I know precisely what you mean. You want a little muscle mass – not huge amounts – but enough to give you some exciting shape, and you want low enough body fat to show it off. And… abs would be great, right? How far off the mark am I? On the money is my guess!
In this article, rather than specific training and diet details – all of which can be found on this site – I’d like to run you through the correct order of steps to take to achieve your goal. All of which depend heavily on the current state of your body.
Now, before you get carried away and think achieving this body is a simple as pumping iron an eating like a bird to lose fat, I have to inform you – you’re in for a bit of a more complicated ride than that, unfortunately.
Some people have a fair amount of muscle by nature, or, because they take part in sports, so may not necessarily need to train with weights so much to develop their muscle mass. Most people, though, have very little muscle mass – and without muscle mass, having very low body fat is going to make you look pretty ill (and that’s not ill in the rap sense.) Ill is not lean… ill is skinny… and ill!
Where it all starts depends on how your body currently is. If you have very low body fat – particularly on your abdomen – then you could simply try a moderate weight training regime, and eating more lean protein, which if sufficient, will also contribute more calories to provide some muscle growth. Of course, you won’t get huge overnight so that’s not a fear… you can simply maintain any time you think you’re getting too bulky.
One of the perpetual issues of building muscle is you can put on some fat in the meantime because you need to eat excess calories. But, by keeping a tight diet, you should be able to put optimum muscle on and avoid putting much fat on. All small amounts of fat can be lost pretty quickly after you’ve gained some initial muscle – it’s when it’s stones and stones of fat that it takes a long time to lose.
If you are the sort who carries a fair bit of fat, then you’re going to have to lose it first. For instance, if you are 3 stone overweight, it might take you the best part of a year to lose it as it is… so adding more fat will only make things worse, and all the while you are losing fat, you only stand to lose a bit of muscle in the process, so when all of the fat is lost… there’s no muscle hardly, just your bony skeleton. No good!
So, slim down first until you have low body fat. Get lean… not necessarily ‘abs’ lean… but lean so you don’t have male breasts and can’t grab handfuls of fat all over your body – not even on your stomach, where most fat is stored. Lean!
Once you’re lean enough, you can then begin a slow muscle building program and specialist diet designed to let you put on muscle mass whilst keeping fat to a minimum. Of course you will gain some fat, but don’t worry… it’s about keeping it to a minimum, thus minimising the cutting phase.
It can take a long time to bring your body fat down to a very lean state, so don’t give up. It’s going to be a constant effort to eat just enough to lose fat or maintain low fat levels, but not so little that you begin to starve your body and cause fat loss to stall. If you do stall, it may help you from time to time (i.e. one or two days every week, for instance) to overeat a little, to help your metabolism go up and reassure your body that you’re not starving to death and to allow fat to be burned once again.
Test things out. No two bodies are the same, and, your body and its needs are ever-changing. So, become acquainted, keep a close watch, and adjust where necessary.