Q: I’m 26, 6’ tall and 278 pounds, and I’m having trouble burning bodyfat. I’m guessing I’m about 30 percent bodyfat or so. I’ve lifted weights off and on since the ninth grade. I’ve talked with my doctor and have had blood tests done to check thyroid levels and cholesterol, etc. Everything is where it should be. I work out three to four times a week doing 20 to 30 minutes cardio on an elliptical trainer as well as full-body workouts. I usually superset bi’s with tri’s, chest and back, and then do legs by themselves, working out for an hour to an hour and a half. My diet isn’t the greatest, but it’s a lot better than it has ever been in my life. I’m seeing some muscle growth but very little reduction in bodyfat. All I take is a multivitamin, since I can’t afford anything else. I rarely drink alcohol or caffeine drinks or eat sweet stuff. I even asked my doctor whether low testosterone could be the problem, but she said that since I’m young, it wouldn’t be low. I’m reading as much as I can and employing a ton of training methods, but it’s not working. I have been trying consistently for the past 10 months, but I haven’t lost a single pound. What can I do?
A: That must be extremely frustrating to work so hard at it for the past 10 months and not lose even a pound. I can understand your frustration because I’ve been there myself—when I was trying to gain weight and get bigger. As you’ve discovered, the body is very reluctant to change and you really have to do everything right in order to alter the look of your physique.
The two factors that are going to contribute to your losing fat and gaining muscle is your training and your diet. You are doing a combination of weight training and cardio workouts, so you’re on the right track. The weights will build muscle tissue and the cardio will burn stored bodyfat.
You mentioned that you are doing full-body workouts. I recommend that you increase the intensity of your workouts by splitting up your muscle groups so you can do more work for each individual bodypart. If what you’re doing is not working, then you need to change things up by doing more until your body starts to respond.
The supersets that you are currently using are a great way to increase intensity. By taking less rest between sets and combining two exercises together, you make your heart work harder and pump more blood into the muscle tissues. The problem with doing a full-body workout is that you’re limited in the amount of exercises and sets you can use because you have to get all the muscle groups into one session.
By training only three or four major muscle groups in one workout, you can add more exercises and sets and burn more calories per week. Here’s an example of how you could structure your workouts while still using supersets:
Workout 1: Chest, back, delts, calves
Dumbbell bench presses 3 x 12, 10, 8
Lat pulldowns 3 x 12, 10, 8
Incline dumbbell presses 3 x 10, 8, 8
One-arm dumbbell rows 3 x 10, 8, 8
Flat-bench flyes 3 x 8-10
Seated cable rows 3 x 8-10
Seated dumbbell presses 3 x 12, 10, 8
Upright rows 3 x 10, 8, 8
Lateral raises 3 x 10, 8, 8
Bent-over lateral raises 3 x 10, 8, 8
Dumbbell shrugs 3 x 12, 10, 10
Hyperextensions 3 x 15-20
Seated calf raises 3 x 15, 12, 10
Leg press calf raises 3 x 12, 10, 8
Workout 2: Abs, legs, arms
Hanging knee raises 3 x 20-30
Crunches 3 x 20-30
Incline situps 2 x 20-30
Incline knee raises 2 x 20-30
Leg extensions 3 x 20, 15, 12
Leg curls 3 x 15, 12, 10
Leg presses 3 x 12, 10, 10
Hack squats 3 x 12, 10, 10
Dumbbell lunges 3 x 12
Dumbbell stiff-legged deadlifts 3 x 10
Pushdowns 3 x 12, 10, 8
Standing alternate dumbbell curls 3 x 12, 10, 8
Lying extensions 3 x 10, 8, 8
Barbell curls 3 x 10, 8, 8
You’re doing a lot of sets with that routine, but you want the high volume when you’re trying to burn calories and stimulate muscle tissue. You don’t need to train with very heavy weights on this training program. Your goal is to move fast and pump the muscles with moderate resistance and lots of sets and reps.
The workout should be intense and fast. Don’t just train with very light weights because that won’t challenge the muscles or burn enough calories. Train with moderately heavy weights and keep a training journal, recording the details of each workout. Make an attempt to use either more weight or more reps each week so your body must continuously work harder and cannot adapt.
