How do I lose thee? Let me count the ways. We give you 61 (plus a few bonus tips for you dedicated online readers). Losing those last few inches, bringing out that six-pack or moving the slider to the left on the scale are among the hardest things for people to do — even you crafty gym veterans. But with this compilation of tips, unwanted bodyfat could be a thing of the past.
Be an Iron Man. There’s no overstating the importance of resistance training. Adding muscle to your frame through lifting weights causes your body to speed up its metabolism. For every pound of lean muscle you forge, count on losing an extra 35—50 calories per day, or up to 1,500 calories a month or 18,000 calories per year while resting. That’s approximately 5 pounds of bodyfat you can eliminate at rest.
FAT FACT: Depending on a number of factors — weight loads, rest periods, intensity, exercise selection, etc. — the average weight-training session will yield a caloric burn of 400—600 calories.
Limit rest periods. Don’t spend your time between sets chatting up the chick on the treadmill. To add a calorie-burning element to your weight training, limit rest periods to 30—45 seconds. Resting 30 seconds between sets has been shown to increase caloric burn by 50%, compared to a three-minute rest period. You may not be as strong heading into your next set, but the added calorie burn may be worth it.
Speed up the pace. To help amp up your calorie burn between sets—and to accomplish more in less time — incorporate supersets or drop sets on weight-training days or perform your exercises circuit-style. You can also speed up your workout by doing your ab moves between other exercises, rather than waiting until the end of your routine.
Expect progression. Don’t get stuck in a rut with the same weights and exercises. Expect that after 4—6 weeks, your body will have adjusted and will be starving for something new. Aim to make incremental increases to your weight loads, try new exercises, shorten rest periods, incorporate advanced techniques like supersets, change from barbells to dumbbells, anything to keep your body guessing and improving.
Compound interest. Build your routine around multijoint movements like presses, rows and squats to recruit the most muscle and burn the most calories. Isolation moves, or single-joint exercises, such as leg extensions, biceps curls and triceps extensions, should represent only a small portion of your routine.
Be free. Free weights force your body to recruit more total muscle because they call on stabilizer muscles to balance the weight, a superior advantage to the predetermined range of motion that machines have to offer.
Go rest, young man. To repair itself (which is where the real gains occur), the body needs rest. Get at least eight hours of sleep per night to allow your body to recover and grow muscle, which ups your overall calorie-burning potential. And depending on the volume of your training, allow a few days before working the same muscle group again. This also prevents overtraining, which can strip your body of muscle.
Go for the afterburn. Resistance training also burns more calories after exercise. One study found that after a 30-minute full-body workout in which subjects trained with their 10RM weights, resting metabolic rate was elevated by 20% for two days following the exercise session. In a 180-pound man, that percentage equates to an average 400 extra calories burned per day.
Overload. Training with the progressive-overload principle helps rev your metabolism. Pushing your muscles beyond what they’re currently trained to overcome forces them to adapt and regenerate themselves so they’re ready the next time such a stimulus is encountered.
Think “Ronnie.” Train like a bodybuilder to help improve your hormonal milieu. Doing 3—5 sets of 8—12 reps with relatively short rest periods has been shown to increase testosterone and growth hormone release, improving your anabolic environment and metabolism.
Train abs for endurance. If your goal is to have a slimmer waistline, don’t train your abs with heavy loads. Use a weight that allows you to get at least 15 reps per set, allowing minimal rest between sets (less than 60 seconds). Or use only your own bodyweight as resistance while maximally contracting your abs on each repetition.
Cyclical gains. Although it isn’t impossible, you shouldn’t attempt to get really lean and gain significant amounts of muscle mass simultaneously. Instead, periodize (cycle) your training for better overall results, alternating between phases when you focus on strength, mass and leaning out.
Cardio, cardio, cardio. This helps you with the simple philosophy behind fat loss: Burn more calories than you take in. If your goal is fat loss, incorporate 4—6, 30—60-minute sessions per week into your training schedule.
