By Bill Hartman, P.T., C.S.C.S. Men's Health
Any man can tell you: Dropping a few pounds is one thing; becoming Brad Pitt-in-Fight Club lean is quite another. Which is why you'll never mistake Jared Fogle for Tyler Durden. After all, if torching that last bit of belly flab were as easy as eating 6-inch sandwiches, the Subway guy would surely be sporting a six-pack by now.
The fact is, the closer you are to achieving legendary leanness, the more stubborn your fat stores become. It's really self-preservation: Your body is designed to protect your fuel reserves from running too low, just in case food becomes scarce. And while that might have been a handy biological feature in the Paleolithic age, it's hardly necessary in 21st-century America. The secret to disabling this? Igniting your metabolism.
By learning how to fire up your body's internal furnace with exercise, you can accelerate fat loss and finish off your gut for good--revealing the chiseled muscles hidden beneath. All it takes is a little knowledge, coupled with a steady dose of physical effort. We provide the first half of that formula here; your charge is to handle the second.
How to Lose the Last 10
No matter what exercise you choose, there's only so much fat you can burn during, say, a 30-minute workout. And research shows that the better trained you become, the more your body's "exercise efficiency" improves—meaning the same amount of activity burns fewer calories as time goes by. For instance, University of California at Berkeley scientists determined that to avoid age-related weight gain, avid runners need to boost their weekly mileage by 1.7 miles every year.
So to lose the last 10 pounds, you have to think beyond how much fat you burn during your workout. Instead, focus on the amount you burn during the other 23 hours and 30 minutes of your day—while you're sitting at your desk, lounging in front of the television, and lying in bed sleeping. And to achieve this benefit, you need to hit the weights and do interval sprints. By knowing the right combination of sets, repetitions, rest periods, and exercises and the best method of cardio, you can create a workout that not only burns as many calories as a 4-mile jog, but, unlike that jog, also unleashes a flood of fat-burning hormones that stoke your metabolism for hours after you exercise. The result: Your body's fat-burning furnace runs on high all day long, even when you're sitting on the couch. Here's how to build the perfect metabolism-boosting workout plan, step-by-step.
Do Eight to 15 Repetitions of Each Set
Doing your one-repetition max may make you feel like a big man, but if your goal is not looking like one, then you're better off pumping out more reps. Research shows that performing sets of eight to 15 repetitions stimulates the greatest increase in fat-burning hormones, compared with doing a greater or fewer number of repetitions.
The one caveat is that you have to use a weight that provides an adequate challenge. For instance, doing eight repetitions with a weight you can lift 15 times won't be very effective. After all, it's only about 50 percent of the work your muscles are actually capable of performing. Instead, you want to give between 90 and 100 percent of your full effort for any given repetition range. A good way to gauge how you're doing: If you start to struggle by your last repetition, you'll know that you're in the ballpark.
Perform Two to Four Sets of Each Exercise
Turns out, it doesn't take much weight work to rev up your metabolism. Ball State University researchers discovered that fat-burning hormones increase when you complete just one set of an exercise.
And while doing more sets boosts your hormone levels to an even greater extent, there is a cutoff: In a recent study, Greek scientists determined that there is no difference between doing four sets and six sets of each exercise. So consider two to four to be the optimal number of sets for speeding fat loss, depending on your current level of fitness. For example, you'll want to use the low side of this recommendation when you're just starting out, and increase your number of sets as you become better conditioned. After all, losing weight by losing your lunch is never the goal. (For a complete workout that combines all the metabolism-boosting principles we're outlining in this story, see "Your Six-Pack Plan" on page four.)
Rest No Longer than 75 Seconds Between Sets
Look around any gym and you'll find that rest periods are usually dictated by how chatty a man's workout partner is. But by closely adhering to specific rest periods of no longer than 75 seconds, you can speed fat loss. Here's how it works: Doing sets of eight to 15 repetitions results in the accumulation of a chemical called lactate in your bloodstream. And high lactate levels are associated with an increase in the release of fat-burning hormones. However, resting too long between sets allows the oxygen you breathe to help clear the lactate from your bloodstream. Keep your recovery time short, though, and you'll keep your blood levels of lactate‚—and fat-burning hormones—high. That means more fat is burned while you rest.
Work Your Entire Body
How much you elevate your metabolism after your workout is directly related to the amount of muscle you activate at any one time. So you'll want to focus on movements that work multiple muscles, as opposed to those that attempt to isolate muscle groups. For instance, you'll experience a much greater boost in metabolism by performing 10 repetitions of the squat, compared with 10 repetitions of an isolation exercise, such as the biceps curl.
In addition, by training your whole body each session, you'll work the most muscle possible. A University of Wisconsin study found that when men performed a full-body workout involving just three big-muscle exercises—the bench press, power clean, and squat—their metabolisms were elevated for 39 hours afterward. What's more, they also burned a greater percentage of their calories from fat during this time, compared with men who didn't do a total-body workout. The take-home message is clear: Complete an intense full-body weight workout 3 days a week, resting a day between sessions, and you'll keep your metabolism humming along in a much higher gear at all times.
Alternate Between Two Exercises
Why spend more time in the gym than you need to? Each time you do a set of an exercise, rest, then follow with a set that works muscles that weren't involved in the previous movement, and rest again. For example, you might pair an upper-body exercise with a lower-body move, or an exercise that works your chest muscles with one that hits your back. Once you've done one set of each exercise, repeat the process until you've completed all the planned sets of both movements. This method is called "alternating sets" and allows one group of muscles to rest while another group works, and vice versa. The benefit? You can limit your rest periods, which will keep your lactate levels high while giving specific muscles more time to recover between sets. It's a strategy that helps offset fatigue and ensures you give your best effort to each set.
