Summer is coming to a close. Nevertheless, it will still be warm enough throughout most of the country to sit by a pool or play basketball with your shirt off for at least another month or so.
For that reason, your dream of having abs this summer isn’t dead. In fact, if you take the next few weeks seriously, you can still get lean enough to say you were ripped before the sun goes down on the summer of ’17.
Here’s your plan of action.
Summer Abs Training
When people want to see their muscles pop, they tend to make the mistake of doing more isolation exercises—curls, crunches, pec flyes, etc.
They reason that by isolating these muscles, they’ll grow more and show better.
The problem is, isolation exercises don’t demand much of your body.
They don’t burn enough calories to get you leaner—and when you’re lean, every muscle shows better.
So, when you want to lose fat, you should train the same way as when you want to get bigger—with compound lifts that work as much muscle as possible.
The ideal training program will include a minimum of three to four resistance training sessions per week, emphasizing basic lifts like squats, presses, and deadlifts.
Three to five sets of 4–10 reps is a good range to work in.
Once you’ve done those exercises, you can follow them up with what’s called “accessory” lifts—exercises that build the muscles that are needed to make you strong on the main lifts and balance out your physique.
This could be hamstring exercises like leg curls or Romanian deadlifts after squats, incline dumbbell presses and chinups after bench presses, and hip thrusts and ab work after deadlifts.
To maximize caloric output, you can spend more time on your accessory work, and perform it in a number of ways.
Realize that lifting burns calories just like cardio does, and for most us, it’s a heck of a lot more fun to do.
Here are some options:
1. Do a “finisher.”
A finisher is an exercise you use to close out your workout and empty your tank. It’s done in short, intense intervals that jack up your metabolic rate.
Finishers include sprints with a weighted sled, jumping rope, or 30 power cleans with a light weight for time. Make up your own finishers, but limit them to 10 minutes at the end of your strength training.
2. Turn up the volume.
Gradually adding a few extra sets, reps, or exercises to your accessory work over time can boost its muscle-building effect and help you burn more calories.
For example, if you’re doing three sets of dumbbell bench presses in your first week on this program, go up to two sets in the second week. On a different exercise, if you were doing sets of 10, go for sets of 12. If you start out doing one exercise for your back, do two of them.
3. Try a Tabata.
The Tabata protocol is simply this: work hard for 20 seconds and rest 10. Continue for four minutes. Try it with burpees.
Summer Abs Cardio
While traditional cardio will go a long way toward burning calories, it can be boring. Worse yet, your body adapts to it quickly, making it harder to lose more fat.
For that reason, you should focus more on high-intensity cardio. Examples include bike sprints and kettlebell swings—many of the same exercises you might use for finishers. Limit your high-intensity cardio to 20 minutes, and try to do it after a weight workout or on a separate day entirely. Two or three days per week is enough.
The following is a metabolic conditioning workout (“metcon”) that won’t infringe on your ability to recovery from weight workouts.
A1. Lat pulldown, 7 reps
A2. Pushup, 10 reps
Do as many rounds as possible in 7 minutes. For the pulldown, choose a weight that allows you about 12 reps.
Rest 3 min.
Do as many rounds as possible in 7 minutes. For the snatch, choose a weight that allows you about 15 reps.
Not only will this metcon burn a lot of calories and raise your metabolism for days afterward, it will also provide a significant number of reps in terms of pushing, pulling and core work. The extra volume will pump up your chest, back, shoulders, and abs (the “trophy” muscles), enhancing your physique as you lean out.
Another cardio option is to run sprints, preferably up a hill, which is safer than running on flat ground. Try the following sprint protocol for three weeks.
Week 1: Run 15 seconds; rest 45 seconds
Week 2: Run 20 seconds; rest 60 seconds
Week 3: Run 30 seconds; rest 90 seconds
Keep each workout to 20 minutes or less. Do no more than two sprint sessions per week, preferably on the same day you train lower body.
Summer Abs Diet
Even when you want to get lean—stat—the solution is not to cut calories to the bone. Jumping on an overly restrictive diet will actually send signals to the body to store fat!
Rather, you want an aggressive but safe, strategic nutrition plan.
Start consuming 10–12 calories per pound of your current body weight. So if you’re 200 pounds, eat 2,000–2,400 calories daily. To maintain your muscle tissue despite the calorie deficit, you need protein and lots of it—one to 1.2 grams per pound of your body weight. So, a 200-pounder should shoot for 200–240 grams, composed mainly of lean meats, eggs, fish, and protein supplements.
