Edited by Steven Milner IIST
It may not be ingrained in our male DNA, but when most of us start lifting weights for the first time, it sure seemed like all of our workouts (no matter what the goal) were genetically predestined to be bench press, biceps curl, and triceps pushdown marathons 4-5 times per week and not much else. I know that my own workouts sure looked like this when I first started weight training. I still visit a typical commercial gym and each time I do, I feel like I have time warped back to the 80s as I see lots of guys doing the same stuff everyone did over 20+ years ago. For whatever reason, not much has changed and it’s not their fault, they just don’t know any better. So what’s a bloke to do? I am going to show you how to do better based on several things that we have learned over the years. First, let’s be honest blokes, you could probably stand to lose some “lb’s” of body fat. A lot of guys, myself most definitely included, tend to find ourselves in a perpetual “bulking” or mass-gaining mode.
Why is this?
Interestingly, for a lot of us blokes, the mirror often lies and you will see a much leaner person staring back at you. If you were to take an honest self-evaluation such as a body composition test or take some simple photos with only your trunks on, you may be very surprised and/or shocked with the results. It can be a real eye-opener when you learn that you are more than likely not nearly as lean as you think you are. In other words, that 14 odd % body fat that you think you are sitting at is probably much closer to 22%. If you have taken this evaluation and you have decided that it is time for you to get leaner, it is also high time that you overhaul your weight training program to make it more suited to the task at hand. I have written training programs for more than a few men who have come from the same place that you and I have come from. These guys are now typically middle aged and looking to shed some fat, stay strong, and still feel a bit athletic while holding on to their inner “bloke.” I am going to share with you what I feel are some of the biggest mistakes that I see most guys make when left to their own devices as it pertains to their weight training programs when seeking fat loss. Fixing these mistakes immediately will fast track your progress and get you to your fat loss goals. I am then going to share a snapshot of a training program that we have used with great success for blokes just like us.
1. Blokes Organize Their Training Like a “Bodybuilder.”
I certainly mean no disrespect to the competitive bodybuilding community by the above statement, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with bodybuilding as a competitive pursuit. There is certainly a lot to learn from bodybuilders. In fact, most blokes get our first exposure to weight training through bodybuilders via muscle magazines and the Internet. The problem is that most guys think that following the routines of competitive bodybuilders is the best way for the average person to train for fat loss without really giving it enough thought. They will typically organize their training sessions in terms of the body parts or muscles trained. This is actually not very logical and not as productive as it could be since in reality your body works as an integrated unit and not as individual parts or muscles. By the way, have you ever wondered how it was decided that certain muscles get their own day while others don’t? It makes no real sense to base how we allocate our exercises to our training days by simply considering muscle groups as the main organizing factor. It makes much more sense to base the allocation in regards to what the body does as it relates to basic human movements. If you think more in terms of training basic movements and the body as a whole (the way it actually works), you will actually train muscles as a by-product and get the results you desire.
“When we just train muscles, we forget movements, when we train movements, we never forget muscles.” Nick Winkleman
The other big problem with this approach is that time is a major limiting factor for most typical blokes. We all have extremely busy lives with jobs and families. Do you really have the time to dedicate to training that a professional bodybuilder (whose job is usually his training) would have? I don’t think so. Real life experience shows that full body weight training routines done three times a week based on a split of basic human movements will work far better for most blokes, most of the time, in terms of fat loss training. This allows you to train with a higher frequency (you will actually hit muscle groups more often than typical body part split routines) and get better results. Instead of classifying exercises by muscle group or body part, try to classify them simply based on what they are – basic movements, then we allocate these movements to training days. Squat, Hinge, Push, Pull, Single Leg Stance, Lunge, Core.
2. Blokes Think More is Better.
More than likely, because of the heavy mainstream bodybuilding influence on general training that we mentioned above, most blokes usually think they must train on that good old 5-6 times per week body part split routine with extremely high volume to get any results. They also often think they must use multiple exercises for each body part with tons of sets. You must realize that you make gains while you are recovering from training, not during the actual training itself. There is also no need for exercises that are redundant. Think about it, what the heck is the leg extension going to do for you that the squat doesn’t? The key is to focus on quality and not so much on quantity. As fitness expert Paul Chek has stated, “exercise is like a drug.” With the correct dose and the correct drug, you will get the desired response and it all works. If you overdose or take the wrong drug, you can do more harm than good and not get the desired response. One of the reasons why a three times per week full body routine works so well is that you get a high frequency of training without over doing it in terms of volume.
