I’ve been powerlifting since I was 12 years old and I’m now 40. Last year, I was on a mission to bench press 600 pounds in competition, and after benching 578, I tore my pec. No problem—I came back from that injury with a vengeance and benched 500 for 5 reps. Things were going great again until my elbow started to really bother me. It swelled up and hurt badly enough that I knew I wouldn’t be able to continue training for 600.

It happens. I’m not sitting around crying or licking my wounds. I’m still training as hard as ever, but I’m making some changes. I weighed 300 pounds, which is great for benching big weight but isn’t especially healthy. Now I’m dropping weight and getting back to my roots, devising routines that still train strength but are more focused on physique—getting that “jacked and tan” look every guy wants for summer.

This article isn’t a retirement speech, but I acknowledge that it is possible that my biggest lifts are behind me, and I’m OK with that. Whether yours are too or you plan on lifting heavy for a while longer yet, everybody can benefit from a more old-school bodybuilding approach that’s easier on your joints, focuses on some weak points you’ve probably neglected, and puts muscle on you while burning off fat and upping your conditioning.

Here’s what I’m doing. Try it yourself for a body that looks great and feels even better by summertime.

The Jacked and Tan Plan with Mark Bell

Getting Jacked and Tan for Summer with Mark Bell

The following workouts are all full-body to maximize calories burned, but each emphasizes one muscle area over another. The reps are on the higher side—at least compared to what I’m used to—but that doesn’t mean you won’t get stronger. Make sure you add weight every week and you’ll see strength gains as well as more size. There are also sprints and strongman exercises for conditioning and plenty of ab work (even when you’re not training abs directly, trust me, it’s in there).

The workouts consist of 3 mini-circuits of 2–4 exercises each. Perform the exercises marked “A,” “B,” “C,” and so on in each circuit back to back. So you’ll do one set of A, then B, and whatever is left in the circuit without rest in between. When you’ve done one set for everything, rest as little as possible and repeat for 5 total rounds (or as otherwise prescribed).

Warm Up

Use this warm up before each of the workouts. The main goal is just to continue to move for about 6 minutes straight.

A.) Lateral Raise, 10 reps
B.) Front Raise, 10 reps
C.) Bentover Lateral Raise, 10 reps
D.) Hip-Circle Walk, forward and backward. Go about 25 yards each direction. See below for a demonstration.

You can pick up the hip circle at howmuchyabench.net. Option B: use a band. You can also do squats onto a bench or body-weight squats to warm up your hips.

Sets: 3
Rest: None

In addition, do at least one warm-up set for each lift in the circuits before you begin the work sets.

Workout #1

Circuit 1

Focus: Chest and Back

A.) Bench Press, 10 reps
B.) One-Arm Dumbbell Row, 10 reps (each arm)
C.) Pullup (or Lat-Pulldown), 10 reps

Sets: 5
Rest: As little as possible

Note: If you’re in a commercial gym, huddle all the equipment you need next to each other to minimize the time it takes to get from one exercise to the next. Here’s a tip: Bring a giant orange cone with you and put that on top of the bench in between your sets so no one takes your bench. It works.

My tips for the bench press:

● Pull your shoulder blades back and down. This will cause your upper back to arch, which increases your stability and decreases your range of motion.
● Keep your elbows close to your body as you lower the bar
● Lower the weight under control
● Pause the weight on your chest for one second, then push the weight up and back
● As you push the weight up and back, flare the elbows out slightly
● Your feet should be under your knees or hamstrings, depending on your hip flexibility
● Your feet should NOT be under your butt. Depending on your height, it’s possible that your heels may be up off the floor rather than flat. That’s OK.
● To get leg drive, you have to use your legs to push your body onto your traps and upper back. Do this as you begin to press the bar up.

