If you turn on the television these days to any major news channel, talk show, or even dedicated fitness channel, you’re going to see a ton of various thoughts on how to “workout” and “get in shape”. Fitness “gurus” are going to tell you their opinions on how you should go about maintaining your body. Heck, we are even bombarded when programs aren’t on with the latest in “top-line” exercise equipment and accessories! It can be a bit overbearing, and a bit much. You probably even remember hearing these same key phrases growing up, before you even cared about exercise: You should do X thing on this many days for this much time. This machine is better than this exercise because it works out parts A, B and C of your body. Do you wanna get TONED? It’s BEACH season, so do this to get those sexy abs!
Newsflash. Exercise has become a provocative industry for people to say anything, and do anything, to get your money and earn your trust. Because what better way to get people’s trust than promising and helping them get the body they have always wanted?
But this just in: you don’t necessarily need to shell out hundreds of dollars on fancy new equipment or magic accessories, or even “top of the line” exercise experts to coach you! You just need sound knowledge, a strong work ethic, and most importantly, discipline.
Imagine this: you’re a Greek athlete 3,000 years ago, and you are constantly training to be the strongest athlete in the Olympics. Up comes this guy, with these two big, kind of circular rock things with holes in them, and says (in Greek), “Yo. You should try these and then lift them a lot, and maybe use them to train to jump higher or lift heavier things.” These are called halteres, and what that guy did was essentially sell you a way to get results that you want through exercise. Thus started the birth of the modern day fitness craze, and a movement that would span generations. An ideology that there needs to be multiple alternatives, multiple people, and multiple ways to exercise at the optimal level; to get the greatest results possible for your body.
And in reality, there are multiple, perfectly good ways to exercise well and stay fit! Unfortunately, there is a lot of pseudo-science and advertising out there too. It can be really difficult for anyone, from beginners to people like me who constantly study about fitness and train for athletics, to really discern what is right for them. Especially for beginners just starting to seek a healthier lifestyle through exercise, the amount of do this not that information out in our society is intimidating! How are we to navigate through these things that we aren’t even sure actually work for us?
The first solution: knowing our basics! Our fundamentals in exercise.
Let’s break them down then, for the sake of simplicity, into two main categories of exercising, for two very opposite ways of tackling working out: losing weight (cutting fat) and gaining muscle (getting beef).
Losing Weight (cutting fat)
For a lot of the world, this seems to be the most popular reason to start getting into working out. From just wanting to shed a couple pounds for the summer months, to legitimately needing to lose weight for severe medical reasons, cutting fat is a relatively normal first thought when it comes to wanting to exercise. And I don’t blame you! Having a problematic amount of fat in your body can cause a lot of problems, from the more obvious, like looking bigger than you want; to the more problematic, like high blood pressure, diabetes, and even cancer. So how do we go about cutting fat the right way? What are the basic things that you need to know first?
The primary thing that you need to understand when it comes to cutting fat and losing weight is that whatever exercise you are doing, it needs to use more energy than how much you have stored (see part one to learn about TDEE). Fat gets built up because there is excess energy stored in the body. If your TDEE is around 2500 calories for example, and you are eating at 3000 or more daily, then you can bet that you are going to be gaining weight instead of losing it! Yes, you guessed it—this infers that in order to effectively burn fat and make sure of it, you have to understand your caloric intake and make sure to be at a deficit to eliminate fat (that generally starts IN THE KITCHEN).
Before we continue, let me just define two terms for you that might confuse some people:
Aerobic exercise simply means exercise with oxygen. It’s exercise that gets your heart rate and cardiovascular system going, but you can generally do it for longer than a few minutes consistently.
Anaerobic exercise means exercise without oxygen. This is exercise of high intensity, where you get out of breath quickly, and it really taxes your cardiovascular system and heart.
So why do so many people swear by aerobic and anaerobic exercises? Well, besides helping improve blood flow and strengthening your heart against heart disease, both exercises work your heart and cardiovascular system. This means that it forces your body to dig deep into the energy (caloric) reserves, and burn them. And, as you might have predicted, that means you are effectively burning the energy that would potentially turn into fat. So which type is best for you?
It really depends on your fitness goals! How bad do you want to be at a deficit calorically and cut fat? There a number of different ways to go about it.
