Tag: fitness

Losing Weight While Gaining Muscle

Losing weight while gaining muscle is a topic I hear a lot about. From the people I coach, from other trainers, on message boards and comment threads. It’s a popular topic. A long time ago I went to a seminar for personal trainers. I had lunch with a handful of them and the topic of losing weight while gaining muscle came up among us. One of them was an online and phone remote trainer. There’s nothing wrong with that. I do that now, so I can respect that. He worked for a national chain. When I pointed out the extreme difficulty and unlikelihood of losing weight while gaining muscle, he replied:

That’s just not true. 100% of our clients lose weight while gaining muscle. Our system works for everyone all the time. You’re just wrong.

I didn’t bother talking to him after he quoted their marketing materials. I’m sure there’s some weird set of conditions for claiming that grossly exaggerated number. The fact is that it is very difficult. If it were as easy as he claimed everyone would be doing it. You could buy it in a pill bottle labeled “Lose Weight Gain Muscle”. You could read a $.99 ebook and wake up the next morning totally buff and without body fat.


losing weight while gaining muscle is very difficult - 12% bodyfat
losing weight while gaining muscle is very difficult – 12% bodyfat

Are you tough enough for losing weight while gaining muscle?

Sadly, losing weight while gaining muscle is asking your body to do two completely different things at the exact same time. In general, to gain muscle, you need to train your muscles with a bodybuilding protocol. You will do a moderate volume of training at heavy weights. You will go to failure. Your muscle cells will grow and multiply. With more and bigger muscles you will weigh more. This is simple math with simple proven medical science. Your metabolism will adjust so that you can rest more while muscle growth occurs. Sometimes you will have to eat more. If losing weight while gaining muscle is your goal, the trick is to interrupt the resting process and lose more fat weight than the weight of the muscle you gain. This (lose weight gain muscle) is a fine line to walk metabolically, physically, and psychologically.

Most people cannot do it. When you set your goal on losing weight, you generally cut your calories down to a really small number and do lots of cardio. You could lose weight for a while, but a lot of that would be muscle weight as well. You won’t be getting enough calories to keep your muscle mass intact. You wouldn’t be stimulating your muscles to preserve themselves with weight and strength training. This is one major failing common to most of the unguided attempts at losing weight.

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“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” — Abe Lincoln

225 pounds of Charles Miske in August 2005
225 pounds of Charles Miske in August 2005

When your goal is to lose fat you cut your calories down to a specific level, do cardio at a specific level, and weight train at a specific level. Normally you could train either at high weights and low volume, or low weights and high volume. The idea is to create just enough stimulus to your muscles to preserve them as you lose fat. I recommend that most people start here and work their way up to the body composition they dream of. Turn your dream into a goal with directed action that follows a specific plan.

Losing weight while gaining muscle: My Experience

It is possible. I’ve done it a few times. But losing weight while gaining muscle is tough. Dang tough. Without a support system, without logging and journaling, without an accountability partner system in place, without proper goal setting and achievement, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I was training for Elbrus Race 2010 the first time I successfully put on muscle while losing fat. I was really motivated to suffer, no matter what.

Your major directing goal should be something that wakes you up in the morning and rolls you out of bed and gets you moving. You should be excited every minute of every day. — from the Steve House seminar in Ouray Colorado

180 pounds of Charles Miske in November 2011
180 pounds of Charles Miske in November 2011

I did it a few other times as I trained for Elbrus Race 2012 and 2013. I’m doing it right now for Elbrus Race 2014. And having been through it a few times now I can honestly say that most people shouldn’t even worry about losing weight while gaining muscle. Most people should lose that fat. Stabilize. Then they can work toward their sports performance goals. Then they can work toward their body composition goals.

You want to gain the most muscle in the shortest time?

The way I see it training volume is the amount of work you do in a workout, averaged over time. Work is loosely defined as force x distance in elementary physics. We’ll think of force as the amount of weight or resistance you’re going to generate to move a weight. The good old fashioned iron weights work best for explaining this train of thought. If you lift a 100 pound iron weight 2’ that’s work. The math becomes a bit trickier when you add in pulleys and cables and bands and bent fiberglass wands or fan blades in a cage. You know which machines I mean, right?

But even if you are using one of those machines you can still use many of these principles to measure your training volume for all practical purposes. My own experience is that I subtly decrease my training volume when confronted with a plateau in my training. My clients have reinforced that opinion over time. It’s surprising how you do it and don’t even notice. — from Weight Training Secret Manual: 8 Hacks to Beat the Plateau

Don’t fall prey to the plateau! For the optimum goal – lose weight gain muscle – combine the diet plan book below with my new “Weight Training Secret Manual: 8 Hacks to Beat the Plateau” and get on the fast track to muscle growth and strength.


