More people have failed to get in shape because of the pursuit of perfection than because they didn’t know what to do.

There are too many people who simply want to be lean and healthy who try to copy fitness models, bodybuilders or professional athletes and very quickly realise there is no way they are ever going to keep up the training and diet.

Obviously everyone has unique goals around fitness and appearance and will want to take on different challenges throughout their life, but for the sake of simplicity, I have created three fictional people.

You probably know these people and almost definitely fit into one of the categories.

Before we go on, such articles inevitably lead people to disagree of bring up special cases and circumstances.

This is a general guide for programming over certain periods of time.

As always, you should consider the following within the framework of the guidelines I am going to give you.

  • Injuries
  • Diet history / food relationship
  • Personal neurotype
  • Body type
  • Stress status
  • Sport requirements and specificity
  • Use of drugs
  • Personal experience

The last one might be the most important.

I have seen too many people find a way that works for them but they switch methods because their friend does something different and tells them it is better than their perfectly good plan.

They start to falter and all their good work unravels, all because they couldn’t be satisfied with steady results from methods that suit their lifestyle and wanted to ‘go to the next level’.

Maybe you just know that you hate a certain type of training and will lose interest. Don’t let a trainer force you to do something you hate just because they love it.

Obviously I am making the assumption that we are coming from a place of being average for the sake of the article.

Unfit, slightly overweight with average muscle.

Clearly if someone is super skinny then they shouldn’t be doing a 12 week fat loss plan to look better so make sure you understand individual requirements and take this advice from the place of ‘Joe Average’.

With those factors in mind, let’s take a look at our three characters and how they should approach programming their year of fitness.

The All-Rounder

I have modelled this person on the average member from my fitness camps and personal training experience.

They want to be lean and healthy with good muscle definition and physically capable of living life to the max.

They’re not really bothered about having six pack abs or muscle than your average Silverback Gorilla and would rather be able to go for a hike or bike ride and maybe do some rock climbing as a challenge.

The One-Hit Wonder

This person is the one who is unrecognisable in their holiday snaps and in their wedding photos.

Most of the year they’re out of shape but they turn it on when the paparazzi are going to be around or they want to get their stomach out on the beach.

Give them twelve weeks and they’ll be rocking the short shorts.

That Guy / That Girl

That Guy is the one who always looks good.

He always has abs, his shoulders and arms always look good and he has a rugged physique whether you see on the beach in summer or rocking an inappropriate t-shirt on a cold night in November.

He is probably going out with That Girl who always has a tight butt, toned legs and can go out in a potato sack and still be crowned Prom Queen.

Now we know our three star characters, we can look at how I would approach things differently to make sure they look and feel how they want to, without living a lifestyle they hate.

The All Rounder Plan

To develop all areas of this person’s physical capabilities, develop high energy levels and minimize body fat, I like to use Cyclic Periodisation.

Over the course of 12 months, this person will cycle through periods of…

  • Foundation (an equal balance of everything)
  • Hypertrophy (adding lean muscle mass)
  • Strength (developing maximal strength)
  • Power (developing power and the ability to produce more force)
  • Power endurance (building the ability to repeat power based activities)
  • Endurance (developing an excellent cardiovascular and muscle endurance base)

This may sound like some kind of pro athlete plan but it’s really not.

You are always training all elements of physical capabilities but each 4 week phase has a ‘priority’ as listed above.

In this way we keep improving all of the elements described, building a more effective human body whilst providing constant variety and change of focus.

There are numerous ways you could put this together but here is one example of a 12 month plan.

W1-4 – Foundation 1
W5-8 – Foundation 2
W9-12 – Hypertrophy
W13-16 – Strength
W17-20 – Power
W21-24 – Power Endurance
W25-28 – Endurance
W29-32 – Foundation
W33-36 – Hypertrophy
W37-40 – Strength
W41-44 – Power
W45-48 – Power Endurance
W49-52 – Endurance

Remember that the names do not indicate exclusive phases but the main focus of each phase.

You could combine strength and power or strength and hypertrophy and have more months for power endurance work which is what most All Rounders typically enjoy as a training session.

Along with the training the following recommendations are made.

  • Eat natural, unprocessed food for 19 or 20 of your 21 weekly meals
  • Use intermittent fasting techniques if desired and the individual reacts well
  • Eat around 1.5-2g of protein per 1kg of lean bodyweight per day
  • Eat vegetables as often as possible
  • Stay hydrated
  • Maintain excellent gut health
  • Sleep 7-9 hours per night
  • Manage stress and personal environments as a priority
  • Train 3-4 times per week
  • Do non-gym physical activity twice per week such as walking, cycling, swimming, tennis etc.
  • Mobilise joints before and after each session or in 2-3 dedicated sessions per week if time allows. If you watch TV, you have time to do this.

