Fitness goes through global trends just like any other industry. There are peaks and valleys in popularity, and more than that, new methods and insight are constantly replacing old strategies.
This constant ebb and flow of information can make fitness a tricky subject for, well, anyone. It doesn’t matter whether you’re new to working out or a veteran strength trainer. It is difficult to discern myth from fact, and above all, it’s impossibly hard to subscribe to a basis of principles that aren’t under continuous scrutiny or re-evaluation.
Problematic still, it has never been tougher to traverse this minefield of conflicting information. Fitness may explore different mountaintops of interest, but its popularity is ubiquitous to some degree, because aesthetics and body image are topics that will never go anywhere.
Now, however, there has been a massive uptick throughout the world in strength training—so much so that professional bodybuilders have millions of followers on social media, lucrative sponsorships with huge brands and even find their odds to win the next bodybuilding competition on the top sports betting sites.
And with this dramatic climb in popularity comes more so-called “experts.” Everyone has an opinion on the best way to perfect your weightlifting and diet routines. They also now have an inordinate amount of avenues through which they can deliver their messaging thanks to social media.
Many of these so-called experts present their opinions and approaches as fact rather than philosophy or pure conjecture. That’s an issue that can derail your fitness—no matter your experience level, but especially if you’re new to the strength training and dieting game. We are here to help you cut through this unnecessary B.S.
Map Out Your Fitness Goals
Before you do anything, you should first stop and think about your ultimate goals.
Are you trying to lose weight? Gain weight? Get stronger? More toned?
Statistically speaking, the most popular goal among fitness enthusiasts and newbies is to build muscle and burn fat at the same time. Many loudmouths on social media will maintain these goals are mutually exclusive—that you can only do one or the other. They’re wrong.
Various research shows that, in fact, it is scientifically possible to build muscle and burn fat. You just need to make sure you’re approaching this physique goal the right way. And while everyone’s body is different, there is a concrete set of time-tested tips that can help anyone build the basis needed to get stronger and leaner.
To help you in your fitness journey, we scoured the best scientific and fitness journals and cobbled together the X best tips to ensure you’re able to maximize your attempts to build muscle and burn fat.
The Work Starts in the Kitchen
Many people make the mistake of thinking they only need to engage in cardio and strength training to reach their fitness goals. That’s simply not the case.
True, any fitness training at all will do wonders for even people on the least healthy diets. But food is ultimately fuel for your workouts. You shouldn’t be exercising to out-train a bad diet, because ultimately, even if you manage to look good while eating poorly, you risk problems like muscle inflammation, lethargy and much more if you’re not paying attention to what’s going on in your body.
None of which is to say you should adhere to the traditional bodybuilding diet of bland chicken and rice. This isn’t even to say you need a strict diet, fad or otherwise. The not-so-complicated secret to successful dieting is finding a structure that works for you. Maybe that’s low-carb. Maybe it’s intermittent fasting. Maybe it’s going vegan. Maybe it’s simply cutting out that one sugary drink you have per day. Maybe it’s ensuring you drink more water or eat more protein.
Finding what works best for you is a matter of trial and error. Don’t get down if something doesn’t work right away or at all. That’s not failure. That’s information you can use to alter your approach next time.
One recommendation that everyone would do well to follow when dieting is to increase water intake—especially in substitute of calorically dense and sugary beverages—as well as the amount of protein you consume. At a minimum, you should be aiming for eight cups of water per day (64 ounces), and that number should climb on training days.
As for protein, it’s recommended you come in somewhere at 1.0 to 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight. A 200-pound person, for example, should aim for somewhere between 200 and 300 grams of protein per day to aid both muscle growth and fat loss.
High Volume Isn’t Always the Answer
Loads of people don’t understand how important rest is when it comes to training.
We’re not talking about sleep, either. Sure, there is science behind the recommended amount of between seven and nine hours, but we need to recognize that’s not doable for everyone. People have jobs and families and responsibilities in this day and age that knife into their sleeping patterns. It speaks to societal failure more than anything, mostly at the corporate level, but it’s a reality for which we must account.
At the same time, rest isn’t just compromised by a lack of sleep. It can also be warped by overtraining. Even those who have been working out for decades can fail to give themselves the appropriate amount of time off in between training sessions. You don’t need to go for three hours a day, seven days a week. Long workouts aren’t always the most effective.
Similarly, training every day without allowing your muscles to recover from the previous sessions will only limit your progress; you either won’t be able to go as hard in the gym and/or risk injuring yourself.
Coming up with a workout schedule can be intimidating. We get it. But it doesn’t have to be hard. There are plenty of free online programs you can model your own after. As a general rule of thumb, though, you’ll want to sprinkle in two to three rest days (at minimum per week). This can vary by individual and fitness goals. However, the only scenario in which you should be weight training six days per week is if you’re training individual body groups each time.
For instance, maybe you’re doing chest on Monday; hamstrings and glutes on Tuesday; arms on Wednesday; back on Friday; and quads on Saturday. That’s fine. But if you find yourself doing four, five, six or seven full-body workouts per week, it’s time to pull it back and restructure your routine. And don’t focus too much on the length of your workout. Going for two hours at slow to medium intensity will be just as, if not less, effective than going all-out for 45 minutes to an hour.
Cardio is Important, But Not Everything
Most people automatically assume that more cardio is better. We understand why. The idea is to get your heart rate up for as long as possible and burn more calories. Surely that helps you shred as much fat as possible.
That isn’t necessarily untrue. It’s not fully true, either. It’s a partial truth. Regardless, cardio can also be counterproductive when it comes to gaining strength. Your body may start to eat into muscle strength rather than fat storage if you spend too much time in a cardiovascular state.
On top of that, weight training is shown to have a longer effect on the speed at which your metabolism operates. When doing cardio, you will elevate your metabolism during and after, but it will eventually slow back down. Strength training burns calories during and for longer afterwards. The latter is because the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns in its natural resting state.
Equally important: Cardio can wreak havoc on your joints depending on the kind you do. Running at full bore on a treadmill or in the streets, doing hours upon hours of plyometrics or operating at full tilt on a stationary bike can create sweeping muscle stiffness that leaves you at risk of injury outside the gym. To be clear, stretching is important no matter the form of exercise, but it’s easier to overdo it on cardio than that weight training.
Debates continue to rage on when it comes to whether you should do cardio at all if you’re trying to build muscle. The “when” is also a controversy. Should you do it before weight training? After? On rest days?
From our reading, it looks like the most beneficial approach is to aim for 20-40 minutes of low-intensity cardio—such as walking on a treadmill or using a stairmaster or elliptical—once your weight training is complete. This way, you won’t burn out some of your energy stores before lifting weights. And you don’t need to do cardio every day; between two and four times per week is more than enough.