Updated: May 7, 2018
Everything you need to know to get started with getting into shape, from setting up your macro nutrients to arranging your weekly workout volume for maximum growth.
First time I was introduced to science based fitness community was a few years back and I can honestly say that that was one of those moments where everything clicked for me and made complete sense. When I started working out long way back when I was in high school I was mostly doing exercises other people were doing in the gym, trying to copy the movement and form. Most people will say they also got a lot of information from magazines at that time, but I could not even afford those so I had to rely on what other more experienced lifters were doing.
“My fitness journey was a lot of trials and errors, with some common mistakes like bro split workouts, training to failure every single time, going for the pump, eating too much protein and many more.”
When I look back at that period with the knowledge I have today I know that I wasted so much time spinning the wheels at one spot. This is why I will try to summarize what is important for YOU not to get lost like I did and spend hours and days and years with getting minimal results that only you can notice.
Step 1: Have the basics, weight scale, measuring tape and an application like MyFitnessPal
This will be your foundation to get started. Before you set up your goals and before you dive into which exercises should you use and rest periods you need to get the right measuring tools. To give you a better idea, think of it as a compass that will navigate you in your journey. Tracking your daily, weekly and monthly measurements will give you an exact idea on where you are at and which direction are you going. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, you need to understand that on average you should be losing 1%-1.5% of your body weight per week. For example if you are 200lb that would be 2-3lb per week! The only way to know this is to regularly measure your weight every morning when you get up after you go to the toilet. You also need an application which will allow you to be consistent with your daily calorie intake. This is the most important part if you want to see your results as soon as possible. We will talk about the caloric balance later in this article, but for now, just download the application.
Step 2: Calculate your macro nutrient intake
The second step would be to find out what are your maintenance calories. This is the amount of daily caloric intake at which you maintain your current weight. To do this you can simply use an online calculator to give you an estimate for your total daily energy expenditure.
You can find a good calculator that I personally use here: https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/bwp/index.html
All you need to do is fill out all required fields and the calculator will give you an ESTIMATED maintenance calories. The reason why I emphasize this is because it is only an estimate. Human metabolism is a very complex system designed to keep your body in a homeostasis. Various different elements affect your maintenance levels like resting metabolic rate, NEAT(non exercise activity thermogenesis) and the thermic effect of food just to name a few. After the initial estimated number you will tweak it until you get the desired effect (losing fat, gaining muscle or both at the same time).
Step 3: Divide your calories into macro nutrients
Remember how everyone used to tell you that eating proteins is the most important part of building your muscles? Well that is only one side of the equation, and if you only stick to that part of the equation it will not get you anywhere or even worse it will give you a physique that you do not want!
So let us look at the full equation here. Every macronutrient had a specific amount of calories per gram. Proteins have 4 calories per gram, carbs have 4 as well, and fats have 9 calories per gram. First you need to determine your protein intake. According to the most scientific papers published out there the required amount of protein is in a range of 0.8 - 1.0 grams per pound of body weight. This means that an individual of 200lb should have 160 - 200 grams of protein per day. Next you take that number and multiply it by 4: 200 x 4 = 600 calories. Next stop should be calculating your fat intake which is very easy. Usual guidelines are 0.3 to 0.4 grams per pound of body weight. So for a 200lb individual that would equal to 60-80 grams of fat per day. To get the caloric number simply multiply it with 9: 80 grams x 9 calories = 720 calories per day.
Now that we have our calories from proteins (600) and calories from fats (720) we simply need to add them and then subtract from your total calories to get your calories for carbohydrates. Here is how to do it: 600 + 720 = 1,320. If we estimate that the maintenance calories for 200lb individual is 3,000 per day then we simply subtract 3,000 - 1,320 = 1680 calories. Then all you need to do is divide this number with 4 to get the amount of carbs you need to have on a daily basis. 1,680 / 4 = 420.
To summarize an individual of 200lb would have these macro nutrient ratios to maintain current weight: Protein = 200grams, Carbohydrates = 420 grams and Fats = 80 grams.
Step 4: Adjust your caloric intake to your goals
The following step is to adjust your calories to your goals, weather it is to lose fat and keep your muscle or just increase your weight by maximizing your muscle size and minimizing your fat increase.
If you goal is to lose weight in search of that six pack then simply reducing your calories by 500 is a good rule of thumb. In general caloric deficit should be in a range of 15-25% if you want to approach it moderately.
