As a lot of guys near the finish line of their weight-loss goals, they’ll find that their progress has stalled. Even after weeks of dedicated effort in the gym and healthy eating, the scale will refuse to yield that last 10 pounds. Lots of guys will think: What gives? My weight-loss plan was working before—why isn’t it working now?
Here’s why: As you whittle away the excess fat, the game changes.
See, lots of guys will say they just want to “lose the last 10 pounds.” But by that stage of their physical transformation, what they really want is to attain a lower body fat percentage and a bigger, more defined musculature. And for that, they need to shift gears on their previous weight-loss plan to something that more closely matches the next phase of their goals.
To get the details on attaining that chiseled look, we talked to two expert trainers: Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S., a Los Angeles-based personal trainer and creator of the Extreme Burn workout series, and Aaron Guy, C.P.T. (NASM), a three-time NPC competitive bodybuilder and personal trainer at The Phoenix Effect in Los Angeles. Here, they present some of their hard-earned wisdom on the best techniques, strategies, and game-changing motivators that will help you shed your last vestiges of flab and lock down the body you want.
Arguably the most important aspect of chiseling away the last few pounds is to understand that the necessary diet and exercise adjustments will challenge your physical and emotional willpower. Like a runner nearing the finish line or a weightlifter nearing his last rep, this is when you really feel the strain of your endeavor—and when a big effort makes a big difference.
Donavanik tells his clients: “Suffer a little bit—eat super clean and work really hard—for the next 4–8 weeks. You’ll see the change. You’ll see the results. And you’ll see both way faster.”
Yeah, it’ll be tough—but if you’re serious about your goals, then this is the way to achieve them.
Few things are more frustrating than checking in the mirror after a grueling workout—you know, one of those sessions where you leave a personal sweat pond on the gym floor—and seeing, well, not much change.
“When anyone looks in the mirror, they see a lesser version of themselves,” Donavanik says. “We’re our own harshest critics.”
That’s why it is vital for your continued success that you interpret every little sign of progress as a giant step forward. “If you go from losing 5 pounds a week, to losing 1–2 a week, look at every pound as an accomplishment!” Donavanik says. “Don’t look at it and say, ‘I could do better’—celebrate the small victories.”
Simply creating a specific, time-based deadline for yourself will be a motivating factor, Donavanik says, and will make it easier to remind yourself of why you’re pursuing a punishing fitness and diet regimen. “My favorite quote: ‘A goal without a deadline is just a dream,’” Donavanik says. “If your goal is to lose 10 pounds, give yourself an actual date. From now until that date, give yourself benchmarks you need to hit at certain time points.”
Better yet: Try to make your goal or deadline personal—your first day of beach season, say, or your winter vacation to somewhere tropical—so you have a rooting personal interest in attaining your ideal physique, Donavanik says.
Remember, the proverbial “last 10 pounds” is more about physique then weight. Muscle, as you’ve heard, weighs more than fat. That means your trusty scale, which was your guiding compass throughout your previous weight loss goals, won’t offer you much insight on your progress.
“Don’t base all your feelings, emotions, or sense of success on the scale. The scale can lie,” Donavanik says.
A better strategy: “Focus on gaining muscle and losing body fat. You’ll see the change. The scale won’t have to tell you. You will see more muscle definition and you’ll become more vascular.”
Instead of a scale, consider investing in a fitness tracker like the Skulpt Aim, which measures the muscle quality and body fat percentage of various body parts, to get a more specific and measurable sense of your progress.
Lots of guys are skeptical of hiring trainers, especially if they’ve managed to lose weight on their own. But in this more challenging phase of transforming your physique, having a coach you trust can be a powerful way to make good on your goals, adjust your fitness routine, and stay on track with your nutrition plan.
Case in point: When Guy—an experienced trainer with numerous certifications—was preparing for bodybuilding competitions, he hired a coach. “Even the most elite athletes in the world have coaches,” Guy says. “A good coach will push you past what you think you are capable of achieving,” Guy says. “They can help you through the mental struggles of training, coach you on technique, and help prevent overtraining, an often overlooked component of an intense training regimen.”
We get it: You’re a busy guy with a busy schedule, and getting a workout in can be difficult enough as it is. But if you really want to hammer your body into shape, you’ll need to schedule your effort for optimal results.
In a perfect world, Donavanik says, you should do a cardio session in the morning—on an empty stomach if you can manage it—and then lift weights later at night. Only have time for one workout? Lift weights before cardio, and “work out when you have the most energy. That’s when you’ll get the most out of your workout—when you feel your best and when you can put 100% effort in.”
For your meals, prioritize a big, protein-rich meal in the morning (after that cardio session), and eat lighter as the day goes on. Dinner—ideally green veggies and some lean protein—should be your lightest meal of the day.
Yeah, yeah, we know: Over your dead body. But listen up, man: If you really want to get past that plateau and see progress where there was none before, then it’s time to re-examine your priorities when it comes to alcohol, because cutting it completely will give you a huge boost toward your goal.
Here’s why: “Alcohol provides nearly the same amount of calories as fat and almost twice the calories of protein and carbohydrates,” Guy says, “but absolutely ZERO nutritional value.”
Worse yet, Guy says, the occasional bender also tends to stimulate our appetite while our inhibitions are lower. “How many of us have ended up at that late-night burrito place after a night of binge drinking, only to regret our decisions the next morning? Instead of reaching for the alcohol at social events grab a soda water with a twist of lime. No one will know the difference and you'll save your calories for the ones that benefit your body.”
