The Ideal Way to Shed Fat Without Losing Muscle

German Body Composition is an essential training tool for any athlete looking to seriously increase strength and size while simultaneously losing body fat.

A multitude of strength programs have been devised throughout the years that promise to deliver serious and uncompromising results. Whether promising to add significant strength and size gains to an athlete's frame, in the form of a classic powerlifting approach adopted by the likes of Louis Simmons of Westside Barbell, or enhancing an athlete's explosive power qualities via an Olympic lifting approach popularized by Will Fleming, the list goes on in terms of coaching influences and effective program design.

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Aside from strength and power gains, the issue of how to lose body fat is arguably the next most sought-after program design and training advice topic. However, when it comes to the age old question of "how to lose body fat," the training market is flooded with fad programs and bunk training gadgets that promise to help athletes and general populations get the shredded bodies they have always wanted.

The reality for athletes however is that the programs that have traditionally centered around losing body fat often come at the expense of performance. Having a 6-pack may give an athlete the confidence to wear his or her favorite bathing suit at the beach, but such confidence will count for nothing if it comes at the expense of strength, size, power, speed and all the other on-field athletic qualities associated with consistent and intense weight training.

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Athletes need to look at fat loss differently from non-athletes.

Aside from the self-confidence that is naturally associated with the improved aesthetics of being lean, having minimal body fat has significant performance benefits on the court, field or ice.

1. Decreased intracellular fat stores lowers muscle viscosity

Just like motor oil provides essential lubrication to a car engine (allowing that engine to exhibit more horsepower), reductions in body fat are associated with greater contractile properties of working muscle. Namely, body fat (like a back-pack full of bricks) is effectively dead weight for speed and power athletes. Reducing body fat means working muscles encounter less physical resistance and contract with greater force and speed!

2. Greater relative strength levels can be achieved

Relative strength is defined as an athlete's maximal strength levels (usually measured through a key lift like a Back Squat) divided by his or her body weight. For comparative purposes, more collegiate and professional strength coaches continue to look at relative strength numbers (compared to absolute strength numbers which are independent of body weight) to standardize testing procedures and provide constructive feedback to head coaches about an athlete's performance levels.

In sports with weight classes like boxing and MMA, relative strength counts for everything, as it is often relative strength levels that so often determines the outcome of a match, since striking power and grappling ability are all directly related to strength. Simply shedding body fat allows athletes to instantaneously improve their relative strength levels and, as a result, their performance.

3. Less physiological stress is ultimately placed upon the athlete, enhancing work capacity and improving recovery

From a recovery standpoint, increased levels of body fat place more stress on the body's physiological systems, including the central nervous system (e.g., the aforementioned increases in muscular viscosity), the cardiovascular system, and the body's overall metabolic systems. As a result, an athlete's body becomes more susceptible to fatigue, as it has to work that much harder with each muscular contraction to produce force and energy.

For your typical lineman in football, this means more energy is expended during each down and that less recovery can take place between downs. Additionally, from a health standpoint, high levels of body fat are often associated with greater degrees of globalized inflammation, affecting everything from the quality of digestion to sleep and cortisol output—each of which have a profound impact upon recovery.

RELATED: Time Under Tension: The Secret to Building More Muscle

Fat Loss Program Design for the Modern Athlete

As illustrated most recently in my article "The Triple Squat Challenge," any program can be fine-tuned to more effectively target/enhance specific sports performance qualities by manipulating a mixture of training variables—including exercise selection, sets and reps selection, resistance levels, time under tension, recovery time and overall training volume and frequency.

Taking this concept a step further, periodization—which I describe as akin to a cooking recipe or game plan—is the process by which the training variables are arranged to maximize a particular athletic quality (e.g., power, max strength, etc.) while minimizing the interference effect encountered when trying to train lots of desired athletic attributes all together. Just as some coaches are fond of the expression "You can't sit on two horses with one butt," the overriding sentiment is that less is better when it comes to selecting and improving a number of training/athletic qualities at any given time. This is why some more popular periodization approaches, including block periodization and alternating linear periodization, can be so successful for coaches: because they target few training adaptations at once, yet still allow athletes to actively maintain other training qualities at the same time.

Now that the benefits of fat loss from an athletic standpoint and the necessity of a periodized training plan have been mentioned, it is possible to fully appreciate the benefits of German Body-Composition Training.

Faithful STACK readers are no doubt familiar with German Volume Training, the training methodology created by world famous Strength Coach Charles Poliquin. GVT is as effective as it is simple: The reason why athletes are able to put on serious muscle with it, is that, similar to the science employed in the triple squat challenge, German Volume Training employs the law of repeated efforts to target a large number of motor units in working muscle. As a consequence of such targeted and direct training stress to specific working muscle groups (e.g., extremely high training volume and moderate loads combined with maximal time under tension), the body's anabolic or muscle-building response to the session is heightened, leading to significant muscle mass gains. However, unlike TSC, GVT has even more overall training volume, which enhances the body's hypertrophy/muscle-building responses to training, such that even more growth hormone is released when compared to TSC.

