Periodization: Key for Preventing Plateaus

Periodization: Key for Preventing Plateaus

When someone first begins working out, pretty much anything they do can and likely will bring results.  That’s why it’s not uncommon for newbies, or those who spend most of their time training them, to have a wide variety of go-to strategies that “work.” Though most any strategy can obtain perceived results short term, in order to maintain results, you’d have to be consistently working out, even after you’ve gotten the desired results. To the untrained eye, it would seem that doing more of the exact thing that first brought the results would be the key to maintaining them. But this is where our newbie gains tend to lead us astray.

After the first year or so of doing the same workouts, your body starts to adapt, and you hit the inevitable plateau. Unless you train with some form of periodization.


Chalean Extreme is great for Endurance and Hypertrophy phases

Periodization takes plateaus into account beforehand, and plans accordingly to prevent them. This means that instead of doing the same workout plan/DVD/class day in and out, you are switching “phases” (endurance, hypertrophy, strength/power) every 4-6 weeks or so (depending on your training goals).

Endurance: as the name implies, builds endurance of the muscles. This allows you to lift heavier weight for longer periods of time. You typically know you need to work on endurance when you go to perform a heavy lift (say, a barbell row), but your smaller muscles won’t allow you to go as heavy as you know you could (forearms or grip strength give out). If you or someone you love were falling off of a building or cliff, you’d better pray that one of you has enough endurance to hold on. This is also the phase that enables you to carry all your grocery bags, by the handles, in one shot (for the less dramatic). The endurance phase is pretty much anything over 12 reps, with less than 30 seconds rest between exercises.  Most workout DVDs fall into this category (more on that here).

Hypertrophy: This phase is where you add size to the muscle. This phase gives the “pump” that lets you actually see the muscles (the fave phase of bodybuilders). The hypertrophy phase can be anywhere from 7-12 reps, with 30-60 seconds rest between sets.

Strength: As it’s name implies is meant to build your strength. This is the phase that helps you to actually function in life. Being able to stand from a sitting position, push yourself out of bed, pick up your child, help a friend push their car, or pack a moving truck. This phase just may save your life (after all, in the cliffhanger above — the endurance may help you hold on, but strength will PULL the person up!) This phase may typically require a bit more food, as strength is derived from how you fuel your body.  It’s incredibly hard to gain true strength while eating in a deficit once you leave the newbie gain period. (All you have to do is eat a bit more during ONE strength phase to truly understand that statement.) The Strength phase is typically anything in the 1-7 rep range.

As you can see, all phases (even the ones you despise) are beneficial, and serve a purpose at the time.  Funny that even the two at opposite ends of the spectrum, “complete” one another.  This is why many of the 90-day systems like P90X, Chalean Extreme, and STS are so popular.  They typically include some form of built in periodization that, when repeated consistently, tend to give better results than what a person may come up with on their own.  (Side note: Cathe’s STS program is the only one of the above mentioned that include all three of the above phases, which is why its so highly praised by EM2WL.)


Rather than simply treating each workout as a punishment for your body not looking a certain way, try periodization to prevent plateaus.  Having a periodized focus gives you purpose in your workouts, multiple short-term (ie “monthly”) fitness goals to strive for, and a bonus: a confidence boost from actually achieving them!

What you’ll typically find is that because of your new attitude and willingness to workout with purpose, you’ll continue to see more benefits and improvements (mentally and physically). The mental aspect of getting stronger and doing things you couldn’t physically do before is addicting.  And when you’re focused on those things – even more physique improvements tend to happen as a byproduct. Which makes it even more addicting.  Fitness goals for the win!

Do you plan your workouts in phases? Or do you prefer to go with the flow/stick with your fave workouts?

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Could this crazy woman be right? – A runner’s experience with bulking

Could this crazy woman be right? – A runner’s experience with bulking

bulkingHi, my name is Terri-Anne. 

