Close your eyes and imagine this.
You did it. You built as much muscle as you wanted to build. You lost as much fat as you wanted to lose. Your body is as (realistically) lean, muscular, strong and awesome as you’ve always hoped it would be. Your long-term goals have all been reached. You’re done. You win.
Sounds pretty good, right?
But um… uhhh… what do you do now?
What do you do when you’re completely satisfied with your results and no longer wish to make any additional progress beyond where you’re currently at? And your new goal is to just maintain this state from that point on?
Seems like the ideal scenario to be in, doesn’t it? And as rare as this scenario seems, people ask me this question quite a bit. I can only assume the vast majority are just planning ahead. Kinda like imagining all of the cool shit you’d buy if you won the lottery… even though odds are that won’t actually be happening any time soon. Or… you know… ever.
But hey, it’s fun to imagine. And while this may be some version of counting your chickens before they hatch, or maybe even putting the cart before the horse, or perhaps some other animal related idiom pertaining to worrying about stuff you shouldn’t actually be worrying about at the present time… it’s still a valid question.
Because, as long as you have realistic long-term goals AND are willing to put in all of the time and effort needed to reach them, getting to this dream scenario IS legitimately possible. So, what should you do once you’re there? Let’s find out.
First, The Most Obvious Thing…
The first thing I need to address is the question of “can I stop working out and/or stop eating right?”
Yeah, I know. You’d think this would be pretty damn obvious, but the fact that I’ve had people ask it shows me that apparently it’s not quite obvious enough. At least, not to everyone.
So, to those few people, please allow me to reveal this shocking revelation: you will need to continue working out and eating right. Forever. Times infinity. Plus one.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if you stop working out, you will gradually lose all of the muscle (and strength) you’ve gained. And if you were working out for the specific purpose of burning calories to cause fat loss, and you stop doing that exercise without adjusting your diet to compensate, then you can expect to gain body fat as well.
And if you stop eating right (which we’ll define as no longer eating the total amount of calories and macronutrients needed for your goal or at least the maintenance of that goal… more about that in a minute), then you can also expect to lose muscle and/or gain body fat.
Basically, whatever you did to get the results you got, you’re going to have to keep doing some version of that to maintain them… with a few minor adjustments.
What minor adjustments, you ask? These…
Adjusting For Long-Term Maintenance
Let’s break this up into three parts:
- Weight training.
In terms of your diet, there’s really only one adjustment that needs to be made. And that is to your calorie intake. It needs to be set to maintenance.
Meaning, no more surplus because you have no interest in building additional muscle (or gaining additional weight), and no more deficit because you have no interest in getting any leaner (or losing additional weight). To ensure neither of these things happen, all it takes is setting your calorie intake to maintenance (i.e. the amount of calories needed to maintain your current weight) and eating that amount from this point on.
This could literally mean eating maintenance calories every single day of the week. It could also mean using a calorie cycling approach (Superior Muscle Growth has a 50 page chapter about this) where you eat more on training days and less on rest days, but still end up at maintenance for the week (this could potentially lead to some very minor, very slow improvements in body composition over time).
It could mean using a much more relaxed approach where you’re less strict about calories/tracking calories but still keep a close eye on your body weight, measurements and mirror reflection… and then if you see those things changing, you simply adjust your calorie intake accordingly (or just get a little less relaxed with your tracking of it).
Everything else, however, would stay virtually the same. A sufficient macronutrient intake, micronutrient intake, water intake, etc. would remain important just the same. Especially protein intake (it plays a crucial role in muscle maintenance).
Supplementation would, in most cases and with most typical supplements (creatine, vitamin D, whey, fish oil, etc.), stay the same as well as the purposes they were serving to reach your goals would likely still be just as relevant when maintaining them.
And everything else (meal frequency, meal timing, meal composition, food combinations, food choices, degree of strictness or flexibility within the diet, etc.) would all be designed around whatever is most convenient, enjoyable, preferable and sustainable for you. Which, of course, is exactly how it should have already been anyway.
