For the past 13-ish weeks, my weight lifting has been following the Renaissance Periodization Male Physique Templates.
My bodyweight was rising, and not in a good way. I wanted to spend a few months on a weight(fat)-loss (cutting) diet to shed some fluff. To succeed in that, not only is diet (i.e. caloric deficit) important, but one must also strive to preserve as much muscle mass as possible. So the best way to lift during that time is in a hypertrophy-oriented manner. So instead of my preferred strength/powerlifting format (great for building strength, OK for building muscle mass), I needed to do something purely oriented towards building – or in this case fighting to retain – muscle mass.
I’m OK at assembling this sort of work, but I know I could do better. I have used RP for a bunch of things in the past with great success, and I know they know their stuff. So why not try their Male Physique Templates? Might as well see what I can learn from it and how it might go for me.
The other consideration is that I’ve been feeling pretty beat up. While I love to lift heavy, it’s been killing me. I’m trying to learn how I can still lift in ways I enjoy and cultivate the sort of progress I want, but not beat myself up so much. This seemed like a good deviation from the norm, with something I could learn.
And learn I did.
Things I Learned
Barbell rows. I typically did them pulling the bar to the upper-abdomen. MPT wants you to pull to your belly-button. Wow. That’s a massive difference! Can’t move as much weight, but it hits the lats like I’ve never experienced.
I can actually handle more volume (at moderate intensities) than I think. BUT, recovery must be on point.
When doing lat pulldowns, keep the torso more upright. It hits the lats harder. Think about the angles and body mechanics. But yes, this can also be dependent upon the grip you use (e.g. a narrow underhand grip vs. a wide overhand – look at the plane of motion of the upper arm).
Front squats suck. I should do more of them.
Calf raises have been surprisingly productive. I use a bit of a cue from Paul Carter here of ensuring a good stretch at the bottom, which not only stretches but removes the bounce reflex. Then, hold/squeeze at the top. Make sure the movement is purely by flexing the calf muscles. You don’t need a lot of weight.
But really what was great about the calf raises? My feet feel better. It’s probably from the stretching under load, but the soles of my feet, my feet in general, standing, walking, etc. just feel better. I may not stick with so many sets of calf raises, but I think it would be wise for me to always have some amount of calf work in my routine.
The MPT really challenged my notion of how to get in volume. When I would do hypertrophy stuff, I tended to gravitate to one body part per day per week, the classic bro-split. But here I found more ways: x/fail, reps in reserve, more exercises, more sets, more work per week. Like it’s good to start with fewer sets in the early weeks, but over the weeks add more: more sets, more reps, more weight. Over time the volume goes up. But it’s also things like doing more work during the week, even if it seems small. For example, while “push” (chest, triceps, shoulders) may have been primarily focused on days 1 and 3, there was a little bit of work done on day 2. It wasn’t much, but it was something – enough to create some stimulus. Over time, it will add up. Yeah, it feels kinda weird to have “leg day” or “squat day” and then throw in a few sets of curls or pressdowns; but the break-up of dogma is welcome.
I did like the constant increase. I’ve found in the past that I start on a program, it’s painful at first, but after a couple weeks I’m used to it and it feels like I’m just going through the motions — am I gaining any more from it? But here? I felt like it was constant impact. I didn’t really have a chance to get used to it. So yeah, maybe some written program says to do 5×10; you can approach it by doing 3×10 the first week, 4×10 the next, then 5×10. Something like that. Allow yourself to work into it and gradually increase.
Overall I didn’t feel beat up, which is great! Yes, on that 4th week there was some serious overreach, but that I think that worked great because that’s what you want. If that level of work continued or increased for a 5th or 6th week, I doubt I’d be able to handle it. But constantly increasing as it did with the structure it did, seemed to be good for work and growth, but not making me feel beat up.