I am a runner.  And I am a Lifter.  I am a mother of 5, forty, fit and finally starting to love this body that lugs me through my busy day. This has been a long journey about self-discovery.  Learning my limits, learning my goals, learning how to fall and get back up again.  Learning how to do it all wrong then finally working out how to do it right.  I’ve learnt the difference between dieting to lose weight and eating to lose fat.  I’ve learnt the difference between weighted cardio and lifting heavy.  I also learnt that cardio is good for you but if fit is the look you are after, you need to train smarter, heavier, not longer.  I have learnt so much on this journey and yet I am only just beginning.  Eating more, throwing out the scales and lifting to failure is working for me.

bulkingAfter having my fifth baby in October 2009 I gained weight.  I was busy with 5 children, working with my husband in our farming business and making excuses for not having time to exercise.  In February 2010 I was 74kg (163lb), my biggest weight ever.  (79kg or 174lb was my biggest full term pregnancy weight)  I decided there was no way I was going to buy the next size up in clothes, it was time to stop making excuses.  My goal was never to be skinny, all I wanted was to be fit and healthy.  I have never been one to obsess over scales, rather I used my favorite jeans to measure my weight.  I exercised a little and cut back on some treats, walked everywhere and after doing cardio only exercise for 4mths I was disappointed with my slow progress.  I was now 69kg and still feeling fat and ugly.

I joined the local gym and had a weights program written up by a trainer and got some great advice on interval training.  This is when the cardio bunny in me was born.  bulkingI loved tabata and was doing it every day along with weights – 15reps, 3 sets – 3 times a week.  I powered through my workouts, dripping with sweat thinking I was doing all the right things.  12mths after my journey started I was still only 67kg (147lb).  My fitness had improved but I was still not getting the results I wanted.  I still didn’t look fit and had little tone.  I started running.  Lost a bit more.  But I was still not seeing a fit healthy woman in the mirror.

I decided at this point that my diet may not have been as good as I thought so I started counting calories and bought a set of scales.   I joined MyFitnessPal – an online diet and exercise diary – and set my calories at 1200 per day.  I am 173cm (5ft8) tall and at this time weighed 65kg (143lb).  The weight started dropping off.  I lost a lot and by the end of 2011 I was down to 59kg (130lb)!!  I was exhausted.  Tired.  Hungry.  Cranky.  I dragged myself through the day and armed with a HRM I dragged myself through workouts burning a minimum of 1000 cals 6 days a week.  I did not look fit.  I did not feel healthy.  What was I doing wrong???  Then I found out that MFP had a community and I ‘met’ Kiki.  I read her ramblings every day.  I researched her ramblings every day.  I read NROLFW.  I researched.  Could this crazy woman be right?  Could I look and feel better if I ate more???  I was lifting – 3 times a week!

bulkingWhat I was doing was not working so I decided to give this eating thing a go.  I decided to trust the process.  In January 2012 I purchased a periodized workout plan that Kiki recommended and had decided to increase my cals to 2000 a day.  My first ever bulk.   I had become dependent on the scales – weighing in on a weekly basis and was not ready to give that up.  As soon as I started the workouts I realized that I had not been lifting heavy.  In fact all I had been doing was weighted cardio.  I lasted 2 months and the ever rising scales did my head in (I had gained a whole kilo or 2lb).  All the food did my head in.  How could eating all this food help me look better?  Not enough running did my head in.  I needed to run to remain sane.   But I had also tasted heavy weights and I loved it.

So in May 2012 I started running again and dropped my cals back to 1200.  I immediately became lethargic. This lasted about 2 weeks before I put them up to 1500.  Still little energy.  I kept it up for another 2 weeks.  I went up to 1800 cals.  At this point I was able to think clearer.  I did more research, looked back through my diaries and realized this Kiki lady knew what she was on about!!  At that moment I did an overhaul of my diet.  I worked on my macros (who would have thought there was more to food then broccoli and chocolate), tweaking and adjusting, working out what made me feel good.  I no longer focused on calories but on the macronutrients in my food.  bulkingI made sure I got enough of what my body needed and let the calories fall into place – they usually hit around 1800-2000cals.   I cut the running back to 3 days a week and lifting days were for lifting only.  I trained less, ate more and finally little muscles started to poke through!!!  Finally I started to feel great.  Finally I started to see results!!  At this point I was 63kg. (138lb) and now only weighing monthly.

