It is actually far easier than many people believe to take control over your body composition. Body composition refers to your ratio of body fat to lean body mass. Your lean body mass includes things like your bones, organs and muscle, whilst your non-lean mass includes the fat tissue stored as energy reserves throughout your body.
Though there are many factors that account for body composition, with diet and underlying health concerns coming into play, the major elements depend on lifestyle factors – over which you have control.
We’re talking about diet and exercise here.
Changing Your Body Composition
Broadly speaking, if you want to lose weight in the form of fat, you need to maintain a caloric deficit. Eating 500 calories per day fewer than your maintenance caloric requirements will allow you to lose roughly 1lb/0.5kg per week. The inverse is also true – eat a surplus of 500 calories per day to gain 1lb/0.5kg per week.
This is oversimplified, but it stands up to scrutiny.
Then there is exercise. Any physical activity will burn calories. This will help you to create your caloric surplus. For example, if you wanted to lose 4lbs in a month, you would need to lose 1lb per week, so you would need a daily deficit of 500 calories, as above. You could achieve this simply by eating less. Alternatively, you could use exercise to help create the deficit. Eat 200 calories fewer per day, then perform 300 calories’ worth of cardio.
This will give you the deficit you need to hit your goals. If you want it to be, it can be this simple.
However, not all exercises are the same when it comes to body recomposition. Simply ‘doing more’ is fine, but we can do better. Ideally, you will want a mixture of resistance training and cardio. Resistance training will help to build and strengthen muscle, which, aside from its own health benefits, will raise your metabolic rate. Cardio will help you to plough through those calories, often without tiring you out too much.
Below, we have collected five different exercises and/or exercise types that you can do today to help you to bring about the body composition you want. You cannot out train a bad diet. If you haven’t got your diet sorted, yet, prioritise this, then look at training. However, if your diet is in hand, make the most of what we have to offer here to supercharge your body recomposition.
Finding Your Ideal Body Composition
You need to find and set clear goals when wanting to change your body composition. If you just say: ‘I want to lose a little weight’, then you are unlikely to succeed – this kind of nebulous goal won’t be measurable, won’t put you on the path you want, and likely won’t be very efficient overall.
Pick a number. It could be an ideal body fat percentage. It could be an ideal waist size. Or, it could be the old trusty, your weight.
If going by weight, use a BMI calculator to work out roughly what you should weigh. Work to a weight that will take you into the healthy, 19-25 range (unless, of course, you have lots of muscle mass, in which case it will be a little higher). For waist measurements, you ideally want your waist to be less than half your height – if you are 68 inches tall, you want your waist to be less than 34 inches. For body fat, aim for anything below around 15% for men or 20% for women. For six packs to show, this will need to be more like 8-10% and 12-16%, respectively.
Then, simply diet and train to the point at which you will meet these goals. If you need to lose 30 pounds, maintain a daily caloric deficit of 500 for 15 weeks, for example.
Training for Body Recomposition
Using these exercises in your training regime – even building your training regime around them – will go a long way to helping you meet your goals. You will be able to do everything in your power to make sure that your body burns through fat and retains or even builds muscle.
Burpees are the king of body composition exercises. You don’t need any equipment (though a soft surface on which to perform them is desirable). They train full body explosivity, have an extra option to bring upper body strength into the equation, and will bring your heart rate up into the 85%+ zone that we need to really burn fat.
To perform burpees:
Begin in a push up position, with toes and palms on the ground.
You have an option here to perform a push up, bringing some upper body conditioning into the movement.
Either from the push up position, either instead of or after a push up, tuck your knees into your chest and bring your feet outside your hands.
Come to a squat position and jump upwards.
For another optional extra, try bringing your knees to your chest as you jump.
As you land, reverse the motion, coming back into a push up position. Repeat.
Don’t stop between reps – each one should flow into the next.
Again, push ups are a perfect movement for body composition that require no equipment. They will bring your heart rate up (though likely not to the 85%+ range, unless performed as part of a circuit – more on this below) and will help you to build upper body and core strength and muscle mass.
To perform push ups:
Begin in the push up position (a high plank, with your palms and toes on the ground, your body near parallel with the ground).
Lower yourself down so that your chest nearly touches the ground. Elbows should be pointed out and back at a 45 degree angle. Wrists should be below shoulders.
Reverse, pushing back up again. Repeat.
If you want to build serious muscle and convert your body from a flab to fit, you need squats. And squats need to be heavy – the legs respond well to this kind of stimulation. Rep ranges can be anything from 1-12+. This will build leg, core and trunk muscle and strength, whilst also elevating your heart rate.
To perform heavy squats:
- Unrack a heavy barbell either resting on your traps (high bar squats) or rear deltoids (low bar squats).
- Walk back, plant your feet, breathe and brace.
- Push your hips back, bring your knees forwards and out to the sides, and lower your body down until your knees are roughly parallel with your hips. Hold for a second, then return to the top.
Farmers carries are one of the best full body strengthening exercises you can do. What’s more, you have a few different options with them. You can go super heavy (multiple times your bodyweight, for example), for short carries (50-100 yards). You can go reasonably light and go for long carries (up to a mile, for instance). You can also do anything in between.
Farmers carries stimulate the full body, work on often neglected muscles like the traps and forearms, have great carry over to strength movements like squats and deadlifts, and will spike your heart rate almost to the maximum. The main thing is to remember to not hold back – for them to work properly, you need to give them everything, so that you’re a shaking wreck by the end of it all.
To perform farmers carries:
- Find something big, with handles, that you can carry. Farmers carry handles are best, though hex bars also work perfectly. For lighter loads, large dumbbells and kettlebells can work really well.
- Start with them to your sides. Grasp them in a deadlift position and deadlift them up so that your hands hang at your sides.
- Walk. Slowly, in a controlled manner, keeping your shoulders blades squeezed back and down, your chin raised high and your collarbone wide.
- Perform the necessary distance, then drop the weight. This is your set.
Circuit or interval training
This is a way of training, rather than an exercise in its own right. Interval training means interspersing periods of high intensity with periods of low intensity. Circuit training achieves a similar objective by stringing exercises together in a sequence, followed by a rest.
A typical interval training session could look as so:
- Cycle on a spin bike for 4 minutes at an easy pace
- At the four-minute mark, sprint for 30 seconds
- Then pedal slowly for 30 seconds
- Sprint for 30 seconds
- Pedal slowly for 30 seconds
… and so on, until you hit ten minutes total.
This will bring your heart rate to the 85%+ range in a sustainable way.
A typical circuit may look as follows:
- Perform 5 heavy squats
- Then, straight away, perform 10 burpees, knees to chest, without push ups
- Then perform 10 push ups
- Then farmers’ carry 1.5 x your bodyweight for 200 yards
- Rest for 60 seconds and repeat five times
This will give a similar result to interval training, with the added benefit of bringing in some mixed resistance exercises.
Push yourself hard in the gym. Real change will come from this kind of effort. If your muscles aren’t fatiguing and your heart rate isn’t regularly surpassing 85% of its max, you will struggle to see drastic results (though, as above, diet is more important than training). Then let yourself recover.
You can perform low level cardio every single day. You should take 24-48 hours off between resistance training sessions. Eat healthy food, with plenty of protein to aid recovery, and try to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night so that your body can adapt and you can come back swinging, full of energy and motivation.
Other than this, stay consistent. Train consistently, a set amount per week, on specific days if possible. Eat well consistently, with few cheat days or meals and a good deficit, taking in as many calories as possible from good, whole sources. If you manage this, body recomposition is a waiting game – it’s simply a matter of time.