One of the primary reasons for starting this blog was to create a way to hold myself accountable to my goals. As many of you probably know from personal experience, setting goals is the easy part.
Creating the desire and determination to actually achieve those goals is where many of us fall short.
For me personally this has always come down to the inability to maintain focus. It’s really easy to get excited about something, really dig into it for a few weeks, then completely lose focus and totally forget about my goal.
If necessary, I can even come up with a long list of reasons why my original goal was a bad idea, too inconvenient, or just plain dumb. Whatever makes you fell better, right?
Setting goals and then giving up on them can even become a habit. And habits can be tough to break. I know from experience.
So Why Six Pack Abs?
In August I will turn 40 years old. And while I can honestly say I don’t feel significantly different now than when I was 30, I’m obviously not getting any younger. As you can see in the picture below, I’m relatively lean, but not quite where I’d like to be…especially those pesky love handles.
So what better time than now? And while I’m at it, why not document the whole process online?
I figure there are two very good reasons for documenting my experience:
- For others who might be looking for the motivation to do this themselves.
- Holding myself accountable to actually achieving my goal.
Of course there are a few reasons I’d prefer not to as well:
- Posting images of myself on my online
- Publicly discussing my personal struggles associated with achieving this goal. ‘
But what the hell.
As far back as I can remember I’ve thought it would be really great to have six pack abs. I’ve tried at different times in my life to get leaner. I’ve just never managed to focus hard enough or long enough to actually to get to the point of actually seeing my abdominal muscles.
But if you think about it for a minute. How many people do YOU know that are ripped enough to have a washboard stomach? I know one, and he’s an amateur bodybuilder.
So it seems like a reasonably difficult challenge to issue to myself. Getting there in the next two months will be tough.
Beyond the next two months, the long term goal in all of this is to find a way to maintain this level of fitness while staying healthy and sane. So here we go.
I’ve always had an interest in fitness & nutrition
I’ve been working out since high school. I wasn’t always consistent, but over the last 5 years or so I’ve managed to make it a regular part of my life.
I enjoy the mental and physical challenge of working out. And on top of that, it’s great stress relief. These two reasons make it very easy to fit it into my schedule on a regular basis.
Here’s My Plan
I’ll be using a hybrid approach to achieve my goal of six pack abs by 08/17/2016. Here are the basic components.
First Up, The Paleo Diet
About 5 years ago I discovered the Paleo diet. I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of this particular diet as it’s been written about ad nauseum in a number of places. The basic gist of if is you give up grains, legumes, dairy, and highly processed foods.
I would say I stick to this framework with about 90% of the time. (I still have a weakness for oatmeal, and it’s a great post workout source of carbs)
In terms of achieving my goal there is one big benefit to the Paleo diet. You automatically eliminate many of the high glycemic, highly processed foods from your diet that often lead to excess fat. (There are tons of other benefits including reducing acne, lowering blood sugar, reducing inflammation, and many more.)
Though I never measured my body fat before starting the diet, I would estimate that I was around 15%. Within 6 months I had dropped to somewhere around 10% and my weight went from 200lbs to 185lbs. This wasn’t from restricting the amount of food I ate, it was simply changing WHAT foods I ate.
Since this is how I already eat, very little about my diet will change.
About this time I also eliminated long cardio sessions that were, to me, the very worst part of working out. I know there’s tons of info out there saying you should do aerobic and anaerobic exercises, but I got leaner without it. So guess what? No More Cardio.
I’m currently writing a LONG post about the benefits I saw from intermittent fasting. There are several variations to this technique. The one I use is the Leangains method. Basically you fast for 16 hours a day, and eat all your meals within the 8 hours your’e not fasting.
The biggest benefit to eating in this manner is that it forces your body to start metabolizing fat for energy. Even without adjusting total calorie consumption, many people will see fat loss within a few weeks of starting this regimen.
I know it sounds ass backwards from most diet and nutrition information out there, but fasting in this manner is not going to kill you, cause your muscles to eat themselves, or any of the other things you’ll read about from those that claim you should eat every 3 hours.
Throughout our evolution the human body has been forced to fast for lack of food, and as a result it is quite good at it. In fact, when you’re in a fasted state yore body will actually start to make repairs that it otherwise wouldn’t. (Don’t believe me? Read this)
I generally eat my first meal between 11:30AM and 1:30PM. My last meal is between 7:30PM and 9:00PM
This is an interesting subject. Until reading about the Leangains method I had NEVER trained in a fasted state. The pre-workout meal was sacrosanct. Now I rarely, if ever, eat before I train.
So what’s the big deal about training while in a fasted state? One of the biggest benefits is that it helps your body mobilize fat stores for energy.
My personal experience is that I feel much more connected to my body when I train fasted. After pushing my body through two heavy sets per exercise I can literally feel my muscles drained of glycogen (energy).
Eating a meal before a workout just forces your body to do more work (digestion) while you’re trying to train. This means blood is going to the digestive system to help shuttle nutrients instead of delivering oxygen to your muscles when they need it most.
Plus eating sometimes makes me feel lethargic. I don’t need that before going into the gym.
My usual schedule puts me at the gym by 11AM.
Reverse Pyramid Training (RPT)
I know plenty of people that spend well over an hour in the gym every damn day. The older I’ve gotten, the less this has interested me.
