Nerd Fitness: Helping You Lose Weight, Get Stronger, Live Better. https://www.nerdfitness.com Level up your life, every single day. Mon, 01 Apr 2024 19:28:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.1.6 The Ultimate Guide to Losing Fat and Gaining Muscle (At the Exact Same Time) https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/lose-weight-and-build-muscle-or-do-one-then-the-other/ https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/lose-weight-and-build-muscle-or-do-one-then-the-other/#disqus_thread Sun, 24 Mar 2024 05:48:00 +0000 http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/?p=2248 There’s an argument in the fitness world that you can either lose fat OR gain muscle. They just can’t be done simultaneously. To this, I say, “Hogwash!” We have tons of success stories from our online coaching clients who have been able to do both simultaneously: And that’s what we’ll cover in today’s guide! We’ll...

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Is Vader on the right track to lose fat and gain muscle? Let's find out!

There’s an argument in the fitness world that you can either lose fat OR gain muscle.

They just can’t be done simultaneously.

To this, I say, “Hogwash!”

We have tons of success stories from our online coaching clients who have been able to do both simultaneously:

And that’s what we’ll cover in today’s guide!

We’ll do so by discussing:

Plus, I have tons of sweet LEGO photos and silly gifs along the way, which is always a good time.

What’s Body Recomposition?

Gaining muscle and losing fat simultaneously is called “body recomposition.”

And yes! The process is indeed possible, as long as you follow the right plan.

…but you don’t have to take my word for it.

Just ask our friend Aksel here (who achieved an impressive body recomposition with the help of his Nerd Fitness Coach):

A side-by-side of Aksel's before and after

Read more about his incredible story!

However, as I mentioned in the intro, you’ll often hear that losing fat while gaining muscle is impossible. The argument goes that you should just focus on one or the other, because doing both at once is destined to fail.

Let’s explore this claim.

Losing Fat and Gaining Muscle at the Same Time (The Controversy)

This picture shows two LEGO miners, who don't have much to do with fast weight loss, but look cool.

To understand why losing fat while gaining muscle can be problematic, we need to explore both processes.

Let’s consider the following points:

  • To lose fat, your body needs to be in a caloric deficit. This deficit forces your body to use pre-existing fat stores for fuel.

  • To gain muscle, your body needs to be in a caloric surplus. This surplus provides the energy your body requires to repair and build bigger muscles.

Given this, losing fat (caloric deficit) at the same time one is gaining muscle (caloric surplus) seems impossible.

However, if we go a few steps deeper into the science, it IS possible!

A foe from the Prince Bride not believing you can lose fat while gaining muscle.

To appreciate the nuance here, let’s get into some specifics on losing fat and gaining muscle separately, and then we’ll combine them.

HOW DO YOU LOSE FAT?

a picture of Homer Simpson with Donut

There is a simple answer and a slightly less simple answer when it comes to losing body fat.

The simple answer: “consume fewer calories than you expend or burn.”[1]

Eight words, and one or two of those could probably be thrown out.

When your body needs more calories than the amount you are eating, you are in a “caloric deficit.” Your body doesn’t have the calories it needs as fuel, so it’ll start breaking down parts of itself for its energy requirements.

(If you’re curious, you can calculate your daily caloric needs here).

The hope is that your body will mostly pull from fat stores, though depending on how you are training it will also break down muscle too.[2]

Said again: when you are eating a caloric deficit, your body will pull from both its fat stores AND existing muscle for energy.

Yes, if you're not careful you can lose fat AND muscle while losing weight.

Troubling indeed.

From a physique and health standpoint, obviously we’d prefer that your body doesn’t break down muscle when in a caloric deficit, and instead really focuses on using fat stores instead.[3]

I make this point for a reason: your goal in fitness shouldn’t only be “weight loss,” despite the common vernacular used.

Who cares what the scale says, right?

A scale can be misleading when you're trying to lose fat and gain muscle.

The goal instead is to reduce body fat while also keeping the muscle you have (or even building more muscle).

That leads to a better physique and a healthier body.

This is why there is a big market for devices that supposedly assess your body fat percentage.[16]

By reducing the total fat on your body, OR increasing muscle mass, you’ll end up with a lower body fat percentage (it’s just a simple ratio of fat to everything else).

And lower body fat percentages are where “toned arms” and “6-pack abs” hang out.

Arnold lost body fat and gained muscle to achieve his physique. And maybe some super glue.

We’ll discuss tips on keeping and growing your muscle while in a calorie deficit later in this guide. For now, remember you need fewer calories “in” compared to calories “out” for weight loss to occur, from either fat stores or muscle.

You may be asking, “Steve, what’s easier to do? Burn more calories or consume less?”

Good question.

Numbers will help tell the story: though this is a gross oversimplification – let’s use the ‘widely accepted’ starting point of “3,500 calories equals roughly one pound of fat.”[4]

If you want to lose one pound – or half a kilogram – of body fat in a week (a worthy, sustainable goal for some), you need to create a caloric deficit of 500 calories per day.

Your options to create this caloric deficit include:

  • Consuming 500 fewer calories
  • Burning 500 more calories
  • A combination of the two

Which is easier?

Here are both halves of that equation. 500 calories equals:

  • The number of calories found in a Big Gulp of Mountain Dew.
  • An estimate of the calories required to run five miles.

Yes, you will have to run for a long time to burn 500 calories.

Yep.

When it comes to maintaining a caloric deficit, your first line of defense is diet.

It’s significantly more effective and time-efficient to consume 500 fewer calories than it is to burn 500 additional calories.

As Time magazine controversially pointed out – with tons of cited studies – “exercise alone won’t make you thin.” It’s too easy to add more calories in, and requires too much work to effectively influence “calories out.”

On top of that, exercise naturally increases appetite, which can lead to an increase in calorie consumption. [17]

We dig into all of this in our guide to The CICO Diet.

This brings us to our slightly less simple answer on getting in shape:

To lose body fat, you need to watch what you eat, and do so in a sustainable way.

Here at Nerd Fitness, we are firm believers that 80-90% of the fat-loss equation comes down to diet.

Here’s another idea we focus on: EAT MOSTLY UNPROCESSED FOOD.[5]

These image shows some real food, critical if you're trying to lose body fat.

Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts are all great examples.

These foods are very nutrient-dense and often low in calories compared to their processed counterparts. Which means you get filled up without overeating.

Win-win-win.

Have you ever seen the difference between 200 calories of broccoli and 200 calories of a bagel? WiseGEEK does a great job of displaying this, so we’ll borrow a couple of their photos.

200 calories of broccoli:

A pic of 200 calories of broccoli

200 calories of a bagel:

This picture shows you 200 calories worth of a bagel, which is about 2/3 of one.

That’s why whole food sources are a great tool in creating a sustainable caloric deficit.

Most people can eat an entire bagel, no problem. Plates of broccoli, with all of the fiber, are much tougher to overeat.

We lay it all out in our Beginner’s Guide to Healthy Eating. It’ll provide tips on how to gradually build healthy eating habits, including proper portion sizes, tips on batch cooking, and a cameo from Winnie the Pooh.

Pooh knows that to lose fat and gain muscle, he really needs to cool it with all the honey.

With all of this, we advise you to take it slow and focus on consistency first, so your new habits become permanent.

Something you can do for the rest of your life.

It’s a strategy we work closely with our coaching clients on: small nutritional adjustments they feel comfortable making. It’s how some of them have been able to lose 50-100 pounds!

Let me explain again: what you eat will be 80%-90% of the equation for losing body fat.

The other 10-20%? Exercise.

Of course it’s exercise.

That’s a pretty good segue into…

HOW DO YOU GAIN MUSCLE?

Toy Hulk and the wilds trunks of huge plants

If you want to build muscle, you’ll have to lift heavy things and ensure that your body has enough calories and protein to adapt by building more muscle.

In our Beginner’s Guide to Building Muscle and Strength, I summarize it as follows:

  • Lift heavy things
  • Eat a diet based on your goals
  • Rest so your body can recover

Let’s chat about each one quickly.

#1) Lift heavy things

I will always be on Team Strength Training. If you’re looking to build muscle, you’re gonna need to lift heavy things.

This Muppet knows strength training will help him gain muscle and lose fat.

When you lift an object (or your own bodyweight) enough times, your muscles reach the point of failure. This causes your muscles to tear and breakdown.

When your muscle rebuilds itself following the workout, it’ll be bigger and stronger than before. Then you do it again.

And again.

And again.

As long as you are eating enough to rebuild your muscle, you’ll get stronger!

#2) Eat a diet based on your goals

Because your muscle needs to be rebuilt after exercise, the calories are gonna need to come from somewhere. I’ll talk a lot about proper diet in the next section (with a Harry Potter analogy), so I won’t spend too much time on it here.

Just know that eating the right quantity of foods will be a big part of gaining muscle.

#3) Rest

Your body rebuilds itself while you sleep, so make sure you get plenty of rest each night. I’m talking 7-8+ hours. This will help ensure your body has the time it needs to grow stronger.

If you’re strength training and only getting 6 hours of sleep a night or less, you’re really doing yourself a disservice. Go to bed!

Donald knows he has to get plenty of rest to grow muscle. If only that sink would stop dripping.

That’s the short gist of how to build strength: challenge your muscles, eat well, and get some rest.

Let’s narrow in on our second point, “Eat a diet based on your goals.” It’ll become very important when balancing both losing body fat and gaining muscle.

To do that properly, grab your owl, and let’s chat about Hogwarts.

How to Lose Fat WHILE Gaining Muscle (The Science)

Close-up shot of microscope with metal lens at laboratory.

To answer the question of losing body fat and gaining muscle at the same time, I’d like to introduce an analogy from the world of Harry Potter.

Recall the “Sorting Hat:” The Sorting Hat’s job was to determine which of the four houses new students will call their home.

The sorting hat will help us tell the story on calories and losing fat.

It’s almost like a traffic director: “Harry, you will go to Gryffindor! Draco, you will go to Slytherin!”

Your body operates on a VERY similar operation: every day it receives new calories (when you eat) and then decides what to do with them!

For example:

You eat a chicken parm sub with fries and a 20-ounce soda. Your body then has to know where to route all those calories.

To keep things simple, it has three choices. It’ll sort those calories into one of three houses:[6]

A. Burn for Fuel

B. Rebuild Muscle

C. Store as Fat

Right now, when you eat food, your body sorts most of those calories into “Burn for Fuel.”

There’s a number of calories your body needs each day to stay alive: to keep your liver functioning, your heart pumping, your brain operating, to regulate your body temperature, and so on – it burns a good chunk of calories just keeping the lights on.

A beating heart requires calories, which factors into your calorie needs.

This is your “Basal Metabolic Rate” which you can calculate for yourself in our TDEE calculator.

There’s also “B. Rebuild as Muscle” and “C. Store as Fat,” which I devoted entire sections to above.

This is where the problems arise: When you overeat calories and your body doesn’t need any more to fuel itself, it takes those extra calories and stores them as fat.

However, our goal is the OPPOSITE of this.

We want to keep the muscle we have (or grow it) while getting rid of the fat!

So let’s imagine a scenario where we pull all this together by strength training heavy AND reducing our caloric intake:

  1. You strength train regularly, and your muscles break down and need to be rebuilt.
  2. You don’t consume enough calories to both rebuild muscle and fuel itself. There’s not enough to go into the “Burn for Fuel” and “Rebuild Muscle” houses.

Does your body just shut down?

NOPE!

Yep, if you have fat on you your body will pull from it to take care of its needs.
Your body has been preparing for this, by storing any excess calories over the years in the “Store as Fat” house.

This means your body can pull from “Store as Fat” to make sure all the work still gets done, including your daily functions as a human and rebuilding the muscle you tore apart.

Said another way:

If you have fat stores (and we all do), you do not need to be in a “caloric surplus” to rebuild muscle. The calories stored in your fat cells act as this required energy.

There is also evidence that muscle can even be grown while in a caloric deficit.[7]

Meaning bigger muscles with a lower belt size.[8]

This dog just found out it's possible to both lose fat AND gain muscle.

However, if you want to skip all the experimentation and trial and error, you can have a Nerd Fitness Coach do all the heavy lifting for you (not really, you’ll still need to work out).

TIPS TO LOSE BODY FAT WHILE GAINING MUSCLE (Putting It All Together)

Superhero Couple. Male and female superheroes. Cloudy sky.

Let’s bring this all together and create some actionable steps to losing body fat and building muscle at the same time.

#1) Sustain a caloric deficit

You need your body to burn more calories than you consume.

You can only lose fat if you’re in a calorie deficit.

Remember the Sorting Hat analogy:

If you’re eating too much, your excess calories are being sent to the “Store as Fat” house.

We want to pull from this house instead. So eat less than you burn consistently. [18]

To help here, I have 3 resources for you:

You don’t have to follow some predetermined blueprint like “low-carb.” You can create your own diet (which is what I do). Learn all about it right here.

#2) Strength train

If you could sell a pill that could be prescribed to every single person on Earth to make them healthier, it would look something like a strength training routine in a bottle.

A one arm push-up can help you lose fat and build muscle, but maybe start with regular push-ups first.

It is one of the best things you can do for your body.[9]

And really, if you want to build muscle, you’re gonna need to lift something! Either weights or your own bodyweight.

You need to challenge your muscles in order for them to get stronger. Now, as we discuss in our article on the correct number of reps and sets, there are multiple ways to do so.

To build muscle:

Lift lighter weights for lots of reps.

Lift really heavy with fewer reps.

In either case, it needs to be challenging enough that you are getting close to ‘failure’ (i.e. inability to perform the exercise with proper technique anymore.)

The good news? Either method can be effective for building muscle.[19]

The important thing: pick a strategy and get started.

Vada is ready to strength train! And torment her Dad's GF.

Here are 3 paths forward:

  1. Start with a Beginner Bodyweight Workout.
  2. Follow one of our 5 Beginner Strength Training Routines.
  3. Go through our 6-Level Gym Workout Progression.

To recap: if you train heavy and eat a caloric deficit, your body will pull from its fat stores to both fuel itself and potentially also build muscle. This is a double whammy of AWESOME.

#3) Prioritize protein

Outside of being in a caloric deficit and lifting weights (or yourself), eating enough protein is one of the key components of both losing body fat and building muscle.

Protein is the number one nutrient for creating new tissue.[10]

Sponge Bob knows how to build muscle and strength.

So when you cut out calories to create a caloric deficit, don’t cut them from protein sources.

Studies have shown that participants can gain muscle, even while in a caloric deficit, as long as they eat enough protein.[11]

It’s important enough that I’ll say it again:

If you don’t want your body cannibalizing its muscles while you are in a caloric deficit, you need to eat plenty of protein.[12]

How much protein?

As we point out in our Guide to Protein, roughly 0.7-1 grams of protein for every pound of your weight, with an upper limit of 250 grams.[13] Or two grams for every kilogram if you are on the metric system. This means:

  • If you weigh 300 pounds (136 kg), eat 210-250g of protein.
  • If you weigh 250 pounds (113 kg), eat 175-250g of protein.
  • If you weigh 200 pounds (91 kg), eat 140-200g of protein.
  • If you weigh 180 pounds (82 kg), eat 126-180g of protein.

The gist: don’t skip out on protein. It should be on your plate for every meal (we’ll show you exactly how much in the next section).

If these generalized recommendations stress you out, and you want to know exactly what to do, we can help!

I’ll remind you of Nerd Fitness Coaching, where we help clients lose body fat, gain muscle, and level up their lives. We provide tailored and specific recommendations based on your body and lifestyle, plus accountability and mindset changes to help ensure your new habits stick.

Nerd Fitness Coaching Banner

WHAT SHOULD I EAT TO LOSE FAT AND GAIN MUSCLE?

Toy Dinosaur holding a fork next to a slice of birthday cake on a blue background.

Remember, your eating strategy needs to include two points to lose fat while gaining muscle:

  1. Sustain a caloric deficit.
  2. Prioritize protein so you can build muscle even while in a deficit.

You may be thinking, “That’s all well and good Steve, but what’s that actually look like?

It looks like this!

A plate that that contains a portion of protein, healthy carb, veggies/fruit, and unsweetened drink.

Taken from The Nerd’s Guide to Healthy Eating, which I really want you to read.

The plate is composed of the following:

  • 1-2 servings of protein (¼ of plate)
  • 2 servings of vegetables (½ of plate)
  • 1 serving potatoes, rice, or pasta. (1/4th of plate)
  • 1 serving of fat (size of your thumb)
  • 1 zero-calorie or low-calorie beverage (water, diet soda, tea)

By sticking to our Healthy Plate strategy above, you’ll focus on nutrient-dense and filling foods, which will help you maintain a caloric deficit over time.

Let’s hone in on protein for a moment, because it’s the critical piece for “building muscle.”

Protein can come from any number of sources, including:

  • Meat (steak, bison, pork).
  • Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck).
  • Eggs![14]
  • Fish and shellfish (salmon, tuna, shrimp).
  • Legumes (black beans, chickpeas).

Not a meat-eater? Read our massive plant-based guide!

A serving of protein is about the size and thickness of your palm.

A serving of protein should be about the size of your palm, like so.

*The 4 oz serving is for an uncooked piece of meat. Cooking reduces about 25% of the weight, bringing it down to about 3 oz.

If you’re curious, here’s how much protein is in a serving of food:

  • 4 oz (113 g) serving of chicken has around 30 g of protein.
  • 4 oz (113 g) serving of salmon has 23 g of protein
  • 4 oz (113 g) of steak has 28 g of protein.

While all of the Healthy Plate above is important, I want you to pay extra attention to your protein intake since we are trying to build muscle.

If you’re having trouble making your protein intake goals, check out our Guide on Protein Supplements for some tips and tricks to up your intake, including some awesome smoothie recipes.

This is the exact strategy I followed to lose 22 pounds and get to single-digit body fat percentages WHILE building muscle:

  • Lift super heavy.
  • Eat LOTS of protein.
  • Reduce carb and fat intake.

If you are NOT losing weight, it means you are still eating too many calories. Keep your protein intake high, and reduce your fat and carbohydrate intake.

I cover this in greater detail in our “Why Can’t I Lose Weight?” guide.

Eventually, you’ll reach a status where there just isn’t enough fat on you to help with “Rebuild Muscle.” At this stage, you can no longer stay with a caloric deficit. You’ll need to flip to a slight “caloric surplus” to build more muscle.

Which means you’ll have to eat more.

Like this turtle, you may reach a point where you have to eat more to gain muscle.

Which brings us to our next point – how do we know if our body recomposition strategy is working? And is this the best strategy for me?

HOW TO TELL IF IT’S ALL WORKING (Continuing to Lose Fat While Gaining Muscle)

Now you're ready to start losing fat and gaining muscle!

If you’re trying to improve something, it’s important to track it. This also holds true of body composition.

Most people do this by jumping on the scale. This can be “okay,” but it’s only going to tell part of the story.

If you’re building muscle while losing fat, the scale might not go down. [15]

Despite weighing the same, you could potentially have an improved physique.

Don't just look at the scale. You might have lost bodyfat and gained muscle, but the scale won't show it!

That’s why in addition to jumping on the scale, I would also encourage you to take progress photos.

Take front and side photos in your mirror, wearing underwear or a bathing suit. Each week, take new photos, and record the number on the scale under the same scenario. Two forms of tracking here allow us to get the full picture.

The scale sometimes lies!

If you eat for a caloric deficit, strength train, and prioritize protein, see what happens.

You may find yourself losing some fat and gaining muscle.

If not, track each category:

Data can help tell the story.

Data and numbers will help you know if you're losing fat and gaining muscle. Numbers, not the robot.

…I was thinking of detailed notes.

But an android would be helpful too.

Oftentimes if you’re not seeing desired results, notes and record-keeping can help point us in the direction to make adjustments.

Test your assumptions if things don’t appear to be on track. Here’s our Guide on Tracking Fitness Progress for you to learn more.

IS BODY RECOMPOSITION THE RIGHT STRATEGY FOR ME?

It all boils down to this. As we’ve seen with the data and with real-world examples from our clients, body recomposition is indeed possible. But is it the right strategy for you? Here are some recommendations to keep in mind.

Body recomposition is a great strategy for you if:

  • You are starting your fitness journey. It allows you to focus on a sustainable calorie deficit, lifting weights, and feeling good. You’re likely to see steady progress for 12-18 months without much need for deviation!
  • You feel burned out on dieting. By adding in more calories and going for a moderate body recomposition strategy, you can reduce diet fatigue while still making steady progress.
  • You want to maintain the maximum amount of muscle while you lose fat. Enough said.
  • You enjoy it!
  • You prefer an approach you can sustain for longer periods. Versus more intense fat-loss phases that you may need to cycle off of every 8-12 weeks.

Body recomposition may not be the right choice for you if:

  • You want to lose the maximum realistic amount of body fat per week. From experience, we’ve seen that a lot of people who THINK they want body recomposition actually just want to lose a lot of body fat. Which is totally cool! We recommend starting with a fat loss program and likely a slightly higher caloric deficit. You can always come back to body recomposition later on.
  • You need quick wins to stay motivated. Body recomposition, by definition, is a slower strategy than focusing on fat loss or muscle building exclusively, as you’re essentially dividing your attention between two goals. If you want faster results in one direction, we recommend narrowing your focus.
  • You are really close to your goal body fat %. The closer you get to your goal, the harder it will be to build muscle and lose weight at the same time.

Can I Body Recomp forever?

No, you cannot lose body fat while gaining muscle forever.

When you’re first starting, focusing on body composition is a great strategy and can give you a lot of progress.

But with consistent workout and nutrition habits over many months and years, you may notice that your changes and progress slowing down or plateauing.

At this point for many, going into a more distinct muscle/weight gain phase for several weeks, followed by a fat/weight loss phase for several weeks will produce results faster than doing both at the same time.

Does that mean it’s the best course of action for everyone?

Not necessarily!

  • For some, they enjoy the relative simplicity of body recomposition tactics and it’s less to mentally think about. They still feel great, look much different than when they started, and are completely content with how everything is going.
  • For others, switching from weight gain/weight loss phases might be stressful and triggering, especially if they have a checkered history with their nutrition. So while distinct phases of gains and losses may work best in theory, they might not be ideal for everyone.

Choose what’s best for you!

And if you’re looking for a pro to help you navigate through all these questions and situations, check out Nerd Fitness Online Coaching! The team spends all day talking about these sorts of things. That and Super Smash Bros.

Alright, I think that about does it for this guide.

Did I miss anything? Do you have any tips and tricks when it comes to shedding body fat and building muscle?

Share it with us!

-Steve,

PS: Make sure you read the rest of the articles in our “How to Lose Weight 101” Series!

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All photo sources are right here: Venting Off, Ekaterina Minaeva © 123RF.com, czgur © 123RF.com, morethanl8ve © 123RF.com, Константин Колосов © 123RF.com, Maxim Maksutov © 123RF.com, Julianna Funk © 123RF.com, jump

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How To Build Your Own Workout Routine: Plans, Schedules, and Exercises https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/how-to-build-your-own-workout-routine/ https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/how-to-build-your-own-workout-routine/#disqus_thread Sun, 17 Mar 2024 05:58:00 +0000 http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/?p=4501 I get multiple emails and messages per day asking: “Steve, what should I do for a workout?” Well, partner, today is your lucky day. I’m gonna help build you a custom workout program, step-by-step!  After all, a workout should be developed around a person’s training age, goals, injury history, free time, and available equipment, not...

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I get multiple emails and messages per day asking:

“Steve, what should I do for a workout?”

Well, partner, today is your lucky day.

I’m gonna help build you a custom workout program, step-by-step! 

After all, a workout should be developed around a person’s training age, goals, injury history, free time, and available equipment, not to mention things you ENJOY doing!

Considering all those factors, it’s easy to overcomplicate this process. There are a seemingly infinite number of exercises, sets, reps, and programs to choose from. Don’t worry – together, we’ll cut through the noise and get to the good stuff.

Now, if you’re somebody that wants to skip all of that, and JUST be told what exactly to do: 

We build customized workouts for our Online Coaching Clients and would love to have you. We get to know your story: your goals, challenges, and lifestyle. Then we develop a workout plan specific to your schedule and needs.

Your coach can build a workout for you!

Now, if you’re more of a “figure this stuff out on my own” kind of person – we’re going to dig into how to build your own workout plan today!

We’ve also created a free resource you can take with you, Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know, which covers all of this stuff in a single guide. You can download it here:

OKAY! Are you ready to start building your own routine?

Great! Let’s do this:

Step #1: Determine Your Starting Point

As Coach Staci lays out in the video above, we need to answer a few key questions when designing a workout:

QUESTION 1: What are your goals?

Whatever your goals are, it’s good to write them down and be aware of what you’re trying to accomplish.

These goals will shape HOW you build your workout.

An effective way to create goals is by using the SMART method, which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.[1]

  • SpecificSpecifically state what is to be accomplished. For example, “I want to gain 5 pounds of muscle.” (In this article we’ll cover how to build a workout to help you lose weight, build muscle, and get stronger. If you have specific goals like getting your first pull-up, getting your first push-up, or running your first 5k, we have articles covering each of these in detail.)
  • MeasurableFind a way to measure your progress.  For example, you will need body composition equipment to assess your fat and muscle mass.
  • AttainableYour goals should be realistically attainable. For example, a realistic rate of muscle gain is up to 0.5 pounds per week. To gain 5 pounds of muscle, 10 weeks would be an attainable starting point.
  • RelevantYour goals must relate to your interests, needs, likes/dislikes, and abilities.  Another thing to remember is that your goals need to be generated by you and you alone! For example, if you don’t care about gaining 5 pounds of muscle, or aren’t quite sure how this will benefit your life, then this isn’t a great goal for you!
  • TimelyYour goals must have a timeline for completion.  If your goal is to gain 5 pounds of muscle then a reasonable end-point should be at minimum 10 weeks.

If you are struggling with your goals, revisit the SMART framework and see if you can tweak your goals to work better for you.

QUESTION 2: How much time can you devote to exercise?

If you can do an hour a day, that’s fantastic.

But maybe you have a wife or husband, three kids, a dog, two jobs, and no robot butler…

If you're swamped like Sponge Bob here, a 30 minute workout here and there is a great way to start.

