Maintenance Mode – Staying Lean Once You Get There.

Life is too short to work your butt off year-round.

I am a firm believer in spurts of effort and then backing way off on those efforts and just enjoying life. Is your goal to workout as much as possible or to look and feel good? You can go periods of 3-4 months on a skeleton workout schedule and maintain an amazing physique, if you plan it out properly.

After those 3-4 months you will need to put in more time, then you can go back to maintenance mode. I’ll talk more about how to do this in this post.

Maintenance Mode

[I like the idea of working hard towards a goal, like a two week tropical vacation. Kick butt in your career, get in amazing shape, and then stop and smell the roses…or in this case the coconut scent of your sunblock and the lime in your beer.]

What I’ve Learned from Watching the TV Show “Survivor”.

I hate to admit it, but I am a big follower of “Survivor”. I skipped a few seasons, but this past season (and a contestant by the name of Russell) got me hooked on the show again. He was the villain that we loved to watch. I didn’t like him at first, but the guy grew on me.

One thing I have noticed while watching the show is that the contestants keep much of their muscle tone, despite being somewhat inactive. Obviously this is due to chronic calorie restriction.

I’m Not Advocating Starving Yourself!

Don’t take this the wrong way…I think the contestants looked famished by the end. The diet is obviously extreme and it would be nuts to eat like they do on the show. What I did notice however, was that about 2 weeks into the show all the contestants still had good muscle tone while doing very little in the way of exercise.

People who have been following this blog for a while or who have downloaded my free report, have heard me say again and again that diet pays the biggest role when it comes to staying (and getting) lean.

…but You Want to Eat a Lot on Vacation?

I am with you there! In fact, in Vacation Body Blueprint, I recommend that people go into their vacation after a period of slightly more intense training than normal.

Your body will do well with the extra calories and period of rest. Enjoy all the good food and drinks that your vacation has to offer. You will put on some weight, but a lot of that is water weight that will come off after you back off on the calories again.

[I don’t want people to get the idea that I am a total TV Junkie…but this is the best show on TV in my opinion. Anthony Bordain is my hero.]

After Vacation It Is Time to Clean Up Your Diet

Usually a good strategy after vacation is to restrict the calories a bit for a week or two when you get back. This will easily allow you to drop any fat you may have gained on vacation (which will be minimal).

I went off on a tangent a bit, since 2 week vacation is a short term period. Let’s talk about 3-4 months of staying in maintenance mode…

You Can Maintain Off Very Few “Official” Workouts

The key to being lean and mean all summer is cutting back your calories a bit. You can do this and still enjoy nights out clubbing (if you are in that age group), going out to eat with friends and family, etc.

If you want to enjoy good meals and higher calorie foods, you have to eat less meals. Another way to accomplish this is to eat 1-2 tiny meals and just one bigger meal at night when it is time to go out.

I Like to Think Of “Calories Per Week” NOT Calories Per Day

This shift in thinking will make staying lean a breeze while still having an active social life. On the days where you are just working and then going home to chill-out, eat low calorie meals. When you are alone keep the meals small and bland.

Save your calories for the days in the week where you plan on being social.

This approach works extremely well! If take away one thing from visiting my site, understand that your metabolism will not slow down from skipping meals from time to time -or- having a few low calorie days in a row.

So How Many Workouts Per Week to Maintain?

Remember my survivor example? It depends upon how much you eat. I have found that most people can get away with 1-3 “official” workouts per week.

I will typically do 2-3 workouts each week throughout the summer. A key to making this work is to stay active when you are not in the gym and walk more, etc. Also, you can do intense HIIT followed by steady state cardio each and every workout…since you are training less.

Have Some Fun While You Are on This Planet!

The thing that makes me hesitant about writing fitness posts is that I don’t want anyone to become obsessed with working out.

I encourage general misbehavior, late nights, not following the rules, eating happy hour food at least once per week, enjoying a beer in a mug that is much too large, sleeping on a tropical beach, playing music that is too loud, etc.

Bottom line…have some fun…and don’t be a cheesy person that talks about grams of protein and how much you can lift when you are out in the “real world”.


60 thoughts on “Maintenance Mode – Staying Lean Once You Get There.”

  1. Well said! Finding that right balance between eating and exercising is very important. Life really should be lived to its fullest, with all the amazing things that life offers: alcohol, desserts and other great pleasures in life. Everything can be consumed in moderation, even exercise. There is no point in over-exerting oneself, and then causing self-injury to oneself in the process of doing it. Enjoy our food and enjoy our workouts – that is the key to happiness in life.