You really want to give it your best?

You really want to try losing weight while gaining muscle. What’s that worth to you in time and effort and ambition and sticking to it with rock solid tenacity? I trained for up to 4 hours a day. Now and then even more. I had partners I shared my training and nutrition journals with. I had 100% support from my family and loved ones.

How about you?

Would you train for 2 hours a day 6 days a week and log every single last set and rep and tenth of a mile in your training journal? Would you eat strictly according to simple 5th grade math and sound scientific principles? Would you do that over and over in 6 week cycles until you had achieved your goal? What is that worth $100/mo? $80/mo? $60/mo? What if it were only $10/week to have your

  • Training and nutrition journals analyzed and assessed
  • Your strengths magnified
  • Your weaknesses countered
  • Your success amplified

Would you sign up for all of that if it meant losing weight while gaining muscle?

Losing weight while gaining muscle – Diet – the starting point to success

In my book “The 100 Calorie Diet Plan” I outline some of the steps in this plan. I describe journaling, food portion control, how to determine your actual scientific caloric needs, how to create your own daily menu, how to create your own weight training program. Most of all I explain how to create goals and measure progress. CLICK HERE if you want to know more.


Band Sissy Squats

In my previous Blast Strap Sissy Squat article I showed a variation of the Sissy Squat supported by straps hung from a power rack. Today I’ll show a variation using a large rubber band. You can get these online from a variety of places, my personal favorite being EliteFTS.

In this variation you’re much less stable, and don’t break (fold) at the hips. This puts more of the force directly on the quads, but for some people the stress on the knee might not be acceptable, so be cautious – go slow till you know. I had previously experimented with a few sizes of bands, to roughly negate my weight at full stretch about a foot off the floor. In my case that was the Jump Stretch Green, or Strong Band. YMMV. You can fine-tune the force of the band by choking up or down on it with your hands. Don’t use too light of a band and just drop – you’ll hit the floor hard. Trust me…

Hang on and use your quads to slowly descend and ascend, hinging at the knees. Use your core to hold your knees to shoulders in a straight line. Hold your arms and hands neutral – don’t yank on the band. Slow and stead is the proper method.

Remember too that this is an accessory, or extra motion if you’re already training hard. Something to flush blood and toxins, or warm up, or cool down, or get the quads pre-fatigued so that the effects of other leg training can be modified for your goals. It’s also great for rehab or working up to doing full squats.


Pre-Fatigue: if you want to focus more on your posterior (hams/glutes) in a squat or deadlift, pre-fatigue, or train your quads to a good tired, worked state, so that they are relied upon less in your other lifts. Many bodybuilders use this concept in their quest to do full-body complete training for balance and symmetry. Others of us might not have to worry about it, but if you are really quad-dominant, you might experiment to see if that gives your hams an added boost. It might be worth the effort.


Seated Calf Raise Machine

This video shows me doing one of the most common calf training exercises, the seated calf raise. I normally do sets of 25 at 85 pounds on the arm. I’ve never checked the amount of leverage, but the weights are at the end of the arm, with your knees about the middle of the arm, so if you just do the math that way, it’s about a 5/8 mechanical disadvantage, but the weights swing about a pivot point that your butt sits around, so not sure if that helps or hurts? I’d have to use some type of scale to measure.

ice climbing in Ouray Colorado
Ice Climbing takes strong flexible calf muscles

Anyway, physics aside, I like to push fast on the way up, and slow it on the way down. In the video you can see the muscles of my right calf, in spite of the Zensah Compression Leg Sleeves.

A good idea, especially for beginners, is to get some sensory feedback going by lightly tapping your calf muscles with a few fingertips to make sure they’re good and flexed. It’s best if you let your heels go as far down as possible to get a good stretch since your calf muscles are typically pretty tight – you generally use them all day every day just walking around.


You could also experiment with a few little pulses or bounces at the top and bottom, but please be gentle so you don’t tear anything. A Seated Calf Machine could be pretty expensive (I got mine on clearance as a floor model at a local fitness store) for a decent model, but if you belong to a club, most have some version of it that you could figure out in a heartbeat.

Strong calf muscles help with ice climbing, rock climbing, hiking, and general scrambling on rocks. If you’re going to run for training, your calf can help stabilize your ankles and prevent injury, especially shin splints.

Ultimate Upper Body Cardio Training

Concept2 SkiErg Training

The moment I saw a clip of this in action, I knew this would be the most awesome training for low-angle ice, or glacier climbing ever. I think it was originally intended for cross country ski training, and having done some XC skiing way back in the day, I can see the benefit already. I am using poles for a lot of my vertical hiking – another perfect training application.