…then maybe you only have thirty minutes, twice a week.

That’s fine too!

In the past 15 years of working with folks from all walks of life, we’ve realized there’s a warped sense of HOW much working out is needed to achieve your goals. For many of our 1-on-1 coaching clients, working out 2 to 4 times per week for 30 to 45 minutes is PLENTY to see some serious progress. (And as Staci mentioned in the video above, even 1 workout per week can work, especially for beginners!)

Another key thing to remember: your workout doesn’t have to happen all at once! According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), if you accumulate three 10-minute bouts of exercise throughout the day to total 30 minutes of exercise, then that is as effective as someone who does one 30-minute bout of exercise.[2]

Now, no matter how much time you have, developing the most efficient workout is crucial.

Why spend two hours in a gym when you can get just as much accomplished in 30 minutes, right?

Here’s the good news: weight training is the fat-burning prize fight victor, and efficiency rules all.

As Staci shows here, keep your arms vertical (as much as you can).

So whether you are building muscle or looking to lose weight, a strength training workout will get you the results you’re after (when combined with the right eating strategy!)

While we’re talking about time, let me quickly mention something important:

Proper expectations!

As we cover “How Fast Can I Get the Body I Want,” make sure you are thinking about your journey with a realistic timeline:

As we mention in that guide, here are some realistic timeframes for weight loss or muscle gain:[3]

  • For weight loss, a realistic rate is 0.5-1% of body weight per week. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds with a weight loss goal of 0.5% per week, your goal would be a 500-calorie-per-day deficit.
  • For muscle gain, a realistic rate is 0.25-0.5% of body weight per week. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds with a muscle gain goal of 0.25% per week, your goal would be a 250-calorie-per-day surplus.

QUESTION 3: WHERE do you want to work out?

Where you work out will largely determine if you are going to train with your body’s weight, or if you can start doing gym strength training.

If you’re paying attention here, you may notice I’m setting you up to work out no matter what your current situation is.

Why?

Because according to ACSM, the #1 reason people don’t exercise is:[4]

They don’t have time for it.

The White Rabbit being late

All of us, all the time. 

BUT, with the information I’m hitting you with, technically you should have no excuse for not exercising unless (you’re injured or sick).

After all, your workout:

  • Can be accumulated with just 10-minute bouts of exercise throughout the day.
  • Doesn’t need to be done with a gym membership.
  • Can be done with exercises in the comfort of your own home or while outside (weather permitting).

Cool?

Cool.

RECAP OF QUESTIONS – At this point, we have:

  • Determined your “get in shape” goals.
  • Decided how much time you have to train.
  • Picked WHERE you want to work out.

We can now start to build your workout routine, your daily workout plan, and your monthly workout schedule!

Let’s do it.

Step #2: What Exercises Should I Do To Lose Weight (Or Build Muscle?)

A coach checking your form like so can help when designing and building a workout.

I like to follow the motto of “Keep it simple, stupid.”

(Note: I am not calling you stupid. You’re reading Nerd Fitness, which means you’re intelligent, good-looking, really funny, and most of all, modest.)

The best workout is the one that you actually stick with, and people make things FAR too complicated and try to target a bazillion different individual muscles with six types of exercises for each body part.

It’s exhausting, unnecessary, inefficient, and intimidating.

So keep it simple!

We will pick 4 exercises and get really strong with those movements.

This Muppet knows strength training will help him gain muscle and lose weight.

This is the ENTIRE philosophy behind our Strength 101 series.

Unless you’ve been strength training for years and know what you’re doing, we recommend a full-body routine that you can do 2-3 times a week.

You want a workout routine that has at least one exercise for your:

  • Quads (front of your legs).
  • Butt and hamstrings (back of your legs).
  • Chest, shoulders, and triceps: (“push” muscles).
  • Back, biceps, and grip ( “pull” muscles).

I have a trick for you: by targeting compound movements that recruit multiple muscles at the same time, you can build a full-body routine that uses only a handful of exercises.

How’s THAT for efficiency!?!

A compound exercise would be the yin to the yang of the isolation exercise.

Think of a push-up (compound):

Here Rebel Leader Steve shows you the classic push-up.

Compared to bicep curls through a machine (isolation):

A man doing biceps curls on a machine

Compound exercises have been found to result in improvements in aerobic endurance, muscular fitness, and flexibility, since you’re recruiting all sorts of muscle groups at once.[5]

Isolation exercises, on the other hand, focus on single-joint movements targeting one specific muscle group, like the biceps curl above.

Both compound and isolation exercises have a time and place in your training program.

As you get more advanced, isolation exercises are great for targeting specific muscles to promote further strength or development. They can also help beginners who struggle to “feel” their muscles working in specific movements learn more body awareness and control.

However, for people looking to lose weight, add some muscle, and get stronger – we recommend you start with predominantly compound exercises because of the huge return on investment for your time invested. These movements are the staple of the most effective training programs out there!

Want to learn more? Check out The 12 Best Compound Exercises For Beginners (How To Train Efficiently).

Here is a quick breakdown of which compound exercises will work for each of those muscle groups:

Not sure how to do any of these movements? Want more examples?

Then check out:

The 42 Best Bodyweight Exercises You Can Do Anywhere!

Pick one exercise from each category above for your workout, and you’ll work almost every single muscle in your body. 

Get stronger with each movement each week, and you have yourself a recipe for a great physique.

Here is an example of a great, effective simple gym workout:

You don’t need to make things more complicated than this!

(Not that we humans have a tendency to overcomplicate things to the point of paralysis and inaction…)

Don't make building your own workout overly complicated like this man is doing.

Ahem.

If you’re not sure how to do any of the movements above, click on their links for thorough write-ups and video demonstrations.

Pick one exercise from EACH category above, specifically ones that scare you the least, and that will be your workout every other day for the next week.

The great news: the above workout routine will work whether you’re looking to bulk up and build muscle OR if you’re trying to lose weight.

You simply adjust your calories consumedwhich is 80% of the equation – and that’s how you’ll start to change your physique.[5]

Oh, and you’ll also want to focus on getting in enough protein, like in our Nerd Fitness Balanced Plate:

A plate that that contains a portion of protein, healthy carb, veggies/fruit, and unsweetened drink.

But you can check out our Guide to Healthy Eating for more info on that.

STEVE’S BIG PIECE OF ADVICE: GET STRONG.

Get really good at these basic movements and focus on getting stronger each week (I’ll cover how below).

If you get really strong at squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, and push-ups, you will build an incredible physique to be proud of.

Plus, building strength with these exercises will also help in other areas such as improving your performance in sports, decreasing your risk of chronic diseases (e.g., CVD) and premature mortality (an early death).[6]

*mic drop*

**picks up mic**

Then, once you get confident in those movements, feel free to add some variety.

Why?

If you do the same exact routine, three days a week, for months and months, you might get bored, and start slacking…

Someone on their phone at gym

Or you might hit a workout plateau.[7] 

So if you find yourself hitting a wall, feel free to stick with the above ‘formula,’ but change the ingredients:

If you hit a plateau or find yourself getting bored, pick a different exercise or adjust your sets and reps so you’ll stay challenged, and you’ll actually DO the workout!

Then, focus on getting stronger![8] (You are writing down your workouts, right?).

Doing a plank on your side is a great way to progressive this bodyweight movement.
“But Steve, what about core exercises like sit-ups or planks? I don’t see those listed here.”

I’m so glad you asked! While it’s cool to add more specific core work to your program if you want to, squats, pull-ups, dips and deadlifts all do a great job of challenging your core to stay stable all on their own. If you do add in ab work, we recommend doing so at the end of your program so that you aren’t tiring out those muscles before doing your other big, compound lifts. Also, abs are revealed in the kitchen.

I know it’s really easy to overcomplicate this process as there’s an infinite number of exercises, sets, reps, and programs to choose from.

And yes, we have a solution for people that JUST want to be told what exactly to do: our uber-popular 1-on-1 coaching program pairs you with your own Nerd Fitness Coach who will get to know you, your goals, and your lifestyle, and develop a workout plan that’s specific to not only your body, but also to your schedule and life:

Step #3: How Many Sets And Reps Should I Do?

How did Batman get so ripped? How do you build a workout to get those abs?

SIMPLE ANSWER: Not including a warm-up set or two, I recommend:

  • 2 to 5 sets per exercise.
  • 5 to 15 reps per set when starting out.[9]

LONGER ANSWER – watch this video:

As we cover in our “How Many Sets and Reps?” guide, a “set” is a series of repetitions that you complete without stopping.

For example, if you drop down and do 10 push-ups right now, you just did 1 SET of 10 REPETITIONS (or REPS) of push-ups.

Got it? Cool.

Some general rules on repetitions you can follow as you’re starting to build your workout plan:

  1. If you’re looking to burn fat while building muscle, keep your number of repetitions per set in the 8-15 range per set.
  2. If you can do more than 15 reps without much of a challenge, consider increasing the weight or the difficulty of the movement. This is true for things like lunges, bodyweight squats, push-ups, pull-ups, etc.
  3. If you want to focus more on building strength, keep your repetitions in the 5-10 range per set. As you get comfortable with the movements, you can move into lower rep ranges – but we find for beginners that starting with slightly higher reps gives you more time to practice doing the movement correctly.

There are some other generally accepted ‘rules’ about how to determine how many reps you should target per set, based on your goals:

  • Reps in the 1-5 range build super dense muscle and strength (called myofibrillar hypertrophy).
  • Reps in the 6-12 range build a somewhat equal amount of muscular strength and muscular size (this is called sarcoplasmic hypertrophy). [35]
  • Reps in the 12+ range build muscular endurance.

However, don’t think of these as hard and fast rules. For example, a 2015 study [10] called into question the best rep strategy for building muscle or size:

It appears that high-intensity resistance (sets of 3-5 reps) training stimulates greater improvements in some measures of strength and hypertrophy in resistance-trained men during a short-term training period [compared to sets of 8-10 reps].

Other recent studies have found that people built a similar amount of muscle with anywhere from 5 to 30 repetitions, as long as they worked close to failure.[38]

What this means: Do not freak yourself out by worrying if you should do 3 sets or 4 sets of 8 reps or 10 reps. 

Our advice would be to START with lighter weights and more reps as you learn the movement, and then decide if you want to stay at higher reps and lower weight or vice versa.

You do you, because either way will get you results!

The only thing you need to worry about: get stronger the next time you do that movement.

Either pick up a heavier weight, or do 1 more repetition than last time.

Even Marshall knows to go for One More each time you try your workout

“JUST GIVE ME THE ANSWER!”

Keep your TOTAL (all exercises combined) workout number of sets for all exercises in the 10-20 set range, with 5-15 reps per set:

4 exercises total, each with 2 to 5 “work sets” is a good start. [36]

Remember, the most important part is to get started – you’ll learn how your body responds and you can adapt as you go.

What you DON’T need to do: multiple exercises for each body part with 10 sets.

This will result in significant fatigue during your workout increasing your risk of sustaining an injury. It can also result in overtraining, in which you will experience a decrease in performance and plateauing (will not see muscular improvements).[11]

So calm down you eager beaver.

This beaver is ready to start his at home training.

A BIG CAVEAT: How you eat will determine if you get bigger or strongerNutrition is 80-90% of the equation. So pick a range that feels good, and then focus on nutrition.

And if you don’t want to figure any of this out and just want to be told exactly how what exercises, sets, and reps to do, our online coaches can take care of that for you.

Step #4: How Long Should I Wait Between Sets?

A stopwatch like this can help when timing and building your workout.

Keep it simple, you “smart, good-looking, funny, modest person” you.

Below is a basic formula for you to determine how long you should wait between sets, but this can be adjusted based on your level of health.

The goal is to wait the least amount of time you need, but still rest enough that you can perform all reps of the next set safely and properly!

Here’s why that’s important:[12]

Adequate rest in-between sets will allow your body to regenerate energy, so you can execute the next set of reps with good form and technique, therefore, decreasing your risk of injury.

I’ll provide some guidelines for how long to rest based on how heavy you’re lifting (not rules set in stone!):

  • 1-3 Reps (lifting heavy for strength/power): Rest for 3 to 5 minutes between sets.
  • 4-7 Reps (lifting for strength): Rest for 2 to 3 minutes between sets.
  • 8-12 Reps (lifting for size/strength): Rest for 1 to 2 minutes between sets.
  • 13 Reps+ (lifting for endurance): Rest long enough to recover to allow you to do the next long-ass set!

If you need more or less rest than the above recommendations, that’s fine. The key is being recovered enough that you can perform the next set at similar intensity and with great technique. Whatever it takes to get you there, do it![13]

Do the best you can, record how long it takes you to rest between sets. The amount of rest you need to take over time may vary.

 

Your body will adjust as you get stronger and healthier!

Step #5: How Much Weight Should I Lift?

When Rebels get together like at Camp, we build workouts that include deadlifts.

We have a FULL resource on how to determine your starting weight for lifting, but I’ll give you the gist here.

The simple-to-learn but tough-to-implement answer:

Lift enough so that you can get through the set, but not too much that you have NO fuel left in the tank at the end.

How do you determine how much that is?

Trial and error.

ALWAYS err on the side of “too light” versus “too heavy” when starting out.

It’s better to say “I bet I could have done more!” instead of “That was too much, and now I need to go to the hospital!”

Don't act like Homer and do a workout that you can't handle.

Plus, when you start working out, you’re actually programming your neuromuscular systems to do the movement correctly.[14] You can’t rush this, so it’s best not to start off too heavy.[15]

When is it time to move up in resistance?

The NSCA has a 2-for-2 rule that recommends:[16]

If a person can do two reps (or more) over their set goal, then they should increase the load.

How much should you increase weight?

  • For less trained people (i.e., beginners), it is recommended that for upper body exercises you increase the load by 2 – 5 pounds and by 5 – 10 pounds for lower body exercises.
  • For more trained people (i.e., advanced), it is recommended that for upper body exercises you increase the load by 5 – 10 pounds or more and by 10 – 15 pounds or more for lower body exercises [37]

I will say, if you’re doing exercises with just your body weight, you need to make each exercise more difficult as you get in shape – once you get past 20 reps for a particular exercise and you’re not gassed, it’s time to mix things up.

That’s the key to “Progressive Overload,” as Coach Jim explains in this video:

Can you do 20 push-ups with no problem? It’s time to start mixing them up to be more challenging. Pick a variation from this article and make yourself work for it!

20 bodyweight squats too easy? Hold some weights high above your head as you do the next set. Eventually, you can scale up to do exercises like the pistol squat:

The one legged "pistol" squat is a great advanced bodyweight movement.

Looking for more bodyweight exercises? Check out the list of our favorite 42 bodyweight exercises you can do anywhere.

Step #6: How Long Should I Exercise For? How Long Should My Workout Be?

What workout does this LEGO do? Does he have a coach build him his workout routine?

Easy answer: 45 minutes to an hour.

Longer answer: If you’re doing 10-20 sets of total exercise (2-5 sets for your 4 exercises), you should be able to get everything done within that 45-minute block.[17]

Now, factor in a five or ten-minute warm-up, and then some stretching afterward, and the workout can go a little bit longer.[18]

If you can go for over an hour and you’re not completely worn out, try increasing the intensity.

Less time, more intensity, better results.

What if you don’t have 45 minutes?

Do the best you can![19]

What’s that? You want to build some cardio into your weight training.

That’s where this next section comes in.

Step #7: How To Create Supersets And Circuit Training Workouts

Kettlebells can be used in circuits to help build a perfect workout.

For those short on time, a circuit training workout is a highly efficient framework for training.

  • You’re getting a cardiovascular workout by consistently moving from exercise to exercise.
  • You’re exercising different muscles back to back, giving each muscle group a chance to recover, but in a condensed amount of time. Efficiency for the win!
  • It also increases the amount of calories burned in your post-workout window. [20]

If you’re familiar with CrossFit, many of those workouts are built on circuit principles.

This is also the most effective way to make you involuntarily swear at inanimate objects because you’re so tired and beat up.

We’re going to cover TWO things here:

  • Supersets (or alternating sets).
  • Workout circuits.

#1) SUPERSETS

The NSCA defines it as:[21]

A superset is performing two exercises in a row on two different muscle groups.

For example, a superset could look like:

  • Performing a set of squats
  • Waiting one minute
  • Performing a set of dumbbell presses
  • Waiting one minute
  • Then doing your next set of squats

And so on.

Because you’re exercising two completely different muscle groups, you can exercise one while the other is “resting.”

You’re now getting the same workout done in half the time.

Captain Marvel is pumped she has a plan to build muscle.

Also, because you’re resting less, your body has to work harder so your heart is getting a workout too. Jackpot.

Let’s see how this would play out in a sample workout:

  • Lunges alternating with incline dumbbell presses, four sets each, one minute between sets.
  • Wait a few minutes to catch your breath and get set for your next two exercises.
  • Straight leg deadlifts alternating with wide-grip pull-ups, four sets each, one minute between sets.
  • Stretch, and get the hell out of there!

#2) CIRCUIT TRAINING

A circuit requires you to do one set for EVERY exercise, one after the other, without stopping.

Our very own Coach Lauren explains it here:

After you’ve done one set of each exercise in succession, you then repeat the process two, or three, or four more times.[22]

I’ve written about multiple bodyweight circuits here on the site:

We also have 15 FREE circuits you can follow in our big Circuit Training roundup guide!

Step #8: How Many Days Per Week Should I Train?

Deadlifts make a great addition when you build your own workout.

We get this question quite a bit, usually from overeager beavers who decide they are going to go from “sitting on the couch watching The Office on repeat” to “exercising 7 days per week.”

I would advise something different.

I mean you can still watch The Office…

You can build muscle while watching the office!

…but you don’t need to be training 7 days a week!

We don’t want you burning out quickly and falling back to square one, a concern we mention in our guide “How Often Should I Work Out?

Instead, focus on building proper habits and set a goal of 2-3 full-body workouts per week.[23]

For starters, your muscles don’t get built in the gym.

They actually get broken down in the gym, and then get rebuilt stronger while you’re resting…watching The Office.[24]

By giving your muscles 48 hours to recover between workouts, especially when training heavy, you’ll stay injury-free and get stronger.[25]

A Monday-Wednesday-Friday workout routine works well to ensure enough time to recover, especially when you are just getting started.

If you want to do Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday, or Sunday-Tuesday-Thursday, great.

And we get it. Life doesn’t always perfectly align with this every-other-day schedule. The most important thing is to do the work with the time you have.

Then, pay attention to how you are recovering in between workouts. Are you still sore and tired when you begin your next workout? Do you notice you are having to use lighter and lighter weights because you are too fatigued? It may be worth trying to give yourself more time in between workouts so you can recover!

“But Steve, what if I WANT to exercise on my off days?” That’s fine!

Just pick “exercise” that’s fun for you and that won’t exhaust your muscles. (Same questions as above.)[26][[26]]However, don’t forget that recovery is key to preventing injuries and allowing the body to rebuild itself after the stress of exercise. If you are looking to exercise on your off days we suggest that you cross-train. Cross-training involves engaging in a training routine or exercises that are different from what you normally would do. For example, if you always run for cardio, we would suggest that you change things up and go on the elliptical or bike. This allows you to stay active on your off days while also allowing the muscles that are always stressed from running to rest and recuperate. (Haff G, Triplett NT. (2016). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Fourth edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics).[[25]]

Also, here’s a lifehack: Program your workouts INTO your Google calendar (or Outlook).

You’re much more likely to do a workout that has been planned for in your work week!

Alternatively, you can hire a coach to program your workouts for you, so every day you know exactly what you need to do!

Step #9: Keep Track Of Everything!

A photo of someone journaling their fitness progress.

Last but not least, keep a workout journal!

As they say, that which gets measured gets improved.

You should be getting stronger, faster, or more fit with each day of exercise.

Around these parts, we say “Level up your life, every single day.

So track and measure your progress!

Things to track and record for your workout:

  • Can lift more weight?
  • Can you lift the same amount of weight more times than before?
  • Can finish the same routine faster than before?

If you see your numbers improving (more weight, faster times, etc.), then you’re getting stronger and gaining more lean muscle mass![27]

Woot.

Personally, I track all of my workouts in Evernote.

I note the sets, reps, weight, and date.

I have over 1,000 workouts in my folder, which makes it super simple to see what I did last month, or even last year, and to make sure I’m improving!

Evernote can be great to track the workout you build.

You can use an actual notebook, a bullet journal, an Excel spreadsheet, a workout app, or a Word document.

Don’t overcomplicate it:

  1. Write down the date and your sets, reps, and weight for each exercise.
  2. Compare yourself to your previous workout with those exercises.
  3. Focus on getting stronger (more reps, heavier weight, an additional set, etc.)
  4. Repeat.

Do this with a workout you’ve built, and you WILL get results. I promise.[28]

For more here, check out:

#1) The guide How to Check Your Progress

#2) Our advice on How to Set a New Personal Record

#3) The video How to Journal to Reach Your Goals

Steve, Just Build A Workout For Me!

Inverted rows, like shown here, can make a great addition to a workout. If you build your own workout, make sure to include a pull exercise like this.

If you’re looking for sample workouts to build off of, take one of the 6 Workouts in our “Gym 101” guide.

Or if you want a plan to follow, pick one of our 15 Circuit Training Routines!

If you want to build from scratch, great! Let’s break it down into easy chunks with this recap:

  • Warm-up – 5-10 minutes on a bike, rowing machine, jumping jacks, running up and down your stairs, etc. Get the blood flowing and your muscles warm.[29]
  • Pick one exercise for each big muscle group – quads, butt and hamstrings, push, and pull.[30]
  • Do 2-5 sets for each exercise. (Start with lower sets to begin with.)
  • Do 5-15 reps per set for each exercise. (If you aren’t sure where to start, 10 reps is a nice middle ground.)
  • Rest and recovery between sets for each exercise. Keep it simple. 1-2 minutes and adjust from there.[31]
  • Increase your efficiency and work your heart by doing supersets or circuits. This results in a higher EPOC meaning greater caloric expenditure and weight loss!
  • Keep your workout to under an hour.[32]
  • Stretch AFTER your workout.[33]
  • Write everything down![34]
  • Give yourself permission to mess up, learn a little, and keep improving as you train more regularly!

More often than not, when I email people back and tell them how to build their own workout, they generally respond with:

“Steve, can’t you just TELL me what to do? I’m afraid of building a crappy workout.”

Why we built TWO options for people like that:

1) If you are somebody who wants to know they are following a program that is tailor-made for their life, situation, and goals, check out our Online Coaching Program.

You’ll work with our certified NF instructors who will get to know you better than you know yourself and program your workouts and nutrition for you.

2) Join the Rebellion (our free community) and I’ll send you free guides, workouts, and worksheets that you can read at your leisure.

We need good people like you!

I certainly encourage you to try and build your own workout routine.

It can really help you develop a sense of excitement and pride when you start to get in shape based on your workout!

-Steve

PS: Check out the rest of our beginner content. I promise, it kicks ass 🙂

###

Photo Sources: mdwombat, joshtasman: Question Finger 6black.zack00: Yeaaaah…. Surprise ladies!!, Sterling College: Sterling Gym, ako_law: Stopwatch, black.zack00: Boxing a gentleman’s sport, Photographing Travis: Kettlebells. ahockley: DDC Stuff Sheath and EEEK Field Notes, Ivan Kruk © 123RF.com

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Intermittent Fasting Guide: Myths, Facts, & Strategies https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/a-beginners-guide-to-intermittent-fasting/ https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/a-beginners-guide-to-intermittent-fasting/#disqus_thread Fri, 09 Feb 2024 06:59:00 +0000 http://www.nerdfitness.com/?p=19118 “…Tony the Tiger tells us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day! It’s grrrrrreat!” This adage about breakfast has become commonplace that it’s readily and unquestionably accepted as fact. Well then, what’s with the growing popularity of Intermittent Fasting and SKIPPING breakfast? (Tony just audibly gasped.) In this Ultimate Guide to Intermitting...

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Tony the Tiger wants you to keep eating breakfast. Should you, or should you try intermittent fasting?

“…Tony the Tiger tells us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day! It’s grrrrrreat!”

This adage about breakfast has become commonplace that it’s readily and unquestionably accepted as fact.

Well then, what’s with the growing popularity of Intermittent Fasting and SKIPPING breakfast?

(Tony just audibly gasped.)

In this Ultimate Guide to Intermitting Fasting, I’ll teach you everything about the science of fasting and what results you can expect:

Let’s dig in!

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting is not a diet, but rather a dieting pattern:

Intermittent Fasting: making a conscious decision to skip certain meals, or avoid consuming food for a specific time period.

Let’s talk about why it’s become so popular: because it can work incredibly well for weight maintenance!

When you skip meals or only eat during certain hours, you’re more likely to eat fewer calories overall, which can result in a lower number on the scale!

(We dive deeper into the science on this in the next section.)

Let’s now talk about some popular Intermittent Fasting Strategies:

#1) INTERMITTENT FASTING 16/8 PLAN

What it is: Fasting for 16 hours and then eating within a specific 8-hour window. For example, only eating from noon-8 PM, essentially skipping breakfast.

Some people only eat in a 6-hour window, or even a 4-hour window. This is the “feasting” and “fasting” parts of your days and the most common form of Intermittent Fasting. It’s also my preferred method (5 years running).

Two examples: The top means you are skipping breakfast, the bottom means you are skipping dinner each day:

This is an example of an intermittent fasting plan. Download our worksheet to create your own!

Adjust this window to make it work for your life:

  • If you start eating at: 7AM, stop eating and start fasting at 3pm.
  • If you start eating at: 11AM, stop eating and start fasting at 7pm.
  • If you start eating at: 2PM, stop eating and start fasting at 10pm.
  • If you start eating at: 6PM, stop eating and start fasting at 2AM.

#2) INTERMITTENT FASTING 24-HOUR PLAN

With this plan, you eat your normal 3 meals per day, and then occasionally pick a day to skip breakfast and lunch the next day.

Eat on a normal schedule (finishing dinner at 8PM) and then don’t eat until 8PM the following day.

If you can only do an 18 hour fast, or a 20 hour fast, or a 22 hour fast – that’s okay! Adjust with different time frames and see how your body responds.

