As if you even needed reminding, It’s April. The holiday season — and the weight-gaining excuses it spawns in a blizzard of sugary treats and regrettable dietary decisions — is long gone. Where you live, it might already be hot out, and if not, you’ve certainly had a tease of the warmth to come.
Yep, you know it’s time to get serious and ready yourself for another season of pool hopping and shirt dropping. “Suns out, guns out” is in full effect.
Now, you might assume that means cranking up your rep counts in the gym, a common approach in the fat-fighting realm. That’s one way to do it. However, as the weather gets warmer, we know you probably don’t want to waste a minute longer indoors than you need to be.
That’s why we’re taking a more efficient approach to gaining muscle mass while leaning out in the process. Over the next six weeks, you’ll be following a training cycle in which the reps decrease while you continually push your strength levels. By weeks 4 to 6, you’ll be handling your three-rep max for your final set of many exercises.
Is it a little extreme? Sure. But by aggressively pushing your poundages higher, you’ll nudge your intensity and squeeze some more benefit out of each set than you would with lighter weights for 12- to 15-rep sets. Except for bodyweight moves, you’ll pyramid up from set to set as the reps drop, making sure to get to failure (no matter how many reps that takes) on the final set of each exercise, all while adhering to strict exercise form. Keep in mind, it’s not just how much you lift that counts — it’s how much you can lift correctly.
You’ll also crank it up on the cardio front, with four aerobic sessions per week, most of which you can do indoors or out. You’ll do intervals, hill sprints and longer-duration cardio, as well as a weekly test of your mettle to continually beat your best distance on the bike. (Just in case dropping that belly fat wasn’t quite motivating enough.)
All told, you’ll be training six days per week, all in measured doses, for six weeks total. Combine this with “5 Fat-Burning Rules” to dial in your nutrition, and you’ll own this summer.
Follow this program for the next six weeks. Each weight workout gets a little tougher as the weeks go on — after Week 3, the reps drop as you pyramid up higher in your weight selection, while for weeks 3 and 4 and weeks 5 and 6, you tack on some additional exercises to the base workout.
While it’s best to keep the sessions in the order presented, you should organize them into your week based on your schedule — in other words, if you need to take off the third day of the week from the weight room instead of the second, by all means do so. Paired with the cardio workouts, you’ll be training six days per week in total with one day of complete rest.
Leg Press (not shown)
Start: Sit squarely in the leg-press machine and place your feet on the sled, shoulder-width apart. Keeping your chest up and lower back pressed into the pad, unlatch the sled from the safeties.
Action: Bend your knees to lower the platform, stopping before your glutes lift off the pad. Hold that spot for a brief count.
Return: Extend your knees to press the weight up, stopping just short of locking out.
Start: Stand upright, feet shoulder-width apart, holding a barbell in front of your upper thighs with an overhand or alternating grip. Your knees should be slightly bent and not locked.
Action: Keeping your core tight to maintain the natural arch in your low back, lean forward from your hips, pushing them rearward until your torso is about parallel to the floor. Your arms remain straight as you slide the bar down your thighs toward the floor until it reaches your shins. At the bottom, keep your back flat, head neutral with the bar very close to your legs.
Return: Flex your hamstrings and glutes and lift your torso while pushing your hips forward until you bring the bar back to the start position.
Standing Calf Raise
Start: Step into a standing calf machine with the balls of your feet on the foot platform and your shoulders secured under the pad. Grasp the handles.
Action: Press up onto your toes and squeeze for a brief count at max flexion.
Return: Lower your heels toward the floor as low as possible.
Note: If your gym doesn’t have a calf machine, you can perform this move in a Smith machine as shown here.
Hack Squat (not shown)
Start: Step inside a hack-squat machine, placing your shoulders and back against the pads. Set your feet midplatform just inside shoulder width. Lift the sled slightly to unhook the safety latches.
Action: With your chest up and core tight, slowly lower yourself into the bottom position, stopping when your thighs are ideally below parallel to the platform.
Return: Powerfully press yourself upward out of the squat and to the start position, keeping your knees bent slightly at the top.
Pulldown to Front
Start: Sit at a pulldown machine and grasp the overhead handles.
Action: With your abs tight, back slightly arched and feet flat on the floor, pull the handles down toward your upper chest, your elbows pointed out toward the sides in the same plane as your body. Squeeze and hold for a brief count.
Return: Under control, allow the handle to rise back up along the same path. Don’t let the weight stack touch down between reps.
Seated Cable Row
Start: Attach a close-hammer-grip handle to the seated row cable machine and sit upright on the bench, facing the weight stack. Place your feet against the foot platform with your legs slightly bent, then reach forward to grasp the handles, leaning back until your torso is upright and your arms are fully extended.