Another dogma buster was that my approach usually is to do the big movement first, then scale down to smaller, isolation movements. So as a rough example, bench press first, then incline dumbbells, then flies. Here? Not so much. It’s not so much that it was using the old Weider “pre-exhaustion” principle, because it wasn’t that sort of thing. Rather, it just broke the dogmatic approach. For example, the second upper-body day started with a bunch of back work, specifically lat pulldowns. Flat bench pressing was done until well after the back work. So not only is one of the big 3 movements saved until later, when you’re more fatigued, but lat pulldowns are almost never something I’d do as my first back movement. But by doing so I was able to go heavier on them, which has its own benefits.
Metabolite training is very different. You really find that the mind wants to give up well before the body gives out. It’s one thing to push for “one more rep” when you’re maxxing out at 5 reps. It’s another to push for it when you’re maxxing out in the 15-25 range. It’s not necessarily one is harder than the other, just a very different experience requiring a different mental approach.
I’m very curious to see how metabolite training will work when I’m on a “massing” diet. When I can be fueled by a lot of carbs, creatine, beta-alanine — things to help pushing into those higher rep ranges.
I found myself liking more and more dumbbell work. The freedom of movement has been much nicer on my joints. It’s also really helping to improve my grip strength. I tended to gravitate away from DB movements in the past; I’ll probably gravitate more towards them in the future.
Hex-bar/trap-bar deadlifts. Never did them before the MPT. They are quite a different beast that traditional deadlifts (regardless if conventional or sumo). Yes, more legs and less back. I often found lots of conventional deadlifts to be just exhausting and not necessarily good for me (e.g. Boring But Big 5×10). However, I could see doing hex bars for 5×10 and gaining much from it. I might even try putting Fat Gripz on them; not sure as I don’t want grip strength to be the limiting factor, but it’s a variation to consider.
For about 10 weeks I cut, using the RP Diet Templates.
I started at 252, I ended at 236. I spent exactly 2 months (Nov. 27 to Jan 27) on the templates. Losing 16 pounds in 8 weeks is quite fine. The original plan was to cut for the entire length of the MPT templates, but I had some scheduling matters that caused me to end early. I was OK with it tho because 16 pounds is fine. I spent the past couple weeks brining myself back to a set-point. I’m hovering around 239-241 depending on the day, which is to be expected at this point (carbbed back up, etc.).
What was great about this go-round was all my past experience with RP dieting helped. First, I was using the “new” 3.0 diet templates, which continue to improve on things. I started with RP when it was only personal-coaching (no templates). I used prior versions of the templates and didn’t like them so well. I think they made good adjustments to the 3.0 templates.
I started on Base with medium workload and lost decently to start. Then I moved to Cut 1, medium and kept losing. When that began to stall, I went to Cut 1 light and added in a bit of cardio. Yes, I could have moved to Cut 2, but I didn’t see the point. When did the math on the caloric intake of Cut 1 medium vs. light, I forget the numbers off the top of my head but it was significant enough that it, coupled with adding in 20 minutes elliptical every gym day, that would be enough of an incremental change in caloric deficit. I could save Cut 2 for when Cut 1 light + cardio stopped working. But it never did.
The trick is incremental caloric deficit. I could make small adjustments to the diet, reducing the caloric intake. Then I could also make small adjustments to the workload, increasing the caloric expenditure. No need to do everything at once. Modify one small thing, let it work. When it stops working, make another small change. I found this worked for me. And part of the reason? Mental health.
See, staying on Cut 1 light still allowed me to eat more food than Cut 2 medium. It becomes a more difficult thing on the mental (and emotional) side when you just are deprived of more food and have more hunger. So you gotta fight it on that mental and emotional front as well.
I found a few other things to help with my meals this go-round.
I ate more fresh veggies. In the past I’d use a lot of frozen because it was useful and convenient. But frozen vegetables just don’t have the same texture and satisfaction as fresh. So I’d take fresh broccoli, cut it up, and saute it (no oil) with some salt and pepper. To have the crunch, the browning, the better flavor and texture, made a big difference.
