“I want to lose weight” is a whine overheard so often by gym-goers without the dedication to make it happen that the words have been rendered meaningless. The sentence should take its rightful place alongside Miss America contestants’ claims that they want to “stop world hunger” or Brett Favre’s claims that he is “thinking about retirement.”
But not you. You’re different. You even picked up a copy of Muscle & Performance to prove it. In fact, you’re so serious about losing weight that nothing is going to stop you. If that’s the case, we’re proud to have you onboard, and we’ll tell you this: If you adhere to the following three-month program, you will incinerate fat from your body, increase your energy and improve your appearance. Sound good? We thought so. Now lace up your cross trainers and get ready to blast the fat off your physique.
“When it comes to losing weight, diet is No. 1,” says David Jack, performance coach at TeamWorks in Acton, Mass. Jack has worked with dozens of professional athletes and stars from the NFL, MLB, UFC and NCAA. “You can’t out-train a bad diet. When someone is starting a program in which the goal is to lose weight, the first thing I do is take inventory of their current eating habits.”
Taking stock of these habits is important because nothing submarines a strong exercise program like the wrong diet. Over the years, Jack has learned that the only way people will stick to a training diet is if it in some way resembles their current eating habits. “I like to write down everything someone eats,” he says. “Then I’ll break it down into categories like ‘good foods,’ ‘moderate foods’ and ‘poor foods,’ and I’ll let them choose their diet from their own foods or close substitutes.”
The idea here is to come up with eating choices that are similar enough to your current diet so the change doesn’t feel like a big shock. Then you avoid as many “poor foods” — i.e., any foods high in saturated fat, salt, sugar or that is heavily processed — as possible. Substitute vegetables, fruit and lean meats for the “poor foods,” and in no time, you have a new diet that’s easy to follow because it looks — and tastes — similar to your old one.
Month 1: Pick Up The Pace
“Speed, speed, speed,” Jack says. “When getting lean is the goal, the theme of the first month’s workout is tempo and intensity.”
Traditionally, people aren’t doing workouts that condition them to lose weight. Whether it’s the classic bodybuilding paradigm of three sets of eight to 12 reps, with one minute of rest between sets, or someone spending a half-hour on the treadmill at the same speed, the most common workout methods you see at gyms nationwide aren’t geared toward boosting your heart rate and burning calories.
“This first month is the period where you’re going to move away from any type of specific muscle-group work or isolation exercises on machines,” Jack says. “We’re going to shift you into full-body exercises. The idea is to challenge your nervous system by changing exercises, loads and rest structures.”
With that in mind, Month 1’s focus is based on interval cardio and interval training. For the first four weeks of this program, you’ll do total-body workouts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and then interval workouts one or two other days a week. The total-body workouts will be 45 minutes to an hour long, and the interval workouts can be as short as 20 minutes. The daily rotation will be total-body training, interval training, total-body training, interval training and then rest.
On the total-body days, every exercise is going to work multiple muscle groups simultaneously, and every day is going to be different. That variety is key because you’ll be able to continually shock the muscle groups and keep your body guessing. When your body is guessing, it has to adapt, which means you’ll burn more calories as your system figures out how to compensate for your increased energy output.
“On these total-body days, we’re going to be doing huge buckets of things,” Jack says. “There are literally dozens and dozens of exercises to choose from.”
In the accompanying workout, we’re going to list a slew of exercises. You’re going to select 10 to 12 per workout and perform either timed sets, where indicated, or set numbers with short amounts of rest between them, where indicated.
“A sample start to a workout like this, after a good warm-up, could be something like jumping jacks for five minutes, going 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off, right into a set of dumbbell thrusters (basically a squat straight into a shoulder press, executed while holding fairly light dumbbells), doing four sets of 10 with 20 seconds of rest in between, right into mountain climbers for five minutes, going 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off,” Jack says. “That’s only about the first 15 minutes, and I promise you, you’ve hit almost every bodypart, with minimal weight, but high reps and a high enough intensity to kick-start your metabolism and jump-start your energy system.”
On the interval days, in which pace is the entire focus, you can pretty much choose whatever exercise you like to do and turn it into a speed workout. You can use cardio machines or you can bike ride, run, do stadium stairs, jump rope, hike trails, whatever you prefer. Go at 90 percent intensity for 30 seconds and then drop it to 40 percent intensity for 30 seconds. Alternate that way for 20 minutes and you have an incredible, high-intensity interval cardio workout.
The Three-Month Fat-Loss Split
Monday: Total Body
Wednesday: Total Body
Saturday: Total Body
Fat-Loss Plan: Month 1
Depending on your skill level, choose 10 to 12 exercises per workout from the list below, alternating between a “Timed Exercise” and a “10-Rep Exercise.”
Choose an exercise that you enjoy, such as running, biking, hiking, swimming, etc., or choose a cardio machine you enjoy, such as the elliptical, treadmill, bike, rower, etc. Exercise for 20 minutes, alternating between 30 seconds at 90 percent to 95 percent effort and 30 seconds at 40 percent effort.
Month 2: Increase The Load
Whereas Month 1’s goal was to shock your system and make the new training a permanent part of your lifestyle, Month 2’s goal is to begin to challenge your muscles within the framework of the workout’s intensity.
“Month 1 should have knocked any rust off and primed your body for the months ahead,” Jack says. “You now have the muscle memory and cardio stamina to control the weights better, so it’s time to begin pushing it a bit. Simply put, we’re going to increase the weights and decrease the rest time between sets.”
