by Scott Neumyer Men's Fitness
Not seeing the results you want with your current diet and weight-loss regimen? Try these expert tips to lose fat and uncover the abs you always knew you had.
Just because we've reached the end of the summer season doesn't mean we just got the green light to sit on our a$$es for the next six months and just hope that we don't pack on the pounds. In fact, we should be thinking just the opposite: Now's the perfect time to kick our workout routines into high gear in order to ward off holiday weight gain—and actually make some significant progress toward reaching our ultimate get-lean goals.
We know you that you want to get rid of that last bit of subcutaneous layer of blubber in order to finally uncover that cut body you've got hidden underneath. We recently asked Mensfitness.com readers: If you could get to transform your body overnight, would you pump up your shoulders, get a huge chest or a go for a serious six-pack?
The answer? None of the above: 43 percent of you said that you'd want an "overall fat-free physique" rather than a single bigger or better body part — and we want to help you get down to your fighting weight.
We asked some of the best and brightest trainers and experts about the best ways to jumpstart fat loss and compiled our results in three sections: Training-Based Tips, Diet-Based Tips, and Lifestyle-Based Tips. You'll have to work hard for every ounce, of course, but we can promise you—the results will be hella worth it.
1. Interval Training and High-Intensity Movies (HIIT)
Ah, good old interval and high-intensity training. You’ve heard about their benefits for ages and for good reason: they work. If you’re looking for a surefire way to burn fat faster and lose some pounds in the process, HIIT is a solid go-to.
We caught up with Kurt Hester, TD1 National Director of Performance, to find out why HIIT is so important and here’s what he had to tell us: “High Intensity Interval Training is more time efficient in caloric expenditure than a traditional cardio workout. Not only will your body burn more calories during HIIT workouts but you will also continue to burn more calories and fat in the 24 hours after a HIIT workout. That doesn’t mean you need to limit yourself to only sprint interval workouts on a treadmill, though; Go out and sprint hills, drag tires, and push or pull sleds.”
2. Sprint More
If you think that hitting the weights is the only thing you have to do to lose fat faster, you’re wrong. You need a soild balance of weight training, cardio and diet.
“You need cardiovascular work to burn excess body fat,” says Mike Duffy, CPT and owner of MikeDuffysPT.com. “The body will burn primarily carbohydrates during the first twenty minutes of cardiovascular exercise. Right about minute twenty, the body shifts over and starts to burn stored body fat as the primary source of energy. You need a combination of both weight training and cardio to get fat off your body. Cardio alone will only train one type of muscle fiber and you’ll only be building one part of your fat-burning furnace. I see many people doing tons of cardio every day and not lifting weights. They never change the way they look,” Duffy says. Lee Boyce, Owner of Lee Boyce Training Systems, agrees that sprinting can be a huge benefit to fat loss. “Sprinting,” Boyce said, “uses fast twitch muscles, which take more energy to utilize, and it also puts you in oxygen debt, so your body will have to play ‘catch up’ after the workout is done. This also increases the rate of metabolism to tap into more fat loss during and after the workout.” So now that you’ve hit the weights, it’s time to hit the treadmill (or the road, trail, or track) as well. Ramp up your cardio, break into vigorous sprints, and just watch the fat ooze off in no time.
2. Hit The Weights (If You're Not Already)
If you’re not already hitting the gym and racking up the weights, now’s the time if fat loss is your goal. Even if you start small and work your way up to heavier weights, gaining muscle is going to be put you on the fast track to hitting that goal.
“When it comes to exercise, you have to train with weights to increase lean mass. Fat is burned inside of your muscle cells. The bigger and more plentiful your muscle cells, the bigger your fat-burning furnace. Adding muscle increases the size of the fat-burning furnace. Dieting incorrectly or exercising incorrectly decreases your fat-burning furnace. This is often why, when a male-female couple embarks on a good exercise and nutrition plan, the male drops more weight more quickly than the female. He has more muscle tissue and a much bigger furnace. He can burn food at a much faster rate than the female who has less muscle and a much smaller furnace,” says Duffy.
4. Pick Up a Sport
Picking up a sport (especially getting into pick-up games) is a great way to burn extra calories, trim away the fat and still have a hell of a lot of fun doing it.
Boyce is a huge proponent of sports in training as well: “Playing a sport involves cardio and lots of non-linear movement (jumping, back pedaling, side stepping) making it healthier than straight jogging,” he said. “Plus it keeps you having fun without getting bored.”
You don’t have to be the next Michael Jordan to go down to your local park, hop on the basketball court, and look for a game. Just do it! Most people are happy to have another player. Just make sure you at least know the rules (and know how to dribble, duh).
