21 days? Believe it or not, science has suggested ways that you can (safely) get much more of a hard, ripped, physique much faster than you would previously have thought possible. Yes, in general significant fat loss should be undertaken over a period of months, not days. While that advice will raise no medical or other disagreement by me, it poses many problems to the average exercising enthusiast who may want to get ready for that 20-year reunion or wedding, for example.
From a psychological standpoint, people tend to subconsciously tell themselves that they have an entire lifetime to reach their goals. But - I'm giving you a deadline - 3 weeks. You must treat this time as if you're preparing for a contest - even if you've never done one before and never plan to compete in your life. Keep a log of every workout and every meal. Get your body fat tested before and after. Take pictures, measurements, and keep a diary. Perfect attendance with your workouts, flawless compliance with your diet and more effort than you've ever given on anything will be required. Dedication is the first step, but it must be accompanied by "the workout".
An Easy Workout Will Get Your Nowhere!
Understand that easy workouts get you nowhere. I've had enough of the "fat-burning zone" nonsense. This theory states that if fat burning is to occur, exercise must be of low intensity and long duration. This is because fats are the preferred fuels for less intense activities, while carbohydrates and other rapid sources of energy are used in demanding, intense physical ventures, such as powerlifting and sprinting.
The key, as research has shown time and again, is that it's the amount of calories burned that dictates the positive changes in body composition, not the percentage of fat that's being used during exercise. But it goes much further than this. Have you ever compared the physiques of a sprinter and marathon runner? Sprinters are ripped, muscular studs that never train aerobically, while marathon runners look like they were just released from a hospital bed --- even though they spend hours on end in their fat-burning zone.
It hardly takes any muscle to run like a marathoner, it takes a great deal of endurance from your cardio respiratory system. In other words, if you train like an endurance athlete, your heart will become more efficient at pumping blood to your muscles, your lungs will learn to take in more oxygen, and your muscles will become better at extracting it.
Consider the sprinters. If you've ever bolted 100 yards as fast as you could, you know exactly how strenuous it is, and you know exactly how much muscle it takes. When I tell personal trainers that they should train their clients like this, it's always met with something to the effect of, "Oh, good heavens, they'll be out of their training zones, they're going to burn muscle!"
If that was the case, why do the sprinters have that muscle on muscle look, while the average treadmill walker has skinny arms and a gut? It's simple. When you sprint, you use your muscles to such a powerful extent, they respond by growing bigger and stronger. Remember, your body adapts to everything.
So, what about getting rid of fat? Well, the large stress that's placed on your muscles from sprinting, combined with the increased muscle mass, will speed up your metabolic rate like never before. The rate that you burn calories during sprinting is about three times greater than jogging. And - sprinting, not slow jogging is responsible for the release of fat burning hormones.
These workouts are not for the average Nautilus addict. You may struggle at first. The key is that you perform the correct number of sprints for the correct duration as listed. You still need to make appropriate weekly progressions, however. For example, if on Monday of the first week you need three minutes between sprints, you still need to increase the sprint interval by five seconds and reduce the rest period by fifteen seconds each week.
In the evening workout you need to follow a weight-training program for fat loss. That means large muscle group exercises like squats, bent-over rows and bench presses. You need to perform approximately 10-15 repetitions per exercise with about a minute rest between sets. Every exercise should be purposeful and intense, just like your sprint workouts. You burn calories at a high rate; forcing increases in your metabolism and stimulating the release of larger amounts of fat-burning hormones.
The first thing you will do is determine the correct exercise intensity by calculating your target heart rate. To do that, figure out your age-predicted maximum heart rate (MHR). That's easy - all you do is subtract your age from 220. From there, you can just take 85% of your max and you've found your target heart rate.
But I'm going to show you a more accurate way to determine the necessary exercise intensity to bring about a total and complete Fat Meltdown. It's called the Karvonen formula. Since you already know your maximum heart rate (220-age), all you need now is your resting heart rate (RHR). For that, you need to take your pulse on your wrist or neck while in a very relaxed state (preferably upon awakening) for 15 seconds. Now multiply it by four and you've got your resting heart rate. (Most people are in the 60-80 beats per minute (bpm) range). Plug your numbers into this formula.
The "percent of max" in this case is .85 as listed in the evening workout. You should determine everything else. Let's do the math on a 25 year old (MHR=195; 220-25=195) with a resting heart rate of 60 bpm.
