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The Holy Grail: Losing fat and gaining muscle

Posted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 3:44 pm
by chissel
Hello, all!

I'm a 19-year-old male and have worked out before. For the last few years I've worked out on and off, but never with any regularity, although I managed to gain a bit of muscle when I started, and then never progressed.

Until recently, I had roughly a year without lifting any weights and gained quite a bit of fat due to bad eating and a lack of exercise. I'm 5'8" and was about 175-182 pounds.

I'm starting university in October and really want to get rid of the fat (hopefully < 10%) and gain some muscle.

For the last 3 or so months I've been dieting and recently joined a gym. I've lost about 25 pounds, so I'm now around 147 pounds. My research on suggested that anaerobic exercise was a good idea for losing fat, so that's what I focused on, rather than the poor souls I see relentlessly pounding away on the running machine for hours. My gym-given programme was to work my upper body one day (A) and my lower body the next day (B), with rests in between (X) such that my week looked like ABXABXX. Then one of the gym staff gave me a more isolating plan where I worked my chest and biceps one day, my back and triceps the next day, then an off day, then my legs and abs the next days, and finally my shoulders the next day, with two days of rest before it all started again. And he said to do 4 sets per exercise, and 4 exercises per muscle group, which takes ages and seems to go against the research on this site.

I now feel like I've plateaued because I've still got quite a bit of excess fat, mainly my belly. Common sense says that it'll just take time, but unfortunately I managed to slip and just had 3 days of *really* bad eating. But failure's not the falling downing, it's the not getting back up again, right? And so now I'm ready to get back into it and go for it 100%.

My goal: I really want to lose my excess fat, so that I'm really cut up and lean, but also want to build -- or at least maintain -- muscle, so that I'm built a bit. The Holy Grail of body objectives for a lot of people, I suppose. I'm currently self-employed and on a gap-year before university so I'm very flexible with time, and so am able to really dedicate myself to the rippin' cause. ;) I would really appreciate any help with these questions I've got, and thanks in advance if you're so kind as to reply!

- Can anybody recommend a workout plan for me. I want to use anaerobic exercise in the form of weight-lifting to lose the fat, although obviously I suppose I would do a bit of cardio on the side as well (?). What sort of plan (full body, split, etc.) on what days and what exercises specifically (should I be isolating or working on big muscle groups, etc., in order to lose fat/gain muscle) and how many sets/reps, rest time and overall workout time? -- if you could give as much info as possible, I'd really appreciate it!

- What should I be eating? I'm not sure really how much of the different food groups I should be eating, etc. I feel like I've been losing fat mainly due to the calorie deficit, but now that I've plateaued I really need to do some quality dieting. Can anybody post any plans? Any input? Currently in the morning I've been having a weetabix with half a low-fat yogurt instead of milk and an apple; then some grapes mid-morning; 2 slices of bread with margarine, the other half of the low-fat yogurt and an orange for lunch; some tuna and ham after a workout; and then for dinner usually some meat (chicken breast often) with vegetables. Any plans/ideas or links to articles/resources would be great.

- When is the best time to work-out? Like I said, I'm really flexible regarding time, so any info on where you would fit working out into your day -- between which meals or snacks etc.?

Thanks again, and now I'm at the end of this I should apologise for it being rather a rambling mess --- I'm in a bit of a desperate diet/exercise rut at the moment!

Posted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 9:53 pm
by pdellorto
I don't have time for a longer answer right now, but check out this thread:

Lots of your questions are already answered there. Basically - eat right, do compound exercises that large groups of muscles (deadlifts, back squats, bench presses, military presses, bent-over rows, pullups, dips), and worry about split programs and isolation work after you've gotten big. If ever.
The same OP (original poster) put up a question on the Nutrition board, you can check that out that thread too.

zachsikidhart just posted a link to this:

...which seems like an outstanding way to start out a weightlifting program right. Chock full of information and video, too. I wish I had it when I started lifting. I did well, but I'd have done better if I'd started out that way instead.

