Once again you've promised yourself that this is the year you're "really gonna do it." Damn right you are. Because this time there are no excuses. What follows is a summary of everything MF knows about building your muscles, losing your gut, and living to the fullest. All the typical resolutions are here-how to add inches to your arms, pounds to your bench, years to your life, and abs to your midsection-brought to you by some of the best trainers and coaches on the planet. Follow their instructions and you can't fail. Happy New Year? This time it will be.
Add 50 pounds to your bench press
Train heavy. "I hear all the time how someone wants to get stronger, yet they end up training like my grandmother," says Jim Wendler, a London, Ohio, trainer and former champion powerlifter with a 675-pound bench press. "You have to lift heavy weights to increase strength." That means using loads that are between 85% and 100% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM)-the most weight you can handle for one rep. Each time you bench, build up to your 1RM with this progression (after your warm-up):
Set % of 1RM NUMBER OF REPS
1 50% five reps
2 60% five reps
3 70% three reps
4 80% one rep
5-7 90% two to three reps
Estimate an increase in your 1RM by two-and-a-half to five pounds each week, and adjust the weights you use on all the sets accordingly.
Develop your grip strength. "This will allow you to grip the bar harder," says Wendler, "which translates into a tighter body position that's critical for lifting more weight." Try pinch grips: Hold several five- or 10-pound plates (three or four, depending on the size of your hands) between your thumb and fingers on both hands and let your arms hang at your sides. Hold for 20 seconds. Perform two sets at first-gradually working up to four-resting two minutes between sets. Train your grip twice a week at the end of your lower-body workouts.
Train your lats. "Strong lats will not only improve your posture," says Wendler, "they'll also improve your bench-press form, giving you more control over the bar as you lower and press it." Furthermore, making sure your pulling muscles stay in balance with your pushing muscles lessens your risk of injury. Do plenty of rows and pullups in your workouts-as many total sets as you do for the bench press. "Begin each rep by pulling your shoulder blades together," says Wendler. "Aim for between six and 15 total reps."
Add two inches to your arms
Do squats. "If you want to increase the size of one muscle group, you need to gain weight all over," says Joel Marion, C.P.T., a New Jersey-based trainer who sports a pair of 18-inch pythons. "Most strength coaches agree that to gain an inch on your arms, you have to pack on at least 10 pounds of body mass-and the best overall mass-building exercise is the squat." Though squatting primarily works your lower-body musculature, it stimulates the release of muscle-building hormones throughout the body, as well as increased blood flow to carry nutrients to your muscles. "You don't get the same effect doing arm curls," says Marion. Do eight sets of eight reps, resting two minutes between sets.
Train your tri's. They make up two-thirds of your upper-arm mass, but most guys still train them only as an afterthought. Marion recommends prioritizing tri's with compound exercises-those that work muscles at more than one joint. "Dips and decline close-grip bench presses not only hit the triceps hard but also recruit the stabilizing muscles that support the elbow and shoulder joints," says Marion. "If your stabilizers are weak, the growth of your bigger muscles will be limited." Conversely, more stability will lead to greater upper-body growth overall.
Work the brachialis. It's a triangular-shaped muscle that lies under the biceps and contributes greatly to the fullness of your upper arm. "Big arms are impossible to achieve if you neglect it," warns Marion, saying conventional curls don't work it hard enough. "Use hammer curls," in which your palms face each other, "and reverse curls," in which they're facing down.
Drop 20 pounds
Even if your college years ended with the Clinton administration, you have to admit it would still be nice to go to Cancun this spring and chase twentysomething coeds-and look like you belong. Alwyn Cosgrove, C.S.C.S., a world-renowned strength coach based in Santa Clarita, Calif., has the 16-week plan for how to do it.
Weeks 1-4: Start off by following the nutrition and training guidelines in "How to Lose Fat" on page 108, which should help you lose an average of two pounds of pure fat per week.
Weeks 5-8: If you've lost eight pounds by now, don't change a thing-continue with the same protocol. However, if you've lost fewer pounds, it's time to...
Weeks 9-12: By now, you should have lost about 14 pounds. If you're on track, stick with how you're eating and your number of intervals. If not, cut another 250 calories from your diet and increase your interval training to a total of 10 intervals. In either case, switch up your weight training: Raise your reps up to the 10-12 range, and cut your rest periods to 30 seconds.
Weeks 13-16: At this point, you should be 18 pounds lighter. If not, you need to alter your diet even further. Start by making sure you consume absolutely no carbs every other day, and increase your intervals to 10, performing them five days per week. If the person is working, continue with our plan by...
Train for a triathlon
"The biggest mistake endurance athletes make in their training is thinking their sport is about who can go the longest," says Cosgrove. "It's about who can go the fastest over the long haul." With that in mind, increasing your speed should be central to your regimen. "You don't even have to run, cycle, or swim the full distance of the contest in your training," he says. "Science shows that you automatically increase endurance by increasing your intensity." Practice these two workouts to speed your way to the finish line:
Practice your swim. Running and cycling are probably easier for you, since you've done them your whole life. But you've most likely had less practice swimming. Make sure your swimming technique is on par with the other two by getting plenty of time in the pool.
