Planning A Year Of Training & Nutrition For Physique Development

Specific results NEVER happen without a specific plan. 

Despite all of the hard work you’ve put into the gym and the kitchen over the last few years, you still don’t have the physique you want (you might even feel like your progress has been stagnant for a while now).

And there’s one reason for this: EFFORT alone isn’t enough (we both know you work your ass off when you have a goal - effort isn’t the missing piece for you in most areas of your life)

You’re missing the planning, periodization, structure, and specificity (with both your training and nutrition) needed to finally achieve your best physique ever. 

2021 will be the year you change that… if you’re willing to take a more structured, evidence-based approach to transforming your body, and commit to learning how to properly plan your training & nutrition across the year. 

This time next year, you could have completely transformed your body… or you could be stuck in the same rut you’re in now. 

Choice is yours. 

So if you’re ready to finally achieve the level of aesthetics AND performance you’ve always wanted, today’s blog is your complete guide to planning out your year month-by-month for the ultimate physique transformation.

Month 1

NUTRITION STRATEGY: BUILDING

We’re starting Month 1 off embracing one simple truth… most people haven’t spent enough time focusing on fueling their performance and building muscle. 

Instead, you’ve likely spent most of your training career dieting and trying to get leaner. 

And while your goal physique likely does entail you being a bit leaner than you are currently, we’re actually going to start this year off focusing on building rather than losing. 

This might sound counterintuitive at first, but really time dedicated to building is likely exactly what you’re missing. 

Because most men & women alike who start online coaching with us don’t yet have the amount of lean muscle needed to achieve the physiques they want. 

And for someone who’s been training as consistently as you have for 2+ years, you likely won’t be able to add much muscle without going through a proper building phase. 

Basically, what we’re doing now - although not instantly gratifying like starting with a fat loss phase would be - is going to set you up to have a much better body composition later in the year (and for the rest of your life). 

This is periodization in a nutshell - stepping away from the micro view of “what do I need to do to achieve the best physique NOW?”... which is the mistake most new online clients were making before working with us... and getting you to consider the macro view of “what does my next year(s) need to look like to achieve my greatest potential?”

Building Phase Guidelines

→ Rate Of Gain: Aim to gain .25-.5% of body weight every two weeks. 

Building muscle is a very slow process, and you just don't need to eat that many calories over your maintenance intake to build muscle.  

We also know that you can build muscle without eating in a calorie surplus (eating more calories than you're burning), but eating a bit above your maintenance intake creates an environment that's more optimal for building lean muscle.  

Unlike most body recomposition scenarios (where you're losing fat and building muscle simultaneously), here we're actively pushing you to slowly gain weight. 

We know that you're not in a calorie deficit, and therefore not losing fat. So if you're not gaining weight through the building phase, you're simply not building muscle.  

Again, seeing the scale increase is a scary thing for most people at first. But this is 100% necessary to continue to improve your body composition as a more intermediate to advanced trainee. 

Let's say last time you got super lean you were ~10% body fat at 170lbs. If the next time you get near 10% body fat, you again weigh 170lbs... we know that you didn't add much (if any muscle) since last time you got this lean - your body composition will be VERY similar. 

But, if next time you're near ~10% you weigh 180lbs, we know you have more lean muscle, and therefore a much better body composition.

Getting heavier at any given body fat percentage over time is a must to actually continue to progress your physique over time. Even when you're super lean, being heavier than you were last time you were here is good. 

→ Making Macro Adjustments 

You undoubtedly know at least one person who seems to eat whatever they want without gaining weight. Maybe you are that person. 

In reality, people like this either: Haven’t accurately tracked their calorie intake before. They likely eat a lot - at times - and then subconsciously adapt by going long periods of time without eating. 

This is extremely common with new online clients that claim they can't build muscle or add weight.  

See, in response to overfeeding (eating in a calorie surplus), some people will naturally (without even being conscious of it) increase NEAT. This increases your daily calories burned, and in turn prevents weight gain, despite the fact that you're eating more. 

Now, how a clients metabolism reacts to a calorie surplus is highly individual (this is the beauty of having a coach - to see trends and adjust the plan specifically to you). 

So, if you’re NOT seeing increases in weight, body measurements (outside of the belly measurements), or strength in the gym after two week, it’s time to increase calories. Increase your total calorie intake by 5% (via carbs)

Continue this weekly until you're gaining in the recommended range. 

If you’re surpassing the recommend rate of gain for 2+ weeks, you’re likely adding unwanted excess fat. Decrease calories by 5% (pulling from carbs)

Repeat this weekly until your rate of gain falls back in the recommended range. 

Now, realize that like all things nutrition and training, this should be individualized & context dependent. 

I’m speaking to our most common new client with this recommendation (you’ve already trained for a good amount of time, and already what most would consider “lean”. But you want well above-average results.) 