Although there is no such thing as the perfect program, one that enhances all athletic qualities in equal measure, most coaches and athletes would agree that any program that allows athletes to shed significant body fat and build muscle at the same time would be worth its weight in gold. Now enter German Body Composition Training, the muscle-building and fat-burning powerhouse that is an essential program in any athlete's annual training plan.

Like German Volume Training, German Body Composition Training employs the same high levels of concentrated training volumes and time under tension to maximize lean muscle gains. The key differentiator is that GBC uses a greater number of exercises than  GVT. Additionally, variable rep ranges tend to be employed with GBC (e.g., 8-12 reps in most cases) as opposed to GVT, which employs the strict 10x10 format. To illustrate, a sample GVT workout could like the following:


  • A1) Narrow-Grip Bench Press - 10 x 10 (4/0/X/0 Tempo) w/ 30 sec rest between sets.
  • A2) Chin-Ups - 10 x 10 (4/0/X/0 Tempo) w/ 30 sec rest between sets.

A GBC sample Workout on the other hand could be:

Sample 1- (Beginner/Intermediate program)

  • A1) Narrow-Grip Bench Press - 4 x 10-12 (4/0/X/0 Tempo) w/ 30 sec rest between sets
  • A2) Elevated Snatch-Grip Deadlift - 4 x 10-12 (4/0/X/0 Tempo) w/ 30 sec rest between sets
  • B1) Narrow-Grip Chin Ups - 4 x 10-12 (4/0/X/0 Tempo) w/ 30 sec rest between sets
  • B2) Dumbbell Front-Foot Elevated Split Squats - 4 x 10-12 (4/0/X/0 Tempo) w/ 30 sec rest between sets
  • C1) Standing EZ Bar-Reverse Curls - 4 x 10-12 (4/0/X/0 Tempo) w/ 30 sec rest between sets
  • C2) Standing Cable Triceps Rope Pull-Down - 4 x 10-12 (4/0/X/0 Tempo) w/ 30 sec rest between sets

Sample 2- (Advanced GBC)

  • A1) DB Front-Foot-Elevated Split Squat - 4 x 10-12 (4/0/X/0 Tempo) w/ 15 sec rest between sets
  • A2) Chin-Ups 4 - x 10-12 (4/0/X/0 Tempo) w/ 15 sec rest between sets
  • A3) Elevated Trap Bar Deadlift - 4 x 10-12 (4/0/X/0 Tempo) w/ 15 sec rest between sets
  • A4) Barbell Military Press - 4 x 10-12 (4/0/X/0 Tempo) w/ 120 sec rest before repeating series

Proponents say GBC releases even greater amounts of growth hormone than GVT. In addition, because of the high reps coupled with high time-under-tension and limited rest periods, GBC targets the body's anaerobic-lactic system even more than GVT, by increasing circulating blood lactate levels as a direct response to even greater amounts of work engaging large muscle groups. This is why upon closer examination, you will note that supersets in GBC actually alternate between upper- and lower-body exercises, meaning less stress on one specific muscle group and more global training stress on the entire body within the session.

To understand the physiological foundations of GBC, scientific research has emerged over the years that has linked increases in circulating blood-lactate levels (i.e., the body's circulating blood pH increasing and becoming more acidic, which gives working muscles that burning feeling) with increases in natural growth hormone production. Because an anabolic environment is being created in GBC training through primarily compound movements and rep schemes associated with more classic hypertrophy rep ranges (e.g., 8-12 reps or ~65-75% of a 1RM, broadly considered the minimal intensity for maximal strength gains), improvements in lean muscle mass are actively promoted through the increases in mechanical tension and metabolic stress experienced in a typical GBC session.

The reason this is important is that a common mistake a lot of athletes make is combining high-intensity interval training or HIIT (which still has its place in conditioning and fat loss) with calorie restriction. Athletes therefore buy into the mistaken belief that the best answer to losing body fat is performing lots of conditioning work combined with limiting eating to successfully create a calorie deficit to burn body fat.

The problem with this approach is that even if athletes succeed in losing body fat, they usually almost always lose lean muscle mass in the process, because the combination of high-intensity conditioning with inadequate calorie uptake results in a catabolic environment that breaks down muscle instead of building it! Although many coaches point to the need for both steady state aerobic work and HIIT training to target different energy systems within a periodized training year, GBC (unlike HIIT and aerobic work) combines and consolidates weight training and anaerobic conditioning into one singular session.


  • Godfrey, Richard, Greg Whyte P., and Tony Head. "The Role Of Lactate In The Exercise-induced Growth Hormone Response." Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
  • Godfrey, Richard, Greg Whyte P., and Tony Head. "The Role Of Lactate In The Exercise-induced Growth Hormone Response." Medicine &"> 37. Supplement (2005): n. page. Web.
  • Hargreaves, Mark. Exercise Metabolism. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1995. Print.
  • Poliquin, Charles. The German Body Comp Program. Napa, CA: Dayton Publications, 1997. Print.
  • Zatsiorsky, Vladimir M. Science and Practice of Strength Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1995. Print.

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