Now comes the big question: low carbs or low fat? Research has repeatedly shown that overall calories is what matters most for fat loss—not the specific amount of carbs or fat you eat. Therefore, your fat intake can range from 20–40% of total calories (even higher percentages are fine if you’re following a ketogenic diet, but most people find it’s easier to stick within the 20–40% range).
Use your current intake to determine which end of this range is most suitable for you. For example, if you presently don’t eat much fat, now is not the time to experiment with 40%, as that would present too shocking a change to your body (and your lifestyle). Another consideration that will help you decide whether to go higher fat or higher carb is your activity level.
If the aforementioned training is all you’re going to do, you probably won’t need extra carbs for energy, so more fat might be the way to go—plus it will keep you fuller and may better suit your tastes (you could keep more butter, coconut oil, or avocadoes in your diet if you love them). Conversely, if your day job is active (maybe you work construction or coach a sport), or you want to maximize performance in your workouts, you might do better with a lower-fat, higher-carb approach.
Let’s split the difference and say the 200-man sets his fat at 30% and his calories at 2,400. He’ll need to consume 720 calories of fat, which breaks down to 80 grams (divide by nine, as one gram of fat has nine calories).
The final macronutrient is carbs. To find how many you need, simply take the number of calories that you have not yet allocated and divide by four. The 200-pound man who’s eating 2,400 calories, 200 grams of protein (800 calories), and 80 grams of fat (720 calories) will have 880 calories left, which is 220 grams of carbs.
But while quantity is one thing, quality is another. Pop-tarts and donuts technically fall under the umbrella of carbs, but they have no place in a warp-speed diet. Choose fibrous carbs, such as fruits and vegetables, and healthy starches like sweet potatoes, rice, and oatmeal. If you feel the need for a “treat,” limit it to once per week and keep it within your macronutrient targets.
Summer Abs Motivation
Right now, you’re probably champing at the bit to get started. You have a vision of the six-pack you’re chasing in your mind and nothing can stop you. But what happens when your significant other wants to go out to eat, your friends invite you to a bar, or the office orders pizza and one slice is calling your name?
The reality is that, at some point over the next four weeks, some of these things will happen. The key to not letting them derail your progress is first understanding that they are coming, and second, how to deal with them.
Try journaling each morning. In your journal, identify any potential hurdles you think you might encounter in your day ahead of time. Then create a list of ways that you will overcome these hurdles and remain compliant with your plan. For example, if you know you’re going to a party at the end of the week, put in writing that you’ll eat perfectly till then and limit yourself to two drinks and no bad food during the event.
Consider having an accountability resource. This could be a person you count on to keep you honest with yourself, or it could be as simple as logging your journey on social media. You don’t really want to have to tell the world that you messed up, do you? By letting others know what you’re trying to accomplish, you’ll be more apt to stay the course—if only to save face in front of them.
Another strategy: make a reverse bet. Think of something you REALLY don’t want to do, so if you screw up, you have to do it. Try to make this something constructive—i.e., don’t penalize yourself for eating a box of cookies by eating a second one till you feel sick. (If you eat badly, force yourself to pay your bills early or set the money you were saving for a new home theater system aside for your IRA, so at least something good comes of your misstep.) But it should feel like there’s a big price to pay if you let yourself down. No playing small!
The bottom line is that the real challenge over the next month is likely more mental than it is physical. However, if you understand that now and plan for it, you are far more likely to achieve success.
Summer Abs Recovery
Rest and recuperation may be the most overlooked component of any program, but it is especially important when trying to lose fat.
Sleep maximizes growth hormone and testosterone, both of which allow for greater work output in the gym, faster recovery, and subsequently improve your ability to lose fat.
Start going to bed at the same time every night and waking at the same time to get your body into a rhythm.
Aim for at least seven hours. Make your bedroom as dark as possible, and avoid electronics for at least an hour before bedtime.
Putting It All Together for Summer Abs
Here’s a summary of what you need to do to see your abs before the end of summer:
– Train hard with tough exercises. Mostly compound lifts and heavy weights.
– Do some metabolic conditioning. Finishers, Tabatas, and sprint work should be staples in your workouts.
– Set up macros that work for you and stick to them, eating the healthiest, most natural foods possible. You can cheat at one meal per week.
– Sleep enough to recover from all of your activities. #TeamNoSleep is #TeamNoAbs!
– Mentally prepare yourself for temptation and other challenges that you will encounter.
Follow each of these points, and you’ll ensure that your summer memories include you with six-pack abs.