If you’re not sure that the above applies to you, I highly recommend you check out The Definitive Guide To Periodizing Nutrition before applying the strategies in this blog.  

Similarly, if you’re not sure how to set your macros for a building phase, I would also recommend you check out The Definitive Guide To Periodizing Nutrition.  

TRAINING STRATEGY: HYPERTROPHY

As discussed, the missing piece from the physique most women & men want is taking the time to build a bit more muscle.  

Now, just eating the right way in itself won’t build muscle. A smart, science-based training program like our online clients follow is what actually provides your body with the stimulus for building muscle. 

So your training is just as important as your nutrition here - if this isn’t on point, you’ll continue to spin your wheels. 

Since our #1 outcome here is building muscle over the first few months of the year, the way you’re training should be specific to that target outcome. So your first few months of training will be geared specifically towards building muscle (a.k.a. hypertrophy). 

Hypertrophy Training Guidelines

Most of our clients are chasing (in order of importance): 

1. Aesthetics  

2. Performance  

Basically, aesthetics and improving your physical appearance are your #1 goal... but you also want to feel your performance in your training go to a new level. (Think: the way you would imagine a high level Crossfit competitor looks & feels… but with a smarter training program.) 

You’re in the same boat as 90% of the online clients we work with. Here’s a glimpse at how we build out training programs for clients in your shoes: 

→ Training Split 

The keys to choosing the most effective training split for you: 

1. It needs to provide adequate volume (number of hard sets) to stimulate the muscle building effect you’re chasing. 

2. It needs to allow for you to train every major muscle group/movement pattern 2x/week+ (proven by science to be superior for muscle growth).

3. It needs to allow you to train in a manner that’s fun and engaging for your (underrated aspect of program design)

 *Beginner-Intermediate - 4x/week Upper/Lower Split or Push/Pull/Push/Pull split 

For most individuals who have been following a smart, science-based training program for <1.5 years, both of these splits allow plenty of training volume to continue to progress. 

If you’re not new to the gym... but new to following an evidence-based training program like we build for our online clients, this is still an effective place to start. 

 *Intermediates - 5x/Week Upper/Lower/Upper/Lower/Upper or Lower/Upper/Lower/Upper/Lower or Upper/Lower/Push/Pull/Lower

You’ve been following a smart, science-based training program for ~1-2 years (which likely means you’ve already been following one of the 4x/week splits we mentioned earlier), but are starting to see progress slow considerably. 

Over time, your volume needs (again, number of hard sets) to elicit muscle growth rise - so most will need to add a training day eventually to keep progressing towards their goal physique. 

For clients in your position, a 5x/week training split is typically the best option. There’s lots of room here for customization as well:

- For more upper body focus, go with an Upper/Lower/Upper/Lower or Upper/Lower/Push/Pull/Lower Split.   

- For more Lower body focus, run a Lower/Upper/Lower/Upper/Lower split 

*Intermediate-Advanced - 6x/Week Push/Pull/Lower/Push/Pull/Lower or Upper/Lower/Upper/Lower/Upper/Lower 

Been following a smart, science-based program for ~2-3 years or more now, and have also been taking a relatively intelligent approach to your nutrition? 

You can likely make great gains over the next few months following a 6x/week split.  

- My personal favorite training split is the Push/Pull/Lower/Push/Pull/Lower - it allows for 2x/week frequency, lots of volume, and isn’t excessively draining. 

- The Upper/Lower/Upper/Lower/Upper/Lower split is also very effective, as it allows you to rack up A LOT of volume per body part weekly - this can be a good thing OR a bad thing, as it can be extremely taxing. 

Now, a few things you need to understand about training 6x/week: 

1. You don’t have to train 6x/week to make great progress… even if you’ve been training a considerable amount of time. If this just isn’t realistic for the rest of your life, you can still make excellent progress following a 4x/week or 5x/week split. 

2. Even if you’ve been training a good amount of time, one of these higher volume splits might not be needed/the best fit for you. A big part of what we focus on within online coaching is teaching clients how to master execution and get MORE out of every single set… so often, the same amount of volume you’ve been doing creates more stimulus than ever before. If your nutrition and/or recovery haven’t been on point much during your training career, you likely don’t need to train 6x/week to see good progress. 

3. We can make a major difference by improving how you fuel your training and recovery… until we have these mastered, more training won’t create better results. 

Number of training days is really just a tool we use to regulate training volume.

IF you have solid effort and execution of your movements within your training (it’s a big if), you’ll likely need to adjust training volume over time to maximize your results. ⠀ 

So how much volume should YOU be doing? ⠀ 

Like all things training and nutrition, it’s very individual to you. Personally, I like to assess more advanced client’s training performance, recovery, biofeedback, and progress, and adjust volume (or not) from there. ⠀ 

But, some smart guidelines to follow....