2. Weight Training
In terms of weight training adjustments, the biggest change is simply that instead of continuing to push yourself for progression and getting stronger on every exercise as often as possible, your new goal is to just maintain your current levels of strength on every exercise.
That would really be the only required adjustment here. I’d consider everything else optional, though still potentially beneficial.
Specifically, volume and/or frequency can be reduced if needed or preferred. This is because the amount of volume/frequency required for maintenance is less than the amount of volume/frequency that is ideal for progression.
Beyond that, convenience and personal preferences also play a role.
For example, if you really love training and have plenty of time to fit it in, you could still weight train 4 times per week (potentially even 5 if the volume/frequency is adjusted accordingly). If however you don’t really love it, or maybe you’re becoming less interested in it by this point, or you just don’t have as much time for it or wanted to make more time for other stuff… training 3 days per week would be perfect (and for muscle maintenance during fat loss, 3 days per week is my default recommendation… and I’d lean toward that same recommendation for general long-term maintenance as well).
And if you wanted to/needed to, doing 2 workouts per week (e.g. The 2 Day Workout Routine included in Superior Muscle Growth) would also be perfectly sufficient for maintenance.
Since this article is aimed at maintaining body composition goals rather than performance goals like endurance, we’re going to look at cardio strictly from the perspective of fat loss/preventing fat gain.
Which is all about calories.
So let’s say you were doing some amount of cardio to meet your fat loss goals, and now those goals have been met. How much cardio do you need to do to maintain them? Enough to put you at your maintenance level. Simple as that.
So if maintenance for you is 2500 calories per day, and you want to eat 3000 calories per day, you’d need to do 500 calories worth of cardio to get yourself to the 2500 you need to be at. Or, you could just as easily eat 2500 calories per day and do no cardio whatsoever.
This one is completely up to you.
What Else Should I Do Now?
One last thing people occasionally ask me in the context of this overall question is – with their body composition goals fully achieved and set to long-term maintenance – what should they focus on doing next?
Ehhhh… I have no clue.
Find a new hobby? Maybe take up knitting? Learn some badass yo-yo tricks? Teach yourself to write with your opposite hand? (True story: I spent about 3 months a couple of years ago teaching myself to write with my opposite hand. After that I tried to teach myself to write with both hands simultaneously. Fun times.)
In terms of other fitness related goals, that’s completely up to you. You’re more than welcome to challenge yourself physically in new ways (endurance, strength, performance, etc.) while adjusting things as needed to prevent any interference with your maintenance goals.
Or… you can just sit back, relax and enjoy a life of maintaining the goals you worked your ass off to successfully reach.
Because that’s an option, too.
40 thoughts on “What Should You Do When You Reach Your Goals And Just Want To Maintain?”
I can’t even think about someone who reached his bodygoal and doesn’t want to improve. ;D
Apparently these people exist. Somewhere.
Well…most of us aren’t born with the genetics of a Steve Reeves or Bobby Pandour, so never do acheive that ideal nor even near-ideal physique combination of mass/leanness/proportion/symmetry — in that sense, I expect most of us will always wish we could improve.
Genetics leads to the reason every healthy adult who drug-free bodybuilds intelligently, progressively, and consistently for at least four consecutive years inevitably has to transition to maintenance: genetic ceilings.
Once a person reaches their genetic limits for lean mass and proportion throughout their body, there is no more significant progress possible. It is still possible at that point to increase somewhat in strength, but adding lean muscle — whether to calves, deltoids, triceps, hamstrings, upper chest, to wherever — is physiologically impossible naturally (this is the point at which some decide to risk using steroids). Once a person hits their genetic ceilings, that’s the end of mass gains. That typically occurs after about 4-5 years of consistent bodybuilding. Unless we’re among the tiny percentage born with enviable muscle mass and proportion potential, that also occurs when we’re still far from the way we ideally wish we looked.
So, the average healthy adult male can expect to shift into maintain-what-my-genetics-allow mode after about five years of proper training/eating/resting. Like it or not.
