1. Interval weight training
What could be better than a workout that torches a huge amount of blubber in a single session? One that packs on muscle at the same time. That’s exactly what interval weight training (IWT) can do. ‘IWT is intense interval work that combines athletic lifts and free aerobic exercise,’ says strength and conditioning coach Steve Kowalenko (virtus-fit.com). So pair high-octane strength moves such as thrusters or cleans with bursts of cardio, such as rowing or running.
‘When doing the strength moves, you’ll normally go with the weights and volume that build muscle – say 70% of your one-rep max for a move and ten reps,’ says Kowalenko. ‘During the cardio sections of an IWT you’ll work hard – at around 95% of your maximum heart rate – for one to two minutes so you boost your body’s ability to make explosive movements over a protracted period. This will improve your ability to go hard in almost any sport, from CrossFit to cycling.’
The high-intensity nature of the workout also burns loads of fat. ‘You’re working at maximum capacity so you power through the reps as fast as you can without breaking form, and then hammer through the cardio sections,’ says Kowalenko. ‘This places a huge demand on the respiratory, cardiovascular and nervous systems, so more fat and glycogen is burned to meet the energy demands. And because your body needs to process more oxygen in the hours after you’ve finished training to help your muscles recover, you’ll keep burning calories for long after the sessions has finished.’ Workouts that boost every other part of your fitness while getting you lean? That’s the holy grail of fat loss training, right there.
Most IWT workouts come in three parts. Here’s one to try.
Part 1 Three rounds of ten clean high pulls and a two-minute row, resting for two minutes between rounds and for five minutes before the second part.
Part 2 Three rounds of ten front squats and two minutes of explosive step-ups, resting for two minutes between rounds and for five minutes before the third part.
Part 3 Five-minute plank (broken into chunks if necessary).
Fat Loss 4 is a workout protocol where you do four moves back to back in a five-minute circuit. You do an upper- and a lower-body compound move and a core move, each for 30 seconds followed by a 15-second rest, then 1min 45sec of high-intensity cardio followed by 1min rest. ‘This works your entire body and makes your heart rate rocket,’ says PT Will Girling. ‘Try four rounds of pull-ups, squats, Russian twists, and a row.’
This stands for as many reps or rounds as possible, depending on the type of workout. So basically you go as hard as you can for the prescribed period with as little rest as possible. This creates a massive energy demand, which – you guessed it – torches calories. Here’s an AMRAP from top PT David Arnot to start with: four rounds of two minutes of ten kettlebell swings and six burpees. Rest for one minute between rounds.
These short, vicious four-minute interval workouts comprise eight rounds of 20 seconds of work separated by ten-second rests. You can do them with almost any move that has an explosive element. ‘Not only does it increase fat burning, it’s great for building mental strength, because getting through Tabatas is a challenge,’ says trainer Sean Lerwill. Try it with maximum-intensity rowing.
Short for metabolic conditioning, this style of super-high-intensity workout uses any number of exercises repeated multiple times, often against the clock. ‘With metcons you disturb your metabolism enough that it takes a long time to return to baseline, so additional calories are burned after training,’ explains leading PT Andy McTaggart. ‘Want a quick metcon to try? Do three rounds of 250m row, 20 burpee reverse tuck jumps, 15 pull-ups and ten kettlebell snatches for time.’
As the name suggests, the Primal movement takes its culinary cues from the diet enjoyed by our caveman ancestors, focusing on meat and vegetables and omitting grains, legumes and processed foods. But unlike strict Paleo-style eaters, Primal dieters are encouraged to consume small quantities of dairy – provided it’s high-fat, organic and preferably from grass-fed animals. This makes the diet more flexible and practical and allows a greater variety of meal and snack choices, which makes it inherently easier to stick to. By removing processed foods, it also dramatically reduces your sugar intake and completely cuts out man-made trans fats, the two things most likely to spike your blood sugar levels and cause the body to store fat.
Another key aspect of Primal is its stance on carbohydrates. Unlike Paleo – which doesn’t provide any guidelines for macronutrient intake – Primal strictly rations carbs, ensuring you consume just enough to train and recover properly, which helps to maintain steady blood sugar levels and prevent increases in body fat. Your food intake comes mostly from protein sources such as meat, fish and eggs – which preserves muscle mass while you’re losing weight – served with low-starch green vegetables such as broccoli and kale.
Primal also attempts to address lifestyle issues that can lead to unwanted weight gain, including lack of sleep and raised stress, which increases fat storage by raising levels of the hormone cortisol. This has a psychological effect too, because you’re far less likely to make poor food choices if you’re feeling energised and happy.
Like all diets Primal requires discipline, even with the dairy allowance. But if you’re confident in your ability to avoid temptation, embracing your inner caveman can produce serious fat-loss results.
A twist on the intermittent fasting format. Instead of spending entire days without food, 16/8 prescribes an overnight fast of 16 hours, with an eating window of eight hours to fit in three main meals. A straightforward option – if you don’t mind eating big during that daytime period.
