You wanna look good.
You don’t need to look like the next Mr. Universe. You don’t need to win the world strongman competition. You want that lean “Hollywood” body. You just want to look good for you girl, have your clothes fit right, and feel strong and athletic.
I get it, me too.
I believe that men these days need to be strong, need to be healthy, and hey, a body that looks good on the beach ain’t a bad byproduct.
We’ll get to the "looking good" part at the bottom of this post.
But I believe we need men who take care of themselves, and who understand that a healthy, strong body makes us better friends, better lovers, better creators; better in all aspects of life.
So let’s first discuss WHY we should care about our health and fitness, shall we?
Then we can talk about HOW to actually get in great shape.
Settle in, this is a meaty post with actionable steps to look and feel great for the average fellas.
A FEW REASONS I THINK MEN THESE DAYS SHOULD FOCUS ON CREATING A STRONG, HEALTHY BODY:
- Because, quite simply: if you can, you should. If you’re reading this on your phone or your computer, you’re blessed enough to have the time and resources to take care of yourself. If you have the ability to be healthy, I personally believe it would be irresponsible, and even ungrateful, to ignore that blessing. It’s simply the right thing to do. The focus and hard work it takes to improve yourself is an act of gratitude, and a refusal to waste the good things you’ve been given.
- You’re ready to get after it, every day. Men today are tired, bored and uninspired. Many of us stay up late doing unimportant things, we skip workouts because we’re too lazy, and we walk around all day half asleep, with low energy. Being in great shape physically allows you to perform at a high level throughout the day.
But you already know that.
You know those days where you wake up early to get a workout in, or eat a healthy lunch, makes you feel more on top of things, with more energy, even more creativity.
- It’s an investment for when you grow older. If you invest in your retirement (you should be) why the heck would you not invest in something even more foundational: your health? When you get older, don’t you wanna be that old guy who can play football with his grandkids, travel, and be generally active? The majority of seniors in our country are obese and unhealthy. Make the investment.
- You can use your body if you need to. I want to be in shape so that I can perform at a respectable level, any time and any where. If friends want to go surfing, I can keep up (which basically means just barely not drown…but still). You need me to move some heavy boxes? No problem. And while I don’t claim to be the next Bruce Lee, I know that if something goes down, I’m physically equipped to handle it and protect myself and those I love.
- You’re more confident. You look good. Your clothes fit better. Your face looks leaner, your jawline more angular. You’re not embarrassed to take off your shirt at the beach. We should never find our worth in what we look like- but you can’t deny the effect it will have on your confidence.
THERE’S SOME THINGS YOU DON’T. FREAKING. NEED. TO GET IN GREAT SHAPE
I’ll shoot you straight. You DON'T need:
- Supplements: You don’t need them. Trust me. If somehow there was some magic fat burning/muscle building/Superman pill out there, you’d have many more people looking amazing. There’s not. If you think that fat burners, whey protein, some fancy pre-workout drink or some other supplement concoction is going to be a game-changer, you’re wrong.
What most people don’t know is that true professionals within the fitness industry constantly mock the people who spend a ton of money on supplements. Think about that. They guys who have their entire career and lifestyle focused on fitness legitimately laugh at people who think supplements will make any real difference.
I really only use two supplements: fish oil for it’s long term health benefits, and branched chain amino acids, which is a very well-studied form of broken down protein. Both are cheap and widely supported by science, and both are non-essential in my opinion. Throw everything else out.
- Cardio: This might be one of the most prevalent fitness myths out there. Guys think that if they want to lose fat, the best thing to do is hop on a treadmill and trudge along for a couple of hours a day. All this will do is make you feel run down, hungry and sore, and will provide very little weight loss benefits. Using cardio as a way to burn calories is wildly inefficient- a half hour of moderate cardio might only burn 200-300 calories (the amount of one candy bar or small bag of chips).
In addition, studies show that people tend to overestimate the amount of calories they burn, and significantly underestimate the amount of calories they eat. They put in an hour of cardio to burn 500 calories, and then they reward themselves with an extra 700 calories of pizza. Don’t be that guy. All the cardio you need for health benefits can be achieved by living a generally active life (walking your dog, mowing the lawn, etc.).
