Lose Fat and Gain Muscle (At the Same Time)

Lose Fat and Gain Muscle (At the Same Time)


Is Vader on the right track to lose fat and gain muscle? Let's find out!

There’s an argument in the fitness world that you can either choose to lose fat OR gain muscle.

That they just can’t be done simultaneously.

To this, I say, “Hogwash!”

We have tons of success stories from our online coaching clients who have been able to do both simultaneously:




And that’s what we’ll cover in today’s guide!

We’ll do so by discussing:

Before we jump in…

You’re reading this guide at the perfect time because Nerd Fitness is currently hosting a special event, LET’S START TOGETHER: A 5-DAY WALKING CHALLENGE FOR HOBBITSNERDS!

A graph explaining the Nerd Fitness Walking Challenge

You’ll read more about it below, but one of the secrets to losing fat is moving in a way you enjoy. Like walking!

If interested, learn more about the challenge right here!

What’s Body Recomposition?

As Coach Matt mentions in the video above, gaining muscle and losing fat simultaneously is called “body recomposition.”

So yes, the process is indeed possible, as long as you follow the right plan.

…but you don’t have to take my word for it.

Just ask our friend Aksel here (who achieved an impressive body recomp with the help of a NF Coach):

A side-by-side of Aksel's before and after

Read more about his incredible story!

However, as I mentioned in the intro, you’ll often hear that losing fat while gaining muscle is impossible. The argument goes that you should just focus on one or the other, because doing both at once is destined to fail.

Let’s explore this claim.

Losing Fat and Gaining Muscle at the Same Time (The Controversy)

This picture shows two LEGO miners, who don't have much to do with fast weight loss, but look cool.

To understand why losing fat while gaining muscle can be problematic, we need to explore both processes.

Let’s consider the following points:

Given this, losing fat (caloric deficit) at the same time one is gaining muscle (caloric surplus) seems impossible.

However, if we go a few steps deeper into the science, it IS possible!

A foe from the Prince Bride not believing you can lose fat while gaining muscle.

To appreciate the nuance here, let’s get into some specifics on losing fat and gaining muscle separately, and then we’ll combine them.

HOW DO YOU LOSE FAT?

a picture of Homer Simpson with Donut

There is a simple answer and a slightly less simple answer when it comes to losing body fat.

The simple answer: “consume fewer calories than you expend or burn.”[1]

Eight words, and one or two of those could probably be thrown out.

When your body needs more calories than the amount you are eating, you are in a “caloric deficit.” Your body doesn’t have the calories it needs as fuel, so it’ll start breaking down parts of itself for its energy requirements.

(If you’re curious, you can calculate your daily caloric needs here).

The hope is that your body will mostly pull from fat stores, though depending on how you are training it will also break down muscle too.[2]

Said again: when you are eating a caloric deficit, your body will pull from both its fat stores AND existing muscle for energy.

Yes, if you're not careful you can lose fat AND muscle while losing weight.

Troubling indeed.

From a physique and health standpoint, obviously we’d prefer that your body doesn’t break down muscle when in a caloric deficit, and instead really focuses on using fat stores instead.[3]

I make this point for a reason: your goal in fitness shouldn’t only be “weight loss,” despite the common vernacular used.

Who cares what the scale says, right?

A scale can be misleading when you're trying to lose fat and gain muscle.

The goal instead is to reduce body fat while also keeping the muscle you have (or even building more muscle).

That leads to a better physique and a healthier body.

This is why there is a big market for devices that supposedly assess your body fat percentage.

By reducing your total fat on your body, OR increasing muscle mass, you’ll end up with a lower body fat percentage (it’s just a simple ratio of fat to everything else).

And lower body fat percentages are where “toned arms” and “6-pack abs” hang out.

Arnold lost body fat and gained muscle to achieve his physique. And maybe some super glue.

We’ll discuss tips on keeping and growing your muscle while in a calorie deficit later in this guide. For now, remember you need fewer calories “in” compared to calories “out” for weight loss to occur, from either fat stores or muscle.

You may be asking, “Steve, what’s easier to do? Burn more calories or consume less?”

Good question.

Numbers will help tell the story: though this is a gross oversimplification – let’s use the ‘widely accepted’ starting point of “3,500 calories equals roughly one pound of fat.”[4]

If you want to lose one pound – or half a kilogram – of body fat in a week (a worthy, sustainable goal for some), you need to create a caloric deficit of 500 calories per day. 

Your options to create this caloric deficit include:

  • Consuming 500 fewer calories
  • Burning 500 more calories
  • A combination of the two

Which is easier?

Here are both halves of that equation. 500 calories equals:

  • The number of calories found in a Big Gulp of Mountain Dew.
  • An estimate of the calories required to run five miles.

Yes, you will have to run for a long time to burn 500 calories.

Yep.

When it comes to maintaining a caloric deficit, it really comes down to diet.

It’s significantly more effective and time-efficient to consume 500 fewer calories than it is to burn 500 additional calories.

As Time magazine controversially pointed out – with tons of cited studies – “exercise alone won’t make you thin.” It’s too easy to add more calories in, and requires too much work to effectively influence “calories out.”

We dig into this in our guide to The CICO Diet

This brings us to our slightly less simple answer on getting in shape:

To lose body fat, you need to watch what you eat, and do so in a sustainable way.

Here at Nerd Fitness, we are firm believers that 80-90% of the fat-loss equation comes down to diet (check out Rule # 4).

Here’s another idea we focus on: EAT MOSTLY UNPROCESSED FOOD.[5]

These image shows some real food, critical if you're trying to lose body fat.

Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts are all great examples.

These foods are very nutrient-dense and often low in calories compared to their processed counterparts. Which means you get filled up without overeating.

Win-win-win.

Have you ever seen the difference between 200 calories of broccoli and 200 calories of a bagel? WiseGEEK does a great job of displaying this, so we’ll borrow a couple of their photos.

200 calories of broccoli:

A pic of 200 calories of broccoli

200 calories of a bagel:

This picture shows you 200 calories worth of a bagel, which is about 2/3 of one.

That’s why REAL food is the answer to creating a sustainable caloric deficit.

Most people can eat an entire bagel, no problem. Plates of broccoli, with all of the fiber, are much tougher to overeat.