I'm personally adding lots of crossfit and simplefit style workouts into my exercises, you can check that out. Not coincidently the crossfit folks also recommend the Starting Strength program described in zachsikidhart's link.

Hope that helps, I'll more later when I get a chance. And I'm sure the other guys here will be happy to help.


Posted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 11:40 pm
by ranemanshoe
I would also suggest going to your local convienence store and for $2 buying a journal to keep two vary important things

1. your workout routine with exercises, sets, reps, lbs. Also your cardio.

2. you're daily diet.

this is for two reasons, 1, i found it helped me keep track of my workout better and it allowed me to plan and keep track of everything. if i do 4 sets one day and on one set i try to up my lbs to see how i do, i'll remember that for the next workout in my journal. (i could just have a bad memory too.)

but more importantly it helps you realize all the $h1t you and exactly when you eat it. trust me, if you log everything you eat, (keep the log in your pocket, ie means get a small journal), you'll realize in many more ways to improve your fitness. it especially helps you utilize things you read on this site and others about nutrition.

i also find it helpful to avoid foods. if i know i have to write down the two smores pop-tarts, i might not eat them. (although, i must say, while they aren't particulalry good for you, you have to marvel in the wonderfulness of smores) :)

exercise in general

Posted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 11:48 pm
by ranemanshoe
while i may get lambasted from a lot of people,

my general thought on exercise when you are first starting is to remind yourself what you are actually doing.

there are many things that you can do to perfect your nutrition or your workout, but in the beginning you aren't trying to perfect anything, you're trying to begin.

and moreover, you are trying to be happy. one of the greatest things i get from workign out is improved happiness. but i also get this from eating pasta. a lot of nutritionists will tell you now adays there are better forms of carbs, but pasta makes me happy, so who cares.

the point is, what are you really trying to do? get in shape or be a body builder? if you're trying to get in shape, don't go crazy, stay within your limits, and don't do $h1t that makes you unhappy. if you stick with that, you'll stick with your workout and excercise plan.

(that is of course not to say you should eat like $h1t. you shouldn't. unless you are willing to accept the consequences of poor health and a bad body. which in case, eat poorly, by all means. otherwise, use moderation. )

Posted: Wed Jun 20, 2007 2:00 am
by Ironman
I do have to say that getting into bodybuilding sure did whip me into shape. If you go for the whole grain pasta it's not bad. Good for bulking up. I wouldn't recommend it for cutting for most people though.

You are going to find that there are lots of programs out there and you should just do one for a while and then move on to something else that is pretty different. For beginners you want full body with less sets and higher reps then you might use later in more advanced programs. Also as a beginner training to failure all the time is fine, it won't stress your CNS so bad like it will later on. Also if you eat a lot of protein and keep the carbs low, you should be able to l lose fat and gain muscle for a few months.

One more thing, splits do have their place. However back triceps, chest biceps is an AWFUL split. Bad for your chest in particular. Random muscles thrown together like an episode of Family Guy don't work too well for natural lifters. I hate those splits that look like a tank of dolphins dropped body part balls in to bins labeled with the days of the week. Then of course there is always ONE day that is just "legs". A lot of times it is 1 out of 5 workout days doe all things lower body. No wonder there are so many chicken legs out there.
Splits should be based on function, forget about body parts.

Posted: Wed Jun 20, 2007 4:30 am
by pdellorto
Ironman wrote:You are going to find that there are lots of programs out there and you should just do one for a while (SNIP)
That's probably the best point anyone can make here - get a program, follow it until it stops working. By "working" I mean you stop gaining strength and/or size. As long as you are making progress, keep at it. Slow and steady wins the race and all that. Don't fall into the trap of rushing from one quick fix to another. Give it time.
Ironman wrote:One more thing, splits do have their place.
Re-reading my post, I can see that it sounds I'm saying splits aren't useful. They are, it's just that you don't need to worry about them now, and you may not ever need to worry about them (depends on your goals and personal differences). I personally don't split my program and I still make gains. Other trainees do split them and also make gains. But that's for much later - you're just getting started.

