28, 29, 30 …
My heart is pounding like a jackhammer. Drops of sweat are dripping from my forehead as my muscles contract in pain. I’ve probably gone too far this time.
38, 39, 40 …
This can’t be right. My knees are trembling and my whole body is begging me to stop. I probably should stop while I’m still in control. The clock keeps ticking.
45, 46, 47 …
This is where the rational brain kicks in. It’s the part where experience wins over instinct. And it enables me to keep going. Why? Because I’ve been here before. I’ve seen the warning signs, felt the burn, and heard that inner voice begging me to stop — countless times.
57, 58, 59 …
I turn to my inner voice and reply:
Fuck that! I can do this. Here, let me prove it to you.
With one last effort, I contract my whole body and I push the weight back on the rack. Over a quarter of a ton — not bad after just 4 hours of training.
Keep in mind that I’m not a pro athlete. Far from it. I’m a full-time medical resident spending most of my time sitting and diagnosing. I’ve also never been athletically inclined. As a kid, I would much rather spend my time between books than play sports. And if I had to play, I would pick the position that involved less running (goalie, coach, manager — whatever, just don’t make me run).
So what changed? How did I go from being the wimpy fat kid to having around 12% body fat and pushing 253 kg (558 lbs)? I applied science!
How I got fit by reading books
We all know there are lots of theoretical benefits to being fit. You live longer, you like what you see in the mirror, and more people want to sleep with you. But how do you get fit if you have:
- Little time available for workouts
- No prior experience in lifting weights
- Not enough motivation to go to the gym every day
If you want to learn about fitness you can easily get overwhelmed. Google has around 161.000.000 pieces of advice for you. Amazon has over 190.000 books in the Exercise and Fitness category. And you can find hundreds of online fitness gurus, each claiming his/her ultrafast body-toning, muscle-building, make-me-sexy program is the best.
So where do you start? Who do you trust? And how many 6-week programs must you go through to find the right one? None. This post is the only guide you will need to get the body you want.
That’s the good news. The bad news is you still have to put in the effort. There’s no way around that.
How to go from Skinny to Sexy
At the beginning of 2017 I started an experiment. I wanted to see if it was possible to lose fat while eating anything I wanted.
Short answer: YES. Following some simple principles, I managed to lose over 10 pounds of fat while still indulging in pancakes, pizza, and anything else I craved. My end goal? To get lean for our wedding. With one month left I had already reached it.
There was just one problem.
Would you please stop losing weight? You’re freaking me out!
That’s what my fiancé told me before our wedding. Yes, I had my suit fit perfectly, and I had some visible abs again. But I was skinny. So after the wedding, I set a new goal:
never get called skinny (or fat) ever again!
How to get a sexy body
Fast forward another six months. It’s the start of 2018 and I get introduced to a few new colleagues at work. In the span of a week I had 3 people ask me:
How often do you lift?
Where do you work out?
What program are you following?
Nobody bothered to ask if I was working out. And nobody would say I was skinny. Mission accomplished.
After proving that this routine works, I’m now ready to recommend it to you. Again, if you’re just looking to lose fat fast, I suggest you read this post. But if you want to look good in the mirror, stick to the following principles. You won’t regret it.
Principles to lift by
- Do strength training. Please, if you only get one thing out of this post, it should be this: lifting weights beats cardio — any time, every time. Yes, even if you mainly want to lose fat. Or get toned. Or just look better naked. Lifting weights is by far the most effective way to do that and prevent injuries. And before you ask: don’t worry ladies, bulking isn’t that easy. You won’t end up like the Hulk if you eat right. Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s proof:
- Move the weights slowly. You should take at least 10 seconds for a full repetition: 5 up and 5 down. Move the weight smoothly and avoid jerking or throwing the weights at all cost, to decrease the risk of injury. Remember: controlled force builds strength and looks sexy.