We lay it all out in our Beginner’s Guide to Healthy Eating. It’ll provide tips on how to gradually create habits that get you to a “REAL food” way of eating, including proper portion sizes, tips on batch cooking, and a cameo from Winnie the Pooh.

Pooh knows that to lose fat and gain muscle, he really needs to cool it with all the honey.

With all of this, we advise you to take it slow, so new habits of healthy eating become permanent.

Something you can do for the rest of your life.

It’s a strategy we work closely with our coaching clients on: small nutritional adjustments they feel comfortable making. It’s how some of them have been able to lose 50-100 pounds!




Let me explain again: what you eat will be 80%-90% of the equation for losing body fat.

The other 10-20%? Exercise.

Of course it’s exercise.

That’s a pretty good segue into…

HOW DO YOU GAIN MUSCLE?

Toy Hulk and the wilds trunks of huge plants

If you want to build muscle, you’ll have to lift heavy things and ensure that your body has enough calories and protein to adapt by building more muscle.

In our Beginner’s Guide to Building Muscle and Strength, I summarize it as follows:

  • Lift heavy things
  • Eat a diet based on your goals
  • Rest so your body can recover

Let’s chat about each one quickly.

#1) Lift heavy things

I will always be on Team Strength Training. If you’re looking to build muscle, you’re gonna need to lift heavy things.

This Muppet knows strength training will help him gain muscle and lose fat.

When you lift an object (or your own bodyweight) enough times, your muscles reach the point of failure. This causes your muscles to tear and breakdown.

When your muscle rebuilds itself following the workout, it’ll be bigger and stronger than before. Then you do it again.

And again.

And again.

As long as you are eating enough to rebuild your muscle, you’ll get stronger!

Not sure where to start on a Strength Training practice? No problem! You can download our free guide Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know when you join the Rebellion (our free community) below:

#2) Eat a diet based on your goals

Because your muscle needs to be rebuilt after exercise, the calories are gonna need to come from somewhere. I’ll talk a lot about proper diet in the next section (with a Harry Potter analogy), so I won’t spend too much time on it here.

Just know that eating the right quantity of foods will be a big part of gaining muscle.  

#3) Rest

Your body rebuilds itself while you sleep, so make sure you get plenty of rest each night. I’m talking 7-8+ hours. This will help ensure your body has the time it needs to grow stronger.

If you’re strength training and only getting 6 hours of sleep a night or less, you’re really doing yourself a disservice. Go to bed!

Donald knows he has to get plenty of rest to grow muscle. If only that sink would stop dripping.

That’s the short gist of how to build strength: challenge your muscles, eat well, and get some rest.

Let’s narrow in on our second point, “Eat a diet based on your goals.” It’ll become very important when balancing both losing body fat and gaining muscle.

To do that properly, grab your owl, and let’s chat about Hogwarts.

How to Lose Fat WHILE Gaining Muscle (The Science)

Close-up shot of microscope with metal lens at laboratory.

To answer the question of losing body fat and gaining muscle at the same time, I’d like to introduce an analogy from the world of Harry Potter.

Recall the “Sorting Hat:” The Sorting Hat’s job was to determine which of the four houses kids will call their home.

The sorting hat will help us tell the story on calories and losing fat.

It’s almost like a traffic director: “Harry, you will go to Gryffindor! Draco, you will go to Slytherin!”

Your body operates on a VERY similar operation: every day it receives new calories (when you eat), and it needs to decide what to do with them!

For example:

You eat a chicken parm sub with fries and a 20-ounce soda. Your body then has to know where to route all those calories.

To keep things simple, it has three choices. It’ll sort those calories into one of three houses:[6]

A. Burn for Fuel.

B. Rebuild Muscle.

C. Store as Fat.

Right now, when you eat food, your body sorts most of those calories into “Burn for Fuel.”

There’s a number of calories your body needs each day just existing: to keep your liver functioning, your heart pumping, your brain operating, to regulate your body temperature, and so on – it burns a good chunk of calories just keeping the lights on.

A beating heart requires calories, which factors into your calorie needs.

This is your “Basal Metabolic Rate” which you can calculate for yourself in our TDEE calculator.

There’s also “B. Rebuild as Muscle” and “C. Store as Fat,” which I devoted entire sections to above.

This is where the problems arise: When you overeat calories and your body doesn’t need anymore to fuel itself, it takes those extra calories and stores them as fat.

However, our goal is the OPPOSITE of this.

We want to keep the muscle we have (or grow it) while getting rid of the fat!

So let’s imagine a scenario where we pull all this together by strength training heavy AND reducing our caloric intake:

  1. You strength train regularly, and your muscles break down and need to be rebuilt.
  2. You don’t consume enough calories to both rebuild muscle and fuel itself. There’s not enough to go into the “Burn for Fuel” and “Rebuild Muscle” houses.

Does your body just shut down?

NOPE!

Yep, if you have fat on you your body will pull from it to take care of its needs.
Your body has been preparing for this, by storing any excess calories over the years in the “Store as Fat” house.

This means your body can pull from “Store as Fat” to make sure all the work still gets done, including your daily functions as a human and rebuilding the muscle you tore apart.

Said another way:

If you have fat stores (and we all do), you do not need to be in a “caloric surplus” to rebuild muscle. The calories stored in your fat cells act as this required energy.

There is also evidence that muscle can even be grown while in a caloric deficit.[7]

Meaning bigger muscles with a lower belt size.[8]

This dog just found out it's possible to both lose fat AND gain muscle.

However, if you want to skip all the experimentation and trial and error, you can have a Nerd Fitness Coach do all the heavy lifting for you (not really, you’ll still need to work out).




TIPS TO LOSE BODY FAT WHILE GAINING MUSCLE

Superhero Couple. Male and female superheroes. Cloudy sky.

Let’s bring this all together and create some actionable steps to losing body fat and building muscle at the same time.

#1) Sustain a caloric deficit while eating enough protein

You need your body to burn more calories than you consume, and also provide your body with enough protein to rebuild its muscle.

You can only lose fat if you’re in a calorie deficit.

You need to reduce your calories and be in a deficit if your goal is to lose fat.

Remember the Sorting Hat analogy:

If you’re eating too much, your excess calories are being sent to the “Store as Fat” house.

We want to pull from this house instead. So eat less than you burn consistently. 

