When it comes to fitness goals, there are three major goals in which most, if not all, other goals fall under. Quite simply, they are: gain weight, usually in the form of muscle mass; lose weight, or body fat; and lastly, a combination of the two, toning, which involves maintaining your weight by simultaneously shedding fat and building lean muscle to create a cut look.
Each fitness goal has its own unique path in which to get there. No one goal is better than another, and no one goal is harder or easier. Each one can be achieved by simply having a plan designed for that goal, and sticking to it. It really is that simple.
I feel like its obvious, but the first step in reaching whatever goal you have in mind is exactly that: know what your goal is. I feel like that part is pretty easy. We all know what we want. We either want to be super skinny like the cover model, or super buff like Chris Hemsworth in Thor, or we just want to feel better and more confident about how we look in (and out of) our clothes.
So below I will discuss the basic workout routines you should pursue based on what your potential goal is.
Exercise Sets and Reps for Gaining Mass
If you want to put on size, heavy weights is the way to go. But before you walk into the gym and try to start lifting the heaviest thing you can, focus on FORM FIRST! Proper form is paramount for success.
We are our own worst critics, and there’s nothing more self-degrading than lifting lighter weights, knowing you WANT to lift heavier weights, and seeing other people lifting heavier than you and looking better than you (in your eyes) — but without proper form, all you’re going to do is A) hurt yourself, and B) develop bad habits. You do not want that, and neither do I.
If you’ve been going to the gym for a while, hopefully you’ve gotten your form down. But if you’re new to the gym scene, that’s alright. Bodybuilders across the world will argue all day on how much protein to eat, what supplements to take and not to take, and what workouts and exercises are better… but the one thing they will all agree on is that proper form is the most important thing you can get into the habit of doing.
YouTube is a fantastic source for learning proper lifting form for every exercise you can think of, along with sites like Bodybuilding.com and Men’s Health. Do yourself a favor and research before you go, then continue to refresh your mind by watching videos and reading explanations from your phone while you’re in the gym.
Now once you’ve got your form all figured out, it’s time to lift heavy!
Heavy Weight, Low Reps! That's the key to gaining mass.
It sounds awful, but the goal when it comes to increasing muscle size is to literally tear your muscle fibers apart. In doing so, your body determines that it needs to make itself stronger in order to handle the new amount of stress being put on it. So, when your body begins to repair the muscle fibers, it makes them increase in size and strength during the repair process.
The harder you are forced to work, the more the muscle fibers tear. That’s where the heavy weight comes in. That being said, it tends to be a bit difficult to put up a lot of weight for a lot of reps. That’s where the low reps come into play.
The weight you are lifting should allow you to get in roughly 4 to 6 reps per set, where the last rep or 2 should be the biggest struggle to the point of failure. If you can go another 1 or 2 reps, you need to increase your weight. Failure on your last rep per set is what you’re aiming for.
Exercise Sets and Reps for Cutting and Lean Muscle
Weight loss is basically the same process as weight gain, just in the opposite direction. Who would have thought? Just like gaining weight requires you to increase your daily calorie intake, losing weight requires you to decrease your daily calorie intake. But you knew that already if you read the basic dieting webpage!
When it comes to cutting, it’s mostly about cardio and your diet. Unlike with gaining or losing weight, your goal is no longer to be increasing or decreasing your required daily calorie intake, but to be getting the amount of calories you need to maintain your current weight. When cutting, the point is to just shift that weight from fat to muscle. Now don’t be confused, fat does NOT turn into muscle. Rather, while cutting, you’re simultaneously losing fat while increasing and/or maintaining the muscle mass you already have.
Lighter weight, more reps!
Weight lifting is not just for those trying to gain mass, it is also extremely beneficial for those trying to lose weight. All you need to do is switch up the weight to reps ratio. When it comes to gaining size, it’s heavy weight and low reps. When it comes to losing weight, its the exact opposite: lighter weight with higher reps.
As mentioned above when it comes to gaining mass, form is also important when it comes to losing weight, more so because regardless of how much weight you’re doing, A) you don’t want to hurt yourself, and B) you want to make sure you’re actually targeting the proper muscles when performing the exercise.
When it comes to the rep goals for weight loss, you want to be aiming for 10 to 12 reps per set, where you should be failing on the 11th or 12th rep. If you can continue for a 13th or 14th rep, your weight is too light. The goal of weight lifting while trying to lose fat is not actually to lose fat, but to maintain the muscle you already have while burning calories. If you lift too light, your body won’t be convinced that it still needs the muscle.
How to Actually Get Rid of Fat
For years, people have been doing cardio. Soooo much cardio, in the hopes that it would burn off their fat. Don’t get me wrong, cardio is definitely beneficial to our bodies. Cardio does help with fat loss, increases heart and lung function, reduces stress, and can reduce the risk of heart disease. But it’s no longer considered the best method for fat loss. The new and improved fat loss technique is known as High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT for short.
What is HIIT Training?
High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT for short, is exactly what it says: intense bursts of exercise for short durations, separated by short periods of rest. You do these back and forth for 20 to 30 minutes, and that’s it! You’re done! Don’t get me wrong, it sounds easier than it actually is. But studies have shown that 20 minutes worth of HIIT activities can actually produce equal or even better results than your average cardio workouts. Not only that, but HIIT forces your body to go into fat burning mode for up to 48 hours continuously after the workout!
The Benefits of HIIT
- HIIT burns more calories in a shorter amount of time compared to common cardio and weight training exercises.
- As mentioned above, it burns fat for days after the actual workout. HIIT gives your body the ability to maintain an increased metabolic rate, burning fat while you rest.
- It convinces your body to use fat instead of carbs for energy, again, burning more fat.
- Doing HIIT is a huge time saver!! Instead of having to do your traditional hour weight lifting workout, or 30 to 45 minutes of cardio, doing just 10 to 30 minutes of HIIT gives you the same (if not better) fat loss results in less time.
- It can help your lungs. When forced to perform intense exercise for short durations, you’re simultaneously forced to breath more intensely.
How to Start HIIT
Like we mentioned, high intensity interval training is simply giving it your all for short durations, so you can take whatever cardio you’re already doing and simply change it up a bit. There are countless ways to begin HIIT. For example, if you like to run on the treadmill, start incorporating sprints. Start at a nice even pace, then after about 2 minutes go into a 30 second sprint, where you run as fast as you can for 30 seconds. Return to your even pace for another 2 minutes, then do another 30 seconds of intense sprinting. Continue this pattern, and you’re performing HIIT.
The same method can be used for any types of cardio: biking, jumping rope, swimming, etc.
HIIT doesn’t have to be with cardiovascular exercises though. You can do the same process with weight training, or calisthenics. For example, a great calisthenics HIIT workout from Dailyburn.com is below, with their instructions: “Perform each exercise at 100 percent effort, with 30 seconds of rest in between. Repeat every other day with the goal of completing it faster each time.”
- 50 sit-ups
- 40 jump squats
- 30 push-ups
- 20 split-jumps
- 10 tricep dips
- 30 second burpees