How To Shape Your Body

Paul Harter Paul Harter
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You care about how much muscle you have.
Disagree? Read on.

Body shaping is not about building big muscles (although it can be, if you want it to be).  Body shaping is about the ratio between your body fat and your lean body mass (muscle).  For all the reasons discussed below, everyone, whether for health or appearance, benefits from a toned body.  A toned body, after all, is nothing more than a body that has less fat and more muscle than an untoned body. 

John and Bill are both 50 years old.  They are the same height.  They weigh the same amount.  They have the same BMI. (BMI measurements do not distinguish between fat and muscle).  John has a high fat/muscle ratio. Bill has a low fat/muscle ratio.   The odds are high that Bill has far more vitality, is far less stressed out, has far fewer mood swings and is far less prone to heart disease, cancer and diabetes than John.  The odds are high that Bill is more productive at work, happier at both work and home and will live far longer than John.

The most important thing John can do for his health, appearance and overall well-being is to lose fat.
See FAT LOSS in our Information Library.  The second most important thing he can do is to increase his lean body mass (muscles).

Most people misunderstand muscle.  Ask people what comes to mind when they think of muscle, and for many it will be images of massive bodybuilders in tiny underpants. Ask them what muscle represents and they might think vanity and machismo. Or, if they’re generous, strength and athleticism.  But muscle plays roles that are profound in a physiological sense too.

Before diving into the health benefits of increasing lean body mass, it is important to address two important urban myths:

01. Men who do not want to look like a bodybuilder should not take strength training seriously.

Strength training is about building optimal amounts of lean body mass (muscle) and reducing fat, and thereby optimizing health and longevity.  It is about having a well-toned, attractive body.  A lot of competitive bodybuilders inject large amounts of anabolic steroids and other muscle enhancing drugs to build huge muscle.  It is extremely hard to build huge muscles naturally.  A seasoned weight lifter cannot gain more than one to two pounds of muscle in a year of hard work.  It is, however, possible to build enough muscle to look fit and athletic. And, more importantly, significantly improve the health and capability of your body.

02. Women who take strength training seriously look like men.

Women’s bodies naturally produce only a fraction of the testosterone that men’s bodies naturally produce.  If women do not inject steroids or other muscle enhancing drugs, it is impossible for them to build muscles even remotely close to the amount of muscle that men can build naturally.  But, similarly to men, you can build enough lean body mass and lose enough fat to look fit and athletic while hugely upgrading your health and physical capability.

The fact is, you care about how much muscle mass you have because you care about your health, your vitality, your performance at work and your happiness at home. You care (maybe only a little or maybe a lot) about what others see and think about you, and how you see yourself.  You care about your longevity and staying free from illness as you age.

Preserving muscle while reducing body fat

Let’s start by examining the importance of lean body mass for people who need to lose fat.  Reducing excess body fat is one of the best things you can do for your long-term health. The link between mortality and diseases that result from obesity, inactivity and bad nutrition is well established.  Exercise and good nutrition (particularly adequate protein) is the only way to preserve (or enhance) the lean body mass you already have while losing fat.  And strength training is by far the best way to build and preserve muscle tissue. What’s less obvious is that strength training is also the best form of exercise for fat-loss; not cardio. If you’re surprised, you’re not alone. It’s a popular misconception that pounding away on pavements and treadmills is the best way to lose fat. There are health benefits of cardio that mustn’t be dismissed. But for reducing body fat, strength training is the best exercise.

As discussed in greater detail in the FAT LOSS section of the Information Library: weight-loss can only take place if you are in a calorie-deficit. Consistently consume less calories than your body burns – lose weight. It’s that simple. How much of your weight loss comes from body fat and how much from muscle is another matter. Restrictive diets do not work for many reasons.  One reason is that people on restrictive diets typically lose both fat and muscle.  They end up a smaller version of their fat-self. Skinny-fat, as it’s sometimes called.  So here comes the importance of strength training.

Regular strength training, properly performed, recruits muscle tissue.  The muscle breakdown you cause gives your body a reason to preserve, strengthen and grow muscle.  When you’re dieting for fat loss, proper strength training will ensure that as much of your weight loss as possible comes from body fat and as much muscle as possible is preserved. Your body will burn many calories in the process of repairing your muscle tissue even while you sleep. To support this process, you need to consume enough protein. See HEALTHY EATING in the Information Library.   How active you are when not exercising, and the amount and quality of your sleep, are important too. But, for simplicity let’s recap the priorities of fat loss and muscle preservation:

1. Being in a calorie-deficit.
2. Regular strength training.
3. Consuming enough protein.

Increased muscle tissue needs more calories to sustain it. Recovery from strength training is also more calorie-demanding than cardio. If you lose a kilo of fat and gain a kilo of lean muscle, your weight will not change (obviously).  But you will look and feel better.  And, your daily maintenance calories will increase slightly.

But strength training is not merely a calorie-burning tool. It is how we get stronger, fitter and healthier. The fact that it improves your appearance is a pleasant bonus.  Once the fat is gone, you must continue strength training.  Use it or lose it!