8. Anabolic diet
This low-carb diet is designed to encourage your body to use fat as its main fuel source to keep you lean. Unlike its predecessor ketogenic, the anabolic diet – after an initial two-week no carb adaptation phase – allows carb refuel days on weekends to help you train. It’s effective, but it does require strict discipline.
9. If It Fits Your Macros
The attraction of IIFYM is that provided you hit daily targets for macronutrients – carbs, protein and fat – you can eat what you like. Keeping track of the numbers requires discipline, and it’s tempting to binge on junk food, but IIFYM is an excellent plan for burning fat.
Some people go gluten-free in an attempt to reduce unwanted digestive side effects they believe are brought on by grains such as wheat, barley, spelt and oats – but the gluten-free diet has also proven to be successful for fat loss. The reason? Most processed carbs and sugars contain grains, so by cutting them out, you’re avoiding two nasty causes of fat storage. The lack of bloating and wind is a bonus.
11. Chris Pratt
Pratt was in such killer shape for Guardians Of The Galaxy it’s hard to believe that not long ago he was best known as chubby Andy Dwyer in the sitcom Parks And Recreation. The actor was around 135kg when he auditioned for the Marvel film and used a photo taken while filming Zero Dark Thirty to convince the money men he could get in shape.
To get him into a condition that allowed him to play a comic-book hero without people sniggering, Marvel teamed Pratt up with trainer Duffy Gaver, the man who helped get Chris Hemsworth in shape for Thor, and nutritionist Phil Goglia.
Gaver trained Pratt for five months, putting him through up to six sessions a week, while Goglia doubled his calorie intake to 4,000 a day and made him drink 60ml of water for every kilo he weighed, which came to 8.7 litres a day.
‘Chris was completely out of shape when he started,’ says Gaver. ‘He’d lift weights four or five times a week for an hour at a time. For the first few months it was mainly traditional bodybuilding sessions to add size, targeting specific muscle groups on separate days.’ Later Gaver had Pratt swimming, cycling, sprinting, boxing, kickboxing, doing P90X sessions and even a triathlon, and in the later stages of training Goglia reduced his calorie count each week. By the first day of shooting Guardians Of The Galaxy Pratt had lost 27kg.
12. Kit Harington
Pompeii director Paul WS Anderson assumed Harington was ready to go when he was cast as the lead in the film, but he got a shock. ‘He was in pretty bad shape,’ says Nuno de Salles, his trainer for the film. De Salles put him on six weekly one-hour sessions of deadlifts and abs work, as well as a 4,000-calorie-a-day diet to get him ripped – and moved his topless shots to the end of filming.
13. Ben Affleck
When Affleck was cast as the Dark Knight in the upcoming Batman vs Superman film, many fans suggested he wasn’t in good enough shape. However, by the time Affleck filmed Gone Girl, he actually had to hide his physique. ‘That character is supposed to be out of shape, hungover and puffy and I had to train ahead of time for Batman,’ Affleck told Lorraine Kelly. Before filming he focused on full-body weights workouts, six days a week. Once filming started he reduced this to three or four weekly workouts.
14. Russell Crowe
Not only did Crowe have to get into shape for his leading role in Gladiator, he also had to shed the extra weight he’d put on to play whistleblowing tobacco exec Jeffrey Wigand in The Insider. He combined weights and cardio with boxing and fight training that involved swinging an 18kg sword.
15. Jake Gyllenhaal
Gyllenhaal needed to look fierce and strong to be convincing in the role of the adventurous and athletic prince. ‘We did a lot of core work to build the stability Jake needed to wield a sword,’ says his trainer Simon Waterson. ‘This involved performing a high number of reps to help him build muscular strength and endurance.’
You probably won’t have seen a SkiErg before, but this device – which admittedly looks like a wonderfully appointed torture rack – will start popping up in gyms everywhere over the next couple of years. The reason? The SkiErg – made by Concept2, the company responsible for creating the market-leading indoor rower – is one of the best weapons you can have in your fat loss arsenal.
‘When using the SkiErg you mimic the movements made during cross-country skiing, which triggers the specific strength and metabolic effects of the sport,’ says Kowalenko. ‘This means there’s plenty of bang for your buck when it comes to improving your fitness and shedding body fat.’
And that claim is backed up by data – according to a 2014 study by the Centre for Health and Sciences, a 92kg man can burn up to 1,303 calories an hour through cross-country skiing, so mimicking it in the gym offers you an excellent means of getting lean fast.
As well as very low body fat, cross-country skiers have the highest VO2 maxes of any athletes. This indicates the amount of oxygen your body can use when working at a high intensity. Having a high VO2 max doesn’t just mean you have an impressive work capacity, it also means you’re likely to live longer.
You work a SkiErg by pulling the handles down and squatting at the bottom during every rep. You’re working against the resistance of the same flywheel that’s in the Concept2 rower and it also has that device’s easy-to-use display system that tracks calories burned, distance covered and a host of other workout metrics.