I needed a goal, something to keep me motivated.  I decided to do a triathlon – the grueling ’hell of the west’ – 2km swim in a murky river, 80km ride along the highway, and a hot dry 20km run in the Australian outback.  Two weeks into training the change in my physique was already showing.  I was literally watching the muscle melt away.  It was shear relief when my Dr. said he wanted to laser my varicose veins sooner rather than later.  I decided that the interruption to training was too long and I would only do the 20km run.  I also decided that the only way to maintain as much muscle as possible was to eat and lift to failure.  I did not want to go back to skinny.  December 2012 I started eating at around 3000 cals a day.  I also threw out the scales.  Best thing I ever did.  Come race day I was a little heavier than a lot of athletes, perhaps this made me a little slower but I was happy to be full of energy and felt and looked fit.  (my time was 1hr 40min)bulking

The very next day I went into cut mode.  I was cutting at what I had in the past thought was over eating!! I ate 1800cals a day, lifted heavy 3 days a week, did 2 interval cardio sessions and 1 weighted full body cross fit workout.   I don’t know if you can call what I do bulking and cutting as my workout schedules don’t really fit the typical bulk/cut model.  But it works for me.  I’m not trying to compete so my diet and exercise has to be tailored into my life.  I stopped cutting mid April when I decided to start training for a Tough Mudder – a 20km mud run.  I am now 1 week out from the race.  I’ve been eating around 3500cals a day and I feel great.  Eating gives me the energy to keep up with all the rigorous training and still live my life.  At the moment I do 2-3 cross fit style workouts a week.  I run 3-4 days a week and I lift 3 days.  I am bruised and battered, my body hurts most days but it’s a pain I love – the feeling you get when your body is repairing and growing.


Back Cut Results

I weighed myself before writing this and I have gained 7kg in the last 8mths.   I went into full meltdown mode when I saw that number.  I couldn’t believe how far I had let myself go.  At this point I took some pictures and compared the difference to last time I was the same weight.  Wow.  If that doesn’t convince you to throw out the scale I don’t know what will??!!  I know it’s not all muscle but again if I’m a little slower because I’m a little fluffier, it’s a price I’m willing to pay.


Same weight, same shirt!

I will start to cut again when this race is over and I’m excited to see what lies beneath!  I am lifting 3-4 times heavier then when I did the same reps in my first round of periodization.  I have learnt to listen to my body.  If I need a rest day, I take it.  If I need a refuel day, I eat.  I feel strong.  I feel healthy.  I am the same weight I was 2 years ago and look and feel completely different.   I will keep running as it keeps me sane.  I love to wake up and go for a run.  Or not.  Maybe sprint intervals.  Maybe I’ll try for a PB.  I love not planning my runs, I just put on my shoes and let my body do the thinking.  I will also keep on lifting.  I love the feeling of power.  I love seeing the weights go up.  I love the structure of a weighted workout.   I love the comments.    I know that running will make building muscle slower but I am finally at peace with that.  I no longer care how many calories I burn in a workout, I work out because I love it.  I no longer need the scales – numbers do not define me.  I eat to fuel my workout or my current goal.  I am not the fastest or the strongest but I am fit and I am healthy.

Share your success, no matter how large or small.  You never know who you may inspire to hang on just a bit longer.  We love featuring results and journey stories in REAL time, not just before/afters.  If you have a victory (scale or not) let us know and allow us to share with the fam, by submitting to

Figure Competitor Interview – Stephanie Lynn

Figure Competitor Interview – Stephanie Lynn


figure competitor

Have you ever found yourself wondering what it really takes to look like a figure competitor/fitness model (or if it’s possible to do so while fueling properly)?  Well, we were able to track down the stunning Stephanie Lynn (some of you may recognize her from or MyFitnessPal) who was willing to spare a minute of her busy time for the fam.  Stephanie dishes on how she achieved her “fitness model”  look without the standard, metabolism-trashing methods of excess cardio & insufficient calories.

Hey Stephanie! Thanks so much for agreeing to this.  We’ve heard that you just finished a show.  Can you tell us how you placed?

I placed 1st in my class (Open – tall class) and 3rd in the Figure Master’s (over 35) division.

Congrats!  How long have you been competing now? What inspired you to start?

