Planning Your Workout Program

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Last updated on December 3, 2022

There is no set prescription for building lean muscle mass. We all have different body types and, so, need to adapt our program to our own unique requirements. Before we can do that, however, we need to understand the different body types.

The three basic body types are:

  • Ectomorph
  • Mesomorph
  • Endomorph

An ectomorphic body type is lean and thin. This type of person will have difficulty gaining muscular body weight.

A mesomorph is muscular with a hard, rectangular build. He or she will gain weight quite easily.

An endomorph is plump with a soft, round build. This is the type of person who complains that they only have to look at food to gain fat.

Very few people fit completely into one of the three body types. For most people, however, one of the three will be dominant. Knowing which body type you tend towards will help you to develop the ideal exercise and nutrition plan for building lean muscle mass.

So, before you go any further, take a look at yourself in the mirror and decide whether you are predominantly an ectomorph, mesomorph or endomorph.

How an Ectomorph Should Train

Ectomorphs tend to have a fast metabolism. As a result, they find it hard to gain weight. This person’s workout should focus on building mass by using heavier weights and fewer repetition. Calorie burning cardio exercise should be kept to an absolute minimum, as this will only rob the body of calories that could be utilized to build lean muscle tissue.

In terms of nutrition, an ectomorph should consume a surplus of calories from complex carbohydrate foods to encourage anabolic weight gain.

How a Mesomorph Should Train

The mesomorph has a genetic advantage when it comes to building lean muscle mass. Often, this type of person looks very athletic before they even pick up a weight for the first time. In terms of bodybuilding and gaining muscle mass, the mesomorph has won the genetic lottery.

He or she can train with virtually any type of system and will still see some pretty good results. For ideal muscle building  results, however, the mesomorph should train with a combination of heavy and light weights and rep ranges that vary from a high of 30 down to a low of six reps.

How an Endomorph Should Train

The endomorph tends to have a slow metabolism and will easily store wanted extra calories as body fat. He will gain weight easily but will struggle to get rid of excess body fat. Even when trying to build lean muscle tissue, the endomorph should include several cardio sessions per week in order to get rid of the layer of fat that is covering the muscle and develop muscular definition.

The endomorph should perform his weight training sessions in a relatively fast manner with a slightly higher rep range on the other two body types.

Nutrition is especially important for the endomorph. To achieve fat loss, daily calorie intake must be lower than daily calorie expenditure. This will force the body to call on its body fat stores for energy. The diet should be high in protein and moderate in fat. It should also have a moderate amount of complex carbohydrates. Snacking on empty food calories should be avoided.

Body Mass Index

The body mass index (BMI) provides an analysis of total body fat based on height and weight. It is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in square meters. Although commonly used by medical practitioners, the body mass index is not very useful. That is because it does not distinguish between fat weight and muscle weights. So, a 260 pound bodybuilder who has a body fat percentage  of lower than 10%, would still be regarded as being obese on the body mass index.

Body Fat Percentage

Rather than relying on the outdated body mass index, you should use body fat percentage to indicate your level of fat content and lean muscle tissue. A muscular lean guy who is 5’11” and weighs 200 pounds, has a BMI of 28, indicating that he is overweight. Yet one look at his body tells you that he is not. When you check his body fat percentage you find that he’s hovering around 9%.

The simplest way to measure your body fat percentage is to use a skinfold caliper. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and record the skin thickness at three sites on your body. These are typically the upper arm, waist, and thigh. Add all three measurements and then divide them by three.

Your local gym may offer more accurate body fat testing. Even if you have to pay a few dollars, it is well worth doing this every three months.

The average body fat % of men is between 15 and 20%. In order to get your abs to show, however, you will have to get down to around 10%.

You may also want to read our zero percent body fat article.

Recording Your Data

It is recommended that you keep a training journal. This will allow you to document your progress as you progressively become stronger and more muscular. This can be a strong source of motivation to keep you on track.

Your journal can be kept online or as a hard copy.

Record your data in two separate categories:

  • Shape
  • Function

In the shape category, measure your body weight using the bathroom scale. Take body measurements with a tape measure, and include full body photos. Record your data at the very beginning of your program and then every four weeks.

In the function category, measure your muscle strength by recording the maximum weight you can lift for six reps during the last set of each exercise. Make it your goal to increase the weight on each exercise by 5% every two weeks.

You can also record your daily food and water intake, workout time and duration, sleep schedule, bodyweight, body mass index, and body fat percentage in the function category of your training journal.

Adapting Your Program

In the coming editions of this lean mass training series, I will lay out the training program you should follow for lean muscle gains. However, it is up to you to customize it for your own unique use. You will work out the amount of weight that you can safely lift on each exercise, what days you will be training and what time of day.

It will also be up to you to plan a workable nutrition and diet plan. I will provide you with all the guidelines and information you need to do this, but you need to be able to adapt it to your lifestyle in a way that is realistic and sustainable.

The amount of calories that you consume is also independent of your unique body and circumstances. It depends on a number of variables including your age, occupation, activity level, body type and your goals. The older and less physically active you are, the lower your baseline daily calorie requirement will be.

Upgrading Your Program

The more training you have under your belt, the more changes you’ll see on your body and the stronger you will become. As you get stronger, you need to lift heavier weights in order to continue stressing your muscle fibers. It is only when the muscles are stressed beyond what they are used to that adaptive change in the form of increased muscle size can take place.

If you were to continue doing the same number of sets and reps with the same weight month and month out, your body would not continue to get stronger and bigger. Similarly, if you aren’t providing your body with the extra calories it needs to grow new muscle, you won’t be able to do so.

I recommend increasing your daily calorie intake by 10% every month up to an additional 50% on top of your baseline intake. Increasing your calories this way rather than dramatically all at once will make it far less likely that excess calories will be stored as body fat. Make sure that those extra calories come in the form of lean protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.

Bottom Line

The key points from this article and planning your workout program are:

  1. Identify your body type:

Ectomorphs should focus on heavy weight with low reps and cut out cardio.

Mesomorphs should train in the 6-30 reps range with light, medium and heavy weights.

Endomorphs should use relatively high reps in the 8-30 range, with medium poundages along with several sessions of cardio per week.

  1. Use body fat percentage as your guide to getting leaner.
  2. Keep a training journal; record your body measurements, weight, body fat percentage and strength levels every four weeks.
  3. Make it your goal to increase the weight on every exercise by 5% every two weeks.
  4. Increase your total calories by 10% every month, with a focus on proteins, complex carbs and healthy fats.
  5. Make continual, small, incremental steps.

In the next article, we will zone in on exercise type, selection, number and order.

Steve Theunissen has qualified from the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) and is a certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist. He has over 30 years experience in fitness and nutrition and currently working with famous fitness professionals. He is currently living in New Zealand with is wife and daughter.

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