Summer's coming fast. If you want to get in shape, you'd better get to it!

Summer's coming fast. If you want to get in shape, you'd better get to it!

If you’re like most Americans, you’re not in the best shape. That’s especially true if you’ve past the ripe, old age of 30. Your time playing high school football has receded into a distant memory, and thanks to the pressures of modern life, you’ve packed on a few more pounds than you envisioned carrying at your age. Health issues aside, summer’s just around the corner, and many people want to know about getting in shape fast, because that roll hanging over the front of their swimsuits makes them want to stay out of  the public eye.

What can you do to get in shape fast? Well, summer starts in about a month, and while 4 weeks may be a bit short to really get in shape, you can get a great start on looking great by summer. Depending on where you’re starting, you have a great chance to look much better by the end of summer. Time is of the essence. You’ll need to use both tools at your disposal to pull this off; diet and exercise.

Many people would just cut way back on their calories for as long as they could stand to, then spend a couple of hours on the treadmill every day. There are two problems with that strategy; one is that it isn’t the best way to get in shape and lose fat. The other is that, even if it were, you could never keep it up for long enough to make a real difference. Face it, spending hours on a treadmill kind of sucks. The sad thing is that you’ll probably need to spend more time on the treadmill than if you would have started this journey as your New Year’s resolution.

New research is pointing ever more strongly to the fact the resistance training, such as weights or resistance bands, is the way to lose weight fast. The power of increasing your basal metabolic rate (the rate at which you burn calories when at sitting on your kiester) so that you burn more calories all day long is simply too much of a force to ignore. In you case, summer is almost upon us, so you’ll need to augment that by doing some fat burning cardio sessions too.

One thing that people new to weight training need to grasp is that you can’t work out every day and expect great results. Far from it, you’ll succumb to a phenomenon called over training and your gains will grind to a halt. You see, lifting is the stimulus for muscle growth. The actual growth occurs mainly while you’re sleeping. Gains in muscle size are called hypertrophy. They are the body’s response to those punishing workouts you’ve been subjecting yourself to. You need time for all this to happen or you’ll just keep breaking your body down without giving it a chance to recover and build itself up.

Even if you don’t want to be a meat head, resistance training is one of the most important things you can do to burn fat because all that blubber you’re carrying now doesn’t burn many calories. Muscle on the other hand, does, about 20 calories per pound. Indeed, muscle energy studies in the late 1980’s pegged the number at about 16 calories per day per pound.

Some researchers claim that muscle does not contribute significantly more to metabolic elevation and fat loss. For example, Dr. Greg Ellis ( actually a strong proponent of resistance training), who wrote a book in 2002, claims that it is myth that building muscle will substantially increase metabolism and burn lots of calories. He says his research doesn’t indicate that it is so.

One of Dr. Ellis’s claims is that trained skeletal muscle only burns 5 calories per pound per day, not the 30 – 50 that some people claim. He has also said that even with steroids and other hormonal enhancers the maximum muscle gain for a competitive bodybuilder is 30 – 40 pounds. Now I’m definitely no bodybuilder, competitive or otherwise, but I would have call BS on that one. For one thing, I gained 23-1/4 lbs of muscle myself after college, and did so without any of the aforementioned pharmaceutical aids. I can assure you, I looked nowhere near contest shape, even at 10% body fat, and would not have at 5% body fat either. In addition, there are many competitive bodybuilders that tip the scales at well over 250 lbs in contest shape, when their body fat is on the order of 2% – 4%. That would mean if their lean body mass (not all of that is muscle) had only grown 30 – 40 lbs, they were already weighing some 210 – 220lbs at 2% – 4% body fat. That just doesn’t seem to hold much water.

For example, 2008 Mr. Olympia winner Dexter Jackson won the contest at 236lbs. According to, 2006 and 2007 Mr. Olympia champion Jay Cutler’s contest weight is 260 lbs. Both of these men certainly look to have gained more than 40 lbs of lean muscle. Weather or not they did with or without the aid of any pharma is for others to discuss.

Exercise physiologist Claude Bouchard is another doubter when it comes to the effects of resistance training and muscle on the metabolism. According to Ultimate Fitness, author Gina Kolata, he has stated that “Weight lifting has virtually no effect on resting metabolism”.

Many, many other published, peer- reviewed, scientific studies contradict Dr. Ellis’s and Dr. Bouchard’s claims about the metabolic increases caused by lean muscle tissue and their effects on fat loss. I can cite a few, but two of these were conducted at Tufts University and the University of Maryland. In both of these studies, weight training regimens of approximately ½ hour duration were responsible for dramatic turnarounds in physique. In other words, weights got people in shape fast! Here is what both studies demonstrated.

