Many people feel like they’re absolutely crushing themselves in the gym, severely restricting calories, and still are not seeing the results.
In fact, often individuals like this seem to be losing progress.
If this sounds like you, LEAST MODE might be the answer.
In the video below, Luke Leaman and I talk his “least mode” concept, and why it’s likely the key ingredient most people are missing for much better health and aesthetics ↴
[*Below are a few of my main takeaways from chatting with Luke, and I want to make sure he receives the credit for the points here – they’re the concepts he’s come up with. This blog is a lot of his thoughts/words from the interview, along with some of my interpretations of the thoughts and guidelines he shared.]
The common problem for individuals who are working very hard… but still aren’t seeing results?
Often, they’ve run themselves into the ground with insanely high amounts of training volume and high-intensity cardio, paired with extremely low calories.
This is especially prevalent in the world of female bikini competitors, where many women are struggling with health issues like hair falling out, brittle nails, etc… only to see massive rebounds in weight after their shows.
The problem here:
These individuals are focusing too much on anaerobic work (think: short, high effort bouts of lifting or cardio) and constantly putting their bodies in a sympathetic state, and not nearly enough on aerobic work (think: lower-intensity, steady state work) and spending more time in a parasympathetic state.
Too much time in a sympathetic state can come from chronic training stress or chronic mental stress.
And while neither sympathetic or parasympathetic states are “bad”, spending too much time with one elevated far above the other will slow results (either due to lack of recovery, or lack of sufficient stimulus to drive new adaptations).
Luke and his team use a few metrics to determine whether clients are ready for or hard push, or need some time in least mode…
1. RESTING HEART RATE: Client probably needs least mode if resting heart rate is over 62 beats per minute.
2. BLOOD PRESSURE: Client probably needs least mode if above 120/80.
3. BODY TEMPERATURE (used less frequently): Aiming for 36.8 °C +/- .2 °C
4. VO2MAX (used less frequently): Client probably needs least mode if below 50.
An example Luke used:
If you have high blood pressure, the last thing you need to do is go do heavy squats or assault bike sprints.
When you brace for a heavy squat while blood pressure is high, it will cause blood pressure to skyrocket, which can cause damage to the endothelial lining (a thin membrane that lines the inside of the heart and blood vessels) in your vascular system, because your vascular system won’t dilate.
This in turn ca make your heart more muscular, but less efficient because it’s not pushing as much blood, which can push you closer to developing cardiovascular issues.
So the first priority/the goal of least mode is “fixing bad metrics” (a.k.a. improving health by reducing training volume, building up an aerobic base, and increasing food), because this will allow you to get more out of your future training…
→ You’ll recover better
→ Sleep better
→ Absorb nutrients better
→ Need less downtime between sets in your training, and likely be able to lift a heavier load longer
…all of which will enhance your progress.
That’s why someone would initially start with “least mode”, transition to harder training after Improving their metrics, and eventually transition back to least mode when metrics start to deteriorate (it’s somewhat similar to an autoregulated deload).
Basically, you push yourself hard for (typically) 5-10 weeks, before their metrics start to deteriorate, at which point you return to least mode, where you’ll be:
→ Dropping training volume
→ Adding food (likely eating at maintenance)
→ Building your aerobic base
The approach Luke described for a new client entering least mode…
PHASE 1: Structural Backloading
This is composed of:
1. Stretching and weighted mobility to start the training session
2. Strength work to end the session
The goal here is essentially to find the areas where the client is especially tight that are hindering said client from full range of motion lifting, and working through the issue to set the client up for better future training and gains.
If you have a lot of tension in through your quad down to your knee, this will be suboptimal for squatting, because you knee won’t be able to move optimally during the squat.
If you’re too tight to get your body into a squat (or any position), your body will compensate by moving/destabilizing areas it shouldn’t to achieve the range of motion you’re pushing it through (I.e. lower back rounding while squatting).
So the common process here would look something like:
1. Start with PNF stretching and/or static stretching to shut off the stretch reflex.
2. Follow this with isometric work.
3, Then weighted mobility (i.e. bulgarian split squat) movement to teach the brain to move through that new range of motion, and this is a safe range of motion to be in.
Once clients have reaped the benefits of structural backloading, they’re moved to…
PHASE 2: Structural frontloading
Basically, strength work first, followed by accessory work and some mobility work.
