The experts have spoken.
Our goal with this piece is to give you enough information to get yourself ripped before the summer starts, no matter what condition you’re in now or how little you may know about training or nutrition.
It’s all here: how to set up a workout program, a diet, exercises you should do, ways to boost your intensity and metabolism, foods you must eat, and when to consume them for the best results. We’ve taken years of science and experimentation, culled from some of the brightest minds in the fitness game, and condensed it all into 25 ways you can get fit for summer. Fast.
1. Hit Your Numbers
Just winging it with your diet will yield results as long as you make healthy food choices, but if you want to look movie-ticket ripped, you need to count calories and macros. “Twelve calories per pound of lean body mass is a good starting point,” says Nate Miyaki, C.S.S.N., a nutritionist and trainer in San Francisco. You can also use the weight you want to be. So if you’re a soft 200 pounds and think you would look ripped at 180, start at 2,160 calories per day (12 x 180). Set your protein at one gram per pound of your target weight, your carbs at one gram per pound, and your fat at 0.4 gram per pound.
2. Keep Going Heavy
“A lot of guys will lower the weight they use when they’re trying to lean out,” says Derek Poundstone, a two-time Arnold Strongman champ and owner of Poundstone Performance in Waterbury, CT. “But it just robs you of strength.” Poundstone keeps going heavy while maintaining training volume, so he does multiple sets of low reps, such as eight sets of three.
3. Do More Workouts
Adding a few short, low-intensity sessions to your training week can increase your metabolism and recovery. “The trick is to keep these workouts to only 15 to 20 minutes,” says Jim Smith, a strength coach and author of Diesel Mass. And be sure to go light. You can even train twice in one day—morning and night. Take these sessions to work on weaknesses.
4. Have Heavy And Light Days
If you follow a body-part split, have a heavy day when you work in the range of five to eight reps and another day later in the week when you hit the same muscles with 12 to 15 reps. The undulating intensity promotes recovery and prevents injuries and burnout.
5. Flavor Your Carbs
Rice and potatoes should be a major part of any diet to build muscle or shred fat. But, as you’ve noticed, they’re bland. “Boil them in low-sodium chicken broth,” says Gavan Murphy, owner of the L.A.-based catering company the Healthy Irishman, “and add some freshly grated ginger as well. “It adds a ton of flavor and no time to your meal prep.”
6. Do Full-Body Workouts
“If you’ve been doing a body-part split, switch to full-body,” says Ben Bruno, a Los Angeles trainer to celebrities. Two good reasons why: Full-body workouts work more overall muscle in a session, thereby burning more calories. They also reduce the total volume you can perform for each body part, which means you’ll recover better and be able to train the muscles more frequently. “Higher frequency training yields faster gains,” Bruno says.
7. Blow Up Your Lats
Want to make your waist look smaller? Make your lats wider. Here’s a tip from Chad Waterbury, author of High Frequency Training 2: Do one set of as many pullups as possible in the morning. At night, go back and do another set. Repeat this every other day. “After 30 days, retest your max,” Waterbury says. “You can expect an 8- to 10-rep increase.”
8. Make Your Own Salad Dressing
Green vegetables don’t count as carbs, and you can eat them with wild abandon without consequences. Here’s a recipe for a high-protein honey mustard to dress them up: Whisk together 1/2 cup fat-free Greek yogurt, 2 tbsp yellow mustard, 1/2 tbsp raw honey, and 1 tbsp lemon juice. That’s 12 grams protein and eight grams carbs.
9. Keep Moving
Most of your fat loss will come by way of your diet, but the rest comes from physical activity—and we don’t just mean your workouts. Non-exercise physical activity (called NEPA) may account for 20 percent of your fat loss, according to Miyaki. “Walk or ride a bike to work, walk to do your errands, take a hike on the weekends, or enjoy more sexy time with your significant other. This type of informal, low-intensity activity can give you many of the same benefits as traditional cardio without the drawbacks—like joint wear and tear, repetitive strain, and impaired recovery from strength training.”
10. Stay In The 8-To-12 Range
No, we’re not contradicting what we said earlier, just amending it. Heavy lifting will preserve muscle and strength while dieting, but Bruno says sets of 8 to 12 will do the most to maximize muscle gains while in a caloric deficit. “Moderate rep ranges give you the most bang for your buck.”
11. Do A Back-Off Set
“Increasing metabolic stress during your workout has been shown to increase the potential for greater growth,” says Smith. One simple way to jack up the intensity is to perform a high-rep back-off set after your last main set of the workout. Take 50 percent of the load you used on your heaviest set of your main lift and perform 50 to 100 reps with it. So if you just squatted 315 for five reps, back off to 155 pounds and go for broke. If you can’t complete all the reps in one shot, rest-pause your way through the set. “But rest no longer than 20 seconds,” Smith says.
