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Body Recomposition Workout Plan

Looking to re-comp your body? Unsure what workout plan would be best? Look no further. As usual, the Fitness Savvy team has you covered.

If you were wondering if body re-composition is achievable, we can tell you now that it most certainly is. We shan’t go into the finer details in this article, but if you want to find out more about how I added 8.4lb of muscle while losing 6.2lb of fat in just 12 weeks, you can check out our article here.

Want to know how? Keep reading!

Train Four Times Per Week

Body re-composition is where you build muscle and burn fat at the same time. In order to build muscle, you will need to undertake some form of resistance exercise. We recommend training four times per week – upper body twice, and lower body twice.

For this programme, the high-intensity sessions which we will call “strength days” (heavy lifting, low rep days) are to help improve strength, while the high-volume sessions (more reps and sets) are to promote hypertrophy (building muscle). We’ll refer to these as “hypertrophy days”.

Strength Days

On strength days, we’re looking to perform core compound movements. We will rest for longer periods, and perform fewer reps and sets.

As these are high-intensity exercises, we will perform in the 4-8 rep range. We’re not solely looking at strength, so there are no 1-rep sets, and for exercises such as barbell row and Romanian deadlift, we can work in slightly higher rep ranges. Rest periods are longer than on hypertrophy days to allow more time to recover. That way, we can lift heavier. We will perform 4-5 sets of each, and aim for 2-3 minutes’ rest between sets, as follows:

Upper Body:

  • Bench Press – 5 sets of 4-6 reps
  • Barbell Row – 4 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Overhead Press – 5 sets of 4-6 reps

Lower Body:

  • Deadlifts – 5 sets of 4-6 reps
  • Squats – 5 sets of 4-6 reps
  • Romanian Deadlifts – 4 sets of 6-8

“Why are deadlifts on lower body day?!” I hear some people ask. If undertaking a push/pull/leg split, the deadlift will typically fall on “pull” days. Anyone new to lifting who doesn’t complain of soreness in their back after deadlifts is probably doing something wrong! Nevertheless, the quads, hamstrings and glutes are all massively active during this exercise.

So the reasons for putting deadlifts on lower body are as follows:

  • We want to keep our workouts shorter, and performing four exercises on one day, and two on the other seems silly. Upper-body strength days would be much longer than lower-body days.
  • The deadlift works out a good chunk of the lower body so it can be incorporated on lower-body day, naturally.

Hypertrophy Days

These workouts are designed to get us pumped! Rest periods will be shorter, rep ranges higher and we will perform more sets than on strength days. Aim for 1-2 minutes’ rest between sets.

Upper Body Day:

  • Pull-ups – perform as many as you can for one set between exercises. Aim for at least 3 sets
  • Incline Barbell Bench Press – 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Dumbbell Bench Press – 2 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Wide Grip Lat Pulldowns – 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Shrugs & Farmer’s Walks Superset – 2 sets of 15 reps. For the walks, I did 4-10 rounds of the garage gym (one to three minutes), holding a 20kg (45lb) plate in each hand.
  • Seated Barbell Shoulder Press – 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Arnold Shoulder Press – 2 sets of 10-15 reps

Lower Body Day:

  • Cable Crunches. If you don’t have cables, a few sets of challenging ab exercises of your choice between each exercise – no cheating!
  • Squats – 3 sets of 8-12
  • Rear Lunges – 3 sets of 5-10
  • Romanian Deadlifts & Calf Raise Superset 3 sets of 8-12 (deadlift) and 10-15 (calf raise)

I designed this routine and successfully added muscle and lost fat using the garage I built in my gym. I did, however, have to change the adjustable dumbbells I was using. Originally, I had a set of Bodymax dumbbells. However, not only did they seize up (making it difficult to change the weight), but during some dumbbell bench presses, one of the plates actually came off. Very poor quality, and I would not recommend them. I have added a ton of popular, good quality adjustable dumbbells to the price comparison section of Fitness Savvy, so go check them out (see below) and see who has offers on. We compare prices from tons of retailers, and they are always changing the prices.

It was a tough choice between the Power Blocks and Bowflex, but I opted for Bowflex in the end, and they work really well!

Cardio

While tending to your body composition, you should consider whether building muscle or losing fat is the highest priority. I know you might question this, given that recomposition means doing both at the same time. However, lets look at two individuals who are both 25% body fat:

  • Both are 6 feet tall.
  • One of them weighs 170lb and the other 210lb.
  • The first guy is “skinny-fat”. No one would ever say he looks “fat”. He needs to prioritise adding muscle mass.
  • The second guy is larger – someone you’d call “bulky” rather than fat. He should prioritise losing fat.