I ate a lot of sirloin. I love beef. In the past I’d try to stay lean, and cost-effective, by eating chicken or things like ground meats. That’s OK here and there, but it really grows tiresome. This time around I ate more sirloin. It’s lean. I’d take 5-8 pounds of it, give it dry seasoning, then put it on the grill outside with some wood smoke for improved flavor. Try to cook it to a medium-rare because it’s going to get heated up again later, and that will cook it a bit to medium — just right. This helped me a great deal, again because of flavors, but also mouth-feel and texture. It was nice to chew something! And it wasn’t chicken. Granted, I’d have some ground or chicken for 4-5 days in a prep-run, because even having sirlion 3-4x day for 4-5 days in a row got old. But it still helped to break things up and was something more to look forward to eating.
I did not prep days in advance. I know people that spend all day Sunday cooking and box up every single meal for the entire week. I was considering doing that, but it didn’t work out. What I would do tho is prep a bunch of stuff and just leave it in a big container (e.g. 1 big-ass container of cooked rice; 1 big-ass container of sauted broccoli; 1 big-ass container of cubed-up sirlion). Then what I might do is the day before, weigh out and box up all my meals for tomorrow. That allowed me to make some variations if I wanted it, but still be fairly convenient to eat.
Another thing that helped mentally was something I read. I forgot who said it (maybe Shelby Starnes?). It’s good to get used to eating the same thing over and over. Accept it. Be happy about it. It makes life easier. Because this is a choice, your choice. You’re doing it for a reason, a reason of your choice. So – enjoy the process of becoming lighter.
I’ve hum-hawed for a while about what to do next, because there’s a number of avenues I wish to explore. That said, I’ve decided how to spend the next 18-ish weeks.
I’m going to run the MPT again, with some modifications from Jared Feather (RP’s physique guy).
I want to run MPT again because I want to see how it goes when not running a caloric deficit.
I have some knowledge of how things work, so I think a second time through I should be able to run things better, smarter, more effectively than last time.
I expect this should continue to allow me to make progress, without beating me up too bad. Yeah, I’m not sure how my strength will fair after over half-a-year on this “lighter” work, but hopefully I’ll have some good muscle mass to show for it all. Then I can focus on making that mass do something useful.
Jared’s modifications are something discussed on the MPT Facebook group. Instead of running the templates as-is, you run them like this:
- Tab 1 (Basic hypertrophy) – 7-10 rep range
- Tab 1 again – 8-12 rep range
- Tab 2 (Metabolite), 8-12 rep range, with the intensity techniques
- Tab 3 (Resensitization)
The intention is spend more time in traditional hypertrophy ranges to push out the time between metabolite cycles (assuming you run the MPT over and over). Jared states this is because stuff like that is great for a time, but may decline in effectiveness more rapidly than traditional intensity thresholds. So, save that extreme build-up of metabolites for when it can really be effective, to help from getting stale too fast. It’s an effort to try to squeeze out more long-term improved results.
So you do tab 1 at a lower but still effective range. Then tab 1 again at a higher range. This allows for good work, but that rep range on average goes up and thus volume does too.
Note tho that tab 2 work actually is a bit lower than the original docs prescribe. This helps to bring the weights back into a better range (e.g. at least 60%+).
This is what I’m going to try. I’m kinda thinking it may scratch my “go heavy” itch a bit too, especially how the first mesocycle will run. I mean, it’s not heavy triples, but it’s heavier than things have been. 🙂
One thing in terms of my exercise selection is during the first tab 1, picking barbell exercises, more compound, more “difficult”. Things that allow me to lift purely heavier. During tab 1-again, I’ll still have those sorts but I’ll want to throw in more DB work. Then tab 2 will be whatever it winds up being, probably with more tilt towards DB work if I can.
As for diet? I’m not being strict. The funny thing is that I’m still not eating much — I do think I have a new setpoint. I put a carb source on my plate, and I still size it where I have been — kinda small. Not a bad thing. I am eating more carbs yes, but my weight’s been pretty steady for a few weeks now. My hope is during the coming 18 weeks to only gain maybe 5 pounds? If I do that it’s a pretty safe bet it was 5 pounds of muscle gain (or maybe like 4 muscle 1 fat). Then I’ll see about doing a mini-cut for 4-6 weeks, and probably start back to the world of powerlifting.