In the Tufts University study, each test subject did a resistance training routine comprised of 8 – 12 reps of 4 exercises, 3 times a week, for  a period of 12 weeks. They lost an average of 4 lbs of fat and gained 3.1 lbs of muscle. During the duration of the study, their basal metabolic rate increased by an average of 6.8%, which amounted to an extra 105 calories per day. That works out to 35 calories per day, per pound of muscle gained.

The Terp study was similar and showed similar results; extremely similar, actually. Their study lasted 16 weeks, and subjects gained 3.5lbs of muscle and saw their basal metabolic rates increase 7.7%, or 34 calories per pound of muscle gained.

The list goes on. A study published in  Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, on women and weight training showed that women burned nearly double the calories in the two hours following their workout when they lifted 85 percent of their max load for eight reps than when they increased their reps (15), but used a lighter weight (45 percent of their max).

Postexercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) is a measure of how much energy the muscle is using after exercise is completed. That is a direct indication of metabolic rate. Weather lifting weights or cardio training, it seems the intensity of the workout is the link to raising your EPOC for longer periods. A 1991 study conducted by Bahr and Sejersted demonstrated that more intense cardio training is many times more effective at increasing EPOC for longer periods than is lower intensity cardio training. The study showed that at 29%, 50% and 75%  of VO2 Max, EPOC was elevated for .3, 3.3 and 10.5 hrs, respectively. That’s a heck of an increase in long term effectiveness.

EPOC is increased even more effectively with high intensity weight training. A study conducted by Braun, Hawthorne, and Markofski and published in the August, 2005 edition of the European Journal of Applied Physiology compared the rise in EPOC from running on a treadmill to the rise experienced from weight training. They found that when exercise intensities were matched in terms of VO2 uptake, the EPOC from the weight training was greater, indicating high post exercise metabolic activity.

So, how can you use this knowledge to get in shape fast?

If you’re time limited, concentrate on high intensity weight training, as it is more effective at burning fat for the time you spend doing it. For example, if you can only workout for ½ hour a day, spend it on weights, and train hard. In a post a few weeks ago I showed how studies demonstrated high intensity weight routines with sets of 6-8 reps were the most effective for losing fat.

Since you’re on a fast track, you’ll have to bite the bullet and do some cario work too. Cardio is great for overall health, and in this case, you’ll have to use it for fat loss too. The weights will help you increase your muscle mass and burn fat throughout the day, but you need even more. You need to add at least a half hour of high intensity cardio work to your routine. If you can get away with it, try 45 minutes. Do your cardio in the morning, on an empty stomach. That will maximize fat metabolization. You need to maximize effectiveness, and while doing cardio at any time of the day or night will definitely give you plenty of benefit, to get the most from it, you’ll need to do it while glycogen stores are low. That makes your body more likely to rely on fat for energy, and less likely to burn carbohydrates. If you’re trying to strip fat, that’s what you want.

Trying to get in shape fast is going to make you eat right too. You can exercise your ass off, and if you don’t eat right, your ass will still be there. It’ll be stronger and harder, but hangin’ out too far just the same.

Here is a great eating plan for dropping fat. Don’t make the rookie mistake of cutting back too far on calories. That’s counter productive and will get you back to the starting line in the fat loss race. If you cut too many calories you’ll make your body think there is a problem with your ability to provide food for it. Weather you lost your job, or your ability to hunt and fish, it won’t care, it just knows food isn’t so easy to get anymore, so it stores it in the event things will get worse.

Find your daily calorie needs and then stay there, just increase your activity level. You can cut back 5% – 10% from those needs for a day or two every week. One day a week, such as Sunday, you’ll actually eat more than your daily calorie requirement. On that day you want to make sure you eat more than your typical carb intake too. This will keep your body’s fat regulating hormone’s in balance and make it easier for you to lose fat faster. See my post on fat loss hormones. Except for that one day each week, keep to low glycemic index carbs, such as vegetables and some fruits. Check my post on low glycemic index carbs to find which fruits and vegetables are best for that. This keeps your insulin levels from spiking. When insulin levels are high your body is more likely to store unused carbs as fat.

Although it may be hard, save your alcohol consumption until later in the summer. Not only does alcohol add a ton of unneeded calories, it keeps the liver from doing the job you really want it to be doing at it’s full potential; metabolizing fat.

Your plan to get in shape fast for summer:
½ hour of high intensity weight training
½ hour – 1 hour of high intensity cardio every morning before you eat
Eat your required daily amount of calories, no more, no less (with the important exceptions as discussed above)
Avoid high glycemic index carbs, except on one day per week.
Eat 5 – 6 balanced meals per day – approximately 40% protein, 35% carbs, 25% fat (high in omega 3s, low in saturated fat)
No booze (and beer counts here)
Increase overall daily activity level by walking a some extra steps when you can.
Less time sitting on your ass, and more time working on it.

This plan will help you while you’re getting in shape fast for summer – now get out there!