Fitness / Strength Training

Body Recomposition 101: How to Burn Fat and Build Muscle

Follow these tips to achieve the fitness holy grail.

Body recomposition refers to decreasing body fat percentage and increasing lean body mass (muscle) during the same time frame. In other words, recomposition means rearranging your body composition, which is the amount of fat and lean muscle you have. Many fitness enthusiasts claim that “burning fat and building muscle” is their goal without understanding that typically the end result of simultaneously building muscle and losing fat is a body weight that is within five pounds of your current body weight. And, many people starting a workout routine with Aaptiv or looking to lose weight want to lose more than five pounds.

Everyone responds differently to different types of training and diets, but let’s speak in general terms here. People looking to really increase their body weight will do so by entering a “bulking phase” of some type where they cut out cardio, solely lift weights, and eat more than usual. Once they surpass their ideal weight, they’ll do a “cutting phase” where they decrease body fat by doing a bunch of cardio until they reach their actual weight goal, which is still above where they started. This “yo-yo” style of muscle gain is not necessary (or healthy), but it’s the strategy that many models and bodybuilders use.

The healthier, albeit longer, approach to changing your physique is to do concurrent training where you mix both cardio and strength training within the same week and, sometimes, even within the same workout. Instead of just lifting weights during your program for months, you can also do high intensity interval training (HIIT) using lighter weights to burn calories fast and increase muscle size.

Aaptiv has dozens of HIIT workouts designed to burn and build anywhere. In fact, doing different fitness classes is one of the best ways to keep your body guessing and maintain a lean physique.

Diet-wise, you’ll do calorie cycling where you eat more on strength workout days and less on cardio/non-lifting days. But, in general, you won’t be changing your diet much. The bulk and cut can get an aspiring fitness competitor where they need to be in four to five months. The maintenance of body recomposition can take a novice to intermediate trainee six to eight months to see their appearance change without much uptick or downtick on the weight scale—recomposition requires patience. Let’s take a closer look at how to avoid the yo-yo dieting and look lean year-round.

Maintenance Calories

The amount of energy expended for any activity depends on the intensity, duration, and frequency of the activity and the weight of the exerciser. Casual exercise like walking around the block a few times may burn only 300 additional calories per day, the training required for an endurance athlete, such as a marathon runner, may increase energy expenditure by 2000 to 3000 calories/day, according to Visualizing Nutrition: Everyday Choices. In general, the more intense the activity, the more energy it requires, and the more time spent exercising, the more calories are burned. The exception is HIIT since a 60-minute low intensity run can burn around the same amount of calories as a 30-minute HIIT workout that includes only small bursts of running, if any at all.

Activity trackers like an Apple Watch, Fitbit, or Garmin, and apps like MyfitnessPal or Fitocracy can estimate your calorie needs based on your height, weight, typical activity level (desk worker vs. construction worker) and actual calories burned. In general, the following guidelines can be followed to achieve specific goals.

First of all, make sure that you’re properly assessing your own body composition by checking this article on how to measure body fat. Next, try to hit the following numbers.

Fat Loss Days

Cardio only days, non-workout days

Muscle-Building Days

Weightlifting and HIIT days

The trick with recomposition is that instead of following one these guidelines exclusively for weeks/months then switching to the other one, you’ll do both in the same week. As for training, here’s a guideline for body recomposition.

Workout Week

Day 1: Full Body Workout

Directions: Alternate between the upper and lower body exercises (A and B), resting the prescribed amount of time between sets and exercises.

1A. Exercise: Barbell Squat

How to do it: Squats are performed at power racks or squat stands. Place the bar above the rear deltoids at the base of the neck. Raise the elbows and chest simultaneously to create a shelf with upper back and shoulders for the bar to rest on. With the torso and shoulders tight in this position and both feet underneath you, remove the bar from the rack with it on your back, take one to two steps back. Position yourself so that your feet are between hip and shoulder width apart with toes pointed slightly outward so that knees track over the feet. Look down at the floor about four to five feet in front of you. Take a deep breath, flex the hips and knees under control, and move the hips down until thighs are below parallel. If you can’t reach this point, the weight is too heavy and you should decrease the load. After reaching below parallel, raise the bar under control by extending the knees and hips until you’re standing straight up again. That’s one rep.

1B. Dumbbell Bench Press

How to do it: Lie on bench facing up (supine) holding one dumbbell in each hand at the outside of your chest muscles; this is the starting position. Raise both weights straight up towards the ceiling, then towards each other, then separate the weights, and return them back down towards the outside of your chest. That’s one rep.

 2A. Lunge

Stand at one end of a long empty space such as a gym floor, field, or in your living room. Step forward with your left leg into a lunge position so that your right knee is bent but not touching the floor. Raise right leg and step it all the way forward so left leg is bent behind you. That’s one rep. Don’t reset after each step, keep stepping forward.

2B. Dumbbell Row

Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand with knees bent with palms facing each other (neutral grip). Your body should be leaning forward slightly with the chest out and back straight. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bring the weights towards your rib cage. Pause for two seconds while elbows are fully back, then return the weight to the starting position.