The all-rounder doesn’t need to do much more than this, and should focus on doing whatever is required to remain consistent with these habits.

The One Hit Wonder Plan

Sometimes, this guy can be found in the All Rounder section for most of the year.

Sometimes he does next to nothing all year yet works so hard for twelve weeks that he still looks good when the cameras are out or the family are together for a wedding.

Either way, there comes that point in the year when he wants to really put in some effort to look good for a special occasion whatever that might be.

Twelve weeks is not long enough to both pack on muscle and lose body fat so the focus should typically be on dropping as much body fat as possible, particularly if this guy has left himself go for the rest of the year.

Our one hit wonder needs to know his maintenance calories.

In other words, if he has stayed at the same weight for a while without gaining or losing, we can work from that amount of calories. I prefer this to using some calorie calculator which is really just another form of educated guess.

From here, dropping intake by about 100-200 calories per day will usually start the fat loss process without causing metabolic disruption or stress reactions as can happen going from say 3000 calories per day to 1750 overnight.

We can work from where he is in terms of food intake and adjust, rather than create a random new diet particularly for the first month which he might struggle to make a habit.

If this person is already dieting hard but has hit a wall, then usually we need to go the other way and increase food intake by 100-200 calories per day whilst improving the training they are doing to get the metabolism back on track without swinging the other way in terms of calorie intake.

A suggested plan for 12 weeks would be:

W1-4: Find the calorie sweet spot for losing around 2lbs of body fat per week. At this point macronutrient percentages aren’t too important but protein intake and total calorie intake are. 

Training should be 3-4 sessions per week combining moderate weights in circuits with minimal rest breaks as well as high intensity conditioning (appropriate to their level).

W5-8: If the first four weeks have gone to plan, move to a cyclic ketogenic diet with 20-40g of carbs consumed before training, and all other meals just protein, fats and vegetables.

Training may remain the same, potentially adding two Low Intensity Steady State cardio sessions doe 30-45 minutes if time allows.

Weeks 9-12: A move to a standard ketogenic diet may be recommended here depending on the individual. It is not necessarily the ‘best’ diet so proceed with caution but if executed properly will help really bring the body fat down before the big event.

Again, a combination of moderate weight training, HIIT and LISS will work well.

That Guy/That Girl Plan

If you genuinely want to make fitness your ‘thing’, you can become That Guy, but it comes at a price that most people aren’t willing to pay.

This includes financial spend on good food and supplements, time commitment, avoiding certain social situations and outworking most other people in the gym.

These people already have the basics down that we mentioned in the details for the other two characters and so are in a better position to start honing certain areas.

Again we can argue about the make up of an annual plan depending on individual requirements, starting point, holidays, contests and so on but this will give you a good base to work from. Remember you should always have a system that has a 20% margin for changes and tweaks.

That Guy has the time and dedication to develop a more rugged physique over time using periods of maximal strength and hypertrophy rather than our One Hit Wonder who is best to just focus on minimising body fat.

W1-4 – Fat loss W5-8 – Fat loss
W9-12 – Hypertrophy
W13-16 – Strength and Hypertrophy
W17-20 – Hypertrophy
W21-24 – Fat loss
W25-28 – Fat loss
W29-32 – Fat loss
W33-36 – Fat loss
W37-40 – Hypertrophy
W41-44 – Strength and Hypertrophy
W45-48 – Hypertrophy
W49-52 – Strength and Hypertrophy

Training will be 4-6 times per week with weight training, HIIT and LISS being altered depending on the phase.

Nutrition will need to flux with the type of training and objective but a good place to start is as follows (adjusted depending on progress):

Fat loss: 20-25 calories per 1kg of lean body mass

Hypertrophy: 45-50 calories per 1kg of lean body mass

Strength and Hypertrophy: 40-45 calories per 1kg of lean body mass

Between phases the transition in calorie intake should be gradual to avoid any ‘panic’ reactions by the body and allow adjustment. For example, don’t halve calories overnight just because you have moved from the hypertrophy phase in December to the fat loss phase in January.

In terms of macros and body type a good starting point is:

Body type: Carbs% /Protein% /Fat%

Ectomorph: 50/30/10

Mesomorph: 40/40/20

Endomorph: 10/40/50

Summary

It is hard to give clear and concise advice for every individual and situation as a lot goes into my program design.

This will at least give you an excellent starting point from which it is your responsibility to trial methods and find what works best for you or your client.