Find a good program. Either the one in that thread for Vintage using the dumbells he's got, or the one based on Starting Strength in that other link - should work fine. Given a choice, I'd go with the latter one, it's very simple. Go for that, make steady progress, and learn about weight training. Don't get tempted to apply everything you learn until the program you're on has tapered off in its benefits. That'll take a while! I did the same initial program - given to me by a bodybuilder friend - for over a year. I just wish his program hadn't had me benching three days a week and not a squat or deadlift in site. Oh well. Anyway.

Just as an aside, I have to say I cringe whenever I heard "program the trainers at the gym gave me" or "this workout the gym gives all beginners" or something similar. All the ones I've seen have been really awful - almost no compound exercises (except maybe a bench press), lots of isolation work on the biceps and triceps, splitting the leg work between leg extensions and leg curls, some flys and lateral raises, almost no back work...ugh. Sorry...personal reaction. I hope I haven't offended anyone.

Oh, and ditch the margarine - I think the consensus is that trans fats aren't so healthy, and margarines usually have lots of those. If you're set on toast, try toasting the bread, drizzling some extra virgin olive oil on it and either rubbing it with a cut garlic glove or sprinkling garlic powder (NOT garlic salt) on it. That's healthier and tasty. Doesn't work so well with Wonder bread, though.

Hope that helps,


Posted: Wed Jun 20, 2007 5:06 am
by KPj
Splits should be based on function, forget about body parts.
I just wanted to chime and put emphasis on this. If you were to look at my original posts on this forum you will see me actually arguing in favour of them mainly because I used to do body part splits and made great progress..... On the surface of it anyway. In short, i got pretty banged up from them, lots of imbalances which eventually led to an unjury and time out. Sure, lot's of those imbalances existed before and were part of my 'lifestyle' (working on a computer all day, bad posture) but that's the point really, unless your genetics and lifestyle suit, then a body part split won't and will actually encourage the existing imbalances and create a whole catalogue of new ones - aside from the fact that they just don't make sense.

Finally, just to clarify, i'm talking about body part splits. not Upper lower or push pull splits.


Posted: Wed Jun 20, 2007 8:37 am
by TimD
It appears to me that right now you need more to focus on the fat loss portion. Whichever program you choose, and the others have given good recommendations, either the full body or upper lower split would work well. I wouldn't worry much about losing any muscle, and you will probably gain some, just not in major amounts, and at this point I wouldn't really focus on getting "hyooge" and cut at the same time. Things don't work like that.
I'm just going to focus in on what you call adding in "aerobics". Good article on the subject here
One point I think that is paramount, is that while this article is about training, the 1st point is that no style of training will outweigh a crappy diet. Diet is number 1. His point to, focus on point 1, then goes on the effectiveness, in order of different protocols.

Re: The Holy Grail: Losing fat and gaining muscle

Posted: Wed Jun 20, 2007 8:49 am
by Stephen Johnson
chissel wrote:For the last 3 or so months I've been dieting and recently joined a gym. I've lost about 25 pounds, so I'm now around 147 pounds.!
I used this page to calculate your body mass index (BMI):

A person your height and weight (5'8" and 147) has a BMI of 22.3, which is well within the normal weight category. Your problem is changing your body composition, not losing weight. If you work your body with compound exercises over a period of time, the change in body composition will come. You're fortunate that you won't have to be under calorie restriction when you train.

Setting up training and nutrition diaries, as mentioned earlier, is an outstanding idea. There's nothing like written records to help you analyze your progress.

Losing the last of it

Posted: Wed Jun 20, 2007 4:11 pm
by Onlyethic
Hey, sounds like you're doing everything right. There are a few things to keep in mind:

1. You're at the most difficult point of weight loss-- the last part. It's similar to improving an exam score: very easy to go from 70% to 90%, but going from 95% to 98% is much more difficult. The rub: be patient, it will come.

2. Your eating, if it is how you describe it, is very, very good. Strangely, a good diet is also a plateau. Mix it up. Go nuts once every few weeks (just not for 3 days as you said you did). It kicks things in to gear to drastically change your eating once in a while.

