If you’re new to weight training, it can be hard to visualise just how you’re supposed to go from where you are right now to where you want to be in terms of your physique.


With that in mind, this 3-part article is going to take you through the exact process I follow with clients that have never lifted a weight before but want to add some size to their frame.


Today we’re just going to focus on the first part of the physique journey, phase 1.


Physique Phase 1: Get Lean

The first thing I do with every client that comes through my doors wanting to improve their physique is to first focus on stripping the fat from their body. The reasons I do this are three-fold.


Firstly, we need to see exactly what we’re working with. When we get lean, we can see the physique for what it is, the strong areas and the weak areas. We can see how much or little muscle mass we have and where we need to focus most of our efforts going forwards.


Secondly, going from being a complete novice that maybe has lived a pretty unhealthy lifestyle for a few years to a lean individual, we prime the body to put on muscle. We’re in a healthy place, with key hormones having been upregulated, we’ve improved insulin sensitivity and we’re ready to start growing. Everything lines up nicely.


Lastly, starting your training journey by sticking to a diet proves to yourself you can do it. Dieting is not an easy thing to do (which is why the diet industry is worth billions), so sticking to a good diet and training plan for a sustained period of time and getting in great shape shows you exactly what you’re capable of. It’s a great confidence boost and will give you some much needed momentum going into the next phase of training for a better physique, which I’ll cover in the next article.


So, that’s why we do it. Now – how do we do it?


Setting Up Your Diet

Diet is an area of much debate and controversy. For that reason, I’m going to try and keep this as simple as I can and give you the basics of what I do with new clients.


Firstly, we must remember that we’re trying to lose weight here – so we need to be in a calorie deficit. That means our energy output (exercise) must exceed our exergy input (food). Therefore we need to know how much we’re eating.


Keep a food log for 2-3 days of your current diet, as you normally eat. I’d recommend tracking it on an app called My Fitness Pal. Track everything that goes in your mouth (that is food or drink, not interested in your special night time activities tbh) and what we’re looking for is roughly how many calories you’re taking in.


I like to start people on the exact amount of calories they’re already eating, but with better food (and the exercise we’re obviously adding in). This is normally enough to elicit change in the onset, I’ll talk more about how to ensure continued progress later.


For now, set up your diet on a similar amount of calories as you’re on now but split the meals up a little bit to make sure it fits around your work and life commitments. Ideally we’d be eating around every 3 hours but this isn’t always possible so just do what you can.


Make sure every meal has a good serving of protein in it, from sources such as beef (steak), chicken/turkey, fish. Use carbs when you need them, mainly around workouts. Great carb sources are things like white rice, sweet or white potato, quinoa, the occasional serving of oats. Things that are relatively easy on the digestive system. Fats are important to include in the meals that don’t have carbs – look at things like almonds, avocados, whole eggs, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, and the fats that can be found in high quality steak, salmon, mackerel, etc.


Try to include some kind of vegetable in every meal. Not only will this help with the vital nutrients we need for health and bodily functions but it also provides fibre to aid digestion and above all else it just helps to fill up your stomach on a calorie deficit for relatively few calories.


Lastly, and this is something I picked up from Stan Efferding (check him out on YouTube if you haven’t already) – always salt your meals. Sodium is a vital mineral that those of us that eat ‘clean’ foods are often deficient in. We need sodium to help hydrate our cells, help draw essential minerals such as potassium into cells, prevent cramping and improve our strength and performance levels in the gym. The best kind of salt I think you can use is Pink Himalayan Salt (this kind of salt contains iodine which stimulates thyroid production) but you can just use standard sea salt if you wish. An added benefit of sodium is that it can really help ‘dry out’ your physique, giving you a leaner and sharper look.


That’s about all the information I’m going to give you on diet – not just because I don’t want to overload you but also because nutrition is such a personal subject that I feel if I go any further I’ll be crossing boundaries and giving out blanket advice where it isn’t warranted, and running the risk of potentially harming your physique instead of helping it.


Setting Up Your Training Plan

Setting up your training plan is a vital component of getting started on your way to a better physique. Too many guys simply wander into the gym and aimlessly amble around hoping that doing a bit of this and a bit of that will get them the results they want. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it won’t.


Now, I’m going to treat this as though you’re a complete beginner to weight training. When I take on a new client that hasn’t trained before and wants to add muscle and actually develop a physique, the first and most important thing is that they know how to train. Execution of movements is key and cannot be understated. Check out my Instagram/Facebook feeds and look out for my new YouTube channel if you want to see some exercise demo videos.


In terms of programming, for this phase of training I normally go for a ‘German Body Composition’ style, as popularised by Charles Poliquin. This involves bouncing between upper and lower body exercises in a ‘superset’ fashion.


(Note: ‘Superset’ means one exercise directly followed by another exercise, then rest and repeat).

So, over a number of workouts specifically tailored to their body, I would pair an upper body exercise with a lower body exercise so as to get a full body workout each time they went in the gym (see my articles on programming for more info on why full body is great for beginners).


Ordinarily for a complete beginner we’d be looking at 3 lots of supersets, so 6 different exercises in total, each consisting of 4 sets. So a sample workout may look something like this:


Superset 1:

Machine Chest Press

DB Box Squats


Superset 2:

Seated Machine Row

Static Lunges


Superset 3:

Seated Leg Curl

DB Side Raise


All exercises are 12 reps, 4 sets each. Rest 30 seconds upon completing the second exercise before moving back to the first.


I’d normally try to get people training 4 times per week in the outset. Any less and you’re not really giving yourself the opportunity to make progress, any more and you run the risk of not recovering properly between workouts. There will be scope for more training down the line, but keep it to 4 workouts per week for now.


Play around with different exercises in this style and format of training and see how you get on.


Ensuring Continued Progress

Now, as mentioned earlier, in this phase of training the goal is to essentially expend more energy than you consume. However, we still want to stimulate, hold on to and if at all possible, grow muscle tissue in this phase. We don’t want to be skinny, we want a physique. As you’re a complete beginner to weight training, I do believe it absolutely possible to both lose body fat and build some muscle mass during this phase, although the primary focus should be fat loss and health optimisation.


That being said, as I outlined earlier – we should try to start out on our physique phase 1 journey at a relatively high level of eating, and let the training do the work. If you calculate your nutrition properly, you’ll still be in a calorie deficit through the training you’re doing. This should be enough to elicit the first few lbs of weight loss.


Once this stops working, you can then look at adding in other tools. Now, I personally would always rather do more exercise than take any food away. I think movement is key to progress and living a healthy life, and calorie restriction should only be brought in if absolutely necessary.


A great way to get your calorie expenditure up on a daily basis is to focus on increasing your NEAT (Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) levels. This essentially means all the calories you burn outside of the gym. A great way to increase this is to buy a step counter and aim for a certain number of steps per day (I try to hit 10,000 per day). This ensures you’re super active and keeps you burning calories every day. A couple of short walks along with choosing to be active where you can (parking further away from the shops, taking the stairs instead of the lift etc) will help more than you realise.


Cardio sessions are also a great option if your weight loss has stalled but try to only add these in when they’re really needed.


Of course, if weight loss stalls and you’ve completely maxed out your training, cardio and NEAT activity, calorie restriction may be required. But take food away sparingly, don’t starve yourself and remember, we’re trying to build a physique here in the long run, we don’t want to waste you away!


Hope that was useful – now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to train legs.

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Happy training




PS – Enjoyed this article? Why not check out the one I wrote on How To Train As A Natural Lifter?