Whether you’re a big guy, a smaller bloke, an athlete or a powerlifter, it’s likely you all have a similar goal in mind at this time of year: looking your best.
It’s the most rewarding time to peak, which means gyms across the country are likely to be filled with exercisers trying to attain that coveted lean look. However, most people are unaware how small miscalculations can cost them dear
So, if you want to finally get a head-turning look this summer, then stick to the following tips to make the most dramatic transformation that’ll last all year long.
Stand and deliver
You’re no doubt going to be throwing in a few extra sets of abdominal exercises so make sure they count. Crunches and sit-ups aren’t bad, and they are actually worth including in just about every core routine. However, you’re seriously missing out if you do all your abdominal training lying down or simply hanging in a leg-raise station. Your core is meant to stabilize your body while you move on your feet, so put some effort in and stand up.
But what core exercises can you do while standing, I hear you ask? Well, the best is also the most basic – the pull-down crunch. Attach a rope to a high pulley, set the pin about halfway down the stack and put your feet in about the same position they’re in when you squat. Once you’re in position with the rope held behind your head, just crunch down and forward, focusing on the contraction in your abs.
This is a tough exercise, but you may be surprised at how much weight you can actually use with good form after just a few sessions. Being in the standing position also forces your body to use more calories, which helps put your fitness and leanness on the front foot.
Establish side control
You might thirst after the coveted six-pack, but what you’re really after is a great midsection – and that includes both your abdominals and your obliques.
Your abdominals are actually a single long muscle that extends from your sternum to your pubic bone. The washboard appearance is actually caused by the thin, sinewy tissues that stretch across that muscle.
Your obliques, on the other hand, are a completely different muscle group located on either side of the abdominals. And training them will not make you look ‘blocky’. The abs and obliques both have limited potential for hypertrophy, and the width of your waist will ultimately be determined by your genetics. If anything, a ‘wide waist’ is often a lame excuse for being just plain fat.
So be sure to give all the muscles in your middle equal attention for the best calorie-burning results.
You don’t need to bust out a five-rep max on any abdominal exercise, but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you only ever do hundreds of burning reps with your bodyweight. That kind of training certainly has its place, and it does seem to improve the overall appearance of your muscles, especially your abs, but most of your midsection training should be done weighted.
Instead of bothering with sets of 10 or fewer, just aim for 15-20 reps with progressively heavier weight.
It’ll take a long time to progress on really tough movements like crunches with weight held behind your head, but you should gradually move the pin down on the stack for stuff like abdominal pull-downs and twists.
Lifting heavy even in lower rep ranges can dramatically increase your overall calorie burn. A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that people who lifted more weight for fewer reps – using 85% of their maximum load for eight reps per set – burned nearly twice as many calories during the two hours after their workout than when they pumped out loads of reps.
The safest solution: use high reps for the first and last sets on an exercise. Stick the heavy sets in the middle of those and you’ll create a calorie-destroying gold mine.
Ditch the belt
If you use a weight belt for damn near every set of squats, deadlifts and even rows, now is the time to stop. Yes, you can belt up for your heaviest sets of lower-body movements, but ditch the thing for lighter sets and upper-back exercises. Your abs will look better as a result, and your core will be far healthier and stronger.
Combine them with some decently heavy crunches and leg raises, and you may even see some new gains on your squats and deadlifts. It’ll also force your smaller muscles to become more active, thrashing out more calories.
Stick to your diet
This should be a no-brainer but it seems plenty of people – even experienced gym-goers – can’t grasp the idea that true leanness starts in the kitchen. You could have the thickest, strongest set of abs the world has seen, but if your body fat percentage is too high, they’re going to remain hidden behind your gut.
The exact diet you should follow is a topic for another article, but there are a couple of critical mistakes most guys make when they try to get ready for summer.
Firstly, you’ve got to actually plan out your diet. Winging it may work if you just want to get into decent shape and you’ve already developed great habits; however, you’re going to have to plan things out if you want to get memorably ripped.
Of course, a plan is worthless if you don’t take steps to actually follow what you’ve written down. If you want to get serious then it can be a smart idea to weigh and measure your food. Hunger is often non-debatable and can work against you as you approach the single-digit body fat levels. If you eat the amounts you ‘feel’ like eating, you’re never going to get that lean. Weigh your meats and starchy veggies, measure out your rice and oatmeal with measuring cups, and start using an actual tablespoon to measure your nut butters and oils.
Your ‘two tablespoons’ of peanut butter per day can easily turn into five or six if you’re measuring them with your favorite cereal spoon, and those calories alone are enough to completely derail your diet.
A word of advice to guys who tend to get chubby during the winter – your life will be a whole lot easier if you just practice some restraint. So think about the rest of the year.
Unless you’re on an all-out quest for as much muscle mass and strength as your body can carry, you should not be bulking past 15% body fat. Any more than that and you’re not really putting on extra muscle, but you are setting yourself up for a miserable diet down the road.
Remember, it’s a lot easier to stay lean than it is to get lean, so stay within range of a six-pack all year round. My rule of thumb is that if you’re fat enough to be self-conscious about taking off your shirt, you’ve eaten way too much.
Find health and fitness tips and more in every issue of TRAIN magazine.