Gone are the days when there was a season to maintain a lean and athletic physique, strategically hiding those extra kilos under your heavy winter clothing hoping nobody would notice, only to start your fitness journey all over again as the summer months approached. This cyclical approach for maintaining your physique can be quite unhealthy and has largely been denounced by many medical professionals.
There has been a growing realisation of the health benefits and functional implications of maintaining a lean physique all year round, benefits that can impact every aspect of your life -being more productive at work, more active and alert throughout the day, increased confidence and, often understated, keeping your partners happy in bed:)
In this article, we'll be exploring just some of the things you can do to help maintain an aesthetically pleasing and functional lean physique all year round.
Force Yourself Out Of Your Comfort Zone
This may be the most basic principle, but certainly the one that most people struggle with. The body will not respond to a stimulus that is not strong enough. It may be a healthy thing to walk in the park daily for 30 minutes, but if it hasn’t been working for you lately, it probably won’t work anytime in the future either. The body continuously requires a push or a challenge so it can adapt and build lean muscle to support that activity. Light intensity workouts will not take you where you want to be because they're simply not challenging enough.
There are several ways in which you can incorporate high-intensity workouts into your daily routine, using the correct form to avoid injuries and actually making the muscles work and not your joints. Seek the advice of a knowledgeable trainer to assist you with devising a workout plan that fits your needs and ensure that you maintain proper form whilst regularly tracking your progress and milestones.
While there is no single perfect workout that works for every body type, there are some general approaches that are known to work when looking to build lean muscle and maintaining great physique all year round. Let's take a look at a few
Incorporate More Compound Movements
Compound movements and multi-joint exercises involve more body parts than movements done in isolation. They also require more muscle fibre and more muscle mass than isolation exercises. For example, a bench press will work more muscles than bicep curls.
Using more muscles and muscle groups in a single exercise movement means that there will be greater energy and hormonal response. You will burn more calories and pack on more muscle mass as a result. So try to incorporate more compound movements into your workouts, such as deadlifts, squats, bench presses, overhead presses and rows, as opposed to single muscle exercises, such as bicep curls or leg extensions. Keep in mind though that these big lifts require tremendous amounts of energy output, so if you feel that you need an extra boost of energy, you might want to consider using a natural pre-workout.
Try High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
To get the most out of your cardio sessions, try high intensity interval training (HIIT). Simply put, HIIT involves working out at higher intensities with shorter amounts of recovery periods. This type of training leads to more calories being burnt during a single workout as the heart rate stays elevated.
Another benefit of incorporating HIIT in your exercise regime is that your post-exercise oxygen consumption is much higher for the 24 hours after your workout, so you continue to burn a greater amount of calories even after you've stopped exercising. On top of that, this sort of training consumes less time than your traditional workouts as your speed things up by shortening the rest periods to increase the intensity.
Aim to incorporate 2-3 HIIT cardio sessions into your routine to keep lean. An example cardio session following HIIT principles will look something like this:
- You warm up with a light jog and some stretches for 2-3 minutes
- Then you run all out (70-90% of your maximum capacity) for 30 to 40 seconds depending on your fitness level
- Follow it up with a 60 second interval of light running or a jog before running another circuit of an all-out run for 30-40 seconds.
- Repeat the process 6 times
HIIT circuits are not as simple as it sounds, by the end of the 6th circuit, you will be left completely breathless - that is, if you even make it to the 6th one in the first place. Don't feel too bad though, most people even struggle to get to the 5th circuit. To keep up with that intensity though, make sure you have a bottle of water or a sports drink by your side to stay hydrated. Cardio does not have to be dull, drab, and steady-state, you just need to keep challenging yourself and making things interesting. As you improve, you can ramp up the intensity or increase the length of your workouts.
Switch It Up
If you continue doing the same movements, you will eventually stop burning fat. Your body will adapt to the usual amounts of load, reps, and sets, and will not have any reason to build itself and improve. To be able to continue to make gains, it is important that you keep the body guessing with changes in the stimulus. Try to shake things up with the different areas of your exercise by changing the amount of weight, rest period, intensity, or movement to keep every part of the body working.
Take time out to play your favourite sport every now and then or switch things up at the gym, for e.g. focus on hypertrophy for a few weeks and then go back performance-based workouts the following few weeks. It will also have the added benefit of ensuring that your workouts are not monotonous and boring.
The statement “bodies are made in the kitchen" is extremely popular in fitness circles, and for good reason! There is no doubt that your diet is the primary facet of maintaining an aesthetic looking and functional physique. However, the word dieting has a negative connotation attached to it, often geared towards achieving results over a certain period of time and is therefore seen to be a temporary phenomenon. When looking to stay lean and shredded throughout the year, it is important to incorporate healthy eating habits. That is why there are a few principles that have to be considered and adhered to if you are serious about maintaining your physique all year round. Let's take a look at a few.
Know Your Macros
Now you don’t have to turn into a professional nutritionist, but knowing and tracking what you’re eating is very important, in particular, your macro-nutrient profile. To keep things simple, the 3 most important macro-nutrients to track in every meal are proteins, carbohydrates and fats. As a general rule of thumb, your meal should be composed of"
- 40% protein
- 30% carbohydrates
- 30% fats
Whenever possible, try to ensure that you’re getting the right amount of macros in every meal. You can always turn to natural protein shakes or protein bars when life gets too hectic, they're extremely convenient and a great way to get enough protein to maintain lean muscle!
Know What You Need
Besides tracking your macros, it is also important that you keep a track of your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). In other words, the total amount of calories that your body requires to function on a daily basis. It's easy to jump online and find a total daily energy expenditure calculator that will help you find out your TDEE according to your height, weight, age and activity level. It's important to stick to this number by keeping a track of the calories you consume throughout the day.
The Thing about Cheat Meals
The infamous cheat meal has a special place in the hearts of many, that light at the end of a tunnel or the pot of gold at the end of every rainbow - ok, that's a little dramatic but you get the idea. The trick is though, it should always be considered as a reward that needs to be earned. You could have a cheat meal perhaps once a week, especially if you've had a tough week at the gym and have been quite strict in your diet plan. Spoiling yourself with such a reward will keep you motivated to keep on going!
Recovery is Key
There are three important aspects to maintaining a lean physique: workout, diet, and recovery. Recovery is not just essential for a lean physique but also for your overall health and wellbeing. Training puts your body through intense wear and tear, so getting enough rest is extremely important. Keep the following tips in mind to help optimize your recovery;
- Stretch at the end of your workout, especially some of your tight areas such as the hips or upper back. 5 to 10 minutes of stretching should keep you mobile, athletic, and ready for your next workouts.
- Drink plenty of water. When you’re training hard at the gym often, you lose bodily fluids and they need to be replenished. Aim for at least 12 glasses of water a day.
- Get 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep daily.
Your entire lifestyle will have to be built around your fitness goals if you’re truly interested in a lean physique all year round. Don't forget, the three areas that you should always keep in focus are your exercise, diet, and recovery. It's also important to remember that it's not just about looking good, but also about feeling good and staying healthy. A lean and athletic body is more functional, agile, alert and more productive, helping you to embrace the day and enjoy life to the fullest!