- Some secret program: CrossFit. Low carb. High carb. P90X. Bodyweight training. Powerlifting programs. The South Beach Diet. The actual truth is this: some of these programs might actually work for you. Some of them are of decent quality and are backed up by some science. But the key is this: you do not absolutely NEED one these programs to be successful.
When you see a program that people are raving about, that has a ton of testimonials and successful users, it is usually because the specific program struck a chord with people from a compliance perspective. Essentially meaning, it was at the very least a decently structured program to begin with, and for some reason people were able to actually stick to the program for the long term. Something about it was convenient (P90X: “Just press play!”) or tasty (“Eat all the fat/carbs/protein you want!”) and made it easier for people to comply with the program.
There are obviously some programs that are better than others- you’re not going to get ripped by going to Jazzercise class. But you know what? I’d wager that you’d see more results going to your Jazzercise classes 90% of the time, versus going to your Crossfit gym 5% of the time. Find a decent program (see my recommendations below) that works for you and stick to it.
THE THREE BASICS
There’s really three basic things you need to get in the most amazing shape of your life. I’m legit talking about washboard abs, a strong chest and shoulders, and a powerful body that can perform when you need it to.
It’s all about understanding the basics and nailing them, day in and day out. No fluff, no complications, just results.
So, let’s get to it:
There’s one thing, and only one thing, that has ever been proven to cause weight loss/muscle gain, every single time. That one thing is your caloric intake. Let’s break the research down and make this ridiculously clear:
- To lose weight: consume less calories than you burn.
- To gain weight (muscle): consume more calories than you burn.
Boom. That’s it. That’s 90% of what you need to know, right there. Want to get leaner? Find a way to eat less. Want to get bigger? Find a way to eat more. Forget almost everything else.
Now I can already hear the chorus of questions: “Jay, what about eating organic? Should I eat 6 small meals a day? What about carbs before bed? Should I eat after I workout? How much fat is too much fat?"
You don’t need to worry about any of that stuff. Seriously. All of those things only serve to pull your focus away from what really matters: how much you’re eating.
At the end of the day, your goal is to clearly identify how many calories you should be eating each day to hit your goal. Pay attention to everything you put in your mouth every day (I use the MyFitnessPal app to track it), and be ruthless about hitting that number every single day. don’t go over that number, don’t go under that number- hit that calorie number every freaking day.
Now, how do you decide how many calories you should be eating every day? Here’s the basic formula most professionals recommend:
- Maintain your current weight: Current bodyweight X 15 = Daily calories to maintain your weight
- Lose weight: Current bodyweight X 12 = Daily calories to lose weight (for most people, this should have using losing about 1-2 lbs/week)
- Gain weight: Current bodyweight X 17 = Daily calories to gain weight
Those are just general, ballpark guidelines. I would recommend picking a calorie range based on your goals sticking to it for two weeks, then reevaluating based on your progress.
Now, a couple of little caveats:
- When you eat doesn’t matter. I know you’ve heard the “6 small meals” rule for your entire life. You’ve been told to eat constantly to keep your metabolism revved up. That idea has been completely disproven by science, and you’ll see more and more fitness professionals backing away from this idea. The widely agreed upon consensus, as long as you’re hitting your calorie target within a 24 hour period, you’re fine.
Wanna eat 86 small meals throughout the day? Go for it. Wanna save up all your calories for one big meal before bed? That’s just fine. Do what works for you. For me personally, I usually skip breakfast (I don’t really like breakfast), eat a small lunch high in protein, and save up a ton of calories for a big dinner with my wife/friends.
- As I said before, there isn’t a magic food that will make you lose/gain weight. The nitty-gritty specifics of what you eat won’t make a huge difference physiologically.
But, just generally: don’t be an idiot about the types of food you’re eating. There was a big story a while back about a university professor that ate only Twinkies for a month and lost weight. Sure, you could do that and lose weight. Technically it does work. But then you’d fall into the “idiot” category, wouldn’t you?
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Vary your diet. Eat some fruits and vegetables. Try to cut down on sodas and processed foods when you can. Just be reasonable with your choices.
- Eat a decent amount of protein. It helps make you feel fuller, and supports gaining/maintaining lean muscle mass. No need to stress over it or over-do it. Most fitness professionals recommend 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. That might sound like a lot, but it’s not. I find that if I have a decent portion of lean protein (chicken, beef, etc.) at both lunch and dinner, I can easily hit that number. Once again, don’t stress it.