Eventually, all of the mobility and stretching work isn’t needed, but is simply maintained with full range of motion strength training through variations of squat, hinge, lunge, push, pull.
[*I think it’s also important to point out that the structural backloading phase doesn’t seem to be one that’s necessary for those that can already train through a full range of motion on variations of squat, hinge, lunge, push, pull – rather, it’s more geared towards those who struggle to move well through a standard range of motion.]
Initially, more aerobic work is better in least mode.
To be clear, we’re talking about relatively “easy” aerobic work here – meaning work that’s done at a sustainable (but usually still a bit challenging) pace – NOT all out sprints on the assault bike.
But optimal isn’t always practical.
OPTIMAL: Incline treadmill walk daily. 60-90 mins at heart rate of 130-140BPM
PRACTICAL: 30 mins per day at at heart rate of 130-140BPM.
IF LIMITED ON TIME: You can do more intense aerobic intervals, while still staying within your aerobic system’s limits (I.e. 2-4 min run, walk until HR is 120-130). Since these are more intense, less volume is needed, so you can typically get away with 2-4 sessions per week.
Aerobic work helps your gains.
The more “aerobic reserve” you have, the more reps you can do without hitting “lactate tolerance” or lactate threshold – if you’re trying for a set of 12 back squats, and your legs are on fire by the 5th rep, your “lactate threshold” is poor.
→ If you brought your aerobic ceiling up (and lactate ceiling along with it), you’d actually be able to do more weight for those 12 reps, and thus get more muscle building stimulus from said reps.
→ Plus, a stronger aerobic system allows for quicker recovery between sets and between training days – So you’re able to lift more weight, and recover quicker between training sessions.
→ Finally, when you get aerobically fit, you carry more red blood cells, which in turn means you oxidize carbs and fat better, which means you can eat more food and grow quicker if you have a decent aerobic base.
After your initial least mode phase (when you shift to a more specific style of training for your goals), you might not even need to do any aerobic work to maintain these your improved metrics for a good amount of time. But once you start seeing metrics consistently deteriorate for a week+, it’s like time to take 1-2 weeks to go back to a “least mode” style of training.
A few of Luke’s insights here:
1. If you’re insulin resistant, the research seems to show you’ll do better on a lower carb diet
2. If you’re insulin sensitive, you’re likely better to start off with a higher carb approach.
Luke’s approach is to start individuals with a Iarge amount of body fat to lose off on a lower carb approach initially (outside of those who have sport-specific goals), for it’s potential benefits for lowering blood pressure, lowering systemic inflammation, and making individuals more fat-adapted/metabolically flexible.
From there, high protein is high (because it’s so satiating), along with lots of veggies.
As a whole this is usually a more aggressive approach to dieting for those that have a lot to lose, because there are two places you get energy from…
1. Exogenous food (food you’re eating)
2. Endogenous food (food that couldn’t be used at the time, and was stored as fat)
So it makes sense to be more aggressive when people aren’t as lean, as there is plenty of endogenous food for your body to use for energy.
When you’ve burned off a lot of fat and your body starts to slow the process, then it makes sense to ramp up food a bit more (typically around 25-27% body fat for women, 17-18% men).
As individuals get leaner, they use a “reverse dieting” type approach to slowly add in more carbs as they’re needed as you get leaner.
The thing to realize here is, this isn’t a single approach that’s followed forever, but rather a phase that should be fit to what will allow the client to see quickest results.
It’s the idea of nutrition periodization.
But it’s important to understand that you don’t have to go low-carb (nor would it be a good fit for most of the intermediate-advanced reader of this blog who are already relatively lean). Follow the method that you can stick to over the course of the diet.
Check out Luke Leaman’s Content:
→ Website/program design & nutrition courses: https://musclenerds.net/
→ Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/musclenerds_health/?hl=en
If you’re ready to stop collecting information and start transforming your body, click here now to apply for online coaching with our team.
We apply proven, science-backed nutrition & training methods through individualized coaching to help you get the body you want, and teach you on how to keep it for a lifetime.
Jeremiah Bair is a certified nutrition coach, strength coach, and owner of the online coaching business Bairfit. Check out his Podcast and Instagram for more educational content.