Eyes on the Prize (Part 1): A Plan for Muscle Growth and Fat Loss

There’s really no question in my mind that by this winter, I will have rebuilt substantial muscle in my shoulders, arms, back, and legs. (Chest is another matter – right now I’m just teaching my pectorals to function in a different position after my bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction.) By this time next year, I’ll be back to where I was, if not much sooner. I can’t see into the future, but these are my goals.

Now that I’m back to hardcore strength training after a nearly four-month hiatus, the process of rebuilding my previous body composition has got me thinking:

What makes me so confident that I can get back to where I was? And so fast? 

So I’ve decided to share with you how I’ll rebuild muscle and lose the fat that crept in as a result of my layoff. (You didn’t think I’d keep the process all to myself, did you?) I’ll also tell you why I’m so confident I’ll be successful (besides the fact that I’ve done it before for myself and clients).


“Go Heavy” Isn’t Just Rhetoric, Babe

Heavy weightlifting is how you build muscle but also how you get lose fat. Paying the weight room an obligatory 20-minute visit and then exiting to the cardio machines ain’t gonna do it. It will take good ole consistency and a plan. In following blog posts I’ll highlight each aspect of my plan that will lead to reaching this goal.

I hope seeing how this goes down will inspire you to do the same, if that’s your goal, even if you’ve never been lean or muscular. Heavy lifting will help you lose fat and change your body like no other mechanism. Yes, you need to eat clean in the right amounts to lose fat, but only strength training will give you a sculpted, tight look and make your clothes hug your curves.

I hear it all the time from my clients: Taking a patient, long view and training smart gives you a body that does not necessarily weigh less, but fits into clothes better, moves better, and has more energy and better posture. People are ultimately much happier with their body shape when it’s strong and muscular as opposed to “skinny.”

Know Thyself Intimately – Or Fail

A plan is only successful when you (1) start off knowing where you stand and (2) track your progress. That means progress pictures NOW, body fat estimates NOW, and circumference measurements NOW.

Except I’m inside your head as you read this and I know what you’re thinking:

Why would I want to take “before” pictures and measure my body when I’m not even where I want to be? Why not just dive in and be thrilled when I notice a diff? 

Because that’s amateurish. And you’ll fail.

Sure, you’ll feel boss when you start noticing changes. YAS! I’m doing something right!

But then the changes stop. You can’t quite tell how much stronger you are or how much muscle you’ve really gained. Your motivation dips. Am I still making progress? What should I do now?

Come on, it happens to a lot of people. I know it does because this is how many of my online clients come to me initially.

Before and After

Perkier boobs notwithstanding, I want my muscle back.

So take a deep breath and bite the bullet. Here’s how it’s going to go down – the right way. The way that will let you keep on building muscle and getting leaner instead of hitting a wall and quitting.

Track, Baby, Track

It’s not sexy, but it can be fun – tracking your progress, that is.

First, though, you’ve gotta know where you stand:

  1. Estimate your body fat percentage NOW (here’s how).
  2. Take circumference measurements NOW (here’s how).
  3. Take a before picture in the same clothes you’ll wear each time. NOW.
  4. Take your scale weight NOW.

Why a body fat estimate? Isn’t the scale enough?

I care about how much fat versus muscle I have, not how much everything weighs together including bones, bodily fluids, and organs. Plus, the scale can be very deceptive.

Without my scale weight changing at all, my body fat has increased from about 23% to 25%. But I’m not outwardly heavier and my scale weight hasn’t changed. Why is this?

It’s because my body composition has changed – I lost muscle and gained fat at about the same rate. That doesn’t mean the fat “replaced” the muscle, but that the scale weight was about the same difference.

As the muscle that helped burn calories decreased, my activity level also decreased and yet I continued to eat the same. As a result, my body stored fat more readily. My metabolism may have slowed slightly and I didn’t have that built-in protection against fat gain any longer. My body shape is not as tight and clothes just don’t fit as nicely as before.

So you can see how you can have a slender body or certain scale weight yet a body composition high in fat (commonly referred to as “skinny fat”).

This is a Project – Assess Regularly

Just like anything you take on at work or home, starting a new fitness and nutrition plan and tracking your progress is a project. You really do deserve your time and attention on this and it only takes a few minutes.

I’ve chosen to estimate my body fat once every 2-3 weeks to see if it’s going in the right direction. This timeframe is somewhat arbitrary; it will help me stay motivated and let me tweak my cardio or nutrition if it’s not moving. I’ll take progress pictures at least once a month but probably more often. And I’ll take circumference measurements once every 4-6 weeks, because with just a little fat to lose, changes here might be slower.

This is exactly the process I use with clients who want to build muscle and/or lose fat. It works.

In Part 2 of this series, another important piece of the muscle building/fat loss equation: strength training.

This article originally appeared on www.workoutnirvana.com.

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