Two examples: skipping breakfast and lunch one day of the week, and then another where you skip lunch and dinner one day, two days in a week.

This shows another schedule you can try for your intermittent fasting plan.

These are just two popular strategies, though there are many variations of both that you can modify for yourself:

  • Some people eat in a 4-hour window, others do 6 or 8.
  • Some people do 20-hour fasts or 24-hour fasts.
  • Another strategy is to eat only one meal a day (OMAD).

You’ll need to experiment, adjust to work for your lifestyle and goals, and see how your body responds. If there’s one thing we’ve learned after Coaching over 15,000 1-on-1 clients: there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to exercise and nutrition that works for everyone, all of the time.

Let’s first get into the science here behind Intermittent Fasting and if you should consider it!

How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?

A picture of gears, which will represent how intermittent fasting works.

Now, you might be thinking: “okay, so by skipping a meal, I will eat less than I normally eat on average (2 meals instead of 3), and thus I will lose weight, right?”

All things being equal, yes.

By cutting out an entire meal each day, you are consuming fewer calories per week – even if your two meals per day are slightly bigger than before. Overall, you’re still consuming fewer calories per day.

This shows you the differences in calorie consumption if you skip a meal with intermittent fasting.

In this example, you’re eating LARGER lunches and dinners than you normally do, but by skipping breakfast you’ll consume 500 less calories per day.

And thus, weight loss! 

However, that doesn’t mean this works 100% of the time, for everyone. By understanding the underlying mechanism of weight loss (i.e. calorie deficit), we can better understand how our dieting strategy is affecting our behavior. Then we know if this strategy will work for us or not.

In the case of intermittent fasting, by condensing the eating window, many people feel more full and naturally eat less (like in the example above.)

However, it’s also totally possible for somebody to be so hungry as a result of fasting that they overconsume calories during that same period, which would result in weight gain instead of weight loss.

If you were reliant on the idea that “Intermittent Fasting works for weight loss” – full stop – you could be easily discouraged if it didn’t work.

You might think: “Is my metabolism broken?” But because we know that intermittent fasting is one dieting strategy that CAN work for weight loss if it helps you stick to a caloric deficit more easily, you’re empowered to decide if this is a good fit for you. Eureka!

This is highlighted in a recent JAMA study[2] in which both calorie-restricted dieters and intermittent fasters lost similar amounts of weight over a year period.

You might be thinking: “Ok, ok, I get it. Caloric deficit. But what about the timing of meals – can’t that also influence how your body reacts?”

Yes, your body operates differently when “feasting” compared to when “fasting”. But it’s important to understand how this fits into the big picture.

When you eat a meal, your body spends a few hours processing that food, burning what it can from what you just consumed.

Because it has all of this readily available, easy-to-burn energy (thanks to the food you ate), your body will choose to use that as energy rather than the fat you have stored.

During the “fasted state” (the hours in which your body is not consuming or digesting any food) your body doesn’t have a recently consumed meal to use as energy.

Thus, it is more likely to pull from the fat stored in your body as it’s the only energy source readily available.

However, when we compare the differences in energy used from body fat over an entire day, that’s entirely dependent on the total calories consumed. So while your body is more likely to pull energy from a recent meal, and will rely on fat stores once that energy runs out, if you eat the same amount of calories throughout the day, the result is the same amount of energy pulled from fat. It all balances out in the end.

The same goes for working out in a “fasted” state.

Without a ready supply of glucose and glycogen to pull from (which has been depleted throughout your fasted state, and hasn’t yet been replenished with a pre-workout meal), your body is forced to adapt and pull from a source of energy that it does have available: the fat stored in your cells.

While many of us get excited about the idea of being in a “fat-burning mode”, the same principle holds. If we burn an equal amount of calories, whether fasted or not, the result is less total energy stored in our fat cells at the end of the day.  (There’s even an argument for athletes whose sports require glycogen to be readily available to meet their energy demands – making sure these stores are never depleted is important so an athlete doesn’t ‘bonk’ in the middle of their competition.)

Hopefully, you can see how easy it is to take a true fact of our biology (we burn more fat from fat stores when in a fasted state) and extrapolate it to seem more than it is. The same goes for six meals a day!

The truth is, there isn’t a magic pill or solution that’s going to overcome the basics. The best reason to do Intermittent Fasting is because you like it and it fits within your lifestyle.

TL/DR: Fasting can help promote weight loss and muscle building when done properly ~ though it isn’t the ONLY method that works.

Should I Eat 6 Small Meals a Day?

A photo of a small plate. Does it help with weight loss?

There are a few main reasons why diet books recommend six small meals:

1) When you eat a meal, your body does have to burn extra calories [9] just to process that meal. So, the theory is that if you eat all day long with small meals, your body is constantly burning extra calories and your metabolism is firing at optimal capacity, right? Well, that’s not true.

Whether you eat 2000 calories spread out throughout the day, or 2000 calories in a small window, your body will burn the same number of calories processing the food [10].

So, the whole “keep your metabolism firing at optimum capacity by always eating” sounds good in principle, but reality tells a different story.

2) When you eat smaller meals, you might be less likely to overeat during your regular meals. I can definitely see some truth here, especially for people who struggle with portion control or don’t know how much food they should be eating.

However, once you educate yourself and take control of your eating, some might find that eating six times a day is very prohibitive and requires a lot of effort. I know I do.

Also, because you’re eating six small meals, I’d argue that you probably never feel “full,” and you might be MORE likely to eat extra calories during each snack.

This is why personal preference is so important when picking a diet strategy that works for you.

Although grounded in seemingly logical principles, the “six meals a day” doesn’t work for the reason you think it would (#1), and may feel prohibitive to prepare and eat 6 times a day (#2). Other people may find that 6 meals a day fits them perfectly. If you find what works for you, that rules!

If we think back to caveman days, we’d have been in serious trouble as a species if we had to eat every three hours. Do you think Joe Caveman pulled out his pocket sundial six times a day to consume his equally portioned meals?

Hell no! He ate when he could, endured and dealt with long periods of NOT eating (no refrigeration or food storage) and his body adapted to still function optimally enough to still go out and catch new food.

A recent study (written about in the NYT, highlighted by LeanGains) has done a great job of challenging the “six-meals-a-day” technique for weight loss [11]:

There were [no statistical] differences between the low- and high- [meal frequency] groups for adiposity indices, appetite measurements or gut peptides (peptide YY and ghrelin) either before or after the intervention. We conclude that increasing meal frequency does not promote greater body weight loss under the conditions described in the present study.

That’s why we made this:

This infographic discusses how snacking isn't necessary for weight loss.

Should I Try intermittent fasting? (4 Big Benefits)

Fruit is a great and healthy way to break a fasting period.

Now that we’re through a lot of the science stuff, let’s get into the reality of the situation: why should you consider Intermittent Fasting?

#1) Because it can work for your goals. Although we know that not all calories are created equal, caloric restriction plays a central role in weight loss.

When you fast, you are potentially making it easier to restrict your total caloric intake over the course of the week, which can lead to consistent weight loss and maintenance.

#2) Because it simplifies your day. Rather than having to prepare, pack, eat, and time your meals every 2-3 hours, you simply skip a meal or two and only worry about eating food in your eating window.

It’s one less decision you have to make every day.

It could allow you to enjoy bigger portioned meals (thus making your tastebuds and stomach satiated) and STILL eat fewer calories on average.

It’s a point that Coach Matt makes in this video on intermittent fasting:

#3) It requires less time (and potentially less money). Rather than having to prepare or purchase three to six meals a day, you only need to prepare two meals.

Instead of stopping what you’re doing six times a day to eat, you simply only have to stop to eat twice. Rather than having to do the dishes six times, you only have to do them twice.

Rather than having to purchase six meals a day, you only need to purchase two.

#4) Plus, Wolverine does it:

If adamantium-clawed superheroes do Intermittent Fasting, it can probably work for you too, if you can make it work for your particular lifestyle and situation!

What Are the Negative Effects of intermittent fasting?

A woman hungry from intermittent fasting

It’s important to understand Intermittent Fasting is NOT a cure-all panacea.

Let’s talk about some of the potential drawbacks of Intermittent Fasting:

#1) If you skip breakfast, you might be so hungry from this that you OVEREAT your other meals, which can lead to weight gain. The important thing here is that with an intermittent fasting plan, you’re eating fewer calories than normal because you’re skipping a meal every day (if your goal is weight loss.)

In other words, don’t delude yourself into thinking that if you skip breakfast and then eat 4,000 calories of candy bars for lunch and dinner that you will lose weight.

This is simply a math and behavior strategy for giving yourself fewer chances to overeat and put your body into a caloric surplus.

(If you struggle with portion control, figure out your calorie goals and track your calorie intake in your meals to make sure you’re not overeating.)

#2) Skipping meals can result in feelings of lethargy, hunger, and “hangriness”!

If you eat breakfast every morning, your body expects to wake up and eat food.

Once you retrain your body to NOT expect food all day every day (or first thing in the morning), it’s possible that these side effects become less of an issue. In addition, ghrelin (a hormone that makes you hungry [13]), is actually lowest in the mornings and decreases after a few hours of not eating.

#3)  Intermittent Fasting can be more complex for people who have issues with blood sugar regulation, suffer from hypoglycemia, have diabetes, etc. If you fit into this category, check with your doctor or dietitian before adjusting your eating schedule.

#4) Intermittent Fasting can affect women differently: there’s a whole section dedicated to that here.

Can I Build Muscle and Gain Weight While Intermittent Fasting? (Pros and Cons)

A muscular back without skin

It is possible to build muscle and strength while Intermittent Fasting, though it’s not inherently superior to building muscle and strength while following a traditional eating pattern.

(We have our big “how to build muscle” guide, in addition to a whole “Strength 101” series – and I’d recommend you read those if you’re looking for a place to start strength training.)

Personally, I did intermittent fasting from 2015 to 2020 while building muscle and strength:

Steve Kamb turning into Captain America with the help of an intermittent fasting plan.

Let’s talk first about the nutritional strategy first, and then we’ll get into the exercise portion.

Here’s how I built muscle while simultaneously fasting: In order to gain weight and build muscle, I had to be in a caloric surplus.

And because I was not eating for 16 hours, that meant I was cramming 3000 nutritious calories into an 8 hour window, which often left me feeling bloated and overly full.

  • 11 AM Work out with heavy strength training in a fasted state.
  • 12 PM Immediately consume 1/2 of my calories for the day (a regular whole-food meal, followed by a calorie-dense homemade protein shake).
  • 7 PM Consume the second portion of my calories for the day in a big dinner.
  • 8 PM – 12 PM the next day: Fast for 16 hours.

After following this strategy for a number of years, I gave up fasting in 2019, and instead consumed my calories throughout the day.

Here’s a different strategy for Fasted Muscle Building: my friend Nate Green packed on a crazy amount of muscle while fasting for a full 24 hours on Sundays. [15]

Let’s now talk about strength training!

If you want to build muscle while fasting, you need to work out. Specifically, by lifting heavy, so here are a few workout options! 

#1) “Build Your Own Workout Routine” and get your hands dirty. Our guide will walk you through building a full-body exercise program in 10 simple steps.

#2) Follow our Strength Building Guide and start training today. You’ll want to do lots of heavy compounds lifts:

How to tie it all together: pick up heavy things, eat enough protein, and consume enough calories, and you’ll build muscle and strength.

Should You Do Intermittent Fasting and the Keto Diet?

This LEGO does love to fast, but by skipping dinner, never breakfast.

We have a crazy extensive guide on the Keto Diet in case you’re not familiar with it, so here it is in a nutshell:

By only eating fat and protein, your body must adapt to run on fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. In the absence of carbs/glucose, your body converts fats to ketones and uses them for fuel.

This process is called “ketosis,” and there are two ways for a body to enter ketosis:

  • Eating in a way that induces ketosis (very low carb, high fat).
  • Fasting…Hey, that’s what you’re reading about right now!

We actually have an amazing success story here on Nerd Fitness, Larry, who followed our strategies, went Keto and start intermittent fasting. He ended up losing weight, getting stronger, AND overcame the challenges of rheumatoid arthritis (click on the image for his story)!

Larry transformed through the Keto Diet and Intermittent Fasting.

Why Keto and Fasting can work:  eating Keto can be really challenging. And every time you eat, it’s an opportunity to do it wrong and accidentally eat foods that knock you out of ketosis.

You’re also tempted to overeat.

So, by skipping a meal, you’re eliminating one meal, one decision, one chance to screw up.

Note: if you’re thinking “Steve, am I losing weight because I’m skipping 1/3rd of my meals for the day, AND eliminating an entire macronutrient?”, then you’d be right.

Both Keto and IF have secondary effects that could also be factoring in – physiological benefits which I explain in both articles.

Your value may vary!

You need to decide what works for you.

You probably won’t become “keto-adapted” (your body running on ketones) just skipping breakfast every day – your body will still have enough glucose stored from your carb-focused meals for lunch and dinner the day before.

In order to use fasting to enter ketosis, the fast needs to be long enough to deplete your carb/glucose stores, or you need to severely restrict carbohydrates from your meals in addition to IF in order to enter ketosis.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Experiment and try different strategies that will work for you.

By skipping a meal or minimizing carbohydrate intake, you’re more likely than not to lose weight:

  • You can do intermittent fasting without eating a Keto Diet and lose weight.
  • You can do a Keto Diet without intermittent Fasting and lose weight.
  • You can combine them and lose weight.
  • You can do neither and lose weight.

Sticking with Keto is BRUTALLY difficult, and probably not the right diet for 98% of the planet. Those people would be better off following our “Start Eating Healthy” guide with small changes.

Does Intermittent Fasting Have Different Effects on Men and Women?

Silhouettes of happy young people jumping in sea

The quick answer is: “yes, Intermittent Fasting can affect men and women differently.” 

Anecdotally, we have many women in our online coaching program that swear by Intermittent Fasting, while others have had adverse effects.

Let’s dig into the science and studies.

A recent PubMed summary concluded that “fasting can be prescribed as a safe medical intervention as well as a lifestyle regimen which can improve women’s health in many folds [18].

Now, in that extract, many of the studies cited are focused on specifically calorie restriction (and not just fasting), and they also say that “future studies should address this gap by designing medically supervised fasting techniques to extract better evidence.”

Digging into the PubMed Archives brought me to the following conclusions [19]:

One small study (with 8 men and 8 women, all non-obese) resulted in the following: “Glucose response to a meal was slightly impaired in women after 3 weeks of treatment, but insulin response was unchanged. Men had no change in glucose response and a significant reduction in insulin response.”[20]

Another small study (8 women) studied the effects on their menstrual cycles after a 72-hour fast – which is significantly longer than any fast recommended in this article: “in spite of profound metabolic changes, a 72-hour fast during the follicular phase does not affect the menstrual cycle of normal cycling women.” [21].

Yet another study tracked 11 women with 72-hour fasts (again, longer than we’d recommend) and it found that “Fasting in women elicited expected metabolic responses – included increased cortisol (a stress hormone) – and apparently advanced the central circadian clock (which can throw off sleeping patterns). [22]

Those studies above, in working with small sample sizes, and different types of fasting than recommended here, would lead me to believe that fasting affects men and women differently, and that many of the weight loss benefits associated with intermittent fasting (that affect insulin and glucose responses) work positively for men and negatively for women.

There are also a series of articles[23] out there that dig into the potential reproductive health issues, stress challenges, induction of early-menopause [24] associated with fasting (and calorie restriction) for women.

Precision Nutrition – a great resource – recommends not attempting Intermittent Fasting as a woman if:

The challenge associated with all of this is that there aren’t enough long-term studies, with large enough sample sizes, specifically targeting female humans, with relation to the different types of Intermittent Fasting.

It does appear that men and women will have different experiences with intermittent fasting; we’re all unique snowflakes (yep, especially you), and your body will be affected by intermittent fasting differently than the person next to you.

There is enough evidence as cited in the articles and studies above that would give me pause to recommend Intermittent Fasting for women, especially if you are considering getting pregnant in the near term.

If you are looking to attempt fasting for weight loss reasons, my research has shown me that Intermittent Fasting could be less effective for women than men with regards to weight loss, and thus you would be wise to keep your efforts elsewhere:

Now, if you’ve read the above warnings, you are still curious about Intermittent Fasting, and you want to give it a try as a female, that is your choice!

You know your body best.

So, get blood work done, speak with your doctor and get a check-up.

Give intermittent fasting a shot, track your results, and see how your body/blood work changes as a result of Intermittent Fasting and decide if it’s right for you.

Your mileage may vary, so speak with a doctor or find a doctor versed in intermittent fasting plans and treat it like an experiment on yourself!

Top 5 Questions about Intermittent Fasting

This LEGO is interested in levelling up his life with temptation bundling.

1) “Won’t I get really hungry if I start skipping meals?”  

As explained above, this can be a result of the habits you have built for your body. If you are constantly eating or always eat the same time of day, your body can actually learn to prepare itself for food by beginning the process of insulin production and preparation for food.

After a brief adjustment period, your body can adapt to the fact that it’s only eating a few times a day. The more overweight you are, and the more often you eat, the more of an initial struggle this might be.

Remember, your body’s physical and cognitive abilities most likely won’t be diminished as a result of short-term fasting.[25]

2) “Where will I get my energy for my workouts? Won’t I be exhausted and not be able to complete my workouts if fasting?” 

This was a major concern of mine as well, but the research shows this might not be the case: “Training with limited carbohydrate availability can stimulate adaptations in muscle cells to facilitate energy production via fat oxidation.”[26]

In other words, when you train in a fasted state, your body can get better at burning fat for energy when there are no carbs to pull from!

The caveat to this is that pulling energy from fat oxidation is a slower process than breaking down carbohydrates. If your workout is super intense (high-intensity interval training, MMA, even bodybuilding) – you’ll likely benefit from having more readily available energy to fuel your workouts for better performance.

3) “I like the idea of fasted training, but I work a regular 9-5 or a night shift and can’t train at 11AM as you do. What am I supposed to do?”

Depending on your training schedule, lifestyle, and goals, go back to the portion above where I talk about the 16/8 protocol and simply adjust your hours of fasting and feasting.

LeanGains digs into various options here, but here is really what you need to know:

  • Don’t overthink this. If you can’t train until 5pm, that’s okay. Consume a small meal for lunch, or shift your Intermittent Fasting window to eat all of your meals in the 8 hours post-workout. Better to do that than abandon it as a lost cause and have 0% compliance.
  • If you are an elite athlete, speak with a coach or nutritionist about your specific concerns and expectations. Otherwise, make intermittent fasting work for you Consider trying the 24-hour protocol below instead of the 16/8 protocol.
  • If you train later in the day (say, 7pm) but break your fast before training (aka Lunch), make it a smaller meal focused around fats and protein – which should be a solid goal even if you aren’t Intermittent Fasting! Try to time your carb and big meal consumption to happen AFTER your workout.
  • If you exercise BEFORE work, but then don’t eat until lunchtime: consider a protein supplement immediately after your workout, or simply wait until lunch to start eating. See how your body responds and adjust accordingly.

Do what you can, and don’t psyche yourself out! Get started and adjust along the way.

4) Will Intermittent Fasting cause muscle loss?  

Good news: Our bodies are quite adept at preserving muscle even when fasting [27], and it turns out that protein absorption by our body can take place over many many many hours.

Not only that, but you can even burn fat AND build muscle at the same time if you have the right system in place!

Protein consumed in a shorter period of time has no difference on the body compared to protein spread throughout the day.    

5) How much should I eat while intermittent fasting? 

Simple: Eat for your goals! You do know how many calories you should eat every day, right? 

If your goal is weight loss, you still need to consume fewer calories than you burn every day to lose weight, full stop. If your goal is bulking up, you’ll need to consume more calories than you burn every day. Intermittent Fasting isn’t a cure-all, it’s a PART of the puzzle.

To start, begin intermittent fasting and eat your normal-sized meals and track your weight and performance. If you are losing weight and happy with the progress, keep doing what you’re doing! If you are NOT losing weight, you could be eating too much. It’s a message I really strike home in our guide “Why Can’t I Lose Weight?

That’s why you should track your calories for a week, and then target a 10% reduction in calories and continue. Here’s a calculator for you to determine the amount of calories you need daily.

6 Tips and Tricks about Fasting 

A fasting woman not eating a cupcake

#1) Don’t freak out! Stop wondering: “can I fast 15 hours instead of 16?” or “what if I eat an apple during my fasted period, will that ruin everything?” Relax. Your body is a complex piece of machinery and learns to adapt. Everything is not as cut and dry as you think.

If you want to eat breakfast one day but not another, that’s okay. If you are going for optimal aesthetic or athletic performance, I can see the need to be more rigid in your discipline, but otherwise…freaking chill out and don’t stress over minutiae!

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good when it comes to your intermittent fasting plan. It’s just one tool in your toolkit.

#2) Listen to your body during your strength training workouts. If you get lightheaded, make sure you are consuming enough water.

If you notice a significant drop in performance, make sure you are eating enough calories (especially fats and protein) during your feasting window.

And if you feel severely “off,” pause your workout. Give yourself permission to EASE into intermittent fasting and fasted workouts. This is especially true if you are an endurance athlete.

#3) Stay busy. If you are just sitting around thinking about how hungry you are, you’ll be more likely to struggle with this. For that reason, I time my fasting periods for maximum efficiency and minimal discomfort:

  • My first few hours of fasting come after consuming a MONSTER dinner, where the last thing I want to think about is eating.
  • When I’m sleeping: 8 of my 16 hours are occupied by sleeping. Tough to feel hungry when I’m dreaming about becoming a Jedi.
  • When I’m busy: After waking up, 12 hours of my fasting is already done. I spend three hours doing my best work (while drinking a cup of black coffee), and then comes my final hour of fasting: training.

#4) Zero-calorie beverages are okay. I drink green tea in the morning for my caffeine kick while writing. If you want to drink water, black coffee, or tea during your fasted period, that’s okay. Remember, don’t overthink it – keep things simple! Although be aware that Dr. Rhonda Patrick over at FoundMyFitness believes that a fast should stop at the first consumption of anything other than water, so experiment yourself and see how your body responds.

If you want to put milk in your coffee, or drink diet soda occasionally while fasting, I’m not going to stop you. Remember, we’re going for consistency and habit-building here – if milk or cream in your coffee makes life worth living, don’t deprive yourself.

There are MUCH bigger fish to fry with regards to getting healthy than a few calories here and there during a fast.

80% adherence that you stick with for a year is better than 100% adherence that you abandon after a month because it was too restrictive.

If you’re trying to get to a minimum bodyfat percentage, you’ll need to be more strict with overall calories – until then, however, do what allows you to stay compliant!

#5) Track your results, listen to your body:  

  • Concerned about losing muscle mass? Keep track of your strength training routines and see if you are getting stronger.
  • Buy a cheap set of body fat calipers and keep track of your body fat composition.
  • Track your calories, and see how your body changes when eating the same amount of food, but condensed into a certain window.

#6) Don’t expect miracles. Yes, Intermittent Fasting can potentially help you lose weight, increase insulin sensitivity and growth hormone secretion (all good things), but it is only ONE factor in hundreds that will determine your body composition and overall health. Don’t expect to drop to 8% body fat and get ripped just by skipping breakfast.

You need to focus on building healthy habits, eating better foods, and getting stronger.

This is just one tool that can contribute to your success.

Getting Started with Intermittent Fasting: Next Steps

Don't overthink intermittent fasting. Relax, try it, and see how you feel!

Intermittent fasting can potentially have some very positive benefits for somebody trying to lose weight or gain lean body mass.

Men and women will tend to have different results, just like each individual person will have different results. The ONLY way to find out is through a conversation with your doctor and self-experimentation.

There are multiple ways to “do” an Intermittent Fasting Plan:

  • Fast and feast regularly: Fast for a certain number of hours, then consume all calories within a certain number of hours.
  • Eat normally, then fast 1-2x a week: Consume your normal meals every day, then pick one or two days a week where you fast for 24 hours. Eat your last meal Sunday night, and then don’t eat again until dinner the following day.
  • Fast occasionally: probably the easiest method for the person who wants to do the least amount of work. Simply skip a meal whenever it’s convenient. On the road? Skip breakfast. Busy day at work? Skip lunch. Eat poorly all day Saturday? Make your first meal of the day dinner on Sunday.

After that, get started! Take photos, step on the scale, and track your progress for the next month.

See how your body responds.

See how your physique changes. See how your workouts change.

And then decide if it’s something you want to keep doing!

4 years later, I have no plans on going back to eating breakfast. Sorry General Mills and Dr. Kellogg!

Thanks for reading, and I hope we gave you ALL the information you wanted about Intermittent Fasting, it’s underlying mechanisms for success, and reasons it may (or may not) work for you!

-Steve

PS: Before you take off, grab our Intermittent Fasting Worksheet to help you start your fasting practice:

PPS: Make sure you check out the rest of our guides on losing weight:

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Photo Source:[29]

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How to Get Rid of Man Boobs: Step-By-Step Plan for Reducing Moobs Quickly https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/how-to-get-rid-of-man-boobs-or-moobs-the-science-and-step-by-step-plan/ https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/how-to-get-rid-of-man-boobs-or-moobs-the-science-and-step-by-step-plan/#disqus_thread Wed, 07 Feb 2024 16:27:00 +0000 https://www.nerdfitness.com/?p=3412852 “Can I get rid of my man boobs quickly and naturally?” Awkward phrase? Sure. But that’s not gonna get us to shy away from the topic here on Nerd Fitness. We work on solutions to questions just like this with our Online Coaching Clients: awkward questions and challenging situations that are tough to talk about,...

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These two LEGOs are discussing how they feel about fat on their chest: man boobs.

Can I get rid of my man boobs quickly and naturally?

Awkward phrase? Sure.

But that’s not gonna get us to shy away from the topic here on Nerd Fitness.

We work on solutions to questions just like this with our Online Coaching Clients: awkward questions and challenging situations that are tough to talk about, but can be helped!

This is what we do, and we’re really good at it.

Today, let’s tackle the “moobs” situation head-on by covering all of the following in this MASSIVE guide:

Okie dokie, let’s jump in!