Of iron and sweat. If your goal is to lean out, follow your weight training with cardio. Since lifting depletes glycogen stores, your body is more likely to use fat as its first fuel source during cardio. Also, the combination of the two results in a higher caloric burn postworkout.
Tread heavily. What’s the best exercise and intensity to burn maximal fat? Researchers found that jogging on the treadmill at about 70% of your maximal heart rate, or MHR (subtract your age from 220 and multiply by 0.7 for your heart rate in beats per minute), was optimal, burning about 40 grams of fat per hour of exercise. Going above or below this intensity burned significantly less fat, as did pedaling on a stationary cycle, regardless of intensity.
Run hungry. If you can stomach getting up earlier, perform cardio before your first meal of the day. Your body is most likely to use fat as the first energy source because your glycogen stores are depleted. If you’re concerned with muscle loss, take 10—20 grams of whey protein before your session, but stay away from carbs.
Post-cardio burn. Following aerobic exercise, your resting metabolic rate remains elevated for anywhere from 60 minutes to about 12 hours, depending on the intensity and duration of the exercise session.
Move outdoors. Try your next outdoor run on sand, which is more difficult than running on harder surfaces like cement. It’s easier on the joints as well, but wear shoes to avoid stress fractures and protect your feet from glass. Running on grass is also a welcome relief to joints and arches.
Taper off. Instead of starting slow and building up speed, do your high-intensity cardio early in your workout and taper off to a slow finish to burn significantly more fat. After a 2—3-minute warm-up, immediately kick it into high gear (80%—85% max heart rate) for 15—20 minutes before slowing down (60%—65% max heart rate) for the last 10—20 minutes.
Vary your cardio. Whether you’re lifting weights or doing cardio, the trick is to keep your body from adapting to what you’re doing. Regularly changing your cardio mode is the best way to keep your body responding to your efforts.
Interval for success. Unless you’re a highly conditioned athlete, you can’t maintain a very intense pace for very long, so the best way to improve your aerobic fitness and burn fat is with intervals. That is, you alternate very intense periods of work with lower-intensity sessions in which you recover.
No butts. Smoking deprives cells of the oxygen they need to maximize metabolism, keeps muscles from repairing themselves after exercise and makes cardio a lot tougher. Plus, your smoke-scented clothes are sure to irritate fellow gym rats.
Fidget to fight fat. Are you a fidgeter? Maybe you should be. Several studies have shown that toe-tappers, while completely annoying at the office, will burn more calories over the course of the day than the stationary man.
Stay hydrated. Active individuals actually require more water and should aim to consume roughly 1 gallon per day to avoid becoming dehydrated. And if you’re one of those people who hates drinking water, consider this: Dehydrated individuals burn less fat than their well-watered counterparts.
Eat more frequently. Eating 5—6 small meals a day as opposed to “three squares a day” causes your metabolism to work constantly. Eating larger meals, on the other hand, slows your metabolism and forces leftover calories to be stored as fat.
Eat protein. Since muscle-building is the fastest route to slim down, you want to make sure that your protein consumption is enough to keep up with your weight training. Eat too little protein and your gains could be much slower. Get 1—1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day to help your muscle gains along. Use protein bars and shakes to supplement your whole-food consumption and stave off cravings.
Get leafy. Those who eat a salad before dinner tend to consume less calories overall during dinner. But don’t sabotage yourself — stay away from high-fat dressings like ranch, blue cheese and Caesar.
Skip happy hour. Alcohol consumption can temporarily blunt testosterone levels, hindering muscle repair and growth and blunting sexual drive. Also, the calories from alcoholic beverages — in the neighborhood of 100—200 each without cocktail mixers — add up faster than you may think.
Cut out soda. Instead, rely on water and other flavored drinks like Crystal Light to get your fluids every day. If you drink one soda per day, you’re adding 1,750 calories per week to your diet. Also, studies have shown that those who regularly consume diet sodas tend to gain weight in the long run because of overindulgences elsewhere.