3A. Dip

How to do it: Sit on the floor with arms extended, palms on the floor behind you and at your sides, and knees bent at 90 degrees. The direction of your palms depends on how you’re comfortable, but most prefer the wrist slightly rotated out. Raise your hips off the ground and tighten your core; this is the starting position. Bend your elbows and lower your body towards the ground until you feel tension in your triceps. Straighten your arms and return to the starting position.

3B. Straight Leg Deadlift

How to do it: Stand with feet hip width apart holding a barbell with an overhand grip at shoulder-width; this is the starting position. Bend your hips back as far as you can while maintaining a straight back. The knees can slightly bend as you lower the bar down your shins. Keep lowering the bar until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Drag the bar back up the shins and to the starting position, all while keeping the back arched. That’s one rep.

4. Plank with Forward Reach

How to do it: Get into a forearm plank position with the toes pointed into the ground, back and core in a straight line, and forearms on the ground shoulder-width apart. Keeping the core tight, raise your left elbow off the ground and extend the left arm straight in front of you. Once the arm is straight out, bring it back to the start position. Now, repeat on the other side, raising right elbow off ground and extending right arm straight out.

Day 2: Short Cardio

Do a run, bike ride, stair climb, rowing workout, elliptical workout, swim, or any other aerobic exercise for 20-30 minutes at 80-85 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Day 3: Off

Day 4: Upper or Lower Body Workout

Choose to lift weights for either the upper body or lower body.

Aaptiv has awesome upper body workouts such as “Upper Body Sizzle,” “Upper Body Showdown,” and “Your Upper Body Best.” Some of Aaptiv’s lower body workouts include “Lower Body Blast,” “Lower Body Love,” and “Lower Body Focused.”

Day 5: HIIT Workout

Aaptiv also has dozens of high intensity interval training workouts like “HIIT the Wall” and “I Like HIIT.” Here is an exclusive HIIT workout to try now.

Directions: Perform each exercise for 40 seconds, resting 20 seconds between exercises. Rest two minutes between rounds. Complete three to four rounds.

  1. Kettelbell Swing

How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder width apart with a kettlebell on the ground about one foot in front of you. Push your hips back, slightly bend your knees, and grab the kettlebell using an overhand grip. Hike the kettlebell between your legs then stand straight up by thrusting your hips forward and bringing the bell to eye level. Lower the bell back down between your legs and explosively push the hips forward to start another rep. Your torso and shoulders can lean slightly forward during the hike and swing, as it’s your hips/glutes driving the weight forward.

  1. Dumbbell Burpee to Overhead Press

How to do it: Stand with a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing each other. Squat down and get into push-up position with your hands holding the dumbbells on the ground. Come back up into a low squat position with the weights on top of your shoulders, then explode up and press the weights overhead. You should be standing with arms extended and weights overhead, palms facing each other (neutral grip). Return the weights back down to the top of your shoulders, then back down to your sides. That’s one rep.

  1. 8-Count Bodybuilder

How to do it: Count 1: Squat down with palms/fingertips on the ground. Count 2: Kick your legs back into push-up position. Count 3: Lower your chest to the ground. Count 4: Push off the ground, getting back into push-up position. Count 5: Do a plank jack, separating both legs into a wide V. Count 6: Bring legs back together so you’re in push-up position again. Count 7: Bring legs forward so you’re in a low squat again. Count 8: Stand straight up.

  1. Medicine Ball Rainbow Lunge

How to do it: Standing, hold a six to ten pound medicine ball in your hands overhead, with arms extended. Lunge forward with your right foot as you simultaneously lower and rotate the medicine ball towards the outside of your right knee. Return to the starting position. Then, repeat on the left side. That’s one rep.

  1. Valslide Pike

How to do it: While in push-up position, place toes on a sliding disc such as a Valslide, a 5lb plate, a paper plate, or other sliding object. Bring toes straight up towards your chest without bending your knees. Return to the starting position. That’s one rep.

Day 6: Long Cardio

Do an aerobic workout for a long distance at a slower pace, about 65-70 percent of your maximum heart rate. The duration should be at least 40 minutes up to two hours.

Day 7: Flex Day

On this day, try to stay active and limber by stretching, doing a yoga class, foam rolling, and/or going for a walk. Recovery is key for any fitness goal, including body recomposition.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, body recomposition requires attention to detail in both nutrition and training. But, it’s not so intense as a fitness competitor. The idea is that you’ll stay around the same weight but look different without any major (unhealthy) fluctuations in weight. Establishing good nutrition habits like cooking your own meals, portion control, and drinking enough water will help you maintain your weight. Alternating between strength and endurance workouts throughout the week will improve sports performance and make you more functional, rather than immediately bigger or more shredded. If fitness truly is a lifestyle, then body recomposition is just that—lifestyle taken more or less seriously depending on how you want to look.

Mark Barroso is an NSCA-CPT and Spartan SGX Coach.

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