To help here, I have 3 resources for you:

  1. Beginner’s Guide to Healthy Eating. If you want tips and tricks to create habits based on REAL food, that guide will help get you there.
  2. Determining the Perfect Diet for You.” I talk about the benefits of creating a Mental Model on nutrition like Intermittent Fasting, Paleo or Keto (or Paleolithic Ketogenic) to help navigate all the food choices you need to make.
  3. Count calories: This means learning your total daily energy expenditure, and tracking your other calories through an app (and/or weighing your food).

You don’t have to follow some predetermined blueprint like “low-carb.” You can create your own diet (which is what I do). Learn all about it right here.

#2) Strength train

If you could sell a pill that could be prescribed to every single person on Earth to make them healthier, it would look something like a strength training routine in a bottle.

A one arm push-up can help you lose fat and build muscle, but maybe start with regular push-ups first.

It is one of the best things you can do for your body.[9]   

And really, if you want to build muscle, you’re gonna need to lift something! Either weights or your own bodyweight.

You need to challenge your muscles in order for them to get stronger. Now, as we discuss in our article on the correct number of reps and sets, there are multiple ways to do so.

To build muscle:

Lift lighter weights for lots of reps.

Lift really heavy with fewer reps.

The important thing: pick a strategy and get started.

Vada is ready to strength train! And torment her Dad's GF.

Here are 3 paths forward:

  1. Start with a beginner bodyweight workout.
  2. Follow one of our 5 Beginner Strength Training Routines.
  3. Go through our 6 Level Gym Workouts.

To recap: if you train heavy and eat a caloric deficit, your body will pull from its fat stores to both fuel itself and potentially also build muscle. This is a double whammy of AWESOME.

#3) Prioritize protein

Outside of being in a caloric deficit and lifting weights (or yourself), eating enough protein is one of the key components of both losing body fat and building muscle.

Protein is the number one nutrient for creating new tissue.[10]

Sponge Bob knows how to build muscle and strength.

So when you cut out calories to create a caloric deficit, don’t cut them from protein sources.

Studies have shown that participants can gain muscle, even while in a caloric deficit, as long as they eat enough protein.[11]

It’s important enough that I’ll say it again:

If you don’t want your body cannibalizing its muscles while you are in a caloric deficit, you need to eat plenty of protein.[12]

How much protein?

As we point out in our Guide to Protein, roughly 1 gram for every pound of your weight, with an upper limit of 250 grams.[13] Or two grams for every kilogram if you are on the metric system. This means:

  • If you weigh 300 pounds (136 kg), eat 250g of protein.
  • If you weigh 250 pounds (113 kg), eat 250g of protein.
  • If you weigh 200 pounds (91 kg), eat 200g of protein.
  • If you weigh 180 pounds (82 kg), eat 180g of protein.

The gist: don’t skip out on protein. It should be on your plate for every meal (we’ll show you exactly how much in the next section).

If these generalized recommendations stress you out, and you want to know exactly what to do, we can help!

I’ll remind you of Nerd Fitness Coaching, where we help clients lose body fat, gain muscle, and level up their lives. We provide tailored and specific recommendations based on your body and lifestyle, plus accountability and mindset changes to help ensure your new habits stick.

Nerd Fitness Coaching Banner

WHAT SHOULD I EAT TO LOSE FAT AND GAIN MUSCLE?

Toy Dinosaur holding a fork next to a slice of birthday cake on a blue background.

Remember, your eating strategy needs to include two points to lose fat while gaining muscle:

  1. Sustain a caloric deficit.
  2. Prioritize protein so you can build muscle even while in a deficit.

You may be thinking, “That’s all well and good Steve, but what’s that actually look like?” 

It looks like this!

If your meal plate looks like this, you're doing great!

Taken from our Guide to Start Eating Healthy, which I really want you to read.

The plate is composed of the following: 

  • 1-2 servings of protein (¼ of plate)
  • 2 servings of vegetables (½ of plate)
  • 1 serving potatoes, rice, or pasta. (1/4th of plate)
  • 1 serving of fat (size of your thumb)
  • 1 zero calorie or low calorie beverage (water, diet soda, tea)

By sticking to our Healthy Plate strategy above, you’ll focus on “REAL food,” which will help you maintain a caloric deficit over time.

Let’s hone in on protein for a moment, because it’s the critical piece for “building muscle.”

Protein can come from any number of sources, including:

  • Meat (steak, bison, pork).
  • Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck).
  • Eggs![14]
  • Fish and shellfish (salmon, tuna, shrimp).
  • Legumes (black beans, chickpeas).

Not a meat-eater? Read our massive plant-based guide!

A serving of protein is about the size and thickness of your palm.

A serving of protein should be about the size of your palm, like so.

*The 4 oz serving is for an uncooked piece of meat. Cooking reduces about 25% of the weight, bringing it down to about 3 oz.

If you’re curious, here’s how much protein is in a serving of food:

  • 4 oz (113 g) serving of chicken has around 30 g of protein.
  • 4 oz (113 g) serving of salmon has 23 g of protein
  • 4 oz (113 g) of steak has 28 g of protein. 

While all of the Healthy Plate above is important, I want you to pay extra attention to your protein intake since we are trying to build muscle. 

If you’re having trouble making your protein intake goals, check out our Guide on Protein Supplements for some tips and tricks to up your intake, including some awesome smoothie recipes.

This is the exact strategy I followed to lose 22 pounds and get to single-digit bodyfat percentage WHILE building muscle:

  • Lift super heavy.
  • Eat LOTS of protein.
  • Reduce carb and fat intake.

If you are NOT losing weight, it means you are still eating too many calories. Keep your protein intake high, and reduce your fat and carbohydrate intake. 

I cover this in greater detail in our “why can’t I lose weight?” guide.

Eventually, you’ll reach a status where there just isn’t enough fat on you to help with “Rebuild Muscle.” At this stage, you can no longer stay with a caloric deficit. You’ll need to flip to a slight “caloric surplus” to build more muscle.

Which means you’ll have to eat more.

Like this turtle, you may reach a point where you have to eat more to gain muscle.

It’s debatable when this will actually occur, and we are all different. Reaching 8% body fat for men and 16% body fat for women is a good place to start.

I talk about this extensively in our guide “How to Build Muscle.”