Train like it's game day. At some point, you'll need to train at least two of the events at the same time to prepare for the feeling of actual competition. "The hardest part for most triathletes is getting off the bike when their legs are dead tired and then having to run," says Cosgrove. "You need to prepare your body for this unique sensation."
Improve your diet
Eat more fiber. "It's great for your heart and helps to lower bad LDL-cholesterol levels," says Christopher R. Mohr, Ph.D., R.D., a nutritionist at the University of Louisville. You should be getting between 30 and 40 grams a day. "It's not difficult if your carb intake is primarily from whole grains," says Mohr. "Make small changes like using wheat bread on your sandwiches and adding oatmeal to your protein shakes." Of course, you should also make a point of eating more fruits and vegetables. Beans are one of the very best sources of fiber.
Eat flaxseed. Buy the whole seeds, then grind them in a coffee grinder and sprinkle some in your cereal, yogurt, or protein shake. Flax lowers blood lipids, protecting the heart.
Balance your fats.
"Eating saturated and trans fats is like pouring shortening down your throat," says Mohr. "Mono- and polyunsaturated fats act as a kind of Drano to clean you out." Cancel out the damage these dangerous fats do by consuming olive, flax, and fish oils daily. When shopping, check labels for trans fat (avoid it at all costs) and make sure that less than 10% of the fat in the product is saturated.
Drink three or More cups of tea per day. A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that those who consumed the most flavonoids (antioxidants found in plants), of which tea was the highest contributor, reduced their risk of death from heart disease by 20%.
Bring your legs into proportion with your upper body
If ignoring your lower half in favor of more benching and curls has given you the build of a yield sign, it's time to start doing some squats and deadlifts. But first, you need to check that everything's in working order.
Stretch. Squatting until your thighs are parallel to the floor-the minimum depth all guys should be able to achieve-demands sufficient flexibility in the hips and ankles, says Bill Hartman, P.T., C.S.C.S., an Indianapolis-based expert in training and sports-injury rehabilitation. Start stretching your hip flexors (the muscles on the front of your pelvis that raise your legs), glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
Strengthen each leg. Focusing on one leg at a time will build the stability you need in your hips to lift heavy weights with both legs. It will also prevent injury. "Hip stability helps prevent your knees from turning dangerously inward on squats and deadlifts," says Hartman. Start doing split squats, Bulgarian split squats, lunges (to the front and to the side), and single-leg squats. Perform three to five sets of five to seven reps for each, resting up to two minutes between sets.
Strengthen your core. As mentioned in "Stay Injury-Free" below, strength-endurance is crucial for avoiding injuries, but it can also make or break your leg development. "Your abdominal and lower-back muscles-the core-must sustain an isometric contraction throughout any lower-body exercise," says Hartman. "If they run out of gas, your set is over-even if your leg muscles haven't fatigued yet." Therefore, you need to do core-friendly exercises such as planks, side planks, and back extensions regularly.
Work the upper back. Resting a bar on your shoulders (for squatting) or pulling one off the floor (as in the deadlift) requires stability, too. Your entire posture on these exercises is dependent on the strength of your upper back-otherwise, your spine will sway like the tower of blocks in the last moments of a drunken Jenga game. The best upper-back boosters are bentover barbell and dumbbell rows, chinups, and face pulls.
- Cut another 250 calories per day from your diet (this time, from both carbs and fat equally).
- Increase your interval training to four days per week and add an extra two intervals each session (six intervals total).
- Keep your weight training at three days per week, but perform the exercises as tri-sets (three exercises done back-to-back with no rest in between) in the following order: lower body, upper body, lower body for the first set; reverse the order for the second set; and then return to the original order for the third set.
- Drop your reps to between eight and 10, and your rest periods to 45 seconds.
- Drink an extra half gallon of ice water each day-just heating up the water in your body raises your metabolism.
- Changing up your weight training again (even if you are on track). Select eight exercises per workout-four for lower body and four for upper body-and arrange them in two circuits of four exercises each, alternating upper- and lower-body exercises as before. So there will be two upper-body and two lower-body exercises in each circuit.
- Go through one circuit of four (back-to-back with no rest in between), performing six to eight reps for each exercise, then rest one minute. That's one set. Do four sets, then follow the same procedure on the second circuit of four. If your fat loss is behind schedule, increase your weight workouts to four days per week.
- Divide the distance you're currently running/cycling/swimming by three periods. For example, if you're running three miles, one period will be one mile.
- Timing yourself, run that first mile as fast as you can, then stop and rest for half the time it took you to run the mile. (You should recover almost completely.)
- Run the mile in the same fashion two more times-until you've covered the full distance. Perform these runs twice per week. Each week, reduce the time you rest by 30 seconds. Do the same with your cycling and swimming distances and times.
- Select a 60-meter area that's as straight as possible (like a track). Starting at one end, sprint to the 60-meter mark. This should take less than 10 seconds. Then take approximately 20 seconds to turn and jog back to your starting point.
- Repeat the sprint and jog three times-this should take about two minutes. That's one set. Perform three sets, resting one minute between each-this should take about nine minutes.
- Now rest two minutes, and then do another three sets in the same fashion. Altogether, this workout should last 20 minutes. As you improve, you can increase your distance and time-just maintain the ratio between your sprints and rest periods. "Remember, you're trying to develop your ability to go long by increasing your capacity to go hard," says Cosgrove. So don't slack.