We’re talking clean. We mean body-suit-wearing, construction-of-the-space-shuttle clean. (This will be tough, remember?)
For a guy trying to lose those last stubborn 10 pounds, Donavanik advocates a diet of 50% protein, 30% fats, and 20% carbohydrates. Be aware, though: “This is for an average guy looking to lose those last 10 pounds, not someone who is just looking to maintain his current weight or an athlete looking to enhance performance.”
Step one: Cut all the crap. You’ve already (presumably) dropped alcohol and junk food, which is a big first step. Next is eliminating processed foods, which are riddled with all kinds of preservatives and junk that can throw off your progress. (A handy rule of thumb from Donavanik: “If it won’t eventually rot/spoil, don’t eat it.”)
Guy’s advice: “When I'm faced with the challenge of taking my physique to the extreme, my meals consist of lean meats and fish, lots of veggies, salt-free spices, unsweetened tea or water, and absolutely no refined sugar or simple carbohydrates.”
Cutting carbs can be difficult for the average guy, because carbs are a vital energy source for workouts and day-to-day functioning. And if you’re going through a stressful phase—be it professional, personal, or social—now is probably not the time to be cutting carbs, Donavanik says. “It will definitely take some adjusting. Initially you may find yourself more lethargic and more irritable, but after a week or two, you’ll get used to it.”
Most guys can start by cutting simple carbs first. That means no processed sugar, booze, bread, pasta, or rice. Whole-wheat carb sources are okay for most men, but Guy and Donavanik advocate skipping them at this phase.
From there, Guy and Donavanik recommend sourcing your carbs from sources such as oatmeal, sweet potatoes, and nutrient-dense vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, and cauliflower. These vegetables not only pack complex carbohydrates that will give you energy without a sugar spike, but also provide crucial vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to keep your body running smoothly.
The most effective way to stoke your metabolism, stay energized, and fuel your muscular growth is to provide your body with a steady stream of protein, fat, and carbohydrates (in their proper proportions).
“I like to compare my metabolism to that of a wood-burning campfire,” Guy says. “As you place fuel on the fire, the fire burns strong and continuously.”
Here's why: When your body senses a lack of fuel, it responds by slowing down your metabolism and holds on to body fat for later storage, Guy says. Furthermore, getting too much fuel at one time can trigger an insulin spike, which encourages your body to store excess blood sugar as fat. Stay steady and consistent, and you’ll avoid both those pitfalls.
It can be tempting to “lean out” by dropping water weight, but that’s just counterproductive and dangerous. Working out often can dehydrate you, so be sure to replenish your body with plenty of water.
Plus, dehydration can often be mistaken for hunger, Guy notes. Staying hydrated can knock down your hunger pangs and prevent you from reaching for that desperation candy bar that will ultimately set you back.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can leave you utterly winded and exhausted while also taxing your muscles—and that’s exactly why Donavanik and Guy recommend it.
“Adding new types of cardio in the form of HIIT is the most effective way to burn calories, boost your metabolism into high gear for periods long after you've stopped the activity, and burn body fat—while sparing all that hard-earned muscle you've worked for,” Guy says. “My general rule of thumb for healthy individuals is that if you can perform a high-intensity interval for more that 60–90 seconds, you're not working at a pace that’s truly at your peak performance or above 85% of your maximum heart rate.”
Guy recommends cardio movements that tax your leg muscles, like stair-climbing, hill sprints, or rowing, which lead to fatigue faster and challenge your heart rate. Exercises like jumping rope, kettlebell swings, and plyometrics are also challenging in a HIIT format, he says.
Donavanik also recommends compound movements like deadlifts, burpees, and thrusters. They’re huge calorie-burners, he says, although you shouldn’t try doing these every day because they are so demanding.
Remember: Losing the last 10 pounds isn’t as much about “weight loss,” per se, and more about body composition. By the time you’ve achieved a body fat percentage low enough to have your sights set on the last 10 pounds, it’s time to shift your focus from stubborn fat to the muscles that you want to see.
The solution: Lift heavy. “You want your muscles to really ‘pop,’ and heavy lifting will do that,” Donavanik says. “I’ve had clients who need to get ready for photo shoots and shirtless scenes on camera. Everything leading up until the last 2–3 weeks before their shoot is all HIIT training. During those last 2–3 weeks, however, we really tighten up the diet and focus on lifting heavy…. [The client] may only lose five pounds on the scale, but he’ll look 10 pounds leaner.”
Donavanik recommends doing both total-body functional movements and isolated exercises in four sets with the following rep scheme: 10 reps, 10 reps, 8 reps, and finally 4-6 reps.
Your body needs time to rebuild your muscles after a workout, and all that protein powder and HIIT won’t make much of a difference if you don’t get adequate sleep and recovery time. You will be tired during a grueling workout and nutrition regimen—so invest in your gains by recharging every night and on your recovery days.
“Overtraining can be equally as detrimental as under-training,” Guy says. “I insist that my clients take one day a week for full recovery in order to allow the body to regenerate, heal properly, and prevent overtraining and fatigue.”
The worst way to approach a fitness routine is like a death march. Sure, losing weight is challenging—but you should still enjoy the process on your way to your big goal.
“Make your fitness routine yours!” Guy says. “If you love what you're doing, you're going to be more inclined to do it consistently—and THAT is what’s going to take you to the next level of fitness that you're looking to achieve.”
That means understanding what motivates you and what you enjoy about workouts. Are you a team guy, or a solo operator? Do you like some competition in your workouts, or more of a cooperative atmosphere? Figure out what you enjoy about your routine, and lean on that to succeed.