It covers ways to increase your calories for muscle gain, from eating plentiful amounts of Paleo foods to drinking enough milk to make Santa Clause jealous.

Santa is drinking milk to put on some muscle. The cookies are just because he likes them.

Go check it out if you’ve been having trouble putting on muscle.

I want to stress that if you are lifting heavy, and not gaining muscle, diet is likely the culprit.

It was my problem for years, and I’ve seen it amongst countless readers of Nerd Fitness who have trouble gaining muscle.

If you want an expert who will tell you exactly when to eat more or less, check out our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program




HOW TO TELL IF IT’S ALL WORKING (Continuing to Lose Fat While Gaining Muscle)

Now you're ready to start losing fat and gaining muscle!

If you’re trying to improve something, it’s important to track it. This also holds true of body composition.

Most people do this by jumping on the scale. This can be “okay,” but it’s only going to tell part of the story.

If you’re building muscle while losing fat, the scale might not go down. You might even weigh more!

Despite weighing more, you could potentially have a better physique.

Don't just look at the scale. You might have lost bodyfat and gained muscle, but the scale won't show it!

That’s why in addition to jumping on the scale, I would also encourage you to take progress photos.

Take front and side photos in your mirror, wearing underwear or a bathing suit. Each week, take new photos, and record the number on the scale under the same scenario. Two forms of tracking here allow us to get the full picture.

The scale sometimes lies!

If you eat for a caloric deficit, strength train, and prioritize protein, see what happens.

You may find yourself losing some fat and gaining muscle.

If not, track each category:

Data can help tell the story.

Data and numbers will help you know if you're losing fat and gaining muscle. Numbers, not the robot.

…I was thinking of detailed notes.

But an android would be helpful too.

Oftentimes if you’re not seeing desired results, notes and record-keeping can help point us in the direction to make adjustments.

Test your assumptions if things don’t appear to be on track. Here’s our Guide on Tracking Fitness Progress for you to learn more.

The tips outlined above will get you started losing fat while building muscle, but if you’re looking to go a bit further…

#1) If you want step-by-step guidance on how to lose weight, eat better, and get stronger, check out our killer 1-on-1 coaching program:




#2) If you want an exact blueprint for getting in shape, check out NF Journey. Our fun habit-building app helps you exercise more frequently, eat healthier, and level up your life (literally).

Try your free trial right here:

#3) Enlist in the Rebellion! We have a free email newsletter that we send out twice per week, full of tips and tricks to help you get healthy, get strong, and have fun doing so. 

I’ll also send you tons of free guides that you can use to start leveling up your life too:

Alright, I think that about does it for this guide.

Did I miss anything? Do you have any tips and tricks when it comes to shedding body fat and building muscle?

Share it with us!

-Steve,

PS: Make sure you read the rest of the articles in our “How to Lose Weight 101” Series!

###

All photo sources are right here: Venting Off, Ekaterina Minaeva © 123RF.com, czgur © 123RF.com, morethanl8ve © 123RF.com, Константин Колосов © 123RF.com, Maxim Maksutov © 123RF.com, Julianna Funk © 123RF.com, jump



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15 Circuit Training Workouts (Home & Gym)

15 Circuit Training Workouts (Home & Gym)


circuit training is awesome, even dinosaurs love it

This circuit training guide is gonna give you EVERYTHING you need to do your first kickass circuit training workout today.

I mean come on, it has dinosaurs in it.

These workouts are similar to the custom programs we build for our Online Coaching Clients who work out at home, on the road, and in outer space.

Okay, FINE we don’t have any clients in space (yet). But we do have clients in Antarctica, and multiple aerospace engineers. Close enough?



If you’re hoping circuit training will maximize your results in a minimum amount of time, one of the 15 circuits below will do the trick:

Let’s jump right in.

What is Circuit Training?

As Coach Lauren mentions above, the “circuit” in circuit training comes from the fact that you do a sequence of exercises back to back to back, and then you repeat the sequence.

And then again.

You cycle through the planned sequence of exercises, or circuit, multiple times.

That’s circuit training.

Generally, you hit each major muscle group during one full circuit. You may do a lower body for one exercise. Then the upper body the next.

You’ll find all sorts of different circuit training sequences. Here are some things most will have in common:

  • Several different exercises. A normal circuit will have five to ten different movements per circuit. You’ll often hear these referred to as “stations.” Overhead press station, squat station, etc.
  • Little to no rest in between. The goal of circuit training is to keep your heart rate up. Ideally, if you’re physically able, you go from one exercise to another without stopping. Maybe you rest after the whole circuit. Maybe.
  • Rinse and repeat. Generally, you’ll run through your circuit a few times. Three rounds are common.

Make sense?

The Tick is stoked you are putting on weight, muscle or fat, it means our strategy is working.

The point here is to work different parts of your body with different exercises, and then while those parts are recovering, you’re working on your other movements! This helps build cardiovascular health, while also improving muscular endurance and strength.

Plus you’ll burn calories!

As we lay out in our article, Cardio vs Interval Training vs. Weight Training, research supports that doing strength training circuits is great for weight loss and overall health.

More importantly, for somebody with limited time, doing a strength training circuit is more effective at building strength and burning fat than an equivalent amount of cardio.

In other words, if you are trying to lose weight, you should be doing circuit training.

Our Beginner Bodyweight Circuit would be a great place to begin, and you can download a worksheet to help you get started right here:

Why Should I do circuit training?

This runner definitely has a strong core!

Generally, you’ll hear exercise divided into strength training or aerobic exercise (cardio).

What’s the difference, you wonder?

  • Strength training. Strength training is also referred to as anaerobic exercise, which would be a short burst of energy for movement. Think of a push-up or pull-up. These exercises help build and tone muscle.
  • Aerobic Exercise. “Aerobic” means “needs oxygen.” Your heart rate increases to get oxygen where your body needs it, thus the word “cardio.” Running, biking, or jumping jacks would be examples of aerobic exercise.

The thing about a circuit is, you actually do both categories. Presses and lunges fall into strength training. Jumping jacks are cardio.

And since you aren’t stopping much in between stations, you’ll need more oxygen, and voila. Even more cardio.

With circuit training, you build muscle and burn fat WHILE building stamina.