3. Blokes Do Too Many Single Joint Exercises.
Is it a crime to do biceps curls or triceps pushdowns? No, but when the volume/number of these types of exercises dominate your program, you will greatly diminish the effectiveness of your workouts, particularly when it comes to fat loss. If you focus your training on heavy, multi-joint (compound) exercises such as squats, deadlifts, various presses, push ups, rows, chins/pull-ups, etc., you will train much greater amounts of muscle overall, and this will lead to more calories burned during and after your workouts. As a general rule, the more muscle involved in an exercise the better. But what if a bloke’s goal is to also get bigger guns? Realize that spending the majority of your time and effort on getting stronger on chin-ups/pull-ups, various rows, and various types of presses will get your arms bigger faster than anything else. If you are unable to only do a single unassisted chin-up, what do you think will do more for your bicep size, those 25-30lb curls or focusing all your time and energy on working on that chin-up and getting to the point where you are doing multiple reps with an extra 25-50lbs hooked up around your waist?
4. Blokes Neglect Lower Body Training.
Squats aren’t simply a leg exercise and deadlifts aren’t simply a back exercise. They are full body exercises that involve just about every muscle in the entire body. If you have a 315lb. bar on your shoulders or upper back and you are getting ready to bang out a set of squats for 8 reps, realize that not just your legs are involved in the exercise. Your shoulders, upper back, core, etc., are all very heavily involved. They need to be big enough and strong enough to support and move that load. A lot of blokes think, “I get enough “leg” work from running and playing football/rugby, so I don’t need to do squats, deadlifts, lunges, step ups, etc.” Sorry, but that’s just not the same thing! Understand that approximately 70% of your muscle mass is in your back, hips and legs. If you omit these exercises, you are severely limiting your results. Dare to be different and dare to get better results. At some gyms you will see “informed” trainers doing deadlifts, squats, lunges, and various single leg exercises, thereby training “legs.” It is part of their culture and one of the reasons that they get the results that they do.
5. Blokes Rest Way Too Long Between Sets.
You know the scene at the local gym – guys taking 5-10 minutes between sets of the same exercise chatting with their mates while discussing any number of topics and paying no attention to time. This is not very effective at all if your goal is fat loss! Research and practical experience has shown us that shorter rest periods lead to maximal metabolic disturbance possibly due to the hormonal influence that is set off by these shorter rest periods. It also allows us to increase overall caloric burn and total work performed in the time allotted for the training session. The key is being able to combine shorter rests without compromising the use of heavier loads in our compound exercises. How do we do this? Quite simply, we pair non-competing exercises with short rests (30-60 seconds) between them. As an example we might use the following pairing in a program:
1A: Push Ups 2-3 sets 12 reps 60 sec. rest
1B: Reverse Lunges 2-3 sets 12 reps each 60 sec. rest This allows us to increase the actual amount of work density done in a specified time period, as opposed to doing each exercise one at a time with longer rests, which leads again to better fat loss results.
6. Blokes Think, “The Bench Press is More Than Just an Exercise, it is a Way of Life!”
I don’t think that there is any doubt that the bench press is the most overused exercise of all time. But, let me state this up front, there is nothing wrong with the bench press! I love the bench press (as most blokes do). The problem is when the bench press becomes your entire workout each time, rather than simply a part of your training program. In other words, most blokes simply bench press way too often and with way too much volume. This creates massive imbalances about the shoulder girdle. You need to strive for some sort of balance in the amount of pushing and pulling movements that you perform. Since most guys have been doing way more pushing for such a long time, it is a wise plan to purposely imbalance your training in the other direction in performing more pulls than pushes. You need to include lots of inverted rows, face pulls, dumbbell rows, and cable rows. Remember the fact that 70% of muscle mass is in the back and legs? This will do your shoulders a lot of good and help out with the fat loss process all at the same time. By the way, in looking at the push pattern from a fat loss standpoint, the good old-fashioned push up is probably a better choice than the bench press actually, as it involves a greater amount of muscle mass and integrates the core to a greater extent at the same time.
Edited for a UK audience from an original article by Craig Rasmussen “Fat Loss for Dudes”