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"What Would You Do in My Position?"
A Simple Framework To Make Fitness Decisions
We’re all unique, right? We have different lives, different experiences, starting points, etc.
Most of my questions and DM’s are typically about some unique situation you’re in and need advice on what to do. The reality is your situation 90% of the time is not unique and you’re overthinking whatever struggle might be in your way.
The thing is, given the principles and everything laid out in this substack, you should know what to do, this is where the overthinking comes in. You have the answers but think “What if my situation is different”. It’s likely not, fitness is very simple in theory and application—In reality, there are maybe a handful of answers/solutions so it’s a relatively easy framework to follow.
However, I’m going to take the most frequent or most unique questions asked and break them down here.
The Basic Framework Work Of Deciding What To Do
At surface level, pretty much everything will boil down to:
“Do I like how I look? Do I need to add muscle, lose fat, or maybe both?”
“What is my overarching goal and what do I need to do to get closer to that?”
“What are my priorities and what exactly do I want to get out of my training & nutrition?”
We can have many different goals, long and short-term, but ultimately we are going to know what exactly it is to do by diving into these (and maybe a few other) questions and the answer will be clear as day.
We could almost end here, but the reality is some people actually don’t know what the next steps would exactly be once we have this answer, so I’m here to simplify this process and give you my recommendation if I were in your shoes.
Let’s start with more basic situations and then run into a few more unique ones that I commonly see.
“Should I Cut or Bulk?”
This is BY FAR the most common question I get asked and typically the one where people won’t like the answer I give because it’s not what people want to hear or it’s the harder, more delayed gratification choice.
We really need to look at this from a few angles:
Are you over 15-18% body fat (as a male)?
How long have you been training/been away from training?
Do you like the way you look or want to lose fat or gain muscle?
To put this quite simply, if you’re not lean, then you need to cut because unless (as I’ll get into) you’re a newer lifter/have been away from the gym for a while, or plan on using anabolic steroids, you’re going to have to add *some* new fat mass while you can add muscle (muscle needs a caloric surplus to grow).
So if you’re already pushing it, you’re just either going to: add fat and mess up your hormones (excess fat fuels conversion of testosterone into estrogen via aromatase) and you’re going to do metabolic damage (insulin resistance) OR you’re not going to be able to keep a caloric surplus long enough (need about 16 weeks) to actually add any appreciable muscle mass before realizing you’re getting too fat.
You’re going to set yourself up for much more success by cutting, getting into a healthier place, and thus allowing yourself the time needed to *healthily* enter a caloric surplus at a later time—PLEASE DON’T IGNORE THIS, any person who has been there will tell you this, otherwise you’ll end up needing to cut fat for 6+ months.
The decision to bulk or enter a caloric surplus is rather straightforward, if you’re leaner, say 12% body fat or less, then you are in a great place to enter a caloric surplus and add mass if you desire to. If you do this intelligently, you can gain a lot of appreciable mass, not add excess fat, then make cutting easier and much less time intensive.
*Now the MAJOR caveat here is that if you are a beginner then you can recomp, meaning put on muscle and fat at the same time, due to the fact the stimulus is new (covered that here); OR if you have been away from the gym for a long time you can also recomp (also covered here). I will just link those posts to keep this from becoming a complete novel of a post (already is).
This leads right to the next question.
“What Diet Should I Eat?”
Whether you’re cutting or bulking, your diet will mostly stay the same, you will just manipulate your macros/calories.
But how do you decide what foods to eat?
First and foremost, I put health and ensuring our diets are providing the nutrients we need to both ensure we have the proper amount of micronutrients to support healthy bodily function and to provide us with the proper fuel we need to perform well inside the gym.
For this, our diets are going to look like predominately whole foods, meaning they should come from nature (plants or animals) and have minimal processing (if it’s in a box and has dozens of ingredients, probably not the best option).
Then we have to consider our goals, preferences, and how certain diets affect our bodies. This is where the nuance comes into play.
For muscle growth and general fitness, I will always recommend this as base guidance:
1 Gram of Protein per Pound of Bodyweight (or estimated lean body weight if very overweight)
.3 Grams of Fat per Pound of Bodyweight to support hormone health and vitamin absorption
After this is met, you can use to remaining calories to have as many carbs or more fats depending on your preferences
While some like lower-carb diets, if gaining muscle as quickly as possible is your goal, then you’re going to want more carbs after your base fat needs are taken care of. Now, if you don’t care about “optimal” or say you have health reasons carbs don’t agree with you, eat few or even none and focus on fats and protein, you can and will gain muscle albeit not as fast.
More nuances to diet also come down to if you’re trying to eat in a caloric deficit vs a caloric surplus. In a surplus you can afford more flexibility and don’t need to worry about things like fatty vs leaner cuts of meat. However, when in a caloric deficit, you lose some flexibility and need to look for more “bang for your buck” food sources meaning more volume of food for the amount of calories (chicken breast vs ribeye is a good example here).