It is possible to lose a lot of fat while adding muscle, as we’ve already discovered in our body recomp article. So if you’re the second guy, you should cut your calories a little more or add some cardio – or both. If you’re the skinny-fat individual, skip the cardio. Cut your calories so you’re still losing fat, but don’t potentially compromise muscle gains by overdoing the cardio. Once you add some muscle over the first 10-12 weeks, you will look far better than you did to begin with.

Where are the Isolation Moves?

You might be asking yourself why there are no isolation moves in this workout plan. This is because we wanted to investigate a few common myths to prove or disprove them. They are as follows:

  1. Optimum Protein intake – our findings suggest that common recommendations are too high. We used our very own protein calculator which might show lower requirements than other calculators.
  2. Isolation moves are not required for larger arms – many will say that their arms grew with little or no isolation moves. There are guys out there with arms as big as hams who have never performed a biceps curl in their lives. This may be genetic, and so we are not performing any isolation moves in this workout. Our article on growing bigger arms proved they’re unnecessary.
  3. You should never workout for longer than 40-60 minutes – the stress hormone cortisol is released after lengthy workouts which adversely affects muscle hypertrophy. We will aim to keep all workouts below 60 minutes – including warm ups.
  4. Body re-composition is a myth – the science said that it is possible, and after 3 months with this routine, we proved it. In fact, the muscle mass put on was exactly in line with the studies we researched.

Time Under Tension

The reps are performed in a slow and controlled fashion. If you’re rushing the reps to get them out of the way, you’re either lifting weights which are too heavy, or you’re not truly enjoying being in the gym. Heavy reps are naturally slower. If you’re benching more than your bodyweight, it will be difficult not to perform them slowly. However, on hypertrophy days, aim for 3-second negatives (so on the bench press, that is when you’re lowering the bar towards your chest) and 1-2 second positives. Some advise “exploding” to push or pull the weight during this part of the move.

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Don’t Aim for an Exact Number of Reps

Some routines say “3 sets of 10”. So, you pick up a weight where you can manage 10. It’s not too heavy because you think “hey, I have another two sets of this. With this weight, I’ll manage 10 reps on all sets, just like the guide told me.” Research has shown that the first couple of sets have the most benefit. So why would you “save” your energy for set three or four?

We are aiming for 3 sets of 8-12. Pick a weight where you can perform 12, almost to failure. On set 2, it is likely you will only manage 10 or 11. And set 3 maybe 8 or 9. This is fine. You are in the correct range, using a weight that is challenging on set 1, and you’re fighting to get 8 reps on the last set. Next workout try to make it 12,11,11 – for example. This will ensure you are progressively overloading the muscle which is essential for building mass.

Dropsets for an Extra Pump

If you’re looking at increasing strength, building muscle or “toning up”, you’ll want to get as much work done in the time available. By incorporating dropsets, you’re effectively upping the amount of work you’re doing during the session. This is an important element of the workout plan, and plays into the progressive overload concept.

For this workout plan, however, I’m not referring to traditional dropsets. Firstly, we will only perform them on hypertrophy days. In this current routine, I only used this technique for lat pulldowns and seated shoulder presses. The way to incorporate them into this routine is as follows:

You’re aiming for 3 sets of 12. You reach 12 on the first set and it’s challenging. You manage to hit 12 on the second set – but you are at failure. On set 3 you only reach 6 or 7 reps. You’ve totally exhausted the muscle. But you have fallen short of the range you are aiming for. Drop the weight down by around 20-30% and rep out to failure. You will find that the total volume (reps X sets X weight) will usually be higher than the 12 you were aiming for.

I performed lat pulldowns on 40kg with a 15kg and 5kg plate on each side. Reached 12 reps on set one. 10 reps on set two, removed the 5kg plate from each side and performed another 4-8 reps.

Do drop sets work? Well, as I said, the idea is to get more volume into your workout. A study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics in 20122 concluded that:

“The dropset method in both pre-exhaustion or in post-exhaustion may promote higher total work when done in multi-joint exercise, regardless of the order in which it was employed. Dropset procedures may prove valuable in attempts to increase total work during a training session when increased strength or hypertrophy is the goal.”

Work on Your Weaknesses

My biggest weakness is – and always has been – pull-ups. So, to help with this, my personal workout plan incorporated a lat activation routine. I added to the end of a day when my workout  hadn’t gone over the hour mark. This was typically on leg strength days. It’s only a 5-minute routine or so, but helped me improve this exercise. Add similar activities to your shortest workout. The shortest workout will differ between individuals. If you’re leaving shorter rest periods between heavy bench press, you might find you have completed your workout in 40-45 minutes. On leg day, you might be taking much longer rest periods and find your workouts are lasting over an hour. Naturally, you will add any weakness activities to the shortest workout – regardless of body part.

