It's that time of year again. New Year resolutions are thrown around wildly, but this year you have a single, very specific goal in mind: To finally, once and for all, ditch the love handles and let that six-pack you've been hammering with millions of crunches to finally see daylight. It's about time, so let's get down to business.
Step 1: Sizing up the calories
To carve out your midsection, you need to lose flab. It's that simple. Training your abs will make them stronger and harder, but it will not burn the fat covering them—only a disciplined diet and a thought-out balance between weight training and cardio will do. The dieting part is pretty easy once you have your diet log going.
Don't have one? No problem, all you have to do is use a notepad or PDA and jot down everything you eat for a week.
Don't make any extra efforts to be healthy, just eat what you typically eat and work out as usual. Then you add up the calories and divide by seven. If you did not gain or lose any weight during the week, the number you end up with should be pretty close to your daily caloric need to break even.
This means, in order to gain weight, you'd have to eat more than this number, and consequently to lose weight, you have to consume less than this number. Pretty basic stuff, but a very important benchmark to know to avoid fumbling in the dark.
Step 2: Cleaning up the diet
Most people respond well to a diet where you try to more or less consistently stay 500 calories under the benchmark established above. Some flexibility is necessary, but the important thing is that the week averages out to about 500 calories less per day.
This kind of slow but consistent reduction in calories lays the groundwork for a steady decrease in body fat while preserving as much muscle mass as possible. So how do you do it?
In many cases, just cutting the junk food will do the trick nicely. As a bodybuilder, you probably avoid candy bars, chocolate and ice cream, but it's easy to "forget" stuff like fries, fried chicken and instant, fatty pasta sauces.
Heck, sugary sodas alone can pack several hundred calories to your daily total on a hot summer day! This is where you review the diet log. What were the big calorie-bombs? Are there any patterns of late-night munching you could cut? Where could you shave off those 500 calories and still make it through the day without starving?
Step 3: Putting in the sweat equity
In home improvement terms, sweat equity is when you put in time and effort and is rewarded with a value increase of your property. Your body works the same way, so let's talk about your workouts. Today, you probably lift weights 3-5 times per week, depending on your fitness level.
This is great—keep hitting the iron with the same dedication and weights as before, but make sure to add some cardio into the mix as well. The truth is that cardio is boring as hell, so most of us don't put in as much time as we should. However, when it's time to cut up, it's easy to go overboard and do too much.
By that I mean extending cardio sessions up to 90 minutes and beyond, which inevitably means your muscle mass will start cannibalizing itself. A better approach is to do shorter, more frequent cardio workouts such as 4 x 45 minutes spread over the week.
Furthermore, if you can separate these workouts from your weight training, that's even better since that means you won't compromise your energy for the weights while keeping the fat burn potential going strong.
Personally, I find that a morning cardio session before breakfast and save the weight training for the afternoon works best. This kind of morning cardio training require that you down a pure protein drink (at least 40 grams) at least half an hour before beginning the workout to preserve muscle.
If your schedule is just too tight and you have to do both weights and cardio in the same workout, do the weights first and finish with 30 minutes of cardio (30 mins is enough if you do it after each weight training session—any longer and the cost of lost muscle mass gets too great).
Step 4: Get an edge with supplements
Now that you have your diet and workouts figured out, it's time to consider supplements to get you an edge. It's easy to approach the issue from the other end, i.e. starting with the supplements and thinking you'll figure out the other parts as you go, but this is rarely the road to lasting improvement. To do this right you need a solid foundation, and that foundation is not found in bottle.
That said, thermogenic enhancers such as Ripped Fuel and Hydroxycut can add a potent punch to your fat burning efforts.
However, bear in mind that this product does contain caffeine—read the label carefully and consult your doctor before use if you are not certain about whether you're safe to take it. CLA, Conjugated Linoleic Acid, is a specific kind of fat that may also help burn fat.
In addition, research suggests it builds and preserves muscle mass, and even boosts your immune system. Other supplements you might want to look into include chromium picolinate (helps enhance effects of insulin) and Pyruvate (inhibits fat storage and boosts strength).
Step 5: Putting the package together
OK, time for the rubber to hit the road. The best way to keep things sane and avoid sudden jerks is to start phasing into the new regime a week or so before D-Day (the official start of your project). Save the supplements until you're up to speed though, the idea is to adjust your body to the idea of eating less and doing more cardio.
Check your weight and measure your waist, shoulders, arms and thighs the first day and every Monday morning before breakfast. Make a note of the numbers (and if you feel geeky, make a spreadsheet so you can graph the changes as you progress.) The waist should decrease slowly but steadily, as should your weight.
The warning signs are if you suddenly lose a whole bunch of pounds, or if your arms and shoulders start shrinking. If you didn't do anything special that could explain the phenomenae, that's your cue to start eating more and take a hard look at your overall strategy.
Likewise, if 3 weeks pass and your waist remains the same, it's time to review the strategy and make necessary adjustments. If you choose to use thermogenic enhancers, start with a low dose and carefully step up to the recommended dose.
Be on the lookout for potential warning signs and discontinue use should they appear. When you get tempted to cheat, grab a hold of your jelly roll and give it a good pinch as a reminder of why you're doing this in the first place.
If you feel the willpower sagging, remind yourself it's a test of willpower just the way a record bench or squat is—if have what it takes to challenge a monster weight and win, you can burn off a pair of stupid love handles. And when all is said and done, make sure to snap a few pictures and keep the progress-chart. These will be great motivational boosters for the next time you decide it's time to bring out the abs.