How to start the definition phase effectively

From the muscle mass gain phase, to the definition phase, what should change?

If you don't know then this article is ideal for you.

From fluffy plump to tasty skinny, the question everyone asks is what changes should they make when they enter the definition phase.

In general, people tend to complicate this transition.

Regarding the diet, it is almost obvious that if we want to lose fat, we will need to lose some weight, and for that we will have to start eating less.

As discussed in the article Pyramid of Metabolism, one of the factors in our energy balance is the calories burned during training.

It is important to create a calorie deficit to promote this fat burning.

But what about training? 

First of all I will focus on weight training.

When we have a caloric intake above our daily need for maintenance, we are in caloric surplus, which in itself allows us to have more energy available.

It is this extra energy that allows us to have, in general, longer workouts and recover more quickly from them.

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That is, the volume of weekly training, by muscle group, may be higher during a caloric surplus.

graphic 1

The blue line represents maintenance calories, the magenta line, below the blue line, represents a caloric deficit and the green line represents a caloric surplus.

Analyzing the aforementioned graph, it is possible to observe that in a caloric deficit it is impossible to gain muscle mass at the same rate as it is possible in a caloric surplus.

In addition, it is very unlikely that they will be able to support and benefit from the same volume of training that they would have in a caloric surplus.

In a caloric deficit it is much easier to go into overwork, that is, the so-called overtraining.

You mean I should decrease the training volume, is that it?

Like the answers I give in all articles, I can tell you that it depends.

If weight and fat loss has a primary aesthetic focus, then the priority will be to maintain (or in the event of a miracle, gain) as much muscle mass as possible.

In this sense, we should also be aware of the impact of including cardiovascular training.

Given the above, we have three possible scenarios to create caloric deficit in order to maintain muscle mass.

Hypothesis 1 – Decrease calories to create a deficit

If a calorie deficit has been created by reducing calorie intake, then the focus of the training plan should be to maintain adequate strength and volume, in order to preserve muscle mass as much as possible.

This is usually where big flaws are seen.

It is common to see a lot of people who follow a high volume training plan during bulk, and who suddenly move on to low repetition and low volume training, whose focus is to maintain strength to ensure that they maintain muscle mass.

Maintaining most of our strength is a good indicator of maintaining muscle mass, however, the reduction in training volume will affect our weekly calorie expenditure – spending less calories during training – and we also end up possibly not promoting enough training volume to preserve muscle mass.

Example. Alberto is an athlete who in bulk achieved his peak performance with high volume training. Performed in 6 sets of bench press, 10 repetitions with a load of 80kg.

When it came time for the cut, Alberto was in doubt as to which plan to follow.

Imagine two possible paths.

He maintained the same type of training, reducing slightly and only the number of sets.

Alberto's focus will be to keep the 80kg for the possible repetitions, which we imagine to be around 8 due to the caloric reduction, and bet on doing 4-5 series.

The volume in the bench press exercise in this case would be 5x8x80 = 3200kg.

Changed the type of training to something like 5×5.

Alberto's focus will be on doing 100kg for 5 repetitions. In addition, if you can maintain strength, you think you are maintaining all your muscle mass.

The volume in the bench press exercise here would be 5x5x100 = 2500kg.

As you can see in this example that we just described, maintaining the same training structure, and losing some repetitions in performance, the first approach allows for a higher total training volume, and for our aesthetic focus, it will burn more calories and promote more hypertrophy.

If Alberto opted for the 5×5 option, it would not be all wrong, however, if the fat loss is focused on aesthetics and not the demonstration of maximum strength, it is faster to recover an 80kg bench press than a 100kg bench press.

If we apply these examples to more stressful exercises, such as squats or dead weight, the fatigue factor is even more prevalent.


Hypothesis 2 – Increase caloric expenditure through exercise (maintaining calories)

Imagine that we are talking about someone who has no deadline, such as a photo shoot or a competition, or someone who is not willing to cut their calorie intake too much.

In the case of being a person who has done a low volume training, we can create the deficit by increasing physical exercise, increasing the caloric expenditure.

Thus, adding more sets, repetitions and / or exercises to the previous training will increase the caloric expenditure.

Unfortunately, this technique is mostly poorly implemented.

Taking the previous case, I am not referring to moving from a 3×5 style training to a 4×15 training, but rather that it is crucial to have a gradual increase in series and / or repetitions, within the same training approach that was being used.

An extremely relevant factor is recovery, which must be taken into account, and if the increases in the total training volume are limited, our recovery capacity is also limited.

While this approach may be feasible, it ends up being limited to a certain extent, and as such, we will move on to the next hypothesis, which addresses a more common technique.


Hypothesis 3 – Decrease calories to create a deficit and increase caloric expenditure

Combining what has been described in the previous hypotheses, we will create a deficit by reducing calorie intake and increasing caloric expenditure through training.

After choosing hypothesis 1 or hypothesis 2, this should be the next step.

Making all the changes simultaneously doesn't give us enough granularity to assess the impacts of the changes we've made.

Also, if we apply everything in the beginning, what will we apply when we stagnate?

After all, what method should I use?

In my opinion, the best initial method is hypothesis 1.

Create a caloric deficit in the diet and maintain weight training as often / weekly as possible, in order to recover properly between workouts, instead of starting to add more weight training and / or cardio right from the start.

As soon as progress stagnates, readjust the deficit in hypothesis 1, or proceed to hypothesis 3, where in addition to the deficit, we increase the weekly caloric expenditure.

In order not to affect weight training, moderate doses of cardio may possibly be introduced, with slight daily reductions in calories (only when stagnant).

Initially 1-2 weekly cardio sessions, lasting 30 minutes and of moderate intensity will be sufficient and initial adjustments to the diet, in the order of the magnitude of 150-250 kcal per day, depending on your weight, would be a good principle.

As you see the analysis of the situations and the adjustments must be slight, we should not put the "all meat in the roaster".

Weight training is very important for maintaining muscle mass, by creating a stimulus to signal that we need that muscle mass.

In addition, weight training burns almost as many calories as cardio, or maybe even more.

You mean I don't need to do cardio?

The most important component for muscle hypertrophy is the training volume (sets x repetitions x weight).

As such, if we want to maintain muscle mass, we must make as much volume as possible, recoverable between workouts.

So why not train weight training 7x a week, 3h a day, with a calorie deficit and stay in your best shape?

Because for every calorie you spend on training, weight training generates much more fatigue than cardiovascular training, making proper recovery very difficult, or almost impossible.

Thus, it becomes more evident because cardiovascular training is a good way to burn a considerable amount of calories, without affecting much of the weight training and recovery.



When deciding to enter a phase of fat loss, both diet and training must be taken into account.

The maintenance / increase in training volume and the reduction in caloric intake are two factors that contribute to success in this process.

Nevertheless, both variables must be changed independently and never simultaneously, in order to ensure that the evaluation of the results is easy to understand for possible future changes.

Be pragmatic and objective, nothing was done overnight.

Article written by Team Sik Nutrition

About the author

Team Sik Nutrition, is a recent group of people in love with the world of Fitness. The Team's focus is to guide, educate and motivate those interested in achieving their health and fitness goals. All this sharing is based on scientific facts and experience of the Team members.

The CEO of Team Sik Nutrition, is João Gonçalves. Amateur powerlifter, passionate about Fitness and writing articles.

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