Signs You're At Or Near Your Ideal Volume (Number Of Hard Sets)

- Your strength is consistently increasing (you're usually able to add a rep or a bit of load vs. last week's performance on the same movement).

- You're consistently a bit (but not excessively) sore.

- You're getting good pumps.

Signs You're Doing Too Much Volume:

- You feel beat up/run down.

- Motivation to train is low.

- Strength is stagnant or decreasing.

- No pumps.

(It's key to understand context here - sometimes this is something we'll do intentionally the last 1-2 weeks before a deload.)

Signs It's Time To Add More Volume

- Recovery is good. 

- Strength is stagnating.

- You're rarely sore.

- No pumps.

→ Exercise Selection 

When it comes to building, some exercises are inherently better than others. 

So in order for you to get the most out of your time building at the start of the year, understanding how to choose the smartest exercises for hypertrophy is a must. 

Here are the guidelines we use when programming for online clients: 

1. Target muscle group is the rate limiter - When the goal is building lean muscle, you want the "rate limiter" (the thing that forces you to eventually stop a movement) to be the specific muscle group(s) you're targeting.  

2. Compoundedness - Basically, compoundedness means that a movement works multiple muscle groups & joints simultaneously... A.K.A. compound movements.  

Compoundedness is important because it leads to more "bang for your buck" & efficiency when it comes to building muscle. 

Now, this isn't to say that you shouldn't do isolation exercises. But most of us simply don't have the time required to build the body composition we want through a program composed purely of isolation work. 

3. Range of motion - When squatting, the more knee flexion (bending at the knee) you can achieve on the way down, the more quad stimulus you'll get from every single rep, because your quads are being forced to work through a greater range of motion.  So a lighter squat well below parallel would stimulate more muscle growth in your quads than a heavier box squat, due to the greater range of motion/knee flexion. 

As an added bonus, a movement with a greater range of motion will also be less taxing on your joints and nervous system, because you're using a lighter load (but achieving the same or better stimulus). 

Thus, the "stimulus-to-fatigue" ratio of a movement with a larger range of motion is better. 

4. Eccentric Component - We know that muscle damage has a strong correlation with muscle growth. We also know that the eccentric (a.k.a. lowering) portion of a movement is where a large degree of muscle damage is happening. 

So movements without a controlled eccentric will be much less conducive to muscle growth. 

It's smart to focus on controlling the eccentric of each rep for 2-4 seconds.  

5. Ability to overload - Finally, we know that the ability to progressively increase load on a movement over a long period of time is essential to stimulating continuous growth from said movement.

→ Rep Ranges 

Since the goal here is building, you’ll want to train in the 5-30 rep range. Studies seem to show that as long as you’re training relatively close to failure (think: 3 reps or less in the tank at the end of a set), you’ll stimulate similar muscle growth. 

Dipping below this mark likely means you won’t be providing adequate tension per set (so you’d need to do more sets to create the same amount of growth)

Generally, focus on progressing your compound movements in the 5-15 rep range, isolation lifts in the 10-30 range.

→ Progression Schemes

Utilizing a smart progression scheme is essential to actually making progress in your training. Here's one of our favorite progression models to use for intermediate to advanced trainees:

Ok, I know we covered a lot here… but this is essential to setting yourself up for years worth of successful physique transformation, so take time to absorb the above. We’ll be moving faster from here on out.

month 2

NUTRITION STRATEGY: BUILDING

You’re continuing to follow the nutrition guidelines laid out above. By this point, you should have gained ~.5-1% of your body weight.

Remember, since we don’t want you in a calorie deficit right now (eating fewer calories than you’re burning), most should be gaining a bit of weight in order to be gaining muscle. So don’t stress the scale increasing right now… this is exactly what’s going to make your physique this year above and beyond anything that you’ve accomplished before. 

By this point, you should already be noticing the difference your nutrition is making in your training - you’re feeling better fueled, more motivated to train, and making quicker progress in the gym than you have in quite some time. 

A few important nutrition considerations for Month 2:

→ Hunger should be low - In our online clients metrics trackers, we’re looking for hunger to be a 2 or less. Muscle is a very "calorically expensive" tissue - it takes a lot of calories for your body to build & maintain. 

So if you're hungry often, your body will be sensing that calories are not abundant. When this is the case, it would make sense for your body to prioritize building something that takes a large chunk of calories, as calories are already sparse. 

So we consistently want to see hunger in the 1's & 2's during a building phase like this. If hunger is high, I would first ensure that you’re eating 80-90% whole foods (these will keep you full much longer than their highly processed counterparts). 

From there, if you’re falling within the desired rate of gain, I would increase macros. 

→ Training performance & recovery should be high - Training performance is a key part of actually triggering the results you want in the building phase. 

Recovery is how you cement those results into tangible changes in your physique. If you’re feeling slugging going into your training or under-recovered: 

- Ensure nutrient timing is on point (check out this blog for our nutrient timing recommendations).  