  2. my life is comical. i am 18, 5 foot 9 and 160 pounds. at first i wanted to look lots bigger 2, years later i feel like now i want to slim down. Should i still be trying to eat one gram of protein per lb or is that too much to get lean?

    i dont know what else to do besides losing the protein cuz i only eat at MOST 1500 cals a day usually round 1100

    if you could please help me with this i would greatly appreciate it

  3. Oh Rusty. Staying there is the toughest of all unless you truly have changed your lifestyle habits. My issue is bread. Oh I can devour a loaf without it hitting the sides.

  4. Hey what’s shakin’ Rusty, love your website man you opened up my eyes to a lot of things when it comes to working out and I know lot now because of all your great posts. Keep doing your thing brother.

    Okay enough kissing ass lol. My question is similar to the post you have up here. I currently ordered Craig Ballantyne’s bonus bodyweight excercises, I got the link from a post on this website. And I’m about to start week three monday for the 6 month bodyweight manual. These past two weeks have been awesome I’ve dropped like two pounds of body fat and hoping to get rid of more.

    But that’s just the thing, after I get my results then what? how do I stay looking that way. If I’m at the desired weight I want to be how do I make sure I don’t lose or gain anymore weight?

  5. Wouldn’t it just be a better idea to eat healthy year round, as opposed to going off a healthy eating regimen for vacation? I think it’s hard if you deny yourself things all year and then splurge on vacations because generally after vacation the person doesn’t want to deny themselves the things they’ve just enjoyed. Learning to eat healthy and eat junk in moderation seems like the better way to go.

  6. Hey Rusty,

    I’ve been absent from the Fitness Blackbook comments for too long, and have missed it. But upon my return, it’s great to read some excellent fresh content.

    I fully support your closing paragraph. Life is more about having fun than being rule-bound by fitness, which I don’t think I can be persuaded is ever fun. Since I work a standard Monday – Friday week, with access to a great salad bar at my work canteen, I can keep a clean low calorie diet in the week. It is easier when you are busy at work and don’t have time to think about food so much. I also find fasting at work much easier. Maybe it’s a routine thing but home life always has more temptations for me. So as you say the calories can be saved for the social times, and I find that it’s ok for this to be every weekend. Given the working life most people have, I think the majority would find it easier on Monday-Friday to be that bit stricter. Just keep nuts and seeds in your desk drawer instead of junk.

    As for workout frequency, I also agree that diet is the easier option to control. It takes soooo much hard work to burn off silly calories. However, I am a great lover of food and tend to train 5-6 times per week, so that I can chill out a bit more on the food front. It’s the harder route (and more time consuming one) but we all have our own way. If you are happy to live off vegetables then agreed that you could stay lean with next to no exercise, and could probably retain muscle with just one full body workout per week. I’d love to find out how others balance fitness/diet, and also surely there is a little bit of genetics to it all too…No excuses though!

  7. Great article! So many people think that the hard work is losing the weight in the first place, but really, keeping it off is a lifetime job!

  8. I just love the advice you offer. I actually did a lot of what you suggested for my vacation last summer — restricted calories, then just ate away during vacation, then restricted when I got home. I often find that once I eat a good, full amount of food after a period of calorie restriction, that’s when the excess body fat or water weight or whatever it is comes off.

    Besides, I would much rather be riding my bike outside or golfing with my husband or swimming in the ocean than working out!

  9. Great post. I have learned the hard way not to talk to much about being fit when out. I only talk about it to those who question about it. I want to influence people by my actions, not by telling everyone to eat right and exercise. Some of my facebook friends are actually scared i’m going to start talking fitness and tell them to get in shape when I see them in person. I have to tell them “just because I have a blog on getting fit doesn’t mean that’s all I talk about every day”. I choose to be in great shape, but I also know how to relax and enjoy my life! Keep up the great work Rusty.

  10. Hi Rusty,

    Just purchased your latest ebook – great read and great value for money! One thing i am slightly dubious about is just when to go on the 5-6 ‘protein shake + salad’ diet to drop the fat. Of course my goal is to end up with a beach worthy upper body but my concern is that i will end up looking skeletal!

    i’m currently on Phase I and am looking to jump straight to Phase 3 and while incorporating a 4-5 week stint on the pro-shakes and salad. My chest always lags (currently nearly 41inches at my height of 6ft2). I def want the lean look but neither do i want a flat chest!

    would appreciate any advice on how I can use the different phases to keep my chest!


