I’ve always wanted to write a post titled “How to Get Ripped,” and with the launch of my Complete Core Fitness product, I figured today would be a great day to do it.
I don’t consider myself a diet or nutrition “expert.” What I do have to offer is a practical, down-to-Earth approach for improving your lifestyle to make fat loss relatively easy and straight-forward.
If you follow the techniques below, I have no doubt that the men reading this can get into the 10-12% range, while women can get to 18-20%.
You may not win any bodybuilding or figure shows at that body fat percentage, but trust me, you’ll look damn good on the beach!
Let’s start with the basics here – what most people are doing wrong.
How People Keep Themselves Overweight
There are numerous reasons people aren’t seeing the success they’d like when it comes to their nutrition and fat loss programming.
Here are just a few of the most common issues I see:
Training intensity that is too low
This one is pretty obvious – some people just aren’t training hard enough to see the type of gains they’d like.
For men, the biggest issue is their love of bodybuilding style workouts and focusing on one muscle group at a time. Monday just wouldn’t be Monday without 25 sets of bench and a massive chest pump!
Couple that with taking far too long in between sets, and you have a recipe for little to no minimal changes in body composition.
In contrast, women might be moving quickly through their workout, but don’t confuse that with training intensely. It might feel intense because they never stop moving, but what they actually need is MORE rest in between sets or exercises.
Think about it like this – when you don’t rest, you fatigue. Fatigue compromises your ability to train intensely.
To expedite their fat loss efforts, many women actually be better off taking more rest in between sets than they are. I’ll give some specific recommendations below.
They get injured doing inappropriate exercises
It’s strange, but everyone thinks they can write their own fat loss or exercise routines.
All you have to do is a pick up any fitness magazine, tweak it a little bit so you can the exercises you want, and then you’re good to go, right?
Alwyn Cosgrove relates exercise to a drug – you need the right drug, at the right dose, at the right time.
When I see overweight or heavy people doing plyometrics, running, or any other number of ridiciulous exericses, I have to cringe.
We’ll discuss this in more depth below, but a program can absolutely be “corrective” (get you moving and feeling better) while helping you strip off excess body weight and body fat in the process.
Not building lean body mass
This is more of an issue with women than men, but so many women come to me and say something like this:
“I want to tone – I don’t want to get big and bulky!”
Firstly, women don’t have the same hormonal profile (~1/10th the testosterone of men) to get big and bulky like a man. And a lot of guys work incredibly hard to get “bulky” in the first place!
Secondly, if you are already big and bulky, chances are that’s your diet talking and not your training!
Now, let’s address the “toning” thing once and for all and put it to bed.
In my best Yoda voice, “There is no tone – only burn fat, build muscle you will.”
“Toning” is exactly that – a mixture of building muscle (so that you actually have more of it!) and then burning fat (so you can actually see it!).
Furthermore, building muscle does another important thing – it raises your basal metabolic rate, so you’re burning more calories all day, everyday. Even sitting at home in your sweatpants watching re-runs of Law and Order.
Following crappy fad diets
This may be my biggest peeve, but I’ll try to keep the ranting to a minimum.
Every year, the “latest and greatest” diet hits the market, and everyone flocks to it in an effort to lose those last 5-10 pounds.
Do you really think a new “diet” is what people need?
Did we make such broad and sweeping discoveries in the fields of dietetics and metabolism in the past year that we realized cookies were really all we need to eat to lose weight? (Yes, there really is a cookie diet!)
Along those same lines, all these diets are typically focused on caloric restriction and broadly eliminating specific foods from the diet.
Very few “diets” are more than that – diets. A diet is something you go on and then come off once you’ve achieve your goal weight (or body fat level).
Instead, what most people need to focus on are lifestyle changes – things that will allow them to eat in a nutritious fashion for the rest of their lives, while maintaining a healthy body weight and body fat level.
A Quick Rant on the Word “Diet”
Keep in mind, I absolutely hate the term “diet” and will not be using it the rest of the post. I honestly feel that most people need to make broad lifestyle changes – things they can stick to for the long term – if they want to achieve success.
In contrast, diets are something you come on and off. You lose weight (or body fat), then you put it back on.
Other than competitive physique athletes like bodybuilders and figure athletes, I think most people should forget about diets and get serious about changing their eating habits.
Mike’s Top 5 Eating Principles
(Disclaimer: We can argue about a lot of the nuances of the information below – that’s ok. Keep in mind these are general recommendations and everything can be argued about on a case-by-case basis.)
1 – Eat Nutrient Dense, High-Quality Foods
First and foremost, let’s focus on what you should eat, versus what you shouldn’t.