I’m all about making my time in the gym count. I want to get leaner and stronger. I don’t want or need another 20lbs of muscle to carry around. I want to look better, not bigger, and I sure as hell don’t want to spend two hours at a time in the gym.
Reverse pyramid training is about doing your heaviest set first. This is when your muscles are at their strongest and loaded with fuel. After your first set you’ll peel off weight (in my case 10%) and then do the next set to ONE rep more than the previous set.
For example: Bench Press
- set 1: 225lbs/8 reps
- set 2: 205lbs/9 reps
There are other variations of this training method that include doing more than two sets per exercise, but I find this is all I need to make consistent strength gains.
And it’s much easier to mentally prepare yourself for two hellaciously difficult sets than to try do more.
I also only do a handful of exercises.
My workouts currently look like the following. None take longer that 45 minutes.
Deadlifts: Set 1 – 335lbs/4 reps, Set 2 – 305lbs/5 reps
Overhead Press: Set 1 – 135lbs/6 reps, Set 2 – 120lbs/7 reps
Weighted Chin Ups: Set 1 – 72.5lbs/5 reps, Set 2 – 35lbs/6 reps (10% drop when including bodyweight)
Bent Over Rows: Set 1 – 135lbs/8 reps, Set 2 – 120lbs/9 reps
Close Grip Chin Ups: Set 1 bodyweight/12 reps
Bench Press: Set 1 – 195lbs/6 reps, Set 2 – 175lbs/7 reps
Inclined Bench Dumbbells: Set 1 – 70lbs/7 reps, Set 2 – 65lbs/8 reps
Weighted Dips: Set 1 – 45lbs/9, Set 2 – 25lbs/10 reps
Curls: Set 1 – 125lbs/7, Set 2 – 115lbs/8 (optional, weighted chin ups WILL hit your biceps)
Squats: Set 1 – 285lbs/6 reps, Set 2 – 255lbs/7 reps
Leg Extensions: Set 1 – 205/9 reps, Set 2 – 185lbs/10 reps
Leg Curls: Set 1 – 105lbs/8 reps, Set 2 – 95lbs/9 reps
Calf Raises: Set 1 – 225lbs/12 reps, Set 2 – 205lbs/13 reps
Especially in the beginning it is important to focus on giving EVERYTHING during these two sets. I personally struggled with getting my intensity up to a point where I felt like I was pushing myself hard enough within the two working sets.
But once you adjust, you’ll be surprised at how much harder you can push yourself when you only have to get yourself up for two sets of each exercise.
This is the one area that will require a significant change from the norm. Up until this point I have just tried to be somewhat aware of what I was eating each day. Get enough protein, get some carbs, and get some healthy fats. But in order to lose a significant amount of body fat (I’m guessing 6lbs by 8/17), I need to KNOW what I’m consuming each day.
Losing body fat is about creating a calorie deficit. It doesn’t matter how much you work out, if you consume more calories than you burn your body will store the excess as fat.
The idea behind tracking your macros instead of calories is one of simplification. In addition to being tedious, counting calories doesn’t help in terms of making sure you’re getting everything your body needs to avoid breaking down muscle instead of fat.
So I will track grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Once I hit my required numbers then I’m done eating for the day. I use a little kitchen scale (this one actually) to do this. It sounds like a pain, but it’s actually really easy. Plus you’ll naturally start making meals that are very similar in ingredients and quantities, requiring less weighing.
I’m currently at about 192lbs. So I’ll be consuming 299g protein, 270g carbs, and 44g fat on workout days for a total of ~2659 calories. And I’ll be consuming 245g protein, 31g carbs, and 75g fat on rest days for a total of ~1784 calories.
Why More On Days I Work Out?
To protect against muscle cannibalization on workout days I will eat as many calories as my body needs to maintain weight. The high levels of dietary protein helps to ensure my body will never have any need to break down muscle for fuel. Protein is also very filling.
You will gain a greater appreciation for this the first time you try to eat this much food in an eight hour window. It can sometimes be very challenging. This is especially true if you eat slower digesting foods like cottage cheese.
On rest days I make sure to get plenty of protein and also get a higher amount of healthy fats. This includes olive oils, fattier meats (salmon, grass fed beef etc), macadamia nuts, grass fed butter, etc. Even though carbs are low on these days, fats are naturally very satiating as well. This helps keep cravings to a minimum.
On both days I eat a good amount of vegetables and some fruit. Spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, etc contain important vitamins and fiber. They’re also very slow to digest so can help blunt hunger.
I don’t usually bother counting veggies towards my macros, but I DO track and oils or dressings used in their preparation. This is important as these are comprised primarily of fats so they add up VERY quickly.
Everyone has their own challenges when going after a goal like this. Here are the two I’m aware of to date.
- I’d like to manage this in a way that doesn’t completely kill eating out or any socializing (drinking)
- Summer is fruit season here in Oregon which means cherries, berries, peaches, and pears. They are yummy and I probably eat too much of them for my own good.
- Eating in a regimented way when traveling can be somewhat difficult. My wife and I have a bunch of travel plans for this summer. It will require extra diligence.
One of the benefits of the macros based approach is that it does allow for some wiggle room in terms of eating junk foods. So long as you count everything towards your daily totals you can eat whatever you want.
But given my timeline is very compressed (August 17 is less than 2 months away as of now), I’ll have to be extra careful if I’m to hit my goal on time.
For those of you that are interested I’ll be posting regularly updated photos every two weeks.