The best ab exercise is 5 sets of stop eating so much crap.
I haven’t been particularly strict with my diet since shortly after college; it just hasn’t been that high on my priority list. I still make smart decisions and eat fairly cleanly but nothing too restrictive. However, with my 30th birthday looming, I was struck by an impulse to tighten up my training and nutrition to make a run at a six pack. (Call it a third-life crisis. Or something.) So, starting in January, that’s what I did.
I made two changes to my routine. The largest was to my diet, which I detail more later. Because I’m already diligent about weight training three days a week, and that’s enough to build and maintain plenty of muscle, I didn’t change my strength training program (aside from regular quarterly-ish changes I would make anyway). I did add a few minutes of interval training to each of my three gym sessions for added energy systems work.
Did It Work?
It did. I lost 15-20 pounds over the course of the “cut” while maintaining most of my strength in the weight room. I didn’t do any body-fat testing to see how much of the weight loss was fat vs muscle, but given the strength maintenance and the visual results, I think it was quite a bit of fat. And also hair.
All in all, I’m pleased with the results. Even moreso, I’m pleased with the process I took to get here, which was longer, slower, and more deliberate than in the past but also less stressful and mentally rigid.
How Long Did It Take?
Technically, I started in January and was satisfied by my results by the end of May, so 5 months. Since then, I have continued to follow the plan through today, as it hasn’t been super difficult to maintain, but haven’t seen noticeable continued change. While that seems like quite a long time, I slowly ramped my level of “hardcore” over time, rather than diving into 100% strictness in January. That was a new method for me; I’m typically an all or nothing kind of guy. I did like the method though, as it let me acclimate slowly and begin to see changes before having to dial up my commitment.
How Did I Do It?
As with any fat loss program, diet is most of the battle, so it was important to get this right. My nutrition plan for this cut boiled down to two major factors: intermittent fasting (IF) and restricted carb intake.
Intermittent Fasting – I followed a roughly 16/8 (OK, maybe 14/10) IF protocol, with 16 hours of fasting followed by 8 hours of eating. Essentially, this boils down to not eating breakfast. One meal around 12:30 and one meal around 7:30. My exact execution varied a bit over time (less snacking between meals over time), but basically that was it. I do this most of the year anyway, but I got more strict about it over the course of the 5 months.
Restricted Carb Intake – On most days I restricted my carbs pretty heavily compared to my winter carb consumption levels. Again, this varied over time, as I reduced my carb consumption levels gradually over the course of the cut. Big changes for me were cutting out a lot of alcohol (beer!) and most starchy carbs except for a few on workout days (I’m never a big sugar eater).
I trained three sessions a week, the majority (90%) of each session being strength training and the rest being interval training (sprints of different sorts).
My strength sessions were very basic total body workouts with 2 days done mostly with weights and one day done mostly with bodyweight exercises. The exact programming varied, but a typical day included 3 compound exercises, usually an upper body pull (row, pullup, etc), an upper body push (bench press, pushup, dip), and a lower body exercise (squat or deadlift of some kind), and 2-3 accessory movements (extra hip extension/glute work, biceps, and abs mostly).
At the end of each session I added high intensity intervals (sprints) in various forms, usually using a Tabata protocol for work/rest intervals (20s work, 10s rest for 8 intervals ~ 4 total minutes). The formats I used over the course of the cut included: spin bike, battle ropes, kettlebell circuits, jump rope, and stepmill. For any given session I would use a single format for 4 total minutes in the Tabata protocal. In the last month, for an added challenge, I would choose two formats and do 4 minutes of each for 8 total minutes.
One unexpected side-effect of this process was that I found a renewed commitment to my meditation practice. I also came around to the idea of essential during this time. I’m not sure in what direction the causal relationship points, but my focus on fitness, mindfulness, and creation seem to be highly correlated!
Of course, this isn’t the only way to get abs at age 30 (almost), but it is a simple, effective way that doesn’t require a ton of sacrifice or a ton of total gym time. Recommended!
Teaser: I’m going to be launching a coaching program soon. More info to come, but if any of the above (or the rest of the blog) piques your interest, shoot an email to email@example.com.