I was surprised when I stepped on a scale the day after Thanksgiving to find I had lost almost five pounds in five months. I shouldn’t have been surprised, however, because I had set my weekly target to lose a half pound per week on my MyPlate app by Livestrong. So had it not been for the constant grazing and then gorging of Thanksgiving, I probably would have met my goal of losing a half pound per week, or 10 pounds over five months, because I weighed myself again a week before Christmas and was shocked to see I had lost another eight pounds. (I’ve put five of it back on thanks to Christmas cookies.)
I’ve been monitoring my diet with the MyPlate app for six months now, hardly changing any of my exercise habits. Over that time, I’ve gone from 185 pounds to 165 pounds, and my waist has shrunk from 35 inches to 33 inches. I am a 31-year-old male standing five feet, 11 inches tall. My goal: to have six-pack abs by spring. It is the day after Christmas as of this writing.
Why Six-Pack Abs?
I’ve never had six-pack abs despite being a gym rat in college. My goal in college was “the Rocky body.” I wanted to be 200 pounds like Rocky Balboa. I graduated high school at 150 pounds.
I worked at the University of Washington fitness center as a freshman in college, so if I wasn’t in class, studying, eating or sleeping, I was probably pumping iron. I started eating a 3,000-calorie diet -- then a 4,000-calorie diet. I was drinking a gallon of milk every two days or so, and burning through more whey protein than any broke 18-year-old should. Most of my money in those days went for protein and movies. I would do handstand pushups in my dorm hallway in the evenings and even stole some exercises from Rocky training montages, like medicine ball, decline sit ups (which probably contributed to my back problems later in life. I don’t do sit ups or crunches anymore, and neither should you.)
I put on 30 pounds of muscle as a freshman in college. People from my high school didn’t even recognize me, but despite eating a diet consisting almost entirely of protein and fats, I could never get my weight above 180 pounds. I had plateaued, which made me give up on my dream of achieving “the Rocky body.”
Once I turned 30, though, I didn’t have any problem putting on weight. My metabolism slowed noticeably, and I found myself buying jeans in a larger size for the first time in my life. I’ve had a 34-inch waist since middle school and was even wearing some of my high school jeans right up until I was 28 or so. Now I have the smallest waist I’ve ever had in my adult and adolescent life.
Now that I have degenerative disc disease that has resulted in one surgery already, “the Rocky body” isn’t a likely or healthy goal for me. Supporting 200 pounds on a five-foot, 11-inch frame would likely result in more lower back pain, especially given the upper body, weight-lifting required. But when I saw a 50-year-old man carrying a glass of wine and his six-pack abs around a pool in Las Vegas this year, I knew what I wanted for my body. I want to be the fittest old man around, and nothing says fitness like six-pack abs.
Steps Taken Thus Far: Diet, Exercise (sort of)
I’ve changed my diet dramatically. Calorie counting is a lifestyle, not a diet. While other people play games on their phones, I play with my body chemistry using the MyPlate app. I log my meals a day in advance, chasing the perfect day of macronutrient consumption (40 percent of calories from carbs, 30 percent from protein, 30 percent from fats) with what I have in the fridge and cupboards. It’s not easy, and it’s even harder if you’re poor. I typically only get my protein from whey and casein protein powders and eggs. If I’m lucky I’ll have chicken, or in this case, turkey due to Thanksgiving. Very rarely can I afford to eat steak or fish.
I’ve also quit drinking alcohol. Cutting carbs out of my diet proved difficult back when I was boozing. To think that a single pint of India Pale Ale could have up to 280 calories, all of which are calories from carbohydrates, made me move off microbrews immediately. Switching to 110-calorie light beer didn’t help. I just ended up drinking twice as many light beers to compensate for the lack of alcohol.
Then I tried doing 100-calorie shots of whiskey on the rocks or in soda water, but I still struggled meeting my caloric and nutrition goals despite dumping the empty carbs. Finally, I started drinking the lowest-calorie liquor out there: vodka. At 97 calories per shot, vodka allowed me to meet my caloric goals more easily, but I struggled finding a mixer that was low in carbs and sugars. Vodka and soda water isn’t any good, orange juice adds 112 calories from 21 grams of sugars and 26 grams of carbs, and cranberry juice is even worse.
