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You can lose fat and build or maintain muscle at the same time. In fact this is what happens the majority of time with the average person. If you are building muscle, then you are losing fat. The rate may be different and what you are eating will effect this heavily.
If you are already muscular and simply want to define further by reducing the last bit of fat, then this is a slightly more complex version of the same thing. If you are trying to bulk up heavily, than maybe what you eat will focus a bit more on the bulking rather than the trimming part. But you can still do both. You don’t need different phases. Though separating it into phases can simplify things nutritionally for those who are competing. The problem I have with phasing things is that this can mimic a “diet”. If you are eliminating a lot of foods and/or cutting calories significantly and consistently then we may be looking at a hit to your metabolism and hormone balance.
Dieting is NOT going to help you maintain weight. CONSISTENCY with nutrition and exercise is what is going to get you lean or ripped and it is what is going to keep you there.
The following are general rules but the details of a workout and nutritional program depend on the individual. Everyone performs movements differently, digests different foods with ease, finds motivation from different sources, etc..
Forget cardio. I’m sure you have heard this a lot. If you follow my blogs then you’ve been hearing me say it for about a decade now. Use cardio to maintain or improve cardiovascular ability specific to whatever movement you prefer. Other than that…it’s not helping you. In fact its probably hurting your progress.
Resistance training keeps you in a higher metabolic state so that you are doing “work” for longer periods of time. And if you lift with short breaks you will still maintain an aerobic effect which will keep your endurance capacity up.
You don’t have to lift heavy
The majority of studies comparing heavy to light resistance training shows statistically insignificant results favoring the heavy side. Many studies show that high rep/low weight will do just as well as low rep/high weight. There are 2 things that make this less appealing to most. First, it takes longer to do high reps..people want a more efficient program. They also lose focus quickly and we need perfect form for every rep. The other problem is that we tend to want to impress with big plates and heavy dumbbells. But you know whats more impressive? Not injuring yourself. If you think a lifetime of lifting heavy isn’t doing damage to your connective tissue, you are lying to yourself. Lifting lighter still adds stress to the tissues enough for you to build size but it keeps the load low on your joints and tendons. This will allow you to stay strong for longer. Longevity is the goal, folks….sorry sorry getting shredded is the goal…just for longer.
Try 30-50% of your max weight for a movement. Upwards of 20-25 reps. 3 sets.
You can try adding one set where you increase your weight by 10-20%, reducing the reps accordingly. One study showed this to be effective in building mass while maintaining a minimal load for most of the workout.
You can also prolong muscle activation by adding tempo to your lifts. Try a moderately heavy weight but elongate the eccentric phase of the motion. You can even hold the pose for a few seconds before the concentric movement. As long as you can keep perfect form, this is a way to keep the load lighter and maximize results.
A common tempo for a bench press would be 4-1-1-0. This translates as 4 seconds of the lowering phase then a 1 second hold, then 1 second to press the weights up and no rest at the top (0).
DO STABILITY WORK
Your ability to train for long periods of time depends on your foundation. Stability in movement or under load while static is going to be a major factor in your success in consistency. Build a strong foundation and you will find less need for prolonged recovery from physical stress.
EAT WELL AND EAT LOTS
You need lots of protein to repair and build muscle tissue but you also need lots of fats and micronutrients for recovery and to keep your digestive and immune system working properly. Your demanding more of your body when training hard so don’t deny it nutrients thinking it will help you lose fat while you build muscle. Without the proper intake of micronutrients your recovery, focus and performance will all hurt. This may lead to injury which will slow down the whole process way more than the added calories will. More over all calories will increase the training effect, just be smart with what you’e fueling with!
You don’t need to carb load. But if you do, first figure out if your body can handle the sugar spike. You can often find glucose level testing kits at the pharmacy, go grab one and see how your body reacts to a plate of pasta or a couple sandwiches. If your blood glucose and insulin (you can test for this too) spikes and if you feel tired or bloated or low energy afterwards, you are unable to handle carb loading.
If you are training for 2 hours and lifting really heavy while adding a prolonged cardio segment to your routine, than you will definitely need some fuel. But I would suggest changing the routine rather than the over eating. Seems like a waste of time and unnecessary stress on the body. Again, this is for the average person trying to put on muscle, not for a competitive body builder.
Start by adding 250 calories per day. Monitor your progress for 3-4 weeks. If you haven’t gained any muscle then add another 150-250 calories. It may take a bit of time before you see results so don;t rush into a massive increase just to force it. You may end up putting on fat as well.
HARD GAINERS – Train less / eat more – but watch out for the gremlin
If you have a really hard time putting on muscle than you will need to adjust a bit further. 500 extra calories a day may not cut it. But start with that and increase/monitor if need be. I have a tried and true method for both vegans and non vegans. It means counting calories for a couple months but then it becomes second nature.
