Updated: Aug 11, 2020
Perhaps the most sought out treasure in the world is the perfect workout regimen. Scientists have been putting in thousands of hours of research to fine-tune the answer to history’s biggest question. The results? It doesn’t exist.
Cue the gasp.
That’s right! There is no one best way to lose weight/body fat. No one best way to pack on muscle. No one best way to do anything. The answer that everybody hates to hear but is almost always true is that IT DEPENDS. It depends on a number of factors that have to do with your day to day life, time on hand, access to gym equipment, kids, the list goes on and on.
So for the general population (which is most of us...aka you aren’t being paid to compete in some physical task), you have to sit down and really evaluate what you want to achieve and what you’re willing to do...and that’s how a workout plan will be constructed.
Your most valuable resource. It’s the one thing you can’t get back. If we all had no jobs, no responsibilities, nothing to worry about, well we would all look like Thor. Alas, that is not the case.
The first question you have to ask yourself is, “how many days a week can I realistically and consistently workout?” It’s okay if you miss a day here and there, but you really have to be honest with yourself with this question. If the answer is 2 days a week, that’s perfectly fine. If it’s 6 days a week, that’s fine as well. Whatever it is, it has to be what can be consistent and reliable.
Injuries not a factor, if your goal is general health and fat loss, the first 2 workouts of the week should prioritize resistance training of some kind. This doesn’t mean that you should hit the weights two days in a row, but if you only can workout twice in a given week, then both of those workouts should be strength focused workouts. An additional day or two if it happens can be dedicated to cardio.
Now it’d be nice if a prescription of 4 sets of squats and 3 sets of romanian deadlifts and BAM!!! You look like J-Lo or the Rock. It just doesn’t work like that. There is no ideal strength workout because everybody is different. Different joint structure, different mobility, different goals, different body type, etc. If you only get 3-4 hours of sleep a night your #1 goal should be to get more somehow. No one should be putting additional stress (i.e. working out) on their body when they are getting minimal sleep/recovery time.
This is one of those obvious yet very overlooked aspects of training. Everyone knows that setting goals is important. But the real issue becomes aligning your actions with your goals. If you want to build a lean, functional, athletic physique, then why are you lifting like a bodybuilder? If you want more a more toned, firm body then why are you eating only 800 calories a day?
Saying that the goal is to lose weight, feel better, gain muscle mass is the easy part. Sitting down and evaluating whether or not your efforts are in sync with those goals takes more intention and energy but will also lead you along a more structured, promising path.
Okay now time for some stuff you can put into action. I’ll use a general example of losing body fat and building lean muscle as the goal since that’s a fairly common one. Let’s say you want to come to the gym twice a week and you have a piece of cardio equipment at home/in your apartment gym.
Let’s get one thing straight. The first thing to get in order is your nutrition. Outlined in previous blogs are discussions surrounding this but all the heavy lifting and intense training in the world won’t undo a caloric surplus littered with foods that don’t nourish your body.
Okay, you got that in check now. The two days spent in the gym should be focused on full body strength training. Splitting things into muscle-specific workouts is a very common way of doing it that has been made popular by the rise of the sport of bodybuilding. Again, nothing wrong with this approach but bodybuilders spend hours in the gym everyday hacking away at each muscle group. So if your time in the gym is a fraction of that of a bodybuilder’s, then why train like them?
Generally speaking, doing full body strength workouts will keep the focus on increasing your heart rate while still allowing you to hit most muscle groups as heavy/intense as possible. There are different ways to break this up but simply doing two different workouts that hit a bit of everything is a good start.
So that’s two days a week doing full body strength training. You should spend another 1-2 days doing some steady state/interval based cardio on the piece of equipment that’s at home. Steady state just means maintaining the same pace for a period of time. Do about 30-45 minutes with some mobility work/stretching afterwards.
This was a very very general example but it’s a framework. It will take trial and error to find what really works for you but stick to a plan for a few months, and reevaluate as you go along. Remember to always increase the difficulty of movements/workouts as you progress so you don’t remain stagnant.
Sorry if this wasn’t what you were expecting. If the hope was for a laid out, exercise by exercise chart of the best way to lose body fat and build muscle, then google “body fat loss workout” and a Men’s Health article will be sure to pop up. There is absolutely nothing wrong with whatever workout that is in there, and it could easily help you achieve your goal, but don’t expect it to be some magic pill where if you follow blindly it will give you a six pack.
Working out and eating well really is a funny thing. The idea is that in some capacity it is a lifelong activity that will evolve as you change. Trying to achieve a certain look is most likely going to be like trying to hit a moving target. Even if you achieve it, you will likely still be unsatisfied because your desires will change. The key is to find a method that works for you that you ENJOY. For some that may mean never even stepping foot inside a gym at all. That’s the point. There is no ONE right way. The perfect formula doesn’t exist.