single biggest factor in how successful you will be is how consistent you are.
If you regularly workout over the course of 6 months and you follow the diet plan given to you or you at least make sure to eat healthily with a good amount of protein (at least .75 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight is recommended) then you will see a noticeable improvement in your physique.
Do you have anything that you would like to add? Please let me know in the comments.