Here are some tips and myths to think about:
- Aerobic exercise, like going for brisk walks, bicycling, jogging on a treadmill, etc., can become anaerobic if you push yourself hard enough. It’s the difference between taking a stroll and doing twenty high intensity sprints with breaks of 20 seconds in between.
- If you want to burn energy more efficiently, then anaerobic exercise is your best bet, because you are digging deeper into your energy reserves at a much quicker rate.
- Contrary to popular belief, if you do a time consuming, long pace, more marathon-esque activity—such as run 4 miles every day at a brisk pace—that isn’t better than doing sprints or anaerobic exercises just because you are doing it for a longer time. In actuality, you are just conditioning your body to be better at doing that one thing—in this case, running 4 miles.
- HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training is absolutely your best friend when it comes to getting the most out of both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Basically it means going all-out, maximum effort for any exercise (for me that would be similar to doing a 30-50 second, max effort breaking set) then taking a small break, then going back at it again. The goal is muscle fatigue and oxygen intake. This is very taxing to your body however, so be wary, especially if you are new to fitness.
- You should in fact, lift weights while cutting! This way you are maintaining muscle while eating at a caloric deficit. Also, lifting weights can be a form of both aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
Gaining muscle (getting beef)
On the opposite end of the spectrum is getting more muscle. Sometimes, for any number of reasons, a person just needs to get bigger or stronger and amass more. Maybe you want to look bigger and stronger, or maybe you legitimately need to gain muscle to protect your body from physical damage. Either way, just as losing weight is a perfectly valid reason to exercise, so too is gaining it (in muscle)!
I stated before in part one of the series, that in order to gain weight you need to eat over your TDEE—that means you need to take in more calories than you need. Again, that would be probably +300-500 over your caloric intake. Granted, if you want to bulk, you will still gain some fat. Not gaining any fat is literally and scientifically impossible. You can minimize the amount of fat you gain, but nonetheless, you will gain some. Why the caloric surplus? Basically it’s just the opposite of cutting fat—at a surplus, provided you are working out to gain muscle, the energy is being used to build muscle (and again, some fat), as opposed to a deficit, where you are just straight burning energy and burning fat.
When it comes to working out for gaining muscle, the general consensus is to use weights. The old-school adage of going to the gym and bench pressing or using dumbbells and free weights does in fact work. Simply put, when you lift weights, you literally are tearing the muscles down. You do that to allow your body via proteins and nutrients (this is why we track our TDEE and macros) to rebuild more muscle, thus making…well, bigger muscles. Pretty simple, right? High school science rules.
However, something you should note is this: when you lift, you should focus on your technique, not lifting to failure! Check out this guide written by Greg Nuckols—the science behind it is that if we focus on our technique and maximizing efficiency while saving our healthy joints and connective tissues, we can continue to improve and get stronger in our lifts without risking anything. This is of utmost importance because if you aren’t lifting with proper form, chances are you aren’t really strengthening your muscles well enough. Or worse, you are probably going to hurt yourself long term.
Here are some tips for gaining muscle:
- There are a ton of different programs and regimens that you can start on, no matter what your expertise, to learn how to effectively lift. I used StrongLifts 5×5, but you can also check out ICF (Ice Cream Fitness 5×5) or AWR’s Beginner Workouts. There are more, but they are structured the same relatively—lift, take a rest day, lift.
- There are also a variety of different ways to target muscle groups. Check out this handy page that breaks down muscle groups with various lifts by bodybuilding.com!
- The two biggest keys to gaining muscle is patience and knowing when to rest. Patience because gaining muscle mass takes time (and even then it varies on genetics and fat to muscle ratio), and rest because you NEED to let your muscles recover after lifting. After all, you are literally ripping them apart!
These are the general yet fundamental pieces of knowledge I wanted to churn out for you in terms of exercise! At some point, I will go more in-depth with different regimens and exercises and the science behind them. But that’s for another day.
Remember to stay persistent and get into a routine! If you want to achieve fitness through exercise, then you will need to keep yourself accountable and take it one day, one workout at a time.
Putting your body through a physical workout isn’t the tough part–it’s motivating yourself to stay committed to your goals and a healthier lifestyle that truly takes all of your focus.
Written by: Michael “Bboy Roach1” Roach