3. The hard news: while anaerobic is great and will do wonders, at some point you will have to get to cardio. Sorry. If you want to get really huge, then cardio doesn't matter. If you want to get really ripped up, though....well, all I can say is I hope you got some good running shoes.

good luck with it. You'll get there. It's a bit like trying to hold the breath. At some point you need to relax and breathe in order to make progress.


Posted: Wed Jun 20, 2007 5:19 pm
by chissel
First of all, I just want to thank everyone who replied -- I really appreciate it, guys.

@pdellorto: Thanks so much for the 'Rippetoe: Starting Strength' link ( I've had a look through (going to have a full read tomorrow) and followed some of the links on this style of workout plan and it looks really interesting.

@ranemanshoe: I think that's a good idea, yeah -- I'm going to keep a log of exactly what I eat and exactly what I conquer at the gym. ;)

@Ironman: Yeah, after having a look around the Internet it seems that the split he gave me was indeed rather... $h1t. Compound exercises here I come. >_<

@Stephen Johnson: To be fair, I don't trust the scales that I'm using to weigh myself (they're very old and cheap) so I can't be sure exactly what my weight is. I do, though, trust my eyes, and when I take my shirt off I can see (and grab hold of :P) layers of fat around my stomach region. But yep, I agree with the compound exercises, and that they will change my body composition.

@Onlyethic: Thanks for the motivation, heh. I know what you mean, this last part is the really hard bit, but I'll do it. And yeah I've treated my recent bad eating days as a reboot of my programme and my fat-burning will be kicked back in action tomorrow when I start my new regime. Regarding cardio, I'm going to put that into my new plan (see below).

@TimD: I left you until last because reading your post and the link you provided made me realise that the main thing I need (and want) to do is lose the fat. That's more important for the summer :P I can build up properly later; I'm in for the long-haul, after all. Coupled with the Rippetoe link that pdellorto provided and the suggestions of compound exercises by the other guys, I've decided to change my programme to the following -- coupled with really good eating -- in order to facilitate fat loss:

Monday: Workout A
Wednesday: Workout B
Friday: Workout A

Monday: Workout B
Wednesday: Workout A
Friday: Workout B

On the Tuesday, Thursday and Friday off days I'm going to do some relatively light cardio (probably jogging) for 20 mins. Sundays will be completely off days. So it'll be: ACBCACX BCACBCX (where C is the cardio). This extra cardio might be quite a lot so I might leave it a few weeks before I throw it in -- any thoughts?

Workout A:

3x5 Squat
3x5 Bench press
1x5 Deadlift
2x8 Dips

2x15 Abs

Workout B:

3x5 Squat
3x5 Standing military press
3x5 Pendlay rows
2x8 Pullups

2x15 Abs (different from workout A)

Resting: 60-90 seconds between sets... ?
Warmup: 5 minutes on bike. Stretching.

What do you guys think?

The questions I have now are:

- You all talk about good diet, and I understand that for fat loss this is primary factor, but what exactly is a good diet for fat loss? Can anyone link to any resources on what sort of foods to eat, or plans? What foods should I avoid, etc.?

- What two exercises (one for workout A, the other for B) can I do for my abs that will work all the muscles well (upper and lower rectus abdominis and obliques). Crunches & hanging leg-hip raises? And what about the number of sets/reps I've got for the ab exercises?

- How do you do warmup sets for said programme? I haven't really ever done a programme like this that involves lots of compound movements, and I've never done warmup sets before. I found ... tcount=226 posted for warmup sets, but does this really mean you do 5 warmup sets?! Surely I'd be knackered before I even do my 'work' sets. I was thinking 2 warmup sets at the most... ?

- What sort of rest would you have between sets? For this Rippetoe programme, people seem to say 1-5 minutes, but if I'm doing it for fat loss, do I need a smaller rest period? I think I'm being silly here; it should probably be 1-2 mins.

