When any traveler approaches a journey for a first time, a decision must always be made. Will the path taken be left to chance, a wander across the plains with no real rhyme or reason, letting fate guide the way? Or will there be a map designed to lead the traveler to his or her destination in the most efficient manner possible? We have to make a similar choice each day as we traverse everything life has to offer, from relationships to education to faith to, well, the gym!
When the time arrives to plan your gym journey going forward, we all much step back and determine the bigger long term goals, then map out how we will achieve them. Or, we don’t! Many people join a gym with no real goals of roadmap. They’ll train for years, perhaps decades or even a lifetime. And they’ll never plan a thing! They will enter the gym each day, train hard, and leave, and they will see some good results from their efforts. But the lack of organization, planning, and goal setting and keeping will mean any changes to their body will be arbitrary and random, inconsistent with the meticulous planning and execution which leads to success in so many other areas of their lives. It seems strange to so carefully plan everything we do, and then just “wing it” in the gym, doesn’t it?
Once you have that moment of clarity and realize the importance of long-term planning in the gym, and the need to set some goals in order to achieve said goals, you are ready to begin! The very action of deciding to create a goal is half the battle. The other half is simply building a plan and enacting it. That’s the easy part, right? Generally, most lifters initially decide if they wish to get bigger, or leaner. Heavy people usually want to get lean, while skinny people usually want to add muscle. Optimally, you will gain more in the long tern if you are able to get yourself to a lean state (whether you start there already, or have to reach that point) before you start packing on the muscle. Let’s learn about the paths to take, and which is right for you!
For most entrants into the world of physical fitness, getting lean should be the first item on their agenda. The body has a much easier time metabolizing new muscle when body fat levels are low. Testosterone production will be higher and training energy levels will be much greater than if you’re training while carrying ten pounds of fat you don’t need. Training in this manner will be two tiered, focusing equal energy upon cardiovascular workouts as well as the weighted variety. Hitting both aerobic and anaerobic styles will help you to maintain existing muscle (and adding a bit in the process) while at the same time significantly reducing body fat levels. Restrict your carbohydrate intake to manage your calories to such a degree that you lose 1 to 2 pounds of fat per week, maximum.
This is where things get fun! It’s time to loosen up your belt a little bit and eat some of the foods that you enjoy! In return for this allowance, you’re going to have to train harder and heavier than you ever have done before. Does that sound like a fair trade off to you? Bulking used to be about downing fast food as quickly as possible and doing some deadlifts and squats a few times a week. These days, advanced understanding of training has pushed things in a much more scientific direction. Athletes will train 5 days each week, dedicating an hour to the weights. Cardio is even allowed in the off-season to keep the athlete lean-ish as new muscle is added to the body. Meals are still made out of the same clean foods you’d use for dieting, only in bigger portions. It’s all about moderation, health, and clean, lean gains!
Most serious lifters will usually spend their entire training careers following one of these paths, or the other. Going back and forth between the two is a great way to continually add muscle over the years without ever gaining too much body fat along the way. The kind of traveler you are will depend upon your current situation. If you’re lean and trying to get big, and your abs are already visible, then you should jump right into bulking to add some overall body mass to your frame. On the other hand, if you’re heavy and new to training, or an experienced trainer with a body fat level over 12 or 14 percent, then a diet should be in order to get things started. The bulking phase you embark upon afterwards will be cleaner and more effective as a result. Good luck!