By: Derek Nelson
Photos by: Jessica Li
These must have shrunk in the wash, you think to yourself, bewildered as to why buttoning your shorts has become a feat of mythic proportions. In the back of your mind, you have the nagging feeling that you’re deluding yourself, but for now it’s more comforting to believe that your shorts miraculously became smaller in the six months they sat at the bottom of your drawer than to admit a little unwelcome weight gain. So you cram your body into them with this assumption, out of options and needing the confidence boost as you prepare for a Saturday darty on the Vil A rooftop.
The truth is that it’s you, not them. Looking back on your photos from August, you realize that, in addition to your kickass tan, you were also rocking a more svelte frame. Now summer is approaching fast, and you never prepared a contingency plan in case winter left you looking doughier than desired. Do not despair – all is not lost, and there’s still time to get in the shape you’d like before summer pool parties require removing your shirt in front of that cutie from home you’ve been texting all April.
Let’s look at the positives: your winter bulk added 25 pounds to your bench, 15 to your squat (because let’s face it, you’ve skipped more leg days than lectures), and 10 to your waist, but it still added 5 pounds of muscle that will show when you slim down again, making you look better than last summer if you can get to the same body fat percentage. Improvement is going to mean taking it step by step, so don’t expect to lose those 10 to 15 pounds in one week; shooting for 1 or 2 pounds per week will mean you’ll be able to keep the weight off all summer, and you won’t lose the strength you worked on improving during the winter. Ultimately, slimming down or “cutting” is all about discipline, both in your workout routine and diet, as motivation is fleeting and won’t always develop healthy habits or results. There are a few changes you can make to set yourself on the path to a goal.
No more of this nonsense about “running the gainz away”. While you put on a few pounds over the winter, your cardiovascular health also declined because you didn’t want to impede lifting progress. It’s time to increase your metabolic output, so hop on the treadmill again, or lace up some running shoes and go outside. This can be just 20 minutes before and after your lift, but you might find more results by taking advantage of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), short bursts of intense physical activity throughout your workout.
When you finish a set of barbell rows, get on the Yates track and sprint a lap instead of sitting on your phone before completing the next set. Burpees, jumping rope, box jumps, and kettle bell swings are also great examples of interval exercises you can input for a minute or two between sets. Increase your reps and lower your sets as well. A 5×5 might be your go-to for gaining strength and adding weight to your exercises, but 4×8 or 3×12 sets are equally as important for building stamina, and will lead to a more cardio-intensive workout when trying to lose weight, as you get fewer breaks.
Leg day is especially essential now, not just because your 7-inch shorts will require chiseled quads. When you do squats, leg presses, deadlifts, and (heaven forbid) split squats, you’re working very large muscle groups, and this will lead to your burning more calories. Abdominal exercises are often the go-to for summer bodies, and while you should do them regularly to build up core muscles, they matter less than you would think for “getting abs”. No matter how many crunches you do, you’ll never have visible abs if your diet (we’ll get there) isn’t on-point, as it’s impossible to spot-reduce fat just by working muscles in that region. Not to mention crunches are one of the worst ab exercises anyway; try hanging leg raises and cable woodchoppers to get more results on your core.
With #bulkingseason over, your #gainz will come with deficits on the scale, not increases, and improving your diet is the most important part of making this happen. One of the easiest ways to improve your diet and cut back on calories is to look at what you drink. Try sticking to water, tea, and black coffee exclusively during your cut, as these zero-calorie drink options remove hundreds of empty calories you were getting from soda and juice. Caffeine in tea and coffee is also a stimulant that works to mitigate feelings of hunger, meaning that you’ll eat less. For alcohol, try to limit your intake, as any drink adds empty calories, but since we all know springtime on the Hilltop means having a little fun, switching from beer to hard alcohol (sorry, no chaser) means saving 50 to 100 calories per drink.
Many people think that eating fats means getting fat, but this is unfortunately largely a myth supported by the hundreds of “reduced fat” food products on the market, advertised as healthier options. Fat is an essential part of any diet, especially unsaturated fats seen in foods like olive oil and avocados, so go for these instead of saturated fats like butter. Carbohydrates are the real enemy to weight loss, but again do not cut them completely out of your diet; just reduce the amount of bread and pasta you eat, and try to time the intake of whole grains (brown rice, steel-cut oats) to directly before and after your workouts. Cutting down on fruit, while increasing the amount of vegetables you eat, will mean that you’re taking in less fructose (sugar) and getting many of the micronutrients provided by foods like kale and broccoli. Protein is also important (go for lean poultry and fish, not beef), but in the end it’s most important to keep track of your calories than anything. No healthy diet will catch up to over-consumption; too much of a good thing becomes bad, and 3000 calories are 3000 calories, regardless of if they come from Cinnabon or grilled chicken.