  11. Hi Rusty
    I bought your new book visual impact in the first hour, and it says I should register the book, so that I can get updates for it, but how do I register the book? – can’t figure it out πŸ˜›


  12. Rusty

    Brilliant article. Thanks.

    I find the subject of dairy very confusing. In your opinion, does dairy inhibit fat loss or cause fat gain?


  13. Hey Rusty,

    Love your site. Been reading it almost daily since I have a lot to catch up on.
    I stopped going to the gym for a year already since I fly around a lot, so now I’m thinking of getting the TRX. It’s small piece of suspension training equipment, which a lot of people have recommended. You think a home gym like that will be enough to keep fit aside from the regular cardio and jump rope training? I lost a lot of muscle since I stopped, but I guess it’s a good thing since I overdeveloped my lower chest from too much bench presses in the gym. I’m not sure if the bodyweight training you’ve been mentioning often is similar to the TRX, or maybe you can recommend some other equipment for a frequent traveller.


  14. Ha Ha! Great timing this one! I’m in Oz, and its summer here already. Went out for Mexican- nachos and margheritas last night. Sooo good. Sure, I weighed 1-2 kg more this morning- fluid retention and such. Even had a bit of choccy cake at work today, but now I’ve started a fast (skipped dinner), training in the morning, and I’ll break fast post that. Balance Balance Balance. What more can you say? Live and love life!
    p.s Rusty and fellow Commentors (is that a word-prol not!)- you’re the best!

  15. Wow….thanks for all the comments (always appreciated). I will try my best to answer as many as possible. I am limited on time, but let me see if I can do some damage πŸ™‚


    For the bonus phase, I would stick to low-cal for 3-4 weeks while taking creatine. After those 3-4 weeks are up, then I would on to maintenance.


    Honestly I am not sure where this was taken. It is a photo, I bought a license to…but didn’t find out where it was taken.


    It depends upon the sport. A hardcore endurance athlete need more calories than outlined here. As far as fasting while gaining muscle…it is possible. Just make sure that the one meal you do eat is after your workout. Some of the leanest people I know with decent muscle, eat their main meal about an hour after training. You can certainly get away with the cardio that you described. It will increase HGH in a way that is similar to HIIT. It does look a bit more taxing on the body, so you wouldn’t be able to do it as often as the typical HIIT workout I outline on this site. Thanks for the compliment, by the way…and thanks for reading.


    Just find realistic ways to keep your weekly calorie amounts under control and you will never have to worry about massive weight gain ever again. Some days and meals will be high calorie meals and days, just balance those days with eating really light.


    It does work. My buddy Mike O’Donnell of calls this IFOC (Intermittent Fasting on Crap)…at least I think it is the acronym. You can do this, but I wouldn’t necessarily aim for this all of the time. Even if you are lean, it helps to eat well when you can…but no doubt that this strategy works.


    I am going to wait for things to slow down a bit, and then I am going to e-mail a questionnaire to those who registered their ebook. I will answer the common questions in a video and then update the book and give everyone the new and improved copy.


    Yep…life wouldn’t be as bright if I couldn’t eat nachos with a cold beer from time to time…a winning combo!


    Well…it is hard to get to a muscular size you have never reached before while losing body fat. Someone who has had a certain degree of muscle can get to that previous point while getting lean (some call this muscle memory). New muscle growth beyond your previous best is a bit tougher to do while losing fat. The way I set my program up was to reach peak muscle size somewhere into phase II…harden the muscle in phase III while losing fat…then quickly regaining your previous size at a lower body fat level in the bonus phase.


    I value your opinion, but I will continue to use the term muscle tone. I know that it is a pet-peeve of some people, but it isn’t a huge pet peeve of mine. It it a valid description of what I am talking about, plus it takes so much more effort to type “definition” instead of “tone”. πŸ™‚


    I am glad I am not the only one who admits to watching trashy TV. I have never seen “Jersey Shore”, but I watch Joel McHale clown on it on “The Soup” each week. Also…I would be a little bummed out if I didn’t have a drink from time to time. Friday’s afternoons are greatly enhanced with a large beer in a frosty mug. It is the perfect way to let your body relax from work and get ready for the weekend.


    If you are trying to reduce your muscle size, then you can get away with less protein. Also…avoid “the pump” and anything that really burns or fatigues the muscle (great for building muscle, which isn’t what you want). Do low rep, low volume strength training, a low cal diet and plenty of HIIT followed by steady state cardio.


