The trouble with most online group training is that it’s generic programming written for the general population and takes no account of the needs of the mature lifter. Which is fine when you’re in your 20s and 30s and can generally get away with chasing the log book week after week. But while it’s ludicrous to think that our bodies spontaneously collapse as we hit 40, the older lifter does have very different training needs.
The Lean Living Blueprint is a program of physique development that’s been optimized for the mature trainee to keep you training into your 40s, 50s and beyond. It takes an intelligent and nuanced approach to building muscle that utilizes a variety of old-school training techniques that are strategically phased throughout the training year to keep your joints and connective tissue healthy.
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Frequently Asked Questions
We can’t create a personalized diet plan for everyone. But we can show you the EXACT steps we use when coaching a LOT of people over the years.
Our golden rule with nutrition? Keep diet AS SIMPLE AS POSSIBLE.
That not only means food that’s easy to shop, prep, and eat, but also easy to repeat. Because consistency is what drives success—the more consistent you are, the easier it is to get your body into a rhythm. That is where the magic really happens.
So as coaches, we build diet “templates” around someone’s natural eating tendencies, including the foods they enjoy, meal timing, and macro breakdowns. This creates minimal disruption and helps establish a rhythm as fast as possible.
And you should do the same. No need to turn your life totally upside down.
In simple terms, a calorie is a standardized unit of measurement of energy. From an exercise perspective calories are used as a measurement of energy expenditure, and on food labels it is commonly referred to as “kcal” and is an estimate of the food’s energy value.
This one could get long real quick, so let’s take a simplified look at what constitutes energy expenditure.
TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) is the total amount of energy you burn per day measured in calories. So when you or your coach calculates your “calorie target” we are generally calculating this TDEE number – even if we don’t use that explicit term.
The TDEE number take into account everything:
- The energy you need to simply be alive and exist on this fine planet (BMR)
- The energy you use walking around, being active, having sex (NEAT)
- The energy expended breaking down food into usable energy (TEF)
- The energy you expend in the gym doing cable concentration curls (EAT)
Now of course there is zero chance–and we mean absolutely ZERO chance–that your TDEE is the same any given day, nor that any calculation we perform is remotely accurate.
But that doesn’t matter. All such calculations are a guideline and starting point. They get us into the ballpark of where our numbers will be.
Of these constituent parts, the only one you really need to care about is NEAT – or Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.
Why? Because it’s a number you can take complete accountability for, and it’s the largest part of energy expenditure beyond your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) – a value you have no daily influence over.
Almost every food we eat contains energy. The amount of energy you get from food varies based on the composition of the food, the amount you eat and a plethora of physiological processes that we won’t delve into (e.g. gut health, hormones, disease etc.)
Here’s a few examples:
- One stalk of broccoli has just 50 calories
- One medium apple has 95 calories
- One medium avocado has 322 calories
What gives? An avocado is largely made of fat, while an apple and broccoli are predominantly carbohydrates, or carbs for short. And the carbs in an apple are largely made-up of natural sugars (fructose), while the carbs in broccoli are significantly lower in sugar. We’ll cover more on macronutrients (Protein, Carbs and Fats) just ahead, but for now, suffice to say that not all foods are created equal when it comes to calories.
How Much Should You Eat?
When considering energy balance, caloric intake (energy from food) is the most important factor in whether you lose or gain weight.
Without creating a caloric deficit you typically won’t lose fat. And without a caloric surplus, you won’t build much muscle.
So the first step in the process of determining your energy balance in calculating your maintenance calories (i.e. your approximate TDEE).
One way is to use an online calculator like this one: https://tdeecalculator.net
Alternatively, if you are currently weight-stable, you can track your caloric intake for three days and then calculate the daily average. Just be sure to use two work days and one weekend day. And for more accurate results, extend this five days and include the whole weekend (e.g. Thursday to Monday)
We typically use a combination of both.
