Building Muscle: The Key to Staying Lean (Part 1)


Fitness goals are not the same for everyone. Some want to pack as much muscle on as their genetic predisposition for muscle gain will allow and some care to have a slimmer look. But one thing is for certain: no one who is playing the game with a full deck wants a flabby body. Whether you are shooting for beefcake or a slimmer, sinewy toned appearance, everyone wants a fit look. And yet I see people in the gym constantly making the same mistakes over and over… spending countless hours on the treadmill or doing endless sets of crunches in the hope of losing body fat and getting lean.

Many who undertake a fitness regimen in the hope of getting lean think that by doing multiple aerobic sessions (cardio work), they will burn the body fat they are trying to lose. Unfortunately, our bodies just do not work that way. If you are trying to lose excess fat doing countless hours of cardio, most likely you will go from “big” flabby to ”soft” flabby . In other words, you will lose weight, but you will not get the toned, hard, fit look you’re after. Why? Because when you overdo any type of cardio exercise (60 minutes or longer), your body stops burning body fat and shifts to burning your muscle mass. This is your body’s protection mechanism and it will do everything it can to preserve its fat stores especially if you are on a low calorie diet. As result, your metabolism slows and you will lose weight –but not the kind of weight you want to lose and the result is a softer look to your appearance without any muscle tone.

Aside from your nutritional regimen of course, there are two methods to losing fat that will give you a hard, toned appearance:
• Strength Training
• Short and Intense Interval Cardio training

You need to do some type of resistance training. Building muscle burns fat in two ways:
1. Muscle is 90 % metabolic. What this means is that your muscle mass for maintenance uses up 90% of the calories in your body. It is very simple: the more muscle you have, the more body fat you will burn in and outside of the gym.
2. Building muscle will enhance your cardio work because you will not need to do endless aerobic work to lose fat. Instead, you can do short intense intervals of cardio, which will compliment your strength training routine, which in turn will send your metabolism into orbit. With sound nutrition, you will burn body fat constantly throughout the day.

NOTE: If you are new to strength training (or any type of exercise), it is imperative that you first see your doctor for a complete physical examination. Have your heart and lungs checked and get blood work done. If your doctor gives you a clean bill of health and the green light to start a rigorous strength training regimen, you are ready to go.

Here is an excellent routine for beginners to follow three days a week:
• Bench press 3 X 15 (3 sets , 15 repetitions)
• Shoulder press 3 X 15
• Leg press 3 X 15 (as you build strength in your quadriceps, you can move to doing squats which will build strength throughout your entire body in addition to your legs).
Use a weight that will make you work (but not struggle) for those 15 repetitions.

After each session, try doing some intense cardio for no longer than 5 minutes on the treadmill. When I say intense, I mean running, not jogging. As you condition your body more through strength training, you can up the intensity of your cardio a little more each time as you get stronger. This short interval of cardio exercise will compliment your weight resistance routine building endurance and keeping your heart and circulatory system in great shape.

As you advance further into strength training, you will find the exercises that work best for you and you can begin splitting your body parts into different days. If you do not wish to have the “bulked” up appearance (and remember that is determined largely by your genetics) simply decrease the weight you are using but keep your intensity high.

No doubt as you move further in to your strength-training regimen, many will claim you should be doing more cardio because bodybuilding does not work the heart hard enough. Don’t waste your time or sacrifice any of your enthusiasm by listening to these self-proclaimed “health experts” Anyone who thinks bodybuilding does not work the heart obviously has never experienced doing heavy deadlifts or parallel squats. For example, my current routine for lower back training involves 385 lb. deadlifts combined with hyperextensions with added weight and very little rest in between the two exercises. I can guarantee these two exercises back to back will have your heart racing with the intensity of a runaway locomotive! Of course I worked up to this weight over the years and I recommend you begin with much less. But here’s the point: if you do your strength training at the right intensity, it will produce a cardiovascular effect that will work your heart as well as building healthy fat burning muscle tissue.

After about 4 to 6 weeks, you will see a significant change in your appearance and how you feel. You will have burned off excess flab, increased your endurance, and your energy levels will skyrocket (assuming you are also eating right which I will discuss in my next blog).

Get checked out by your doctor and then give this routine a try. You will have the best of both worlds- building healthy lean muscle tissue while keeping your heart in great shape. And best of all, you will become a literal fat burning machine.
My next blog will talk about eating for muscle. Stay tuned.


Brackett, Kelly. 28 May 2015. 13 June 2015.
Mayo Clinic Staff. Metabolism and weight loss: How you burn calories. n.d n.d n.d. 13 June 2015.
Wavey, Davey. DaveyWavey Fitness. 5 January 2011. 13 June 2015.

James Torro
James A. Torro is a former certified fitness instructor and is currently a nutrition major. He earned his MBA from the University of Scranton and lives in Tampa, Florida with his wife and two children.