What are “Man Boobs”?

These two LEGOs are fighting over how to reduce man boobs.

Let’s chat about some medical definitions, because it’ll help us put “man boobs” in some proper context.

  • Gynecomastia is defined as the benign growth of the male breast glandular tissue. The National Institute of Health states it’s usually caused by “increased estrogen activity, decreased testosterone activity, or the use of numerous medications.”[1]
  • Pseudogynecomastia is when male breasts are enlarged by fat deposits, due to an increase in body fat which distributes itself on one’s body according to genetics.

Most men who struggle with “man boobs” or “moobs” are in this second category, and the “pseudo” means they don’t really have the condition “gynecomastia.”

There is no hormonal imbalance.

Instead, the body is just storing extra fat in the chest area.

I’ll mostly be talking about shedding body fat and building muscle to lose “moobs,” but I will also talk about gynecomastia and medical conditions later.

Next up!

Can You Get Rid of Man Boobs?

Why do some men store fat in their chest?

We all process and store calories differently in our bodies.

And how our body stores excess calories is a critical concept for our discussion on “man boobs.”  

If you eat more calories than you burn, day after day, month after month, year after year, your body has to do something with all that extra energy.

If we’re sedentary, more often than not, the body will choose to store that energy as fat to be used for later.

Depending on our genetics, our body might choose to store that fat in our butt, gut, thighs, or chest.

Probably a combination of all those things.

And for some of us, a large portion of that body fat deposits itself in our chest area.

And thus, man boobs.

So, in order to start reversing the process, we need to have a two-pronged approach to tackling the “moobs” problem naturally and safely:

Exercise and nutrition.

Specifically, strength training and calorie restriction.

If you are somebody that wants EXACT instruction and a nutritional plan that is designed to help you reduce your man boobs, check out Nerd Fitness Coaching. We’ve helped people just like you do this the right way.

Can Exercises Target Chest Fat?

This LEGO is ready to work off his man boobs.

Fat and muscle are two different ‘systems’ in our body.

Fat sits on top of the muscle, like oil on water.

When we target a specific area for weight loss, like with a Thighmaster, all we’re really doing is exercising the muscle underneath the fat on our thighs.

And don’t get me wrong – this is GREAT (the muscle, not the Thighmaster).

More muscle is a good thing.

And yup, any exercise will result in calories burned – which is crucial when it comes to fat loss.

However, we need to think of the other systems as well:

The fat resting on top.

So, the path to get rid of “man boobs” centers on three points:

  1. Eating a caloric deficit (consuming fewer calories than you burn) so that our body has to break down our fat stores (including the fat stored in our chest) for energy. You can calculate how many calories you should eat to start.
  2. Strength train so more calories are diverted to rebuilding our muscle mass rather than getting stored as fat.
  3. Strength train (again) to build up the muscle under the fat. Muscular pecs with a low body fat percentage look dramatically different than man boobs.

Here’s why: strength training preserves the muscles we have (and can help build pectoral muscles).

Our body also has to rebuild the muscle that breaks down while we exercise, so it uses any extra calories we have to do that rather than storing it as fat!

Think of it kind of like the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter (come on, this is Nerd Fitness after all).

Your body is a lot like the Sorting Hat.

When we strength train, our body will act like The Sorting Hat and divert calories coming into House “Rebuild Muscle” and away from House “Store As Fat.” 

It’s a message we really strike home in our video for Body Recomposition:

For more, check out our guide on “Losing Fat and Gaining Muscle At the Same Time.”

With a strategy of slight caloric restriction combined with enough protein and heavy strength training, we’re decreasing the body fat on top of our muscle, while also building up that same muscle underneath.

This results in tighter skin, with less padding (fat), stretched over firmer muscles.

And boom – confidence-boosting pecs that would make King Leonidas proud!

Said another way, we’ll be coming at “man boobs” from the outside and inside.

The Best Workouts for Reducing “Man Boobs”: strength Training

These LEGOs are working the bench and doing some deadlifts. Nerd Fitness approves.

If we’re currently sedentary, the best form of exercise to help build a confidence-boosting physique would be strength training.

In our opinion, strength is a foundational component of overall health.

We’ll get started in three areas:

  1. Build up oour pectoral muscles (chest muscles under your “man boobs.”)
  2. Same with broadening our shoulders.
  3. We can also improve our posture to make sure we stand tall and proud, puffing our chest out and pulling our shoulder blades back.

In order to accomplish each of these goals, we’re gonna focus on building up strength in our PUSH muscles and our PULL muscles. 

Our first stop will be push-ups, a foundational exercise for developing upper body strength.

We show the correct way to do one right here:

I don’t care if you need to do them from your knees or doing an elevated push-up:

KNEE PUSH-UP

Knee push-ups like this are a great way to progress to a regular push-up!

ELEVATED PUSH-UP

Do elevated push-ups to work up to regular push-ups

We all start somewhere, and the name of the game is progressive overload – getting stronger with each workout!

In addition to the push-up, let’s consider the following as the best 5 Advanced Chest Exercises.

These are the types of exercises we build into the workout programs for our Coaching Clients looking to reduce chest fat and build up muscle in that area:

#1) Bench press (barbell or dumbbell).

One of the staple exercises to develop a chest area.

If one piece of equipment is visually associated with a fitness gym, it would be a bench press. If you’ve never used one before, check out our guide on using a bench press safely right here.

#2) Incline bench press.

A variation of the press that will help develop your chest area.

We can also work on an incline bench press to develop a more rounded-pectoral muscle that targets your upper chest.

#3) Overhead presses.

The overhead press is a great way to strengthen your chest muscles.

Not only can our pectoral muscles help push forward, they also get worked out when we do an overhead press (though much less so than the bench press variations.)

Varying chest exercises is a good way to help attack all different sides and parts of our chest and build well-rounded pectorals.

Here’s a dumbbell variation if you can’t train with a barbell yet:

In the neutral grip press, shown here, you have your hands together during the movement.

#4) Bodyweight Dips (ADVANCED)

Bodyweight dips are a great exercise to include in an strength training practice.

Once we start to develop some serious strength, we can start to level up your advanced bodyweight training with bodyweight dips

#5) Dumbbell Chest Fly (ADVANCED)

The dumbbell fly is another great exercise that targets the chest.  This is one you want to make sure you do with good form. Lie on a bench like you are about to do a dumbbell bench press (but you’ll want to use MUCH lighter weights to start.) Keep your elbows slightly bent and your chest puffed up. Reach to the sides until you feel a great stretch RIGHT in the chest muscle, and then come back to the starting position.

As we cover in our “how to build your own workout” guide, make sure to do a push exercise in every workout to start building up pectoral muscles. 

Again, start with push-ups.

Start doing them today.

This gif shows Staci doing a push-up in perfect form.

Again, if you can’t do a regular push-up, a knee push-up is totally fine.

Just do them.

After you get cozy with push-ups, move onto the above advanced moves or follow some of the following workouts:

I asked the male members of the Nerd Fitness Rebellion about man boobs, and many have reported improving their appearance with these pectoral exercises.

Outside of improving man boobs, strength training will make every other aspect of your life better.

Bringing groceries in from the car, doing that thing that consenting adults do, and defending yourself against ninjas will all be much easier after strength training.

Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include two other exercises that can change your life:

#1) Barbell Squats 

A squat is a life changing exercise

#2) Barbell Deadlifts

Rebel Leader Steve showing how to do a 420 lb deadlift at the gym.

These two basic barbell movements are the most ‘efficient’ exercises at building strength and burning fat.

They recruit your central nervous system and every muscle, joint, tendon, and bone in our body to get stronger.

In fact, if you could only do 4 exercises for the rest of your life, I would say:

  1. Squats
  2. Deadlifts
  3. Push-ups
  4. Pull-ups

Show me somebody who is super strong at those four movements, and I’ll show you somebody who has a great physique.

Seriously, don’t neglect those PULL muscles!

Here's a gif of a pull-up in perfect form.

This exercise might seem counterintuitive: why work on your back muscles if we’re trying to build up the muscle in our pecs?

Balance and posture.

By building strength in our PULL muscles, we strengthen and tighten our back muscles. This will naturally cause us to pull our shoulder blades back and down into proper position, and give us a better posture. 

If we ONLY do chest exercises, we’re more likely to get out of balance, which leads to contracted chest muscles, hunched shoulders, and poor posture. 

Here are some options for building up our back muscles and improving our posture:

#1) Dumbbell Rows 

Do a dumbbell row as a great beginner exercise to get strong enough for a pull-up!

#2) Bodyweight Rows

The inverted row is a great way to develop your "pull" and back muscles.

#3) Pull-ups (here’s how to do proper pull-ups)

The classic pull-up

And if you can’t do a pull-up yet, here’s a great pull-up progression that will show you how to do assisted pull-ups to build up strength, like so:

Staci using a band for an assisted pull-up, a great exercise for a bodyweight circuit.

Too long didn’t read: get strong, and your life will get better.

Build muscle in the right places, and it can help you reduce “man boob” problems.

Now, if you’re all:

Steve this sounds awesome. I want to strength train, but damn man. I’m already self-conscious enough about my man boobs.

How the hell do I get enough confidence to go into a gym when I don’t know what I’m doing!

Great question.

If you want expert guidance, form checks, and a custom build workout (and nutritional guidance) to help you transform your physique, we have a private, 1-on-1 coaching program that spurs nerds into action.

Also, you don’t even NEED a gym to train (it might sketchy thanks to the pandemic). Here’s exactly how to start working out from home

Okay, we talked about exercise.

And I mentioned “nutrition” as a MAJOR component when it comes to weight and fat loss.

80-90% of “how to get rid of man boobs” will rest on how we answer the question: “What do I normally eat?

The science of fat loss (Proper nutrition and “moobs”)

We'll show you how to use science to experiment with reducing your man boobs.

TOUGH LOVE ALERT:

I can almost guarantee that your man boobs are NOT a result of a slow metabolism or genetics (outside of how your body stores excess body fat).

It’s due to the fact that you have been consistently overeating, day in, and day out, for years. 

Once you’re done being mad at me and defensive about this, you’ll realize this is great news!

Why? Because it’s fixable.

You are not broken.

You simply need to change how you deal with food.

To do that, we’re going to focus on sustainable changes.

After all, temporary changes create temporary results.

And we want to get rid of man boobs permanently.

So, in order for us to lose body fat, we need to expend more calories than our body consumes, consistently.

Let’s put some numbers to this: 3,500 calories equals roughly one pound of fat.

So if we do the math here:

  • There are seven days in a week.
  • If we want to lose one pound of body fat in a week (a worthy, sustainable goal for some), we need to create a caloric deficit of 500 calories a day.
  • We can do this by consuming 500 fewer calories, burning 500 more calories, or a combination of the two.

Remember this: a daily 500-calorie deficit compared to how we normally eat to lose a pound a week.

(Note: in our coaching program, we’ve found clients have the most success targeting 0.5%-0.75% of their body weight per week as a fat loss goal. This is fast enough to see consistent results and stay motivated, while not SO restrictive that it’s completely unsustainable.)

What does 500 calories look like?

Here are two examples:

  • The number of calories found in a Big Gulp of Mountain Dew.
  • An estimate of the calories required to run five miles.

Hopefully, those two dots above made your head explode.

Steve, you’re saying that in order for me to counteract just sipping on a Mountain Dew while owning noobs in Fortnite, I’d need to run 5 miles?

I haven’t run a mile since gym class. And that was 15 years ago.

Yup.

Nutrition is 90% of the equation when it comes to weight loss.

NINETY. PERCENT.

Luke saying "that's not true"

Okay, I don’t actually know the exact percentage, but 90% is dramatic enough.

I hope to get you to realize that changing your nutrition is the most important thing you can do to reduce “man boobs.”

Sure, exercise is important.

However, when it comes to creating a caloric deficit, it’s much easier to decrease calories consumed vs. increase “calories burned.”

Put a different way: would you rather pour out that Mountain Dew, or run five miles?

Let’s tie together our discussion on “man boobs” with our philosophy on fitness: we’re eating too much, and our body is choosing to store these calories wherever it sees fit.

Unfortunately in this situation, it’s choosing to store them in our chest area.

We can’t change the past.

But we can change your future…and you won’t even need a wacky scientist.

Or can you change the past? No, you probably can't.

This is why we’re gonna reverse the trend: eat a caloric deficit, consistently, until we reach our goal. Then learn how to eat AT our caloric needs to sustain it for the long run.

Over time, our body will respond by burning fat from certain areas, in a certain order (again, this is out of our control).

As our body fat percentage drops far enough, it should start to remove the body fat from your pectoral area.

We have two paths forward.

PATH ONE: Count calories. If you’ve never done this before and are interested in trying, we recommend recording every meal and morsel for 3-5 days to start. (We can use a food journal, a calorie-counting app like MyFitnessPal, etc.

It’ll teach you a lot about the food you eat, and yourself. From there, calorie counting can be a viable strategy for SOME to continue to monitor and dial in their caloric intake. For about 25% of our coaching clients, this is the process that works for them.

As for how many calories we SHOULD eat, see our Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) Calculator.

It works, but boy is it challenging.

PATH TWO: follow our “simple plate” approach from our Healthy Eating Guide. Learn portions sizes, and start making slightly better choices. Focus on getting enough protein and veggies and cut back on liquid calories. Over 60% of our coaching clients find this method to be more sustainable and successful for them in the long-run.

A plate that that contains a portion of protein, healthy carb, veggies/fruit, and unsweetened drink.

I know that overhauling one’s diet is easier said than done.

But it’s time to take a proactive approach to nutrition.

You’re reading this article because man boobs are a real problem for you – educate yourself on what you’re eating and work on cutting back on the calories!

And that’s what we’ll cover in the next section: what foods to eat that will help you reduce your calories without you being miserable.

What should I be eating to lose “moobs”?

The Nerd Fitness philosophy on what constitutes a ‘healthy food’ can be written like this:

“Foods I can eat frequently that give me enough fuel to get through the day AND don’t make me miserable.”.

I lay it all out in our Beginner’s Guide to Healthy Eating, but this generally equates to foods like:

  • Protein like poultry, meat, low-fat dairy, and legumes.
  • Fruits and vegetables.
  • Healthy carbohydrates like rice and quinoa.
  • Healthy fats like almonds and olive oil.
  • Occasional full-fat cheese and dairy.

These are the types of foods that form the foundation of a well-balanced diet.

Do you know WHY these types of foods help with weight loss?

Because if we stick mostly to this list, we’ll likely create a caloric deficit naturally.

But why tho?

The fine folks at WiseGEEK did an awesome post where they took pictures of what 200 calories of a certain food look like.

200 calories of broccoli gets you enough broccoli to fill up an entire plate:

Or half a Snickers bar:

Yeah. And who eats half a Snickers and says “I’ll save the other half for later?” 

Literally nobody.

If we want to create a caloric deficit consistently, focusing on foods that give you a ton of bang-for-your-buck from a nutrients vs calories standpoint is the answer.

Of course, I know a Snickers bar is way more delicious than broccoli – it was designed in a lab by scientists to be AMAZING!

And I’m not gonna tell you to never eat a Snickers ever again either.

Instead, we need to start being proactive about our food choices. If we’re gonna eat a Snickers, we better damn well be planning for that by reducing our calorie intake elsewhere.

And if the scale isn’t budging, and our man boobs aren’t getting smaller – we’re still eating too much!

Should we do the Mediterranean diet? Keto? Vegan?

Paleo?

Maybe!

They all follow the same premise: by changing the foods we eat, we’re more likely than not to eat a caloric deficit. Certain people respond better to certain diets than others.

I personally follow a mental model diet, summarized here:

  1. Minimize and plan for processed food – they’re designed for us to overeat them. Take a look again at that Snickers bar. Do you really think you’d only eat half of one to stick to 200 calories? Of course not.
  2. Eat veggies. Vegetables are nutrient-dense and light on calories. Because of all the fiber, they are also tough to overeat. Imagine eating all that broccoli. Are you going for seconds? Probably not. So eat your veggies to help keep you full. Here’s how to make vegetables taste good.
  3. Avoid liquid calories. Cut back dramatically on soda, juices, smoothies, and any beverage with calories. Even most coffee orders (with sugar, cream, etc.) have a ton of hidden calories. Stick to water, and unsweetened tea or black coffee. Here are our thoughts on diet soda.
  4. Prioritize protein. Our body uses protein as the building block of muscle rebuilding. Outside of repairing our body, protein will also work to keep us full and satiated: 400 calories of chicken will leave us wayyy more full than 400 calories worth of Gatorade.[3] If you prioritize protein on your plate, you’ll be doing a lot of the heavy lifting on proper nutrition. Some great sources of protein include chicken, eggs, beef, pork, fish, nuts, legumes, quinoa, and most dairy products. Check out our Guide to Protein to measure how much protein you need every day.

These four points will help you on your journey to create a caloric deficit.

I know this is much easier said than done. After all, everybody knows they should eat more vegetables, and yet 70% of the country is overweight.

Clearly, there’s more happening here than just “I need willpower and I need to try harder!”

If you’re struggling with portion control and challenges, jump fully into the NF community.

We cover human behavior and psychology to help you:

We’ve helped thousands of people like you here at NF, and we really focus on nutrition.

As we said, it’s 90% of the battle!

It’s why we created our 10-level nutritional system. Each level gets a bit more challenging and healthier, but you can progress at your own speed to make your changes stick!

I’ll send you the 10-Level Guide when you sign up for our newsletter here.

Does Soy Cause Man Boobs?

This LEGO is researching whether soy causes man boobs!

You don’t have to search far on the internet for the advice “avoid soy because it causes man boobs.”

It’s repeated so much, it’s assumed to be fact.

Is it?

The definition of gynecomastia (medical condition of man boobs) mentions “increased estrogen activity” as a major cause.

So when people say stay clear of soy, they’re worried about its impact on hormones like testosterone and estrogen.

Why the concern?

It comes down to a compound found in soy called “isoflavones.” Isoflavones are a type of phytoestrogen, which acts a little like estrogen, the central female hormone.

“Phyto” is derived from Greek and means “plant.” “Estrogen” is estrogen. So phytoestrogen more or less means plant-derived estrogen.

The fear of isoflavone rests with our bodies using this plant-like estrogen as actual estrogen. A report from Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology found that this is potentially possible.[4]

I should now note, we are about to wade into a controversial subject.

We’ll be careful and rely on good old-fashioned science and studies for guidance.

However, sometimes science can point us in a couple of different and contradictory directions. When this happens, it’s important to acknowledge the uncertainty.

Compounds in soy may act like estrogen in the body. Does this apply to men though? And do they cause “man boobs?”

A 2005 study out of The Journal of Nutrition did find a relationship between soy intake and hormone levels in men.[5] However, they concluded these to be “minor.”

In 2010, Fertility and Sterility tackled the question on whether soy had “feminizing effects on men.”

They found it didn’t.[6]

Their report stated:

Neither isoflavone supplements nor isoflavone-rich soy affect total or free testosterone levels.

The journal concluded:

There is essentially no evidence from the nine identified clinical studies that isoflavone exposure affects circulating estrogen levels in men.

Case closed?

Is the case closed on soy and man boobs?

Probably, but I’d be remiss not to mention the following:

There is one documented case published in Endocrine Practice, where a man may have given himself gynecomastia by drinking three quarts of soy milk a day.[7]

His gynecomastia went away when he stopped. Granted, this is anecdotal evidence, which is far from proof.

However, it is interesting and worth noting to round out this discussion. And as mentioned earlier, the ability for phytoestrogen to act as actual estrogen does seem possible…

Steve, Just tell me: Should I ditch soy to ditch my man boobs?

Well, as with anything, quantity and context matters. Virginia Miller, an estrogen researcher at the Mayo Clinic, told a Vice journalist:[8]

The amount of phytoestrogens in various soy products varies by process method.

Dr. Miller didn’t think it was too problematic to eat soy, specifically mentioning that:

Eating tofu is probably OK.

Interestingly, Miller suggested that BPA found in plastic is more harmful to our endocrine (hormone) system than eating or drinking soy.[9]

Confusing stuff.

In general, the consensus seems to be that as long as you don’t binge soy products, the amount of phytoestrogens found in a normal diet is fine.

If you have the actual condition of gynecomastia, soy is unlikely to be the root cause.

As more and more research is being done on this subject, this answer could change.

My opinion: this is a tiny piece of the puzzle…

…not the whole picture.

If we’re overeating food every day, worrying about the soy we consume is missing the forest for the trees.

That’d be like…putting on a long sleeve shirt instead of a t-shirt for added protection, before driving 50 miles an hour into a brick wall.

Instead, maybe focus on wearing a seat belt, or better yet – not driving into the wall in the first place!

I swear that analogy made sense in my head before I typed it out.

Anyways – back to real specifics.

Here is the Nerd Fitness philosophy on soy: focus on total calories consumed and get that dialed in for consistent caloric deficit.

Only THEN, as our body fat starts to decrease, and we’re analyzing how our body responds to any and ALL types of food, see how our body responds to removing soy from our diet.

Want to have an expert guide you on this process? A fitness partner to help guide you on nutrition, including eliminating and then re-introducing certain foods? You can by checking out Nerd Fitness Coaching.

Do I actually have gynecomastia?

The only way to really know if you have gynecomastia is to go to a doctor.

They’ll be able to tell you (often with an ultrasound) if it’s a glandular breast enlargement or just fatty tissue.

They might also do some blood tests to check testosterone levels and female sex hormones like estrogen.

If you have an imbalance, gynecomastia could be a side effect. They’ll know for sure and can prescribe a treatment.

Also, they can verify that something very serious isn’t going on. In very rare cases, male breast enlargement can be a sign of cancer. Yes, men can get breast cancer.[10]

It should be noted: obesity itself is tied to increasing the development of real gynecomastia.

Excessive fat stimulates the body’s production of estrogen, spurring the growth of actual breast tissue.[11]

Said another way:

Pseudogynecomastia can turn into actual gynecomastia.

If you are diagnosed with gynecomastia, it’ll be between you and your doctor as to the next steps. I’ve seen men take one of three paths, as I’ve read anecdotes from our private support community for Nerd Fitness:

  1. Men who had elective surgery (liposuction in some instances and skin tucks) to remove the fat due to gynecomastia. They are thankful for no longer being self-conscious about their chest areas. This is not an option for everybody for various reasons.
  2. Others have worked hard to reduce their man boob size through exercise and nutrition.
  3. Some have elected to not treat gynecomastia, or are working to reduce the fat around their pecs through diet and exercise before deciding what to do next.

If you’re concerned with “man boobs,” weight management is the path of action we’d recommend, whether you’re facing either gynecomastia or pseudogynecomastia. 

Reducing your body fat percentage can help keep your hormones in balance.

One important note here. Your unique situation is just that: unique.

I know many men who have treated pseudogynecomastia with diet and exercise, and I know others who are VERY thankful they had surgery to treat the symptom and are much happier as a result.

No judgment here. You do you, brother.

At this point, I bet you have an additional question: “Can hormone balance be affected in the opposite direction? By increasing testosterone?”

Is there a way to boost my testosterone naturally?

Indiana Jones wants to know if he has gynecomastia or not.

If you do suspect you have a hormonal imbalance, speak with your doctor. They can run tests and tell you exactly what is going on, why, and how to treat it.

I will not be digging into medically supervised testosterone therapy (which is above my pay grade, and between you and your doctor), but here’s our guidance on naturally boosting your testosterone levels:

#1) Strength training. I know. A few sections ago I devoted an entire area to strength training.

However, if you are looking for a natural way to boost testosterone, strength training would be a good way to go about it.

One 2017 study found, that although temporary, testosterone levels were shown to: “acutely rise immediately following an acute resistance exercise bout.”[12]

Because of the short-term increase, consistency is key with resistance training and testosterone levels. That’s likely why “regular exercise” has been linked with increased testosterone overal.l[13]

#2) Stress. Cortisol is a hormone that is promoted by stress and reduces free testosterone levels (in addition to signaling for your body to store fat).[14]

The more stressed out we are, the lower our testosterone will be. What’s a cure? Being mindful.

Meditation practices have been shown to help control cortisol levels.[15] Want to start a mindfulness practice? Scope out our Nerd’s Guide to Mindfulness to get going.

Do you know what else is connected with higher cortisol levels and increased stress? Lack of sleep! If this is you, shut off Netflix and get to bed sooner.

#3) Overtraining. There can be too much of a good thing. Studies have found that both professional basketball and soccer players drop their testosterone levels by the end of a season.[16]

Which makes sense.

Tons of activity in a short amount of time gives no time to repair and heal. The same phenomenon has been found in ultra-marathoners.[17][[17]]That study on ultra-marathoners is right here.[[17]. Make sure you get plenty of sleep and schedule rest days.

#4) Eat red meat. Red meat is a great source of the amino acid carnitine, which has been linked to improved fertility.[18] Plus, it’s a good source of zinc, which has also been shown to help regulate testosterone.[19]

#5) Your results may vary. My friend Brett over at Art of Manliness did a 90-day experiment in which he doubled his testosterone levels through diet and strength training.

To be honest with you, even if you don’t have low testosterone levels, you should strength train, be mindful, and prioritize rest.

And maybe even eat a little red meat.

And yes, I read that study that says red meat will kill you. I don’t agree with the fear-mongering.[20]

If you want help with strength training, nutrition, or even starting a mindfulness practice, check out Nerd Fitness Coaching! We help men (and women) level up their lives by providing actionable goals and accountability.

How to Start Reducing Man Boobs

A LEGO ready to fix this car and get his diet in order to tackle his chest fat.

So you have pseudogynecomastia.

And you’re interested in trying to do this the old-fashioned way before going down the route of surgery.

This would be my recommended path to everybody, though remember I’m not a doctor and I would recommend working with your doctor to put a plan in place together.

