Whenever I go to the gym, I watch a lot of re-runs, and they're not playing on the hanging TVs. The bench press is backed up by a line of boys who want to lift like men, there's a string of stringy treadmill trawlers, and there are too many people who aren't working hard enough.
With all their waiting around and resting, these loafers sure spend a lot of time at the gym. They're usually there when I arrive, and there when I leave. Hell, they're probably still there.
Most gym-goers equate long workouts with hard workouts. However, long training sessions (more than an hour) usually mean low-intensity muscle contractions and extended rest periods. To gain muscle and burn fat, low-intensity workouts are often ineffective and counterproductive.
The solution? Make your workouts short, intense and effective. Mimic the intense training habits of elite explosive athletes like MMA fighters. They spend a lot of time prepping and stretching, but once the workout begins, they move fast and lift furious, alternating short recovery periods with maximum effort.
To train at this high level of intensity, you want to keep your workouts brief. The ideal time is 30 minutes or less. This is a pretty good proposition, right? Better results in less time.
Specifically, I want you to use three simple intensity-boosting strategies: maximum effort interval training, full-body workouts and/or "metabolic strength" training. Why? When you push yourself beyond your perceived threshold, your body initiates a chemical response and neuro-endocrine reaction.
This chain can cause your body to naturally raise testosterone and release human growth hormone (HGH) and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in your system.
Stimulating and maximizing these hormones via intense training helps stimulate muscle growth and fat loss.
What's more, you'll initiate physiological processes that will keep you burning even more body fat long after your workout ends. So let's light the fire and go to work.
Old Way: The Treadmill Trudge
New Way: Maximum Effort Intervals
Whenever you see people in line for something at the gym, you should generally avoid what they're doing. Nothing lacks intensity more than long, plodding aerobic workouts. Here's what's worse: slow runs that last longer than 30 minutes stimulate the wrong hormones—cortisol, for example, a muscle-wasting hormone that might take bites from your lean mass.
Most people run on the treadmill thinking that long-duration exercise is the best way to burn fat. Yes, you do burn mostly fat (not carbs) when you do low-intensity work. Logically, burning fat while working out seems like the right thing to do.
However, using fat as your primary training energy source can be limiting. When you hop off the treadmill, you also stop burning fat. Why? Because low-intensity exercise doesn't raise your metabolism as dramatically as high-intensity exercise does.
Burn, Baby Burn
Elevating your metabolic rate is the key to burning body flab! The secret is not to burn fat while you are working out, but after you've worked out.
In other words, you want to use stored carbs as your primary source during the workout, then burn fat when you're done. And the only way to use carbs as your energy source is to train intensely and raise your resting metabolic rate. When you do intense work at near maximum capacity, your heart rate soars.
As you struggle and gasp for air, you will take in extra oxygen in order to recover. This extra oxygen you devour will cause your metabolism to rise. The scientific name for this fat-burning effect is called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).
When you're done with your workout and your body begins returning to its normal resting metabolic rate, it burns fat to recover since you've exhausted stored carbs during your workout. Understand that it takes a lot of energy and a lot of calories for your resting metabolism to return to "normal."
What's this mean? More fat torched. And the best thing about EPOC is that your body will stay in fat-burning mode for up to 48 hours.
Take Advantage of EPOC
Jump Rope: 8 sets of 1 min, maximum effort
Skip the slow slog on the treadmill and use your favorite toy from elementary PE: the jump rope. 8 sets of 1 minute jumps at maximum effort will have your heart pounding. Light skipping reminiscent of your third grade days won't cut it, kid. You have to twirl the rope at full speed.
Mix in single bounds, knee-ups and double-unders. Make sure you're struggling for air after each set so you capture the EPOC effect and keep your recovery time to 1 minute.
The discomfort you'll experience signals an effective workout. Go to the track or octagon—you'll see people fighting for air. Suck it up and embrace it.
Old Way: Silly Supersets, Single Body Part
New Way: Upper-Body/Lower-Body Supersets
Like the mainstream, I did superset workouts after reading about them in muscle magazines. However, typical superset workouts combine two exercises for a single body part (sometimes called compound sets, but the jargon doesn't matter).