To address the elephant in the room: tracking calories and macros SUCKS.
However, today it’s easier than ever. MyFitnessPal is one of many smartphone apps that helps you track your calories and macros. Other great options include Cronometer and FatSecret.
When you first start out, we recommend that you use a food scale to weigh your food portions.
It’s a very eye opening experience for you in regards to portion sizes and portion control. And no, you don’t have to do it forever. But it’s unmatched for bridging the gaps between what you eat and how much versus the calorie content.
After a month of tracking your caloric intake you should become quite good at eyeballing your portion sizes and have a good estimation of how many calories you’ve consumed throughout the day even without looking at your calorie counting app. Especially if you tend to eat many of the same foods each week.
Setting Calorie Targets
Once you have your estimated daily maintenance calories:
● If your current goal is fat loss subtract 500 calories.
● If your current goal is muscle building add 250 calories.
From here, just watch the scale, your waist measurements, and how you feel.
Note: you don’t need to necessarily hit the calorie target every day. You can look at your diet on a weekly basis instead.
For example, if your target is 2000 calories per day, you would aim for 14,000 for the week.
Some days you may not be quite as hungry and can get away with consuming fewer calories. Other days you may have a bigger appetite and feel the need to bump your calories up a bit. It’s kind of an intuitive calorie cycling approach.
As long as your average throughout the week is right around your caloric target and you stayed within your weekly goal of 14,000 calories, you’ll make progress.
Macronutrients provide energy in the form of calories and make up the three major components of food – fat, carbohydrates, and protein.
- Fat yields 9 calories per gram and is essential to our health supporting many of our essential bodily functions—including the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). Focus on eating healthy fats, such as oily fish (salmon, tuna and mackerel), avocados, nuts, olive oil, walnut oil, coconut oil etc. But remember, the calories still count.
- Carbohydrates yield 4 calories per gram and are broken down into glucose, which is our body’s first go-to energy source. Our body regulates blood-glucose levels with the hormone insulin. When blood glucose is too high, insulin will remove glucose from our blood stream and store the excess in our fat (or muscle) cells. Complex carbs, such as sweet potato, brown rice and quinoa are broken down into glucose slowly, causing a slow release of insulin and therefore regulating our blood glucose levels. Simple carbs like white bread, sugar, dried fruit get broken down quickly, causing a sharp increase in blood glucose and a spike in insulin levels. Which is actually helpful around exercise. However, all of this is subordinate to calorie levels in terms of whether you gain or lose weight.
- Protein yields 4 calories per gram and builds and repairs muscle tissue, strengthens our immune system, and transports oxygen through the blood. Protein is made up of 22 amino acids, nine of which are essential and cannot be made by the body. Therefore, these essential amino acids must come from our diet. Animal protein sources contain all essential amino acids, although it is possible to get what you need through plant-based foods.
Calculating Your Macros
The first macronutrient to set is protein.
One gram of protein per pound of body weight is the industry standard among bodybuilders and has plenty of research to support it.
- Protein is more important during hypocaloric (diet) phases to help mitigate muscle breakdown, so closer to 1.2 grams per pound might be beneficial when calories are below maintenance.
- On the other hand, 0.8 grams per pound body weight should be sufficient during weight gain phases due to the protein sparing nature carbs and fat.
The next micronutrient is fat.
Most people function and perform well consuming ~0.3 grams of fat per pound of body weight. But if you have a natural preference for higher fat foods, you can go as high as 0.5 grams per pound body weight.
For health purposes 0.25 grams of fat per pound body weight is the minimum recommendation. Or no less than 15% of your total daily caloric intake.
The remaining calories will come from carbohydrates.
Carbs play an important role with how well you perform in the gym. They are also an important contributor to muscle growth. So if you’re finding that your energy is low and your workouts are suffering, you may want to adjust your macros to make a little more room for carbs.