This was my second year competing… my second show ever.  I have ALWAYS been intrigued with bodybuilding.  I started lifting weights back when I was in college.  I met my husband at our local gym.  We trained together when we were dating.  He taught me about all the different exercises and how to put together a routine.  His aunt (also named Stephanie) was a bodybuilding competitor.  She was the first woman I had ever seen up close with that much muscle mass.  I used to look at her with awe.  I used to think, “I would LOVE to look like that one day.”  figure competitorOnce I became a wife and mother I had all but given up that dream.  Don’t get me wrong…I was still working out.  I was in the gym every day for many years but I seemed to see little progress.  I eventually stopped making my fitness a priority and quit working out for about 8 months.  It was the longest break I had taken from exercise in my whole adult life.  In that time I gained some weight…and I was miserable.  By the end of 2010 I reached a point where I no longer felt comfortable in my own skin.  My face was round, my clothes were tight, and my self esteem was in the toilet.  I had to make a change.  I started training harder and pushing myself in the gym.  I did get stronger but I didn’t make as much progress as I would have liked.  A year went by and still not much had changed. I had been killing myself in the gym and I still did not like my body.  That’s when I realized that while I had the training down, I had yet to conquer the diet.  In January of 2011 I downloaded the My Fitness Pal app to start tracking my calories.  That was the catalyst for my fitness revolution!

Many women spend the better part of their lives dieting to achieve the fit, lean, muscular look that we see on fitness models and competitors like you. Can you explain to us the methods that you used to achieve the level of muscularity required for the stage? Or were you always lean/muscular?

figure competitor

Down to 117lbs

Was I always lean and muscular…LOL…NO!  I am, by nature, long and lanky.  If I would just diet and do cardio I would look like a stick woman.  I am not at all genetically inclined to build muscle.  I have learned that I both gain and lose fat fairly easily while building muscle has been more of a challenge.  When I first learned how to count calories/macros, my first goal was to lose weight.  I went from a “fat” 140lbs down to a super lean 120lbs.

At one point I even got down to 117lbs, which is way too skinny for a woman of 5’7″.

Remember I had been exercising for YEARS before this but yet my training lacked purpose and progression and my diet was a mess.  I was pretty much eating whatever I wanted.  I am living proof that you cannot out-train a bad diet!

So, (we often recommend “bulking” for ladies who want to build muscle)…do you feel that it’s possible for a woman seeking the “fitness model look” to achieve it without bulk cycles?

^^That is the biggest lesson I learned throughout this whole fitness experiment.

Just going to the gym every day and lifting weights was never going to give me the body I wanted.  I HAD to adjust my diet to fit my goals if I was going to see progress.  If I wanted to gain muscle I had to be eating a surplus of calories.  If I wanted to lose fat I had to be eating at a deficit. It wasn’t until I started doing that that I started seeing visible changes.  I know the prospect of purposely gaining weight is a scary thing for most women but it is truly the most efficient and effective way to build lean muscle.  Even with a proper diet, lean muscle takes a long time to acquire…not months but rather years.  figure competitorLifting weights without fueling the body with enough calories to build new muscle is like spinning your wheels and going nowhere.  Look at how many countless hours I spent in the gym in the 12 years before I started this life-changing fitness journey.  Once I shed the fat there was very little muscle under there to show for all the work I thought I had done.  I saw this.  I was disappointed.  I knew I wanted progress and that I wasn’t getting it with what I had been doing.  I decided it was time to “bulk.”  I have since bulked twice and cut 3 times.  Here is my journey in pictures…

Consider not just the change in my body, but the change in my weight.  I weigh only 5lbs less in the last picture than I did in the first.  The scale is just a number.  I started my journey wanting that number to go down.  Now I just want it to go up!!  I am hoping by next summer I’ll be ripped at 140lbs.  That would mean coming full circle for me…back to my “fat” weight but with a completely different body!  In addition to my weight, also note my waistline.  My waist was around 26 inches at 120lbs.  Now, at 135lbs it’s 27.5 inches.  It’s bigger…but look how much smaller it appears to be.  This is one of the amazing things about muscle.  It balances out the body and gives you curves in the right places.  I am more of an hour glass now than I ever was before.  Building a wider back, bigger shoulders, and a bigger bum have actually made me look more feminine!

figure competitorNow, your cut was a bit different from many that we’ve seen (in the industry)– in that you didn’t drastically slash your cals, or do cardio 3xs/day. Can you explain how you were able to achieve this same look without using these traditional methods?

