A lot of guys who are reasonably fit (at around 15% body fat) want six pack abs. In order to get six pack abs you need to be at least at 10% body fat. Unless you have the right genetics and a fast metabolism getting down from 15% to 10% body fat is a goal that is very difficult to achieve. It is possible to achieve this goal in 2 month by following a high intensity exercise program, having the right diet and the discipline to do both things consistently. I’ve seen a lot of guys with an advanced training status train hard for a period of 3-4 months and still not achieve this goal (their lower set of abs was still hidden under a layer of abdominal fat). Indeed I have been there myself recently and that is how I discovered a training method I’d like to call condensed circuit training (CCT) and what prompted me to write this article.
In order to reach this goal you not only have to work hard but you also have to work smart. I’ve let myself go in the last year and gained weight in the form of fat. I’m 5’11” and went from being 175 lbs at 7% body fat to being 190 lbs at %15 in about 6 months. I finally got sick of not being able to see my abs so I started training again in order to reduce my body fat and get my abs back. I did a full body resistance training workout in circuit format 3x/week that I felt was fairly intense but in 3 months I only managed to lose 1% of body fat and my lower set of abs was nowhere in sight. Growing frustrated I swore to accomplish my goal in the next 2 months. I changed my diet and started eating according to John Berardi’s precision nutrition system again (I followed it a few years ago but fell off the wagon). It takes a lot of discipline to eat right and many people fail in this area but if you want to accomplish this goal then you have to put as much effort into your diet and eating habits as you do into your workouts. Your diet will account for roughly 50% of the results. In those 3 months where I only managed to lose 1% I trained hard but I didn’t watch what I ate and how I ate because I was lazy and thought that the exercise itself would be enough. Let this be a lesson to you all that cutting corners and doing this half assed will only result in painfully slow progress and frustration.
In addition to completely changing my diet I also changed my training program. In the past I’ve found that a program that incorporates full body resistance circuit training and high intensity interval training (HIIT) works best to reduce the % of body fat. This is how I got down to 7% body fat some years ago. However I had to train at least 6x per week (3 resistance training sessions and 3 HIIT sessions). I’m lazy by nature and I absolutely hate to run (on a treadmill or otherwise) and there was no way I was going to train 6x per week again. So I came up with a training method that killed these two birds with one stone and allowed me to accomplish the same amount of work in only 3 workouts and less time. I would like to call this training method condensed circuit training (CCT).
My workout consisted of 3 massive compound exercises done in a circuit format as many times as I could within 30 minutes while keeping the rest periods between exercises to a minimum. Each of the first two exercises combined two exercises into one to work many muscle groups in one movement. Adopting this training approach accomplished several things: 1) it kept my heart rate at 90% of its maximum for the full 30 minute duration which resulted in a huge EPOC effect; 2) it gave me a full body workout; 3) allowed me to accomplish a lot of work and hence a lot of volume within the 30 minutes because exercise selection was limited and rest periods were short and 4) provided a sufficient stimulus for size and strength because the volume kept increasing on each subsequent workout thus ensuring progressive overload. In terms of oxygen consumption and volume, a single 30 minute CCT workout is roughly equivalent to doing 30 minutes of HIIT and the volume of a typical full body 45 minute resistance training workout. Therefore 75 minutes of work become condensed into 30 minutes. Doing a CCT workout 3x per week is like doing 3 resistance training workouts and 3 HIIT workouts. Every CCT workout left me drenched in sweat and gasping for air like a fish pulled out of water. Furthermore adopting Charles Staley’s escalated density training (EDT) approach provided a progressive overload stimulus for size and strength gains.
Here is a description of the exercises I used in my CCT workout.
Incline Lying Leg Raise with Dumbbell Chest Press
This exercise combines the lying leg raise and dumbbell chest press into one movement. This exercise works the chest, arms, shoulders, abdominals and hip flexors. To do this, place a 12-16″ step under a bench, grab a set of dumbbells and lie down so that the head and upper body are on the incline and the lower body is on the decline. Next do a chest press and a straight leg lift at the same time (this is the concentric phase) then lower to beginning position at the same time (this is the eccentric phase). You can adjust the intensity and which muscles get worked by flexing or extending the knees and changing the position of the arms. To preferentially work the chest move the dumbbells in a more fly or arc like movement while limiting flexion and extension in the elbows. To preferentially work the shoulders increase the torque on the shoulder joints by keeping the elbows close to the sides of the body and hold the dumbbells in a neutral grip while limiting flexion and extension in the elbows. This is similar to a dumbbell front lateral raise but the elbows are bent and there is still some degree of movement in the elbow joint. You can get creative with this exercise and find which ranges of motion and limb positions work best.
Good Morning Back Squat
This exercise combines the good morning and back squat into one movement. It incorporates knee and hip flexion and extension and works the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, low back and midsection musculature. Position the bar in the lower back position. Squat down by flexing the knees and hips until the knees are 90 degrees and the hips are maximally flexed (this is the eccentric phase). Next extend the hips and the knees to return to the beginning position (this is the concentric phase). The knees should extend slightly before the hips to ensure that the lower back gets worked.
Tuck Front Lever Pullups
This exercise works the entire upper back musculature, forearms and biceps. For a description of this exercise refer to Coach Sommer’s article on bodyweight conditioning: http://www.dragondoor.com/articles/building-an-olympic-body-through-bodyweight-conditioning/default.aspx
The choice of exercises for a CCT workout is up to you. You can even invent your own or modify existing ones. However, there are two important factors in exercise selection: 1) the exercises must recruit as many muscle groups as possible in the given movement and 2) the exercises must be chosen so that the major agonists/ antagonist pairs are worked to yield a full body workout. If you are feeling adventurous enough and really want to push yourself to the limit you can try doing CCT 5x per week for 2 months and see where that gets you. I would certainly appreciate any before and after pictures to post on my blog.