OUR NON-DOCTOR ADVICE FOR A DUDE TRYING TO GET RID OF MAN BOOBS NATURALLY:

  1. Take front and side photos without a shirt on today. This will help give you a frame of reference as you move forward with your changes. Pictures will round out your story.
  2. Consider a tape measure and take weekly chest measurements too. Just be consistent with how you take the measurements and look for overall trends! Here’s our Guide on Tracking Fitness Progress.
  3. Follow the above nutritional guidance and workout routine for the next month. Remember, I gave you four tips for healthy eating. If you requested our 10-Level Nutrition Guide, it’ll help make those suggestions permanent. Plus, I want you to start doing push-ups (on your knees is a great start). Do it immediately. It’ll help prep you for those Advanced Chest Exercises I talked to you about.
  4. If the scale is dropping, and your photos are showing “moob” improvement, keep it up! As I said earlier, consistency is the name of the game here at Nerd Fitness. “Slow and steady” beats “fast and quitting” every time.
  5. If you want to talk to a doctor to see if anything can or should be done about it, go for it! Medical advice is generally good advice. Bonus points if you find a doctor who strength-trains and seeks to treat through nutrition and exercise first!

I do want to stress, that many male members of the Nerd Fitness Rebellion have reported improving their “man boobs” through the strategies listed in this article.

We are dealt a certain hand from the genetic lottery: whether we gain muscle quickly or slowly, whether we lose our hair or not, and whether we store fat in our legs or in our chest.

We can get mad about it, or we can play the hand we are dealt.

Until somebody develops robot legs, I’m not growing any taller.

However, let’s not justify our internal excuses, or throw ourselves too big of a pity party.

What we do with our genetic fate, is completely up to us. And we have hundreds of thousands of people in the Nerd Fitness Rebellion who have overcome shitty genetics to transform themselves dramatically.

If you want 1-on-1 help to transform yourself, we got you!

We come in all shapes and sizes: you do you.

It's okay to be who you are now and want to grow into something new too.

The goal of this post is educational. To teach us how our body stores fat, and what can or cannot be done about it.

It’s more than okay to love yourself and also want to improve your physique.

Body positivity and wanting to look better are not mutually exclusive.

We’re all works in progress, and that’s great.

If you want to use this post to spur you to change, like cleaning up your diet or lifting some weights, awesome!

I’m glad Nerd Fitness can help lead you into action:

  • Reduce your body fat percentage through nutritional changes (which includes eating a caloric deficit).
  • Strength train to increase the amount of muscle you have, increase the “calories burned” portion of the weight-loss equation, and increase your testosterone.
  • Work with your doctor if you are reducing your body fat but not seeing any changes in your chest area – you might actually have a medical condition called gynecomastia.

Want help knowing exactly how to progress from here? 

I have MULTIPLE options for you. Pick the path below that best aligns with your goals and timeline:

1) If you want step-by-step guidance on how to lose weight, eat better, and get stronger, check out our killer 1-on-1 coaching program:

Nerd Fitness Coaching Banner

2) Join the Rebellion! We need good people like you in our community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion. 

Sign in the box below and not only will you receive our free weight loss guide, but our step-by-step plan for starting a Strength Training practice:

I know it’s easier said than done to say “f*** the haters,” but seriously, f*** the haters.

Take your shirt off at the beach: you deserve to enjoy the sun and sea like everybody else.

We’re all a work in progress, and I hope this post helps you continue to work on yours!

-Steve

PS: No seriously, f*** the haters:

It's okay to be who you are. Smile at people who hate on you for being you.

###

All photo sources can be found in this footnote right here [21]

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5 Best Strength Training Workout Routines For Beginners (Home & Gym) https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/strength-training-101-where-do-i-start/ https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/strength-training-101-where-do-i-start/#disqus_thread Tue, 06 Feb 2024 06:56:00 +0000 http://www.nerdfitness.com/?p=21263 Want to get strong like these LEGO lifters but don’t how to start? In this Beginner’s Guide to Strength Training (part of our Strength 101 series), you’ll have both the confidence to start getting strong with resistance training AND a plan to follow. These are the exact strategies we use with our Online Coaching Clients...

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These LEGOs are working the bench and doing some deadlifts. Nerd Fitness approves.

Want to get strong like these LEGO lifters but don’t how to start?

In this Beginner’s Guide to Strength Training (part of our Strength 101 series), you’ll have both the confidence to start getting strong with resistance training AND a plan to follow.

These are the exact strategies we use with our Online Coaching Clients to help them start strength training, and I’m excited to cover everything you need.

We’ll be digging into the following:

By the way, we’ve combined this article along with the rest of our strength articles into a “Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know” guide.

Grab it free when you join the Rebellion by putting your email in the box below.

How Do I Start Strength Training?

Barbells in a gym bar bells and rope

Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life.

You’ll look back years from now and thank “Past You” for starting strength training today.

And I promise, you WILL start strength training today.

After all, strength training or resistance training doesn’t need to be scary or overcomplicated!

Strength training really comes down to two things:

#1) Movement of any weight against “resistance”(including your body weight) – Doing ANY exercise that pushes your muscles outside of their comfort zone, forcing them to rebuild stronger to prepare for the next challenge.

#2) Progressive overload: doing slightly more than last time (lift heavier weight or do 1 more rep) consistently. Your muscles will break down slightly during your workout, and then rebuild themselves as you rest and recover to be stronger and able to handle more the next time.{1}}[[1]]Powers SK, Howley ET. (2011). Exercise physiology: Theory and application to fitness and performance. New York: McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages.[[1]]

Coach Jim explains the ins and outs of progressive overload in this video:

That’s all there is to it: do some resistance training and attempt to make it more and more challenging, and you’ll grow stronger.[2]

  • This means if you do ONE push-up off of a countertop right now, technically you’ve done a strength training workout.
  • It also means if you then do TWO countertop push-ups tomorrow, then you are officially following a strength training routine.

In other words…

Like this man says, "You can do it" wants you to start strength training!

Now, it’s SCIENCE TIME!

While learning the strength training exercises, you are allowing for proper communication to develop between your neuromuscular systems.

This gif shows an arm bending from a neuromuscular junciton

More efficient communication between your neuromuscular systems will result in something known as “proper motor unit recruitment.”

You may be asking yourself: what is a motor unit?

That’s okay because I was asking myself this same question.

A motor unit is a single motor neuron and the muscle fibers it innervates.

You can think of two different types of motor units:[3]

  • We all have small motor units, meaning that a single motor neuron innervates relatively few muscle fibers, and these smaller motor units are good for precise and detailed movements (e.g., moving your fingers).
  • We all also have large motor units, meaning that a single motor neuron innervates hundreds of muscle fibers, and these larger motor units are good for generating a lot of force (e.g., getting larger muscle groups like the quads to generate a lot of force to help in sprinting).

When you start strength training, you really are helping your muscles communicate better together.[4]

How cool is that?

Now, there are many different “strength training” and “resistance training” paths.

Like a “skill tree” in a video game (with branching paths and progressions), you can progress up one path, and mix and match movements from others depending on the situation.

These paths depend on your goals and what equipment you have available to you.

What Are Some Examples of Strength Training?

Does the Empire mandate this training?

Let’s chat about a few different types of strength training.

#1) BODYWEIGHT TRAINING

Bodyweight training is simply doing an exercise in which your own body is the “weight” you are “lifting.” For example, you might do a squat, a push-up, or an inverted row. These are all bodyweight strength training exercises.

This is the place where we start many of our 1-on-1 clients on their strength training journey. 

Why? Two big reasons:

A) You always have your body with you (unless you are a ghost, in which case, this is awkward). This means you can work out ANYWHERE with bodyweight training:

B) Using your body for resistance training is the most “human” thing ever! By learning to push and pull and hang and squat and lunge, you are doing what your body is literally designed to do.

And by building strength, you’re making yourself antifragile and less injury-prone.

For many of our clients, bodyweight exercises are right in that sweet spot of being challenging while lowering the barrier to entry to get started. 

Bodyweight training isn’t as easy to ‘scale’ the difficulty as some of the other strength training methods (“put more weight on barbell”), but you can get REALLY strong with just bodyweight training.

For example, you can start with knee push-ups, then go to regular push-ups, then elevated push-ups, then even up to things like handstands and handstand push-ups.

You just have to know HOW and WHEN to scale up (we can help there too).

#2) DUMBBELL TRAINING

This cartoon uses free weights for his strength training.

Dumbbells are a great first step into the world of weight training and strength training:

  1. Most gyms will have dumbbells, even if it’s a basic gym in your apartment complex.
  2. An adjustable set of dumbbells doesn’t take up a lot of room, which means you can have a pair at home without a large footprint.
  3. Dumbbells make it easy to add difficulty to a bodyweight movement: holding dumbbells while doing lunges, for example.
  4. Dumbbell exercises can be less intimidating than barbell training for some, and are a step towards barbell training.
  5. Dumbbells have an added stabilization challenge,[4] and will point out muscle imbalances pretty easily (“oh my right arm is stronger than my left arm.”).
  6. Dumbbells allow for single-arm and single-leg exercises to be performed. This can allow you to strengthen any muscle imbalances and can come in handy, especially after an injury.
  7. You can scale easily. Once the 10-pound weights become too easy, pick up the 15-pound ones!

#3) KETTLEBELL TRAINING

This cat loves doing a beginner kettlebell workout for strength

A kettlebell is essentially a cannonball with a handle on it. They come in any weight imaginable, don’t take up a lot of room, and can be used in dozens of ways for a great compact workout.

Our 20-minute kettlebell workout has 8 simple exercises you can do with just one weight.

Although there are “adjustable kettlebells,” you’ll most likely be working with a single kettlebell, and then adjusting your movements for “progressive overload” (making the workout slightly more difficult each time).

If you are a member of a gym, they’ll probably have multiple kettlebells that you can use to level up.

#4) BARBELL TRAINING

Rebel Leader Steve showing how to do a 420 lb deadlift at the gym.

Regardless of sex or gender age, if your goal is to get strong quickly, use 20 seconds of courage and get comfortable training with a barbell (I’ll help you, I promise):

  1. Progressive overload” is easy – you simply add weights to either side of the bar, allowing you to progressively lift more and more weight each week.
  2. It’s much easier to go heavy safely – especially for lower body movements like the squat and the deadlift.

The biggest downside to barbell training is that to train at home, you need to have purchased a squat rack, a barbell, a bench, and enough weights for your house or garage (which can be an expensive investment, especially when starting out!).

If you want to try it before you buy it, you definitely will need to join a gym.

#5) MACHINE TRAINING

Although they’ve gotten a bad rap in previous years, machines are another excellent entry point into strength training! These are going to be one of the most common options at gym franchises like Planet Fitness or Anytime Fitness, and usually come with instructions on the side for how to set up and perform the exercise. They have the benefit of being able to add weight quickly to scale, and usually require less stability to perform. (I.e. you’re not trying to balance and coordinate the movement at the same time as lifting it as much.)

While we still encourage our clients to do free-weights to build stability, when you’re first getting started having the extra guidance from a machine can be helpful!

WHICH RESISTANCE TRAINING PATH IS RIGHT FOR YOU?

Not sure which path to pick? You’re not alone – this stuff can be overwhelming. The truth is that you’ll probably mix and match a variety of these different options as you go. However, if you’re unsure, we recommend starting with bodyweight exercises. Then you can add in one dumbbell or machine movement at a time to introduce more variety and options for yourself!

Want to take the thinking off of your plate and have a program designed with your specific needs and equipment in mind? Check out our 1-on-1 Coaching Program. We get to know you and your goals, check your form via video, and make adjustments based on your progress!

Which Strength Training Program is Right for Me?

Do you think he supplements with creatine?

So, what’s the best workout program to start as a beginner?

Realistically, it’s the one that you will ACTUALLY do.

We have a saying that we love around here: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

Barbell training might be optimal in terms of building pure strength quickly, but if you don’t see yourself getting to the gym regularly – or you’re too self-conscious to enter the free weight section (for now) – no problem!

Start with bodyweight training.[5]

Conversely, bodyweight training might seem convenient and easy to start now, but if you can’t motivate yourself to work out at home, you might be better off joining a gym.[6]

So let’s get you a workout program!

As we cover in our “How to Find the Perfect Workout Plan (for you)”: MOST beginners will be best served by following a “full-body” or “total body” routine, 2 to 3 times per week, with a day of rest in between each workout.[7]

This full-body workout will have 4-5 big compound movements.

A compound movement is an exercise that recruits LOTS of muscles simultaneously and forces your body to work in unison. These compound exercises are considered multi-joint exercises meaning that they involve more than a single muscle group.[8]

An example would be the barbell squat, which recruits every muscle in your core, butt, and legs to work together to lift the weight.

A squat is a life changing exercise

This is WAY more efficient – and effective at building pure strength – than doing 5 different isolated leg exercises.[9]

Why do 5 exercises when 1 exercise will get you better results in 20% of the time?

In order to balance our full-body workouts, we want to make sure we pick exercises that spread the work out across the entire body. One helpful way to do this is to think of exercises as fitting into one of three different ‘buckets’:

  • Push Exercises – these are exercises that generally work the front of your upper body. Things like push-ups, bench press, and overhead press all fit in this category.
  • Pull Exercises – these are exercises that generally work the back of your upper body. This includes rows, pull-downs, and chin-ups.
  • Lower Exercises – these are exercises that work your legs. Squats, deadlifts and lunges are some of the biggest bang for your buck exercises here.

By balancing your workouts across all three of these buckets, you get a well-rounded full-body strength program!

I can already tell what you’re next question will be: but how many sets and reps of each of these exercises should I do as a beginner?

As we explain in our “How Many Sets and Reps” guide:

  • Reps in the 1-5 range build super dense muscle and strength.
  • Reps in the 6-12 range build equal amounts of muscular power, strength, and size.
  • Reps in the 12+ range primarily build muscular endurance and size and also cardiovascular health.[10]

If you want more, Coach Jim breaks down different set and rep ranges in this video:

Many beginner strength programs will encourage you to keep things simple, doing just 5 sets of 5 reps for each exercise.

Personally, I encourage people to aim for a weight that they can lift for 8-10 reps. This gives you a chance to really work on your form and lift safely!

The max lifts will come later, my friend. You gotta learn to walk before you can run!

To recap, our recommendations as you get started are:

  • Pick a type of strength training that you have access to and are excited to try (body weight, barbell, etc.)
  • Perform 2-3 full body workouts per week, with at least 1 day of rest in between each
  • Pick 4-5 compound exercises that work multiple muscles at once for each workout
  • Perform 8-10 moderately challenging reps of each exercise for 1-3 sets

If your main goal is general fitness and fat loss, doing these exercises in a circuit training workout will likely help you reach your goals (make sure you see our section below for “strength training for weight loss”).[11]

If your main goal is to get stronger and/or put on muscle, following a more traditional, pure-strength-style gym workout is going to get you there faster.

TRUTH BOMB: ANY strength training workout will help you reach nearly any goal provided you do two things:

  1. Eat correctly for your goals too. How you eat will account for 80-90% of your success or failure when it comes to weight loss or bulking up.[12]
  2. Increase the difficulty of your workouts. This is that “progressive overload” stuff we were talking about earlier. Doing 1 more bodyweight squat, lifting 5 more pounds, or completing your circuit 10 seconds faster than the last workout. By forcing your body to constantly adapt, your muscles will never get complacent and have to keep burning extra calories and rebuilding themselves stronger.

The 5 Best Beginner Strength Training Programs

A gym like this is a great way to strength train, as Darth Vader knows.

“Alright Staci, are there any ‘out of the box’ beginner workout programs I can start following now?”

Yup! Let me share with you some of our suggestions:

Here are 5 resistance training workouts you can follow TODAY. Pick the level that you feel most comfortable with, and then level up when you feel ready:

#1) BEGINNER BODYWEIGHT WORKOUT:

Our Beginner Bodyweight Workout has a variety of rep ranges to promote endurance, strength, and cardiovascular health. We’ve added new progressions and even created a handy tracking sheet for free if you sign up for our newsletter.

Complete one set of each exercise and then move directly to the next exercise:

  • 10 assisted bodyweight squats
  • 10 elevated push-ups
  • 10 dumbbells rows (using a gallon milk jug)
  • 15 to 30-second knee plank
  • 10 bodyweight good mornings
  • 20 walking jacks
  • Repeat for 2 rounds

Once that feels easy and you want to level up, try this sequence:

  • 20 bodyweight squats
  • 10 push-ups
  • 20 walking lunges
  • 10 dumbbell rows (using a gallon milk jug)
  • 15-second plank
  • 30 Jumping Jacks
  • Repeat for 3 rounds

Want to stick with bodyweight training? When you’re ready to level up, check out our advanced bodyweight training circuit.[13]

Otherwise, you can move on to weight training when you feel comfortable!

#2A) BEGINNER NERD FITNESS DUMBBELL WORKOUT

If you are just getting started with dumbbells and you’re looking for a beginner workout program to follow, this is an example of a workout that includes dumbbells with your bodyweight training:

  • 10 goblet squats
  • 10 push-ups
  • 10 dumbbell rows per side

I knew you’d ask, so here is a Goblet Squat video explanation:

And here is our video on how to do dumbbell rows:

#2B) BEGINNER NERD FITNESS KETTLEBELL WORKOUT

Our Beginner Kettlebell Routine is a workout you do anywhere you have room to swing a kettlebell.

So, probably not in a phone booth or a closet or a bathroom stall. But other than that, pretty much anywhere else.

Complete 3 Kettlebell Workout Circuits:

  • 8 Halos (each side)
  • 10 Goblet Squats
  • 8 Overhead Presses (each side)
  • 15 Kettlebell Swings
  • 8 Bent Over Rows (each side)
  • 6 Front Rack Reverse Lunge (per side)

#3) BARBELL TRAINING: 2-DAY WORKOUT SPLIT

As we cover in our “How to Train in a Gym” guide (where we take you from “lost sheep” to “barbell badass”), this routine is a much more focused weight training, strength-building workout that gets your feet wet with barbell training. Click on ANY exercise to learn how to do it properly.

NF BEGINNER BARBELL STRENGTH WORKOUT: DAY A

Do 3 rounds of:

NF BEGINNER BARBELL STRENGTH WORKOUT: DAY B

Do 3 rounds of:

Alternate between these 2-4x per week and there’s your program!

WHAT ARE SOME OTHER POPULAR STRENGTH TRAINING PROGRAMS?

#1) “Starting Strength” is considered the gold standard beginner barbell weight training program by many. We highly recommend you pick up the actual book if you are serious about barbell training – it’s one of the most important training books you can ever read.

#2) Strong Lifts 5X5: A solid workout program that starts you out very slow, with just the barbell, and helps you master form before you get too heavy. It also keeps things VERY easy with “do 5×5.” Strong Lifts has been around for a long time and is a solid program.

#3) Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1: This program allows you a little more freedom to do exercises that you enjoy, or work on personal weaknesses, because you choose some of the assistance work.

Note: You can modify any of the barbell training programs to be done with dumbbells, if that’s what you have at home!

Lastly, you can always write your own workout planI wrote my own workouts for a decade and it taught me a LOT about training and health.

We do have our own 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program where you’ll work with a coach who will build a strength training workout program for your body type and goals, check your form on each exercise via video, and even help you plan out your nutrition too.

How Much Weight Should I lift?

Is this LEGO lifting too much or too little for his strength training?

We have a FULL resource on how to determine your starting weight for lifting, but I’ll give you the gist here.

The simple-to-learn but tough-to-implement answer: lift enough so that you can get through the set, but not too much that you have NO fuel left in the tank at the end.

And then, try to lift sliiiightly more than last time.

Here are two common questions on strength training:

#1) How much weight should I start with?

  • If you are using dumbbells or a kettlebell, always err on the side of “too light” versus “too heavy.” You want to learn the movement correctly and build correct form.
  • If you are training with a barbell, ALWAYS start with JUST the bar, no matter the exercise (By the way, a standard barbell weighs 45 pounds).

#2) How fast should I add weight to the bar?

Here’s what we teach all of our coaching clients: add the minimum amount of weight each week you can, even if you THINK you can lift more. It’s better to finish a workout full of momentum and say “I can do more!” than defeated and saying “That was too much, crapola.”

Think of it this way, even if you are adding just 5 pounds per week to the bar, within a year you would be lifting 300+ pounds!

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) recommends a similar approach:[14]

  • For less trained people (i.e., beginners), it is recommended that for upper body exercises you increase the load by 2 – 5 pounds and by 5 – 10 pounds for lower body exercises.
  • For more trained people (i.e., advanced), it is recommended that for upper body exercises you increase the load by 5 – 10 pounds or more and by 10 – 15 pounds or more for lower body exercises.

So go SLOW. Even slower than the NSCA recommends if needed.

Team NF’s Steve even bought little half-pound weights and increased many of his lifts by just 1 pound per week. It’s a big part of how he transformed (jokingly) from Steve Rogers to Captain America.

The 9 Best Strength Training Exercises to Learn

If you’re new to all this “strength training” stuff, hopping into a program and going from zero to sixty might be a recipe for failure.

Instead, be patient, and take the time to learn these movements first.

I’m going to share with you the 9 best strength training exercises that every beginner should master (scroll down for full video and explanations!):

  • 1. Push-up: uses every push muscle in your body (chest, shoulders, triceps)
  • 2. Bodyweight squat: uses every muscle in the lower body (quads, hamstrings, glutes, core)
  • 3. Bodyweight row: works every “pull” muscle and helps prepare you for a pull-up!
  • 4. Pull-up or chin-up: the best “pull” exercise in history! Everybody should have a goal to get their first pull-up.
  • 5. Bodyweight dip: advanced “push” movement that targets your push muscles (chest, shoulders, triceps) in a different way than push-ups.
  • 6. Barbell squat: the best bang for your buck on muscle building. recruits nearly every push muscle in your whole body, and a great core workout.
  • 7. Barbell deadlift: the favorite exercise of every coach at Nerd Fitness. Uses every “pull,” leg, and core muscle in your body.
  • 8. Barbell benchpress: as basic and powerful as they come. Uses every “push” movement in your upper body and can get you strong as heck!
  • 9. Barbell press: press the bar above your head! Targets shoulders and triceps more than the chest.

All of the exercises listed above are considered functional (closed-chain) exercises. That means they relate to our everyday movements and can be used to predict our success in sports, recreational and occupational activities, and activities of daily living.[15]

When attempting all of these above-listed exercises, aim to master the movement and perform the exercise through its entire range of motion (ROM).

Why?

Because it will decrease your risk for injury, activate all of the appropriate muscle groups, and result in greater muscle hypertrophy.[16] 

Let’s go over these now.

Click on any of these exercises to get a FULL explanation of the movement, step-by-step:

1) The Push-Up: The best exercise you could ever do for yourself when it comes to using your bodyweight for push muscles (your chest, shoulders, and triceps):

2) The Bodyweight Squat: This exercise serves a dual purpose: it is the foundation for building strength AND helps build proper mobility. If you are going to ever do barbell squats, you need to work on hitting proper depth with a bodyweight squat first!

3) The Inverted Bodyweight Row: Until you can get your first pull-up or chin-up, these exercises are GREAT to start building your pull-muscle strength: your back, biceps, and forearms.

4) The Pull-Up and Chin-Up: Once you can support your bodyweight above the bar, the world becomes your playground. No strength training routine should be without pull-up or chin-up work! (Click here if you can’t do a pull-up or chin-up yet?)

5) The Bodyweight Dip: As you start to get stronger with push-ups and need to find a way to increase the challenge, consider doing dips – warning: these are very advanced, but incredible strength-building exercises.

And now we’re into the best weight training exercises:

6) The Barbell Squat: Probably the best exercise when it comes to building strength and muscle throughout your whole body. It also burns crazy calories and makes life better. This is a MUST:

7) The Barbell DeadliftMaybe the best exercise of all time. Actually no, it IS the best exercise of all time. It’s certainly the most primal: “pick the weight up off the ground. Done.”

This is a very technical lift, so make sure you read our article on how to do it with proper form:

8) The Barbell Press: Press a barbell above your head. This recruits all of the muscles in your chest, shoulders, and arms in order for you to lift the weight over your head.

As a bonus, you need to really flex and brace your core, which gets those muscles working too.

9) The Barbell Bench Press. Lie on a bench, and lower a barbell until it almost touches your chest. Pause, and press it back up towards the sky. Repeat! And get strong.

NOTE: All exercises were explained according to the guidelines that have been established by the NSCA.[17]

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: commit to trying ONE of these movements in the next week. Use 20 seconds of courage, recruit a friend who has lifted or trained before, and try your best.

How to Know You’re Doing a Strength Training Movement Properly (Form Checks)

This cameraman knows a form check is valuable when it comes to strength training. And a raincoat in a storm. Both practical.

Always start out with just your body’s weight and make sure your movement is correct!

  • If it’s a barbell movement, use a broomstick (or PVC Pipe).
  • If it’s a dumbbell movement, use two sections of PVC or something else that is light and small to simulate a dumbbell.

When it comes to movements like squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, bench presses, your form is crucial. Develop good habits with lightweight and you will save yourself months of frustration later and will protect you from injury.[18]

If you’re struggling with certain elements of a movement, don’t get frustrated! Remember, proper communication between your neuromuscular systems needs to develop.

Things will start to improve.[19] 

How do you know if your movement is correct?

Do regular video form checks! Record yourself and watch the video.

Alternatively, an expert reviewing your specific movement can be invaluable. 

If you’re looking for someone who can do video form checks, provide feedback, and adjust your workouts based on your progress, you can check out our 1-on-1 Online Personal Training!

I’ve had an online coach for 4 years and it’s changed my life.

You could also get expert guidance in person: Look around at your local strength and conditioning gyms and see if you could hire a coach (here’s how to find a good personal trainer) for one or two sessions just to go over the basic movements.

If you can’t do either of those two options, no big deal! Videotape yourself and compare it to the videos here in the articlesYou can also post your video to our private Facebook community and let other friendly nerds help you out.

When I started, I really liked practicing all of the movements at home because I could watch a video online at the same time as I was watching myself do it in a mirror. Studies have found this can actually help![20]

Strength Training for Weight Loss

Strength training like with these dumbbells is key for a weight loss program.

So you’re looking to lose weight, and tired of hours of cardio (me too).

And you’re wondering if strength training for weight loss – by following one of the workouts in this guide is a viable solution.

Or, gasp – will strength training make you too bulky?

SPOILER: it won’t.