And when your gym does invest in a SkiErg or you decide to shell out the £700 it costs to kit out your home with one, Kowalenko has a high-intensity fat-scorching workout you can do on it.
Do ten 30-second sprint pulls, with 90-second rest periods between them. Perform ten pull-ups during each rest period.
‘Kettlebells allow you to pull off a huge number of moves, so you can move seamlessly between exercises in high-intensity circuits,’ says Girling. ‘The heavier ones often aren’t used in gyms so getting your hands on them should be easy.’ Here’s a quick workout to try: 30 seconds of kettlebell swings, double shoulder presses, goblet squats, cleans and renegade rows, then rest for one minute. Do four rounds.’
‘The rower works the whole body during every stroke,’ says Lerwill. ‘The more muscles you use at once, the more calories you burn. Studies have shown that interval workouts with work periods of around a minute have more fat-burning potential than shorter ones, so for a great fat-burning session, row at maximum capacity for one minute, rest for 30 seconds and repeat. To get through four reps is good, six great and ten monstrous.’
19. Olympic rings
The rings are excellent for fat loss thanks to their versatility. Here’s McTaggart’s workout: ring dip, ring press-up, inverted row, ring chin-up, hanging knee to elbow. Do each move for 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds. Complete three rounds.
‘I use them with every client who wants to torch calories,’ says Arnot. Try his fat-loss workout: five rounds of ten deadlifts, five bent-over rows, five power cleans, five front squats, five push presses and five back squats. Rest as little as possible between moves and for 60 seconds between rounds.
21. Eggs Florentine
Ditch the waistline-expanding cereal and opt for this MF-enhanced eggs Florentine breakfast recipe, which provides plenty of protein to fill you up and help you avoid the urge to snack mid-morning. We’ve even added a healthier home-made hollandaise sauce that replaces butter with Greek yogurt.
Ingredients (serves 1)
1 large egg / Pinch of salt / 4tbsp white wine vinegar / 2tbsp Greek yogurt / 1tsp lemon juice / 1tsp Dijon mustard / Pinch of cumin / Pinch of paprika / Pinch of chilli flakes / A handful of spinach / 1tbsp rapeseed oil / Pinch of cayenne pepper / 1tsp fresh chives, diced / 1 wholemeal muffin (optional)
- Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the salt and white wine vinegar.
- Crack the egg into the pan and let it simmer for three minutes.
- While the egg is cooking, mix the Greek yogurt, lemon juice, mustard, cumin, paprika and chilli flakes in a bowl, then warm up the mixture in a pan over a low heat.
- Meanwhile, cook the spinach in a pan with the rapeseed oil
- for two minutes on a low heat.
- Remove the egg from the pan with a slotted spoon and serve with the spinach and sauce, either on the muffin or by itself for optimum fat loss results.
22. Chickpea balti
Chickpeas are a good source of muscle-building protein – and having more muscle tissue helps you burn body fat – as well as filling fibre, which reduces the temptation to snack. Courgettes also contain fibre and manganese, which aids testosterone production for more muscle growth. Chilli peppers contain capsaicin, which aids fat loss by raising your metabolism.
23. Tuna satay skewers
Tuna is high in protein but also in omega 3 fatty acids, which stimulate the production of leptin, a hormone that promotes a feeling of fullness. Peanut butter is rich in unsaturated fats and although it may seem counterintuitive to eat fat when trying to lose fat, this is the kind that encourages your body to burn calories.
24. Chicken, mango and chilli salad
The capsaicin in chilli can raise your metabolism and keep it burning fat for up to three hours after you’ve eaten. Mango contains filling fibre, and if you leave the skin on, you’ll also benefit from phytochemicals that have been shown to inhibit the development of fat cells in the body.
25. Broccoli and stilton soup
Broccoli is high in chromium, which the body needs to build muscle, reduce body fat and produce energy. Garlic contains a compound called allicin, which is thought to prevent weight gain. Stilton, like all dairy foods, contains calcium, which can boost your body’s fat-burning capacity.
Matt joined Men’s Fitness in April 2014 as features writer after spending several years writing for a luxury lifestyle magazine, swapping champagne and canapés for cardio and leg days.
Matt is a keen Thai boxer and his interest in fitness took off when he made the decision to compete semi-professionally and had to get in shape. Training aside, he says the worst thing about fighting is resisting the urge to apologise all the time.
Oh, and he’s still on the look out for a decent fight nickname after being told ‘The Best’ was reaching a little bit…
Favourite move: Any kind of squat variation
Favourite sport: MMA and Muay Thai kickboxing
Personal best: Competing in a semi-pro K1 bout
Targets: Sub-1hr 40m half marathon and winning a fight by KO
Scariest MF moment: Writing about myself in the third-person for this profile
Favourite MF website story: Spider-Man workout (opens in new tab)
Favourite trainer quote: ‘Hands up, chin down’ – every striking coach ever
Biggest gym crime: Avoiding the weights and sticking to the treadmill
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