When it comes to sculpting the human body, most guys would shrug their shoulders and decide that there’s nothing they can do. You’re not most guys. All you need is a plan—one that cuts and burns as many calories as possible in whatever time you have before your next vacation on the beach. That is, after all, what weight loss is all about: slashing calories. A pound of fat contains 3,500 of them, and thus to lose a pound, you need to create a 3,500-calorie deficit. We’ll show you how to do that several times over through a program of diet and exercise strategically designed by two of the nation’s top fitness gurus to fit a busy man’s harried schedule.
Most men attempt to fight thousands of years of natural selection through crunches and situps. Problem is. Mother Nature has guarded against that. “You can’t spot-reduce fat,” says David Pearson, Ph.D., director of the Strength Research Laboratory at Ball State University, in Muncie, Indiana. “But the good news is that most of us have a great set of abs buried beneath, and when we lose body fat, they appear automatically.” The fitness plan below will help you coax them out. It’s a series of short — but admittedly intense — strength and aerobic workouts carefully calibrated to burn the maximum number of calories while giving you the optimal amount of rest for building lean, fat-burning muscle.
Building muscle is just as important as aerobic exercise when it comes to long-term weight management — perhaps even more so. The reason is simple: A pound of muscle requires your body to burn 50 calories a day to maintain it. Add 3 pounds of new muscle, and your body will burn through an additional 1,050 calories per week just sitting around. To build the most muscle in the least time, we’ve focused here on compound exercises—exercises that engage as many muscles at once as possible. (For example, a dumbbell curl exercises just one muscle group—your biceps. A dumbbell squat, on the other hand, exercises every muscle in your legs, including your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes. And that translates into more lean tissue growth, more calories burned, and more admiring glances on the white sand.)
To further accelerate your fat burn, you’ll perform the workout as a circuit — a training technique that involves moving from exercise to exercise with little or no rest in between. “That will keep your heart rate elevated, giving you the same fat-burning benefit of a cardio workout without ever having to lace up your running shoes,” says Myatt Murphy, C.S.C.S., author of The Body You Want in the Time You Have. And here’s the secret genius of this workout: You’ll keep burning fat for more than a day after you hit the showers! It’s called the afterburn effect, and it’s yet another way that weight training helps you boil the blubber. A recent Ohio University study found that after performing a short but hard weight-training circuit of three exercises for 31 minutes, the subjects continued to burn more calories than normal for up to 38 hours.
Begin by jogging in place or jumping rope for 2 minutes to warm up, and then run through the routine below twice for a 30-minute workout. If you want to see maximum results, you should feel complete muscular exhaustion after every set. “This will force your muscles to grow and adapt in preparation for the next time they encounter that stress,” says Murphy.
• Partial dumbbell squat
Stand with a light dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides, palms facing in. Keeping your back straight, squat down 6 to 8 inches and then rise back up. Do 12 to 15 reps.
• Wide-grip pullup
Hang from a chinup bar with your palms facing front and your hands placed slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Pull yourself up until your chest touches the bar; then lower. Do as many reps as possible.
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• Front-back lunge
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, your arms at your sides, and a light dumbbell in each hand. Step forward with your right foot, bending your right knee until your right thigh is parallel to the floor. Quickly push yourself up and step back with your right foot into a back lunge. Do 12 to 15 reps with each leg.
Get into a classic pushup position (hands shoulder-width apart, legs extended back). Keeping your back straight, lower your chest to the floor and then push up. Do as many reps as possible.
• Two-arm dumbbell row
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a light dumbbell in each hand. Bend forward until your torso is almost parallel to the floor and your arms are hanging straight down, palms facing in. Lift the weights until they reach the edge of your chest, pause, and then lower them. Do 12 to 15 reps.
• Race-car crunch
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a light weight plate with both hands and extend your arms toward your knees. Keeping your arms extended, lift your shoulders off the floor and twist to the right so that the weight ends up outside of your right knee. Then twist back to the starting position. Repeat, this time twisting to the left. Alternate from side to side for as many reps as possible.
• Twisting press
Hold a pair of dumbbells in front of your shoulders, palms facing in. Gently squeeze your shoulder blades together and then press the weights up, twisting your wrists out as you lift until your palms face away from you. Lower the weights to the starting position as you rotate your palms back in and spread your shoulder blades apart. Do 10 to 15 reps.