- Ensure you’re sleeping 7+ hours per night. 

- Ensure you’re falling in the desired rate of gain - if not, increase calories. 

- Ensure you’re taking a deload every 4-6 weeks. 

If all of the above are on point and performance and recovery STILL aren’t solid, you likely need to adjust training volume (again, your volume needs for optimal results are very individual, and part of why we monitor this with online clients constantly.)

TRAINING STRATEGY: HYPERTROPHY

Your body is an adaptation machine... it’s extremely skilled at “getting used to” whatever you throw at it. 

Specific to your current goals in the building phase, this means that the same amount of training volume you used last month won’t stimulate quite as much in terms of building as it did a month ago. 

So to counter this, we typically "layer on volume" (a term I’m borrowing from Steve Hall) monthly. 

[*NOTE: This strategy is definitely speaking to the more intermediate-advanced crowd. Beginners, you don’t need to stress this much.] 

Here’s what I mean...

Let’s say that through your first mesocycle (a.k.a. training phase), you were doing sets of 7-10 Dumbbell Bent Over Rows. Maybe 3 sets, maybe 5 sets, depending on your needs. In the second mesocycle, we might add in something called a "down set" to slightly increase volume. 

Here’s how implementing down sets looks in the Truecoach app our online clients use: 

So basically, you’re doing a few “heavier” sets, followed by “lighter” down sets.  

Now, we’ve been defining volume as “number of hard sets”, but the most technical definition is “Sets X Reps X Weight”. So generally, a down set will lead to slightly higher rep ranges and more training volume than the heavier set.  

By implementing more down sets as your building phase goes on, we’re effectively “layering on volume” without having to dramatically increase (if at all) the number of hard sets you’re doing/time in the gym. 

As an added benefit, working with these slightly lighter loads will be less taxing on your joints, and prevent you from getting beat up as the building phase progresses.

Month 3

NUTRITION STRATEGY: BUILDING

Here, you’re continuing to do more of what’s already working. Be sure that you’re seeing the desired rate of gain. 

The reality is, you likely will feel a bit fluffy by this point. 

The important thing to remember here is that the building phase is essential to reaching your goal result. 

We always make clear to our clients the concept that muscle gain happens very slowly, whereas fat loss happens quickly.  

Basically, gaining 1-2lbs of muscle in a month is GREAT progress. But with a smart diet, you can lose 1-2lbs of fat in a single week. 

So while you can (and will) lose any extra bit of fat you’ve gained quickly in the fat loss phase, you can’t go back and make up for months of NO PROGRESS building, due to under-fueling your body during the building phase.

TRAINING STRATEGY: HYPERTROPHY

By this point, you’ll be seeing considerable progress on all of your compound lifts and your strength in the 5-30 rep range (which is indicative that you’ve built a good amount of muscle already).  

Similar to last month, when you start your third mesocycle/training phase (these don’t always align perfectly with the calendar month, as most of our client’s mesocycles last 5-6 weeks when including a deload), slightly increasing the number of down sets relative to your second mesocycle would be smart to continue to layer on volume.

month 4

NUTRITION STRATEGY: BUILDING

This is likely your final month of building.  

The reality is, for many of you this will be the first time that both your nutrition and training have been working in sync to propel you towards a specific goal (building)

So, you’ve also likely seen much quicker progress at this point than ever before - this is extremely common with new online clients, as most underestimate how much a smart, individualized approach to nutrition can improve their training (and results).  

We’ve taken the first four months of the year to capitalize on the fact that you haven’t had both training & nutrition perfectly in-sync before, and thus are capable of building quicker than you’d expect.  

By the end of month four, you should have added a good bit of muscle to your frame, which will result in a much improved physique as you get leaner over the next few months. 

But for now, it’s time to finish the building phase strong in month four. The same guidelines as before apply.  

[*IMPORTANT NOTE: Again, this process doesn’t always align perfectly with the calendar months, and the more advanced you are, the slower building will typically be. For a more advanced client following 6 week mesocycles/training phases, the end of this “4 month mark”  would actually be reached 24 weeks into the process.]

TRAINING STRATEGY: METABOLITE

Over the last three mesocycles, you’ve been layering on more and more volume… but this can’t keep increasing linearly forever. 

So your training volume “peaks” (relative to your recent training history) during this metabolite phase. We’re adding in more down sets, and often slightly decreasing the % of load used in down sets (i.e. decrease by 15% instead of 10%).  

To add to this, we’re implementing more intensification techniques - things like… 

→ Supersets: Two movements done back to back with little/no rest. In the metabolite phase, we’re most often using this in a “pre-exhaust” fashion to target a specific muscle group (I.e. Leg Extensions x15-20 supersetted with Walking Lunges x15-20). 

→ Dropsets: Taking a set to/near failure, decreasing the load, and immediately repping out more. This can also be done by moving from a mechanically weaker to stronger position as a set goes on. 