Monitor Your Lifting Tempo
Remember, your goal is to work your muscles as hard as possible on each repetition of each set. And that means you need to control the speed at which you raise and lower the weight. By performing an exercise too fast—for instance, lowering your body quickly and "bouncing" up from a squat—you take some of the stress off your muscles and place it on your tendons. The trouble is, stressing your tendons doesn't boost your metabolism the same way that challenging your muscles does. (At least not that scientists know of yet.)
As a general rule, try to take 3 seconds to lower the weight, and then pause for a second before lifting it. This helps eliminate the elastic energy that allows you to bounce, forcing your muscles to work their hardest on every repetition.
Skip the Long Runs
Sure, aerobic exercise burns calories. However, if you're already dieting—and you'd better be if you want to see your abs—studies show that distance running does little to further enhance fat loss. Most likely this is because aerobic exercise doesn't boost your metabolism after your workout. But that doesn't mean cardio can't help: High-intensity intervals—such as short sprints of 30 seconds or more, interspersed with a slow jog—are great for accelerating fat loss. Why? Because they're similar to weight training. After all, a 200-meter sprint challenges your lower-body muscles hard for 30 seconds or more, just like a set of eight repetitions of the squat. So by doing a few intervals on the days you don't lift weights, you can spike your metabolism even higher.
Your Six-Pack Plan
Build muscle and lose fat with this 4-week training program
The Weight Workout
Alternate between weight workout A and weight workout B, 3 days a week, resting at least a day between sessions.
Perform each pair of exercises as alternating sets. That is, do one set of the first exercise, rest for the prescribed amount of time, then do one set of the second exercise, and rest again. Repeat until you've performed all the recommended sets.
Note that the sets, repetitions, and amount you rest between sets change from week to week.
1. Split squat + barbell row
2. Romanian deadlift + standing dumbbell press
3. Dumbbell bench press + chinup
1. Front squat + close-grip chinup
2. Dumbbell stepup + barbell bench press
3. Standing barbell shoulder press + dumbbell face pull
Week Sets Reps Rest
1 2 15 75
2 2 15 60
3 3 12 75
4 3 12 60
The Interval Workout
Alternate between interval workout A and interval workout B, 2 days a week, on the days between your weight workouts.
To perform the intervals, run or cycle at the fastest pace you can maintain for the duration of the sprint time. Then slow down to a pace that's about 30 percent of your full effort for the "recovery time."
Repeat until you've completed all the prescribed intervals for each workout.
Week Intervals Sprint Time Recovery Time
1-2 4 30 seconds 90 seconds
3-4 6 30 seconds 90 seconds
Week Intervals Sprint Time Recovery Time
1-2 3 60 seconds 180 seconds
3-4 5 60 seconds 180 seconds
Rest a barbell on your trapezoids and stand with one foot 2 and a half to 3 feet in fron of the other, each in line with its corresponding buttock. Keep your upper body erect as you descend until the top of your front thigh is parallel to the ground. Pause, then press back up to the starting position.
Stand with a barbell on the floor in front of you, your feet slightly less than shoulder-width apart. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, your hands at shoulder width or slightly wider, and rest the bar on your thighs. Draw the bar up toward your chin, keeping it close to your body. Your elbows should remain flared outward during the movement. When the bar is above your nipples, pause for 2 seconds and contract your shoulders and trapezius. Slowly lower the bar until your arms are straight, elbows unlocked.
Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand (palms facing your thighs). Keeping your knees slightly bent and your back naturally arched, push your hips back and lower the weights until they’re just below your knees. Then push yourself back up.
Dumbbell Bench Press
Grab a pair of dumbbells and lie on your back on a bench or Swiss ball. Hold the dumbbells at arm's length above your chest. (If you don't have a bench or Swiss ball, do the exercise lying on the floor.) Lower the dumbbells to your chest, then press the weights back up. (Without a bench or Swiss ball: Lower the dumbbells until your upper arms touch the floor. Then press the weights back to the starting position.)
Grab a pair of dumbbells so that your palms are facing each other and rest the ends on the meatiest part of your shoulders (not your collarbone). Your upper arms should be parallel to the floor. Slowly lower your body as if you were sitting back into a chair, keeping your back in its natural alignment and your lower legs nearly perpendicular to the floor. When your upper thighs are parallel to the floor, pause, and then return to the starting position.but having the weight closer to the floor makes it easier to balance throughout the lift.
Holding a pair of dumbbells at your side, stand facing a step or bench. Place one foot on step and push down through your heel to lift your other leg up to the step. Return to the starting position and finish a set of 12 to 15 reps with one leg before switching legs and repeating the exercise.
Barbell Bench Press
Keep doing pushups in week 2, but add this. Do three sets of 12 repetitions to improve chest strength. Lie back on a bench with your feet flat on the floor. Remove the bar from the uprights using an overhand grip (palms facing away from you), your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Slowly lower the bar to your chest, just below the nipples. Pause, then press the weight back up until your arms are straight again.
Standing Barbell Shoulder Press
Grab a barbell with a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Stand holding the barbell in front of you at shoulder level, your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Push the weight straight overhead, leaning your head back slightly but keeping your torso upright. Pause, then slowly lower the bar to the starting position.