The bodybuilding world is bursting at the seams with fiction.
Science, logic, and reason are NOT the cornerstones of this particular industry; tradition and hype unfortunately are.
I mean, who wants to develop a sound theory of this particular branch of exercise science when the new issue of ‘muscle blaster magazine’ promises overnight success?
New workouts and supplements are peddled by steroid-ridden “champions” who’ve never used the product, let alone depend upon it for their results.
People like me have to settle to be in minority because we aren’t prepared to flat-out lie to people in exchange for cash. Being honest with people gets less attention than “Add 2 inches to your arms in 2 weeks!” – it’s all glitz and glamor, less science and substance.
Anyway, rant over. 😉
One of the MANY myths that still pervades this sport is the idea that a higher rep range should be employed to promote fat loss and definition on a cutting cycle.
We’re talking 15-20 reps per set here, sometimes more. The thinking is one, or both of the following:
- High reps will burn more calories than lower reps
- High reps promote a more defined/cut look
Firstly, just because a set lasts longer doesn’t necessarily mean it burns more calories. A low or medium rep range terminates sooner but the intensity of the contractions is higher. This means MORE stimulation of the anaerobic pathway which in turn must mean more stimulation of the aerobic pathway while you REST. (This is because the lactic acid build up converts to pyruvate which MUST in turn be metabolized aerobically. If you want a fuller explanation read the cell metabolism part of this article.)
However, it may be true that, on the whole, a full workout to high-rep failure burns more calories. But if so, we’re talking about tens of calories here folks, not hundreds. Just leave a few peas off your plate and you’re all set.
But there’s a more important issue.
Even if you burned 15 more calories, you’ve effectively SPLIT any adaptations that the body is going to make BETWEEN the anaerobic and aerobic systems. While you can’t truly isolate the anaerobic system by lifting weights, a bodybuilder MUST seek to steer the body’s adaptations towards muscle growth as much as possible.
And you can’t get the best of both worlds because the body’s recovery ability is NOT unlimited. If it were, things would be a lot easier for us guys, but it’s not. Therefore this limited resource must be ‘spent’ on recovery and GROWTH of muscle tissue as far as possible.
Remember that when cutting you’ll be incorporating some cardio sessions into your regime to help accelerate the fat loss process. This, along with diet, is what takes care of lowering your body fat percentage. It only makes sense to keep your weight training sessions as anaerobic as possible.
You want to keep muscle-building (or at the very least, muscle-maintaining) a high priority as muscle tissue is metabolically active tissue i.e. it burns calories by simply existing. There are many opinions on just how many calories a pound of muscle burns ranging from 6 – 100. I think a good estimate is 35-50 per day. If you LOSE 5 pounds of muscle when cutting you’ve lost at least 63,875 worth of yearly calorie-burn, which equates to 18.25 pounds of fat. So muscle tissue is key to getting lean, and even MORE important for STAYING lean.
In short, the purpose of your weight training sessions is to stimulate growth irrespective of whether you’re on a bulking or cutting cycle. Attention to diet and incorporating some cardio is what’ll get you ripped. High reps have nothing to do with getting that defined look.
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I started lifting weights just to put on a little muscle in order to lose fat… and it has worked for me.
Then I found this site and took the muscle building a little more seriously.
One thing I’ve never fully understood… when you cut down on calories and lose weight, how does your body decide what to lose… fat or lean muscle?
Any ideas Mark
Mark I’m confused as to which diet I should be following. I am curently doing tspa weigh 175 @ 15% Should I stay with tspa until I drop 5% and then switch to glad or manns? I am hungry all the time, I drive truck so its hard to stay away from the carbs and get a good QUICK meal on the go. Any sugestions.
Hey Mark – spot on here. I sometimes recommend people do a few weeks of high-rep sets (even triple-setting) as a metabolic jump-start. Essentially, such a workout makes your weight training a semi-cardio training in and of itself. I find it is good (in brief doses) for shedding fat while preserving muscle. But definitely not a long-term strategy.
Hey Mark I love your site, and I have been learning quite a bit about muscle gain. I know a lot about gaining muscle now, but can you write more detail about losing fat?
I couldn’t agree more with your statement “The bodybuilding world is bursting at the seams with fiction.” I read to not do cardio, but won’t cardio help me burn calories? I realize the key is calorie defecit and staying tough with healthy, filling food. How much macronutrients should I have when cutting? I weigh 180 currently and I have been taking 180g of protein, 250 carbs, and 50 fat per day (average). This equates to ~2200 calories a day. I shoot for 2000 – 2400 calories a day.