“How Do I Pick A Program? / Which Program is Right for Me?”
Questions to ask yourself:
What are you training for?
How long have you been training?
How many days a week do you want to go to the gym?
What access to equipment do you have?
If brand new, the sky’s the limit and you’re better off in many cases strictly learning and doing calisthenics to get familiar with how your body moves as you likely won’t have this kinesthetic awareness to truly know.
In general, you need to understand the goal and intent of your training or you might learn down the line you wasted time doing suboptimal training because you simply didn’t know better.
When it comes to choosing a program, you need to be honest with your own training experience and muscular development and choose a program that aligns with where you are and what your needs are. Any good program is going to lay out who the program is made for and who will benefit the most. Don’t be someone who just jumps at a program that might be too advanced for you because it sounds cool or “everyone is doing it”.
You can typically make your training fit into your preferences and lifestyle, you don’t need to try to work out a certain way or frequency because “someone said I should be”. If you only have 3 days to work out, don’t do a program made for 4,5, or even 6 days, you can get very advanced working out only 3 days (even less if you insist, I’ve seen 2 days a week work).
It also doesn’t make sense to follow a machine-heavy program if you only have dumbbells and barbells, or a weight training program when you don’t have equipment and have to use body weight (sounds straightforward but you’d be amazed).
At the end of the day, your training needs to be tailored to you, not you tailored to a training program.
(As you know, I have a ton of programs here to look at and see what speaks to you):
(Don’t see one linked that works for you? Refer back to the Start Here post.)
“My Life is Changing from My Regular Routine, How Should I Modify?”
You just had a new baby and can’t get into the gym as often as you would normally.
You are starting a new job and you don’t have as many hours to spend in the gym
You’re going out of town two weeks before a big event you want to attend, you’re already on a roll with weight loss, how do you maintain and mitigate your circumstances?
These things happen, and again, you need to make your training and diet fit to your needs. The reality is diet and training are all just tools to get a desired result (health, appearance, or performance). When the need for a different tool comes up, you can always use a different tool to get the result you want.
It’s okay to scale back the days in the gym to fit a program that makes more sense.
It’s okay to eat 2 meals a day instead of 4 because you don’t have the time to fit the meals in.
It’s okay to just do some bodyweight exercises in your rental because you’re on vacation and still want to make or maintain progress.
The key takeaway here is to realize it’s all just a tool, you don’t need to be married to one way of doing things and worry when you have to change that—it’s okay, it’s fine, it’s going to happen so just roll with it.
I’m Hurt, Now What?
The final piece I’ll touch on which is fairly common is what to do after an injury.
This sucks but it’s a part of the game and life, but outside a major catastrophic injury, you can still stay fit and maintain (even improve) progress where you can.
The first thing of course is to consult a professional and get the right course of action to fix your injury. If not, this will just create what is often lifelong injuries that you will SEVERELY regret not dealing with at the time—I know a couple of guys: BowTiedKobra BowTied_Bengal I’m Hurt Now What
Once that big piece is out of the way, nothing is stopping you from safely working around that injury.
Say you broke your left wrist, nothing is stopping you from working out your legs on machines you don’t need to grab, working the other side (this can actually help maintain muscle on the injured side—the body is cool like that), and otherwise doing everything normal that isn’t going to risk the injury.
An injury shouldn’t mean throwing your training and diet out the window, in reality, that is actually going to slow down your healing process and likely put you in a mental place you really don’t want to be in.
It sucks, but too many people let an injury ruin months, even years of hard work when it doesn’t have to be that way.
Putting It All Together
We can pretty much summarize each of these subcategories into 3 main questions:
Do I like how I look?
What is my MAJOR goal?
What are my priorities and responsibilities?
Whether you’re injured or on vacation, want to build muscle or lose fat, OR need guidance on what to eat or what program you should be doing, all of these questions apply to those circumstances (plus some).
Looking Forward/Substack Update
I apologize for the lack of posts lately. As most of you know I recently had a baby boy which has taken all of my attention. Life unfortunately also threw a lot of curveballs in my personal life which I won’t discuss here. Unfortunately (and fortunately I suppose) I refuse to just write just to write, I have a standard for my content and just wasn’t in a place where I could write anything worth saying.
With that said, we are back to normal scheduling NOW. To make up for your patience and time lost, I have a ton of bonus content going out to paid subscribers, which will include downloadable programs for ease of access, downloadable guides, and a few more things you’re going to enjoy (and will more than make up for the couple months).
Let’s just say… We Are So Back!
This is not Legal, Medical, or Financial advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any workout program, diet plan, or supplement protocol. These are opinions from a Cartoon Ox.