Rebel Leader Steve explains why in this video:

Yes, Strength training will help you lose weight IF you do two key things for effective weight loss:

  • Calorie restriction: eating fewer calories than you burn every day[21]
  • Strength training with progressive overload (picking up heavier stuff)

As we point out in our “Cardio vs Intervals vs Weight Training” article, strength training is the MOST efficient method for weight loss.

Not only that, but you can find study after study after study that shows you the benefits of strength training for weight management when combined with “calorie restriction.”[22]

As we cover in our “Why Can’t I Lose Weight?” article, here’s why eating a caloric deficit and strength training is SO magical when combined:

When you strength train – by picking up something heavy – your muscles are “broken down” during the exercise itself, and then they rebuild themselves stronger over the next 24-48 hours.

Guess what happens during those 24-48 hours?

Your body will divert as many calories consumed as necessary to “Rebuild Muscle!”[23]

It also diverts additional calories to “Burn as Fuel” to handle this increased “muscle rebuilding” activity.

This means two amazing things:

  • Your metabolism is revved up for this time period, burning more calories than normal.
  • Rebuilding muscle is a calorie-taxing activity!

Not only that, but when you eat a caloric deficit, your body doesn’t have enough calories to fuel all the day’s activities. In these instances, your body will pull from your stored fat to make sure all the work still gets done.

This is the trifecta of physical transformation victory:

  • You get stronger and keep the muscle you have.
  • You burn through the fat you’re trying to get rid of.
  • You’re decreasing your body fat percent and keeping your muscle = look good naked.

In other words, strength training + eating right is the BEST path for weight loss out there! And yes, in certain situations, you can actually lose weight AND build muscle at the same time.

Coach Matt explains how to gain muscle WHILE losing fat in this video:

So how do you put this into practice? Pick one of the strength workouts in this article. Calculate your daily caloric needs. Learn about healthy eating. And start.

In other words…

Pick up something heavy, and eat a vegetable.

“Just Tell Me What Strength Training Program to Follow!”

Relax, you'll be fine strength training, just like this little trooper is fine with his bear.

Okay! Unless you are collecting underpants, you should now have a workout program you want to try out!

“Staci, this is a lot, can you just TELL me what to do?”

Okay fine.

Here are the steps again for you:

STEP #1: PICK YOUR WORKOUT PATH:

A) If YOU ARE TRAINING AT HOME. Pick one of these 3 based on what equipment you have:

B) IF YOU ARE TRAINING IN A GYM: Amazing! I love gyms.

Read our “How to train in a gym” guide and go from Level 1 to Level 6 over the next month. Gym closed? Here’s how to build a home gym.

STEP #2: TRY A NEW EXERCISE: In addition to following a workout program, I’m gonna push outside of your comfort zone – that’s where real growth happens.

Learn ONE new movement this week.

Pick one of the exercises below and try it out!

Here are 42 bodyweight exercises you can do too.

STEP #3) HIRE A YODA: If you are somebody who just wants to be told exactly what to, how to train for your goals, and are good at following directions, consider hiring a coach.

I’ve been working with an online coach since 2014 and it has changed my life – and I do this stuff for a living!

No matter what you do today:

Don’t be afraid of doing anything wrong – truth be told, the majority of the people in the gym don’t have any idea what they are doing, and are just as nervous as you are!

Muster up your 20 seconds of courage if you need to, and let me know in the comments how it goes!

What questions do you have about getting started?

So, what’s the biggest thing holding you back from starting strength training?

-Staci

PS – Check out the rest of the articles in our STRENGTH TRAINING 101 series:

photo source: LEGO bench pres, tonobalaguer © 123RF.com, Stormtroopers lifting, Chris Christian:Strongman, W_Minshull: Stormtroopers in Gym, Lego Lifting, RainstormKristina Alexanderson: Teddy Love

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The 5-Step Guide to Restarting Your Fitness Journey https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/fallen-off-the-wagon-today-is-national-respawn-day/ https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/fallen-off-the-wagon-today-is-national-respawn-day/#disqus_thread Fri, 02 Feb 2024 14:20:00 +0000 http://www.nerdfitness.com/?p=24680 Did you know today is National Respawn Day? This is definitely true and not a holiday that I just made up. Okay, I did make it up, and it doesn’t matter what day it is – you’ve decided you want to try again (that’s awesome! 🙌 .) And you want to find a way to...

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LEGO Star Wars characters, with one on the floor.

Did you know today is National Respawn Day?

This is definitely true and not a holiday that I just made up.

Okay, I did make it up, and it doesn’t matter what day it is – you’ve decided you want to try again (that’s awesome! 🙌 .) And you want to find a way to make changes that stick this time.

Luckily, whether this is the first time you’ve had to respawn or the 50th, you’re in the right place.

I’m going to share the same step-by-step strategy we’ve used to help 15,000+ nerds restart their fitness journey in our Coaching Program, and we’re gonna have a tiny bit of fun along the way.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Why It’s Okay to Start Again

The Iron Giant with a flower

So you already bailed on a goal or habit or routine this year.

Welcome to the club.

It’s called “being human!”

There are 8 billion of us.

Statistically speaking, MOST people have already abandoned the resolutions they’ve set for the year, and it’s no wonder! Behavior change is a complex process. [1]

We all start with hopes and dreams for what we can accomplish, but then we encounter this ugly thing called “reality.” We find out that maybe we picked the wrong goal, or we tried to do too much, or life managed to get in the way.

This is amazing news!

I like to think of life like a giant video game, which means we’ll need to get comfortable with running up against a challenge, dying, starting over, and trying again! That’s what makes a game actually fun.

As the saying goes, “Success is moving from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.” So, congrats for already finding a strategy that doesn’t work for you right now.

Let’s get to work on fixing that!

First step’s first…

STEP 1: FORGIVE YOURSELF

A LEGO and her dog

We’re often our own worst critic and our own worst enemy.

When we stumble at a task or goal, that voice in our head will very quickly point out all the things we’ve done wrong or how we’ve screwed up.

We might call ourselves a nasty name, or berate ourselves for not having enough discipline.

There’s another way to think about this:

  • You discovered a strategy or tactic that doesn’t work for you! For example, if you went Keto and bailed, great! That’s a diet that doesn’t work for you. I personally love carbs, so Keto sounds terrible to me too!
  • Treat the voice in your head like a roommate. You just both happen to occupy the same brain. Just because our brain thinks something doesn’t mean it’s true! I like to imagine my thoughts came from Chaz, a weird roommate. He means well but he doesn’t always know what he’s talking about. Also, he has a ferret.
  • It’s also possible the strategy or tactic is still USEFUL, just in a different context. For example, if you tried calorie counting, and it didn’t work, that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to throw out that tactic FOREVER. But we need to figure out why it wasn’t a good fit for us RIGHT NOW – so we can learn from it.

You’re reading this, which means you’re trying to improve your life.

You found a few methods that don’t work for you.

And you’re ready to try again.

This is amazing and should be celebrated.

As NF Coach Matt explains in the video below, “self-compassion” is really important when attempting to fulfill New Year’s resolutions:

STEP 2: ASK WHAT WENT WRONG?

A LEGO scientist

So, you conducted an experiment with your goals for this year, and you did not get the results you were expecting.

That’s neither a good nor a bad thing. Like any other experiment, it just… IS. You had a hypothesis (“I am going to stick with THIS diet, and THIS workout plan”), and that turned out to not be true.

Great! That’s information we can use, my scientist friend.

Let’s write down specifically what your experiment entailed. 

What were you trying to do.

  • “I was going to run a mile each morning.”
  • “I was going to eat strictly Paleo every day.”
  • “I was going to transform into a mythical phoenix.”

Look at your list: this is a combination of variables that don’t work for you right now.

IMPORTANT POINT: Learning from the millions of people who have come through Nerd Fitness over the past decade, my guess is that your experiment didn’t work out for one of two reasons:

#1) You built an idealized goal for a romanticized view of life:

Life is chaos, and we all have a lot going on. When we expect to have a beautifully organized schedule, our kids won’t get sick, and work won’t run late…we’re setting ourselves up for failure.

And when we set our expectation at “perfect adherence to the plan,” one missed day can be enough to derail our progress completely.

Fortunately, as John Steinbeck wrote, “Now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” Perfection is a trap, so we’re instead going to focus on being pretty good, most of the time.

We need a plan that fits into the chaos that is life, and is not built for a perfectly clear schedule! Those don’t exist.

#2) You tried to change ALL the things:

  • Your goal was 1,800 calories a day instead of your normal 3,000.
  • You tried to run 7 days a week when you don’t exercise at all now.
  • You said you were going to write 5,000 words a day but don’t write normally.

Instead of changing all the things completely or not changing anything, what if we changed a few things, a tiny bit?

We’re never going to get everything done, certainly not all at once. So like a video game, we need to stop trying to fight 10 level-100 dragons at the same time when we’re a wimpy level-1 wizard!

We need to pick ONE target, that’s our level, and then as we level up and get stronger, tackle bigger monsters.

So, let’s try to do less with our next experiment, okay? It’s better to laser-focus on building ONE new skill than it is to attempt to change so many things at once that we end up in the same place we started!

STEP 3: CHANGE A VARIABLE IN YOUR EXPERIMENT

You’re reading this guide, which would lead me to believe you’re interested in trying to lose weight, build muscle, and/or get in shape.

To avoid getting the same results, we need to change the variables in the experiment.

You know, science!

Remember, any good experiment has accurate measurements for the factors they are changing! You don’t just put “some uranium” in a nuclear reactor. You know the exact amount.

For your next attempt consider adjusting one of the following:

#1) Change the exercise variable: 

Did you enjoy the exercise you attempted? If you discovered that you hate running, great! Never do that again. “Exercise sucks,” so I would pick something that sounds more fun.

Did you try to exercise 5 days a week for 60 minutes a day? What if you instead decided to go for a 5-minute walk every day to practice the habit first, and then increased the difficulty?

#2) Try a substitution rather than addition

ADDING a brand new exercise routine into an already busy schedule can be really challenging. The same might be true with severely restricting your calories, which can be really uncomfortable and make you hangry and angry.

Let’s try this instead: Substitution! Here are three examples:

  • Making healthy swaps with our diet: How you eat is 80-90% of the weight-loss equation, and you’re already eating every day. So focus on substituting a vegetable for fries once a week, or swapping sparkling water for soda. You can also keep a food journal and change up your breakfast twice a week.
  • Temptation bundling: combine an exercise/activity you want to do with an activity we already love: Listening to a great audiobook, but only when we’re out for a walk or on the treadmill, or joining a friend on a bike ride (to a winery or pub!).
  • Do ONE activity mindfully every day: meditation is amazing for developing the skill of being present and cultivating awareness, but it might be tough for us to set aside 20 minutes to sit alone with our thoughts. So why not practice being mindful during something you’re already doing! Practice mindfulness while brushing your teeth or washing the dishes in the sink. No extra time required, all of the benefits!

#3) Adjust your “win scenario”:

I get it. You were able to train in your home gym for the first few weeks of this year, going for at least an hour.

But THEN…work got busy. And you only had 30 minutes, which wasn’t enough time to get through your workout. So why not set the win scenario at “30 minutes,” or “15 minutes,” or “1 exercise”? Lower the bar!

This is not an on-off switch. It’s a dial that we can turn UP or turn DOWN based on how busy our life is that day:

Text: "How we think about getting healthy:" next to image of a hand on a light switch with "on" written above and "off" written below. Text: "How we should:" next to image of a hand on a dial numbered from 0 to 11.

Let’s imagine we’re on a 10-year journey, and we’re trying out all sorts of tactics, strategies, and rate of change to see what works best for us.

Doing your workout today is not nearly as important as building a routine of working out that fits into your life for the next decade.

We can stop asking, “Do I have time for my workout” and instead ask “What workout do I have time for?”

There’s nothing that says “a workout must be 60-minutes in a gym.”

A 5-minute walk with your kids. A 10-minute circuit workout between Zoom calls.

It all counts!

Example: if you roll out your yoga mat for 1 set of 1 exercise, it counts as a win. Doesn’t matter if you did a full hour-long workout or a 5 minute set of push-ups.

Feel free to turn the dial all the way down when life gets really busy, just don’t turn it off.

STEP 4: RESPAWN and try again

A LEGO at Blacksmith

When you play a challenging video game, you’re going to die. A lot. (I died literally thousands of times when playing Hollow Knight, one of my favorite games in recent memory).

What happens after you die in a game?

You respawn, and try again!

You’ve learned a new tactic or pattern. You have a new technique. You’ve uncovered a secret. You also have all the knowledge of every past attempt. You’ve also just gotten better. So you try, again.

And again.

And again.

And then you succeed, and that works for a while. Until it stops working. And then you change your tactics again and keep going.

There’s no shame in trying something that doesn’t work when it comes to our health. Life is one giant experiment, we’re all disasters, and we’re all doing our best!

Here’s Joe, who made dozens of attempts to get fit until he changed the right variable and got results:

Joe's before and after

We have hundreds of stories of normal people who kept struggling to find the thing that would work for them, but they kept reading and they kept trying, and then finally – something clicked.

And that next attempt is the one that changed their life’s path.

This next attempt might be the one that works for you too!

Keep trying differently, keep failing differently.

You can do this!

STEP 5: SUPERCHARGE YOUR RESULTS

A LEGO Blacksmith

I know hacking your experiments to get better data isn’t exactly “scientifically smart” or “morally responsible,” but I’m the one writing this guide and we’re all friends here, right?

Once you start your new experiment, here’s how you can stack the deck in your favor:

#1) Write everything down. Write down your workouts. Write down what you eat. Treat it like a science experiment, and you’re collecting data! Plan ahead. Be PRO-active (“I will do Strength Training Workout A at 4pm and tonight I’ll have roasted chicken and bacon-wrapped asparagus) instead of RE-active (“What should I do for exercise right now?” and “Ah, what’s for dinner? Oooh, Burger King!”)

For more strategies here, check out our guide Tracking Your Fitness Progress.

#2) Recruit allies to your team. Don’t go this alone, as you’re more likely to succeed based on the people you spend time with and hang around. So recruit allies. Start spending more time with people that empower you (even virtually), rather than people that enable you and drag you down. Join a running group online. Find a lifting “accountabilibuddy,” or someone you can check in with.

We have a free Nerd Fitness Facebook group with thousands of people ready and willing to support you!

#3) Hire a professional. There are two types of coaches worth the investment:

  • An in-person trainer if you are looking to supercharge your form on specific exercises like Olympic lifts, squats, deadlifts, etc. An in-person trainer can be good for people who need the accountability of somebody they’ve paid to meet them in the gym. Here’s how to find a good trainer!
  • An online coach that represents mobile, worldwide accountability. I’ve had a coach for years and it’s changed my life. Knowing that I have a workout and nutrition strategy to follow each day helps simplify the process for me. Less thinking. More doing.

As Coach Matt explains below, sometimes “outsourcing” help can be a real game-changer when trying to get in shape (or back in shape):

GET BACK IN THE FIGHT

An old mandrill named Rafiki once taught me: “Yes, the past can hurt. But you can either run from it, or learn from it.”

Okay maybe he taught that to Simba in The Lion King, but I too learned the same lesson:

"The Past Hurts" from Lion King

TO RECAP:

#1) Forgive yourself. You wouldn’t talk to somebody else the way you talk to yourself. So have some freaking compassion! You’re trying.

#2) Identify what experiment you JUST tried. Write down what you believe went wrong over the past few weeks. Congrats – you found a strategy that doesn’t work.

#3) Pick a new path, try a different variable. A good scientist meticulously tracks their data and writes down their hypothesis. I would change one of the following:

  • Exercise: do less – focus on building the routine and doing it consistently. Here’s how to exercise in a way that doesn’t feel like exercise.
  • Nutrition: change less. If you couldn’t stick with a diet for 3 weeks, it was too restrictive. Try a different path. For help, check out our Guide to Healthy Eating. It’s designed to build on one small tiny improvement over time.
  • Win scenario: don’t let “perfect” be the enemy of “good.”

#4) Then try again.

You and this sheep both now know how to follow a plant-based diet. But you'll have to eat more than grass.

For #5 (“Supercharge your results”), I have two perfect ways to help you respawn today:

Consider our Online Coaching program, and I also send out a free newsletter twice a week to help you stay motivated and entertained.

It’s the best newsletter in the galaxy, I promise you.

For the Rebellion!

-Steve

PS: If you want more tips and tricks on how to stick to your goals this year, check out 5 Hacks to Effortlessly Build Healthy Habits in 2024.

###

Photo Citation: Oh My Goodness! Shut Me Down, The Iron Giant, “Hello, old friend. Is he ready for me?”, Happy Halloween!!, At the blacksmith’s (Part 2), Medieval Blacksmith

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How to Build Muscle Fast (Training, Diet, and Workouts) https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/the-beginners-guide-to-building-muscle-and-strength/ https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/the-beginners-guide-to-building-muscle-and-strength/#disqus_thread Fri, 02 Feb 2024 06:46:00 +0000 http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/?p=7096 Want to build muscle like this guy? (Leopard print unitard optional but encouraged) In this guide, we’ll provide step-by-step instructions that will help you start building muscle immediately. Like, today. We’ll explore: How do you build muscle? What’s a sample routine for muscle training? How many sets and reps should I do? Muscle training weightlifting...

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This strongman in leotard knows how to build muscle and strength.

Want to build muscle like this guy?

(Leopard print unitard optional but encouraged)

In this guide, we’ll provide step-by-step instructions that will help you start building muscle immediately. Like, today.

We’ll explore:

That may seem like a lot of topics to cover. DON’T PANIC!

If you want to build muscle, get bigger, and become stronger, it comes down to three things done consistently:

  1. Lift heavy things[1]
  2. Eat enough calories and protein for your goals[2]
  3. Get enough rest[3]

I realize doing those three things is much easier said than done. Doing hard stuff consistently for months and years requires a great strategy! 

In addition to the free resources below, we provide a free bodyweight routine, and a comprehensive gym training routine to get you started with strength training in our free guide, Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know. Grab your guide when you sign up in the box below:

How Do You Build Muscle and Strength?

These barbell weights will help you grow muscle and strength.

If you are going to build strength and muscle, you need to lift heavy things to force your muscles to rebuild themselves stronger.

But what the heck does ‘heavy’ mean in this context? I’m so glad you asked!

Muscle-building is optimized when performing strength-training exercises (bodyweight or weightlifting) within 1 to 3 reps of failure while maintaining good technique.

(i.e. You could do 1 or 2 or 3 more repetitions of the exercise using a specific weight, but not more.) Usually, you’ll repeat this effort for multiple sets targeting multiple muscles in a workout.

That’s what I mean by ‘lift heavy’: you picked the right amount of weight to challenge yourself for the desired number of reps. By forcing your muscles to really tax themselves by picking up heavy things, you are participating in the Holy Grail of muscle building: progressive overload!

Progressive overload: forcing your muscles to rebuild themselves stronger by increasing the challenge they face with each workout. Examples include: lifting heavier weight, doing more reps, frequency, decreased rest, etc.

For example, from one week to the next, progressive overload would look like:

  • Week 1 Barbell Squat: 4 sets of 6 reps at 150 lbs.
  • Week 2 Barbell Squat: 4 sets of 6 reps at 155 lbs.

If you do that, you’ve gotten stronger! Then, repeat next week. Consume enough calories and protein, and you’ll get bigger too.

“Got it, Steve. I need to pick up heavy things. Can we talk about which exercises I should do to build muscle?”

Great question, you good looking person. I’ll cover specific exercises in the following section, but let’s start with a broader point:

Free weights, machines, and bodyweight exercises are ALL good options as long as you can adhere to the guidelines we laid out above. [4]

While you can grow muscle using any type of strength-training exercise, having access to a gym with free weights and weight machines makes leveling up your muscle-building game all the easier.

Check out our Beginner’s Guide to the Gym for everything you need to know and getting started in a gym with sample workouts.

So let’s start building muscle!

We’ll want a routine with compound exercises that train multiple muscle groups at once. They’re efficient and they can create solid growth and stimulation.[5]

To create our full-body routine, each workout will make sure it has a big compound leg exercise, push exercise, pull exercise, and a core exercise:

  1. Leg Exercises (Quad Dominant or Hip Dominant): Squats, Deadlifts, or Lunges
  2. Push Exercises: Bench Press, Overhead Press, or Dips
  3. Pull Exercises: Inverted Rows, Pull-Ups, or Chin Ups
  4. Core Exercises: Reverse Crunches, Hanging Knee Raises, or Ab Mat Sit-ups

Learn these few exercises, get really good at them, and your entire body will get stronger and bigger. Focus each week on adding more weight to each exercise.[8]

Bottom line: if you want to get bigger muscles, you need to challenge them regularly with exercises that bring the muscle close to failure (1 to 3 reps). To start, we recommend picking big, compound movements that work multiple muscles at a time.

“Steve, what about isolation exercises like bicep curls, tricep extensions, calf raises, etc.?”

Absolutely add these in whenever you want to, though we recommend starting with the workout we laid out above FIRST and getting consistent with that. Muscle-building isn’t just about picking the right exercises and the right weights, it’s about building the habit of working out!

If you try to do ALL THE THINGS at the very beginning, you’re increasing the risk that you won’t be able to make the habit stick.

Start with compound exercises that give you the biggest bang for your buck, THEN sprinkle in isolation exercises that target your specific areas of need. [6]

“What about machines versus free weights? I’ve heard free weights are better…”

Not true! If a machine exercise feels safer, is more easily accessible to you, and targets the same muscles – go for it. The important thing is that you are challenging your muscles to get stronger, that’s it. [7]

What’s a Sample Routine for Building Muscle?

These legos prioritize building muscle and strength.

Using the principles I’ve laid out in my “how to build a workout routine” article, here’s a beginner three-day routine:

  1. Monday: Squats, Benchpress, Wide Grip Pull-Ups, Ab-Mat Sit-ups
  2. Wednesday: Deadlift, Overhead Press, Inverted Rows, Hanging Knee Raises
  3. Friday: Weighted Lunges, Weighted Dips, Weighted Chin-Ups, Reverse Crunches.

Each day has a leg exercise, push exercise, pull exercise, and some core work.

Besides having rest and recovery days in between MWF, adequate rest intervals have been established in the workout itself!

By following the leg exercise, push exercise, pull exercise, and core exercise routine you will maximize rest in-between each exercise, therefore, limiting muscular fatigue and allowing you to perform each strength training exercise to its fullest extent.[9]

Now, this is just a basic, 3-day, Full-Body workout routine.  We have a whole guide on how to build your own workout, but there are infinite ways to build a strength training routine.

4-Day Push-Pull split[32]:

  • Monday: Push exercises
  • Wednesday: Pull exercises
  • Friday: Push exercises
  • Saturday: Pull exercises

4-Day Upper Lower Split:

  • Monday: Lower Body
  • Wednesday: Upper Body
  • Friday: Lower Body
  • Saturday: Upper Body

Bodybuilders often prefer to follow a 5-day “each day gets one body part” workout[33]:

  • Monday: Legs (quad dominant)
  • Tuesday: Chest
  • Wednesday: Back
  • Thursday: Legs (hip dominant)
  • Friday: Arms

Each routine has positives and negatives, is dependent on how often you can work out, and each is based on your preference! As long as your muscles are being forced to rebuild themselves stronger, it’s the right workout for you.

While it’s possible to build out the perfect routine on your own, many of our Rebels end up spending hours and hours building something custom – only to realize it isn’t what they need (or isn’t effective) weeks and months later for their goals.

For people who want to avoid that altogether, we built the solution – our uber-popular 1-on-1 coaching program pairs you with your own Nerd Fitness Coach who will get to know you, your goals, and your lifestyle, and handcraft a workout plan that’s specific to your body, your schedule, and your life.

Click the image below to schedule a call with our team to see if we’re a good fit for each other!

Nerd Fitness Coaching Ad

How Many Sets and Reps Should I Do?

We have a MASSIVE guide on the exact number of sets and reps (it’s where the video above comes from), but you can follow the basics here.

  • For beginners, we recommend starting in the 5 – 15 reps range to increase both size and strength. (If you want to focus on more strength than size, stick to the lower end of that range.)
  • As you get more advanced, you may find that it’s beneficial to do up to 30 reps of an exercise. (Though 90% of your work will still be in that 5 – 15 rep range.) The biggest drawback to higher rep ranges like this is it can be hard to target specifically that “1 to 3 reps before failure” when the rep count is so high. [10] [11]

The good news is that no matter which path you take (pure strength, size, or a mix of both), as long as you are adding weight each week – and eating enough – you WILL be getting stronger.[12]

ANY path will work, provided you are progressively overloading your muscles with an increased challenge!

What’s progressive overload?

Coach Jim explains it all for you right here:

Progressive overload involves exerting slightly more effort than last time (lift a heavier weight or do 1 more rep) consistently.

Your muscles will have to adapt and rebuild themselves to get stronger. So in order to see improvements, your training must gradually and constantly increase.

We just have to make sure we get the right pace!

According to Mike Rebold, PHD, a professor from from Hiram College:

Keep in mind that if the overload increases too quickly, poor technique and injury may result.  And if the overload progresses too slowly, improvements will be minimal or non-existent.

Slowly but gradually increasing your challenge could look like:

  • If you do 5 sets of 5 squats at 140 pounds this week, aim for 5 sets of 5 of 145 pounds next week.
  • Or if you’re doing 3 sets of 10 at 100 pounds, then next week try for 3 sets of 10 at 105 pounds.

Get stronger, which is 20% of the puzzle. The other 80% is nutrition (which I cover later)!

As I said before, if you want even more info, you can head to our article “Determining the Correct Number of Reps and Sets” for a deep dive into the subject.

7 Muscle Building and Weight-Lifting Tips

CrossFitter lifting weights to grow muscle and strength.

#1) Warm-up before exercising – don’t walk into a gym, slap 45-pound plates on the bar, and then start your routine.

Get your heart rate up and muscles warm first by doing a dynamic warm-up of jumping jacks, lunges, bodyweight squats, hip raises, push-ups, leg swings, jumps, etc.

After that, always start with doing a set or two of lifting JUST THE BAR.[13] Only then should you start adding weight for some warm-up sets before moving into your work sets.

#2) Have a focused form – if you’re doing a bodyweight squat incorrectly, you might develop bad habits.

