By Nate Miyaki
[Editor's Note: Nate Miyaki is a new contributor to our site, and the creator of the Body Composition Training 101 series. Nate is a personal trainer, a body-builder and the proprietor of Senshi Fitness. In this article, he lays out the principles of his Body Composition series; starting next week, we'll be publishing the workouts, exercises and training principles that make up the program.]
I have a very important question I want to ask you. Ready? Why are you working out? Seriously. What is your primary health or fitness-related reason for exercising? Are you being honest with yourself about why you’re at the gym? There are many reasons to engage in a regular exercise program. The most common—though often the least discussed—is to look good in a suit, in board shorts, in your pink Speedo, or, even better, naked. Technically, we could call that appearance-based training. This is the aspect of strength training that I am most concerned with, both for myself and for those I advise. And, it is the method of training I’m going to describe in this and future articles.
Here's the deal: If you want to get optimal results from your exercise efforts, your training program must match your training goals. My passion is to work with people whose primary reason for exercising is to change their body composition and look better. This could be a complete beginner who is severely de-conditioned and has a lot of weight to lose, an advanced bodybuilder or physique model/competitor, or anyone in between. It doesn’t matter—if your primary reason for exercising is to drop fat and or gain lean muscle, you are a physique athlete to me. And a physique athlete needs an exercise program directed at the goal of changing his body composition.
If this is you, you should not be ashamed, nor feel alone. I would bet that 80% of the people that walk into a gym are primarily training to attain some kind of a “beach bod.” Don’t be embarrassed about it. Just embrace it. Trust me, as a body composition trainer and nutrition adviser by profession, a fitness competitor/model as a side gig, and a natural bodybuilder at heart, I get it more than anyone else you know. If you are checking yourself out in the mirror more than three times a day, your goals are related to body composition change. Otherwise, you are just completely in love with yourself. And unfortunately and embarrassingly enough, I understand that too.
Just Be Honest
The problem is people will come up with a bunch of other reasons for why they are training because they are ashamed to admit a little bit of vanity. "Oh, I want better balance and posture, or I want to get healthier and feel better, or I want to get stronger and faster." Sure, maybe you want some of those things too, and there is overlap, but you have to prioritize to get optimal results. What's the number one reason why you are training? It's to look good, baby. You don't want better balance or strength on the dance floor, poolside, or beach. You want to turn heads and make everyone around you just a little bit jealous. Until you admit that, you do nothing but confuse yourself, and those trying to give you relevant, effective and applicable advice.
Once you come to the conclusion that changing your appearance is your primary exercise goal, it is imperative that your training program is structured in a way that matches that training goal. If it’s not, as is the case for many who just blindly follow the latest and greatest trends in the gym or media, or the "training systems" propagated by dogmatic trainers and instructors, your results will be less than optimal. You can’t just do something at the gym. You have to do the right thing based on your goals.
If you only remember one concept from this article, I hope that it is this: training for overall health, rehabilitation, posture/alignment, endurance, sport performance, stress relief, to save the cheerleader, to save the world—whatever—they’re all different than training for appearance. Training to optimize physique enhancement necessitates a unique, targeted approach.
Why Body Composition 101?
I wrote the Body Composition Training 101 series because there is too much confusion in the industry. I wanted to use science to separate out the core strength training principles geared towards physique development/fat loss from the principles of other styles of training, so we can finally get you training effectively and efficiently for your cosmetic goals. If your primary goal is to build muscle and drop body fat, and you spend your one hour at the gym lying on the floor doing stretches and pelvic tilts or balancing on a ball or wobble board, I'd say your program doesn't match your goals. It may be great for improving balance, core strength, and alignment, but it’s not doing much for body composition enhancement. You need exercises that are more metabolically and muscularly demanding.