Action: Keeping your elbows in close to the sides of your body, pull the handle toward you by bending your arms and shifting your shoulders backward, squeezing your shoulder blades together as the handle reaches your midsection.
Return: Hold the max contraction for one or two seconds before slowly returning to the start position, not letting the weight stack touch down between reps.
Start: Set your feet as wide as possible, place your shins against the bar and turn your toes out slightly. Let your arms hang straight down and place your forearms on the inside of your thighs. Push your knees out slightly, as you reach down and grab the bar with an alternating grip (one palm facing in, one out).
Action: Dip your hips slightly, then start your pull, pressing through the floor with your feet and dragging the bar up your legs. Make sure you push through your heels as you stand up with the bar.
Return: Squeeze your legs and glutes, then lower along the same path until the plates touch down to the floor.
Start: Stand with your feet spaced comfortably apart, holding a barbell directly in front of your quads with an overhand, shoulder-width grip.
Action: With your chest up and abs tight, shrug your shoulders straight up toward the ceiling, squeezing your traps at the top.
Return: Under control, reverse the motion to lower the bar back to the starting position.
Seated EZ-Bar French Press
Start: Sit upright on a low-back bench, feet flat on the floor. If a low-back bench isn’t available, sit upright on a flat bench with your abs and core tight. Grasp the inner grips of an EZ-bar as you hold it overhead at full arm extension. Wrap your thumbs around the bar. Keep your head straight and lower back pressed into the pad.
Action: Bending only at your elbows and holding your elbows in place alongside your ears, lower the bar behind your head until your arms form 90-degree angles.
Return: Press the EZ-bar back up to full-arm extension and squeeze your triceps hard at the top.
Smith-Machine Upright Row
Start: With your feet hip-width apart, stand upright, holding the bar of a Smith machine in front of your thighs with an overhand grip just outside your shoulders. Twist the bar to release it from the safety latches and let your arms hang straight, maintaining a slight bend in your knees and a tight core.
Action: Flex your shoulders to pull the bar straight up toward your chin, keeping the bar close to your body throughout. In the top position, your elbows will be high and pointing out to your sides.
Return: Hold that top position for a second before slowly lowering the bar to the start.
Start: Stand in front of a high cable pulley and grasp a short straight bar attachment with an overhand grip. With your legs slightly bent, lean forward slightly at the hips and position your elbows close to your sides, as your bring your lower arms parallel to the floor.
Action: Flex your triceps to press the bar down toward the floor until your arms are fully extended.
Return: Squeeze your tri’s and hold for a brief count at the bottom before returning to the start position. Don’t let the weight stack touch down between reps.
5 Fat-Burning Rules
When trying to lean out, nutrition is essential, of course, but two specific aims are key: You need to fuel yourself regularly, so as not to enter into a starvation mode in which your body raids your muscle tissue for fuel; and you need to find the right balance so that you’re not storing excess calories as fat. Here are five ways to accomplish that feat:
1. Eat small, eat often. Instead of eating three or four larger meals in a day, you want to divide your overall food intake across five to seven meals spaced two to three hours apart.
2. Know your carbs. Carbs will spike your blood sugar, and that can prompt your body to ramp up insulin levels — which then leads to fat storage. In get-lean mode, you’ll want to rely more on slow-digesting (low-glycemic) carbs versus high-glycemic carbs. Low-glycemic carbs include sweet potatoes, oats, green vegetables, legumes, fruits, brown rice and dairy like unsweetened yogurt or skim milk. Fast-digesting carbs are essentially those with high sugar levels — fruit juice, soda, sports drinks, pasta, cereals and desserts.
3. Protein — gotta have it. Each meal should have some complete protein, like that found in meat, dairy or supplements. Consider a whey shake as a meal-replacement option, as well as before and after workouts (about 20 grams of whey per shake).
4. Find your zone. While this isn’t an exact methodology, it’s a good rule of thumb to start with: Multiply your bodyweight by 12, and you’ll have a daily target calorie goal. So a 180-pound male should eat 2,160 calories daily if aiming to lose weight. Keep track of your weight to adjust that figure over time. You should be able to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week. More than that and you’re probably dropping muscle, and if the scale isn’t budging, you need to bring your calories further down. Try to adjust 100 to 200 calories at a time to pinpoint your ideal level.
5. Boost your efforts. Supplements to consider include a daily multivitamin, along with glutamine, branched-chain amino acids, a preworkout formulation, a thermogenic and the aforementioned whey protein, along with perhaps casein, egg, soy or a blend of protein powder if you’d like to augment your whey intake.