• Twisting toe touch
Lie flat on your back and raise your arms and legs straight up so that your feet and hands point toward the ceiling. Holding this position, slowly curl your torso and twist to the right, touching the outside of your left hand to the outside of your right ankle. Lower and repeat, this time twisting to the left. Do as many reps as possible.
Each cardio workout is broken down into two short sessions-one in the morning and one in the evening. We’ve organized it this way for two reasons. First, it’s easier to push yourself a little harder during shorter workouts.
Second, “aerobic exercise naturally revs your metabolism for up to an hour after you work out,” says Murphy. “By doing two smaller workouts, you’ll rev it twice daily, forcing your body to burn more calories for an extra hour each day.”
Start by warming up with a brisk walk or other light activity for 2 minutes. Then pick the cardio workout of your choice-jogging, hiking, hitting the stair-climber, whatever—and perform it for 20 minutes. The more you mix it up, the better. The key, however, is to monitor your intensity level: You’ll know you’re where you need to be if you find it difficult—but not impossible—to carry on a conversation. That means your heart rate is around 65 to 75% of its maximum. This pace is considered the optimal fat-burning range, and it forces your body to use a higher percentage of stored calories — otherwise known as your fat belly — for fuel rather than squander its limited supply of glycogen (a form of glucose that’s stored in your muscles and used for quick energy).
The third portion of our fitness plan focuses on interval training-a technique that entails alternating between periods of intense exercise and active rest (for example: 1 minute of sprinting followed by 1 minute of walking). Our strategy is simple: to constantly force your body to adapt and condition itself by constantly changing the workout intensity. The result is accelerated muscle growth, reduced body fat, and higher cardiovascular fitness,” says Murphy.
Like the cardio workout, the interval workout is split into two daily sessions—one in the morning and one in the evening. But this time, the benefits will be more akin to those you get from weight training. That’s because short bouts of intense exercise dramatically increase the afterburn effect.
For each interval session, pick a high-intensity activity (jumping rope, running fast, cycling in a high gear) and exercise as hard as you can for 15 seconds; then quickly switch to a low-intensity activity (walking, cycling in a low gear) and exercise for 45 seconds. Repeat this cycle for a total of 20 minutes. You won’t burn as many calories as you do on cardio days, but you’ll burn far more calories afterward.
We’ve outlined four exercises that, done as a group, will hit all areas of your midsection. Do a full circuit of all four exercises, 8 to 12 reps per exercise. Rest a minute; then do another circuit. The whole shebang should take you no more than 10 minutes, and you’ll start to see results in just days. Do it twice a week, keeping these pointers in mind:
Stick to low reps. Most people hit their abs with high repetitions, believing this is the key to a faster six-pack. Resist the temptation. “Your abdominals are made of the same tissue as your biceps, triceps, chest, and every other muscle group,” says Jordan. “So the same rules apply. Stick to 8 to 12 repetitions, and when that becomes easy, increase the intensity.”
Go slow. The easiest way to increase the intensity is to slow the pace at which you perform the repetitions. “The slower you go, the more force and exertion the muscles are required to provide,” says Jordan. Count to “two Mississippi” as you contract your abs, and to four as you relax them.
Stay contracted. As you’re performing each exercise, never relax your abs completely. Keeping them in a constant state of contraction is yet another way to increase the intensity and thus get faster results.
• Abdominal crunch
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your hands cupped behind your ears. Slowly crunch up, bringing your shoulder blades off the ground. Lower and repeat.
• Leg raise
Lie on your back with your legs straight and your hands on the floor near your butt. Use your lower abdominal muscles to raise your legs toward the ceiling until they’re perpendicular to the floor. Then slowly lower them back to the starting position. When your feet touch the floor, repeat.
• Twisting crunch
Lie on your back with your hands cupped behind your ears and your elbows out. Cross your ankles. With your knees slightly bent, raise your legs until your thighs are perpendicular to your body. Bring your right shoulder off the floor as you cross your right elbow over to your left knee. Lower and repeat to the other side.
Lie facedown with your arms extended in front of your head. Simultaneously lift your arms, shoulders, chest, and legs off the floor as high as you can. Pause; then lower and repeat.