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Achieving Body Recomposition - Part 2: Resistance Training


If you read my first article in this 3-part series (Why we want to focus on “body recomposition” — NOT weight loss), then you have gotten a “birds-eye” view of Body Recomposition. If you read the second (Achieving Body Recomposition — Part 1: Cardio Training), then you’ve also seen how cardiovascular training plays an important role. If you haven’t read either, check those out first - then, come back to this one (Part 3)!


Now, if you have, let’s circle back to Resistance training - the last piece of our exercise routine to achieve body recomposition. Now, listen, I’ve simplified the “rules of cardio” - and I’ll be doing the same thing for the “rules of resistance”. Understand that much smarter folks than I have written entire textbooks on both topics to fully explain them; and I’m not trying to explode your brain today…


But, what many people don’t know, is that resistance training actually improves your cardiovascular training! However, heavy cardiovascular training can actually stimulate your body to shed muscle mass… Think of those old pirate movies where they have to toss stuff overboard to outpace the other ship; this is like the long-distance runner that only does cardio training. But, if we can make them both an equal part of our routine, we can stimulate the growth of muscle and drastically improve our cardiovascular health. Plus, did you know that you burn more calories at rest the more muscle you have? Talk about a double-edged sword!


If you are just beginning your fitness journey, its best to start with 2–3 days per week of a total body resistance training routine. This is so you don’t over-do it on any one muscle group in a workout. You should also aim to space training days out to give yourself at least 1 day of recovery between resistance workouts. When you do a total body routine, think about hitting the major muscle groups - make a checklist:

  • Quads & Glutes

  • Hamstrings & Hip Flexors

  • Hip Adductors & Abductors

  • Calves & Anterior Tibialis (Ant. Tib.)

  • Chest & Triceps

  • Back & Biceps

  • Shoulders

  • Abdominals

  • Low Back

A total body routine may incorporate all, or some, of the muscle groups on this list - as long as we have an even combination of different muscle groups. So, imagine we do 1 of each for a workout - therefore, there are 9 exercises you do during that workout. But, 9 exercises might be a little much for your first several workouts... So, in the very beginning, shoot for 2 days of weight training, and split it up in to equal upper/lower body movements and split up the muscle groups (known as a “split routine”). This way, you only hit each muscle group once per week. For example:


2-day Split Routine


Day 1

  • Quads & Glutes

  • Chest/Triceps

  • Calves & Ant. Tib

  • Anterior Shoulders

  • Abdominals

Day 2

  • Hamstrings & Hip Flexors

  • Back/Biceps

  • Hip Add/Abductors

  • Posterior Shoulders

  • Low Back

Regardless of your initial split routine, this going to work on building your strength while giving the appropriate rest to each muscle group. This is going to compliment the cardio routines you do, and stimulate your body to not only hold on to its muscle, but to increase it. And we’re not talking massive bulk here — we’re talking lean muscle mass.


As you become more advanced in your resistance training, you can start to further spilt up the muscle groups… Here is a natural progression you can take after that 2-day split:


3-day Split Routine


Day 1

  • Chest

  • Triceps

  • Anterior Shoulders

  • Abdominals

Day 2

  • Back

  • Biceps

  • Posterior Shoulders

  • Abdominals: Obliques

Day 3

  • Quads & Glutes

  • Hamstrings & Hip Flexors

  • Hip Add/Abductors

  • Calves & Ant. Tib.

  • Low Back

Then, we can further split up the routine into a:


4-day Split Routine


Day 1

  • Chest

  • Triceps

  • Anterior Shoulders

  • Abdominals

Day 2

  • Quads & Glutes

  • Calves & Ant. Tib

  • Low Back

Day 3

  • Back

  • Biceps

  • Posterior Shoulders

  • Abdominals: Obliques

Day 4

  • Hamstrings

  • Hip Add/Abductors

  • Abdominals: Lower Core & Hip flexors


After that, we can split it up even more into a:


5-day Split Routine


Day 1

  • Chest

Day 2

  • Total Legs

Day 3

  • Back

Day 4

  • Triceps

  • Biceps

  • Shoulders

Day 5

  • Total Abdominals


Finally, we can increase the split yet again with a:


6-day Split Routine


Day 1

  • Chest

Day 2

  • Total Legs

Day 3

  • Back

Day 4

  • Triceps

  • Biceps

Day 5

  • Shoulders

Day 6

  • Total Abdominals


The more days we split our routine into, the more we begin to isolate each muscle group. This increases the overload on these muscle fibers - stimulating them to grow and multiply. “Overload” in the world of fitness is a very positive term! It simply means we are pushing the structure (muscle and/or bone) beyond the limits of which it is accustom. It is this stimulus that our body reacts to - making us faster, stronger, more enduranced, more flexible and so on. This is why the longer someone has been doing something physical (i.e. running, lifting, yoga or sports) the better they are at it! Our body is amazing intuitive - it judges our needs based on what we ask of it, then it adapts.