5. Reduce Stress With Yoga
Breathe Deep. Relax. Breathe Deeper. Feel better? Feel healthier? Well, keep doing it, because it just might be helping you stay fit and lose fat. According to Stress.org, stress has been known to contribute to abdominal fat and other issues. Grabbing your Yoga mat and heading out for a little relaxation may go a long way toward helping you reach your fitness goals as well. And, besides, who among us couldn’t use a little less stress and a little more relaxation, right?
6. Experiment With CrossFit
The jury might still be out on the longevity of the current CrossFit craze that’s sweeping the fitness nation, but there’s no denying the benefits of this total body workout that will test your physical abilities in just about every way. The combination and timing of exercises, the competitive aspect of the sport, and the group-training philosophy of CrossFit are just a few of the things that makes it such a great workout. If you’re looking for a good way to burn a crazy amount of calories, drop some fat, and change up your usual, boring workout routine then CrossFit is a good investment of time. The only thing that might not thank you is your wallet.
7. Stop Trying to Spot Reduce
Here’s the thing about spot reduction: it doesn’t exist. Everyone seems to know that trying to spot reduce a specific body part’s fat content doesn’t work, yet nearly everyone seems to continue to attempt spot reduction. You know that guy you see in the gym banging out 20 sets of 50 crunches each? Yeah, of course you know that guy. He’s in nearly every gym. Well, he’s pretty much wasting his time. Sure, he’s burning a few calories and staying active. But, if he thinks those 1,000 crunches a day are going to make his six-pack come out from hiding inside the cooler of fat he’s got there in the mid-section, he’s sorely mistaken. Don’t waste your precious gym time trying to spot reduce. Use that time, instead, to do some high intensity interval training or mixing up your lifting routine.
8. Take Photos and Track Progress
Taking photos before, after, and during a weight loss journey is a great way to stay motivated throughout the entire sweat-inducing ordeal. Not only do you get to see the fruits of your labor as your skin tightens up, your face thins out, and your body transforms into a lean, mean, fat-burning machine, but you can also share your progress photos (if you’re brave enough) on social media. It’s a surefire way to up your confidence as comments like “Wow! Look at you!” and “How much weight have you lost?!” start to make their way into your inbox.
9. Change Up Your Workout Order
Yes, we know you have your workout calendar with all its color-coordinated days, workouts and rep times on it. You know what we want you to do with it? Rip it up! Yup, every once in a while, just tear it up and totally change your workout order. Kurt Hester, TD1 National Director of Performance, recently sat down with us to explain why change can be a good thing. “Humans are creatures of habit,” said Hester. “Go into any gym in America and you can watch gym rats performing the exact same workout three times per week. Cardio for 30-60 minutes followed by a circuit trip around the weight room. You want results? Change it up! 30 minutes of high intensity lifting followed by 15 minutes of high intensity intervals will produce more results in two days than your standard 90-minute workout three days a week.”
10. Train with a Partner or in a Group
When MensFitness.com interviewed Jacksonville Jaguars Fullback Greg Jones for its 25 Fittest Football Players article, the 6’1” 254-pound beast talked glowingly about how training in a group improves everything about his workouts.
“One of the things that sets me apart from some other players in the league are the people I surround myself with,” Jones said. “I have great people around me. We’re always lifting each other up when we have bad days.”
And that’s exactly what training with a partner or group can do for your workouts (and your ability to lose fat faster). It’s all about motivation. You pull each other out of the doldrums and into the world of the fit. Just when you think you can’t run any farther or do that last rep, you have your buddy there to make sure you do it.
11. Download and App - Track Your Meals
One of the most important ways to ensure that you continue to eat healthy is to be aware of everything that you put into your body. And what better way to do that than with some of the apps made for the device you always have with you – your phone! There are tons of applications made for iPhone, iPad, Android, Mac and PCs. Some are great. Some are pretty bad. But it doesn’t really matter which app you use as long as you’re successfully tracking your meals all day every day. Not only does it provide great visual and quantitative feedback about the calories you’re ingesting, but it’s also a good way to take a step back, breath, and really think about what you’re putting in your body at every meal.
12. Create a Meal Calendar to Plan Meals Ahead of Time
What’s the easiest way to fall off the wagon when you’ve been doing so well making healthy food choices? How about this? You just got home from an insanely intense workout at the gym. You’re tired, sweaty, and your body is begging for some rest. But now it’s time for dinner. Your stomach is growling but you just don’t feel like cooking anything after that workout. That’s when you tap into the cabinet where you’ve hidden all those takeout menus, grab the phone, and dial up your favorite greasy spoon for a Double-Cheesy-Super-Cheesesteak (With Extra Bacon). And then you sit back and watch the wagon you’ve just fallen off of rumble down the road, never to be seen again.