Target Heart Rate = (195-60) x .85+60
135 x .85 = 114.75 (round up to 115)
Target Heart Rate = 175 bpm
There are two different ways to calculate your maximum heart rate and your target heart rates. The method I just explained is the simple method.
The Karvonnen formula is more advanced since it also takes into account your resting heart rate. This is your heart rate at complete rest. To determine this, take your pulse for 60 seconds just before you get out of bed... or take it for 30 seconds and multiply by 2.
(Or as Jeff Everson suggests, just take your predicted HR (195) x 90% instead, and guess what, you also get 175 bpm too. I hate math, don't you?) Using a stationary bike or treadmill works well for this portion of the workout.
- Always begin workouts with a warm-up consisting of light jogging or walking, followed by stretching of the muscles to be used during exercise. Also, try to perform the AM workouts first thing in the morning on an empty stomach - this kicks the fat burning stimulus even higher]
The Eating And The Algebra!
To lose fat, you need to take in fewer calories than you expend. But, if you don't give your body enough calories to maintain normal physiological function, it compensates by slowing all of its processes to maintain survival and you learn to store fat.
The same goes for your fat intake. Fat alone doesn't make you fat. Too much of any macronutrient can make you fat. One of the biggest mistakes people make when they're trying to get ripped, is cutting calories and fat way too much.
To truly get shredded, you first need to determine exactly how many calories a day you'll need. You will need a lot of protein to recover - about one gram per pound of body weight. Multiply that number by four (since each gram of protein carries four calories), giving you the amount of daily calories made up by protein. That amount is going to make up 30% of your total calories.
All you do then is take your sum protein calories and divide by .30, and presto, there's your total daily calories. An auto-calculator is below for you to enter your bodyweight into.
Here's An Example, Using A 180-Pound Man:
180 lbs. x 1 gm protein/lb bodyweight = 180 gm protein.
180 gm protein/day x 4 cal/gm = 720 daily calories from protein.
720/0.30 = 2400 calories a day.
On this program, carbs will make up 45% of your daily calories and fats 25%. Multiply your total daily calories by .45 to find your total carbohydrate calories, and by .25 to get your total number of fat calories. Then - you divide the carbohydrate calories by 4 and the fat calories by 9 to get the exact number of grams of each.
Let's Finish Off The Example Of Our 180 Pounder:
Note: An auto-calculator is below these equations for you to figure out your exact numbers.
2400 total calories x .45 = 1080 carbohydrate calories.
2400 total calories x .25 = 600 fat calories.
1080 carbohydrate calories/4 = 270 gm carbohydrates daily.
600 fat calories/9 = 67 gm fat daily.
- One gram of carbohydrate or protein when oxidized for energy equals 4 calories; one gram of fat equals 9 calories].
Get to know labels and how much fat, carbs and proteins are present in your portion of foods. The calories you just calculated are only used on the first day of the program. From there, you're going to drop your total calories by 100 each day for a week. Then, at the start of the following week, you'll begin the first day with a total that's 100 calories less than the very first day of the program, and again drop that total by 100 calories per day.
You'll then repeat this process for the third and final week, always maintaining the 45/30/25 ratio of carbs, protein and fat. So our 180-lb man has a calorie total of 2400. He'll drop that total by 100 for each day of the week. At the start of the second week, he'll be at 2300 calories and again drop that by 100 each day. He'll do that for one more week, beginning at 2200 calories the third week.
Here's What The 21-Day Breakdown Looks Like:
Don't skip breakfast. You need to eat five or six times a day on this program - this will force your body to become more efficient and raise its metabolism. And try to consume most of your carbohydrates and fats in your first four meals so you're full of energy for your p.m. workout. Finally make sure your last meal is mostly milk isolate proteins with glutamine and the BCAA group about 2 hours before bed. This will diminish any insulin response while sleeping (hey - don't add body fat as you sleep).
You'll make phenomenal progress if you follow this program correctly, but that means nothing if you start training like a weasel and eating like a pig after three weeks. Training hard and following a proper diet should form the backbone of your exercising life and in this 3-week period you'll learn what real training is.
About The Author
Jeffrey R. Stout earned his PhD in exercise physiology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He has scientific publications in the areas of sports nutrition, muscle fatigue, growth and development, and body composition. Dr. Stout was recently awarded the Outstanding Young Investigator Award and the Editorial Excellence Award by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He currently resides in Florida with his wife, son and daughter.
Jeff Stout Ph.D.