I ordered the wall-mount model direct from Concept2, and got the PM4 monitor (the higher end of the two monitors available). It took about a week to arrive. After hauling it down to my basement, it really took only a couple hours to assemble and install. Note that I do have exposed studs and no baseboard molding which might have helped it go faster. Also, advice to anyone else doing this – don’t tighten any screws on the sleeve in the middle of the main column until all the screws are started.

I decided to give it a few minutes spin to figure it out and see what I could do. The motion was simple enough, and after messing around I figured out various ways to stand for core activation, and balance and stability training. I’ve been training with it now for a little over a week, including the past 6 days after cracking 2 ribs. Yeah, I probably shouldn’t be doing this, but I can stabilize my core and relax it, using just my upper lats. I wish I could go now, but it will be a few weeks before I can try ice climbing again (4-6 weeks recovery for my ribs) to see if it helps. I’ll let you know.

After this I also did an experiment to extend my range of motion and then do a concentrated squeeze in my central back between my shoulder blades (rhomboid area). This short clip shows that.

Why Am I Doing This?

If you are interested in training at all, reading all the really good information in books, articles and forums on the net, you’ll see a lot of devoted fanboyz pushing their magic pills and formulas.

Train like a powerlifter. Olympic lifter. 400 Savage Paleo lifter. Functional. Bodybuilder. Complicated set and rep schedules that take software to figure out and track. Weakness Of the Day randomness.

You’ll also see them rip on each other. No bands, no gloves, or wraps, or straps. Metal suits, reduced Range Of Motion, maximum ROM. No machines, no cardio, no heat. Yeah.

So how do you wade through this morass? Think for a minute.

Why am I doing this?

Plank with feet on box
Plank with feet on Box

Yeah, think about it seriously. Why would you train like a Bodybuilder? You want to be a Bodybuilder. Why train like an Olympic Lifter? You want to be an Olympic Lifter. What about you? You want to go chop up Trojans? You want to set a PR in a Powerlifting Comp? You want to wheelbarrow race in bleachers with sacks of concrete? What do you want to do?

I’m assuming since you’re here, you want to climb mountains. What does that involve?

I feel like you should probably spend about 70% of your resources on cardio, and the remainder on weights. I’m not a big fan of “functional” and later I’ll explain why that works for me, but if you have a real, unimaginary issue, please put your 30% into that instead of weights for a few months, then evolve into weight training.

What type of weights should you do? What do you have, or have access to? A Glute Ham Raise is awesome, but it’s a rare gym you would probably belong to that has one, and it’s very expensive for a limited-use machine and the “bang-for-the-buck” is pretty low. Unless you’re shooting for a 500lb deadlift 😉

Wraps and straps and gloves? You’re training to climb a mountain, but you also have a life. You have to support your expensive mountaineering habit somehow, right? Gloves protect your hands from the knurling on the bar, so you can type or whatever it is you do. Wrist and finger muscles are tiny. They take a long time to develop for most people. If your fingers can only do three reps with the weight that your big muscles can do ten of, you need straps. If weak wrists are the only thing preventing you from doing pushups, then get your wrists wrapped.

Olympic Lifts are dynamic, complicated chains of events in 3D paths. You can hurt yourself very badly by missing a perfect arc. Search youtube for dislocated olympic lifters – these are the best in the world too. In a normal mountain climbing environment, you should never have to do anything involving major swings, leaps, or anything else plyometric. Vertical Limit aside …

Bodybuilding? Ten sets of every single little muscle every day is a bit much, in time and recovery. You should think about having a little bit more mass, but not so much that you are too big and heavy to get around. Muscles are a great fat-burning furnace to keep you warm and efficient as a cardio machine. A little strength is good for dragging packs around, lifting them onto your back, chopping steps in a headwall, cutting out a tent platform, digging a snow cave. Yeah, the fun stuff.

So, in this article I’m not telling you what to do, or what works, but rather to guide you in your search for knowledge to look at the big picture. Knowing your long-term goals of fitness and health, as you read articles and training programs, and ask yourself:

Does this make sense in the context of training for mountaineering?

Remember, you’re not training for a specific sport, like Power or Olympic Lifting. So who cares if you use bands or wraps or straps or chains? Who cares if you use a large or small range of motion? Heavy or moderate or light weights? A little bit of this, and a little bit of that, without getting hung up in dogma. It’s all good if it helps you achieve your goal.

These are all just little examples, to give you a jumpstart. Think about it for yourself. Be smart.