Quality sources of protein should be a staple in your diet. Chicken breasts, fish, lean cuts of red meat, greek yogurt, Omega-3 eggs and numerous other quality choices are out there.
I tell my clients and athletes this: You should be getting some protein in at every meal.
Fruit and veggies should also be mainstays in your eating habits. Not only do they have a ton of nutritional value, but they’re chock-full of fiber as well.
I know some people don’t like recommending fruits in a fat loss diet, but I think that’s overdoing it a bit. One of my favorite quotes comes from the strength coach Dan John, and it goes something like this:
“I never saw someone get fat eating too many grapes.”
Don’t miss the forest for the trees – if you’re not losing weight, I doubt it’s due to the fact you’re eating too much fruit!
Starch isn’t necessarily bad. I think some people want to vilify carbs and/or starches in general, making it sound like that’s the reason we’re overweight and/or obese in our country.
I’m a realist here – if I tell my clients “don’t eat any starch, ever” do you know what they’re going to do?
They’re going straight to the restaurant and eating their meal with 3 loaves of bread!
The biggest issue with starch is that it’s really easy to eat a ton and never really feel full.
Taking that a step further, most people have no clue what a serving size is, and, let’s be honest here, it tastes damn good so you eat more than you probably should!
But, what if we eat some starch in moderation with the rest of our meal? And we still keep total calories low enough to elicit a fat/weight loss effect?
That is an eating program that people can stick with for the long-term, but it does take discipline.
Along those same lines, fat is good for you but is also incredibly calorie-dense. Olive oil, almonds, fatty fishes, these are all great food choices – but you must watch the amounts.
Here’s a story to illustrate my point:
One of our clients at IFAST was making great headway with his weight loss efforts, and he’d done a great job of picking better snacks to fuel him throughout the day. One of his favorites was almonds.
Almonds are a great food – you get some protein, some good fats, and antioxidants but like any nut (or fat), they are calorie-dense.
And he wasn’t eating a serving – he was eating 3 or 4 servings as a “snack!”
You get the picture here. Just make sure to monitor your intake and I think you’ll be fine.
Finally, focus on nutrition and fueling your body versus just getting into a caloric deficit.
Do you need that deficit to lose weight/body fat? Yes.
But you can get in a deficit by drinking Mountain Dew and eating Ho-Ho’s, if you really tried.
Instead, focus on making quality food selections that will support and fuel your body for your workouts, and life in general.
The tips above should help get you started in that regard.
2 – Eliminate wasted calories
Once you have the basics down, it’s time to start eliminating foods that are chewing up some of your precious calories.
- Eat grilled or baked foods versus ones that are breaded/fried. Breading and frying are two sure-fire ways to increase your calories with zero nutritional return. Whomever started deep-frying green beans should be shot.
- Stick with calorie-free beverages – coffee, tea and water. And don’t add any sweetners/extras in, either! A calorie-free cup of coffee gets a kick in the pants when you add whip cream, mocha syrup, and heavy whipping cream!
- Watch your condiments and dressing! They can be incredibly calorie dense, especially ranch, blue cheese, mayonnaise, etc.
- Even though the supplement industry will tell you differently, get rid of the sugary post-workout shakes. If anything, stick with brached chain amino acids or a protein-only shake.
3 – Make progressive changes
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you’re not going to get ripped in one day, either.
If you’re serious about getting lean you need to start with small, incremental goals.
Instead of saying “I’m going to do everything in #1,” maybe you just do one thing this week, like eating a high-quality protein source in every meal.
Or maybe you take one of the tips below, like making all your meals for the week on Sunday and start with that.
If you try and achieve every single goal or benchmark in one week, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
After you’ve achieved your one goal this week, your goal is to keep it going next week – and add another goal.
Do that for a week, and repeat as necessary.
Simple – but not always easy.
4 – You must be in a deficit to lose weight/body fat.
This one shouldn’t need to be discussed, but unfortunately, it does.
You can eat the most healthy and nutritious foods on the planet and still be overweight if you eat too much.
Regardless of whether it’s via too much protein, too many carbs, or too much fat, a caloric suprplus is a caloric surplus and over time you will put on weight.
If you’re serious about getting ripped, getting lean, losing weight, whatever., you absolutely, positively must get into a caloric deficit. Early on in your training you can “redistribute” (build muscle and lose fat) without getting too crazy, but over time, this is where you’ll need to end up.
If you need specific recommendations on what you should be eating, how many calories you should be taking in every day, etc., I would highly recommend meeting with someone who is an expert in this area.
If you need a ballpark to start in, there are numerous online calculators that can get you started estimating your daily caloric needs and where you need to be to lose body weight/fat.