While you will still be mixing in exercises that you may not have done before, for some of the standard movements in which dumbbells are involved, increase the weight by 5 pounds to make sure your muscles are still getting fatigued. The extra weight will also make the workouts incrementally harder.
“You’re also going to start adding some core on the cardio/interval days,” Jack says. “While most of the movements you’ve been doing have involved core work, we’ll put some core-specific stuff in the middle of the cardio work. Crunches, sit-ups, leg lifts, plank holds — all these things will be mixed in so you can focus on firing your core and chiseling your midsection.”
One way to mix this in is to break up your 20 minutes of interval training into five-minute increments. You do five minutes of intervals, two minutes of core work, and then you go back into your intervals. You’re only adding six to eight minutes of core work, but the results over time will add up fast.
Fat-Loss Plan: Month 2
Decrease rest in timed sets to 45 seconds on, 15 seconds off. Increase reps to 12.
Increase total interval training time to 24 minutes. Break down your interval training into four six-minute sessions. After each session, choose one of the following core exercises to perform for two minutes (30 seconds on, 30 seconds off):
- Full Sit-Up
- Leg Lift
- Plank Position
- Bosu-Ball Crunch
- Exercise-Ball Ab Roll-In
- Hanging Knee Raise
- Side Crunch
Month 3: Review & Fine-Tune
“By the beginning of the third month, people can take a step back and see where they’re at,” Jack says. “They can take stock of their progress and see where they need work. Coming from a traditional gym workout, or no workout, people are going to see plenty of results at this point. Now is the time to possibly fine-tune any specific areas.”
Whether it’s toned arms, cut calves or a chiseled waist, in Month 3, you can begin to include bodypart-specific exercises to help you meet your personal goals. For instance, if you’re working on carving your legs, you can add some squats or even some calf raises at the start of your workout. This will pre-fatigue those muscle groups so they’ll be forced to grow as you move into your full-body circuits.
“Starting with a muscle-building exercise for a certain bodypart using heavy weights and low reps will prime that part for improvement,” Jack says. “Going from a heavy load to a much lighter load will really allow you to get after it. The local muscle tissue around that area will be firing harder than ever, which will get the connective tissues firing, and the whole muscle system will get an intense workout.”
After three months of this type of training, you’ll really be able to make a decision about where you want your training to go. If you want to keep on losing weight, you can continue increasing the weights within each exercise. If you want to add muscle to your frame, you can begin to include some heavy-weight, low-rep sets for that muscle group. The point is, after three months of this workout, your body has the foundation to be sculpted in whatever direction you want. All you have to do is pick your path.
Fat-Loss Plan: Month 3
Decrease rest in timed sets to 50 seconds on, 10 seconds off. Increase reps to 15 per set. Begin the workout with heavy-weight, low-rep, body-specific exercises of your choosing. Example: Squats: three sets of four reps at 80 percent max.
Continue the core work, but perform core exercises for two minutes straight (or as long as possible) rather than 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off. Increase the total interval training time to 30 minutes.
Get into push-up position, and without moving your hands, explosively bring one leg forward, then put it back as you bring the other forward. Alternate quickly in this fashion for the prescribed time.
Stand holding a ball with both hands, arms extended overhead. Drop down into a deep squat position as you bring the ball down between your legs, touching it on the floor at the bottom. Stand and repeat.
From a standing position, hold a ball with both hands overhead, bring it back and throw it forcefully forward to a partner. Your partner should catch it and throw it back to you — catch it in front of your chest, bring it into your body, then raise it overhead and repeat.
Stand in front of a box or platform 2 to 4 feet high. Descend down into a squat position, then swing your arms as you jump up, landing with both feet on the platform. Jump back down, landing with knees soft, and repeat for reps.
Get into a lunge position, one leg forward, one back. Drop your hips down, then leap into the air and switch legs so the front leg goes to the back and vice versa.
Lie prone on the floor, arms outstretched above your head, legs straight. Simultaneously lift your arms and upper body as you lift your legs (without bending the knees) off the floor, then lower and repeat. (The movement is small but extremely effective for engaging the lower back.)
The chin-up is the same as a standard pull-up, except your palms should face you.
Stand in a squat-ready position, then drop down into a squat and put your hands on the floor beside your feet. Explosively leap and extend your legs out behind you to get into a push-up position, then perform a push-up. Bring your legs back in so your feet are back between your hands and stand up. Repeat the sequence for the prescribed amount of time.
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Perform like a traditional Romanian dumbbell deadlift, except balance on the working leg, keeping the lower leg off the floor. (You can lift it behind you for balance as you bend down on each rep.)
This is similar to a regular forward lunge, except you step back instead of to the front. One step back into a lunge position with each leg equals one rep.
Lie on your back, legs together, knees straight. Lift both legs up simultaneously until they form a 45-degree angle with the floor. Lower, without touching the ground between reps, and repeat.
Get into a modified push-up position, the only difference being you rest on your forearms instead of your hands. Hold your body in a straight line for the prescribed amount of time. (You’ll feel the isometric contraction in your abs and lower back.)
Exercise-Ball Ab Roll-In
Get in a push-up position with your legs balanced on an exercise ball at shin level. With your upper body supported by your hands and your lower body supported by your shins on the ball, roll the ball toward your core (bring your knees to your chest), keeping your back straight and your legs off the floor. Roll the ball back to the starting position by extending your legs.