However, if you do a barbell squat incorrectly with 405 pounds on your shoulders, you could do some serious damage. If you’re just starting out, check your ego at the door: start with a VERY light weight and make sure you are doing the exercise properly.

There is NO SHAME in starting with just the bar. You can always add more weight next week if this week is too easy.

#3) Stimulate, don’t annihilate – I try to always have one more rep left when I finish a set.

Some trainers will preach working your muscles to annihilation, but I think that’s just asking for an injury, poor form, and beyond-sore muscles.

Your muscles get built while resting, not in the gym, so don’t worry about destroying them completely each day you step in the gym – it’s not worth it.[14]

#4) Change up the time between sets – if you’re doing 3 sets of 5 reps of a really heavy weight, it’s okay to wait 3-5 minutes between sets – you’re focusing on pure strength here.

If you’re doing sets in the 8-12 range, try to keep the time between sets around a minute or so. This will affect your muscles in different ways. The most important thing is to rest long enough that you can give the same level of effort as you did in the previous set.

For more, learn all about sets and rep ranges.

Just be consistent between sets and when doing the same workout between weeks to track your progress.[15]

#5) Don’t overdo it – More does not mean better in weightlifting. You don’t need to spend two hours in the gym, you don’t need to do 15 different kinds of chest exercises.

My routines last no longer than 45 minutes, I only do three or four sets (after warm-up sets) for each exercise, and it’s enough to stimulate muscle growth. I only need to add more if my growth plateaus or stops, and before I do that I make sure my intensity, diet, and recovery are dialed in FIRST. [16]

Three workouts a week is a great place for most to start – we’ve had clients build muscle on anywhere from 2 days a week to 4 days a week using a full-body routine like this!  You need to give your muscles time to regrow bigger – remember muscles are made in the kitchen![17]

Less is often more – just make your routines really intense and exhausting.[18]

#6) Write down everything – Keep a training journal, and write down exactly how many sets and reps you did for every exercise.

That way, you can compare how you did this time with how you did last time. You’ll know how much more you need to lift this week to make sure you’re stronger than last week.

#7) Follow a routine, have a plan and stick with it for months and months. We are training our muscles to get stronger and stronger, so you’ll get the best results if you can fall in love with the boring process of doing the same workout – but lifting heavier weight for months and years. [19]

I’ve been doing squats, pull-ups, deadlifts, and presses once a week, every week for 24 years. The sets, reps, and weights have changed, but the workout is largely the same. I don’t need to be entertained by the workout, I’m excited about, “how much weight can I lift?!”

HOw Many Calories Should I Eat To Gain Muscle (and Which Supplements)

What's the proper diet to gain muscle and strength?

If you’re skinny and trying to bulk up, this will be 90% of the battle. 

If you’ve been lifting weights for a while “but can’t seem to gain weight,” then you are not eating enough. To gain weight, you’re going to need to seek a calorie surplus (i.e., hypercaloric diet). This usually consuming an additional 250-500 kcal/day or 10-20% above your typical diet. [20]

I thought I was one of those people who just could never gain weight, even after training hard for 6 years…and then I learned it was all diet, started eating 3500+ calories a day (lots more liquid calories, rice, bread, oats, and potatoes!), and I put on 18 pounds in 30 days.

A before and after of Steve in 2006.

After 6 years of exercising without putting on any weight, it was great to see so much progress in such a short period of time.

I’ve since changed my strategies and have become more calculated in my approach. It’s how I (jokingly) went from Steve Rogers to Captain America.

How fast can it take to grow muscle? It took Steve years of trial and error.

So, as a former super skinny nerd who finally realized “it’s the calories, dummy,” here’s the 3 step process for nutrition when it comes to building musscle:

PART #1: Eat More – To gain weight, you’re going to need to seek a calorie surplus (i.e., hypercaloric diet). This can be achieved by consuming an additional 250-500 kcal/day or 10-20% above your typical diet.

You can get an estimate of how much you need to eat to just MAINTAIN your weight in our free calculator here.

I’m not clairvoyant (yet), so I’m not sure how you’re currently eating. But if you’re looking to add more calories, there are 3 key places to look:

  • Adding more carbs: rice, bread, pasta, oatmeal, cereal, potatoes, and any other calorically dense food!
  • Adding more fats: avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds, cheeses, nut butters.
  • Drinking more liquid calories: protein shakes (covered below), juice, milk, weight-gain shakes, etc.

Besides just seeking a calorie surplus, it can help for many reasons to pay attention to your macronutrient (e.g., carbohydrates, fats, and protein) consumption.

If you want more specifics on what foods to eat and how to structure your diet for bulking up, check out our Bulk like the Hulk guide!

PART #2: Eat enough protein – With all the hard training you’re doing, you want to not only gain weight but make sure your body has the resources to turn as much of that weight as possible into muscle.

That’s why we put together this handy protein calculator for you – so you can maximize your gains! For most people, targeting between 0.7-1.0g/lb of bodyweight gets you in the optimal muscle-building range.

In our Protein 101 Guide, we talk about sources of protein and simple ways to include more in your diet. If you’re not used to eating a lot of protein, that can be a struggle!

“Which Supplements Should I Take to Build Muscle Quickly?” 

As we lay out in our Nerd Fitness Supplement Guide, most supplements are a waste of money and completely unnecessary for building muscle.

However, there are two supplements that CAN BE helpful in building muscle quickly:

  1. Protein ShakesIf you are struggling to hit your protein and calorie intake goals for the day, adding in a high-calorie protein shake can be a game-changer.[23]
  2. Creatine Supplements: Creatine helps your muscles retain water and can improve your performance, allowing you to push harder, for longer, in the gym.[24]

Are you vegan and trying to build muscle? Read our full article on how to go plant-based properly![25]

Bottom line: If you don’t see any change, then you need to eat more.

  • Yes, it will feel excessive.
  • Yes, you will feel full all the time.
  • Yes, it’s a pain in the ass and expensive.

But if you really want to be bigger, then you are going to need to really dedicate yourself in the kitchen.

Unless you’re a genetic mutant, it’s incredibly tough to build muscle and strength without overloading your system with calories and nutrients.

Just keep eating.

Won’t All of This Eating Make Me Fat? I Don’t Want to Get Bulky.

Buddha isn't trying to lose weight. But he's also zen about you trying to.

I have amazing news: as somebody who has been trying to get “too bulky” for 20 years, it’s unbelievably difficult for a naturally skinny person to suddenly get too bulky. 

Yes, you will put on SOME fat along with the muscle you’re building if you’re running a calorie surplus.

This is why picking the right amount of calories per day is important:

  • If you can build muscle at 3,000 calories, but you’re eating 4,000 calories, you’ll put on a pound or two of fat per week along with your muscle.
  • However, if you need to eat 3,000 calories to build muscle and you’re only eating 2,500, you won’t see any changes.

Everybody is different, so you need to experiment and find out what works best for you.[27]

Once you get to your desired weight (actually, aim for about 10-15 pounds heavier than your goal weight), you can scale back the calories, add in some extra sprints to the end of your workout, and keep lifting heavy – the muscle will remain, the fat will disappear, and you’ll be left with the body you want.

I’m not skinny, I need to LOSE weight – what’s different for me?

As Coach Matt explains above, you can actually build muscle and lose body fat at the same time.

You just have to be careful about how you do it.

We cover the subject in depth in the post, “Can You Lose Fat and Gain Muscle at the Same Time?”:

If you are eating enough protein, and have decent fat stores to pull from for energy needs, you can build muscle even while in a caloric deficit.

As long as you are resting (next section) and strength training (previous section), you can shed body fat while still putting on muscle.

Now, this only works if you have plenty of fat stores to pull from. Once you start to lean out a little, you’ll likely have to increase your calories to start putting on more muscle.

Look at me all big and strong!

I recently added some strength (and muscle) while losing 22 pounds in 6 months.

Just remember, you can build muscle while losing weight if you:[28]

  1. Sustain a caloric deficit
  2. Lift heavy
  3. Prioritize protein
  4. Rest

Let’s talk about that last one for a bit.

Rest Days for Building Muscle and Strength

As Coach Jim mentions in the video above, if you’re skinny and trying to bulk up and build muscle, avoid cardio like the plague (also avoid the plague).

Why?

Take a look at the best marathon runners in the world, and compare their physique to somebody like Usain Bolt, the best sprinter in the world – tons of muscle, power, and a body to envy.

a gif of Usian Bolt

There’s nothing wrong with EITHER body – we’re all awesome and are special and blah blah blah.

But you’re reading an article about how to build muscle fast, right? So focus all of your effort on building muscle![29]

You want all the calories you’re consuming to go towards “building muscle,” and not “fuel my run.”

Mr. Gump ran like 1,000 5Ks when he crossed America.

I will admit that I’m biased against chronic cardio, but mostly because it bores me!

You can be far more effective when you focused on getting stronger and only do ‘cardio’ on things you enjoy – after all, your success will largely depend on your nutrition, NOT your cardio!

If you’re lifting heavy, and eating enough, make sure you’re also getting enough sleep! 5-6 hours a night isn’t going to cut it – you need to get at least 8-9 hours of sleep per night for optimal muscle-building. Take naps too if you have the opportunity.

Sleep needs to become a priority, because while we’re asleep, growth hormone, a hormone responsible for regulating muscle growth is released.[30]

If you’re a big guy/girl trying to slim down, a little extra cardio might speed up your fat loss but if you’re not eating correctly, it might result in losing some of the muscle you already have.

Don’t worry about going for 10 mile runs on your off days – do 20-30 minutes of intervals or go run hill sprints in your park. The weight will come off more slowly, but you’ll only be losing fat, not fat AND muscle.

Once you hit your goal weight and the target amount of muscle mass, I’d recommend adding back in some cardio for your overall conditioning, but keep it varied (sprints and intervals). The focus is to keep building explosive muscle and not long, slow, boring muscle.

If you love going for long runs and aren’t going to give that up, I’m not gonna stop you. Just know that the long hours of cardio will severely inhibit your progress on building strength and size.[31]

Get Started Building Muscle Today

Landscape shot of someone who has built muscle and strength.

This is a basic overview to get ya started. It really boils down to a few major things:

  • Lift heavy
  • Eat lots of good food
  • Rest

Simple to understand, tough to implement.

Trust me, I know – I’ve been battling this for the past decade.

If you made it this far, and you want more specific instruction, here’s how Nerd Fitness can help!

If you are somebody that wants to follow a tailor-made program designed to build muscle and grow strong, check out our popular 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program.

You’ll work with our certified NF instructors who will get to know you better than you know yourself, check your form, and program your workouts and nutrition for you.

Nerd Fitness Coaching Banner

-Steve

PS: Be sure to check out the rest of our Strength Training 101 series:

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All Photo Sources are found right here.[32]

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How Temptation Bundling Can Help Build Healthier Habits https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/too-lazy-to-work-out-try-temptation-bundling/ https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/too-lazy-to-work-out-try-temptation-bundling/#disqus_thread Thu, 01 Feb 2024 17:17:16 +0000 http://www.nerdfitness.com/?p=26168 “Damn you Netflix, how did I just watch 10 episodes of Stranger Things, I have stuff to do!” We’ve all been there. There are the things we know we SHOULD do, the things we NEED to do, and the things that we WANT to do. More often than not, the WANT wins out over the NEED and...

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Temptation bundling may help these two level up their lives.

“Damn you Netflix, how did I just watch 10 episodes of Stranger Things, I have stuff to do!”

We’ve all been there. There are the things we know we SHOULD do, the things we NEED to do, and the things that we WANT to do.

More often than not, the WANT wins out over the NEED and SHOULD.

It’s like trying to win a tug-of-war against a tractor pulling in the opposite direction. It’s why we struggle to get to the gym after a long day of work. It’s why we opt for Taco Bell instead of taking the time to cook a healthy meal.

Today, we’re going to give you a quick life hack that can help you start leveling up your life and actually get things done that need to get done!

What is Temptation Bundling?

This LEGO is interested in levelling up his life with temptation bundling.

I bet you’ve said the following: “Before I can watch TV, I need to exercise.” And yet, TV ends up winning over exercise almost all the time, especially if it’s after a long miserable day at work.

So, instead of “if I do this, then I get this” What if we combined the two into one epic activity?

That idea is called “temptation bundling,” a term coined by Wharton Professor Katy Milkman: ultimately, you combine something that needs to be done with something you want to do.

She describes the idea in a paper entitled: “Holding The Hunger Games Hostage at the Gym: An Evaluation of Temptation Bundling.” [1] The goal is to get us to do things we need to do by combining them with things we want to do, removing the “either/or” temptation and getting us to ACTUALLY do stuff:

Participants were randomly assigned to a full treatment condition with gym-only access to tempting audio novels, an intermediate treatment involving encouragement to restrict audiobook enjoyment to the gym, or a control condition.

Initially, full and intermediate treatment participants visited the gym 51% and 29% more frequently.

Long story short: the people in the study who were told they could listen to addictive audio books only while working out visited the gym 51% more frequently than those who were just told they should exercise more.

Here’s some Nerd Fitness examples:

In love with the show Arrow? I am, and I want Stephen Amell to be my best friend.  Don’t say, “I can only watch Arrow after exercising.” Change your phrasing, and try this instead: “I can only watch Arrow WHILE exercising.” Bring your iPad or Laptop to the gym, and only watch particular shows while you are on a treadmill, walking, or using the elliptical.

Addicted to Clash of Clans on your phone? Only allow yourself to work on your clan while at the gym, in between sets of deadlifts. Same goes for looking at TikTok or Instagram: only while resting in between squats!

Maybe you can only listen to Serial or The Rewatchables while walking, doing a particular work task, or even completing a chore at home like cleaning or laundry. An hour episode while walking could result in you racking up 3+ miles on your walk to Mordor!

Afraid to try cooking a new healthy meal? You can ONLY listen to a podcast or music in your house while you are cooking. BLAST it at top volume while having fun making a mess trying to cook.

Now, although this study teaches us that bundling a healthy life-improvement activity with one you enjoy can help you make a change, the boost can oftentimes be temporary.

The study went on to say that the “allure” of the audiobook + gym combo wore off after a few months, thus furthering the suggestion that the best chance for long term success is to truly “enjoy the journey.”

Long story short: this can a great strategy to get started, and a great way to identify types of exercise or strategies that work for you, long term results might require leveled up strategies!

But that’s fine – we’re going to be using it to build long term habits.

Try the temptation bundle challenge

Try temptation bundling today!

If you can implement it properly, temptation bundling can both increase your time spent doing a healthy activity while also helping you limit the unhealthy one.

Now, you might be saying, “Steve, doesn’t this make the fun activity less enjoyable and the exercise/health portion less efficient?” 

Possibly, but that’s not the point! Sure, I would love it if you went to the gym, completed a kickass workout, ate a healthy meal, and then got 8 hours of sleep.

However, this isn’t Imagination Land, and I know the best workout plan is the one you actually complete. This is infinitely better than the perfect workout plan that makes you say “meh, I’ll start tomorrow.”

So what do we do? We use temptation bundling to get us started, and then use drive to keep us going. When we build interest ih the activity itself, we shift our focus from “I’m enduring this workout” to “I can’t wait to see how much better I am this week.” The change can become permanent.

Your turn: what’s one activity that you love to do, and one that you know you should do more of? And how are you going to implement this strategy TODAY to your daily routine? Here are some other rapid fire examples:

  • Are you studying or getting some work done? Get your favorite snack or beverage only when you are doing it.
  • Try walking outside (or a cardio machine) – that’s now the only time you’re allowed to listen to your favorite podcast/audiobook.
  • Try pairing chores like ironing, doing laundry, or cleaning dishes while watching your favorite tv shows or a new movie you’ve been waiting for.

Your turn!

What’s one temptation bundle you are going to combine and start TODAY?

-Steve

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Photo sources: Visiting Friends, A good Sunday to youRain doesn’t stop a photographer

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How to Find a Good Personal Trainer or Coach: 5 Mistakes to Avoid! https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/how-to-hire-a-good-personal-trainer/ https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/how-to-hire-a-good-personal-trainer/#disqus_thread Wed, 17 Jan 2024 06:38:00 +0000 https://www.nerdfitness.com/?p=956782 Before you fork out some cash for a personal trainer, read this guide! It’ll help you spot the difference between a bad personal trainer and an AMAZING trainer.  And trust us, having the right trainer can make ALL the difference in the world. There’s nothing worse than spending 6+ months in a gym (and thousands...

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Before you fork out some cash for a personal trainer, read this guide!

It’ll help you spot the difference between a bad personal trainer and an AMAZING trainer. 

And trust us, having the right trainer can make ALL the difference in the world.

There’s nothing worse than spending 6+ months in a gym (and thousands of dollars) with a trainer, only to realize that you haven’t made any progress on the goals you have – building muscle, losing weight, etc.

It’s…

someone singing "The Worst"

I’ve worked with good trainers and bad trainers over the past 16 years, have worked with the same online personal trainer since 2014, and we have a team of 15 personal trainers on Team Nerd Fitness who have trained 15,000 1-on-1 clients.

Long story short, we know our stuff, and we’ll give it to you straight.

Whether or not you want to check out our 1-on-1 Online Training Program, this guide is going to help you with all the details.

In this guide we’ll cover the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to personal trainers – both in-person and online:

What do you need from a personal trainer

As Coach Matt explains in the video above, the first question you need to ask when hiring a personal trainer: do they match up with your goals?

And yep, that means we’re going to have to pick some goals in the first place!

So start by picking your goals and then determine if the trainer you’re paired up with is the right fit for you. Like dating, you can meet somebody who’s amazing but not right for you.

A gif of Chandler saying "kill me"

If somebody is a competitive marathon runner, they might not be a great powerlifting coach, and vice versa.

So, start with your goals for finding a personal trainer:

  1. Are you trying to lose 300 pounds? 20 pounds? Get to 10% body fat?
  2. Are you trying to get stronger or hold your first handstand?
  3. Do you want to become a competitive powerlifter?
  4. Are you looking to run your first 5k?
  5. Do you just want to get in shape, feel better, and enjoy exercise?

These goals will largely determine the type of trainer you’re looking for.

MISTAKE #1: Not making sure your trainer has expertise in the area you want to train in.

Expertise in one area does not necessarily make them a good fit in another!

After that, you’ll want to think about what you NEED from your personal trainer:

  1. Are you looking for a powerlifting coach to show you the basics (squat, deadlift, bench) so your form is right? Just a few sessions up front and a few later down the line to confirm you’re on the right path might suffice.
  2. Are you new to working out or looking to kick start your first 2 months of training with 2 sessions per week to keep you disciplined?
  3. What type of person are you? Do you need more hands-on guidance throughout your workouts, or more space to take ownership and thrive on your own? Do you need somebody who will cheer you on or do you need tough love from somebody to call you on your bullshit?

Once you set proper expectations with what you want and how long you need a trainer for, then you can pick out one that hopefully will work for you.

How to find a good personal trainer

A personal trainer stretching out a client.

Once you find a trainer you are considering working with, the next step should always be an in-depth conversation.

MISTAKE #2: Blindly accepting what your trainer tells you without making sure you fit together! 

They SHOULD be listening to you completely and hear your full story.

They SHOULD ask about any past issues with injuries or experience with exercise. If you’re injured or have any deficiencies, they should know this so they can create a great program for you.

They SHOULD ask you about your nutrition. If they don’t ask about your nutrition, you’re going to be wasting your time.

They SHOULD practice what they preach. They don’t have to be an Olympian, but should have a healthy lifestyle.

They SHOULD tell you about their expertise and how they can help you. They should be able to share past successes of clients with you or point to their credentials and history of success.

They SHOULD set proper expectations. You won’t get ripped in a month, but they can let you know it could take many months to get in shape or build the right kind of habits.

That’s what to look for. These are the things we specifically focus on with our 1-on-1 online coaching program. We love helping people in a way that fits their lifestyle, at a pace that they feel great about, while actually having fun.

What are the Signs of a bad personal trainer?

Our Lego friend is terrified of bad personal trainers.

Beware the “entertainment exercise” trainers with a routine that isn’t catered to your goals.

MISTAKE #3: Thinking a workout is more effective because it’s confusing.

Many trainers just try to confuse you with needlessly complex movements, and put all their clients through roughly the same cookie-cutter plan.

Why? because they know it makes them look knowledgeable without actually needing to do something effectively:

“Now balance on this bosu ball while doing these dumbbell squat lunge curls and standing on one foot with your tongue out! Muscle confusion!

I hope you saved some energy for the row machine.”

Make sure the training from your PT matches your goals!

Tough workouts are great, but remember that while it’s easy to get someone tired (“go do 100 burpees!”), it’s harder to help someone slowly improve and build momentum.

Sure, it might elevate your heart rate and tire you out, but if it’s not building towards your goals in a way that you couldn’t do at home, what are you paying for?

They might also have just obtained a basic certification and stopped their education there, relying on ‘conventional wisdom’ rather than doing the research and building the experience.

If your trainer says any of the following phrases, run for the high hills:

  • Yeah you don’t want to squat too low – it’s bad for your knees.”
  • “Use this machine; it’s safer for you than free weights” (unless you have an injury)
  • “Yes, you should be using mostly your back. That’s why it’s called the back squat”
  • “These (ab) exercise will burn fat from your stomach in no time” (You can’t spot reduce fat.)

I have overheard all of these sound bites from real trainers in real gyms, and it made me weep like the Native American in the 1970s pollution ad:

Your trainer should be results-focused, not focused on scheduling you a new session and keeping you around.

I often see clients working with trainers for months and months and that client never looks any different.

The trainer is just interested in cashing another check.

Remember, your personal trainer works for YOU: Don’t let them build a program that doesn’t actually fit your needs!.

Do they adjust your workout to take care of any pre-existing injuries you may have, or do they just give you a cookie cutter workout?

Are they encouraging or helping you succeed in the way you want to be encouraged, or are they scrolling through Instagram models on their phones while you’re doing your sets?

Are they putting in the time so they can see you get results, or are they putting in the time so they can check the box and collect your money?

You’re paying money for this person’s expertise and attention – it’s not too much to ask to find somebody who takes those things seriously.

Getting in shape requires you to go when you don't feel like going

What certifications should a personal trainer have?

A personal trainer high-fiving a client.

There are a wide variety of personal trainer certifications and other “credibility indicators.”

The more traditional path – a degree in exercise science or kinesiology may mean the trainer in question is knowledgeable about the human body.

However, that doesn’t speak to any experience they may or may not have coaching in real-world circumstances.

Here are 6 of the most popular personal trainer certifications:

  1. NSCA: National Strength and Conditioning Association
  2. ACSM: American College of Sports Medicine
  3. NASM: National Academy of Sports Medicine
  4. ACE: American Council on Exercise
  5. NPTI: National Personal Training Institute
  6. CrossFit

T-Nation provides a rundown of the pros and cons from a trainer’s perspective that we feel is also useful insight from a client’s perspective. Be sure to check them out if you want to learn more about what’s behind your trainer’s certification.

CrossFit certifications are completed in a single weekend. While a CrossFit certification does not make a trainer bad (there are plenty of excellent CrossFit coaches out there!), it does not guarantee excellence either.

Here are our thoughts on CrossFit.

A certification from NPTI – the National Personal Training Institute – is a credential gained from going to a school for personal training (rather than attending a single class or taking a test).

While no certification can fully promise excellence, we believe trainers with NPTI certifications are worth your consideration.

CAVEAT TO ALL OF THIS: Plenty of trainers who have NO certification are incredible, and plenty of other trainers have the most elite certifications and are terrible trainers.

MISTAKE #4: Blindly accepting a trainer’s credentials or discounting a trainer without certain credentials.

Certifications can be a starting point, but they shouldn’t be the determining factor.

One of the most important things to look for in your trainer isn’t a credential or certification at all, but real experience and an enthusiasm for helping you reach your goals.

For example:

Looking to powerlift or get into Olympic lifting? Look for someone who has successfully competed in their fields, or someone who actually coaches athletes who do compete!

Need to lose a lot of weight? Ask a trainer to share with you success stories from people who are like you.

In our view, finding a trainer with proven experience and a track record of performing or coaching (or both) in the area of your goals is the most valuable step you can take to ensure quality.

The credential is only a starting point.

Trainers aren’t cheap, but the benefits can be priceless.

Remember, you aren’t paying simply for their time with you. You’re paying for the years and years they’ve spent learning, training, and coaching.

It’s the years behind the certification that makes their time so valuable, so expect the cost of a trainer to be significantly more than the cost of a basic membership at your gym.

How much does a personal trainer cost? Are personal trainers worth it?

This Lego wants to know how much personal training costs.

The cost of a personal trainer can vary dramatically depending on:

  • Where you live (in an expensive city, small town, etc.).
  • The quantity and duration of your training sessions.
  • What kind of training you are looking for.

But you want specifics.

The average North American trainer charges $55 for an hour session.[1]

That’s an “average” so let’s break it down a little.

Here are the prices for working with a trainer in various capacities at my generic commercial gym in the NYC area (definitely on the more expensive end):

  • 4 sessions per month: $95 per session = $380/month
  • 8 sessions per month: $85 per session = $680/month
  • 12 sessions per month: $79 per session = $948/month

This is what one can expect to pay for personal training near NYC.

Is this pricing more or less than you expected?

Here is how much a personal trainer costs at:

  1. Global Gyms: Most big box gyms offer personal training:
    • LA Fitness: you can expect to pay about $60 per session.
    • 24-Hour Fitness: it’ll be about $80 per session.
    • Anytime Fitness: as little as $35 a session.
  2. Luxury Gyms: If you go to a more upscale gym like Equinox, expect to pay “luxury” prices of $110+ an hour.
  3. In-Home Personal Training. If you don’t want to head to the gym, you can actually have a personal trainer come to your home. The cost on this could be all over the place, but a rough average would be about $65 for an hour session.

Different trainers will have different qualifications and expertise, leading to vastly different training experiences.

This can be really important.

MISTAKE #5: Thinking “more expensive” automatically means “better results.” 

Cost is not the right metric. VALUE is the right metric!