5 – Make eating easy
The final goal is to make the weight/fat loss battle as easy as possible. Far too often, people stack the deck against themselves and then wonder why they fail.
Many of you are probably thinking: How often should I eat?
Some will say 3 meals per day, some will say 5-6 smaller meals, and I’m not sure we’ve really come to a conclusion when you read the research.
Instead, focus on eating at times that are convenient for you, eating high-quality foods, and achieving that caloric deficit. In the end whether you eat 3 times per day or 5-6, you have to find something that works for you and your lifestyle.
Second, you must pre-plan if you want to be successful. You can’t go into each and every day thinking “I’ll just eat whenever I can, wherever I can.”
Trust me – it’s not a matter of if you will fail, it’s when.
Next thing you know you’re hitting the pizza joint with your friends for lunch.
And then you meet your co-workers out at the local pub (they don’t offer salads!) so you settle for beer and wings.
BOOM! Calorie deficit and quality eating? Done for.
Just like you would plan your day in advance, you need to plan your meals in advance as well. What you’re going to eat, how much, at what times, etc.
This can start on the weekends. Take Sunday’s to hit the grocery store, then come home and make all your meals for the week. If you cook in larger quantities it will save you time throughout the week, and you’ll always have food ready and on-hand in case you’re in a pinch (or your appetite gets the best of you!)
Now that we’ve covered some of the basics of eating, let’s discuss how I go about developing a fat loss routine for my clients and athletes.
Fat Loss Routines and Programs
When it comes to writing fat loss routines, it’s really not as difficult as some coaches and trainers would have you believe.
In fact, I think a fat loss routine should be the first thing a trainer can write effectively. It’s pretty darn easy, and doesn’t take nearly as much planning and thought as building a triple-block periodization program for a track athlete!
Let’s start with the basics, including the variables that you can use to get better results.
Sets and Reps
For fat loss protocols, most programs are going to fit somewhere in the 2-4 sets of 8-15 reps range.
Broad? Yes, but it all depends on where someone is starting at with regards to their current level of fitness, how quickly they’d like to achieve their goals, etc..
I like to start fat loss clients with a “base” week where we only do 2 sets of the given exercise, and generally the reps are highest that week. We only do 2 sets because chances are they’re learning new exercises; this not only takes more coaching time, but I know anything “new” will also make them sore.
So I keep the overall volume low, at least in relation to the rest of the training cycle.
The next week we’ll typically add a set, and those final 2-3 weeks the goal is to increase intensity in a stair-stepped approach, with Week 4 being the most challenging.
I feel it necessary to mention the load used as well. Too often, people simply aren’t working hard enough in their fat loss programs – they do 8 reps, but they could’ve easily performed 4-5 more reps.
8 reps means a load that’s challenging for 8 reps! You should be able to do 8 or maybe 9 reps, but if you can do more than 1-2 beyond the allotted range, you need to add load. Period.
The rest period I choose works directly in conjunction with the set/rep scheme I’ve chosen for that specific training cycle.
For instance if someone is doing higher rep work (12-15 reps/set), the intensity is lower, and I’ll typically decrease the rest periods. In this case the rest is typically somewhere between 0 and 60 seconds per exercise.
In contrast, if someone is doing lower rep work (8-10 reps/set), the intensity is higher, and I’ll typically increase the rest periods. 60-90 seconds rest between sets/exercises seems to work well for most here.
Time Under Tension
Time under tension for fat loss training generally falls somewhere in that 40-60 total seconds of tension per set. Coaches like Poliquin and King would probably say that’s more on the “metabolic” end of the hypertrophy spectrum.
Again, muscle gain is not the enemy here – keep in mind that the more muscular we are, the more metabolically active we are throughout the day.
Exercise Selection and Pairing
Finally, when building a fat loss program, I think too many people either get way too isolated with their choices, or way too complex and crazy.
First let me say this – high rep Olympic lifts are not a safe and effective way to lose body fat. Olympic lifts are a high skill exercise, and performing them in an overly fatigued state is a sure-fire way to get injured.
On the other end of the spectrum, going through the machine circuit at your local gym probably isn’t a great option either.
Instead, good exericses are good exercises, regardless of your goals. Never forget that.
My fat loss programs hinge on the basic movements patterns:
- Quad Dominant (i.e. squat variations)
- Hip Dominant (i.e. deadlift variations)
- Vertical Pull (i.e. lat pulldowns, chins, pull-ups, etc.)
- Vertical Push (i.e. overhead pressing variations)
- Horizontal Pull (i.e. rowing variations)
- Horizontal Push (i.e. push-ups, bench press variations)
- Split-Stance (i.e. lunges, split-squats, etc.)