For example:

Here, adjusting the bench moves you from a weaker to stronger position as fatigue sets in, allowing you to extend the set for an absolutely brutal training effect. 

→ Myo-Reps: Start by taking a weight to or very near failure in the 9-20 rep range. Rest 3-5 breaths, before hitting 3-5 more reps. Repeat in this fashion for 3-5 mini-sets of 3-5 reps. 

...lots of different techniques we implement in a metabolite phase, but you get the gist of it. 

Now, we could define “metabolic stress” as the burning feeling you get when you do an intense set. 

Basically, metabolites are accumulating in your muscle cells, leading to cell swelling, hormonal changes, and a variety of other factors that are thought to influence muscle growth. 

So obviously in the metabolite phase, this metabolic stress is what you’re chasing... but realize that your entire training program should NOT be supersets, downsets, and myo-reps. 

Continue to progress your compound lifts with top sets and down sets. After training your primarily lifts, choose 1-2 muscle groups for training day to implement metabolite techniques with. 

month 5

NUTRITION STRATEGY: MAINTENANCE

For the next month, you’re simply sitting at maintenance (a.k.a. you’re not trying to lose or gain weight).  

We typically will put a maintenance phase at the end of an extended building phase or fat loss phase for an online client. The reasoning behind this is - your body basically needs time to cement all of the changes you’ve made as it’s new normal (be that additional muscle tissue, or a decrease in fat mass)

From a habit perspective, this also gives you time to ensure that you know exactly what your lifestyle needs to look like to maintain your result. 

We're looking for biofeedback to stay in a good place, weight & body measurements to stay stable. 

In a nutshell, we're taking the time to establish this as your body's new settling point before pushing for any further changes.

TRAINING STRATEGY: STRENGTH/RESENSITIZATION

As we’ve talked about, your volume needs to elicit considerable progress increase over time, as your body adapts to your current amount of training volume. 

The problem here? 

As we increase training volume over time (given intensity is adequate), our body adapts more and more to this style of training. This means we need to keep increasing volume to further push growth. 

Another interesting adaption is your muscle fibers. Your muscles are composed of primarily two fiber types: 

→ Type 1 “slow twitch” fibers - These fibers are geared for endurance. They fatigue slowly, but also are poor at creating explosive movement, and have very limited potential for muscle growth. 

→ Type 2 “fast twitch” fibers - These fibers are geared to be explosive. They fatigue much quicker than Type 1 fibers, but also have a much greater capacity for growth. 

Whereas it used to be thought that muscle fibers were stuck as either slow twitch or fast twitch, it's now been shown that your muscles sit somewhere on a spectrum of slow to fast, and move more towards one of the other, depending on your lifestyle and how you train. 

When we’re training for hypertrophy, which is generally includes lots of relatively higher rep (10+) work,  it’s thought that our muscle fibers actually shift more towards “slow twitch” characteristics, as an adaptation to the fact that you’re hitting your body with primarily higher rep sets, where endurance can become more of a priority than being explosive. 

Since slow twitch fibers have a smaller capacity for growth, a shift towards slow-twitch is obviously not conducive to your muscle growth.

This is where Strength Phases or Resensitization Phases come into play.

The goal here is shifting your focus away from building for a period of time, in order to re-sensitize your muscles to lower training volumes. This decreases your “volume needs” in the future, and will allow you to make more progress with lower training volumes.

(Again, Steve Hall and the team at Revive Stronger deserve the credit for pioneering the idea of "Resensitization Phases". They have an excellent ebook on the topic here.) 

Implementation:  

→ Reps - 4-8. 

As we'll discuss shortly, the goal in the resensitization phase is to decrease volume, and increase intensity. The lower rep ranges are more conducive to this. 

→ Sets - Decrease by ~40% of your minimum effective volume (the minimum number of hard sets you can grow on) per muscle group. 

For example, if you could start seeing glute gains at 15 hard sets per week, you would decrease to 9. 

→ Intensity (Meaning Load) - Should be higher here. I like to use the resensitization phase as a “Strength Phase”. The increased load per set here helps compensate for the decrease in volume. 

It's also smart to use a progression scheme that brings your sets closer to failure (increasing intensity) over the course of 3-4 weeks, before deloading. But generally, you'll be training with anywhere from 3 to 1 reps in the tank. 

→ Length - 3-4 week blocks.  

Post resensitization phase, you can expect to come back to hypertrophy-focused training with increased sensitivity to training volume, better pumps, and overall quicker progress. 

Timing this during a nutritional maintenance phase makes most sense, because...

a.) Calorie needs won’t be as high due to the lower training volumes, so this will prevent excess fat gain. 

