First off, a disclaimer: When you start resorting to extreme measures to get lean in an emergency, including calorie restriction and a more aggressive training plan, then you risk being in state of chronic cortisol elevation pretty early on. The greater the calorie and carbohydrate restriction and the more training volume you utilize the more cortisol you will produce. While cortisol is important, and in my opinion gets vilified far too often, too much of it can negatively affect the way your body looks, ultimately leading to an unwanted loss in muscle mass while at the same time leading to water retention.
I spoke to five experts and industry friends and asked them the specific question: “If the average lifter had just a 4-week deadline to look their best then what would you have them do? Zero limitations.”
The advice you’re about to hear is strictly for “emergency” scenarios, and using various methods that neither myself nor the experts I spoke to would resort to if more time were available. But you asked so we delivered. Here’s what to do to get back body ready in an emergency:
The Physique Scientist – Bill Campbell, PhD
I would have them clearly define their goal of losing as much as possible in 28 days. Do they want to maintain as much muscle as possible during this 28-day fat loss phase? Of course! But they are going to have to do some things that are not ‘muscle building friendly’ and they must be ok with this.
My prescription would be to diet for 20 days out of the 28 days. The diet would look like this:
4 cycles of 7-day phases, with each 7-day phase being:
• 5 consecutive days of a caloric deficit of 40% (only eating 60% of maintenance calories
• 2 consecutive days of going back to maintenance calories (increasing calories in the form of carbohydrates) —this will help maintain muscle mass during this fat loss phase
• Protein intake would be 1 g/pound of body weight each day (this will help maintain muscle mass during this fat loss phase)
Exercise program would be as follows:
• Resistance train 6-days per week with an intention of not reducing the intensity of the lifts even though calories are lower (this will help maintain muscle mass during this fat loss phase)
• Low-intensity aerobic exercise 6 days per week
This strategy that I laid out above is similar to a fat loss research study that I published previoussly in resistance trained individuals (Link to study here). Using this type of plan (2-day carbohydrate refeeds) enabled us to maintain muscle mass and metabolic rate better than not incorporating diet re-feeds in a resistance trained population.
The Nutrition Expert and Educator – Phil Learney
I would look to increase their overall work capacity. In doing so this will put an increased demand on their recovery so in the same breath I would look to increase or incorporate more recovery strategies and make sure that their entire caloric intake is made up of quality stuff.
Push energy dense stuff down and nutrient dense stuff up.
At this point someone will pipe up about eating ‘clean’ but in the same breath consumes about a kilo of veg…..a month.
Pretty simple really.
The World-Renowned Bodybuilding Mind – Dante Trudel
I would have them train Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday with Wednesdays and Saturdays off. I would have them train strong bodyparts on Tuesday and Friday before those days off…..for example let’s say their strong bodyparts were legs and back…I would have them train like this for four weeks:
And so with that setup I would have them do this:
As soon as the workout is done on Tuesday and on Friday (legs and then back) I would have them fast for 24 hours….and drink nothing but water or flavored water for at least 24 hours….so if they finished legs at 11am on Tuesday they would fast until at least 11am on Wednesday and then start eating again…..and the same on Friday. If they trained at night let’s say 5pm or so they would fast on just water or flavored water until at least 5pm the next night until eating again.
The diet would be higher protein with the majority of carbs taken post workout and the rest of the day would be more so higher protein lower carbs (not zero just lower) and good fats/fibers…but post workout they could eat higher protein and higher carbs…..
So fasting for 24 hours after workouts on Tues and Fri….and high protein and higher carbs post workout every workout day and the remaining meals would be higher protein with lower carbs but more good fats/fibers.
I would have them do brisk walks on workout days …around the neighborhood…walking the dogs…etc for about 20 minutes and on non workout days (where they are fasted) I would rather have 50-60 minutes of steady state cardio (brisk walk on hilly streets….or hiking paths.
Every single day in the shower I would have them practice vacuums and holding them for 15-20 seconds…..3 rounds of those holds.