I’ve found a couple of workouts I like on the MyPlate app thanks to Livestrong granting me gold membership status in exchange for me writing these editorials. I do a seven-minute, cardio sculpting workout that burns roughly 141 calories. I try to do that thrice weekly, and fail more often than I succeed.
I’ve also started doing MyPlate’s 10-minute abs workout, which burns just 76 calories, but shreds the abs. I use an ab wheel instead of doing the weighted crunches, though. This obviously isn’t enough exercise to burn my belly fat and reveal my six-pack abs, but my New Year’s resolution is to increase my training and have six-pack abs by March 13 (for another trip to Vegas).
Steps Yet to Take: Interval Cardio Training
Long-distance cardio isn’t the answer if your goal is six-pack abs. Exhausting yourself running miles upon miles is completely unnecessary and ineffective. You’d be better off running a 100 meters at full speed, resting for 30 seconds, and running another 100 meter dash. That’s why I’m starting an interval cardio training program.
Interval cardio training is a lot like weight lifting -- but for cardio. When I was seeking “the Rocky body” back in college, all I did was interval weight training. Interval training is simply doing an intense exercise for a short period and then resting for a short period.
For instance, on a chest day, I would start doing eight repetitions of bench press, then rest for a minute. Then I’d increase the weight and do six reps. Then I’d increase the weight and do four reps, maxing out on my last set doing two reps of the most weight I could lift. I’d do this for every exercise, eventually turning my weight training into a cardio workout as well. On arms and abs days, I wouldn’t even rest between sets. I’d go straight from bicep curls to weighted, decline sit ups and back to curls. On chest and back days, I’d go from bench press to the weighted row back to bench press. It was exhausting, effective and efficient.
Interval cardio training is exactly like interval weight training minus the weights, and when it comes to effective interval cardio training, nothing compares to the effectiveness of jumping rope. Just ask Mark Wahlberg, whose goal at 46 years of age is to cut his body fat to six percent.
After the filming of his last movie, Wahlberg reportedly had 16 percent body fat, which still allowed his six-pack abs to show. But it gives you an idea of how far Wahlberg has to go. Google says you can safely shed one percent of body fat per month, but something tells me Wahlberg will do it in less than 10 months given his trainer, personal chef and cryotherapy.
I am starting with 18 percent body fat, which has me at the bottom of the average body fat range for men. That’s a good start. Men with 14 to 17 percent body fat are considered “fit.” Since my goal is six-pack abs by spring, I have roughly three months to lower my body fat anywhere from two to four percent. That’s plenty of time if I focus my “weight lifting” on my abs. After all, you don’t need a dangerously low body fat percentage to show off six-pack abs if you build your ab muscles like bodybuilders build biceps.
Building Abs like Biceps
The key to six-pack abs is constantly using your abs. You can do ab exercises sitting at your desk at work. Just crunch your abs together and hold it for a while. Then release, focusing on your breathing. These core exercises will shred your abs without going to the gym or even exercising.
You can’t just expect your abs to grow if you don’t feed them properly, though. At least 30 percent of your calories should come from protein. Fat isn’t as bad as once thought, either. It’s carbs that are toughest for the body to burn. You can burn fat in your sleep if you consume casein protein before bed. Just have a bit of Greek yogurt, cottage cheese or a casein protein milk shake prior to bedtime, and you’ll burn fat all night. Avoid the carbs at all times except after a workout. It’s important to carb load after workouts, but try to eat healthy carbs like fruits and vegetables. A little sugar after a workout isn’t terrible, either.
The most important thing you can do to achieve your New Year’s resolution of six-pack abs by spring is to commit to an interval cardio training regiment. I’m purchasing a Cyclone Speed Rope -- a jump rope with comfortable hand grips cut at a custom length that makes double-unders easier to perform. Cyclone can even design a jump rope for amputees who’ve lost an arm.
So if you’re determined and dedicated to your body, make six-pack abs by spring your New Year’s resolution, and shock all your friends at the pool this summer.
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