Boot camp, cross training drills, spin classes, aerobics classes, etc. may be great for sport performance, but they are not ideal for physique development. They challenge your cardiovascular and muscular endurance, but don't provide enough volume, intensity, or localized muscular overload to trigger an adaptive response. Having your ass kicked is different than building your ass. Let the diet take care of "burning" fat. Your training program needs to be geared towards building/preserving lean muscle mass. That’s how you change a body. And my theory is that if you have bodybuilding goals (dropping body fat and gaining/maintaining lean muscle mass are bodybuilding goals whether you are a bodybuilder or not), then you should be training like a bodybuilder, not like a rehabilitation patient or performance athlete.
Many people have a negative association with bodybuilding, and for good reason. They immediately think the unhealthy, pharmaceutically loaded chemical experiments, cartoonish physiques, growth hormone abuse/five-months-pregnant-looking guts, ‘roid-rage "meatheads", etc. That's not what I'm talking about here. That's why I've called it Body Composition Training, not Bodybuilding Training. I'm talking more about real, natural, fit, attractive physiques—full chest, pumped arms, sprinter legs, tight waist, shredded six-pack—that’s the idea. If it helps, think about Muscle & Fitness or Men's Health cover model-looks. That's what I’m talking about. That's what I want to look like. And if you’re doing my workouts, that should be what you want to look like, too.
I'm not trying to be a fitness bully and put down other modes of training. There is a time and place for every style of training, and in many instances other modes of training are superior to body composition training. The flip side to the coin I am presenting is that endurance or sport performance athletes definitely should not be training like appearance-based, body composition athletes. We all just need to critically analyze our program design, and make sure it is aligned with our specific goals.
Ten Training Principles
My Body Composition Training 101 series is the science behind “cosmetic training”. It’s the reasoning behind why you should set up your training programs a certain way if your primary goal is to change your appearance, look good at the beach, build big guns, bare a six pack, etc. No, you don’t need to spend an hour balancing on balls (the stability kind, that is) or killing yourself in a boot camp or spin class. You need old school, basic weight training exercises. What does that mean? Here are my 10 basic principles of training specifically for cosmetic enhancement:
- Cut out (or at least limit) long distance endurance training, a.k.a. traditional cardio. Instead, make anaerobic activity—strength training, and to a lesser extent interval-based cardio—the foundation of your exercise program.
- Strength train three to five days a week. Give yourself two to three days off from training to optimize recovery (although outdoor walking is cool).
- Keep workouts to about 30-60 minutes. Intensity is more important than duration.
- Train each body part once every five to seven days. Use body part splits over full body/total body training. Train one to three muscle groups per session.
- Perform three to five exercises for large muscle groups, two to three exercises for small muscle groups. Perform two to four sets per exercise. Perform six to 15 reps per set. Rest 45 to 120 seconds per set.
- Focus on basic exercises—squats, deadlifts, various presses and rows. Save the fluff for the weekend warriors. Focus mostly on free weights, using machines to supplement.
- Keep the rep tempos around two seconds up, two seconds down. Lower weight under control, lift under control, and don’t pause or lockout to rest in between reps. Don’t cheat by swinging or using rebound/momentum. Keep constant tension on the muscle.
- Focus on stimulating and overloading the muscle, not just how much weight you lift. Think about feeling the muscle work during the set, not just on moving a weight from point A to point B.
- Switch training variables. Vary—within the confines of the overall parameters—regularly (exercises, order of exercises, reps, etc.) in order to change the training stimulus.
- Try to enjoy the process.
So if your primary goal is body composition change, let’s get this thing rolling. I’m going to get us started next time with a workout designed to make your body change, and follow that up with some thoughts on exercise frequency. And in each case, remember—the goal is to get to looking good. Anything that doesn’t advance that goal, we’re not going to do. Buckle up.
About Nate Miyaki: Nate Miyaki is a certified personal trainer (ACE), a certified specialist in Sport's Nutrition (ISSA), and a certified specialist in Fitness Nutrition (ISSA). He is a competitive natural bodybuilder and has worked as a freelance fitness model and writer. He is the owner of Senshi Fitness, a private personal training and nutrition consulting practice based in San Francisco, Ca. For more information visit www.natemiyaki.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/NateMiyaki.