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Q & A with Michael Furci - Lose more body fat and gain more muscle; design an effective workout; working your chest

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Q: Mr. Furci,
I have a problem with working out and losing weight. I started out at 205lbs. And my goal was to lose twenty pounds. I also wanted to bulk up as I was losing the fat. I accomplished my goal but I wanted to keep eating healthy. I kept doing this a kept losing weight. I was down to 175 but I felt great. I was wondering what I could do to keep fat off but stay around a certain weight without losing more. I would appreciate your help.


A: Do not get so caught up in how much you weigh.  Be more concerned with how you look.  Weighing yourself does not give a true picture of what’s going on with your body.  Weighing yourself doesn’t show body composition changes, which is what you should be concerned with.  Gaining muscle and losing body fat should be your priority.  Would you rather be a shredded and strong 165lber or a soft 175lber?

Your last statement should have been, “I was wondering what I could do to lose more body fat and gain muscle.”

Here is your answer:

  1. Train with intensity.  You can train long or you can train hard.  But you can’t do both.
  2. Do not train over 60 minutes not including your warm-up.
  3. Keep an eye on recovery ability.  If you do not progress with each workout, you’re probably doing too much.
  4. Read, “A no Nonsense Guide to Designing your workouts” in the Fitness section archives.
  5. Do cardio sparingly, if at all.  If gaining muscular weight is your goal, cardio can be counter productive
  6. Eat at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.  Try to get more if you can.

Q: Mr. Furci,
I'm a 28-year-old male (6', 220lbs) with a fairly long background of weight training, sports, etc. Since I am no longer involved in organized sports I have found it somewhat difficult to maintain a fresh routine; i.e. I get bored with working out and find myself procrastinating. 

My current routine takes 6 days per week. 

Mon/Thurs: bench, incline, flies, triceps extensions, triceps pushdowns, dumbbell kickbacks
Tues/Fri: Barbell row, pull downs, low cable row, barbell curl, preacher curl, concentration curl, forearms. 
Wed/Sat: squats, leg extensions, leg curls, calves, shoulder press, lateral raises, front raises, shrugs.

I also include abs every 3rd day and cardio every day for 20-30 minutes.

After reading your other articles and Q & A sites, I am wondering if a complete routine overhaul is in order. I have noticed that many suggested routines call for working a body part once per week, and that many muscle groups are combined differently than my complimentary muscle group routine. 

For example:
Mon: Chest, biceps
Tues: Legs
Thurs: Back
Fri: Shoulders, triceps

Is there more benefit from working a muscle group less often (recovery) and with an opposing muscle group? I am somewhat limited in the amount of time I can devote to working out, so I have tried to combine no more than two muscle groups per session. What would you suggest as a possible routine? I am interested in gaining some of my lost mass, but also interested in remaining solid.

Also what makes a good ab routine? Is it the order of the exercise, high reps, high resistance, working different ab groups on different days, doing a complete ab routine in one day, etc.? My current ab routine consists of crunches, decline oblique crunches, side bends, kneeling cable crunches, leg raises, and lower back work. ( all exercises are performed with some amount of weight for added resistance)

Thank you for your help.


A: A complete overhaul is definitely in order. This is especially true if you find yourself bored and procrastinating. Feeling lethargic, stale, and unmotivated can be major signs of over-training. The stress of everyday life coupled with a 6 day per week training program is entirely too much for most people. If you design your workouts properly you should feel fresh and motivated. Designing a program that is best for you is not always an easy process. 

Determining what type of program works best for an individual can some times take a little time. Remember there is no one perfect workout despite what many would have you think. However there are certain guidelines you should follow that will help you properly design a program that suits your needs.

When designing workouts for individuals I evaluate a person's goals and weaknesses and make adjustments accordingly. Your goals as you stated are to regain some solid mass. This is entirely different than somebody who wants to improve his or her strength for a particular sport. Since I cannot evaluate you in person, I'm going to assume that you do not have any muscular imbalances or any body parts that are lagging behind. If you did they would be prioritized within the workout.

First of all, you need to understand that you should make progress every time you go to the gym. Your goal should be to get stronger. Getting stronger is the key to adding muscle. The heavier the weight lifted, the greater the muscle tension. The higher the muscle tension the greater the growth response. And like most people your asking yourself, "How can you get stronger every workout?" Believe me, if your workouts are cycled correctly, you'll progress every time. 