I’m 59 and have lifelong drug-free bodybuilt since age 16 in 1972. I experienced that genetic ceiling reality right on schedule (although I was unaware of the fact I had and of the biological reasons why, at the time it happened to me). Consequently, the majority of decades of bodybuilding I’ve done since I’ve spent doing maintenance.
I can vouch from my experience through the past nearly forty years that what AW explains about maintenance is correct — once you acheive whatever your genetic ceilings allow, it requires almost as much effort and attention to keep them as it did to gain them. You can reduce your frequency a bit (and, as an aside, you WILL reduce it anyway as you age, since recovery time lengthens , especially past age 50); and, you can reduce volume as well, at least more often than you could when gaining; but training intensity must remain as high, “for ever”, to retain the muscle mass. And, eating properly remains basic for maintaining — you still require adequate daily protein and nutrients, and must control calories to avoid getting fat. But, calorie control does become less of a chore in the sense that after having done it for a decade, it’s habitual so seems “normal life”.
DIET is one of the things I use to keep myself motivated. I have an annual schedule, during which I allow myself to gain about 10-12 extra pounds (I’m an extremely thin-boned 5’8″, so 10 pounds on me might be equivalent to 20 lbs on an average-boned 5’10” frame) between October 1 and January 1 of each year; then I cut calories so as to lose a pound a week from Jan 1 until I hit my target bodyweight and regain my visible washboard. My motivation from then until the subsequent October 1 is to retain that reasonably (but never extremely) lean washboard through the US late spring and summer months. (By the way, I enjoy being a shirtless sun-tanned 59-year-old with a washboard among the 90% of my out-of-shape and overweight peers — the flattery I get from women as young as age 25 serves as motivation itself, lol)
But, yes — long-term and lifelong bodybuilding is majorically maintenance. I realize that’s probably a strange concept if you’re age 20 or if you’ve been bodybuilding only 1 or 2 years. But it’s the biological reality of gaining then sustaining muscle.
i agree with joesantus’s comment — i suspect that the majority of people who feel that they can keep progressing forever are simply in their 20s and don’t realize that they can’t. i’m only 37, but there does come a point where you can’t improve. maybe it takes more than 4-5 years for some (a lot of people *don’t* train intelligently, so it may take them 10 years rather than 5 to reach their limits), but the idea that you can keep improving your body forever is mainly an idea 20 year olds hold.
Where is the science to back up this “genetic ceiling” idea you speak of?
1) An informative article on some overall genetic reasons for the varying mass potentials among people is here: https://www.t-nation.com/training/truth-about-bodybuilding-genetics
2) A recent academic which includes discussion of genetic ceilings for muscle mass/growth is the 2016 book, “Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy” by Brad Schoenfeld, pages 105-113. Those pages mentioning the term “genetic ceiling” can be previewed here: https://books.google.com/books?id=FZIdDAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
[Schoenfeld alludes to what veteran bodybuilders have long called “diminishing-to-nothing returns from training”; that is, that after several years of consistent, progressive, intelligent training, any further (non-PED-enabled) increases in mass would require such incredible training intensity and precision that, while theoretically possible, they’re practicably impossible.]
3) An article implying the empirical evidence accrued by the weight training/bodybuilding community through observations and personal experiences since (probably) as far back as 1900 — empirical evidence which has enabled the construction of several reliable maximum-mass-potential calculators over the decades — is here:
Good Stuff as usual, Jay! I won’t be in this ‘hallowed’ group anytime soon but, if I do get there, I will most certainly apply the above recommendations. Thanks again for some fresh, new thoughts! Best Regards, May Palmer
Thanks Jay!! I’ve always wanted to know what the hell to do to just maintain (though I’m not there yet). 🙂
My favourite part of your article was, “Forever. Times infinity. Plus one”. You’re always full of laughs and informative. Keep it up!
Glad you liked it! 🙂
I swear it’s like christmas morning every time I check my email and see that you have written yet another awesome article. Thanks for the info!
And a happy new year.
Another brilliant article Jay!