Train less – eat more. Sounds good, right? It’s not. You need to watch what you eat still. funyuns and pizza pockets might jack up your calorie count but this is going to set you up for low returns in your performance – in the gym and in the sack! Your body is under performing in its capacity to build tissue so lets figure out why. A hormone profile may do you some good. I would test for food allergies and micronutrient level as well. But often times it comes down to you just not eating enough for your metabolic rate.
Even so, get everything working well so that when you do flood the system with high quality foods, it will use them accordingly. Try not to eat 5-6 times a day. Eat 2-3 big meals and don’t snack too heavily. We don’t want to spike your insulin too often. Again, we want consistency. Find something sustainable and healthy, If you get your body used to food intake all day long, your circadian rhythms will follow. You will teach your body to expect and want food all the time. Lets say you go on vacation for 3 weeks. Lets be real, not all of us keep up our training nor our eating habits when we are on the road. But guess who is coming with you on this trip – the gremlin. You fed the gremlin for the last several months..it may have been fruit and nuts or veggies and hummus, but now you’re traveling and the closest food is pizza, croissants or ice cream. Its going to happen…the gremlin is real and it is hungry.
If you become dehydrated, your energy will lag and your performance with your weight training will be hampered. This is going to slow down your progress physically but it will also take a bite out of your mental game. Consistency fuels motivation and so we need as many good days as possible, Hydrating keeps everything running smoothly so that we can surpass any mind games that come up when we are struggling a bit due to external factors such as work stress or every day obstacles.
I talk about this all the time so I won’t go into detail here but Sleep is so important. Your muscles heal when you sleep, your brain heals when you sleep, you work out complex emotional problems when you sleep. Some people say they thrive on little sleep, I don;t buy it, I’d say they thrive until they dive. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are both linked to lack of sleep. We need to rest and recover in order to be healthy for long periods of time. It is really the easiest thing we can do to improve health and fitness. Stress borne adrenaline can keep someone running for a while, until adrenal fatigue sets in and when it does you are in real trouble – this can take a long time to recover from.
So take recovery days from your workouts, practice stress management techniques and get some sleep!
A ten to twenty minute, daily exercise regimen should suffice to augment the natural healing process. If the abdominal separation is the width of 2 fingers or more, this is what I consider level 2 diastasis. While a similar routine may be enough to heal it, I like to put emphasis on changing daily behaviors so as to really avoid putting unwanted stress on the tissues in between training sessions. If you’re going to spend an entire hour of your day jogging and then go eat a cheeseburger and fries…I mean, sure, have at it but the burger and fries basically undid all of your mind numbing, boring work running, and then some. Can you tell I love running?
When you get up from sitting or lying down, or you hunch over, pick something up, lean against a counter or wall; these are all moments of opportunity where you can avoid further damage and actually help heal the separation. Up until now we have relied on reflexive activation of our muscles to get us through our daily activities. This is fine and dandy for most of us but when you suffer from any kind of core weakness, be it diastasis recti or slipped discs, you have to switch over to purposeful activation.
The very first step in our postnatal rehab program is learning how to connect to your deep core muscles, primarily the transversus abdominus (TVA) and the anterior pelvic floor. These are the two main muscles we want to use for your “purposeful activation” or your brace. The other, bigger muscles we can allow to act reflexively once the deeper muscles are properly contracted. Creating a connection to these muscles can be difficult. While we can see and touch our biceps ass we contract them, there is no visual feedback for the deep core muscles. Some of us have a small pocket between the rectus abdominus and obliques where you can feel the TVA. But if this isn’t an option there are a few tricks on learning how to feel it contract. Some of the low impact exercises we use in our conditioning program can be used to make the mind/body connection. The TVA muscle is solely involved in stabilization so taking the body just slightly out of stabilization while concentrating on changes within your core can help give you an idea as to where the muscles is and how it feels when in use. Any exercise that requires the bigger muscles in addition to stabilize or move the torso will override any connection to the deep tissues.
There are also some breathing techniques that can help form a connection. Something simple that often works is this –
Lay down on your back, knees bent and feel flat on the floor. Take a breath and then exhale allowing for all the air to leave your lungs without pushing it out forcefully. Before taking another breath, draw in your belly button towards your spine trying not to press your back into the floor. It helps to put your hands on your abdomen to check that your big muscles in the front are not being activated. When successful, it is your TVA being used to draw inwards. Even though this is pretty simple, it takes a lot of practice to properly activate this muscle when you are not laying down and completely focused on it.
Add a pelvic floor hold to the TVA activation and you have got the brace! I suggest that you activate the pelvic floor before activating the TVA. The transversus abdominus contraction, if significant, can put pressure on the pelvic floor and make it difficult to initiate the hold.
The degree at which you need to activate depends on the movement you are performing.
If you are attempting to sit up out of bed, whether you turn over on to your side first or just sit up straight like a creepy vampire, you need to create your core brace first, and a strong one. I would suggest bracing at 75% of capacity or more.
You really have to brace for any kind of crunching motion. Same goes for any time you bend over to pick something up. If the option is there, try to bend into a deep squat to pick whatever it is up. If pelvic floor weakness is part of the issue for you, then be sure to activate your pelvic floor before squatting.
