How To Get Fit For Your Holiday (In Two Months)
It’s nearly time to don those swim shorts. But don’t panic, you can still get in shape in just 60 days.
Consider this your two-month warning. There are only 60-odd days and counting until your holiday, which means that there are little more than 30 gym visits at best. Despite the plans you laid on New Year’s Day to sculpt an impeccable beach body, you’re facing the uncomfortable prospect of being forced to take your sofa physique on holiday.
Even if you’re well-upholstered, the good news is that two months is plenty to substantially change your figure. But you don’t have the luxury of six months of bulking like a socially reclusive bodybuilder. Muscle will most dramatically alter your shape and consistency, but is time-consuming to construct in any real quantity; attempt to bulk too impatiently by piling up your plate and you’ll wind up puffy – or just plain fat.
Blubber blurs definition, obscures your abs and is comparatively quick to shed. But if you’ve got no muscle to chisel around, then even if you do slim down, you’re practically inviting a bully to kick sand in your face, as supposedly happened to early 20th-century fitspiration Mr Charles Atlas when he was a 97lb (44kg).
To look hot to globetrot at the last minute, follow the below principles and priority-board some brawn while losing only your excess baggage. Then come July, you’ll be fully ready to take your shirt off and put your Orlebars on.
It’s possible to build muscle and burn fat simultaneously. Simply take four or five compound exercises – eg, squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, rows, bench and military presses – and perform them in a circuit. Aim for 8-10 reps with no to little rest between each exercise (30 seconds tops), and only a minute or two between circuits. Your heart and lungs will be pumping along with the iron, thereby stoking your metabolic furnace.
“Strongman training is also amazing for muscle-building and fat-burning,” says Mr Tim Walker founder and head trainer of Evolution of Man Fitness, a London-based personal trainer who has transformed the staff of Men’s Health, GQ and Esquire with workouts that include pulling weighted sleds and flipping enormous tyres. “TV strongmen aren’t lean because they eat a dozen eggs, a packet of bacon and a whole loaf of bread for breakfast.”
If your gym doesn’t have the necessary hardware, try loaded carries such as farmer’s walks: hold heavy dumbbells or kettlebells by your sides and, well, walk until your grip gives up.
You need speed
You need to get moving – fast. Far too many gym-goers plod away interminably on the treadmill, going nowhere slowly. Instead, do sprints for 15-30 seconds – ideally outside, where you can go flat out, recovering for a minute or two between maximal efforts by walking back. Repeat this for 10 to 30 minutes in total, not including warm-up and cool-down.
While this might feel painful, and surprisingly quick, the afterburn (post-exercise oxygen consumption) will leave you burning calories long after your workout – at a much higher rate than after conventional steady-state cardio. If you don’t want to head outside, this theory can also be applied in the gym with high-intensity bursts on the rowing machine, static bike or battle ropes.
Tri before you bi
In anticipation of the sun coming out and your guns being unholstered, you’ll likely dedicate even more time than usual to polishing those most fetishised of muscles, the biceps. But it’s your triceps – on the underside of your biceps – that constitute two-thirds of your total arm mass. So if you want to strain your sleeves, or remove them altogether, then prioritise your tris as you’ll need them for big compound moves such as bench and military presses (and thus your overall progress). Close-grip benches, dips and push-ups will all help with definition, as will the classic rope press-down when done properly: upper arms pinned, shoulders down.
Speaking of which, boulder shoulders will enhance your appearance more than arms. As well as the standard-issue military press, lateral raises will add width, while reverse flys will improve your posture. Mr Brian Nguyen of Los Angeles’ Brik Fitness prescribes TRX inverted rows to bolster the shoulders of his client Mr Mark Wahlberg: “For arms to be able to grow, they have to have a foundation.” Happily, inverted rows also fire your guns.
Go green and lean
No matter how compelling the pseudoscience is, all diets ultimately work on the same basic principle: if you want to lose weight, eat less and move more. If you’re bulking, then eat more and supplement with iron (in barbell form). As a guide, Mr Walker recommends you “eat lots of green veg, lean and fatty meats (or vegetarian options), as well as good fats with every meal: think nuts, oils, avocado, etc.” He also recommends that you “stick to complex carbs, such as brown rice, sweet potato, quinoa, oats… and try to have low-sugar berries as your fruit.”
Carbs help fuel intense workouts and healthy fats will help with satiety and sanity, but what you should watch is your sugar intake. “Refined sugar is nutritionally pointless. Just cut it out and only have it with a cheat meal if you must,” says Mr Walker. Usual suspects aside, be wary of “healthy” snack and protein bars, juices (you’d never eat that much fruit in one sitting) and alcoholic drinks, which also dampen your willpower.
However tight your summer holiday deadline and your belt, don’t panic. Why? Cortisol, the so-called stress hormone, predisposes you to stockpile fat (particularly around your waist) and eats muscle for the breakfast (that you skipped because you were too busy). More prosaically, if you’re stressed, training and eating well are often the first casualties. And even if you do manage to hit the gym, so precarious is your immune system that you could get sick.
Try meditating for 10-20 minutes first thing every morning, using a guided app such as Headspace or Calm. And get some sleep, which is vital for recovery, immunity and regulating cravings.
But last, coffee. Caffeine is a tremendously effective, natural pre-workout supplement (and pretty much the only conclusively proven one) that helps you do more work in the gym. Too much, though, of what celebrated CrossFit coach Mr Kelly Starrett refers to as a “cup of fear” can raise cortisol. Stick to one in the morning – two if you’re training – or all those skinny lattes will end up fat.
Illustrations by Mr Pete Gamlen