To demonstrate you using our example from above, a 200lb individual with caloric intake of 3,000 should start his diet with 2,500 and adjusting macros to that. All the deficit should come from cutting carbohydrates exclusively. The reason why we are not touching proteins is because you want to retain as much muscle as possible, if not all of it. The remaining fats are being used for your basic hormonal support in your system and are important part of the equation if you want to remain healthy and feel good. In this specific case the individual would need to cut 500 / 4 =125 grams of carbs to start the cutting phase.
From this point all you need to do is use your weight scale every morning to track your weight and take weekly averages. For fat loss you should be aiming for 1-1.5% of your body weight per week. That would be 2-3 pounds of body weight loss per week. When it comes to bulking there are various different opinions by experts as it really depends on the genetics but generally you should aim for 1-2 pounds of weight gain per week. The main reason why I am not overly concerned about gaining a bit of extra fat is because losing fat is very easy compared to building muscle. To give you an example, if you bulk for 2 months and gain 8 pounds of weight in total, most likely 50% of that will be fat. Now to remove that fat it only takes 2 weeks of mini cutting as you can lose 2 pounds per week without losing any muscle.
Step 5: Setting up a good workout plan
The second part of the big equation is quality time spent in the gym. People often say that eating properly is 70% and working out in the gym is only 30%. This is absolutely ridiculous and the main reason why most people are stuck with their progress after the initial period of newbie gains which lasts for about a year.
To set up a good workout plan you need to have a split which will allow you to hit the muscle group 2-4 times per week with enough volume and intensity. The main goal here is to stimulate your muscle growth but also manage your fatigue. This is why having a plan for the whole month is a good idea. You can also divide your plan into micro cycle (one week), meso cycle (one month) and macro cycle (one year). Your meso cycle should start with with lower intensity slowly going to your maximum where you are overreaching at the end of the meso cycle. How does this work in practice? Its simple. I will show you an example that we all love to hear, how to apply this to your chest for example?
Week 1: Bench press 80kg x 10 Sets 3
Week 2: Bench press 82.5 x 10 Sets 4
Week 3: Bench press 85 x 10 Sets 5
Week 4: Bench press 87.5 x 10 Sets 6
Week 5: Bench press 80kg x 10 Sets 2 (deload)
This would be an example for only one exercise to simply it but this is how you can apply it to all other exercises. To be able to increase the weight every single week in a progressive manner you need to start your first week with 4 repetitions in reserve. Meaning you do not go to failure. This is how you can still grow your muscles but at the same time manage your fatigue. Now to keep that stimulus on your muscles you need to keep increasing your weight every week. So if you had 4 repetitions in the tank, the next week you should have 3, and the following week 2. By the time you reach the end of the meso cycle you will probably go to failure and be overreaching. This is why we have a deload in week 5 where your muscles, soft tissues like ligaments and tendons, and nervous system can fully recover and be ready for another mesocycle of hard gains!
Another side of the equation, when it comes to working out, is selecting a split. This should be selected according to your experience and lifestyle. You need to make sure that you are hitting the same muscle group frequently enough every week to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Push, pull, legs is the most common split out there and it works really well for those who love to spend more time in the gym, believe me there are people like that and I am one of them as well! This split looks like this:
Another common split is upper body, lower body where on one day you do full upper body followed by the lower body day. This type of split is particularly good for females as they have far better recovery periods enabling them to do more frequency and volume.
An example of this split would look like this:
So there you go, those are the basic principles of how you should manage your fatigue and progressively overload your muscles for more growth. Obviously this is just the starting point and there are many techniques out there that can help you but we need to keep things simple for now. Also when it comes to periodization there are many different types and this is something I will write about in my next article, but for now this is more than enough to get you started!
Step 6: Trust the process and be consistent
After you dial everything in, you just need to stick to the process to see results. You should usually see noticeable results after 3 months, but that also depends on your training experience as well. Also keep in mind that the longer you diet when cutting the harder it gets, so having a flexible diet is a good idea with regular diet breaks where you go back to your maintenance level.
I will write more about this topic in the upcoming article where I will talk in detail about diet breaks and flexible dieting. But for now you have all the tools you need to get started!
In the meantime download my free eBook on workouts and nutrition to get a detailed instructions!