As Michael Scott would say, “that’s a win, win, win.”

circuit training is a win win win

There’s some debate on what kind of exercise is better for weight loss: aerobic or anaerobic.

My thoughts?

If you’re limited on time and only can pick one, I would pick strength training: when you strength train, you break your muscles down, and your body needs to work extra hard over the next 24-48 hours to rebuild those muscles (with increased calories burned).

We work with our 1-on-1 Coaching Clients to create programs that combine both strength and cardio in a fun way – it really comes down to a program that you actually WANT to do.



Before and after your circuit training: Warm up and stretch

Some stretching a rubber band

No matter which circuit you pick, I want you to start with one important thing:

Warm-up!

I cover why you should always warm up in an article found right here. It doesn’t have to be much though, give it about five minutes to get your muscles active and your heart rate up.

This will help you do exercises properly and help prevent injury. You can run in place, do air punches and kicks, or some jumping jacks.

Here is NF Senior Coach Staci (you might know her incredible story) showing you many beginner options you can use to warm up as well:

Did I just tell you to prepare for circuit training, with a circuit?!

If you’re curious, here’s my personal (advanced) warm-up:

THE NERD FITNESS ADVANCED WARM-UP:

  • Jump rope: 2-3 minutes 
  • Jumping jacks: 25 reps
  • Bodyweight squats: 20 reps
  • Lunges: 5 reps each leg.
  • Hip extensions: 10 reps each side
  • Hip rotations: 5 each leg
  • Forward leg swings: 10 each leg
  • Side leg swings: 10 each leg
  • Push-ups: 10-20 reps
  • Spider-man steps: 10 reps

Our goal isn’t to tire you out. Instead, we want to warm you up.

That’s step one.

Completing your chosen circuit training routine would be step two.

Below, you’ll find 15 workouts you can follow along with! And if you like our style of workouts, you might like our new app, Nerd Fitness Journey!

Our fun habit-building app helps you exercise more frequently, eat healthier, and level up your life (literally).

Right now, you can try it for free for a full week (no credit card required). Jump in below:

Beginner Bodyweight Workout Circuit

This workout circuit, as we lay out in our Beginner Bodyweight Workout article, is as follows:

  • Bodyweight squats: 20 reps
  • Push-ups: 10 reps
  • Walking lunges – 10 each leg
  • Dumbbell rows (using a gallon milk jug or another weight): 10 each arm.
  • Plank: 15 seconds
  • Jumping jacks: 30 reps

Run through this circuit three times. If you don’t have milk in the house for the rows, find something of roughly the same weight with a good handle.

We also turned this workout into a fun infographic with superheroes, because that’s how we roll:

An infographic of the Beginner Bodyweight Workout

If you want to download this Beginner Bodyweight Workout as a worksheet, you can do so when you sign up in the box below:



Advanced Bodyweight Exercises Circuit

If the beginner circuit above is too easy for you, move on to our Advanced Bodyweight Workout Circuit. The workout looks like this:

  • One-legged squats – 10 each side [warning super-difficult, only attempt if you’re in good enough shape]
  • Bodyweight squats: 20 reps
  • Walking lunges: 20 reps (10 each leg)
  • Jump step-ups: 20 reps (10 each leg)
  • Pull-ups: 10 reps [or inverted bodyweight rows]
  • Dips (between bar stools): 10 reps
  • Chin-ups: 10 reps [or inverted bodyweight rows with underhand grip]
  • Push-ups: 10 reps
  • Plank: 30 seconds

I warn you, the above circuit will hurt… in a good way. You should be proud if you can get through this three times.



Playground Workout Circuit

Do you have a nearby playground? Why not work out there! If you have kids, you can do it together. Or let them ignore you.

I’ll give you a Level One workout, and a Level Two. Check out the main playground article for some Level Three exercises.

Level One:

  • Alternating step-ups: 20 reps (10 each leg)
  • Elevated push-ups: 10 reps
  • Swing rows: 10 reps
  • Assisted lunges: 8 reps each leg
  • Bent leg reverse crunches: 10 reps

Level Two:

  • Bench jumps: 10 reps
  • Lower incline push-ups: 10 reps
  • Body rows: 10 reps
  • Lunges: 8 reps each leg
  • Straight leg reverse crunches: 10 reps

After you’ve gone through a complete set three times, go down the slide!



Kettlebell Workout Circuit

Have a kettlebell lying around? Use it for a circuit!

Here’s our kettlebell workout full write-up, but you can also just watch the video and see the workout here:

  • Halos: 8 reps (each side)
  • Goblet squats: 10 reps
  • Overhead presses: 8 reps (each side)
  • Kettlebell swings: 15 reps
  • Bent Over Rows: 8 reps (each side)
  • Front rack reverse lunge: 6 reps (per side)

Once you’ve done the above three times, go ahead and put your kettlebell away for your final step: stretches.

If you want a kettlebell worksheet for this workout, grab one by signing up in the box below:

We also have a fun new adventure in our app that will allow you to train with your kettlebell right alongside Hack Morris (this will make sense more sense when start).

Jump in right now for your free trial:

Beginner Gym Circuit Training

use free weights and to do circuit training

If you have access to a gym, you have a lot of circuit options.

If it’s your first time stepping foot in a fitness facility, check out our Beginner’s Guide to the Gym. The gym can be a scary place, but we’ll give you a strategy to get comfy.

(Gym closed do to COVID? Here’s how to build a gym in your home.) 

We’ll also walk you through each movement for both Days A and B below. I would recommend picking one of our 5 Beginner Gym Workouts, going through the leveled progressions, and working your way up to the circuits below:

DAY A GYM WORKOUT:

Day B GYM WORKOUT:

  • Barbell Romanian deadlifts/regular deadlifts: 10 reps
  • Push-ups: 10 reps
  • Dumbbell rows: 10 reps per arm

Alternate your circuits on different days. Rest in between. “Day A” could be Monday. Rest Tuesday. Wednesday could be “Day B.”

We LOVE helping people get started in the gym, as we’re huge fans of barbell training and helping beginners build confidence with weight training! If that sounds like you…



And you can download our full Strength 101 guide too, which has this routine along with other circuits to help you start building strength today:

The Hotel Workout Circuit: For Travelers that Train

Is there anyway to work out in this hotel room?

