Your step-by-step plan for losing the last five kilos and revealing your hidden abs

Any man will tell you: losing a few kilograms is one thing; becoming as lean and muscular as Brad Pitt in Fight Club is quite another.

The fact is, the closer you get to achieving legendary leanness, the more stubborn your fat stores become. It’s self-preservation, really: your body is designed to protect your fuel reserves from running too low, just in case food becomes scarce. And while that might have been a handy biological feature in the Paleolithic age, it’s hardly necessary in today’s urban world. The secret to disabling it? Igniting your metabolism.

By learning how to fire up your body’s internal furnace with exercise, you can accelerate fat loss and finish off your gut for good, revealing the chiselled muscles hidden beneath. All it takes is a little knowledge, coupled with a steady dose of physical effort. We’ll provide the first half of that formula; the rest is up to you.

HOW TO LOSE THE LAST FIVE

No matter which exercise you do, there’s only so much fat you can burn during a 30- minute workout. And research shows that the fitter you become, the more efficiently your body uses energy. In other words, the same level of activity burns fewer kilojoules as time goes by – so much so that, according to one study by the University of California at Berkeley, avid runners need to boost their weekly running distance by 2.74km a year to avoid age-related weight gain.

So to lose that last 10kg, you have to think beyond how much fat you burn during your workout. Focus on the amount you burn during the other 23 hours and 30 minutes of your day. To do this, you need to hit the weights and do interval sprints.

By knowing the right combination of exercises, sets, repetitions, rest periods and the best method of cardio, you can create a workout that not only burns as many kilojoules as a five-kilometre jog but, unlike that jog, also unleashes a flood of fat-burning hormones that stoke your metabolism for hours after you exercise. The result: your body’s fat-burning furnace runs on full steam all day long, even when you’re lazing on the couch.

Here is how to build the perfect metabolism-boosting workout plan, step by step. For a complete workout that combines all the principles we’re outlining in this story, see “Your Six-Pack Plan”.

1. Do eight to 15 repetitions in each set

Doing your one-repetition max may make you feel like a big man, but if your goal is not looking like one, then you’re better off doing more reps. Research shows that doing sets of eight to 15 repetitions stimulates the release of the greatest number of fat-burning hormones. There is no added benefit to doing more (or, for that matter, fewer) repetitions than that. The one caveat is that you have to use a weight that offers enough of a challenge. Doing eight repetitions with a weight you can lift 15 times won’t be very effective. It’s only about 50 percent of the work your muscles are actually capable of performing. You want to give between 90 and 100 percent of your full effort for any given repetition range. A good way to gauge how you are doing is if you start to struggle by your last repetition. Then you know you are close.

2. Do two to four sets of each exercise

As it turns out, you don’t have to do much weight work to rev up your metabolism. Researchers at Ball State University, in the US, have discovered that fat-burning hormones increase when you do just one set of any given exercise. And while doing more sets does boost your hormone levels even more, there is a cut-off point: Greek scientists recently found that there is no difference between doing four sets and six sets of any given exercise. Two to four sets is the optimal number for accelerating fat loss, depending on your level of fitness. For example, you would do two sets if you’re just starting out, increasing the number of sets as you become more conditioned. After all, losing weight by losing your lunch is never the goal.

3. Rest 75 seconds between sets

Look around any gym and you’ll find that rest periods are usually dictated by how chatty a man’s workout partner is. But by adhering to rest periods of no longer than 75 seconds, you can speed up fat loss. Here’s how it works: doing sets of eight to 15 repetitions results in the accumulation of a chemical called lactate in your blood stream. High lactate levels, in turn, are associated with an increase in the release of fat-burning hormones. But resting too long between sets allows the oxygen you breathe to help clear the lactate from your blood. So keeping your recovery time short will keep your levels of lactate – and thus fat-burning hormones – high. Which means you will burn more fat while you rest.

4. Work your whole body

The degree to which your metabolism will be elevated after a workout is directly related to the amount of muscle you activated during the session. So focus on movements that work multiple muscles, as opposed to those that try to isolate muscle groups. For instance, you’ll boost your metabolism much more by doing 10 repetitions of the squat compared to 10 repetitions of an isolation exercise like the biceps curl. What’s more, by training your whole body each session, you’ll work the most muscle possible. A study by the University of Wisconsin found that when men did a full-body workout involving just three big-muscle exercises – the bench press, power clean and squat – their metabolisms were elevated for 39 hours afterwards. They also burnt a greater percentage of their kilojoules from fat during this time, compared with men who didn’t do a full-body workout. The message is clear: do an intense, full-body weight workout three days a week, resting a day between sessions, and you’ll keep your metabolism humming along in a much higher gear.

5. Alternate between two exercises

Why spend more time in the gym than you need to? Each time you do a set of an exercise rest, then do a set that works muscles that weren’t involved in the previous movement. For example, you might pair an upper-body exercise with a lower-body move, or an exercise that works your chest muscles with one that hits your back. Once you’ve done one set of each exercise, repeat the process until you’ve done all the sets for both moves. This method is called “alternating sets” and allows one group of muscles to rest while another group works, and vice versa. The benefit: you can limit your rest periods, which will keep your lactate levels high while giving specific muscles more time to recover between sets. It’s a strategy that helps offset fatigue and ensures you give your best effort to each set.