Progressive Overload

But, unfortunately, it also takes energy to adapt and to maintain those adaptations. Remember, your body burns more calories at rest the more muscle you have. Calories are your body’s energy source - think of it as currency. And in the same way we work a yearly budget, your body will decide what it doesn’t need based on your activity. For this reason, if we don’t use it, we lose it… But, the silver-lining is, our body also “remembers” what it has done in the past. Its easier to train yourself back to a certain body composition/fitness level than it is to get there the first time…


And, our body likes to be in a state of equilibrium - which is essentially a “blueprint” of your “normal”. So, if you have been in great shape most of your life - your body remembers that; its your “normal”. And if you get out of shape, your road back to being in shape is typically easier! But, this also works in the reverse… This is why you see shows like “The Biggest Loser”- where people were losing a tremendous amount of weight, only to gain it all back after leaving the show. You have to spend some time in that physical state to create that new place of equilibrium for your body. And, losing it all too quickly can shock your body. The same way we want to ease into cold water, the body needs to ease into changes. This allows it to react appropriately and create that new “normal”. Again, this is a very simplified explanation of the process!


So, back the Split Routine (and considering “easing in”), you don’t necessarily need to start with a 2-day split, and move to a 6-day split - its all about your goals! If you are interested in building real strength or size, then slowly moving into more splits will benefit you. Because, you will still try to do 6–9 exercises at each workout - therefore, as you do less muscle groups, you will do more exercises for that group; stimulating that healthy exercise concept known as “overload”. Imagine doing a workout that is nothing but chest exercises - now, imagine how sore you’ll be if you try to do that your first time!


If you have sports-oriented goals, it would benefit you to do more total body routines with compound movements (multiple muscle groups working together) that simulate the movements of your sport. Or, if you are more cardio focused (like the long-distance runner) - you could stick with a 2-day resistance split routine forever! Just increasing the number of exercises, sets and resistance you do to continue progressing forward (stimulating overload). A resistance training program has been proven to help your performance as a “cardio-focused athlete”. Or, if you want an even focus - then try doing a 3-day split routine with a 3-day cardio routine!


Beyond that, there is also a wide range of sets/reps that you can choose from, depending on your goals for strength training (endurance, strength-endurance, muscle growth, max strength). If you want a little of it all, try doing 3 sets of each exercise… Do all the different exercises in a row (known as a circuit) for 15 reps, then repeat them all for 12 reps, and then repeat again for 8-10 reps; trying to increase the weight that you use (even a little) for each exercise over the course of 3 sets. Try to challenge yourself each round, making it difficult to finish your reps (with still having good form). After a few weeks using those weights/resistance, try to start (set 1) and finish (set 3) a little heavier than you did before.


So, if I could give you a boiled-down, middle-of-the-road focus: Build your way to 3 days of cardio (1 LSD, 1 MetCon, 1 HIIT) and 3 days of weight training - using a 3-day split routine. By doing this, you are going to burn major calories, lose fat mass, increase your cardiovascular capacity, build muscle and get leaner. And, the beautiful thing is that you can make it fit your schedule: You can do cardio and strength on the same days, as time allows (try to do strength before cardio, if doing it on the same day) - or, you can split up resistance and cardio workouts over 6 days and take the 7th off! Just remember to work your way up to that point. Don’t try to workout for 6 days in a row when you first get started; shoot for 3–4 days. Its not inappropriate at all to have 2 days in a row of recovery - but try avoid 3 days in a row with no activity, even if you have to slow down and take it easier!


Then, just stay consistent - and you’ll be on your way to achieving “body recomposition”!



Written by:

Erin Lewis, MS, EP-C, CSCS, CES, Pn1, USAW

Owner of Lewis Performance Training

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