Sometimes, you just plain find yourself stuck in a hotel room. Maybe you can find the hotel gym, but I bet it’s terrible! It probably has 2 machines, a broken treadmill, and no free weights. 

Ugh.

Instead, how about a workout circuit you can do in the room itself! Utilize the furniture to its full potential.

Level 1

Level 2

Set the alarm clock to 15 minutes from now and see how many circuits you can do!

Check out our full post on hotel circuits if you want Level 3!

We have a LOT of business travelers in our 1-on-1 coaching program, which is why we create workouts for both their home gym and while traveling!

If you need worldwide accountability, workouts for home and the road, and want expert guidance…



Nerdy Circuit Training Exercises

Lego minifigures standing in rows. In first row - Batman, The Jo

If those workouts above don’t tickle your fancy, we have these other nerdy circuits you can do too!

The Batman Workout Circuit

Day 1

  • Rolling squat tuck-up jumps: 5 reps
  • Side to side push-ups: 5 reps
  • Modified headstand push-ups: 5 reps
  • Jump pull-up with tuck / Pull-up with Tuck-up: 5 reps
  • Handstands against wall: 8 seconds

Day 2

  • ‘180 Degree’ jump turns: 5 reps
  • Tuck front lever hold: 8 seconds
  • Tuck back lever hold: 8 seconds
  • Low frog hold: 8 seconds



The Lord of the Rings Workout Circuit

try this lord of the rings circuit training workout

Superset 1: The Fellowship of the Ring

Superset 2: The Two Towers

  • Riders of ROWhan: 3 bodyweight rows
  • Gimli “Shall I get you a box?” jumps7 box jumps – REALLY explode
  • Helm’s Deep-Squats: 9 bodyweight squats – get your ass to the ground
  • Tower of Orthanc Holds: 1 minute (Kick up against a wall and hold a handstand for as long as you can until 1 minute is complete, in as few as sets as possible. Check out our Guide to Handstands.)

Superset 3: The Return of the King

If you can get through a superset three times, consider yourself an honorary Ranger. Nothing found in Mordor can faze you.



The 300 Workout Circuit

do the 300 circuit training workout to get strong like King Leonidas

The below circuit is no joke. Then again, neither were the Spartans.

  • Pull-ups: 25 reps
  • Deadlifts with 135lbs: 50 reps
  • Push-ups: 50 reps
  • ‘24-inch’ Box jumps: 50 reps
  • Floor wipers: 50 reps
  • Single-arm clean-and-press with 36 lbs. kettlebell: 25 each side
  • Pull-ups: 25 reps

The above sequence is designed to be completed once. If you can go through it twice, you’re ready to defend Greece.



The Wolverine Workout Circuit

  • Barbell Deadlift / Dumbbell RDL / Banded Good Morning / Regular Good Morning: 10 reps
  • Medicine Ball Slam / Quick Downwards Bodyweight Squat: 10 reps
  • Push-up to Renegade row (push-up, row left, push-up, row right, repeat): 5 Rows per side
  • Transverse Lunge and Chop: 5 reps each side

How many times do you do this circuit? AMRAP, or, As Many Rounds As Possible. I suggest setting a 12-minute timer and getting to work. Be careful though, because only Wolverine can heal automatically.

wolverine does workout circuits too

You’ll need actual rest.

Boom!

There are your nerdy circuits. Feel free to rock the soundtrack of the referenced movies during your workout. If you own a cape, now’s the time.



Complete List of Circuit Training Exercises

A picture of a LEGO Spider-man, who is interested in weight loss.

You can do any of the workouts in this article and get a great workout, but if you want to build your own workout, you can totally do that too!

Here is a list of exercises you can use to create your workout.

Simply pick a few, and do one after the other in as many circuits as you want!

Pick your exercises from this list to build your own circuit training workout, or suggest your own for us to add in the comments below!

CARDIO EXERCISES:

  1. Jump rope
  2. Jumping Jacks
  3. Walking Jacks
  4. Burpees
  5. Mountain climbers
  6. Stairs
  7. Sprints
  8. High knees
  9. Running in place
  10. Rowing machine
  11. Long-distance jumps
  12. Box jumps

UPPER BODY PUSH EXERCISES:

  1. Push-ups (any variation)
  2. Handstands.

UPPER BODY PULL EXERCISES

  1. Dumbbell rows
  2. Bodyweight rows
  3. Negative pull-ups or chin-ups
  4. Pull-ups or Chin-ups

LOWER BODY EXERCISES

  1. Bodyweight squats
  2. Lunges
  3. Kettlebell swings
  4. Farmer carries (carry dumbbells and walk around)

Coach Staci showing Farmer's Walk

CORE EXERCISES:

  1. Planks
  2. Side planks
  3. Reverse crunches

Pick 3-5 exercises, and arrange them as we discuss in our “how to build your own workout routine.” We also have The 42 Best Bodyweight Exercises for movements that you can choose from.

Do 3 circuits with 10 reps of each exercise, one after the other!

Have fun and keep things interesting. And if you don’t want to build your own workout, that’s cool too! We have 15 free workouts in this article, and we can also do all the heavy lifting for you.

(Well, not literally DO the heavy lifting, but you know what I mean.)

We create custom workout solutions for busy people just like you in our 1-on-1 Coaching Program. Let us create a workout and help you make better food choices.

It’s like having a Yoda in your pocket (again, not literally).



How to Stretch After Circuit Training

Once you finish your workout, the final step (three) would be stretching and cool down. No matter what circuit you go through, stretch after a workout. It can help a lot with muscle recovery.

Scope this video for an awesome stretching sequence to follow:

You could also do some yoga poses. For stretching, find what feels good and take your time. Let your heart rate come down while you stretch.

You could even do some foam rolling too if you’re a glutton for punishment!

For more ideas on how to make the most of your stretches, check out The Ultimate Guide for Improving Flexibility in 30 Days. It has Spider-Man in it, so you know we aren’t messing around.



Getting Started With Circuit Training

want to be a superhero like these legos? do circuit training!

There are all sorts of different ways to do circuit training. We just showed you fifteen.

YOUR MISSION: Complete one of the above circuit training workouts! If you don’t know which one to pick, start with the Beginner Bodyweight Circuit. It’ll get you used to the idea of hustling from one exercise to the next.