- Warmdown stretching and bike for 5 mins for warmdown?

Again, I apologise for the rambling nature and the million or so questions I've asked!

Posted: Wed Jun 20, 2007 6:03 pm
by TimD
This site is good, in the nutrition section, but the best guidelines to leaning out I've seen are ... habits.htm ... ting_2.htm
These should keep you intertained for a while.
The Rippetoe stuff is excellent, patterned after Bill Starrs old stuff.
Don't forget the intervals. Can be done w/ normal aerobic activities, or circuits or complex done w/ weights. One of my favorities is good old DB swings, 20 swings, catch your breath, repeat for 6-10 rounds

Posted: Wed Jun 20, 2007 6:10 pm
by TimD
On warm ups and sets/rest for Starting Strength. Start very light, do 5-10 to get the blood flowing and get the patterns down. Increase the weight some, do another 5-10. With these lighter weights, rest time will probably be fairly short, say 60-90 sec. Once you get to your worksets, you will probably need to take 2-3 minutes or so between sets. Reason being, the CNS takes that long to recuperate. Personally, I like mixing Rippetoes stuff in w more metabolic workouts like what you see at
I mix like this, using your A and B as examples, Days 1 through 8 look like this, A, Crossfit metcon,B, rest, crossfit metcon, A, crossfit metcon, rest and repeat the cycles. Yoiu'll notice the crossfit workouts are pretty much what Cosgrove was talking about in the Heirarchy of Fatloss

Posted: Wed Jun 20, 2007 7:50 pm
by stuward

Maybe we need a sticky with articles that everyone should read. There are some really good references in this and other recent threads.


Posted: Wed Jun 20, 2007 9:05 pm
by ranemanshoe
while I like TimD's links, I think there are better ways to gain good nutrition.

The main reason I don't like the links is I think they don't apply to you. As someone who has struggled with eating all my life, (i'm finicky, and am naturally a vegetarian, as i disgust the taste of meat) , i've found that you have to gradually go into things. The programs on those links are what I think are the extreme, not the necessary, and very hard to implement right off the bat coming from a sedentary, poor nutrition lifestyle.

If you really want to get good at nutrition, here is how I did it.

Go to a bookstore, find the cooking section, and pick out 1 or 2 books with recipes for food you like, but also claim to be healthy. For the healthy part, take in mind what those links say, but give yourself some leeway. You're not going to be able to change overnight (most likely).

Two, for the most part, make all your food. buy all your ingredients. Try to buy whole-grain ingredients, low-fat, etc...

For lunch I make my own Submarine sandwiches. I use white or whole wheat bread, (i'm on a budget and white is cheaper a lot of time), a tomato, half a cucumber, spinach (Much better than lettuce, nutrition and taste), 3 slices of cheese, a couple dabs of guacamole (very easy to make yourself), a few slices of pickles, and a dash of oil and parmesan. Not only is this tasty, but you can eat it in bits throughout the day.

Three. (Always do these).
1. Never put more than a pinch of salt in a recipe. I've been cooking for years and very few things actually require more than a pinch of salt. and for those recipes that do, they probably aren't things you should be eating when you are trying to lose weight.
2. if you have to use oil, use olive, but try to limit it.
3. add protein to every meal.
4. eat every two-three hours. at the very least, try to eat 4 meals a day. This will get you started towards eating every two to three hours.
5. only drink water.
5a. (if you currently don't drink a lot of water) do this
for every meal you eat, drink two 8oz glasses of water before it. This will get you close to the minimum amount of water you need to be drinking during the day if you are exercising, but two, water is filling. Your stomach takes about a half hour to recognize it is full. So if you fill it partially up, you should eat less naturally. (this can be further helped if you make a legitimate effort to chew your food a lot and eat slowly).

But a good way to seriously start yourself off on good nutrition is to get a cookbook (with nutrition information), buying natural ingredients, and cooking yourself. This will at least keep you away from the processed crap, which i believe is the worst for the body. Once you get passed that step, you can move on to refining exactly what you put into your body and at what times.