- Ideally, approximately half of your carbohydrate intake for the day should be consumed around your workout, divided into the pre and post workout period.
To give you an example, let’s go with someone who weighs 175 pounds, has a caloric target of 2400 calories, and has a natural tendency toward eating carbs over fat.
- Protein (175 x 1 gram = 175 grams)
- 1 gram of protein is approximately 4 calories. So 175 grams of protein equals 700 calories.
- Fat (175 x 0.3 = 52 grams)
- 1 gram of fat is approximately 9 calories. So 52 grams of fat equals 468 calories, which is within the healthy range for fat intake.
- Carb intake will come from the remaining calories.
- To determine this you will take the caloric target (2400 calories) and subtract the protein (700 calories) and fat (468 calories).
- 2400 – 700 – 468 = 1232 remaining calories for carbs.
- With 1 gram of carbs being approximately 4 calories, you will divide 1232 by 4, which equals 308 grams.
So the calorie and macro targets for the 175-pound person in this example are;
- Calories: 2400
- Protein: 175 grams
- Fat: 52 grams
- Carbs: 308 grams
Now keep in mind, the keys are the calories and protein levels.
Carbs and fat can vary widely. So don’t turn yourself into knots trying to hit the same macro breakdown every day.
If you’re thinking about supplements before putting real work into your training and nutrition plan then you are setting yourself up for serious disappointment.
THEY ARE NOT ESSENTIAL.
You can build aesthetic muscle and get ripped by consuming nothing but whole foods. The benefit of supplements is mainly convenience, and perhaps plugging any holes in your whole-food diet.
Whey is a convenient, cost effective form of high quality protein and an ideal supplement to help you maintain protein intake in a calorie reduced environment. Soy and pea protein isolates are also good choices for those with dairy intolerance or following a plant-based nutrition plan.
Creatine is among the most well-researched and effective supplements. It can help with exercise performance by rapidly producing energy during activity. Creatine may also provide cognitive benefits.
There’s no need for the fancy, dressed up creatine blends. Simply opt for creatine monohydrate. It’s inexpensive and has the most research behind it.
Fish oil has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and research reveals fat loss and muscle building benefits when the concentrated dose is approximately 4 grams, containing 1.86 grams EPA and 1.5 grams DHA.
Consuming concentrated fish oil appears to have both an anti-catabolic effect and anabolic effect on muscle.
Vitamin D3 deficiency is rampant. This can have a negative impact on your hormones, immune system, and even mood. It’s a good idea to get your 25-hydroxy vitamin D3 levels checked twice a year. During the winter months when you are less exposed to the sun’s rays, it’s typically a good idea for many of us to supplement with vitamin D3.
Exercise tempo refers to the timing of an exercise through the eccentric (lowering, lengthening) and concentric (raising, contracting) phases of movement, along with any pauses (holds) at peak contraction/extension.
The notation looks like this:
The values within the notation are either a number in seconds, or an “X”. The X indicates that the movement should be explosive, i.e. as fast as possible. NOTE: This does not mean sloppy or ballistic. It just means DRIVE the bar as fast as possible (even though it may move slowly due to the heavy load).
Example 1 — Barbell Squat with 3-1-1-0 tempo
3 — Eccentric (lower)
1 — Pause At Bottom
1 — Concentric (lift)
0 — Pause At Top
Lower the barbell slowly over 3 seconds.
Pause briefly at the bottom of the squat for 1 second.
Drive the bar up smoothly to the starting position.
DO NOT Pause and straight into the next rep.
Example 2 — Dumbell Curl with 5-2-1-1 tempo
5 — Eccentric (lower)
2 — Pause At Bottom
1 — Concentric (lift)
1 — Pause At Top
Lower the dumbbells slowly over 5 seconds.
Pause/hold at full stretch for 2 seconds.
Curl the dumbbells smoothly to the top position.
Pause/hold peak contraction for 1 second.