    Yeah…I am going to put out a version 2. Everyone who already has a copy gets lifetime updates. My goal is to improve it over time.


    The last few pounds are tough. It can take as long as 6-8 weeks to lose the last 4-5 pounds…but much easier to keep off once you get there.


    You are correct about that eating approach working as far as fat loss is concerned. I think you will look and feel better if you eat more moderately. I have used a similar approach that you outlined and I did stay lean. The GI doesn’t matter in this case (as far as fat loss is concerned)…but like you said in your second comment…a more sensible whole food meal is better. As far as enjoying beer and Happy Hour food from time to time…Heck yeah. Exactly for the reasons you mentioned…It will work well.


    Good point about “constant indulgence” <—I have never seen it framed like that before, but completely agree. Some of the most miserable people on the planet just lead a life of indulgence without working towards goals. Mix work in with the fun…healthy in with the higher calorie foods, etc. Great point!


    The hardest part of the program is to lower the weight enough in able to increase the reps to gain mass. People have a tough time swallowing their pride and lifting much lighter weights than normal, in phase I.


    Swimming is a great workout…especially the way you are implementing it. Do it for a few months, then maybe go back to running…or do a combo of both.


    I tend to exercise in the way of swimming or being active on vacation. I certainly walk a ton. Also, now that I am a little older, I don’t feel the need to be out at 3:00AM at a dance club or anything. This makes it much easier to get up early the following day and actually explore (and enjoy) the place I am visiting.


    If you are naturally pretty muscular and bulky, you can take a break from all resistance training for a while. There are pro soccer players who do very little in the way of resistance training who look great. Same thing with surfers, etc…Give it a try for 3-6 months. Worse case scenario is that you will wind up a little skinny…but since you are naturally muscular you can get that back in 4-6 weeks.


    I wish I could respond via e-mail. There just isn’t enough time for me to personally help everyone. I would if I could…it sometimes bothers me that I can’t.


    I am going to get feedback from all of the people who currently own the course…gather all of their questions…then add about 20 more page and create an affiliate program for the book as well. I also may write a course on how to build a high traffic fitness blog. I have learned a lot of advanced strategies that I never read about…and would love to share this stuff.


    I try to image that I am 80 when deciding whether to do something or not. For instance, I want to take my girlfriend on vacation in March…part of me thinks that it might be smart to save the money…the other part thinks that a vacation would be fun. I then envision my imaginary 80-year old self and what that person would think. Would I be more happy when I am 80, that I saved this money -or- more happy about my decision that I went to Acapulco with my girlfriend. No contest! I am going to go to Mexico for sure. My 80 year old self is so much wiser than my 40 year old self πŸ™‚


    How’s it going my friend? Great to hear from you. I spent my entire childhood in the summer all day at the beach with no food until 5:00 or 6:00pm. Me and all my friends were super-lean without trying. About those sites that tell make people feel bad…people should stay away from those sites! There are quite a few great bloggers who comment here and add to this site who have the right attitude. I do my best with my site, and there are many others who get it right as well. I like the way our little community of sites is growing.


    It is fine to fast twice per week…if you exercise right before the meal that breaks the 24 hour fast. So if you fast until dinner, then workout right before that meal. If the fast is on a non-workout day, then obviously this wouldn’t matter as much. Just aim for the rough calorie estimate in the course.


    Do plank holds for 3 sets of 2-3 minutes per set. You will need to work up to this point. Do a few sets of hip bridges after the planks to insure that your spinal column gets worked as well. These are amazing for injury rehab as well as creating a rock solid foundation in your mid section.

    Great comments as always!


  16. Hi Rusty how are you? I have a doubt I hope you can help me with. I recently start to learn how to skate in rollerblades. i am 28 years old and think that never is too late to learn something new jaja. My problem is that I realized in my firsts lessons that my lower back and waist is pretty much weak and I canΒ΄t reach the balanced needed to skate in a proper way. I know that you have a back injury so I wonder if you can give me some advice or set of exercises to strength this specific area of my body.

    Thank you and regards from Mexico city

  17. I sometimes like to compare getting in shape to a plane taking off. It burns a lot of fuel just like you would burn a lot and sweat a lot in the gym at first. But once a plane gets to it’s desired height, it levels off and doesn’t have to burn as much. Same thing with the human body. Once you reach your desired goals and attain your desired level of fitness, you just have to work to maintain it. Getting in shape is different from Being in shape.

  18. Hey Rusty,

    Just bought the premium report and the only question I have is whether or not it’s o.k. to fast twice per week during phase I (Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy)?


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