They can drink as much water or flavored water as they want on the fasting days to satiate hunger.
That would get them down lean and mean in 4 weeks with a minimal loss of muscle mass
They would find that because five days a week would be somewhat of a typical offseason diet (albeit with lower carbs slightly)…but with regular offseason foods used….complete with higher salt intake of offseason foods…that their strength in the gym would not recede greatly and their strength would not suffer.
They would find that they looked like a million bucks upon completion of every 24 hour fast because they would lose all bloat and a bunch of water….and they would be sucked in gut wise….probably their best looks of the week.
Thats what I would do to get someone in their best shape in 4 weeks
The Coach and IFBB Pro Physique – Austin Current
To get in the best shape possible in such a short period of time, I would recommend pulling the levers you know will have a large return on investment toward improving your body composition: calorie management, strategic strength training, movement, and quality sleep.
I would start by focusing on prioritizing movement. More movement equals more caloric output throughout the day. This can be as easy as moving around more throughout the day and accumulating more steps taken each day. Nutritionally, I would increase the consumption of nutrient-dense foods and focus on staying hydrated. As calories will be reduced, you need to ensure quality nutrition supplies your body with what it needs to perform at a high level while in a caloric deficit. Evenly distribute protein between meals and focus carbohydrate consumption before and after training 一 and before bed if necessary to maintain restful sleep. Appropriately fill in meals low in carbohydrates with high-quality fats. To ensure daily accuracy and reduced decision fatigue levels, I would advise creating a meal plan to follow to keep you on track and maintain dietary adherence across the weeks.
Train hard, recover harder. Sleep will help in improving recovery, performance, adherence, improved hormone regulation, and body composition. Make it a priority.
Training will be high frequency, tension-based, and dense with volume. I would recommend keeping the split to no more than 5 days per week. Remember: train hard, recover harder. A ⅓ body split (chest/back, legs, delts/arms), repeated; 3-4 exercises per muscle group within an 8-12 rep range. Attention and focus toward properly performing exercises keeps the body within a safe and controlled movement pattern, leading to reduced injury and improved body composition — through increased levels of mechanical tension on the desired muscle groups, the main driver for muscle retention and growth.
Stay focused; prioritize movement, hydration, and sleep; eat high quality, nutrient-dense foods; train hard, recover harder. Get to it!
The Strength Coach and Performance Expert – Eric Bach
When you’re short on time and trying to look great naked fat loss will only take you so far.
In addition to being lean you need strategic physique development focused on creating the most dramatic visual impact on your body.
By emphasizing the muscles that’ll give you the V-taper physique, accentuating broad shoulders and a narrow waist: your traps, delts, lats, and even forearms.
You’ll be rowing every time you hit the gym. By dramatically increasing training frequency you’ll shock muscles that have been trained 1-2x per week into growth.
By increasing frequency you’ll prime your muscles to pull in more stored muscle glycogen due to the increased metabolic stress. And as an ancillary benefit you’ll help unwind the damage of unbalanced training and poor posture.
The key to making it all work?
To prevent overuse you need to vary the intensity of your rowing.
Once or twice per week perform heavy barbell based-back work like deadlifts, pendlay rows, or bent over rows for 4×4-8 reps.
Twice per week perform row variations in the classic hypertrophy range, such as 3×8-12 reps.
My go to’s are the single arm landmine row. Example below:
And the split stance dumbbell row:
Finally, include 2-3 metabolic based muscle builders. These are hip-rep training methods meant to maximize metabolic stress. By and large these are going to be less stressful on your joints and CNS.
1.5 rep inverted row:
10-6-10 Chest Supported Rows. The”6” is for 6 reps with a 6(ish) second eccentric.
The final “10” is for ten partial reps:
Fat loss is obviously crucial when it comes to looking great naked. But if you’re running low on time shifting your training to beef up your lats, traps, and delts can help you look leaner and bigger at the same time.
I train Olympians, Pro’s and the hardest workers in the gym to look great naked!