And you can do it in your living room!

If you’re looking for more hands-on instruction and customized guidance, check out our 1-on-1 Coaching program. You’ll work with our certified NF instructors who get to know you better than you know yourself, and then build a workout program that is specific to your exact goals.

Simply put, we tell you exactly what to do every day, and how to eat. And then, we check in with you regularly to make sure you’re doing it!



If you got this far in the article, I really want you to try one of these workouts. Right NOW. I always mention the most important step in a fitness journey is starting it. Today, start circuit training.

Once completed, I’d love for you to share your story with the community in the comments:

  • How’d it go?
  • Did you get through three full circuits?
  • Which routine did you pick?

Find a circuit you’re comfortable with, and do it.

Then do it next week. And the following. And track your progress

If you add circuit training to your fitness routine, you’ll be on a solid path for leveling up your life.

-Steve

PS: I couldn’t quite figure out how to use this gif, but it was too good not to include.

I bet short circuit likes circuit training

If someone creates the “Short Circuit Workout Circuit” you’ll be my best friend forever.

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All Photo credits can be found right here[1].



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Buying a Gym Membership (6 Rules to Follow)

Buying a Gym Membership (6 Rules to Follow)


So you’re gonna buy yourself a gym membership?

Great! I have one too!

Having access to a dedicated place to get stronger and train can be really helpful for leveling up your life.  

So if you want a gym membership yourself, I support your decision 100%.

However, there’s a lot to consider when thinking about purchasing a gym membership (click each to go to that section):

These are great questions!

Let’s make sure you have answers to all six.

And if you’re joining a gym for strength training purposes, make sure you download our massive guide: “Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know.” Get yours free when you sign up in the box below:

HOW DO I FIND THE RIGHT GYM?

Dumbbells on floor in gym

As part of our Strength Training 101 series, we dedicate an entire article to picking the correct gym. Let’s recap some of it right here for you.

Here’s How to Find the Right Gym:

#1) WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR? Picking a gym isn’t as easy as running to the closest one and signing up. There are a lot of things you need to take into consideration. There’s equipment to contemplate, classes offered to compare, and distance from your home to calculate.

It can be a good idea to create a list of things you are after, to make sure the gyms you research have what you need. Want such a list? You got it.

There are also types of gyms to think about. You’ll mockingly hear big-name-chain gyms referred to as “Globo Gyms,” taken from the critically acclaimed masterpiece, Dodgeball.

A scene from Dodgeball

You can think of Globo Gyms as your standard large franchise like 24 Hour Fitness, LA Fitness, Gold’s Gym, etc. You know, the big commercial gyms.

Oftentimes their price and location make for a convenient membership. I am a member of a Globo Gym. It’s conveniently located and fits my budget.

On the flip side would be a locally owned gym. Something where the owner hangs out and greets everyone. You’ll often find more free weights at such a gym, which is awesome, but it might come at the expense of other amenities like childcare.

These are some pros and cons to weigh.

The other thing to consider would be a CrossFit gym. More expensive, but arguably more of a community setting than you’ll get at a “Globo Gym.” Although they tend to be a little pricer.

Bringing us to…

#2) WHAT IS YOUR BUDGET? How much are you willing to spring for your membership? You might get away with as little as $10 a month. Conversely, a $400 monthly membership is not unheard of.

Although typically a gym membership will run you $30-$50.

To put the cost in context, it can be important to consider the gym’s amenities offered. Do they hold free classes like yoga? A single class can cost $10-$15, so if you plan on attending a few, this can quickly equal the price of your gym membership.

Do they offer childcare? If you need someone to watch your offspring, this alone might be worth the membership. Refer to our list above for some ideas.

#3) HOW IMPORTANT IS LOCATION?  Don’t set yourself up for failure here. If your gym is all the way across town, you may end up less likely to use it.

Consider a location on the way to or from work.

If you have to pass by the gym twice a day, you’re much more likely to stop in.

Might be worth springing more for a convenient location for your day-to-day.

Tom Cruise asking "Seriously, how long have we been driving?"

As I mentioned, this entire section on “Finding the Right Gym” was taken from our Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know ebook.

It walks you through every aspect of starting a strength training practice, from equipment, specific workouts, and how to know when you should progress to lifting more weight. You can grab it for free when you join the Rebellion below!

WHAT SHOULD I DO BEFORE I PURCHASE MY GYM MEMBERSHIP?

Detective with a magnifying glass

So you’ve narrowed down the type of gym membership you want to purchase.

Before you pull the trigger, do the following:

Get a guest pass.

Some gyms give out free passes for a week or two, some you have to pay for (e.g. $20 for 20 days). Even if you have to pay for it, this is probably the best money you can spend.

After all, you don’t buy a car without test driving it, right?

Make sure you head to the gym at different times of day that align with when you plan on going regularly.

There’s nothing worse than finding a perfect gym, signing a big contract, and then discovering that the gym is so swamped with people after your workday that you can’t even get to the equipment you’d like to use.

During your guest visits there are lots of things to look for.

Questions to Ask When Checking Out a New Gym:

  1. Is the equipment in good working order?
  2. Is there enough equipment for everyone or are you fighting for a bench?
  3. What’s the general vibe of the gym? Does it seem clean?
  4. If you’re going before work, are there enough showers available?
  5. Did you have to wait to use one?

It’s also never a bad idea to talk to the other members and ask them what they like and dislike about the gym.

You can also read reviews online on sites like Yelp or Google, but remember that people are more likely to complain than compliment, so take all online reviews with a grain of salt.

Nervous about approaching people? Read this.

HOW DO I BUY A GYM MEMBERSHIP?

At this point, you’ve decided to pull the trigger.

Want some potential money-saving tips? I got you.

To Save Money When Buying a Gym Membership:

#1) Join with a friend or family member. Gyms can be sales-driven, so bringing in someone else can make for an enticing offer. They likely have a quota to make, so the more the merrier. It’s worth asking every gym about a family plan.

#2) Join in January (or keep an eye out for specials during the slow months). The start of the new year brings a fitness craze, and many gyms capitalize on this by waiving fees or offering discounts. If it’s near, it might be worth signing up during this rush.

January won’t be the only time gyms offer specials. Google “name of gym deals” and similar items to see if any recent ads show up, as well as check on sites like Groupon and LivingSocial. If you just missed a deal, bring it up to them. They very well may still offer it.