- Single-Leg (i.e. single-leg squats, step-ups, etc.)
- Core (lots of options – check out Complete Core Fitness!)
So you take those basic movement patterns, figure out what progression/regression you can do safely and effectively, and build your program around that.
This is how you can develop a “corrective” program to elicit a fat loss effect. All you do is choose the appropriate progress/regression, manipulate the variables described above, and VOILA!
You have a corrective program that is geared towards fat loss.
Instead, what you see many trainers and coaches do is use a one-size-fits-all approach to lifting. Everyone back squats, regardless of whether they can perform the lift correctly or not.
Once you’ve picked out your exercises from those big patterns, it’s time to pair alternating upper and lower body exercises into supersets. So you wouldn’t necessarily put two upper body exercises back-to-back, nor would you put two lower body exercises back to back.
Instead, something like this would work well:
Cardio/Energy System Training/Finishers
Ah yes – this is what everyone thinks of when they talk about fat loss programs – the finisher!
Keep in mind, this is a misnomer – if you’re choosing the right exercises, using an appropriate load, and sticking to your rest periods, the entire program is metabolic in nature. Not just the last 5 minutes!
For beginning metabolic training, I like to start my clients with a 1:3 work to rest:ratio. Typically this works out to one of the two following options:
20 seconds on, 60 seconds off
30 seconds on, 90 seconds off
We’ll typically start with 3 rounds, and add one round per week throughout the cycle.
Over time as someone gets in better and better shape, we’ll start to skew that work:rest, getting it into 1:2 or even as low as 1:1.
So what mediums are best? Thankfully, there are tons of options here. And note that even though I’m not inherently against running for cardio, I feel most people aren’t physically prepared to run without injuring themselves, so you won’t see that as one of my primary options.
Here are some of my favorite conditioning finishers:
- AirDyne Bike
- Kettlebell Swings
- Sandbag Circuits
- Medball Circuits
- Prowler Pushes
- Prowler Push/Pull Medley
- Sled Drags
- Slosh Pipe
- Kettlebell Swings + Offset Waiters/Farmers Walks
- Barbell Circuits
- Push-up/Squat Ladder
Whew, I’m getting tired just listing all those!
Typically this will be thrown in upon completion of your workout, and these could honestly last anywhere from 6-20 minutes, depending on your current level of fitness, what mode of conditioning you’re performing, etc.
A Simple Fat Loss Routine
Now that you’ve seen all the elements of a fat loss program, here’s a sample one that you can try out next time you’re in the gym. Enjoy!
Foam Rolling, Dynamic Mobility and Acute Corrective Warm-up
1A) Back Squat to Box, 3×10, 201 tempo, 60-90 s. rest
1B) Chest Supported Row, 3×10, 201 tempo, 60-90 s. rest
2A) Offset Split-Squats, 3×10 each, 201 tempo, 60 s. rest
2B) Push-up Variation, 3×10, 201 tempo, 60 s. rest
3A) Shoulder Prehab Work, 2×8-10, 30 s. rest
3B) Core Isolation Work, 3×8-10, 60 s. rest
Energy System Training
10 Kettlebell Swings + Offset Farmers Carries (50′ down and back)
60-90 s. rest
3-6 total rounds
Using a Fat Loss Routine to Get Hawt Abz
The final question I know many of you are thinking is this:
“But if I want great abs, I need to do a bunch of ab circuits, right? Like lots of crunches and sit-ups and stuff?”
Firstly, great abs are built in the kitchen. If your diet is garbage, if you’re not in a caloric deficit, etc., you’re not going to see your abs.
Not now, not ever.
When you pair great eating habits with a solid exercise routine like the one outlined above, you have the foundation to get lean.
Let’s address the ab circuit question next.
Too many people still assume that doing a bunch of isolated crunches and sit-ups is going to give them a six-pack. Unfortunately, this has been proven time and again in the reserach to be untrue. You can’t spot reduce your way to a flat stomach.
Furthermore, anything that you can do for literally hundreds of reps isn’t all that intense to begin with!
What you need to be doing instead is eating well and training hard, then using the appropriate core training exercises to keep your abs and low back strong and functional.
This is a huge reason why I created my Complete Core Fitness product – to show you how to build strong, functional abs without resorting to garbage exercises that wreck your lower back and posture.
So there you have it – all the basic tools you need to help you get ripped!
If this has proven useful to you, please help spread the word – re-tweet it on Twitter, share it on Facebook, +1 it on Google Plus, or simply pass it along to a friend or family member.
Thanks everyone and best of luck with your training!
All the best