Ideally, strength training becomes part of your permanent lifestyle change, not ‘something I’m doing at the moment to lose fat’. Lifting weights and the healthy habits that go with it, will help you live your best and longest life. If you do, you can expect to stay lean and muscular. You can even be that older guy or gal with a physique that young people admire. The truth is, as long as you keep going, that can be you.

Maintaining lean body mass through strength training, together with good nutrition, will also help you prevent relapse (keep you from becoming fat again). Why?  To simplify, the answer is in your body’s naturally produced hormones, such as insulin and testosterone.  A well-toned body improves insulin sensitivity. Poor insulin-sensitivity expedites fat gain (and can result in diabetes).  Also, muscle mass promotes healthy testosterone levels. Men with low testosterone put on fat more easily than men with optimal levels. But perhaps more importantly, you will experience profound changes in your energy levels, moods, work performance, happiness and body image that will give you the motivation to stay on course.

Muscles keep you healthy. (Avoiding sarcopenia)

Sarcopenia is a disease that occurs naturally in inactive people.  Starting from around age 30, inactive people lose 3 to 5 % or their lean body mass (muscle) every decade.  The process accelerates as they get older.  Ultimately, inactive people (who survive other age-related diseases), become frail and unable to complete basic tasks.  Sarcopenia was once considered unavoidable –a relentless spiral to total disability. Now, the science is clear. Sarcopenia can be prevented through strength training and consumption of adequate protein (ideally, together with overall good nutrition).

Maintaining lean body mass through strength training, together with good nutrition, can also prevent (or greatly reduce the risk of) age-related diseases that kill most old people before sarcopenia shuts down their bodies permanently.  They include all cardio vascular diseases (atherosclerosis, arteriosclerosis, hypertension) and their consequences (strokes and heart attacks); type II diabetes (unregulated blood sugar levels resulting from insulin insensitivity); osteoporosis (brittle bones); and osteoarthritis (degeneration of joints).  In fact, maintaining lean body mass through strength training, together with good nutrition, will greatly reduce the risk of most cancers!  See FOREVER YOUNG in the Information Library.

Sure, your genes play a role.  A few unhealthy people live to 100.  A few healthy people die from cancers or other diseases in their youth.  Most of us fall on the broad spectrum in between.  We can choose where on that spectrum we fall.

Muscles keep you young

Strength training, combined with good nutrition, slows down the natural aging process.

See “FOREVER YOUNG” in the Information Library.

 

You can avoid age-related diseases, frailty and incapacity in you later years!

Take a look at Paul, our founder – 61 years old with the physique and athleticism of a man half his age.

Sure, good genes help. But they don’t make you immune to the effects of an unhealthy and inactive lifestyle. Fact is, like everything in life, whatever your natural ‘gifts’, what you do with them is what matters most.

All things being equal, if you improve your diet and become more active, your body will reward you. This is true at every stage of life. In Paul’s case, he transformed his body in his late-forties. There are people who have done it north of 50. And even 60!

So, be careful of the narrative you create in your own life. It is never too late. And it’s always worth it.

 

A toned and healthy body looks good.

Let’s talk about the harsh reality of being overweight and unfit in an image-obsessed world.  It stinks. It’s (mostly) unfair. It’s cruel, even. But the reality is that being overweight and unfit presents unique social and professional challenges.

Like it or not, we do not live in a world that offers opportunities based on merit alone.  Like it or not, people make judgements about you based on what they see.  Sad, but true.

There are many negative traits associated with being overweight and unfit. Laziness and lack of discipline, for example. Of course, history has produced its share of rotund geniuses in arts and science, business and politics. But that is little comfort next time you are overlooked for a promotion or outperformed by a fitter, more attractive colleague.

Being overweight and unfit can create a perception of lacking self-esteem, self-discipline and ambition.  More importantly, leaving aside perception, people who are fat and unfit, on the whole, factually, have less vitality and are more susceptible to depression than people who are lean and fit.  These perceptions and realities are not lost on employers as well as romantic partners. The Wi-Fi age has oversaturated both the job and relationship marketplaces. People are not short of options in both realms.

This brings us to a difficult topic – physical attractiveness.  Let us be brutally honest.

Some people are vain.  They spend excessive time, money and energy on trying to look good.  Some people do not care about their looks.  They believe they are just fine going through life a bit overweight or very overweight.  Most of us live our lives between these two extremes.  We care how we look.  We would like to look better.  But we are not terribly interested in investing too much time and effort in our appearance.

Yes, people want a partner with whom they have intellectual and emotional chemistry.  But they can find that with friends. They want something else too – sexual chemistry.  Perhaps some people have happy and successful primary relationships without physical attraction. Most of us do not.

This is a tough message, but, if you’re single, overweight and unfit, you’re reducing your chances of finding a good romantic partner.  If you’re married, overweight and unfit – well, you know what’s happened to so many of your friends and colleagues.

And who do you want to be with?  Just someone who meets your intellectual and emotional needs?  You want somebody who meets all your needs.