If not…

#3) Haggle. While this can be uncomfortable for some, asking for a discount won’t hurt. The worst thing they’ll tell you is “no.” The best thing that could happen is they’ll give you a free membership.[1]

While I’m joking on that last part, many people do have success with negotiating gym membership fees, especially at locally owned stores which don’t have corporate oversight.

It doesn’t hurt to ask.

Once you settle on a price, the next step is contract time.

Keep an eye out for the following in your contract:

  • An out clause, in case you move, lose your job, etc. Often you can get out of a contract if you move a certain number of miles from the club without a fee, but usually, any other item requires an “early termination fee” to get out of your contract.
  • Can you freeze your contract if you go out of town or are on vacation?
  • What happens if the club goes out of business?
  • Does the membership renew automatically?

Always get everything the salesperson promises you in writing (and remember that most of the time they are working on commission). I’d also suggest that you get a copy of the contract and take it home with you to read before you sign it.

If they won’t let you do that, that’s a bad sign.

Remember, if the salesperson is overly pushy, or you don’t feel comfortable for any reason, walk away. There are a lot of gyms out there that would be happy for your business.

Got your membership? Perfect. Now the fun starts!

HOW DO I TRAIN AT THE GYM?

If you’re worried about what to do at the gym, you’ve come to the right place.

We have an entire guide on “How to Train in a Commercial Gym,” which you should check out. If you’ve never worked out in a commercial facility, it’s a great place to start.

I personally train in such a facility and I wrote about being the only Rebel in a big box store right here. Read it for my personal tips on how to get in, take care of business, and get put.

You can also check out this article to make sure you walk into the gym with the right equipment in order. Be prepared!

Afraid you’ll make a fool of yourself the first time you try and work out with your new membership?

I’m prepared for that too!

I wrote an article “How to not be a newbie at the gym” covering this exact concern.

Jim Bathurst, our head male trainer for Nerd Fitness Coaching, also wrote a sweet article on “29 unwritten rules” for proper gym etiquette. You can check that out right here.

Both should help for the first time you step foot in the gym to train.

What’s that? You have absolutely NO idea what you’re doing in a gym and you wander around like a lost sheep without a shepherd?

You’re not alone! There’s nothing worse than feeling foolish or worrying so much about doing something wrong that you never try in the first place.

Our advice would be to consider enlisting the help of a trainer – if you can afford it – for a few sessions to help you get started.  

An Online Coach could be helpful too. 

Wanna see if we are a good fit for each other?

Click on the big image below to schedule a free call with our team:

WHAT IF I’M SCARED OF THE GYM?

If you’re nervous about even stepping foot inside a gym, you’re not alone.

We get tons of emails from Rebels anxious about walking in the door of their local fitness facility.

This is understandable, because stepping foot into a commercial gym to train can be intimidating. The people there all seem to know what they’re doing, making you a potential outsider.

I’ll tell you what I tell all Rebels nervous about walking into a gym:

  1. Everybody around you is just as self-conscious as you are. Yes, that super jacked dude. Or that thin (or jacked), fit woman on the elliptical. They aren’t focused on you, because they’re too busy living inside their own head wondering if everybody is thinking about them.
  2. Everybody starts somewhere. You don’t have to be strong and fit to train in a gym. You go to the gym to get stronger, more confident, and then you’ll become fit.
  3. MOST will applaud you for trying. When I see somebody who is severely overweight at the gym, it makes me happy – they’re trying to better themselves. This is the mentality 95%+ of the people will have.
  4. MANY will be too self-focused to even notice you. These are the dudes lifting up their shirt in the mirror to check their abs, doing bicep curls in the squat rack, and/or making sure they take photos to post on Instagram to prove they did, in fact, go to the gym.
  5. A RARE few will judge. Though they’re not just judging you, I promise. They’re judging EVERYBODY around you because they can’t help but compare themselves to others. This is no different than in real life. Screw these people, haters gonna hate, Slaters gonna slate.

After explaining these points to a worried Rebel, I then bring up the idea of “20 Seconds of Courage.”

It’s something Coach Matt brings up in the video “How Not to Be Scared at the Gym!

Our lives are a series of decisions.

And each individual choice really doesn’t take that long to make – less than 20 seconds. Once you make that decision, you set yourself on a course with no way off, until you make another decision.

You don’t have to be courageous for a full hour. 20 seconds will be enough to walk into a gym.

I want you to use 20 seconds of courage to enter any local fitness facility. From there, you can start thinking about actually purchasing a membership.

WHAT IF I DECIDE THE GYM ISN’T RIGHT FOR ME?

Woman walk step exercise outdoor sport shoe Trail Track

Hey, I get it. The gym can suck.

If you want to get a membership to start working out, great!

But if it’s not your bag, don’t sweat it.

There are tons of other options outside of the gym:

There’s is nothing, written anywhere, that says the only way to get fit is in a commercial gym. And if it is written, it’s just some sales propaganda.

Do what’s best for you.

However, if you DO want to start working out in a gym, follow the tips laid out in this article:

  • Scope out some different facilities
  • Try out a guest pass or two
  • Have a workout plan prepared when you enter to train.

What kind of plan should you have?

Welp, these are the tools we’ve created to help you CRUSH the gym:

1) Our popular 1-on-1 coaching program. No more guesswork, no wondering if you’re doing the right program, no shame or guilt. Just results that don’t suck, and a plan that doesn’t make you miserable. 

We keep you accountable to make sure you actually do your workout, we answer any questions you have, and we cheer you on every step of the way:




2) If you want a daily prompt for doing workouts at the gym (or at home), check out NF Journey. Our fun habit-building app helps you exercise more frequently, eat healthier, and level up your life (literally).

Try your free trial right here:

3) Join the Rebellion! Our free community numbers in the hundreds of thousands scattered throughout the globe, and we need good people like you!

You can join by signing up in the awesome yellow box below, and I’ll send you a bunch of free guides and printable workouts, including our Strength 101 guide! 

Alright, I think that about does it for this article on buying and using a gym membership.

Did I miss anything?

Do you have any advice for someone just stepping foot in the gym?

Let me know in the comments!

-Steve,

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All photo sources can be found right here.[2]



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