So how do you design an effective program? The first component to take into consideration is training frequency. How often can, or more importantly, should you train per week? Optimum recovery time is essential making progress. Your training frequency will be determined by you personal recovery ability. Most people need between 5 and 8 days between training the same body part to fully recover. 

Below you'll find a few examples of workout schedules to try. The first is a 5-day per week rotating schedule. The second is a 4-day per week schedule. Either one would work well with the limited amount of time you have. 

Workout 1
Day 1: Chest and triceps
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Back and calves
Day 4: Shoulders, biceps, and abs
Day 5: Off
Day 6: Quads and hams
Day 7: repeat schedule

Workout 2
Day 1: Chest and biceps
Day 2: Quads and hams
Day 3: Off 
Day 4: Back and abs
Day 5: Shoulders, triceps, and calves
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Off

Stick with either of these schedules between 3 and 6 weeks. It takes this long to reap the full benefits of any workout. But be careful, this is also the point at which routines will tend to loose their effectiveness and should be changed. 

Now we should look at the other components of your workout. How many reps should I do? How many sets should I perform? These are very common questions, which unfortunately do not have simple answers. I answer these questions in depth in the 3-part article, A No nonsense Guide to Designing your workouts.

Research has shown that That sets performed in the 1 - 5 rep range will yield maximum strength gains with minimal gains in muscle mass. Sets that are performed in the 6 - 12 rep range maximally increase strength through muscle mass gains. So given what we know through science and empirical data you should be performing approximately 70% of your sets in the 6 - 12 range and 30% in the 1 - 5 range.

No matter what the rep range for each set, this will have no bearing on the number of sets you choose for each exercise. For your goals you should perform between 2 - 6 sets per exercise including warm-up sets. The number of exercises for each workout should be somewhere between 6 - 12. Your rest intervals between each set should be between 2 - 4 minutes depending on the body part being worked. The larger the body part the more rest you'll need to recover between sets. 

And concerning your abs. Work them like any other body part. Just remember there is no such thing as spot reduction. You can do your abs everyday and this will not reduce the amount of fat that's covering them. To get wash board abs you need to incorporate good eating habits along with an overall training program.   

Q: Mike,
I can't seem to get my chest to grow no matter what I do. I've tried high reps, low reps, super sets, low volume, high intensity, and on and on. I don't know what else to do. I always stick to the basics like bench, incline bench, dmbl press, but it doesn't seem to matter. The rest of my body seems to grow pretty well. I have a pretty good build I think for a 29 year old with 5 years of training. Below is my current workout. Can you give me a workout that will help me out.

Bench press 4 -5 sets, 8 - 10 reps
Incline bench press 4 - 5 sets, 8 - 10 reps
Dmbl flat press 4 -5 sets, 8 - 10 reps
Dmbl flys 4 - 5 sets, 10 - 12 reps
Cable X-overs 3 - 4 sets, 10 - 12 reps

A: Tim,
How often do you change your exercises? How often do you change your rep ranges? How often do you change your rest intervals between sets? Do you keep a workout journal? I would like to know the answers to these and other questions to ensure that I would prescribe a workout that benefits you. But since I don't I will give you a kick ass workout with some guidelines to help you along the road to progress.

Unfortunately, you may not be genetically predisposed to having a full chest. This does not mean that you cannot take what you have and make it better. A common problem I see with people who lack in a particular body part is that they usually try to "force" that body part to grow. They do this by using way too much weight and or by doing too much. You Tim, are definitely doing too much. As far as using too much weight, I would have to see you train.

Another common problem with people who have lagging chest is they tend to be shoulder pressers. Meaning they tend to use their shoulders to a disproportionate degree while working their chest. This problem is easily spotted. When a person is performing dumbbell presses for example, he will tend to throw his shoulders forward as he raises the weight off his chest. This forward movement in the shoulders helps compensate for the weakness in the chest by allowing the shoulders to lift the weight. When using proper form the shoulders are locked in place and never move during the movement. 

Keeping the above factors in mind, here is the workout I would like you to try:

Flat Fly 2 sets 8 - 10 reps
Low Incline Dumbbell Press 2 sets 5 - 7 reps
Flat Bench Press 2 sets 6 - 8 reps
Low incline Cable X-overs 2 sets 6 - 8 reps

Keep your shoulders back and locked throughout the movement.

The above workout doesn't include warm-up sets.

Use a tempo of 4020 on each set. (4 second negative, 2 second positive)

Change your workout every 3 - 4 weeks.

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