So, to recap: pick a goal, and choose a calorie target. Track what you eat and hit that target every day. Eat some protein. Be sensible about trying to include some variety in your diet.
People overcomplicate training and workouts more than anything.
To break it down: your workouts should be focused on building/maintaining muscle. And they should be focused on doing this as efficiently and simply as possible. They should NOT be focused on the “calorie burn”.
The strategy is essentially: use your training to build up some muscle. Lose fat with your diet (see above) so that you can see that muscle you’ve built. Stay lean for a little while. Then decide how much extra muscle you’d like to add, based on your preferences.
The diet + training described within this post can accomplish all of this for you.
As stated above, there are various programs out there that might fit your personal preference and temperament. If one works better for you than what I’m about to recommend, and for some reason you just know you’ll be more likely to do it consistently, then go for whatever works for you.
That said, I do have a personal recommendation for training and workouts. It’s not the only way to do things, but in my opinion, it is the most efficient, and gives you the most bang for your buck.
I recommend low volume, high intensity, compound lifts. Working out this way is super simple and minimalistic, but powerfully effective.
Compound lifts are exercises the recruit large amounts of muscle fibers in a single, whole body movement. These lifts are the time-tested ones you probably learned in high school: bench presses, deadlifts, squats, pull-ups, shoulder presses, and a few others. Don’t let the simplicity fool you: these movements can lead to build a ridiculously strong and muscular physique.
In every workout, you’ll essentially pick one or two of these movements to focus on, and perform 2-3 sets with heavy weight, and low (3-8) reps. The workouts will be short but the intensity should be high.
Focus on putting all your energy into getting stronger on these key lifts, every session. Track your progress of what you lifted last week, and try to beat it in your next workout. Throw in a couple of bicep curls and hanging leg raises and you’re good to go. You’re in and out of the gym in about half an hour, 2-3 times a week.
I know, I know, you’re busy. But my recommendation has you in the gym for 90 minutes a week. 90 MINUTES. You can do it.
It’s a little document you can download straight to your phone and take it to the gym with you. To be honest, it’s not anything new or unique, it’s really a a bit of a combination stolen from a bunch of other programs out there; but it’s my specific recommendation for workouts to get the look you want. So check it out, son.
You will likely need to get a gym membership. Search around your city, there’s cheap ones out there. The Planet Fitness across from my house has memberships that cost 9 bucks a month with no commitment and no registration fee. Whatever the price is, it’s a worthwhile investment.
REST AND LIFESTYLE
Okay, so I might be moderately cheating on this last point, because it’s really not “one point”, it’s kinda multiple points rolled into one. But whatever, it’s my blog, so I get the final ruling of the creation of point-making.
If you’ve nailed your diet and your training, the last thing to think about is your rest, recovery, and general lifestyle choices.
Just a few bullet points here:
- Sleep. You NEED to be getting sleep. If you’re not getting enough quality sleep, your stress hormones will shoot up, and you’re ability to recover from workouts and even daily work life, will suffer. You need bare minimum 7-8 hours of sleep. Your room should be dark, cool, and quiet. Try to get off your phone before bed too (I suck at that, myself).
- Drink water. Just do it. You’re probably dehydrated already. I shoot for 3 liters of water a day, and yes, I’m peeing all the time.
- Do some things to make your body move better. Hop on Amazon.com and buy a foam roller. Do some stretching before bed. Google some basic mobility exercises and practice them next time you’re just hanging out, watching football.
- If you’re married, have sex. Often. It’s good for you emotionally, improves your relationships, lowers stress, and…do I really need to keep going?
- Be generally active. You saw me say above that “cardio” doesn’t matter. But, moving more and being an active person obviously can’t hurt. Play pickup basketball, take your dog for a walk, play catch with your kids, whatever. Just use your body and get your butt off the couch. One of my favorite things is to go for a long hike along the beach every Thursday when a new podcast episode of Serial comes out (BEST. PODCAST. EVER.).
- Do whatever you can to lower your stress levels. I’ve heard many researchers say that stress is the new smoking. Talk to others about how you’re doing. I (try) to mediate every morning, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes. Pray. Journal about what’s going on in your life. Do yoga. Stress will make you sick, fat, and a miserable person to be around if you let it control your life.
So that’s it, gents!
I’d love to hear: WHY do you want to get in shape? WHAT is your goal for your body in the next 3 months?