I would suggest training at least four days per week. You can work out two days in a row and take the third day off from weight training. Either train on four set days per week or follow a two-days-on/one-day-off schedule, working out on different days each week—whatever fits into your schedule the best.
Increase your cardio to a minimum of five days per week. You can do cardio on your weight training days as well as your days off from the weights. It will burn calories, stimulate your metabolism and tap into stored bodyfat.
The high-intensity-interval-training style of cardio is a very effective way to burn more bodyfat and calories. It involves alternating different intensities during a session. Typically, you might do one to two minutes at a high intensity (running or using a faster speed on one of the machines) followed by one to two minutes at a slower speed (walking or dropping the speed on a machine).
To adapt that principle for an elliptical trainer, simply alternate speeds every couple of minutes. This is a much more intense version of cardio, so if you’re not accustomed to it, you should aim for 15 to 20 minutes and go up from there. When you can build up to doing the HIIT for 45 to 60 minutes, you will definitely be losing weight.
I recommend using HIIT cardio at least three days a week. In the beginning do it on the days when you don’t weight train in order to give it your best effort. In addition, do 30 minutes of regular cardio after your weight workouts at least two or three days per week. That will give you a total of five to six days of cardiovascular exercise.
The next big factor in losing fat is your diet. The food you eat and how you eat it are critical for losing weight and increasing your metabolism. You made the comment that your diet, while not the greatest, is better than it has ever been. The question is, Is that good enough to get the results you’re looking for?
When it comes to changing the look of your body, diet is the most important part of the puzzle. You can lift the heaviest weights, train harder than anyone in the gym, do cardio every day, but if your diet isn’t right, you will still make little to no progress.
You need to get serious about what you eat. The very first step is to keep a diet journal and record everything you eat every day—not just what you are eating but how much of each food and how many calories it contains as well as grams of protein, carbohydrate and fat. At the end of the day add up exactly how many calories you consumed and how many grams of the macronutrients.
When you start recording exactly what you’re eating each day, it won’t take you long to figure out what you have to do to lose weight on a consistent basis. There will no longer be any guessing or confusion because it will be on the page in front of you in black and white.
To construct a proper diet, start with the three macronutrients that make up the calories you’re taking in. Figure out how much protein, carbohydrate and fat you should be eating each day, and follow that schedule for at least two to three weeks, noting your progress. The body responds to consistency, so if you can eat the same numbers of grams of the macros each day, your body will react to that.
I would begin with 250 grams of protein per day to support all the intense exercise you’re doing. The muscles need protein for tissue repair and recuperation, so you should be eating high-quality protein foods every three hours—staple protein foods such as egg whites, chicken breast, turkey, fish and lean beef that will build more muscle and strength.
For your carbohydrate needs I suggest cycling your carbs to help starve the fat cells while still stimulating your metabolism. On the days when you don’t train with weights, try eating 150 grams of complex carbohydrates from foods such as oatmeal, oat bran, sweet potatoes, brown rice and Ezekiel bread.
On the days when you do weight train, increase your carbohydrates to 200 grams per day. Add a postworkout recovery drink such as Optimum Nutrition’s 2:1:1 Recovery, as it will supply the amino acids and glycogen you need immediately after your workout.
For your fat intake eat the essential monounsaturated fats found in such foods as salmon, peanuts and supplements like flaxseed oil, an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. You will also be getting fats from foods such as eggs, turkey and beef. Keep your total fat intake to 50 to 70 grams a day, higher on your low carb days and lower on your high-carb days.
After several weeks of this intense weight-training, cardio and diet program, note the results. I would be shocked if you didn’t lose any weight. If you don’t see any response to this new program, however, look at your diet and make some adjustments. Maybe you need to add another small meal to your diet plan in order to increase your metabolism, or maybe you need fewer carbs or more protein. The only way you can make adjustments is to start by taking a good look at exactly what you are doing now.
Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Check out his Web site at www.NaturalOlympia.com for more information about how you can be a part of his exciting, new Natural Olympia Fitness getaway. Send questions or comments to [email protected]. Look for John’s DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse, www.Home-Gym.com. Listen to John’s radio show, Natural Bodybuilding Radio, at NaturalBodybuildingRadio.com. IM