Depending on your goals and the results you’re after:

  • $30 per session might be overpaying for a crap trainer who gives you a generic workout and doesn’t care about you. 
  • $100 per session might be a STEAL if it’s an amazing trainer that gets to know your life and your personality, motivates you in the way you need to be motivated, and helps you get past a plateau when you stall.

That’s why remembering your “get in shape” goals is critical when buying a personal trainer.

If you’re looking to do 5 sessions to improve your powerlifting technique, that’s different than hiring a trainer to be with you in person 3x a week to get you to the gym.

HOW TO THINK ABOUT HIRING A TRAINER

You’re not just paying for an hour of somebody’s time.

You’re paying for their years of experience, schooling, training, and expertise.

You’re paying to outsource ALL of your fitness questions to somebody who knows what they’re doing.

Somebody who gives you the confidence you’re training correctly.

This Muppet knows strength training will help him gain muscle and lose weight.

So instead of “I am paying this trainer for 1 hour, this is too expensive,” what you’re really paying for is confidence, momentum, and (hopefully) results.

As somebody who has worked with an online trainer since 2014, I would pay any amount of money to my coach (just don’t tell him that) because I love getting results after years of struggle.

How does an in-person trainer compare to our online coaching program?

Our pricing comes in at a less-expensive price than 4 sessions per month with a trainer.

In addition to building you a workout program for the month, we also help you with your nutrition, mindset, and goals, and answer all the questions you have.

There are very real pros and cons to hiring an online personal trainer, so make sure you read that next section.

So a trainer can be AMAZING and worth every penny, IF you have the right one who also takes an active role in your nutrition.

After all, workouts only make up 1-3 hours per week.

What about the other 165? That’s where the progress happens! And your coach should be helping you there too!

SHOULD I HIRE AN ONLINE PERSONAL TRAINER? WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF AN ONLINE PERSONAL TRAINER?

This Lego athlete is ready for his personal training.

Warning: I’m going to be slightly biased in this area, but I’ll share the honest pros and cons of online training:

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been working with an online trainer since 2014, and it’s allowed me to prove an internet troll wrong and then lose 22 pounds in 6 months while getting super strong!

Here are the Pros of Online Personal Training:

#1) Freedom to fit your schedule. With an online personal coach, you can train when and where you want to fit your schedule – your coach builds the workout program for you ahead of time, so you can fit it in at your convenience.

Compare this to a traditional coach, and you’re at the mercy of their busy schedule. If they only have time Friday morning at 8am, and you’re not a morning person, conflict ensues.

#2) Persistent worldwide accountability. I’m borrowing this phrase from a NF Coaching Client, Jeff (his success story is great). No matter where in the globe you are, your online trainer comes with you.

Which means the accountability never stops. If you travel for work, your coach can plan for that and build you a special travel routine. Getting relocated for work? No problem – your coach will still be there.

#3) Nutritional guidance. With most traditional personal trainers, you engage with them only during your scheduled visits: they help you work out and that’s about it.

With an online personal trainer, you’re connected whenever you have access to the internet. And I would imagine that MOST online coaching programs, work with you on the most important part of the equation: eating healthier!

AKA everything that happens in the 23 hours outside of the gym.

#4) More cost-effective. Most in-person personal trainers are expensive, especially if you work out with them two or three times a week.

That’s because if your trainer is working with you, they can’t work with anybody else at the same time.

When you work with an online coach, because you aren’t training with them 1-on-1 in the gym, they can provide more cost-effective guidance.

When you factor in their availability via chat and their help on habits and your nutrition, you’re looking at a life-changing experience if you find a coach that fits your personality.

#5) It might be the only option. With so many gyms closing because of the pandemic, you might not even have much of a choice here. Here’s our guide to staying in shape (while staying inside) if you need to train from home. 

When comparing online coaches versus regular coaches, I’m going to share the cons as if you have the option between a GREAT online coach and a GREAT in-person coach.

Neither of those is guaranteed.

Here are the cons of an online coach when compared against a real-life equivalent:

#1) Your coach can’t do the work for you. There’s nothing stopping you from skipping a workout and lying to your online coach that you did it. Nobody wins in this scenario, but I can totally see it happening.

So yeah, an online coach can’t pick up the weight for you, and they can’t yell at you to put down the donut. You have to do the work!

#2) No real-time feedback and instant form check. If you’re learning how to powerlift, or you’re going for a particular heavy lift, having a coach right there is HUGE.

They can tell you to move your squat slightly wider. They can guide you through the movement and consistently remind you – even when tired – to keep great form.

Although we do form-check videos, where we have coaches and clients send clips back and forth to each other, it’s not the same as having somebody critique you in real-time.

If you’re looking to nail a particularly challenging lift, or learn a dangerous gymnastics move, working with a trained professional in person is invaluable.

#3) The value of sunk cost. If you pay for a month of online coaching, there’s nothing inherently motivating you to go to the gym when it’s cold and you’re tired – your coach can’t yell at you, and you’re not letting anybody down in the moment when you don’t make it.

Compare this to working with a real coach in person.

You paid $100 for a session, and if you don’t show up, that money is *POOF* gone. So you tell yourself, “I already paid for this, and my coach is gonna be mad, I should probably go.”

And then you go. And you’re so glad that you did.

Wayne stoked he made it to the gym today to meet his personal trainer!

Although your online coach can notice that you haven’t signed in on your app, and they can ask what’s going on, this is after the fact compared to an in-person coach getting stood up.

There’s a lot to consider when debating in-person training vs. an online personal trainer.

I wouldn’t say one format is clearly better than or superior to another. It really depends on what you’re after and the circumstances of your situation.

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: I’ve been working with an online trainer since 2014, and it’s truly been life-changing for me.

I had some goals that had evaded me despite a DECADE of effort, and it took a great coach to coax out the right strategy. It’s how I say (jokingly) that I went from Steve Rogers to Captain America.

And it was my coach’s programming that got me a 420-pound deadlift at a bodyweight of 172 pounds:

Rebel Leader Steve showing how to do a 420 lb deadlift at the gym.

I’m not gonna set any powerlifting records, but I’m healthier, happier, and stronger each and every month, and I’m damn proud of that.  

For somebody that can’t afford a top-of-the-line professional coach for each session, having an online coach to build your programming and guide your food choices is a verrrrry close second.

How to hire a personal trainer

It's now time to buy stuff!

HERE’S MY ADVICE: Give your new personal trainer 5 sessions before making a decision that things aren’t working out (sessions are often sold at a discount in a package).

The first session is often exploratory, explanatory, and introductory, and the trainer needs to test your limits and movements to build upon that.

This isn’t a “get fit quick” strategy, but rather one that could take months and months for you to find the right person to aid you on your journey.

Don’t expect miracles in a day!

A few words of wisdom if you do hire a trainer:

DO NOT USE YOUR TRAINER AS AN EXCUSE: Too many people will hire up a trainer and give no effort in the gym or the kitchen.

Then, when they fail to see results they can turn to their friends and say “man, my trainer is terrible, THAT’S why I’m not losing weight/getting stronger/etc.”

This happens so much more often than you’d think. A trainer is a guide, like Morpheus.

Morpheus is kind of like a personal trainer, he'll show you the way but you have to do the work.

You have to take the pill and walk through the door yourself.

MAKE CRITICISM CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM: Often when the trainer asks them to do something (walk every day, throw away junk food, eat a vegetable), the client/trainee comes back with 1,001 reasons why they can’t do that.

No compromise or discussion of possible solutions. This stinks.

Instead of saying “no,” offer an alternative solution and negotiate a plan: “I don’t really like broccoli, do you have a way to make vegetables taste better?”

In other words, don’t look for problems, look for solutions.

IF YOU ENJOY WORKING WITH YOUR TRAINER: Let them know and continue working with them.

The more information you can give them on your progress, the easier it will be for them to alter your program as you go on.

IF YOU DON’T ENJOY WORKING WITH YOUR TRAINER: That’s okay too. Not all relationships end in marriages.

Some first dates suck, and some trainers aren’t what you need.

I think you can be honest with them and let them know that it’s not a good fit and you will not be continuing to work with them.

Good trainers at this point will ask what they could have done better.

Trainers who are simply after your money may guilt trip you or beg you to stick around. Try somebody new and keep the search going.

REMEMBER: this is a lifelong quest, and you’re on the hunt for a great guide to help you on your journey.

They won’t do the work for you, and they can’t work miracles.

Have proper expectations, do what you’re told, and this could be the best investment you’ll make in your entire life!

Trainers in the Rebellion, what did I miss?

Those who have had experience working with Trainers, any wisdom to share from your experience?

One final note: Going to a gym is intimidating, especially if you’re starting out.

If you are in a location where there aren’t any great trainers, you don’t have access to a gym, or you’re just not ready to work with somebody in person, consider checking out our Online Coaching Program!

Schedule a free call to learn more by clicking on the image below:

Nerd Fitness Coaching Ad

If you have questions about what you need to look for when it comes to training with a coach in person, or even questions about working with an online trainer, leave them in the comments below so I can chime in!

-Steve

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photo: Decathlonwikimedia: high five, BicycleWikimedia: stretching, Amazing playground: bicycles and football

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A Hobbit’s Guide to Walking to Mordor (with Calorie Calculator) https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/walking/ https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/walking/#disqus_thread Sat, 13 Jan 2024 13:00:31 +0000 http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/?p=13645 There’s two things every nerd should know: How many calories do I burn walking a mile? How far is it to Mordor? Today, we’re answering both of them (and much more).  Walking is a great form of exercise and something we often recommend to folks starting our coaching program. Some have had great success walking,...

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There’s two things every nerd should know:

  1. How many calories do I burn walking a mile?
  2. How far is it to Mordor?

Today, we’re answering both of them (and much more). 

Walking is a great form of exercise and something we often recommend to folks starting our coaching program. Some have had great success walking, including Megan, who has a daily practice to maintain her weight loss journey.

Megan before and after

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Without further ado, let’s step right in.

How Many Calories Does Walking Burn? (Calorie Calculator)

In true Nerd Fitness fashion, we scienced the crap out of this, and even created a handy calculator for you – simply put your stats in the calculator here:

Calculate Calories Burned While Walking Calculator

Calculate Calories Burned While Walking Calculator

Enter your weight in pounds.
Enter the distance walked in miles. Partial miles is fine (e.g. 1.5)
We used the formulas and information found on this page for this calculator

A few things to remember about the above equation:

There’s a difference between gross calories (total calories) expended and net calories (additional calories) expended! Your body burns most of its calories every day JUST by existing.

  • Gross calories: calories burned while walking PLUS the calories burned just existing
  • Net calories: ADDITIONAL calories you burned thanks to exercise.

(Calculate your calories “in” and “out” with this calculator.)

Also, our calculation is an ESTIMATE. You’re a unique snowflake, and no box or formula can capture your awesomeness/uniqueness. This equation below is JUST a starting point!

Also, if you don’t feel like playing with our calculator (boo), here’s how many calories you burn walking:

On average, a mile burns about 100 calories when walking.

Another point: ANY exercise pales in comparison to a much more important part of the weight loss equation: nutrition.

In addition to consistent dietary changes, Megan credits her walking habit with helping keep her consistent on her journey to a leveled-up life!

Megan before and after

If you’ve come this far, and you want to learn more about why walking is so amazing, continue reading.

And you’re damn right, I’ll show you exactly how to walk to Mordor too.

What Are The Benefits of Walking?

Walking along roads or hiking can burn a lot of calories

We are designed to walk. It’s in our DNA, and it’s a huge part of our emergence as the dominant species on this planet (along with opposable thumbs, big brains, and Nintendo).

Let’s get the basic stuff out of the way:

Every day, it’s recommended by the CDC that we walk around five miles, or 10,000 steps.[1]

Hence the reason why your Fitbit – which I’ll get to shortly – has that 10k step goal as its default number.

Unfortunately, we Americans tend to average HALF that: 2.5 miles or 5,000 steps.

And I’d imagine that people who work outdoors or have more physically active jobs drag that average wayyyy up.

Which leaves us desk jockeys, who don’t walk nearly enough.

Animated gif of man coming home from work and sitting at computer

We use our feet to get us from the front door, to our car, to our desk, to our car, to our front door, to our couch… where we put them up while watching four hours of TV before going to bed.

Not walking enough can be a big factor in the creep-up of weight gain over the years.

You might have questions like:

  • Can I walk more to lose weight?
  • Is walking REALLY good for me?
  • Do I need to do more intense exercise?

Long story short:

You should walk more and it can help you lose weight and be healthier.

Short story long…

Here’s why walking is important:

#1) Walking burns calories without exhausting you. If you walk the recommended mileage each day (5 miles instead of just 2.5), it can lead to a tremendous amount of weight loss over time. You’ll burn an extra 100 calories walking just ONE more mile each day than normal: When that’s multiplied out, it’s an extra 700 calories burned per week, which results in approximately a pound of fat lost every five weeks, or 10 pounds in a year.  You can scale up your distances to get your desired results!

#2) Walking doesn’t add to training stress. If you are strength training regularly, adding in more weight training or running can lead to burnout, breakdowns, and injuries. If you are trying to look like a super-hero, extra cardio sessions (or long-distance cardio sessions) might kill your gains. But you can just walk. You can walk great distances, provided you’ve built up your body’s physical ability, and not get tired or sore – walking (especially outside while soaking in some sunlight) can make you feel better, not worse.

#3) Walking is low impact. Unlike running, which can wreak havoc on people’s joints if they run improperly or are severely overweight, walking doesn’t have those impact issues. If you go for a walk and your feet or joints hurt, you’re doing it wrong – read the next section!

#4) Walking can burn fat. Because walking is low impact and low intensity, your body doesn’t need to pull much glycogen and glucose stores to fuel itself, which happens when you strength train or push yourself into “aerobic training” with higher intensity cardio. Proponents of intermittent fasting suggest walking in a fasted state in the morning before eating anything in order to help burn extra fat. It’s a little controversial, so this will have to be something you attempt and measure for yourself.

#5) Walking relieves stress. Seriously! Put on your favorite playlist, and go for a pleasant walk around your neighborhood or through the woods as the sun is going down. It’s a recipe to forget the worries of your day.

Bonus points if you can get someone to follow you with a boombox:

Man skipping followed by woman holding a boombox

#6) Walking improves mental health (especially in older hobbits). Walking can improve mental health, increase brain size, improve memory, and is correlated with improved, longer lifespans.[2]

How Walking Can Change Your Life

crossing three stepping stones in a river

If you are severely overweight and can’t run or strength train, walk on.

If you are building muscle and bulking up, walk on.

If you are trying to lose weight, walk on.

If you struggle with following a routine, or have failed in the past with weight loss, walk on

Why? I’m a HUGE fan of small habit change and tiny victories – walking is the PERFECT habit builder. If you’re brand new and starting out, go for a walk TODAY and begin your journey to Mordor.

This afternoon, go for a five-minute walk. Tomorrow morning before work, before breakfast, as SOON as you wake up, put on your shoes, and go outside for a five-minute walk. No snoozing, no lying in bed, no checking email or Twitter. Put on your headphones, pick your favorite song, go outside, and start walking.

Here’s Why Walking Can Change Your Life:

  • Walking for just five minutes a day is the start of a new habit.  Every morning for a few weeks, you’ll have to force yourself to walk. Initially, it will take effort and willpower to walk instead of snoozing. However, with each passing day of success, you’ll need to use less effort and willpower to get out the door. After all, it’s only five minutes, right? Once it’s something you do automatically without thinking, you can add on to it by increasing your walk time.
  • Walking briskly outdoors in the fresh morning air can be a great caffeine-free wake up call! If you make walking the FIRST thing you do in the morning, especially if you’re doing it before anybody else is awake, there will be zero distractions and no reason to say “sorry, I didn’t have time.” Of course, we like caffeine too (in moderation).
  • Walking will give you a chance to gather your thoughts and clear your head before the day begins. We’re constantly distracted at home: TV, iPads, smartphones, etc. Walking is so primal – no gadgets, just walking. Many people cite walking as the impetus for their creative or intelligent breakthroughs.   
  • Walking and successfully building a habit will give you a habit blueprint to follow for anything else you’d like to accomplish: “Hey, I was able to make walking a habit, what else can I tackle in the same way?” Slow and steady wins. One foot in front of the other, my friend.

How to Walk Properly

Footprints in the sand

“Uhhh, Steve, I know how to walk. I do it every day!”

Welp, if you’re starting from only walking from your car to the office, we need to make sure you’re walking the right way for when you push that mileage up.

Let’s start with your feet, provided you’re not gonna glue hair to your feet and go barefoot to become a hobbit.

I recommend walking in shoes that have a wide toe box and minimal drop (height at the heel vs height at the toes), as we discuss in our monster post on healthy feet and footwear:

You might not be used to walking with minimal cushioning under your heels, so walk slowly and land softly. Walking on softer surfaces to start isn’t a bad idea either.

We were designed before the invention of big clunky shoes… thus, we should be able to walk without big clunky shoes.[3] If you are interested in going barefoot as a runner, get started by walking short distances first. Your feet will toughen up (though they probably won’t grow hair quite like Frodo and Sam), your joints and muscles around your feet and ankles will strengthen, and your knees will deal with less stress.

When going for a lazy stroll, focus on landing softly, which is much easier when you don’t have thick-soled shoes to cushion your stride: land softly with your heel barely touching before rolling onto the middle (ball) of your foot, and then push off. You might need to take shorter strides than you’re used to if you were a big heel striker with a long stride.

If you’re aiming to walk quickly and up the intensity, shorten your stride and aim to land in the middle of your foot while pumping your arms. This is more easily done when walking uphill (which is also a great way to burn extra calories).

Is Walking Enough for Weight Loss?

Don before and after

Can walking help you lose weight?

You’re darn right it can!

The above photos are from Don, one of our coaching clients. Don credits his daily walking practice with helping him lose 85 pounds!

He’s not our only example of walking for weight loss:

Megan before and after

Megan, who I mentioned earlier, is another client who walks daily to maintain her weight loss.

Case closed?

Of course not!

Both Don and Megan also made adjustments to their nutrition to reach their amazing results.

One of the Rules of the Nerd Fitness Rebellion is that we know “you can’t outrun your fork.” No amount of exercise can counter a bad diet, as your nutrition will be responsible for 90% (not an exaggeration) of your success or failure.

Here’s an example:

  • Let’s say you go for a 5-mile walk, which takes you 90+ minutes.
  • If you then consume a 20 oz Gatorade and a small bag of Fritos (a typical snack for many here in America), you will have already undone all of the calories burned while walking.

Depending on your nutrition and love/hatred for exercise, this is either great news or bad news!

The BAD news: you can’t eat very badly in mass quantities and then expect to lose weight with a bit of exercise every week, even if it’s strenuous.

The GOOD news: Even if you dislike exercise, you can avoid exercise and still lose weight! Instead, put ALL of your focus instead on fixing your nutrition, and then go for a walk every once in awhile.

I’d also consider reading the following:

Oh, and if you want to see if a Nerd Fitness Coach can build you a program to lose weight while doing movements you enjoy (like walking), click on the button below:

The Best Practices for Walking (Tips and Tricks)

Autumn walk way

Here’s how to improve your walking technique:

#1) Focus on posture! Head up! Shoulders back! Walk with a confident stroll – practice this one in the morning if you’re not used to walking like this. It’s also a great way to appear instantly more confident; we nerds and hobbits need all the confidence we can get! Look around at your surroundings with your head up, arms swinging in rhythm.

You can also do some well-placed neck swings and jacket removals:

Zoolander walking and removing jacket

#2) Walk uphill to burn more fat. If you are walking on a treadmill, set it to an incline to increase the intensity and thus increase the amount of fat burned. Just don’t be that person who sets the incline way up, then holds onto both sides and leans their body back to be perpendicular with the incline. Keep good posture, lean forward into the incline, shorten your stride, and pump your legs.

#3) Hiking is a great way to practice walking, enjoy the scenery, and play Lord of the Rings in the woods with plastic swords and capes. Not that you should do that (you totally should). Here’s a beginner’s guide to hiking!

#4) When walking downhill, especially while barefoot (or wearing minimalist shoes), keep that stride short and be careful on how you are walking. Make sure your knee is bent when you land and absorb the impact rather than jamming the impact through your heel, knee, leg, hips, and lower back.

#5) Consider going for “fasted walks” in the morning. When you wake up first thing in the morning, your body has burned through most of the carb-fueled energy stores during the night. This means when you go for a walk first thing in the morning, your body is more likely to have to pull from the only fuel source available to it: fat! This is the entire philosophy behind things like Intermittent Fasting or really low-carb diets like the Ketogenic diet.

#6) Get yourself a sturdy walking stick, if only so you can use it to battle imaginary ogres, goblins, cavetrolls, etc. It can also make you feel far more adventurous than if you’re just walking, and help you get up hills and land softly when going back down.

#7) Try Temptation Bundling. Load up an audiobook or your favorite podcast, and tell yourself that you can ONLY listen to the book or podcast while walking.

Is a Fitbit Helpful for Walking? (Which Fitness Tracker Is Best for Me?)

what you need to know about Fitbits and Pedometers to track calories burned walking

If you’re somebody who has been interested – or is getting interested – in walking, you’re probably familiar with step-tracking devices:

Personally, I’m a huge fan of fitness wearables, but not for the reasons you’d think.

For starters, you’re wearing a constant reminder that you are prioritizing movement, which can only be positive. You can even trigger it to remind you to get up and move every hour.

Our Fitbit trackers can help us with analyzing trends and getting in more steps.

It can also allow you to see how many steps you normally take, and thus allow you to prioritize moving MORE.

Although Fitbit has a history of being sued for the inaccurate heart-monitor portion of its devices, I’m less concerned about heart rates and 100% accuracy of step distance, and instead think in terms of personal improvement.

Just like with tracking your bodyfat percentage or your weight, “that which gets measured gets improved,” and that carries over to your total steps. The fact that you’re tracking it means you’re going to be more aware of it, which means you’re going to be more likely to be able to improve it.

And that’s why, in a weird way, I’m not very concerned about the total accuracy of these devices. Even if your scale is off by 5 pounds, or your body fat caliper is inaccurate by 1%, as long as you use the same device and measure in the same way under the same conditions, you can track trends and paint the picture of your health and whether or not it’s improving!

And that’s what these fitness trackers should be used for: a reminder and a trend tracker!

What you SHOULDN’T do: take your fitness tracker as gospel, and use that to calculate down to the calorie and macro how much food exactly you can consume.

What you SHOULD do: track your trend over time, and see if you can improve your average. Use the technology to aid your fitness quest. Use the community portion of the band to compare your stats against friends and get some positive friendly peer pressure to get you off your ass.

Okay, if nerdy fitness technology isn’t nerdy enough for you, let’s go full-nerd.

How to Actually Walk to Mordor

Frodo and Sam are walking buddies and actually walked to Mordor

Did you know it’s 1779 miles between Hobbiton to Mount Doom? [4]. We can actually determine how far Sam and Frodo walked, and then set out on the journey ourselves! It’s one thing to go for a stroll around your neighborhood. It’s another to know that, “If I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.”

Sam and Frodo walking out of the Shire

So let’s take a look at how far we need to walk first:

  • 458 miles: Go from Hobbiton to Rivendell.
  • 462 miles: Set out with the Fellowship from Rivendell, through Moria, to Lothlorien.
  • 389 miles: From Lothlorien, down the Anduin, to Rauros Falls.
  • 470 miles: Follow Frodo and Sam on the quest from Rauros to Mt. Doom.
  • 535 miles: From Minas Tirith to Isengard
  • 693 miles: From Isengard to Rivendell.
  • 397 miles: From Rivendell to Bag End.
  • 467 miles: (bonus!) Follow Frodo to the Grey Havens and return home with Sam.

Following this path, you need to walk a total of 1779 miles to get from Hobbiton to Mt. Doom. Then it’s time to destroy the ring and get carried to Minas Tirith by the Great Eagles.

Thorin carried by the eagles

Then you’ll walk 1625 miles back to Bag End (and an additional 467 miles if you’re interested in doing a round trip to the Grey Havens).

Obviously, you don’t need to move at the same speed as the hobbits (18 miles on the first day is no joke! Damn, those hobbits covered some ground!), but it’s still fun to track your walks and your total miles to see where you’d be on your journey.

However, like Frodo and Sam, it starts with the first step.

I’ve created a Google Doc that you can copy for yourself to track your distances to follow Frodo and Sam on your journey to destroy the One Ring.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Open the document, and then click on “file,” “save a copy,” and then you can edit your own copy of the document.  
  • Track your distances with a pedometer, Fitbit, your iPhone or Android phone.
  • Input your distances and work towards completing each section of the journey over months. As you input your distances, it will automatically let you know when you reach each destination so you can get you started on the next one. 5 miles a day on average will have you destroying the Ring within one year.

Oh, and if you’re curious, according to my rough gorilla math, Frodo burned at least an additional 61,0000+ calories (100,000+ gross calories) by walking “there and back again” – you’re welcome[5].

Cast of The Hobbit giving thumbs up

What’s that?

You want some help getting out the door?

You got it – but only cause you asked nicely.

Here are three ways to level up alongside Nerd Fitness. 

#1) Our Online Coaching Program: a coaching program for busy people to help them make better food choices, stay accountable, and get healthier, permanently.

You can schedule a free call with our team so we can get to know you and see if our coaching program is right for you. Just click on the image below for more details:

#2) If you want an exact roadmap on how to get in shape, check out NF Journey. Our fun habit-building app helps you exercise more frequently, eat healthier, and level up your life (literally).

We even have fun missions that will help you walk more, all while you earn XP! Righteous. 

Try your free trial right here:

#3) Join the Rebellion! We need good people like you in our community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion.

Sign up in the box below to enlist and get our Rebel Starter Kit, which includes all of our “work out at home” guides, the Nerd Fitness Diet Cheat Sheet, and much more!

Alright, your turn:

What questions do you have about walking? 

How have you incorporated it into your daily routine?

And have you walked to Mordor?

Let me know in the comments!

-Steve 

Photo source: fourbrickstall Hiking in Candelario, Lego Frodo, logoboom © 123RF.com, gynane © 123RF.com, arushigakaito © 123RF.com, snehit © 123RF.com, Thad Zajdowicz Keep walking! HMM!, Frodo and Sam

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