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Beginner - Trying to design my first program

Posted: Mon May 26, 2014 10:17 pm
by whitephosphorous
Hello all. This is my first post.

I'm sure it's a question that's been asked countless times on this (and other) forums, but here goes nothing.

1. I'm 6'2, 207 lbs. Not sure what my current bf % is, but I'll be going in for a new DEXA scan in a week, and my last (1.5 yrs ago) had me at:
- 202.4 lbs
- 25.7% body fat

2. My goal is to drop to ~10% bf, and increase muscle mass significantly. Hopefully drop ~30 lbs of fat and increase 20-25 lbs of muscle in my first year (is that muscle mass goal reasonable for a beginner?)

3. I've only recently (two days ago) found the ExRx site, and have been (trying) to absorb as much of the info as possible, but I figured I'd just dive right into a program, instead of waiting until I've memorized all of ExRx. So, as a "beginner" not knowing exactly where to start... using the guidelines on ExRx, I've chosen to start with a month or two of:
- Low Volume (1 warmup set, one workout set)
- Full Body (2 days/wk for the first month, 3 for the second)
- alternating Upper/Lower
- Back, Quads, Chest, Hams (first month)
- Chest, Hams, Back, Quads (second month)
- adding an isolated neck and/or shoulder exercise every once in a while

4. After two months, I'll probably jump to a 2 Day Split, Push/Pull routine, 4 days/wk. Is that too aggressive?

5. In my interest of maximizing muscle mass while simultaneously burning fat, I've been wondering how the periodized, variable resistance, or an extra workout set might aid in that extra (5% or whatever) benefit.

6. In addition to weight training, I'd like to add a solid cardiovascular routine (obviously). In the interest of maximizing muscle mass (or at least not losing mass) and reducing fat mass, I'm trying to determine which cardio routine would be optimal. It seems like, for fat loss and muscle maintenance/gain:
- HIIT > Endurance
- HIIT + Weight Training (WT) > HIIT or WT alone
- HIIT + WT + Diet > any other binary permutation of any two of the HIIT, WT or Diet (since fat loss is a goal)

These pages (and related articles) were my motivation for the conclusions just above (I had these linked, but it wouldn't let me post the links, probably due to this being a first post):
- Resistance Weight Training During Caloric Restriction Enhances Lean Body Weight Maintenance
- Effect of Diet and Exercise of Weight Loss and Body Composition of Adult Women. This one was for women, but I'm sure the results are similar for men.
- Impact of Exercise Intensity on Body Fatness and Skeletal Muscle Metabolism
- Short Sprint Interval Training

Thus, I'm thinking of working up to (in the next two months) adding a HIIT routine into my program.

7. As for diet, I'll be eating:
- 5-6 small meals/day
- leafy greens other veggies
- fruits - high fiber, low sugar (berries and such)
- complex carbs only
- high fiber
- lean protein
- nuts
- lots of cold water (added thermogenic effect) + necessary hydration, etc.
- no carbs after 6pm (4-5 hours before bed)
- 35% protein 35% carbs 30% fat

8. Weight training in the morning before eating, cardio in the afternoon (to allow my body to "warm up" during the day).

That's pretty much the gist of it.

Any advice would be much appreciated. I don't want to undermine my own progress with ego-induced ignorance, by thinking I know more than I do.

If there are any contradictions or risks you see, please point them out. I may not have noticed them.


Re: Beginner - Trying to design my first program

Posted: Tue May 27, 2014 3:44 am
by stuward
You're the same weight and height as me.

I doubt you can gain that much muscle in one year. Better is to attempt to get strong while on a calorie deficit. You'll look skinny befor you look muscular but it's a safer route than getting fat before you get strong.

Keep your progress slow and steady. Starting twice a week and moving to 3 then 4 is a good thing. More than 4 tends to be overkill but off days are a good time to add skill work and try new things. I think it's useful to do some activity everyday.

Don't get wrapped up in the theory. The important thing is to do what works for you. Self experimentation is important but also, you need a long enough exposure to a stimulus to observe an effect and that often takes a month or so. Have patience.

Re: Beginner - Trying to design my first program

Posted: Tue May 27, 2014 12:28 pm
by hoosegow
You are going to have to rethink your goals. Losing 30 pounds of fat and gaining 20 lbs of muscle isn't going to happen. You are going to have unrealistic expectations.

I'm going to interpret your main goal is that you want to look better and feel better. You are going to get stronger regardless due to CNS improvement. However, I agree with stu. I think you will be happier with losing the weight first. You will get better definition because the muscle will show through because of less fat.

I'd jump in a full body routine 3 days a week focussing on volume and learning the movements (let us see your routine). I'd then do HIIT at least two of the other days. I'm not sure you get the concept of the routines, but post what you are thinking with specific exercises.

Make the training fun and don't kill yourself because you'll be less motivated in the long run.

Re: Beginner - Trying to design my first program

Posted: Thu May 29, 2014 1:21 am
by whitephosphorous
tuward and hoosegow, thanks for the replies.

To stuward...

I wasn't sure how much muscle a person could actually put on in that time, considering my size, so I just guessed (knowing one of you would correct me). I once read an article about the maximum amount of muscle an average man could gain was something like ~4.2 lbs/month, given limits in cell division rates and so forth, but I believe that was also if they were on steroids. Aside from that, an article on ExRx somewhere mentioned research about the average adult male adding 3lbs of muscle mass in the first two months of consistent weight training. But I digress...

I guess my question is... are fat loss and muscle gain mutually exclusive? I'd assume it's difficult to gain muscle with too much calorie deficit, just as it's probably difficult to reduce fat % with too many calories. However, there must be some margin where both are possible. The reason I ask is because I'm wondering how to avoid gaining the fat back when I want to build muscle. I agree with you and hoosegow; shed the fat while increasing strength and finding my weight training rhythm, then work on increasing muscle mass once I'm down to weight. However, how can I build muscle mass without also gaining fat?