For more instructional videos on the bench press, visit my YouTube channel at youtube.com/supertraining06

Circuit 2

A.) One-Arm Dumbbell Farmer’s Carry. Suggested distance: 50 yards per arm
B.) One-Arm Incline Dumbbell Press, 15 reps (each arm)
C.) Seated Cable Row, or Bentover Row, 15 reps

Sets: 5
Rest: As little as possible

Circuit 3

A.) Sprint or Hill Sprint. You may also use a Prowler or sled. Suggested distance: 50 yards
B.) Battle Rope Slam, 40 reps. If you don’t have ropes, you can do a dumbbell overhead press while walking. Suggested distance: 50 yards

Sets: 6
Rest: Walk 50 yards between circuits.

Note: If you haven’t sprinted in a while, be very careful. Only go at about 60% of your top speed for the first couple workouts and take some time to get used to it. I’d prefer to see you push a Prowler or sled. These provide resistance that makes you run slower, decreasing the chance of injury. If you have a hill to run, use it. Running uphill will slow you down in a similar fashion without reducing the effort you put in.

Workout #2

Focus: Legs

1.) Squat

Sets: 3–5 Reps: 20

*Do this exercise first and do not perform it in a circuit with any other exercise*

Note: This may take a while for you to get the hang of. Use a weight you’ll be able to do 20 reps with each set. If it’s an empty bar, that’s fine. For myself, the most amount of weight I’ve used is 145 pounds. That’s not much for a guy who used to squat over 1,000, but I’m not accustomed to doing this many reps. I would suggest that the first time you do this workout, you use really light weights and do just 3 sets, resting as long as you need between sets. You can always do more sets the next week. Your ultimate goal is to be able to do 100 total reps over the course of the 5 sets.

Circuit 1

A.) Pushup, 20 reps
B.) Lunge, 10 reps (each leg)
C.) Incline Situp, 15 reps

Sets: 5
Rest: As little as possible

Note: If you’re not strong enough to do 20 reps of pushups, use the Sling Shot (or a band) to unload some of your body weight. See the demo below.

Pick up the Sling Shot at HowMuchYaBench.net.

Circuit 2

A.) Dumbbell Stiff-Legged Deadlift, 10 reps. Gradually work toward a weight that’s challenging over the course of 5 sets.
B.) Two-Handed Farmer’s Walk. Suggested distance: 50 yards
C.) Plank, hold 60 seconds

Sets: 5
Rest: As little as possible

Workout #3

Focus: Arms and shoulders

Circuit 1

A.) One-Arm Overhead Dumbbell or Kettlebell Press, 15 reps (each side)
B.) Gun Walk (do biceps curls while you’re walking). Suggested distance: 50 yards
C.) One-Arm Lateral Raise. 15 reps per side

Sets: 5
Rest: None

Circuit 2

A.) Barbell Curl, 15 reps
B.) Close-Grip Bench Press, 15 reps
C.) Face Pull, 15 reps

Sets: 5
Rest: As little as possible

Circuit 3

A.) Overhead Press, 12 reps
B.) Cable Biceps Curl (palms up), 15 reps
C.) Cable Biceps Curl (palms down). This will be a drop set: start heavy for 15 reps and then, when you fatigue, drop the weight by 10–20% and do as many reps as possible
D.) Triceps Pushdown with bar or rope. Perform a drop set as you did with the last biceps curl

Sets: 5
Rest: As little as possible

One Last Thing

You want to really push yourself and work on progressing from one week to the next. These workouts aren’t so much about the weight as they are about pouring your heart into it and getting better every single day, so don’t lift with your ego and give the program time. You’ll be jacked and tan by summer. Strength is never a weakness, and I’m Mark Bell. Peace.

Meet Mark at the Onnit Academy, Saturday, May 13. He will be hosting a seminar covering squat, bench press, and deadlift training from 3 to 6 p.m. The seminar is FREE—no signups required. Just show up and jump in!

Onnit Academy
4401 Freidrich Ln #301, Austin, TX 78744