Let me first paint you a picture. You walk into your gym, you look around, and you see all sorts of people working out. The out of shape people on the cardio machines, the huge muscular people, and the lean, mean shredded machines. What sets you apart from being that lean mean shredded machine? There are 4 principles I want to share that have helped me to remain lean, and still able to have strength gains in the process.
Let me share a little background on me. About 4 months ago I was not out of shape, but Iwas not happy at the way my body looked when I saw it in the mirror. Luckily, the gym I work out of decided to put on a 12 week challenge contest. I always wanted to see how lean I could get and this was my motivation to finally push my body to the limits.
I started at 16% body fat at 171 lbs. At the end of the competition I had dropped down to 3-4% body fat at 135 lbs. I reached my goals and these are the steps that helped me achieve them.
Principle 1 Diet
The first step was my diet. 75-80% of what I did was work on my diet plan. There are so many different so called weight loss programs out there and a lot of them do work. YES! I said they do work BUT it is a temporary fix to success. Once off the diet you gain the weight you lost plus some.
One of the reasons these diets work is that your body goes through a shock phase. Meaning something new has been introduced, and your body will initially lose weight and then begin to plateau. I used this principle when figuring out my diet plan. I had 3 phases so that I never reached a plateau on my body fat loss.
When choosing my carbohydrates, the best choices are complex carbohydrates. These are oatmeal, yams, potatoes, sweet potatoes, brown rice, and whole grain breads. The reason these are great choices is they are slow digestive carbohydrates; it takes a longer period of time for your body to digest.
This is good because it will keep you fuller for a longer period of time. Having a sense of feeling full was very helpful so that I was never caught snacking and was able to wait for my next meal. And fruits and vegetables were a good addition to my diet because of the vitamin sources.
Choosing protein sources are the easy part of the diet. The hard part is choosing the best protein sources. Egg whites, turkey, chicken, fish, buffalo, deer, and other lean red meat sources, and protein powders are great choices.
Are a little tricky, but basically another easy factor to manage. Fish oils, vegetable oil spray, olive oil. These are great sources to use with because they do not use very much fat. Stay away from deep fried foods, shortening, lard as a cooking agent. Do not try to stay away from all fat because your body does need some fat to survive.
Putting together a diet plan after this should be clearer now. Eating about 6 meals a day will help with increasing your metabolism. Understand eating 6 real meals is a little difficult but that's where the protein shakes come into play. Here is a mock up diet plan of what I did for the 1st phase of my diet (6 weeks):
Sample Meal Plan
- 1 cup Oatmeal
- 1 tsp Cinnamon
- 1/2 cup Fresh Fruit (optional)
- 3-4 Egg Whites, 1 Egg Yolk
- 2 strips of Turkey Bacon
- 1-2 scoops Protein Shake
- 1 container Light Yogurt or Spinach Salad with Cottage Cheese and Vinaigrette
After the 6 weeks, I decided to get rid of my dinner complex carbohydrate and replaced it with a Spinach Salad and Vinaigrette dressing with some Raisins. At the 9th week I decided to also get rid of my lunch complex carbohydrate as well and replaced it with more vegetables. This was a struggle because having fewer carbohydrates meant less energy at the gym. But, I was not trying to break records with weight lifting and cardio intensity so I was satisfied with where my progress was going.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of listening to your body. I had to really make sure that I was not pushing too hard in the gym so that I could walk away injury free and still felt like I had a great workout.
Principle 2 Cardio
The second part of the puzzle was cardio. The dreaded cardiovascular exercise was a key in becoming lean. It is a necessary evil, but you do not have to kill yourself forever on a treadmill, elliptical, or stair master for hours on end. Besides, who has the time to do that and lift weights?
There are all sorts of different ways to do your cardio. The one that 100% of the time will work is a combination of mid-high impact interval training. This will not be easy but your body really can't adapt to it meaning you can continue to see progress without a plateau.
I really tried to incorporate this type because, like most people, cardio is the last thing on my mind when going to the gym. By doing your cardio this way I never became bored with it, because I was always pushing my body to new intensities so that I would not have to spend a lifetime doing cardio.
Here is an example of what I did:
- Start off at a warm-up pace for 3-5 minutes
- After that warm-up period jump up your intensity so that you can feel comfortable making it for 5 minutes
- Increase the intensity again so that you are pushing to get 5 minutes.
- Decrease your intensity to your comfortable pace for 5 minutes, then up your intensity for 5 minutes pushing your limits.
- Now, you should be at minute 23-25 on the clock.
- Drop down to a moderate jog till you hit minute 28 and sprint for 1 minute.
- Your last minute or two cool down
This should get you a 30 minute intense cardio session. Having this kind of cardio exercise will be just as good if not better for you than staying a constant speed on the treadmill for 60 minutes.