Try and avoid leaning on counters and walls. Use the moment to activate your brace and practice purposeful posture strengthening. A light brace of the TVA will do.
Sitting on the edge of a chair rather than leaning back is another small change you can make. Sitting on the edge tends to put us in proper posture. It keeps our tailbone from tucking in and rolling our pelvis upwards. In this position we can then lightly activate our brace and keep a neutral spine position.
We use dozens of different exercises, all with several progressions to help heal diastasis recti. Every single one involves some sort of movement. It is so rare that we are completely still during every day life, so the isometric exercises, though helpful for creating connection to muscles, are less functional for our purpose here.
The very first exercise I teach is the knee drop –
Lay down on your back, knees bent and feet flat on floor, hip width apart. Do not use anything to support your head, we want to maintain neutral spine. You can keep your hands next to your hips or you can rest them on your abdomen to try and feel the slight activation that occurs. You can start with pelvic floor activation if this is something you need to work on. Often times it is, so it won’t hurt to start there. Lightly draw in your TVA to about 25% capacity. The movement will be the drop of one knee outwards towards the floor. The movement should be as slow as possible trying to maintain a fluid motion rather than a stop and start like motion. This takes time and practice. Go as low to the floor as possible without changing your foot position. While you are dropping your knee to the floor you want to make sure that there is no compensation for change of stability by movement of your opposite leg or your torso. Keep an eye on your stable leg and if you need to you can place a plate or piece of paper on your abdomen to give you some feedback on whether you are moving. And don’t forget to breathe! The TVA can minimize your ability to take deep breaths and often times my clients go red faced not realizing they are holding their breath.
What we want from this is to preemptively activate your stabilizer so that the motion can be carried out without compensation from any other parts of your body. You may need a reflexive increase of activation to maintain proper form. This is great. We want a bit of both purposeful and reactive contraction.
One repetition should take at least 20 seconds – 10 seconds down and 10 seconds back up. I suggest taking a break between each full rep. The relaxation phase is just as important. While we want to train the muscles to contract on command we don’t want to create a tendency to stay tense all day. So take the time to breathe and relax your muscles. 3-5 reps on each side is a good start for this exercise.
A progression to this would be to strap an ankle weight around your knee to add a bit more resistance. A more advanced version would be to create a much stronger brace and lift the “stable” foot off of the floor before beginning the knee drop. This will require involvement of your bigger muscles and so you will want to make sure you have gone through other exercises to get prepared for this one.
There are youtube videos of people flapping both knees up and down like a drunk butterfly. This does not work. Many of the exercises are slow and involve high concentration. Its boring as all hell but this is what works. remember its just 10-20 minutes per day!
There are many progression of this exercise. It is probably the most important one we use but It is important to go through the stages at the right pace.
The first stage is the heel tap –
Lay on your back, knees bent and feet flat, hands at your side. Create your brace, activating your pelvic floor and TVA. You want to maintain neutral spine, so try not to push your lower back into the floor when you draw in your abdomen. From this position you will raise one foot about 12 inches off the floor, hinging at the hips but not bending your knee. You should have about a 90 degree angle in your knee for the entire movement. When you lift your foot off of the floor, the combination of your brace and any reflexive contraction should be enough to keep the rest of your body completely still. Just like the knee drop exercise, we don’t want any compensation for the instability brought on by taking one of your points of contact off of the floor. This is what enhances the activation of the TVA.
The movement should be fairly slow but not as slow as the knee drop, maybe 2 seconds per repetition. You want to just tap your heel on the floor rather than place your foot down. This keeps the stability work going through the entire set. Start with 8-10 repetitions. When you finish with one leg, take time to relax all of your muscles. Take 3-4 deep breaths allowing for slight expansion of your abdomen. Then reset your brace and move onto the next leg.
A note about breathing
In our prenatal fitness training, and really all of our training other than postpartum, abdominal rehabilitation I encourage all of our clients to use diaphragmatic breathing as a way to enhance oxygen intake and stimulate the vagus nerve in order to bring on a relaxation effect, trigger gut/immune response and create elasticity with the abdominal tissues. BUT, too much of this kind of breath work can stretch the linea alba (tissue that has been thinned out in your abdomen) and slow the pace or even stop recovery. A few deep breaths is fine but prolonged diaphragmatic breathing may not be what you need just yet. Allow for some of the healing to happen first.
The two above exercises are a great start and I usually keep them in the mix for the entire recovery process. As you begin to move on to harder progressions, these exercises can be used as an excellent warm up.
The program must evolve. You want to increase your endurance for the brace and be able to hold it under much more pressure than a simple heel tap or knee drop. You want to do these kinds of exercises while on your knees, on your feet and while in movement. Don’t limit yourself to a program that keeps you on you on the floor.
Building solid stability and then working on elasticity will increase your functional health for the rest of our life. And if you plan on having another child, these exercises may save you from sustaining diastasis recti the second time around.