Calories out! The goal in any fat-loss or weight-loss program should be to burn more calories than you consume. Aim to cut total calorie consumption by about 250 calories per day. Yes, that means you’ll have to figure out how many calories you eat in a normal day. Get on it. The math will pay big dividends later.
Got the munchies? If you can do without the butter and salt, plain popcorn is a winner. Two quarts has the same number of calories as just 20 potato chips. By substituting 1 cup of plain, unbuttered popcorn for a 1-ounce bag of chips, you’ll save 135 calories and 10 grams of fat.
The magical fruit. Subjects who ate half of a grapefruit with meals or drank 8 ounces of grapefruit juice three times a day lost 4 pounds (with some losing more than 10 pounds) in 12 weeks without dieting.
Carb smart. Keep your carbohydrates low to moderate when trying to lose weight. If you rotate low- and high-carb days, you’ll be able to keep your energy levels up while running a caloric deficit. Good, clean, fiber-rich carbs include oats, potatoes, rice and whole-grain bread. Also, limit high-carb drinks like fruit juice to postworkout, when your body needs carbs to speed recovery.
Operation Dinner Out. Be diligent when ordering in a restaurant. Have your meats grilled without oil or grease. Ask for steamed vegetables with no butter. Get a salad (no cheese) with either low-fat dressing or vinaigrette.
Avoid simple sugars. Too much sugar in your diet can wreak havoc on your metabolism by spiking your insulin response and promoting the accumulation of bodyfat over time. Immediately after exercise, however, is an ideal time to ingest simple sugars; otherwise, steer clear.
GI Low. For most of the day, your carb options should be of the low-glycemic variety, meaning they’re digested and burned more slowly. Athletes who eat low-GI carbs burn more fat throughout the day.
Eat more fiber. Fiber, both soluble and insoluble, is essential to health and helps decrease bodyfat. Adults should consume 35—40 grams of fiber per day, with about a third of that coming from insoluble fibrous sources. Along with whole grains rich in beneficial fiber, consume high amounts of fibrous vegetables, such as broccoli, to attain your daily intake. High-fiber foods also promote satiety.
Timed consumption. When you eat is just as important as what you eat. Many people who eat way too much at night should re-evaluate their eating patterns. Eat two-thirds of your day’s calories before dinnertime to avoid overeating late in the day.
Prepare. Watch what you eat around work. If your workplace serves nothing healthy, tote food or snacks along with you. If you’re attending a workplace function in which only junk food is served, pre-eat. Having recently eaten something that’s healthy and adequate in calories to meet your energy needs, it’s easier to say no to the junk and empty calories.
Get yolked. Eating eggs for breakfast was recently found to reduce hunger and food intake for up to 24 hours.
Slow down, Turbo! Successful dieters and fitness buffs will tell you that fast eating and bodyfat go hand in hand because you end up overeating. It takes about 10 minutes for the food in your stomach to signal your brain that you’ve eaten enough.
Don’t be salty. Excess sodium consumption can make you look softer and cause you to burn less fat. Most people get way too much, anyway, especially if you eat a lot of processed foods. To help you look leaner and strip sodium from your diet, drink more water, cut back on highly processed foods and switch to potassium chloride to season your foods.
Got milk? Research has shown that individuals who consume high levels of dietary calcium in a 24-hour period had higher rates of fat oxidation that day than those who consumed lesser amounts. So stock up on low-fat versions of cheese, milk and yogurt; if you’re lactose intolerant, choose dark-green leafy vegetables, legumes and almonds.
Go nuts! Eating a handful of almonds was found to help test subjects lose 62% more weight, 56% more fat and 50% more from their waistline after 24 weeks compared to those who followed the same diet without almonds.