And...

b.) Calories won’t be as low as in the (upcoming) fat loss phase, but volume will be much lower during this phase than before. Since it’s thought that volume needs are potentially slightly higher during longer fat loss phases, pairing the lower volume strength phase with maintenance calories is smart to retain all of the progress you’ve made the last few months.

month 6

NUTRITION STRATEGY: FAT LOSS

Now it’s time to uncover all of the changes you’ve made to your physique over the last 5 months. 

By being patient, and committing to long-term periodization, you’ve set yourself up for a dramatically improved physique. You’ve built a good amount of muscle and likely added a bit of fluff. 

Now, we’re going to be cutting all of the fat from your frame and ideally continuing to build a bit of muscle (although at a slower rate), or at the very least maintaining what you’ve currently built. 

When the fat loss phase is over, you’ll be as lean/leaner the ever before, with the additional muscle on your frame from your time building. This is the recipe for a dramatically improved physique.

Fat Loss Phase Guidelines

→ Rate Of Loss -  Within a fat loss phase, we'll typically be decreasing or increasing your macros based on your rate of loss. Really, there are tons of variables here... but generally, most will do best aiming to lose .5-1% of body weight per week.  

→ Monitoring Biofeedback - When you’re in a Fat Loss Phase, keep a close eye on your biofeedback. This is one of the main metrics I use to measure how close to a "fat loss wall" you are/how soon we need to transition you to the next phase of nutrition periodization.  

Some signs it’s almost time to transition out of a Fat Loss Phase include multiple weeks of… 

1. High hunger levels. Some hunger is normal for dieting, and a good sign that you’re eating fewer calories than you’re burning. That said, we usually want this to be somewhere on a 2.5-3.5 (scale of 1-5). 

Once clients get into the 4-5 range consistently, we know it’s probably time to change phases, as constantly high hunger makes the diet hard to adhere to for most. 

That said, context is super important here. If you're already pretty lean and trying to get leaner... it's likely that you'll just have to deal with a good amount of hunger. That's part of pushing your body below a "comfortable" level of body fat. 

2. High cravings. Again, some cravings are normal in a Fat Loss Phase. But when these are consistently high, adherence and results starts to suffer. 

3. Low motivation. When clients start ranking their motivation level 1-3, I know that they’re starting to accumulate a lot of diet fatigue. 

4. Poor mood. Similar to motivation, when a client consistently starts to rank their mood poorly in their biofeedback tracker, we know that the diet is starting to take its psychological toll, and it’s near time to transition out. 

TRAINING STRATEGY: PERFORMANCE HYPERTROPHY

When it comes to training, you really have two options: 

1. You can essentially “start the process over” that we broke down in the first 5 months, choosing new exercises that you want to progress (or the same, if they haven’t gotten stale)

2. Continue to follow a similar style of training, but with a few tweaks to make it more of a "performance hypertrophy" approach. 

In this “performance hypertrophy” style of training, we’re following very similar guidelines as far as exercise selection, rep ranges, and progression schemes go, but we’re also implementing more strategic conditioning.

In a nutshell, this means smart energy systems training that will both help push your fat loss along quicker and help ramp up your performance. 

This can take on multiple forms for clients: 

*An entire day devoted to conditioning. Something like...

Rowing Machine 

- Week 1: 5x1000 @ 2:00/500m pace (2 mins rest) 

- Week 2: 5x1200m @ 2:00/500m pace (2 mins rest) 

- Week 3: 4x1500m @ 2:00/500m pace (2 mins rest) 

- Week 4: 3x2000m @ 2:00/500m pace (2 mins rest)

*Training day finishers that are effective for both building muscle and conditioning. Like... 

AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible) 

- Week 1: 5 mins of... Rowing Machine x10 Cals / Push-Up x10-20 / Farmer's Walk x50m  

- Week 2: 6 mins of... Rowing Machine x10 Cals / Push-Up x10-20 / Farmer's Walk x50m  

- Week 3: 7 mins of... Rowing Machine x10 Cals / Push-Up x10-20 / Farmer's Walk x50m  

- Week 4: 8 mins of... Rowing Machine x10 Cals / Push-Up x10-20 / Farmer's Walk x50m  

*Using more tools like supersets and EMOMS in a smart manner. Something like... 

Alternate movements every minute, on the minute (EMOM) for 8 mins:

- DB Bent Row x8-12

- DB Deficit Push-Up x10-15

Basically, we’re still ensuring that you’ve getting adequate training volume to ensure that you’re progressing (or at the very least, maintaining) your current level of lean body mass. 

But we also know that you’re not going to be able to build as quickly in a fat loss phase.  

So, to keep your training engaging and challenging, we’re focusing more on performance (and again, the increased calorie burn will slightly speed up fat loss as well).  

To learn more about how we typically program for this style of training, check out this video:

month 7

NUTRITION STRATEGY: FAT LOSS

Outside of potentially adjusting nutrition to ensure you’re falling in the desired rate of gain, no adjustments are likely needed here. 