Particularly entertaining (“yo-yo tricks” was my personal favourite).
As a 19 year old who is 15 pounds (and probably three years) from reaching my goal, I won’t be needing this article for a while, but it’s good to know it’s there.
Yeah, I like to sometimes write articles that no one will give a crap about now, but in about a decade or so, you’ll be like “wow, glad he wrote this a decade ago.”
Is that even possible in our life? huh
Anyways thank you again for a useful write up, perhaps attempt to write with two hands would be ideal description of the word clumsy.
A bit off topic, but this question was bothering me for a while. I remember my grand parents who used to work in fields all the day at least 6 days a week with a lot of food intake and even without looking at macronutrients but still maintaining good figures. Why not to eat more and workout more, exceeding the number of reps/sets/movements for any or all of the muscles? Wont that help build muscles more and loose fat the same time than emphasizing on one at one time?
Is this still applicable in our generation or the coming?
I’m not sure I completely understand what you’re asking, but this one might contain the answer.
“Wont that help build muscles more and loose fat the same time than emphasizing on one at one time?”
What you mean or believe you remember about your grandparents working long hours of field work “…but still maintaining good figures” needs clarifying before AW or anyone could adequately respond to your question.
For example, what exactly do you mean when you describe their figures as “good”? Do you merely mean that they remained slim? Or, do you mean that they had what would be described as very muscular and lean physiques? Also, their genetic stock is important to know — if they were heavy-muscled, did they come from a lineage of people who had naturally better-than-average muscle mass and leanness?
And, what did their normal diet consist of? The type of food they normally ate would make a big difference in how many calories they actually ingested in a day — for example, If they regularly ate mainly steamed vegetables, broiled fish, and some boiled eggs, they could still eat fairly large food volume without actually consuming excessive amounts of calories, compared to if they regularly ate calorie-denser foods such as, say, cheese, raw whole milk, deep-fried dough, and heavily-fatted meat.
People can stay relatively slim despite consuming what for the modern sedentary life would be excessive calories if they constantly get several daily hours of lower-intensity exercise such as field labor (by the way, I’m familiar with the intensity involved in farm and field work — I spent years manually picking up square hay bales, manually splitting and stacking firewood, manually digging trenches, manually cultivating crops, and hauling buckets of water). However, unless a person also happens to have elite muscle-building genetics, s/he cannot build a large-muscled physique simply by doing that much lower-intensity exertion; and, usually, that much daily exertion is actually counterproductive to allowing the recuperation necessary for the muscle fibers predominantly responsible for a muscle’s size to add mass to themselves.
But, sure, idyllically, it’d be more healthful for most people today and whenever if they could get several hours of manual work daily like your grandparents did. That much lower-intensity exercise would probably keep most everyone slim and overall healthier. Just, it wouldn’t be optimal if a person’s goal was not only being healthy but also building their muscle mass to its genetic limits.
I’ve been forestalling my muscular genetic potential for quite a while. Maybe because I’m lazy! LOL
I’d get my weight up to 230lb. at 6 feet even then drop down to 194lb. This yo-yo crap has to stop. I’ve got to stay in the gym for at least 2 years or 3, then I’ll see what I can accomplish. Still growing by the way. Last measurements, I use these 2 as my overall gauge. The highest I’ve ever gotten was chest 48-50 inches and upper arms 17-18 inches and that’s comes from just touching the weights. I’m going to get really serious and stop BS myself. Once I’ve been consistent for at least 3 years, then I’ll maintain at 3x a week for 1 hour. Your writing is simplistic. Thank You.
I was thinking about this issue lately. I have been training for 13 years, with no more than a week off here and there from some sickness or injury, and i’m coming to the conclusion i don’t have much more size gains left to make. I do think i still have some potential but nothing dramatic.
This is somewhat disapointing since i believed for a long time i could get a lot bigger, like the supposed “natural” bodybuilders and fitness models all over the internet.