Invest in a fat-burner. Consult your doctor before trying a fat-burner if you have any pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma or high blood pressure, as fat-burners can exacerbate those conditions. New products that combine multiple ingredients, such as Hydroxycut Hardcore and Lipid Fx, work well.
Have a tea party. Green tea, in beverage or capsule form, is a reliable fat-burning aid and is generally safe for most people.
Caffeinate. Drinking coffee before cardio will cause you to burn more fat. Subjects who consumed 300 mg of caffeine two hours before exercising on a stationary bike for 30 minutes were not only able to work out at a higher intensity (more total calories burned) but they also used a much greater percentage of bodyfat for fuel.
Aminos work, too. Researchers found that subjects who ingested about 3 grams of an amino acid mixture before one hour of moderate-intensity exercise on a stationary bike burned the same amount of total calories but more fat than those taking a placebo drink.
The Transporter. Carnitine, which helps transport fats to where they can be burned in the mitochondria of muscle and other cells, can help you burn more fat. One study showed that three weeks of carnitine supplementation increased carnitine levels in muscle and enhanced fat usage during exercise. Another study showed that just 10 days of carnitine supplementation (3 grams per day) increased the amount of fat burned.
Fat for fuel faster. Hydroxycitrate (HCA) appears to enhance fat loss, according to researchers. Subjects taking HCA were able to work out longer and harder, and the amount of calories they burned from fat during the hour of exercise increased. Try taking 250—1,000 mg once or twice a day.
Builder/burner. Creatine not only helps build muscle but can aid in bodyfat loss. Soldiers who took creatine (as opposed to the group that got a placebo) increased strength and muscle mass, but also averaged a 0.5% reduction in bodyfat percentage, with several subjects dropping more than 1% bodyfat.
Take CLA. Conjugated linoleic acid has come into vogue in bodybuilding circles as a fat-burner. Several studies in humans have shown modest effects on fat loss. Try 3 grams per day.
Recruit a partner. Weight training with the right partner can help push and motivate you beyond what you’d achieve on your own. He or she can also be a positive and healthy source of competition, if that’s a characteristic that helps drive you in accomplishing specific goals.
Discipline. Tired of how you look? Then understand you’re the only one who can change it. Resolve to do it and do it. Create a plan and carry it out, budgeting time for the gym, food prep and rest for the week.
But be flexible. While you should be rigid about your workout times and food intake, don’t lock yourself into lofty goals such as “I will lose 10 pounds in my first two weeks.” You’re setting yourself up for a fall. Instead, aim to shed up to 2 pounds per week after weeks 4—5. Anything earlier or greater than that should be the fat-free icing on your cake!
Be a fitness nerd. Watch and read everything you can get your hands on (such as Muscle & Fitness) to learn more about the body, exercise and nutrition. The more you know, the better off you’ll be in the gym.
Join a league or run a race. Many people lack the drive to keep to a regular routine. Giving yourself a reason to get into shape (or stay that way) is a great way to stay on course with your goals. Signing up for a 10K or joining a league in your favorite sport is often motivation enough not to miss your next gym session.
Cheat. To avoid going insane with anger over what you can or can’t eat, allow yourself 1—2 cheat meals per week, depending on how dedicated you can be. Small indulgences make dieting more tolerable, keeping you on track longer.
Stay the course. The watchword for taking off that extra layer of bodyfat is consistency. Stick with it, even if the first week or two are tough — by the third week, you’ll start to form a habit.
Be goal-oriented. To succeed, keep track of your goals. Make them attainable, and write them down to increase your chances of success. Set small goals — such as dropping 5 pounds or losing 2 inches off your waist — that are measurable and attainable. Once you hit those goals, set new ones to keep yourself motivated.
Picture this. Get motivated by hanging up a picture of yourself today next to one from a magazine of what you want to look like. Dream big, but be realistic: You can have a far-improved physique in a month, but more dramatic changes take more time.
Chart progress. Weigh yourself naked just once per week, at the same time of day, preferably on the same scale to ensure accuracy. M&F