Check your calendar. Uh, oh. Summer is closer than you probably realized. Now check the mirror. With beaches, rivers, lakes and pools serving as the venue for most of your social gatherings over the next 12 to 16 weeks, ask yourself: Am in a position to go clothing-minimal? If not, no worries; we’ve got you covered. At this stage in the game, the key is to dig in and commit to a training routine that’ll bring new life to your existing muscle while simultaneously sending fat to the great beyond. And it just so happens this is kind of our thing.
The most common issue with getting lean for summer is that you often have to sacrifice a few hard-earned gains in the process. For the sake of a six-pack, it’s a trade-off most people reluctantly (but nearly always) make. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
Most lifters getting ready for summer go overboard with training and pair that with a lower-calorie diet, which is an outdated and ineffective approach. It’s time to change things up and create a hybrid workout system that has a soft spot for hard size. This program is executed over five days per week with the remaining two days geared toward oft-overlooked rest and recovery, with the option to add some sprinting if needed. Since keeping size while burning fat is the name of the game, volume needs to be a focus for key lifts that provide the most bang for the buck.
Day 1: Barbell Complex
If you read this magazine, you’re probably aware that complexes involve doing a series of exercises, all with the same weight. Simply put, complexes are a game changer: Added time under tension will help your body release more physique-friendly hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone (GH) while also helping you burn more calories, even at rest. As you may know, elevated test and GH levels are highly beneficial when preserving or adding muscle is a goal, but it also helps whittle away unwanted body fat. With complexes, the weight needs to be light enough to perform the “easiest” lift of the group with good form but heavy enough to pose a challenge to your muscles and lungs.
Day 2: Total-Body Horizontal Push-Pull
This workout isn’t to be underestimated, since the majority of your size gains can come via blasting the large pulling muscles of the posterior chain (think lats, erectors and hamstrings) through rowing patterns. The use of antagonistic supersets — pairing opposing muscle groups in consecutive exercises — allows for better recovery for each bodypart. Research shows that this type of pairing can also have a performance benefit for the muscle group that’s trained immediately after its antagonist. In other words, your chest may be able to eke out a few more reps or lift a bit more weight when it’s trained second in a superset with back. In this workout, higher reps on your pulling exercises will be just the thing to get your back to respond the way you want it to. As ever — and only if you’re eating and resting right — the greater the muscle breakdown, the greater the recovery and growth. Here, you’ll perform five rounds of each superset before moving on to the next.
Day 3: Dumbbell Complex
Now that you’re a connoisseur of complex training, you’ll notice that some familiar rules apply here. But the benefit of using dumbbells is that they allow for a few more options in terms of lift variety. They also make core training a possibility. You can increase your time under tension by using alternating rep methods, which gives your conditioning game a real kick in the pants. You also get the opportunity to make each limb work independently, which places an additional positive stress on the body.
Day 4: Total-Body Vertical Push-Pull
In terms of total beach-muscle payoff, this workout will be the moneymaker. It’s the chance (read: challenge) to train with heavier loads and use some of the big compound lifts that many get-lean programs sorely lack. Granted, you can’t go all-out on the strength side since the program structure doesn’t fully support that. But you can still work to submaximal loads up to the gold-standard “5x5” range, bridging the gap between building freaky strength and gawk-worthy size.
Day 5: Lower-Body Volume
The biggest mistake people make when trying to lean down is skipping leg day. This mystifies us to no end. The legs contain some of the largest muscles in the body, which means using them requires a great deal of energy. For the same reasons, the body invests a lot of energy into helping the legs recover, meaning your postworkout metabolism is far higher than after your typical chest or shoulder day. Pumping up the wheels with some serious volume work will break them down adequately for the weekend while creating the perfect environment for extreme fat burning. The workout doesn’t need to be complicated to reap all these benefits, either. Combining shorter rest periods with big movements is just what the doctor ordered for muscle breakdown and hypertrophy potential.
As mentioned, this program contains a little bit of everything, but the key mitigating factors are 1) the strength work focusing on multijoint moves for your nervous system and max hormonal output and 2) high-volume training that zeroes in on the back and legs, two large muscle groups that can have a tremendous impact on your overall body aesthetic.
The use of complexes increases muscular time under tension and caloric burn while giving you a swift kick in your conditioning pants. Sprinting for cardio further targets the growth-prone, metabolism-friendly fast-twitch fibers in a way that simply cannot be achieved through steady-state work. And the judicious use of compound movements such as deadlifts, pull-ups and presses allows you to build a foundation of strength and conditioning for whatever comes next.
All in all, this program is your complete guide to training for aesthetics on a time crunch. It’s never a simple task to simultaneously build muscle and burn fat; it’s always much easier to choose one goal at a time. That said, shaking up your routine with this plan for six to eight weeks can stoke the body’s fat-fighting furnace and help bust through physique plateaus. Couple it with a clean diet, and you’ll be glad you made the change when you tote your Instagram-ready physique out to the pool.
5 FACTORS TO DRIVE YOUR SUMMER SHAPE-UP
Use these additional pearls of wisdom to maximize your results with this program.
1. GET WARM
Begin each workout with a proper warm-up protocol. Adding dynamic mobility drills is a smart move, and despite the controversy surrounding foam rolling we highly recommend it, especially if you’ve found it makes you feel better by the time you’re ready to lift.
2. EGO CHECK
On strength-training days, don’t expect to PR. The majority of the movements here are grouped (complexes, supersets, etc.), so you can’t expect your body to perform lifetime maxes under those rest-minimal conditions. Reduce the weight of your work sets by at least 10 percent of your normal working weights to ensure you hit your rep targets with good form.
3. TRAIN INTUITIVELY
You have to take many factors into consideration when you’re following a program, including how you feel on a given day. Even the most elite athletes have days when their performance isn’t up to par, so it’s not realistic to think you’ll never have one of those days. Modify the weight you lift accordingly and remember that the purpose of this program is more aesthetic-based than performance-based. For these few weeks, the cumulative training effect is going to take precedence over your lift numbers.
4. SIZE MATTERS
Take your body size into account. If you’re a taller lifter, you’ll be performing more work (quantified by force x distance) on each rep of each set of each exercise. A bodyweight-equivalent squat for a 6'8" guy is much more demanding than a bodyweight-equivalent squat for a 5'7" guy, simply due to the distance each has to travel both downward and upward. That’s useful to remember when thinking about rest intervals. An additional 15 to 20 seconds of rest may be absolutely necessary for a tall lifter who might otherwise think he’s being a “wimp” for taking longer than the parameters recommend. The truth is, no written program can cater to every nuance of every person. It takes a discerning mind to be able to know which tools to apply and when.
5. SPRINTS OPTIONAL
The sprinting in this workout is an optional pursuit. You can get away without it, and leaving it off the list is probably better if you don’t have an athletic background. That’s simply due to the increased risk of injury because of the mechanics involved and how compromised they can become in this kind of program. Remember: Just like weight training, sprinting is a skill that needs to be developed using technical cues. There’s a right way to do it to avoid getting injured or exacerbating muscle imbalances. If you don’t think you have a foundation to attempt it, don’t bother; this decision will keep you in the gym for the long haul. Try substituting your favorite cardio variation as an alternative, building out your program for 15 to 20 minutes of interval work, ideally adhering to a 1:4 or 1:5 work-to-rest ratio.