TRAINING STRATEGY: PERFORMANCE HYPERTROPHY

Similar to the above, you’re continuing to follow the progression we’ve laid out - it’s unlikely you’ll need any major adjustments here. 

month 8

NUTRITION STRATEGY: FAT LOSS

You’ve cut off a good chunk of fat by this time, and should be seeing a much improved physique by this point.  

After 8 months of hard work, this is REALLY where you start to see the fruits of you labor, as you’re unveiling a body composition that’s above and beyond anything you’ve achieved before. 

You’re also 8-12 weeks into the diet by this point, which means it’s smart to take a diet break at some point this month. 

Diet Break Guidelines

→ Frequency - Every 6-12 weeks for most. The leaner you are, the more frequently it makes sense to take these (as you're at a higher risk for muscle loss, and your body has less fat stores to pull from for energy).

→ Duration - 1-2 weeks for most. 

→ Calories -Total calories should be returned to somewhere between your current deficit calories and your current estimated maintenance intake.  

As we're not sure that returning exactly to maintenance produces all of the physiological benefits (which was the old argument for returning to maintenance on a diet break), a diet break does not have to return calories all the way to maintenance levels.  

That said, to reap the psychological benefits of a diet break, we want to make sure that calories are high enough to keep hunger and cravings low across the course of the break.  

For most online clients, I've found that this means the deficit at least should be cut in half. (So if you were in a daily deficit of 500 calories, add back 250 calories per day.) 

→ Macros - Protein should stay at .8-1.2g/lb (don't decrease your current intake). Increasing carbs to refill glycogen stores is smart. So it's likely most optimal to increase calories to maintenance almost exclusively via carbs, keeping protein and fat where they were on the diet. 

→ Food Choices - The biggest mistakes people make is thinking a diet break is a time to just constantly eat lots of calorie-dense foods. This pretty quickly puts you OVER your calorie goal, and isn't a realistic picture of how you need to eat long-term to sustain your results. 

Stick mostly to the foods you normally eat, just in greater quantities. When you try to work in too many calorically-dense foods, you can easily eat MORE calories but be less satiated than when you're on your diet. 

→ Weight Gain - You’ll likely feel a bit fluffier and weigh a bit more. Your body is holding more water, & your gut content has increased. This doesn't mean you’ve gained fat back. If calories in = calories out, you won't gain fat.

TRAINING STRATEGY: PERFORMANCE HYPERTROPHY

Still following the progression model we laid out so in-depth earlier. By this point, you’ll be feeling lean and well-conditioned in your training.

month 9

NUTRITION STRATEGY: FAT LOSS

The final month of fat loss. Your physique looks much different than it did 9 months ago, and that’s not by accident. 

By actually taking the time to focus on building first, you’ve finally broken free from always dieting but never feeling as lean as you want, thanks to the additional muscle on your frame.

TRAINING STRATEGY: PERFORMANCE HYPERTROPHY

No changes here. 

Although it’s smart to follow a similar progression to your first building phase across the 4 months of the fat loss phase, I would not likely run a metabolite phase here.  

You’re in a calorie deficit, and your body is much leaner than it’s been in quite some time - not ideal conditions for something like a metabolite phase (which is much better suited for a building phase). 

Month 10

NUTRITION STRATEGY: REVERSE DIET

Reverse dieting is the process we use to find your new maintenance intake after you've achieved your goal level of leanness. 

We implement this process when you're completely done focusing on fat loss for the near future. Coming out of a deficit is a scary process for most people… especially if your client's weight has rebounded post-diet in the past.⠀⠀ 

Even for our clients that are coaches themselves, the fear of coming out of a calorie deficit is real. 

This is the best time to again remind clients, it all comes down to energy balance. If you’ve been losing ~1lb/week, you’re eating ~3,500 calories less than you burn in a week. 

So we know that to maintain, we can add back in ~3,500 calories to your diet on a weekly basis… or 500 calories per day, without worrying about fat gain. 

Gaining even 1lb of fat would require eating ~3,500 calories more than your maintenance intake. If you have a smart plan for the diet after the diet like we provide within online coaching, you don’t need to worry.

Reverse Dieting Guidelines

→ Step 1 - Return to 90% of your estimated maintenance calories.  90% instead of 100% just to be sure we don't overshoot maintenance, as clients generally want to take extra precautions here to avoid excess fat gain. 

Most of the increase in calories here will come from carbs (which give you more physiological benefits, plus better training & recovery), given you’re already eating above ~.3g fat/lb of body weight daily (the “fat threshold” clients need to hit for hormonal health & preventing fatty acid deficiencies)

→ Step 2 - Watch how that impacts your weight & measurements. One of the biggest mistakes people make post-diet?  

They suddenly stop hopping on the scale and taking body measurements. This is a huge problem, because this is the exact data we use to determine how the amount you’re currently eating is impacting your body composition.  

Without this data, it’s easier to regain fat, as you're not sure how your body is changing. 

