Winter's done and spring has sprung - and although it's nice to finally put away those winter clothes, sadly there's often one coat that lingers longer, and just to clear things up - it ain't no Burberry trench. Nup, it's plain old fat: the excess from our excesses, and now it's time to do something about it.
If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say most of the excess is sitting around the waistline, right? And you probably want it gone in time for summer? I know it's vain, but I'm sure we can all agree that a sexy stomach is, well, sexy. That doesn't mean you're so shredded you've got an eight pack, either. If you're like me, just losing the winter beer/wine/cheese/chocolate-covered belly and replacing it with a nicely toned mid-section would suffice.
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Trouble is, the way most people go about getting there is misinformed. If you're after another way to waste your time and money, by all means buy whatever exercise contraptions the info-mercials are selling on TV, load up on exxy supplements and count 100s of crunches. Or, you could stop buying into the BS. Focus instead on the below seven secrets to six packs. And take note: these 'secrets' are really commonsense points that have got lost somewhere between your Instagram feed and whatever marketers are forcefeeding us all.
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Secret 1: nail the deficit
Not in a calorie deficit? You should be. Don't know what a calorie deficit is? Then let's start here. To lose fat, you need to be consuming fewer calories than you burn. This is known as a calorie deficit, and if you're not in a deficit then you could crunch until the cows come home and not see any moo-vement of fat around your mid-section. There's a few little calculations we're about to do, but stick with me and I'll try to make it as simple as possible. I suggest using a calculator if your name isn't Will Hunting.
Step 1: calculate your "being" caloric rate.
Work out your BMR (basal metabolic rate), which is how many calories your body burns on a daily basis by just "being". Use this online calculator to enter your age, weight, height and sex.
Step 2: add on your "doing" calories.
Once you know your BMR, you need to factor in your current activity level for a better indication of how many calories you burn daily by "being" as well as "doing" things.
- If you're sedentary (little or no exercise) = BMR x 1.2
- If you're lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) = BMR x 1.375
- If you're moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) = BMR x 1.55
- If you're very active (hard exercise sports 6-7 days/week) BMR x 1.725
- If you're Beyonce (you are Beyonce at least 6-7 days a week) BMR x 1.9
For instance, a 35-year-old female who weighs 60kg and has a height of 160cm has a BMR of 1354.5. She's only lightly active so we calculate the following.
1354.5 x 1.375 = 1862.
Step 3: create a deficit.
Now you know what it takes to just maintain, it's time to create a deficit.
So, subtract 20% off the total amount. Example: 0.2 x 1862 = 372.4
1862 - 372.4 = 1489.6
Then aim for this many calories per day, and measure your intake using a website or a phone app like My Fitness Pal. If it can be measured, it can be managed. I'm not saying you have to live this way for the rest of your life, however, it's a very objective way to realise the importance of caloric intake - you'll be surprised to see how quickly calories stack up.
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Secret 2: focus on protein
Once you've got your calories sorted, it's time to fix your protein intake. Protein is critical for preserving muscle mass, while increasing the thermic effect of feeding (essentially your metabolic rate.) Not to mention that protein is the macronutrient that provides the greatest satiety (it makes you feel fuller, for longer). Rather than bore you with more calculations, try to ensure you have a protein source at each of your main meals.
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Secret 3: pack in the fruits and veggies
Foods don't come much more filling and nutrient-dense than fruits and vegetables. After you've met your protein requirements, aim for a minimum of six to eight servings of fruit and veggies a day. By all means, eat other foods as well, just look to make most of them minimally processed. Wholegrains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and cereals are all good options (provided you're not celiac or gluten-intolerant).
Don't be scared of carbs, either. I promise you that you can get really fat, really fast eating too much of a "good" thing - like avocadoes. Remember, it comes back to consuming less than you expend.
Secret 4: supplement right
Think you need supplements? Think again. No one needs supplements to get lean, though they can be of use. Provided your diet is sorted, supps could be beneficial, but please, please, please don't be conned by fat-burners and metabolism-boosters.
If you're interested in supplements, then fish oils are a good shout, as the research suggests they have several health benefits, including aiding recovery and fat loss. Get a basic brand and take 2 to 3 grams per day. Protein powder is another useful addition if you're struggling to reach that gram per pound quota from food alone. Aside from that, you may find that creatine helps your gym performance and makes you train harder; caffeine gives you a pre-workout boost; and multivitamins keep you feeling fit and healthy when your calories are lower. Everything else? Save your cash.
Secret 5: ditch the crunches
Crunches (and sit-ups) are possibly the most ineffective exercise going. Muscle and fat are two separate entities, so even though you may feel the burn in your stomach when crunching, you're not directly burning off any of the fat. You'll lose that fat by being in a calorie deficit, not by doing hundreds and hundreds of crunches every day.
Some core work such as planks, side planks, rollouts and leg raises can have a place in your routine, but overall, ab isolation exercises come way down the priority list for getting a flat stomach. This leads us on nicely to...
Secret 6: get lifting
If you're not currently following a lifting program, then start. For a basic guide, try this (sets and reps in brackets):
1. Squats or Lunges (4 x 8)
2. Deadlifts or Leg Curls (5 x 5-8)
3. Bench Press or Pushup (3 x 8-10)
4. Chin-Ups or Pull-Downs (3 x 8-10)
5. Row Variation (3 x 10-12)
6. Shoulder Press (3 x 10-12)
Do this at least twice a week, adding weight or reps each workout if you can. Muscle burns calories, so the more you have - the more you burn. And please, ladies, don't be scared of weights - you just don't have the hormonal profile to get all bulky like you think. It's hard enough for guys to do it, so if you think you've nailed the secret to building slabs of bulky muscle after doing just three weights sessions, then please let me know!
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Secret 7: slow down your steady state cardio
No, I don't mean go slower - I mean do less of the long, slow runs, tedious elliptical sessions and your hour upon hour spent on the recumbent bike. Push yourself with your cardio. The HIIT and HIRT workouts from my last article are a great start.
I'm not saying you shouldn't do steady state cardio, just that they should be taking a back seat in your program, used for recovery, rather than the driving force.
So that's it. No boring lettuce and chicken breast diets, no long runs or fasted cardio, and certainly no crunches in sight. Just get into a calorie deficit, eat nutrient-dense, protein-packed foods, get the right supplements, and nail your weight training and your cardio.
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