- For each exercise do one set until failure. This way you involve all the muscle fibers, even the small ones usually only activated only in case of emergency. When you feel you can’t finish the current rep, don’t drop the weight. You haven’t reached failure yet. Just hold the weight in place for as long as you can (at least 10 seconds), even if you can’t move it. It will slowly slide down as your muscles get fatigued. Muscular failure means you couldn’t hold it for another second if someone gave you a million dollars to do it. That’s your goal.
- Overcome your instincts. Your brain is wired to protect you from pain and exhaustion. This is a useful evolutionary adaptation when living in the wilderness; less so when trying to lift weights. That’s why you need to learn to ignore the inner fear and pain that comes with muscular failure. As a rule of thumb: when you feel you can’t take it anymore, you have at least one good rep left (usually 2-3).
- Pick machines over free weights. Each type of exercise has specific strengths, but machines offer 2 important advantages: it’s easier to maintain correct form and it’s safer to push yourself to muscular failure when training alone. You will be surprised at what you can do when you’re not afraid of having a bar drop on your chest.
- Measure everything. Keep a logbook with weights used, machine setups, and total time spent on each exercise. Use the log to track your progress and push yourself further every time you hit the gym. The goal is to have a total time under tension (never relaxing the muscle) of 70-90 seconds. When you can do an exercise with correct form for more than 90 seconds it’s time to increase the weight by 10%. Rinse and repeat.
- Time efficiency is key. You get exactly 60 seconds between exercises. No more, no less. This will seem hard at first, but it’s the most efficient way of using your time and it will boost your metabolism. So time each rest period. If you rest longer and lift more you won’t know if you’re getting stronger or if it’s because of the prolonged rest period. Be fast and consistent.
- Rest is essential. Muscles need rest periods to grow. Start with 3 days between workout sessions. When you hit a plateau, increase that to 4. Then go to 5 if necessary. I’ve beaten personal records after skipping training for 10 days, so don’t worry about longer periods.
- Sleep 7-9 hours. You should get at least 7 hours of sleep per night. Less than that will increase cortisol, which causes you to get sick and lose muscle mass. So make sleep a priority. Go to bed before midnight, because this is the period when growth hormones are primarily released – and you want those for your recovering muscles. Here’s a cheat sheet for better sleep.
Follow these 9 principles and you will be amazed at how fast you can become strong and sexy. Now all you need for a full-body workout is 15 minutes.
Yes, you read that right: 15 minutes is all it takes if you do the right exercises.
But which are the right ones?
5 exercises for a sexy body
Optimization means getting maximum results with minimum effort. In this case, it’s having the best physique while spending the least amount of time in the gym.
That’s why I’ve stripped away everything that wasn’t 100% necessary. Sure, following this program won’t win you any bodybuilding competitions. But that’s not the point here. I want to provide a workout routine that’s easy to follow regularly and consistently.
You work 10 hours a day? You can follow this program. Heck, even if you work at a desk for 60 hours a week you can still get a great body. Let me show you how.
As discussed, you spend 60-90 seconds on each exercise and do it until failure. Then you rest for 60 seconds (no cheating here!). After that, you start the next exercise.
If you do it right, the whole thing should take you no more than 15 minutes (11.5 minutes to go through the 5 exercises plus 3-4 minutes for a quick warm-up).
Wait, that’s it? Just 15 minutes?
Yeah, but don’t kid yourself. If you do it right, at the end of these 15 minutes you will be drained. If your legs aren’t shaking when you leave the gym, then you’re doing something wrong. Go and read the 9 principles again. Then adjust and repeat.
So there you have it: the quickest way to get strong and sexy. All it takes is 15 minutes every 3-4 days. That’s half an hour a week to look better, feel better, and improve your life.
Follow this plan religiously for a few months and chances are you will want to sleep with yourself after looking in the mirror. And if not, you can always blame it on the mirror.
Recommended reading: Body by Science – John Little and Doug McGuff, MD