My diet is quite different from a lot of other competitors.  I have been doing intermittent fasting for over a year and a half now.  This method of eating allows me to consume more food at each meal including a late evening meal before bed to sustain me during the night.  I usually start my cut 20 weeks away from the show with my calories close to maintenance (around 2000).  From there I slowly cut calories down as needed to see progress.  For this last cut I spent the majority of those weeks eating around 1800-1900 calories. I cut down closer to 1600-1700 in the 4 weeks before the show.

I did the same with cardio.  While bulking I was doing only a couple of Zumba classes per week just for fun.  I slowly added cardio as well.   figure competitorI started with 20-25min at the beginning then worked my way up to 45-50min towards the end.  Some days I’d do Zumba and some days I’d use the cardio equipment (either the stairmill or the high-inclined treadmill).  I believe in a gradual approach to dieting.  I prefer to lose on as much food as possible. You never want to play all of your cards at the beginning.  If you start too low with calories you will have nowhere to go if/when you plateau.  If you are doing 1hr of cardio every day while you are bulking then you’ll have to double that by the end of your cut.  Remember that the body likes homeostasis and will adapt to whatever you are doing.  You will have better and easier progress if you save some of those cards to play later in the game.

Can you describe the difference in your scale weight between off season and competition day? What about changes to your diet/workouts?

Well you can see in the images how my weight fluctuates.  I will start my 3rd bulk next month and I predict I will likely get up to at least 155lbs.  That’s a 20lb gain.  figure competitorAs for my diet, I will be eating a lot of the same foods just more volume with a few extra treats thrown in there more often.  I fully intend to stuff my face for the holidays.  As for my training, I change this up fairly often both during contest prep and in the off season.  Once I lean down for a show I can see what muscle groups are lacking and pinpoint which areas I need “bring up” to foster more balance and cemetery in my figure.  I will often increase the frequency in which I train these areas so they are getting hit more often…more stimulus and time under tension.  I am generally stronger when bulking because of the extra food so I will take the opportunity to increase my strength and train in lower rep ranges.  I lose some strength while cutting but I still try to keep “weight on the bar” so that I retain as much muscle mass as possible while eating at a deficit.  I often make up for this by increasing my volume a bit (more sets and/or reps).

So would you say that it’s realistic for women to strive for a competition look all year long?

No. It isn’t realistic at all.  I would never try to maintain this look year round.  When you are cutting for a competition you are putting your body into a catabolic state.  You will lose some muscle mass while cutting.  figure competitorThe longer the cut and the more aggressive it is (low calories, lots of cardio), the more potential there is to lose the lean mass you’ve worked so hard to gain.  The off season is where you make improvements.  You aren’t going to gain any appreciable amount of muscle while eating a calorie deficit so you NEED the time off from dieting to both add mass to your physique and to improve your metabolism.  Increasing your calories gradually over time will make your metabolism more efficient.  If you do it right you will likely be able to lose weight while eating more calories than you did last time you cut.  I am eating more food and doing less cardio every time I diet down.  In addition to improving both my lean mass and metabolism, bulking up also gives me a much-needed mental and physical break from the strict diet.  I don’t particularly like micromanaging every bite I put in my mouth.  During the off season I can relax a bit and enjoy life.

What would you say to the many women who want to look like a fitness cover model, and are eating 1200 cals and doing 2 hours of cardio/day to achieve it?

I would tell them, first of all, that those fitness models are often in peak condition for those photoshoots and most likely do NOT walk around like that all year long.  Their images are also airbrushed to perfection.  Most of those amazing women you see on the covers of magazines have spent years in training to reach that level.  figure competitorYou are only seeing the results and not the hard work invested.  Second of all, starving and cardio-ing yourself to death is NOT the answer.  I can assure you…that cover girl didn’t get to where she is by doing that…and neither will you!  Furthermore, sustaining a very low calorie diet (and/or excessive cardio) over a long period of time is not only a mental and physical stress on the body, it can actually cause damage to your metabolism.  Remember that your body craves homeostasis.  It will adapt itself to any activity that is practiced over time.  If you are eating 1200 calories per day + 2 hours of cardio over a period of time, your body will start to see this as it’s “norm.”  In response to the stress you are putting on it, it will adjust your metabolism (lowering it) in order to conserve energy and resources.  This is what you do NOT want to happen!  If you want to have the shapely look of those fitness cover models, you are going to have to invest some time in building your body up…both your lean muscle and your metabolism!