Make up helps.  Solvency helps.  A full head of hair helps.  But, once you tackle your intellectual and emotional needs, nothing helps more than a fit, well-toned body.

How to increase your lean body mass

By now, you already know the answer:  Strength training, adequate protein plus good nutrition.  When starting out, strength training can be confusing, and even frightening. Contradictory advice is rife in the jungle of gym floors and websites. Most experienced lifters have spent many years experimenting with these ideas. Everyone makes mistakes. All part of the learning curve!

But we’re going to help you bypass that.  Let’s plug you straight into the simple, proven principles of strength training instead.

To build muscle, the following needs to happen:

1. Strength training 2-4 times per week.
2. Training all body parts with more or less the same amount of attention and intensity.
3. Training each body part at least once (ideally twice) per week.
4. Adequate protein (2 grams per day per kilogram of goal bodyweight is a good target) supported by good nutrition. 
5. Using correct technique. 
6. And Progressive Overload.

What is progressive overload?

When we train a muscle, during our rest, our body will repair the muscle and, knowing it may happen again, make the muscle bigger and stronger.  Progressive overload is the process of slowly and gradually increasing the load or intensity over time, so the process of repair and strengthen repeats itself over time. It is the chief training principle of strength and muscle gain.  It is the only way any of us can naturally preserve and increase our lean muscle mass.

This requires you or your personal trainer to keep a record of your workouts – so you know exactly what to aim for. You goal is to at least match your previous effort. Ideally, exceed it.

‘Getting stronger’ can be measured in several ways.

It can mean performing one more rep using the same weight as last time.  For example, your program includes 3 sets of 10-12 reps of the barbell bench press. You use 50 kg and in your third and final set you hit 12 reps when last week you managed 11.

Getting stronger also means using more weight. Let’s use the same example. Now you can complete 12 reps in all three sets, you can add 5kg to the bar and ‘chase’ 3 sets of 12 again.

Rinse and repeat.

Muscle Growth

As you get stronger, your body builds more muscle. We work to optimise muscle growth and support that process by building strength and increasing muscle endurance too.

You need to train with some intensity too – you can’t crack a coconut with a teaspoon. This doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself every time you train. But purpose and focus are a must for the magic to happen.

Lifting weights in this way causes micro-tears in your muscle fibres. This might sound alarming, but is nothing to fear – it’s how your body becomes more robust; not weaker. Your body repairs these micro-tears using protein. The process is known as protein synthesis, and it is this that, over time, creates more muscle tissue.

Protein synthesis is an energy demanding process. It can take several days to complete after a workout. So, not only are you building muscle – your body is using calories to do it.

Muscles and aging.

“Things ain’t what they used to be!”

It won’t surprise you to know that a 60-year-old and a 20-year-old body respond differently to the same stimulus.  All things being equal (weight, protein consumption, calories, micronutrients, training, rest etc.) the youngster will get better results.

She or he will get stronger, build more muscle and, if that is the goal, become leaner.

A 60-year-old can’t expect the same results as the 20-year-old.  Inactive people lose up to 5% of their lean muscle each decade naturally from age 30.  From age 35, a man’s natural production of testosterone declines around 1% per year.  As we age, we develop “anabolic resistance” naturally, meaning muscle protein synthesis takes more time and requires more protein consumption.   But, like going up against a more talented opponent, you can bridge the gap. You need to work ‘smarter’ rather than ‘harder’.

Eat Smarter

The most important way for you to ‘work smarter’ is to eat more protein. Studies show that protein requirements increase with age. This is especially true if you are active. Throw a body shaping goal into the mix – even more so.  Increasing protein assists in reducing age-related loss of muscle and improves physical performance and overall health.

1.5-2 grams of protein per day per kilogram of goal bodyweight is an accepted guideline for people of any age.  Most people consume far less. Well, once you are north of 50, you can add 25% to this! Don’t worry though, you can build up your protein consumption in sensible increments.  It’s not as hard (or as unpalatable) as it may sound.

Train Smarter

If you are new to strength training, or even if you have been lifting a long time, but you have not experienced the results you hoped for, you should get a bespoke training plan written by an expert.  You will get far better results than the 90%+ of gym-goers who ‘wing it’ or follow ‘cookie cutter’ programs. Your individual requirements, capabilities and circumstances should inform a good plan. It should progress your strength and performance in a way that you can measure. Get that in place and support it by eating right.

In Conclusion

Most of us have “muscle” goals of one sort or another.  Some of us want the flexibility to play golf, the endurance to swim or cycle, or the strength to climb mountains.  Some of us want the ability and stamina to play outdoors with our children (or grandchildren).  Some of us want more muscle simply to look and feel better – whether that means having the stature to command the room in business meetings – or losing the belly or wearing a fitted dress — or even filling out our t-shirts or looking toned in our bikinis on the beach.

Having read this, you now understand that we also want muscles for many life critical reasons as well –to stay young, prevent disease, live long, perform well at work, feel good about ourselves and to be happy at home and in our relationships.  The choice is yours.  Goal Master is here to help.

 

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