I read your minicutting guide, but I got my body fat calculated and I need to lose 13 pounds of fat to get to 8% body fat. This is about a 2 or 3 month goal correct?
I am pretty sure I am doing ok food wise (or is it more than just calorie defecit?). I really need to know what kind of exercise plan to do while cutting. I’ve read bits and pieces on this site about how to implement cardio, but I am still confused.
Thanks so much Mark for taking the time to research and make truthful, non-hype information available to the public.
I’m fairly new, but how many reps and sets of reps do you recommend? And do you recommend to go to failure?
This is an interesting and quite controversial discussion you are bringing up. I’m not really sure which side of the argument I reside upon, but I’m curently using the Escalating Density Training program and it focuses more on lower reps.
I’m not sure which is more beneficial but I’ve been sticking to the program and seems to be working. However, thanks for helpful tips, I’ll be looking more into that.
I need to know about how a person enjoy building musles while eliminating body fat
Hi mark, this is nischal. i just wanted to know , is there any way i can loose my weight. My height is 6 feets and i am weighing 264 lbs. Doctors told me to go for operations. but i want to burn it naturally. is it possible that i can have abs just like you?
Hey man im just wondering. What if i didnt have the chance to go to a gym or have any weights, i were to do pushups and pull ups and stuff with my own body weight but, how would i exercise? 3 sets of each exercise until i reach positive failure or mantain it to 8-12 reps?
I think you should get a backpack on and load it with weight to try to get as close to 8-12 as possible. I could be wrong, but doing 30 pushups w/o weight is better than 10 pushups w/o weight. You would be training endurance more than extrophy though, and I don’t know if it is possible to get extrophy results by stopping prematurely at 8-12 pushups. I think you have to be using a weight that can only do 8 – 12 times.
I am not basing that on any science. I don’t even know why extrophy rep ranges work. Just my thoughts.
@Keith. Lifting weights and promoting muscle growth is one way of telling your body that its muscle is valuable and not to be robbed for energy. But this is not enough on its own. The type of metabolism is very important i.e. glucose or fat metabolism – this is taken care of with diet – obviously we want to program our body in a way that it uses fat as its primary source of fuel. Then, as you get leaner your body will increasingly want to keep its fat stores and try to turn to use protein (via gluconeogenesis) for energy. This is where we need to use some dietary tricks to keep the fat-burning furnace alive.
The last 2 points I have discussed here are fully catered for in ‘Total Six Pack Abs’ and is THE way of cutting off fat exclusively to attain the ‘very lean’ look.
@Ray. It’s probably going to be easier for you to go on GLAD after your cut. It would be very hard to find low-carb food with your lifestyle. When you’re finished your cut, work out your caloric intake for building, then eat a low-glycemic diet to this level. If there are no low-GL options, just eat what’s available. It’s better to eat something than nothing. Just ensure that you don’t overdo your daily calories no matter what you eat
@Johnny. Mini-cutting is not suitable for losing 13 pounds of fat but rather maintaining that level of leanness year-round once you’ve attained it. ‘Total Six Pack Abs’ is the full cutting strategy for losing exclusively body fat and maintaining/building lean muscle.
@Jean P. Johnny hit the nail on the head here. Try adding weight somehow to the point where you reach failure ‘on or before’ the 12th rep.
Very true! I like to teach people to focus on building lean muscle mass rather than keeping a constant eye on their mid section. I find that once they wrap their mind around the concept, they begin to shed some serious body fat. I still have a hard time convincing most of them to step away from the ab machine and start performing heavy compound exercises, but once they come over to “the dark” side, they begin to see some fat loss wile the pack on muscle mass.
Great Article Mark!
I have been doing 2 sets of 8-12 reps (12-16 for thighs and back) for over 2 years. my each set is ALWAYS to the failure. when i reached a sort of plateau, for a few months I tried adding a third set of low reps (4-6) but very heavy and saw good results. so basically i am more like in your camp than the opposite. but rencently saw a few articles that said if low rep sets are better than high rep ones then “why weight lifters don’t looks as big/strong as bodybuilders?” Here we are comparing a BB to a WL of same height/weight who can lift much more than a BB.
How would you answer this question ?
also i can understand why muscle magezines exagerate protein needs(they are directly/indrectly owned by supplment industry), but why would they lie about low/high reps?