12. Add “Finishers”
“High-rep kettlebell swings, high-rep barbell squats, pushups, and even plyometrics are great ways to leave you breathing heavy after your workout’s done,” says Lee Boyce, C.S.C.S., a strength coach in Toronto. “They can also catalyze fat loss by keeping your metabolism up for hours.”
13. Get Mobile
Keeping your heart rate up between sets encourages more calorie burning. Instead of sitting and waiting for your next set, build some mobility training into your workout. Foam rolling, dynamic stretches (leg swings, shoulder rotations, etc.), and prehab exercises, like face-pulls, can all be used between sets to work on weak points, improve flexibility, and prepare the body for heavier sets to come later in the workout. “These won’t take away from your strength,” Bruno says, “but over the course of the workout they’ll increase the metabolic demand.”
14. Double Your Shakes
The easiest way to add more calories to your diet in order to gain mass is to start with your post-workout shake. Double your dosage. This allows you to deliver more protein and carbs in a quick fashion that’s easy to digest. It won’t bloat or fill you like a whole-food meal, so you’ll be hungry and able to eat again soon.
15. Keep Carbs High While Cutting
You’ve heard the rhetoric: You have to go low-carb to lose fat. But that’s not true. “With adequate carb intake, you get better anaerobic fuel for high-intensity workouts,” says Miyaki, author of The Truth About Carbs. “You get better muscle retention, and you maintain natural hormone production and metabolic rate.” Plus, you don’t set yourself up for a post-dieting rebound in which you pig out eating every carb in sight.
16. Eat Runny Egg Yolks
“Eating slightly undercooked yolks at night can push you further into the rebuilding and leaning-out state while you sleep,” says T.C. Hale, a celebrity trainer in Los Angeles and the author of Kick Your Fat in the Nuts. Night is when your body naturally prepares to rebuild and recover, so eggs eaten at this time encourage the process—the science is unclear, but it may have to do with the protein not being damaged by heat.
17. Eat Kimchi
This Korean cabbage mix may be the healthiest condiment. It’s packed with prebiotics, which feed the gut bacteria that help you digest food, and also capsaicin, which a 2012 Purdue University meta-analysis found boosted thermogenesis.
18. Go To Failure
Last October, the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness published a study in which 79 subjects with training experience were divided into three groups. One took sets to self-determined failure, another was goaded to work until the participants couldn’t do any more reps, and the third used a rest-pause (five to 20 seconds). The ones who stopped their sets when they wanted had insignificant results. The rest-pause group saw good gains in strength and body composition, but those who went to failure had the best gains.
19. Buy Organic Where It Counts
Science is beginning to confirm what experimental bodybuilders learned years ago: Blood-flow restriction training builds muscle. A 2015 review in Sports Medicine found that subjects who trained wearing blood-pressure cuffs (you can also use elastic knee wraps) just below their shoulders built muscle effectively while using light loads and reps of 50 to 80 per set. Wrap your limbs snugly but not too tight—about a seven on a scale of 10.
“When you buy factory-farm meat and dairy, you wind up ingesting many of the hormones and antibiotics used to raise these animals,” saysRestaurant Impossible host Robert Irvine, author of the upcoming book Fit Fuel. “They’re less nutrient-dense than their organic counterparts,” so go organic for these foods. But foods with a thick peel, such as bananas and avocados, are safe enough as is—so save your money.
Want a way to raise your metabolism and get in some cardio that makes you feel like an NFL running back? Find a hill, or incline the treadmill, and run up it at about 90 percent of your top speed. (Leave a little in the tank for safety.) The sprint itself should take five to 10 seconds. “Use the exercises in your workout to determine the number of sprints you perform,” Smith says. So if you did six different lifts, perform six sprints, followed by a one-minute jog after each.
21. Take Digestive Enzymes
If you’re eating more to gain muscle, that means more stress on your digestive system. Digestive enzymes can help you break down the extra food and absorb nutrients better. Look for ones that contain protease, amylase, lipase, and lactase.
22. Use Giant Sets
Giant sets are three or more exercises performed back-to-back. Select two exercises that target weak points and do them after another lift for another body part. “So, for instance, if it’s leg day but you’re trying to bring up your back and biceps, you could do a set of squats followed immediately by pull-ups and then curls,” Smith says.
23. Don’t Overdo Fat
Even if you’re following a low-carb diet and losing weight, you can’t eat unlimited fat. Not only will it keep you out of the caloric deficit you need to lose weight (a gram of fat contains nine calories), extra fat in your diet can throw off your ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids, and that can damage the heart, skin, and other body functions.
24. Add Vegetables
As mentioned earlier, you need to eat more greens. Still can’t stand them? Start mixing them into foods you like so they’re virtually undetectable but still give you the fiber and nutrients you need. It helps fill you up, too. For example, when sautéing ground beef, grate in some raw zucchini. “Because it’s grated, it cooks really quickly,” Murphy says. Or stuff the meat into a bell pepper after it cooks and bake 30 minutes.
When you blend up a protein shake, add a cup of spinach. The blender will dice the leaves so small that you won’t even taste them.