There's a lot of talk in the fitness industry in regards to training volume. Volume…
We want to be big, strong, lean and aesthetic, and we want it all at the same time. The problem is, the actions required to achieve these goals tend to conflict with one another. Let’s break it down:
In order to get bigger and stronger we need:
- A calorie surplus. You may get slightly stronger for a few weeks in a deficit, but it won’t last, trust me.
- Progressive overload, which is impossible in the long run without number 1, once past the beginner stage.
In order to become more aesthetic, the biggest contributor to improving your physique is losing fat, unless you are already very lean, or have horrible proportions. Therefore we need:
- A calorie deficit.
- A focus on aesthetic weak points, with an aggressive progressive increase in volumes in those areas.
As you can see, the number one requirement for each goal conflicts with the other. They are the polar opposite to each other. Furthermore, focusing on aesthetic weak points will take time, energy and recovery away from progressing on the compound movements which will have the biggest impact on your strength levels and total body mass.
This is why attempting to do both at the same time will only lead to you spinning your wheels. You have to prioritise one over the other at any given point in time.
Due to the fact that most of us want it all; we want to be big, strong and lean/aesthetic all at the same time, the best strategy is to allocate certain periods of time to focus on size/strength and then other periods to focus for a while on leanness/aesthetics.
Prioritise one. Which one is more important to you, and will remain more important to you for at least the next 6 months?
It is the standard goal setting theory 101, try to be the jack of all trades and you’ll screw yourself over – you’re far more productive and successful focusing on one thing for a while until it’s complete, then you can move onto the next project.
Of course, if you want to simplify all of this, and get a neat strategy for both goals, I will over-simplify this for you. If your goal is to get bigger and stronger, focus on this for at least 6 months. Muscle takes time to grow. You need to:
- Eat at a small, consistent calorie surplus. You don’t need to get fat, you greedy git!
- Focus 80% of your energy in the gym on gradual, progressive overload on the main compound movements in the gym. 3 full body workouts per week or an upper/lower split will do just fine.
- Don’t perform too much cardio. Definitely do some for health purposes, but playing sports 3-4 times per week or doing really intense cardio will hamper your gains.
If your primary goal is to improve your aesthetics, it will depend how bad your weak points are. If you have no major weak points, then it’s all about the calorie deficit – take as long as you need to lower your body fat set point to where you want to be at (this by default means it’s sustainable, as opposed to your typical yo-yo diet):
- Eat at a 10% calorie deficit, and only change this number by small margins. The less suffering, the better.
- Start Intermittent Fasting, pushing your first meal back by 4 hours.
- Do some cardio, preferably low intensity for most people.
- Aim to maintain strength. Do not try to get stronger through overload, you will only screw yourself over doing this. See it as a nice bonus if you manage to temporarily get stronger. I see this over forums all the time – “Oh well I managed to get stronger during my last cut”, what the moron is failing to tell you is that it only lasted a few weeks. Don’t go into it with unrealistic expectations.
Now, if you have major weak points, it depends on what you value more. Do you want to be super chiselled, or is your tiny chest a major drawback to your physique? Are your arms massively lagging?
If you need to improve proportions in this regard, then you may want to hold off on the deficit for a while. Take at least 6 months (preferably a year or more) to focus 80% of your efforts on your weak points, building them up whilst in a calorie surplus.
Always do compound movements first, but you need to ensure you have lots of time and energy for focusing specifically on progressive overload on your weak points, which may mean a decent amount of isolation work.
This will hamper your overall strength gains, but it’s ok because you’re focusing on aesthetics. You need to prioritise one over the other.
That’s the key to long term success – make aggressive progress in one direction without spinning your wheels.