[IGC 4] Strength training: what actually matters

In yesterday’s lesson I explained the difference between “weight” loss and “fat” loss. I also explained your goal is to lose fat not weight.

In order to ‘lose fat’ (not weight), you need to maintain your muscle mass. We do this by giving the body a reason to hold onto muscle.

So how do we do that?

Simple: you provide your body with enough of a stimulus so it doesn’t burn muscle.

A calorie deficit is inherently catabolic–your body begins to use its own stores for energy (a.k.a, a calorie deficit). Strength training is inherently anabolic–it tells your body that you need your muscle tissue, preventing it from being broken down and used for energy.

But it’s not just about lifting weights, it’s about lifting weights in the correct way. Here are three things you need to keep in mind.

#1. Progressive overload

In order for muscles to grow and get stronger, the stress placed on the body has to gradually increase. This stress has to be above and beyond what your body is currently used to so that it sees a reason to adapt–in our case, build muscle and strength.

This means, if you keep lifting the same amount of weight for the same number of sets and reps for the next year – your body will not change. While there are a plethora of ways to progressively overload the muscle, the simplest way is to either increase the weight you’re lifting or lift the same amount of weight for more reps.

For example:

– If you did 8 reps at 50lbs on an exercise in today’s session, in the next session you should aim to do 9 reps.

– If you did 8 reps at 50 lbs on an exercise in today’s session, in the next session you should aim to do 8 reps at 55lbs on the same exercise.

That’s progressive overload.

By incrementally overloading the muscle, you tell your body that you need your muscle which prevents it from being burned as energy when you’re in a calorie deficit.

This is why the idea that you need to “lift light weights with high reps to tone” is silly. By lifting light weights, you’ve removed the stimulus. Therefore, when you’re in a calorie deficit, your body sees no reason to hold onto muscle.

Got it? Good.

#2. Good form

Every exercise should be executed with good form. This means:

– Lifting the weight through a full range of motion. All exercises (unless I state otherwise in the program) should be performed with a full range of motion. No half-reps, cheat-reps, or quarter-reps. If you can’t lift a weight with the full range of motion — lower the weight. There’s no room for ego; leave that for people who wish to get injured and/or make no progress.

– No swinging or jerking. You should be controlling the weight through the full range of motion. No swinging or jerking the weight up or down. Not only will this reduce the effectiveness of the exercise (and your results) but it also increase the risk of injury.

#3. Intensity

Intensity can refer to a few things. In my programming I’m using it to indicate your proximity to failure. You shouldn’t be training to failure unless I state otherwise.

There are two key reasons for this:

a) If you’re going all out in your first set, you’re zapping energy from your latter sets. Which means you’ll either do fewer reps and/or have to reduce the weight, which means you’ll be lifting a lower amount of total volume.

b) Constantly training to failure also increases your injury risk: The more fatigued you are because you went to failure on your first set, the more chances of you getting sloppy on your latter sets and risking bad form which could lead to injury.

Instead of going to failure, stop 1-2 reps shy of failure.

Today’s Task

Now that you understand what actually matters when it comes to strength training, keep these three things in mind the next time you hit the gym.

Do your best to do more reps or lift more weight than you did last time. This will help you retain (and build) muscle and strength.

• Perform all exercises with good form. Watch the linked exercise videos to learn how to perform the exercises correctly. Don’t be afraid to lower the weight if need be. This will help prevent injury and maximise your gains.

• Don’t go to failure. Stop 1-2 reps shy of failure so you have enough energy for your latter sets.