For the competition I did this type of cardio once a day for the first 8 weeks. Then, I decided to up it twice a day, morning and afternoon. This took a little sacrifice on my part. I had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. go to the gym do my cardio, and come back and eat my first meal and get ready to go to work. Then, would go back to the gym after work and do my cardio and workout. Spending time with my wife was a little difficult but we worked out together, she motivated me a lot. And, we would try to still do a date night once a week so that we could relax and have some down time.
Principle 3 Weight Training
The third part was my weight training. This is such an important aspect, just because you have the cardio and diet down, does not mean you will have that ripped look. You have to incorporate resistance training as well.
Basically, if you don't have the muscle it won't really show when you lose body fat, causing you to look flat. I know this from training for a marathon. I did a lot of running sessions and really did not focus on lifting weights because I was running so much.
I weighed about 155 lbs during that time and was quite skinny but had really no real muscle definition visible. It was kind of frustrating seeing that my body fat was not that high either. So, when I put two and two, weight training and cardio, together I started to see more muscle definition.
Like my cardio topic, you do not have to kill yourself lifting weights for 2 hours in the gym. Most everybody goes in the gym looking to fatigue your muscles so that they can cause the muscle to grow, but they think you have to do X amount of sets, and reps to get to that exhaustion spending wasted time in the gym.
My goal in the gym was to hit hard and hit it quick. What this means is it that you are going to push your body with as much weight as possible but with less rest in between sets.
For example if I was working chest here is what I would do:
- Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip
3 sets of 10 reps
- Barbell Incline Bench Press - Medium Grip
3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Decline Barbell Bench Press
3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Flat Bench Cable Flyes
3 sets of 8-10 reps
You will still be able to make some strength gains through this process, but the main idea is to keep the intensity up throughout the work out. This in turn helped me keep my heart rate at an elevated state which will burn more calories.
Principle 4 Supplements
The last part we need to discuss is my supplementation usage. Supplements are only necessary if you are already doing everything you can such as diet, cardio, weight training. If you have these things in check and you want to up your game, supplements are a great addition to your arsenal. Main supplements that I used and you should keep in mind are protein powder, vitamins, and creatine or pre-workout drinks.
When choosing a protein powder, I did not have to pick the most expensive brands. I know there are hundreds of different protein concoctions out there. The main things I looked at were the ingredients list and price. If was getting a 20+grams of protein per serving, low in sugar, have branch chain amino acids I was good to go.
Also, look at what kind of protein is in your shake. I did some research to see the different sources of protein that were put in protein shakes and found that good sources to look for are casein and whey protein isolate. If these are at the beginning of the ingredients list you are in good shape because the higher up on the ingredient list the more you are getting for your intake.
Casein acts as a slow digestive protein, so your body will utilize this at a slower rate. This definitely helps when you are going to sleep for 8 hours and your body is recovering from the day. It will keep you fuller for a longer period of time. Whey protein isolate is great as far as making into the bloodstream and muscles at a faster rate. This is good for when you are done working out and need that muscle recovery to start working quickly especially if your protein powder has branch chain amino acids.
* Ratings as of article's date of publication
Vitamins were essential in my diet, seeing that I was sort of limited in getting all my vitamins and nutrients just from food sources being on a restrictive diet. I did not go crazy trying to figure out what vitamins to get when looking at the vitamin section in my local drug store. The main ones that I used were a multivitamin, fish oils, vitamin C, and Iron. These were important for my all around functioning of my body to keep efficient.
There are others, but my recommendation is you do not need to fill your shelves with vitamins to be healthy. If your diet is maintained, vitamins help give you that little bit that you may not be getting from food sources.
Creatine And Pre-Workout Formulas
Lastly, is the use of creatine or pre-workout supplements. I am a big advocate for this just because these kinds of products gave me a boost when I went to the gym. Do you need them to get huge gains? Not necessarily, but can they help you reach a new level at a faster rate? Heck Yes!
I would say most people go off popularity of a product rather than what the ingredients are, this is a mistake. I did some research on ingredients in these kinds of products and found what ingredients were beneficial. Besides, as far as these supplements go each person will be experienced differently than another. If one product works great for one person, it does not necessarily mean that it is guaranteed to work for you.
I had to do some trial and error on these to determine which one would give the best results I was searching for. Remember these are not growth hormones, or steroids, so do not expect to be increasing your bench 100 lbs your first month. You still have to put in the time to get those gains, but creatine will definitely play a role in reaching that goal.
Some ingredients that really helped me when looking for a pre-workout drink were L-Arginine, Creatine-ester, B-vitamins, Alpha Lipoic Acid, and Niacin. All help with either absorption of creatine or endurance or vasodilation causing muscle pumps which in turn gets more blood to the muscle you are working.
I used a pre workout supplements for the first 6-7 weeks and then decided to get rid of them because I was not looking to get bigger or stronger but more of leaning out the muscle and really focusing on slow contraction and higher repetitions.
In conclusion, this is not a complete guide to getting ripped, but these 4 principles definitely helped me get to my goal of looking like a lean, mean, ripped machine. Remember you are the only one that can stop you from achieving your goals.