For example, a common combination is bench press and dumbbell flye. Don't get me wrong: this is a good superset combination for the sake of bodybuilding. It surely helped build and shape my chest.
However, supersetting single body parts offers little metabolic benefit. If you want to get crazy, then combine upper- and lower-body movements. With the right intensity, full-body supersets can spark a chemical reaction that helps spur the release of testosterone, IGF-1, and HGH.
To capitalize on these hormones, you have to forget about light weight and high reps. Instead, you've gotta lift heavy enough to stick with 6 reps (or less) per set.
Furthermore, switching between upper-body and lower-body movements will have a potent effect on your metabolism. You'll struggle for air after each pair, skyrocketing EPOC. The goal here is to prime your body for fat-burning AND muscle-building. The first couple times I supersetted an upper- and lower-body movement, I was drenched in sweat.
To get the most from this total-body attack, you won't be using any isolation exercises, but compound movements only, my friend. By using compounds, you ensure that your body will recruit as much muscle fiber as possible, especially fast-twitch, which has great capacity for growth.
Here are some of my favorite killer combos:
Of course, these are just suggestions. Feel free to mix and match other combinations and exercises. Also, alternate your starting exercises: start one session with upper-body exercise, the next with lower body.
I suggest five sets for each superset combination with no more than three combinations per session. Trust me, two combinations will be more than enough for most people. Consider incorporating this combination session once per week with your regular bodybuilding split.
Don't use any machines in this workout. You want to recruit as many muscle groups as possible, including your core. You don't want machines giving you "free" stabilization and lessening your core involvement. You want a six-pack? Back-to back-compound movements, not infomercial gadgets, will help you build one.
Elite athletes train their whole body to respond as one unit. They don't use machines to train individual body parts across fixed planes of motion. When you use as many muscle groups as possible, you will become stronger, faster, leaner and even more muscular.
Get ready to sweat like never before.
Old Way: Snail-Pace Strength Training
New Way: "Metabolic" Strength Training
You know the type: The really strong guy who bench presses a huge amount of weight and then rests for 10 minutes before the next set. There's nothing wrong with this protocol if you are a power lifter and training for maximum numbers.
In that case, you need full muscular recovery. However, I doubt most of you are competitive powerlifters. Instead, you're just training to look better naked.
If so, don't fall into the traps set by long rest periods. They're often just an excuse to be lazy or check out a cardio bunny's buns. Strength workouts can help you get huge, but let your intensity dip too low or your rest go too long and only your gut will grow. In order to avoid bulking up in the wrong places, try what I call a "metabolic" strength workout.
A "metabolic strength workout" pairs a heavy compound movement with an explosive plyometric movement. For example, pick a heavy compound movement like the deadlift. Set the weight around 80 percent of your 1RM. Do 6 reps of the deadlift followed immediately by 12 explosive burpees.
To reap the full benefits of a metabolic strength workout, go heavy with the compound movement and full speed with the explosive movement. A slow burpee just won't cut it. It has to be ballistic and fast-paced. Start the burpee with an explosive jump into a plank, do a push-up, and then explosively jump into a squat and immediately power up. That's one rep. It should be one fluid motion at maximum effort.
I know some of you will hesitate to do this type of workout because you're used to more isolation exercises per body part. A metabolic strength workout isn't designed for single body part hypertrophy, but to generate an overall, total-body hormonal effect.
Going from a heavy compound movement to a ballistic action movement will wreak havoc on your heart rate, metabolism and EPOC levels (in a good way). We are talking about some serious muscle contractions with extremely intense full-body workouts.
In terms of elite athletic training, all of the badasses I admire have one thing in common—they're explosive. They have the capacity to apply force very quickly. The plyometric burpees will teach your body to move with speed and strength. This is in direct opposition to mainstream gym-rat training. When you survive this workout, you will feel a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
In other words, you'll feel like a badass. Use these techniques to look, lift and train like one too.