Or you can create a meal calendar and plan (and even cook) your meals ahead of time. Now you’ve got your grilled chicken and veggies all portioned out and ready to pop in the microwave when you get home from the gym. Welcome to the land of weight loss!
13. Eat More Home-Cooked Meals and Eat Out Less
Unless you’ve been plugging away at a healthy lifestyle for a long time, going out to eat at restaurants can be a daunting task. Most menus don’t provide very good details and calorie counts on all their meals, so knowing what to order can often be an exercise in futility. The more home-cooked meals you eat, the more likely you’re able to maintain that healthy lifestyle. It’s much easier to control portion, ingredients, and quality of the food when you’re cooking it yourself. You hear that? That’s the sound of you tying up your apron. Good work!
14. Ditch the Soda and Alcohol! Drink More Water
“Drinking more water,” says Boyce, “will help your body avoid storing water due to deficiencies. People often don't make the connection that high water retention often means there's a lack of it in your diet.” Not only is water great for you and your active, healthy body, but the alternatives like soda and alcohol are some of the very worst things you can ingest when trying to lose fat quickly. Sugary high-in-(empty)-calorie drinks are one of the ways that weight can sneak up on your without you even realizing it. Stay away from the processed drinks and pour yourself a nice cold glass of H2O.
15. Eat More Fish to Up the Leptin
Most people seem to understand that fish (and fish oil) is good for them, but do any of them know why? I’d wager to say that most don’t. Well, here’s one of several reasons that fish is a power food that will help you lose fat: Leptin.
According to Louis J. Aronne, M.D., Director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, in an article for Amylin.com:
“Leptin is a key signaling molecule that controls the relationship between fat reserves, appetite and energy expenditure,” writes Aronne. “Decreased leptin signaling in the brain leads not just to hunger but also to increased metabolic efficiency. Thus, as you lose weight, you burn fewer calories based on the same amount of activity. This, in part, results in the well known phenomenon that after an initial weight loss, maintaining the same rate of loss becomes much more difficult.”
People who eat fish regularly tend to have lower levels of the hormone Leptin in their body. Since higher levels of Leptin have often been associated with decreased rate of metabolism, fish has become an essential food for anyone trying to lose fat. So break out the salmon and tuna, squirt on some lemon, and enjoy a (mostly) guilt-free meal!
16. Learn to Love Veggies
“Vegetables,” said Boyce, “(especially the cruciferous kind) are anti estrogenic, meaning they will fight against that hormone being active in your body resulting in fat storage. Upping veggies can help get you lean. Plus they're good for you.”
There was a reason your parents always told you to eat your veggies. Sure, they’re not always the most pleasing to the palate, but they’re really good for you. Experiment with new recipes and spices to make veggies more tasty and you’ll be well on your way to a healthy, fat-burning diet.
17. Eat Smaller Meals More Often (And Don't Skip the Snacks!)
There’s a reason that most nutritionists tell their clients that they should be eating six small meals a day rather than the three large meals that most people are accustomed to eating. It’s all about managing cravings and to prevent overeating. When your body goes several hours without food, it starts to assume its never going to get food again, upping the odds of eating binges and dangerous cravings. To combat that effect, it’s smart to eat six small, well-timed meals a day to keep yourself full throughout the day.
18. Vary Your Caloric Intake
Here’s the thing about the human body: It’s much smarter than you think. If your daily caloric target is 1500 calories and you hit that number consistently every single day, your body is going to recognize it and your metabolism will start to plateau (so to speak). If you want to “trick” your body into jumpstarting your metabolism again, all you need to do is vary that daily caloric intake to keep it guessing. Try downing 1200 calories one day and 1800 the next. As long as it all balances out, you should be fine and there’s a good chance your increased rate of metabolism should help you burn fat faster.
According to a 2011 article on Livestrong.com, “The idea is that you keep your body guessing and avoid plateaus in weight loss. Some recommend you calorie shift daily, while others suggest that you eat consistently six days each week and schedule one ‘cheat’ day in which you eat your guilty, calorie-laden pleasures. For example, author Lyle McDonald writes in ‘The Ketogenic Diet’ that many people successful restart fat loss by alternating calorie intake daily.” Change, it seems, can be a very good thing.