But for me now, weight training is pretty much like a videogame. If you work hard with weights after a while you will reach yor natural potential, it’s like finishing the game, you watch the end scenes and that’s all, you can’t go any further. But, you can replay the missions and unlock new achievements, find hidden areas, etc…For weight training it would be going after some benchmark lift like a 3 plate bench, learning a bodyweight skill like a human flag or one arm chin, learning O-lifts, or increasing conditioning/cardio while mantaining size and strength.
For a natural trainee who is training hard for a while, i feel this is the way to go. Maybe i can still make muscle gains, but i will gain so slowly (if at all), that it’ll be unmotivating. At this point, it’s better chase function and let form follow.
Maybe one day i’ll download the new missions (juice), but that’s not for me right now.
Ha, solid analogy right there.
Great Article! I have used your Muscle Building routine with great success and am near my preferred weight/body composition. What would happen if I set my diet to maintenance and just trained for muscular endurance? I get tested frequently on things like max reps on push-ups and pull-ups. Would my body composition and strength levels stay the same?
There is some potential for very slow, very minor changes to occur over a fairly large period of time… but for the most part things would remain about the same.
Thanks Jay, I actually did fine in all the max rep body weight tests so I can stick to your routine which I’m loving.
Great article Jay! I consider myself to be in that hallowed group. It is nice to read that I was doing things correctly, after reaching my goals — fat loss/muscle maintenance — before: 207 lbs, BF % 21; after: 171 lbs, BF % 10.9, as I read in Superior Muscle Growth… and I’m 58 years young, in a wheelchair (the flirting and comments alone, make “it” all worth it; especially the ones from the gym staff of female personal trainers… all in their 30’s and a few 20 year olds).
After basking in the glow of “Mission Accomplished,” for a little bit, anyway, I’m about to start on my new goals: lose some more fat (get down to 7% or 8%, hard six pack) and then “put on,” (I’m shooting for) at least 5 lbs of muscle. I know I’m fighting Father Time and Mother Nature, so we’ll see. Will keep you updated.
Ha, that’s impressive as hell! Definitely keep me updated.
Off topic questions: Are going to post treatment for golfer’s elbow? I just read your 17 Ways To Prevent Elbow Injuries post because I’m experiencing golfer’s elbow and saw you mentioned a future post on that topic at the end
It’s definitely something I will do, and it’s definitely on my to-do list, but I can’t currently say exactly when I’m going to write it.
Awesome stuff as always Jay, eventhough I’m still far away from reaching my limit, still a good read.
A bit side track, but maybe you could write about how to deal with annoying PT trying to sell stupid program in your next article? Just join a commercial gym recently and those free baiting introduction session putting me right into some pyramid bullshit.
Ha, yeah… stereotypical commercial gym personal trainers are… let’s go with… entertaining. 😉
Thanks for another great read! Is there a BF% range where you would recommend not bulking, and instead cutting first? In otherwords, If i’m at 16-17% BF, would you recommend cutting to a certain % of BF first before looking to slowly add muscle? I’m 36 and male btw.
Yep, he does! He talks about it in his awesome book Superior Muscle Growth. He gives you exact examples that are really helpful.
Yup, you’re currently at the range where I’d recommend cutting.
For additional details, check out SMG… there’s an entire chapter all about this.
Hahaha! Thanks Takeisha and thanks Jay for the answer! Is she on the payroll Jay??
I’ve moved SMG to the top of my XMAS list! Looking forward to getting started.
Ha, glad to hear it!
Ha, I give that advice out for free. I bought his book SMG after never having intelligently trained (but lifted for years) and I’m making gains and losing fat like I’ve never done before.
I’m a 41 year old female and have used his program for 1 year solid. I went with his recommendations for cutting and I’ve never looked this good. And I still have much more to go.
I’ll buy whatever book is coming up next (Fat Loss perhaps??) because the info is sound, realistic and simple. You’ll love SMG!
Best comment I’ve read all day. 🙂
How long does it have to take each phase?? i men how long should i stay in bulking phase and how long should i stay in cutting phase also how do i go from one to another without ruining any results??
My book has an entire chapter answering this question.
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