How can our readers see more from/follow you? (FB/IG/Blog, etc)

I have a blog on My Fitness Pal (which really needs to be updated) and I also keep a journal on

Thank you SO much for your time, Stephanie!  We really look forward to hearing more from you in the future!  Best of luck on next year’s show!

figure competitor

Stephanie Lynn

What happened to my muscles?! The diminishing returns of “newbie gains”

What happened to my muscles?! The diminishing returns of “newbie gains”

Newbie Gains

Newbie Gains – I was SO excited!

It’s an all-too-familiar story.  You’re doing BodyPump, 30 Day Shred, Circuits, Bootcamps, the works…killing it.  The scale is dropping, and you start to see some nice muscle definition.  You’ve never seen this before, so you get excited.  You’ve always wanted to have that look, and now you’re on your way.  You can just imagine the look on everyone’s face when you strut your stuff at the beach this summer.  So you keep going, because things can only get better from here, right?


Somewhere along the line, your body begins to change, and not for the better.  You’re flexing hard, but it’s a strain to see the muscle definition that was so apparent not long ago.  In some ways, you even look…fatter!  You’re doing the same thing as before, so you know that it works.  It’s been months, maybe even years, shouldn’t you look better? Shouldn’t you be ridiculously ripped by now?

newbie gains

2 yrs & 10lbs later, still looked ok, but definition is gone & tummy is growing

In my experience, women (and some men) will often develop a mentality of “more is better” when it comes to cutting.  They get addicted to the leaning out process and stay in cut mode for far too long, to their own detriment.  The mistake is made in thinking, “When I did this before, my muscles were so defined, so the longer I do it, the more definition I’ll have.”  This could not be farther from the truth.  What really happens, is they begin losing what they thought was muscle/definition and develop a skinny fat look.  This is why you will see some women working out all the time, seemingly doing everything right, yet appearing to not progress or even go backwards.

I admit to getting tripped up in this way of thinking as well.  When I first began incorporating weight training into my regimen, the results were amazing.  I did all the different routines in the fitness mags, and later moved on to trying out circuit routines as they became all the rage.  My body begin to change like I never imagined.  I was so BEAST.  You couldn’t tell me a thing. LOL. I was on a lot of fitness/bodybuilding forums at the time, and would see all these things about bulking/cutting, blah, blah.  But what did they know?  I was breaking all of their “rules” and seeing phenomenal results. I didn’t need those cycles.  Circuit training WORKED for me and was gonna be my claim to fame.  I got my hands on a copy of 30 Day Shred and loved the first 30 day results so much that I did another cycle.  And another.  And about 4 more.  I was gonna look like Jillian if it killed me.

It didn’t kill me, but I didn’t look like Jillian, either.

Newbie Gains

Perhaps I should just bulk – what do I have to lose at this point?

I looked up a year later, had gained about 5 -10 lbs, and looked completely different.  There was absolutely no muscle definition, and I was even starting to get a slight belly pudge that had completely disappeared the year before.  I was devastated.  I couldn’t understand how things had gotten that far when I was doing everything “right.”  So I gathered my courage (fitness forums can be harsh places!) and posted a question on one of the forums, titled: “What happened to my muscles?!”  I briefly rehashed what I’d been doing over the last couple of years, and attached pics of the differences that had taken place, and one of how I wanted to look.

The answers were mean, nasty, rude, numerous and unanimous:  “Newbie gainsStop doing that circuit $%@&  and bulk!.. You lost definition because you lost muscles…and you didn’t have much to begin with!” 

And they were absolutely right.  The small amount of muscle I’d “gained” as a newbie, was gone, so to speak.  I had never really put on a decent enough amount of muscle to have the look I wanted.  I had simply reduced my body-fat so much that it appeared I’d gained muscle.  Now, due to my excessive circuits (cardio)/under-eating lifestyle, the body-fat level was rising again.  I was trying to “cut” what wasn’t even really there yet, and I went way too long without changing my routine.   I knew enough about bulk/cut cycles at that point (even though I’d ignored them, thinking I was exempt) and decided to put them into practice.  I also went back to my heavy weights and assigned the circuits/high reps to specific phases (cut/maintenance).