19. Never Skip Breakfast
According to a WebMD article, eating a healthy breakfast daily can be a great contributor in losing weight and keeping it off. Often times, people that skip breakfast end up replacing all those calories with more (and lower quality) food throughout the day. By skipping breakfast, they’re setting themselves up to be extremely hungry earlier in the day and will sometimes even binge to placate those feelings of hunger. Breakfast is the earliest meal of the day – and the one that occurs before you start burning all those calories with your daily routine – so start chowing down in the morning and you’ll set yourself up to have a great, healthy day.
20. Reduce Carbs: Eat More Proteins and Fats
Everyone loves their carbs. We know, we know. They’re so tasty! But guess what? They’re terrible for you if you’re always stuffing your face with them!
“The most important step is to control the carbohydrates,” say Duffy. “Most people get fat from eating too many carbs, eating carbs alone, and eating them late at night. Instead, what people should do is eat carbs in combination with complete proteins and good fats. Eating carbs alone will lead to an increase in blood glucose. This increase in blood glucose causes an over release of insulin and then triggers a fat storage response by the body. This triggers the body's hunger mechanism as well as its sugar craving mechanism. When carbs are combined with proteins and fats, glucose in the blood stream is buffered by the metabolites of the consumed proteins and fats. This will not lead to an over release of insulin and thus not fat storage, hunger or sugar cravings.”
And, more importantly, Duffy tells us to remember that “all carbs turn to sugar (glucose). Good carbs. Bad carbs. Net carbs. Fibrous carbs. They all turn to sugar! Which, in turn, causes a hormonal influence (insulin over-release) to fat gain. Eating complete proteins and good fats does not cause this mechanism to happen.”
21. Stop Being Lazy
Stop being lazy is a pretty general thing to say, right? Well, here’s what we mean: Do you always take the elevator every time you have to go up to the second or third floor? Yeah? Well, this time you’re taking the stairs, buddy. Have to grab that paper from the copier across the room? Don’t just wheel your chair over. Get up off your butt and walk there! There are any number of ways to quit being lazy and start burning away the fat: Switch to a standing (or treadmill) desk. Bang out a set of pushups or jumping jacks during the commercials when you’re watching TV. You get the idea. Just get up and keep moving.
22. Walk More and Drive Less
This one is self-explanatory: Walk more and drive less. The more you walk, the more active you are. The more active you are, the more calories you burn, and the more weight you can potentially lose. Instead of driving up the street to grab your morning coffee, take a nice brisk walk up and back. If you want to take the family to the park for an hour, skip the gas-guzzler and slap on your favorite pair of sneakers instead. Not only will you save a few bucks on gas, but also your body will thank you for it.
23. Get a Check Up (Especially Your Thyroid)
Not only is it just generally a good idea to get checked out by your doctor on a regular basis, but it’s also essential if you want to make sure your body is in peak physical condition for hitting the gym, running, or doing any kind of fitness regimen. It’s especially important to have your thyroid checked to make sure you’re not suffering from hypothyroidism (or, in layman’s terms, an underactive thyroid gland). According to the National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service, the thyroid gland controls your body’s metabolism. With that in mind, it’s essential to ensure that your thyroid is working correctly if you want to lose weight (or avoid possible weight gain). If you’re having trouble losing weight (and you’re staying active and eating right), you might need to get that thyroid checked out.
24. Get More Sleep
We checked in with Dr. Michael Breus, Phd. (world renowned sleep doctor and consultant to the team behind the Renew SleepClock) to see just why sleep is so vital to staying healthy. Here’s what the doc had to say:
“Sleep deprivation is like the trifecta for weight gain! When you are sleep deprived your body reacts in different ways on a hormonal level, which can impede weight loss. During times of sleep deprivation your body is on high alert thinking that there is a danger (or else you would be sleeping), so your metabolism slows down to conserve energy. Second, your appetite is higher (due to elevated levels of cortisol) looking for food for more energy. Third, your food choice becomes effected in that your body tends to crave high carbohydrate, high fat foods because they help produce serotonin, which helps calm you down from this aroused state.” Bottom line: Get more sleep!
25. Stop Looking at the Scale!
Are you a scale-watcher? Do you check in on that little slab of doom every morning before you get dressed? Well, you’re doing yourself a disservice, especially if your goal is to lose fat and gain muscle. If you’ve been going to gym every day, eating right, and staying active there’s a good chance you don’t see a big drop in the scale because, as you’re losing fat, you’re also gaining muscle. Looking at the scale and not seeing the numbers drop can be discouraging. Instead, stick to your fitness routine and forget the numbers. You’ll be healthier and the fat will continue to fly off.
The end of the summer season doesn’t mean you can sit on your butt for the next six months and just hope you’ll stay fit.