How much rest is needed between sets is VERY personal and performance dependent. As a result, we don’t often prescribe rest intervals in our training programs.
You should rest as needed between exercises and supersets to ensure a strong performance.
Generally speaking ~90 seconds between sets is sufficient, with longer rest intervals (2-3 minutes) after completing a heavy compound movement like squats. For supersets, the time transitioning between movements is usually enough rest.
Here are some training terms that will be used throughout your time here in the Lean Living Blueprint.
Concentric—The phase of movement within an exercise where the target muscle is undergoing contraction (shortening). E.g. the concentric part of the biceps curl is during the curling upward of the weight as you flex at the elbow (i.e. the biceps are shortening).
Eccentric—The phase of movement with an exercise where the target muscle is undergoing extension (lengthening). E.g. The eccentric part of the back squat is the lowering of the barbell as your flex at the knee (i.e. the quadriceps are lengthening).
Rep—One performance of a single exercise. E.g. one biceps curl, one leg press
Set—A number of repetitions performed without stopping. E.g. 10 biceps curls is one set of ten repetitions
Warmup or Feeder Set—The sets you perform to help activate the target muscle and build to your working weight. You’ll usually perform 1-3 feeder sets depending on the exercise and position in your workout.
Working Set—Working sets refer to the number of sets you perform at the target rep-range. So an exercise indicated at 3 x 8 means 3 working sets at a load you can use to achieve ~8 reps.
Cluster Set or Muscle Rounds—A rep scheme designed to take you past the point of muscular failure with a given load. Usually, this technique will have you build to a weight you can complete ~10 reps with and then proceed to use that load weight to get six sets of four reps with a very short rest interval between.
For example, with a bent over row you might build through feeder sets to a weight you could get 10 reps with. You would then perform 6 sets of 4 reps with just 10 seconds rest (or five deep breaths) between sets.
The number of sets, reps and duration of rest may change. But this style of training set will be referred to as a cluster set or muscle round.
Tempo—The speed at which one repetition is performed. It’s denoted with 4 numbers (ex. 4-0-1-0). Each of the 4 numbers is in seconds. The first number represents the speed of the movement that follows one repetition, the second is the pause, the third is the action phase of the movement, and the fourth is the pause.
Using the bench press as an example:
- the first number denotes the speed at which the weight is lowered
- the second is the pause at the bottom
- the third is the speed at which the bar is pressed
- and the fourth is the pause at the top
Rest—The rest is the time in seconds between two sets.
ROM—Range of Motion. In terms of your body, this represents the ability of a joint to express the fullest extent of its intended movement pattern. In terms of exercise, ROM refers to working the target muscle from a point of maximal extension through to peak contraction. To use the biceps curl as an example, full ROM would be from full extension (i.e. arm hanging straight with your biceps fully extended) to peak contraction (i.e. elbow fully flexed with biceps shortened to peak contraction).
Pause— We program a pause into some movements to help you build strength at certain points within a movement pattern. A good example is the Pause Squat. Here, you lower the barbell as normal, but you then pause at the bottom of the movement before driving back to the starting position. The length of the pause can vary based on the exercise and the intensity of the movement.
Superset—Two movements where you perform one set of each exercise before resting and moving on to set two. For example, if we superset bench press and barbell row, you would perform one set of bench press followed by one set of barbell rows, and then take your rest.
Giant Set—Multiple movements (usually no more than five) where you perform one set of each exercise before resting and moving on to set two.
RPE—Rate of Perceived Exertion. To help us gauge and communicate the level of exertion with physical activity, we use a RPE scale.
RIR—Reps in Reserve. With resistance training (lifting/moving weights for reps), it can be harder to select the appropriate level of exertion from the RPE scale. Therefore, many trainers use a separate scale for weight training that considers reps in reserve, or RIR for short. Reps in reserve is referring to how many more reps you could have completed with good form before failing to move the weight through the full range of motion.