Newbie Gains

1 yr, and 2 “mini” bulk cycles later

I’ve been lifting heavy like this for about 7-10 years now, so I’ve since learned just how much muscle I really have (I used to have a much more exaggerated view of how much “muscle” was under my fat, lol).  I’ve learned how long I can stay in cut mode before the results appear to reverse on me (around 12-16 weeks, MAX for me). Our bodies are essentially always either building (hypertrophy) or tearing down (atrophy).  So after too long in either one, you begin to see the pros/cons of it (both phases have them).  Stay in bulk too long, you’ll just look fat…stay in cut too long, you’ll be smaller, but with no muscle (skinny fat).  It will always be an on-going process. You will never look the same, changes are always happening.  Maintenance (as in staying exactly the same) is just a theory. That’s why I just give myself 3-4 months in each phase, and that sums up my year, if that makes sense. It’s the constant changing up of the phases, that actually gets you where you’d like to be.

Anything works short term…nothing works forever.

Newbie gains are awesome.  You can do everything “wrong” and still get results.  However…when the time comes, don’t be afraid to move on, and take it to the next level.

Incorporating (Mini) Fitness Cycles for Better Results

Incorporating (Mini) Fitness Cycles for Better Results

Do the terms “bulk” & “cut,” intrigue, yet scare (or confuse!) you at the same time?  Are you ready to start really seeing results in your workouts, or at least just “look” like you workout?  Incorporate (mini) fitness cycles for better results.

fitness cyclesIf you’ve followed our video series “Results: why you aren’t getting them and what you can do about it,” then you know that a huge reason that many people don’t see results from their workouts is that they are not being specific enough with their workout regimen.  Being “hodgepodge” in our workouts is about the equivalent of not working out at all when it comes to changing your body composition.  Bodies that you see and admire are not a result of being random in the gym.  The knockout bods that you see on the covers of magazines are the result of  specification or fitness cycles.   Even if they don’t know it, their trainer does, and they do what the trainer says.

I’ve shared how I’ve incorporated fitness cycles into my own lifestyle, according to different times of the year, that work for me.  I work on building strength and adding muscle in the winter (bulk), dedicate my warmer months to more endurance activities/ shedding any fat (cut), and even periods of randomness where I’m too busy to care, and not expecting any physique changes at all (maintain).  For me this ends up being about 3-4 months per phase, but what if you’re not ready to dedicate months at a time to specific phases?

Enter:  “mini” phases

Mini phases are a great way to introduce the specialization concept into your training.  You take a short period of time, and dedicate your eating and exercise to a specific goal.  You then repeat this process with a different goal.  This could be as simple as dedicating 4 weeks to muscle building (mini-bulk) in between marathons, or inserting 1-2 weeks of higher cardio days into your 6+ month bulk (mini-cut) .  Professional athletes, models, and competitors do this all the time, in the “off-season,” and you can too.  It’s all about making the cycles work for you, your goals, and your lifestyle.  If you want a more  muscular physique, then you will want to incorporate “mini-bulks” into your routine as often as possible, so that when you arrive at your desired weight/body-fat percentage, you will have the look that you desire.  This type of body recomposition is more appealing than just a wave of weight loss that leaves you just looking like a smaller version of your larger self, with lots of extra skin where fat used to be.   You will instead take on a slower approach, giving your skin time to catch up and tighten around your ever firming figure.  Doing regular mini-phases similar to this one will also keep your metabolism high because you’re not constantly “dieting” (lowers metabolism), but instead building muscle (increases metabolism).  You will likely also reach your goal at a much higher weight than you originally thought, because your body has slowly replaced fat with youthful, lean, dense muscle of equal weight.

Curious about how to start your own “mini” phases or fitness cycles?  Why not test it out yourself and let us know what you think?

Need a place to start? Here’s a 30-day, 2-phase plan to help kick-start your year, and provide a gentle intro to periodization.  This mini-cycle plan will have everything you need to test the waters of bulk/cut cycles without a lengthy commitment.