The idea is to look for moves, stretches, routines – anything really – that can help you improve the exercises you are struggling with. Some people struggle with hip mobility for squats. If this is you, check out some stretches you can do to improve this. As I said, mine was activating the lats for pull-ups. It might also be something like shoulder mobility.

Here is the routine I used to help improve my pull-ups. It is by Damien Patrick – one of a handful of really great guys on YouTube whose workouts have added enjoyment and diversity to my sessions in the past.

HOW TO GET BETTER AT PULL-UPS : FULL PROGRAM

What Results Can I Expect from This Workout Plan?

Here comes the typical vague disclaimer: results will vary. If you’re new to resistance training you can expect far greater results. The longer you’ve trained, the harder improving body composition gets. That said, this workout routine would suit many situations.

As I mention in our body recomposition article, I managed to put on 8.4lb of muscle while losing 6.4lb of fat. Regarding muscle size and fat storage, I ended up more proportionate. I was not new to training but had not worked out in six months due to injury, and had lost all gains I had previously made, so I was essentially back to square one.

Body Recomposition Diet

This article is more dedicated to the workout plan itself. However, more detailed info on the diet is explained in the recomp article referenced throughout this piece. It will partly depend on your primary aim – fat loss or muscle gain. However, there some universal rules to follow here:

  1. You probably don’t need as much protein as you think. If you are using online calculators, they will vary, and often over-estimate. Which in turn, increases your daily calorie intake. Check out our protein calculator to find something more suited to your needs.
  2. Eat a slight surplus on workout days, and deficit on rest days. If you are “skinny-fat”, aim for a mild deficit overall, maybe around 500-1000 calories per week – yes, per week! If losing fat is the priority, aim for around 2,000-4000 calories deficit per week. This can be achieved by adding extra cardio if needed.
  3. Fats will make up a larger proportion of your diet. Once you have calculated protein requirements, aim for 40-50% of your calories to come from fat. Make up the rest from carbs.

While re-comping, I used  intermittent fasting to help me keep my calories and macros in check. Although there are various ways to do this, I fasted every day, with a 4-8 hour eating window. This type of fasting is often referred to as the Leangains method, made popular by the godfather of intermittent fasting, Martin Berkhan. I spent a lot of time on his site leaning about his way of eating and training, and it helped me a lot. Definitely head over to the Leangains site and check it out.

Martin has also got a new book out which is definitely worth reading. Head on over to buy your copy, you won’t regret it!

Final Words

So there you have it. A workout plan that has proven to work. If there is anything that you feel has not been covered in this, or the associated articles, please leave a comment and we’ll get back to you. Happy recomping!

References

  1. Claudio Melibeu Bentes et al. Acute Effects of Dropsets Among Different Resistance Training Methods in Upper Body Performance. J Hum Kinet. 2012 Oct; 34: 105–111.
  2. Claudio Melibeu Bentes et al. Acute Effects of Dropsets Among Different Resistance Training Methods in Upper Body Performance. J Hum Kinet. 2012 Oct; 34: 105–111.

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Rob is the founder and CEO of Fitness Savvy. He's online most of the time and happy to answer questions regarding nutrition, fitness and the site in general.

6 Comments
  1. Just wondering if any mods are needed for a woman. I am 45, athletic, and looking to get back into lifting after 20 years off. Any input would be appreciated!

    • Hey Lisa, not much really needs to change. When I researched body recomposition, the theory behind it worked for both males and females. When I first started I think I actually managed 3 sessions in the first week because I was new to it after some time off. So maybe the first couple of weeks you might lift 2 to 3 times per week to get back into it.

  2. Great site Rob! A question for this article: for a skinny fat 24% beginner (recovering from old injuries), how many strength and hypertrophy days. Article didn’t designate the days out of 2-4 days per week.
    Thanks!

    • Hey Hassen,

      I was training with 2 x upper body and 2 x lower body per week, once for strength and once for hypertrophy, like this:

      Day 1 – Upper Body Hypertrophy
      Day 2 – Lower Body Hypertrophy
      Day 3 – Rest
      Day 4 – Upper Body Strength
      Day 5 – Rest
      Day 6 – Lower Body Strength
      Day 7 – Rest

      Hope this helps!

      Robin

  3. Hey,

    Do you have any before and after pics (or any type of result pics)?

    Leave a reply

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