I've spent the past 15 years trying to get that ever elusive six pack, I'm going to be honest, I've never really succeeded. Two pack - sure, four pack - just about, but a six pack, I've not managed it, not like these sub 8% body fat greek god like influencers. Why? Honestly, it's because I'm not THAT dedicated. I like chasing the ambition, but I like a drink or seven, I also like indulging with family and friends, a like a double pudding. With that said, I do stay in decent shape all year round, and then get pretty toned for holidays. I spend hours reading studies, speaking to PT's, to our customers, those in bad shape who are making progress, and those in excellent shape gearing up for bodybuilding contests, so I'd like to think I've built up a strong understanding of the body, and what works.
Big news, it's not rocket science. Train hard and consume less calories than you burn (aka make sure you burn more than you consume). It's literally that simple. Physiologically at least. It's basic science, if you burn more calories than you consume, you WILL lose weight. If you are eating correctly, and training smart, you'll be able to maximise fat reduction. We sadly see many of the UK public losing lots of weight, incredibly quickly, however, it's not good weight, then the results dry up, they binge and pile on the pounds. It's a vicious cycle, the well known YOYO diet, it happens all the time. You may well be a yoyo'er, or know someone who is, they will end up at the same body weight or even higher than they were pre diet, but with less muscle than before along with a slightly slower metabolism. Let's try and break this cycle, lose weight in a way that is efficient, effective and something you can maintain.
Here are 10 lessons from my experience over the years, if you follow these and are more committed than me, that six pack will happen, your goals will become a reality. For me, I think I'll stick to my four pack and a little fun eating and drinking on the side, then follow this more strictly a few months before holidays, in particular calorie tracking.
5 DO's and 5 DON'Ts
What should you do?
Set goals. Without goals you lack focus and accountability. It's incredible the impact of setting a goal, writing it down on paper, look at that goal on a regular basis, tell others what that goal it, then chase it down. Mark down your progress. This is the vital step in getting started.
Work out your calorie needs. This is the most fundamental of tasks. There are SO many ways to work this out many of which will give you a different result. I'd recommend using a tool like: Calorie Calculator - it'll give you your BMR and your calorie needs based on your activity level, I'd always recommend slightly under exaggerating your activity levels.
Your calorie needs using the above calculator are based on maintaining your weight (maintenance calories). So we need to make changes from here.
I'd never look to lose more than 1% of your body weight per week, this is a good guide for effective weight loss. If you're 200lb - that's 2lb a week max loss. If you're 150lb - that's 1.5lbs. I personally look at 0.5% loss a week, so at 180lb, that's 0.90 lbs a week. It sounds insignificant, but it's pretty easy. It also really builds up over time.
1lb of fat = 3500 calories. So if you divide this by 7 days, that's a 500 calorie deficit each day, so take your maintenance calories and deduct 500 calories. This is your calorie target.
A working example. Woman 155lbs, lightly activity day to day. Her BMR is 1454 (basal metabolic rate is effectively her calorie burn if she was in a comma), her maintenance calories are 2000. 2000 cals per day! If she wanted to lose 0.5% of her body weight (155lbs) that equate to .775lbs a week. 3500 calories - 1lb, so 3500 x 0.775lbs = 2712 calorie deficit required each week. 2712 / 7 days = 387.5 cals. So her daily calorie goal would be 2000 - 387.5 = 1612.5 cals each day.
Track calories (and macros if you can). Download MyFitnessPal - it's pretty great, you can plug your goals into there and then track each bit of food you eat. It's amazing how much of a difference it makes to both the foods you choose and the volume of food you consume. If you are logging everything you can't not succeed. I'll often accidentally pick up a biscuit or snack, but I log it prior to eating, it's become a habit, half the time after seeing the impact it has on my remaining calories, I put it back and delete the entry. Accountability is vital. To help make weight loss as effective as possible, make sure you consume the right macros (split between carbs, protein and fats). This is about to get a bit mathematical, sorry. Protein should be 1g per lean lb of your body weight. You can calculate lean bodyweight if you know your rough body fat percentage. In the above example, 155lb female, at around 20% body fat (31lbs): 155lbs - 31lbs = 124lbs. Protein intake would be 124 grams of protein (this is 496 calories). Whilst dieting the temptation is to drop fat intake, but this isn't wise, certainly not too low, so I'd recommend 33% of your calories come from fat. In this example with the woman consuming 1612.5 calories, 537 calories would come from fat. This is about 60 grams. The rest of your calories can come from carbs. In the working example this would leave 579 calories for carbs. This is 145 grams. The key thing is the calories - so 1612.5. But then the split is important, get enough protein, then fats, then whatever is left comes from carbs.
That might be a bit scientific, the numbers relate to the amount of calories in each gram.
Protein has 4cals per gram. Fat has 9cals per gram and Carbs have 4cals per gram.
1g of protein per 1lb of lean body mass
33% of calories from fat sources (then divide by 9 to give you your fat grams per day)
The rest from carbs. However many calories leftover can come from carbs, divide this by 4 to give you the grams).
Lift weights. Onto the more straightforward stuff. Lift weights. Choose big compound moves (deadlift, squats, bench press, pull ups/rows) that challenge the whole body. Aim for 3 workouts a week. I personally find that full body workouts are best with a days rest in between if you are in a calorie deficit. If I do isolated training days e.g. chest, when I'm in a deficit I get a little too sore. Make sure one of the sessions each week is a heavy session. Keep the metabolism firing. It's always good to add variety to your sets, mix up the rest time, rep range and weights, the body evolves quickly so keep it guessing and keep it adapting.
Add 'some' cardio. Cardio is great for burning calories, not to mention health benefits. It isn't actually essential to fat loss, but I use cardio to create extra calories to enable my lifestyle. If I know I have 2000 calories to play with for the day, but I'm planning on meeting friends for a calorie heavy meal, I'll often add cardio to burn e.g. 500 extra calories which I add to my daily total, so when I eat 2500 calories in the day, I'm actually still on track because I earnt the extra 500. This probably isn't perfect advice, but I think it keeps things realistic. For 99% of people, there will be days where it's impossible to avoid increasing calories, so go out there and earn that increase.
What shouldn't you do?
Don't cut out whole food groups. It's a pet peeve, you don't need to do it. You'll be missing out on that food groups benefits. Keto for example can work don't get me wrong, but it works because you're consuming less calories not because carbs are the devil. I occasionally do intermittent fasting - I like it, but again it isn't magic, it works because it reduces my calorie consumption. Everything is about calories in vs calories out. You don't need to cut out whole food groups, equally you don't have to cut out all your fave foods. You love Ben and Jerrys? Me too. Have half a tub if you like, but just make sure you have the calorie budget to do so, it's called flexible dieting.
Don't go too extreme. Extreme diets don't work, they get results quickly, but it's a false economy. They aren't' sustainable and realistically they aren't good weight loss. If you're 150lb and you're losing 3lbs a week, I can promise you that's not all fat loss. The last thing you want to do is lose your muscle mass, you'll look worse, feel free and slow your metabolism. When you start eating properly again (and you will if it's extreme but you can't maintain extreme) you will pile on the pounds.