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Matching Eating and Exercise to Training Goals

Matching Eating and Exercise to Training Goals

training goalsA common thread that I find as I engage on different fitness/diet forums, and even conversations with friends and family, is randomness.  One particular area of confusion seems to be with fat loss and training goals.  I often have women (and a few men!) tell me that because they are in a fat loss phase they don’t need to lift weights, or at least not heavy ones.  For some reason there has been a general consensus over the years, that the only way to “cut” is to ditch the heavy weight and move to strictly circuit routines and 3lb Barbie weights, while OD’ing on cardio.  While the addition of a little cardio can certainly assist in fat burning, I think that somewhere along the line confusion has set in as to methods on how to cut (aka shed fat).

When cutting, you won’t purposely be lifting lighter (I hope!), though, you may lighten the weights (slightly) on occasion to accommodate for moving faster in certain workouts, when applicable.  It is harder to lift heavy during circuit work (if you choose to incorporate such workouts), but that does not mean you drop the 30# and head for the 3#.  Because cutting is all about the eats, a person who is in a caloric deficit for any length of time may begin to lose strength, thus having to lower the poundage.  This is, again, only as low as necessary to complete the amount of reps, yet still hitting failure toward the end of the set.

training goalsMany men (and some women!) even take it a step further and NEVER want to cut,  feeling it will undo all of their muscle building efforts.  They’ve heard that muscle loss comes with cutting territory, and they fear it almost as much as the ladies fear the fat gain that comes with bulking.   While this is true, it is the same that I addressed in the post on fat gain when bulking, these “side effects” are minimal when done correctly, and neither will “undo” the other unless we go too “extreme” in either phase (meaning grossly over eat in bulk w/minimal activity or grossly under eat in cut w/too much activity).  If we are careful not to hit extremes, there are only a few tweaks here and there needed that will allow us to receive benefits from both phases.

It’s the extreme combo of cardio/deficit eating that will possibly cause muscle catabolization. Muscle is extremely hard to build on women, so we have to take extra care when doing the things that oppose muscle growth (i.e. eating in a deficit, doing excess cardio). It’s basically the equivalent to eating cheesecake and a diet coke, or a salad w/a milkshake (or any of the other quirky things that we do where one thing we’re doing is cancelling out the other)… So when you’re in a mode like that, getting lean while sparing as much muscle as possible, is the goal.

OK, enough rambling…back to the training goals…

training goalsAs I began to truly focus on my goals, my bulks got progressively longer each year, because I was realizing that my body was willing to let go of more muscle than I wanted/had (I realized that I didn’t have nearly as much as I assumed, but that’s another ramble).  So my training goal became to build as much muscle as possible, so that when I added in the cardio/deficit,  I wouldn’t lose as much.   But I also chose to keep lifting the same, regardless of the mode (not exactly the same, but more on that later).  So assuming that one had a similar goal, doing that, plus eating properly (and getting enough protein) will aid in keeping the muscle you’ve built, until you head into your next muscle build mode.

Your changes should come from your eats whenever possible, cardio comes second. Remember this:

  • Building muscle requires eating at a *slight* surplus, lifting heavy, and going easy on the cardio
  • Losing fat requires eating at a *slight* deficit, lifting heavy, and burning more calories than you’re taking in
  • Maintenance requires “maintenance” calorie eating (obviously), lifting heavy, and enough cardio to stay healthy/maintain your current physique

training goalsAs you can see, the only factor they have in common is the lifting.  Everything else is total opposite, that’s why we need to choose which one is the most important, and go with that. Once we switch to another phase, we have to keep in mind to not look for the effects/benefits of a phase that we are not in. So, when building muscle, it’s inevitable that you will gain even *slight* amounts of fat along w/it since you’re eating in surplus…when burning fat, it’s inevitable that you could lose *slight* amounts of muscle since you’re eating in a deficit- they’re just two opposite ends of the spectrum- but *slight* does not mean all.

Think of it as getting your hair trimmed, you trim some, so that it will grow longer, and healthier. You’re not cutting it all off, just enough to keep it healthy. So if you wanted to grow your hair out, you’d let it grow a lot, trim a little, & repeat, until it was at the desired length, right? So the best thing is to use each phase to our advantage, get in, and get out (unless it’s a phase that we choosing to linger in for whatever reason – like maintenance…)

So pick your fitness cycle, as if you’re heading to the salon. What are you going for? Are you headed for growth (just need a little trim, just enough to get the splits)? Are you looking for a shock, whatever the cost (new color, chop it all off)? Or are you just getting regular maintenance / upkeep (good deep condition, color touch up, wash & style)?

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