Now, we're expecting the client to see a few lbs of weight gain due to increased glycogen storage and gut content. It's also normal to see an increase in the 2" below the navel measurement (most reactive to gut content) over Weeks 1 & 2 of the reverse diet, but we shouldn't see major shifts in any of these metrics. 

→ Step 3 - Adjust nutrition based on the metrics. After the first 1-2 weeks of the reverse diet process (where again, some increase in weight & measurements is normal), we’re looking to increase calories to start pushing the clients “maintenance calories” up. 

But again, tracking metrics is key to knowing that what the client is doing with their nutrition is leading to maintenance and not gaining. 

TRAINING STRATEGY: HYPERTROPHY

Across the reverse dieting process, we’re feeding you more and more calories. Thus your body will be better able to handle more training volume than you likely could during the diet (and you can start making quicker progress building again).  

So if you we’re running 4 week mesocycles/training phases, it’d make sense to transition back to a more hypertrophy-specific style of training (i.e. how you were training during the building phase). But again, most of our online clients run 5-6 week mesocycles, so the end of the 4th mesocycle (after which we’ll typically implement a strength phase) would actually align perfectly with the end of the reverse diet (coming up in month 11).

Month 11

NUTRITION STRATEGY: REVERSE DIETING

This is likely when your reverse diet will end (it’s typically a 4-8 week process for online clients).  

The degree to which we can increase a client's maintenance without fat gain is primarily dependent on how adaptive their metabolism is/how much they tend to increase NEAT as a response to consuming more calories. 

For some online clients this process only lasts a few weeks, for others we can ramp maintenance up for quite some time.

When To End A Reverse Diet

Two things to look for here: 

→ #1 - We’re looking for trunk measurements and weight to stay relatively stable (fluctuations of +/- .25 are normal). So larger increases here indicate you've likely passed maintenance. 

That said, realize that most clients will also be capable of building muscle at maintenance. So sometimes we'll see an increase in weight across the course of weeks. 

This is why it’s important that we’re also tracking body measurements. 

Most online clients will have a “trouble spot” they really wanted to focus on losing fat from during the diet.  

Conveniently, the last place we seem to lose fat from also seems to be the first place we regain it (I have no science to prove this, only anecdote)

This means that in a case where you're client is gaining a bit of weight, but you think it could be muscle not fat, it makes sense to look at measurement increases at the “trouble spot” as a sign that you’re potentially gaining fat (for 90% of clients it will be navel measurements, but occasionally hips).  

If we start to see consecutive weeks of measurement increases at the trouble spot, it’s a good sign that body fat is being gained. 

→ #2 - Biofeedback is normal. We all have a certain body fat percentage “floor”. Below this body fat percentage, you'll struggle with hunger, being food focused, low energy, poor hormones, & buildin muscle is very unlikely. 

See, many of your hormones are a product of the amount of body fat you’re carrying - so no matter how much food you’re eating, you’ll still feel shitty below your “body fat floor”. While you can dip below this “floor” for short periods of time (e.g. for a photoshoot), living below it is not healthy or sustainable. 

So the reality is, occasionally clients will have to add back a bit of body fat in order to return biofeedback to healthy levels and quit feeling like a zombie.⠀ 

If a clients' biofeedback (weekly measures my clients submit for things like sleep, stress, motivation, mood, training performance, etc.) is still poor, they likely need to continue the reverse diet. 

Similarly, normalized biofeedback is a good sign you can end the reverse diet process. 

TRAINING STRATEGY: HYPERTROPHY

The same approach as month 10 applies here.

Month 12

NUTRITION STRATEGY: MAINTENANCE

Month 12 - you did it. An entire year of smart, periodized, and science-based training & nutrition. 

If the year we just laid out sounds completely foreign to you… realize that’s probably a sign that it’s time to change your approach. Because if what you’re currently doing was working, you wouldn’t have read this far ;)

You’ve added a good amount of muscle to your body in the building phase. You’ve maintained (or even continued to build on) said muscle during the fat loss phase. 

Now, you’re undoubtedly at a physique that’s above and beyond anything you’ve ever achieved before. Similar to month 5, it’s time for us to cement this result as your body’s new normal with a maintenance phase, before setting new targets for next year.

TRAINING STRATEGY: STRENGTH/RESENSITIZATION

Just like above, another strength phase to resensitize your body to training volume, and put you in a good place to push towards your next goals. 

And that is how to plan and periodize your most effective year of training and nutrition yet.

If you're ready to stop guessing and start achieving, click here now to apply for online coaching with our team. 

We apply proven, science-backed nutrition & training methods through individualized coaching to help you get the body you want, and teach you on how to keep it for a lifetime.


About The Author

Jeremiah Bair is a certified nutrition coach, strength coach, and owner of the online coaching business Bairfit. Check out his Podcast and Instagram  for more educational content.

Leave a comment