To give you an example using dumbbell curls, if you complete eight reps and think you could get just two more reps before hitting “failure”, you would record that set as 8 with 2-RIR.
Progressive Overload—Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training. Said differently, if we don’t increase our training stimulus over time, our body will have no need to adapt. So whether it’s one more rep, one more set, 5 lbs more on the bar, or the same reps and load performed more easily… we must strive for progression to see results.
Training Sessions Should Be Short
Long training sessions (generally anything over 60 minutes; not including the warm-up and cool down) are ineffective for rapid fat loss. From what we’ve observed with clients, performance and attention generally starts falling after 45 minutes or so. Thus a shorter session usually means deeper focus and higher intensities.
Training Sessions Should Be Intense
Intensity is one of the most important variables for fat loss. The simplest way to increase your intensity is to shorten rest periods. Now, I’m not saying to make yourself throw up, but you should also not be able to carry on a casual conversation between sets or play Angry Birds on your cell phone! Shorter rest periods also means a shorter total workout time—a double win.
Training Must Be Consistent
If you want to see results, you must do the work and do it often. You can have the best one-off training sessions in the world. But it’s WAY better to have merely “good” workouts on a consistent basis. We’re not striving for perfection here, but the more workouts you can string together, the better your progress will be.
Cardio is good for your body, good for your heart and good for your mind. It’s also an excellent form of active recovery, helping to reduce soreness and push fresh blood through tired muscles. However, too much cardio can eat into our time, energy levels and even interfere with our training.
It’s also worth noting that we don’t NEED to do cardio to burn fat. With a calorie controlled diet and program of resistance training, we can likely burn all the fat we need to. However, adding cardio to the mix can increase fat loss and reduce the total time needed to get lean.
If you enjoy cardio, we’ll find a way to work it into your program and weekly schedule. However, if we suggest cardio for you, it will likely take the form of either walking or High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT for short.
Primer on HIIT
With HIIT, you alternate intense periods of work with periods of rest/reduced intensity. Studies have shown that HIIT can be more effective for fat loss than traditional distance cardio, largely due to the extended period of post-exercise calorie burn we experience with this type of exercise.
An example of HIIT would be to run at about RPE 7-8 for 20 seconds and then walk or jog at RPE 2-3 for 40 seconds. That’s one “interval”.
We might repeat this anywhere from three to ten times, depending on the goals and your level of fitness. We will also adjust the interval durations and ratio of work to rest.
Since we’re not physically there with you, it’s important that you build the skill of “listening to your body”. If an exercise (movement, joint, muscle) doesn’t feel right, don’t push it; your body is usually trying to tell you something!
However, it’s also worth pointing out that nothing may “feel right” at the start – especially if you are new to lifting weights or new to a particular style of training. However, this type of feeling usually manifests as feeling clumsy, awkward or generally uncoordinated vs experiencing any type of pain.
Good Pain vs. Bad Pain
Mild discomfort is part of the exercise process, and is necessary for the improvement of performance and physique.
The Burn is usually good pain. It should be short-lived, localized to the muscles being worked and lasts only during the exercise (and up to a minute after too).
Fatigue after a workout should leave you exhilarated, but not exhausted. Fatigue that lasts days means you have been excessively challenged and your muscles and energy stores are not being replenished properly. Chronic fatigue is referred to as “overreaching” and is not good.
Soreness is common, especially for muscles that have not been exercised for long periods of time, or when you perform an exercise you are not accustomed to. Soreness typically begins within a few hours, but can peak two days after exercise. This is referred to as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and is normal when beginning a new fitness program. Notify us of any extreme soreness that may occur and we’ll adjust your plan accordingly.
Bad Pain is usually caused by the improper execution of an exercise or some other limitation in physiology or range or motion. Nothing should ever really “hurt” during training. Immediately notify us and/or a physician of any sharp or sudden pains, swelling, or any unnatural feelings in your joints or ligaments.