To what you said here:
hoosegow wrote: Losing 30 pounds of fat and gaining 20 lbs of muscle isn't going to happen. You are going to have unrealistic expectations.

Are you saying both at the same time (muscle gain & fat loss) aren't going to happen, or that each independently won't? The fat loss won't be a problem. The muscle gain, however, I don't know about.

Are you suggesting a higher volume program rather low volume (high intensity) would be better? I just keep hearing so much good stuff about the low volume, high intensity programs.

But either way, you hit the nail on the head when you said
hoosegow wrote:I'm going to interpret your main goal is that you want to look better and feel better.

Here's the routine I'm considering for the next month:

First - Establish Baseline:
- Push-Up Test
- Bench Press Test (not on same day as push-up test)
- Sit-Up Test
- Blood Pressure
- Pulse
- Body Measurements (neck, waist, hip, biceps, chest, etc.)

Mondays & Thursdays

Back - DB Bent-Over Row
Quadriceps - DB Squat (Goblet squat, perhaps?)
Chest- DB Bench Press
Hamstrings - DB Straight-Leg Deadlift
Deltoid (Front) - DB Shoulder Press
Biceps - DB Curl
Abdominal - Sit-Up
Triceps - Close Grip Push-Up

- 60 minute walk @ 3.5-4 mph every day

Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays

Core Exercises:
- Bird Dog 2x20
- Superman 2x15
- Wipers 2x20
- Bridges 2x20
- Plank 2x30(seconds)
- Side Plank 2x30(seconds, each side)

- 60 minute walk @ 3.5-4 mph every day

Wednesdays and Sundays

- Push-Ups 5x15
- Sit-Ups 5x20
- Pull-Ups 5x2 (likely assisted by ~90-110 lbs)

- 1 to 2 mile run.
- 60 minute walk @ 3.5-4 mph every day

Tuesdays and Fridays


In daily format:


How does all that look? I incorporated a routine I used to do religiously (CORE, PPP and RUN).

After following this for a month or so, I’ll probably bump it to 3 days/week, and then switch to a 2-day split push/pull for the third month and on.

As for fat loss:

My BMR is ~2150, and with all the activities above, I expect to be burning between 3000 and 3500 kcals/day. So, I plan on eating ~2000 -2500 kcals/day, for a total deficit of 1000 kcals/day.


Re: Beginner - Trying to design my first program

Posted: Thu May 29, 2014 4:28 am
by stuward
Muscle gain rates are controversial. Theoretical is higher than normal. You might gain 3 lbs in the first 2 months but that amount is not noticeable considering changes in water and fat levels. This calculator gives as good an answer as you will find." onclick=";return false;

I'm in a hurry, I'll look at the rest of your questions later.

Re: Beginner - Trying to design my first program

Posted: Thu May 29, 2014 6:29 am
by hoosegow
Fat loss and muscle gain, naturally, can't happen. You need excess calories to build muscle. You need negative calories to burn fat. You WILL get stronger as your body adapts to handle the weight, but generally, you can't gain muscle without a surplus of calories. Don't let that disuade you, though. You want to keep the muscle you have as you lose the fat so you want to keep lifting.

When I say a higher volume, I'm talking about in the 7-12 rep per set range. I'm a powerlifter so I'm in love with 1 and 2 rep sets, so don't mistake me advocating high reps forever (though most of my auxilliary stuff I lift for 8-12 reps). For beginners, I think it is more important for your body to learn the movements - even if you used to lift years ago. Also, you are wanting to up your workload since your overall goal is to get leaner. Higher reps will help you do that.

I like your plan, FWIW. It appears to be well balanced and the bodyweight stuff you are doing will suffice for the third day I was suggesting. In a couple of months, when you get a good base, I'd suggest splitting your routine up and adding some different auxilliary work, but don't worry about that now since your routine is good and makes sense.

What equipment do you have access to?

Re: Beginner - Trying to design my first program

Posted: Thu May 29, 2014 8:35 am
by stuward
As Hoosegow said, fat loss and muscle gain don't usually happen at the same time but for new lifters, it does happen to some extent. As he said, your intent is to hang on to muscle and to get stronger. You can do that while losing fat. Once you start eating for muscle growth, you need to cycle your calories so that you're eating more during workout days and less during recovery days. That will keep the fat from building up. Some people like to bulk and cut but I don't think you need to. If you do want to go that way, you cut to 10%, then slowly build, allowing your fat to creep up to about 15%, then cut back down to 10% again. That cycle can take several months to a year. I expect most people following this method time the cycle to be at the lowest fat levels during the summers.

Re: Beginner - Trying to design my first program

Posted: Thu May 29, 2014 8:28 pm
by whitephosphorous
Again, I greatly appreciate the replies and advice.

Reading your comments just made a number of things click with me. It makes so much sense... if we can simply maintain (most, if not all) muscle while we lose fat, then gaining fat while gaining muscle mass isn't really a concern.

At this point, as you suggested, I'm just going to focus on building good habits (form, routine, diet), while building strength and burning fat. I won't even start thinking about building muscle mass until I'm down closer to ~15% body fat. Around that same time I'll start throwing some auxillary exercises and perhaps switch to a 2 day split push/pull routine.

As for equipment... I have an adjustable dumbbell set at home, but it only goes up to 105 lbs (52.5 each), so that won't do for the lower body work (at least after some point). However, I do have access to a gym, with all the usual staples, within a 10 minute walk. All the exercises I listed in my routine will probably switch to the bar or cable versions as needed, though I prefer dumbbells if they're heavy enough.

Thanks again!!