How To Get Lean

How to get lean
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Reasons for fat loss come on a spectrum. Some people just want to carve off a bit of timber, while for others “six-pack abs” is a permanent fixture on their bucket list. But how much do you actually need to lose, and what do you need to do to achieve it?

For men, 25% body fat or more is considered unhealthy: you can expect lower energy levels, a drop in life expectancy and heightened risk of metabolic disease. Between 15 and 20% is the sweet spot – easy to maintain, linked to a host of health improvements and respectable shirt-off territory.

From there on down, it gets tougher – 13-15% means making sacrifices, while 10-12% is elite athlete territory, where you’ll start to see your abs definition in exchange for a diet that’s almost always on point and several training sessions a week. Sub-10% is rare air indeed, and tough to maintain without constant commitment.

It’s key to remember that a lot of fat loss comes down to diet: you’ll need to eat more protein and vegetables, cut down on processed food, sugar and booze, and hydrate properly. But training will give you a nudge. Here’s how to set up a plan that it complements and supports your diet.

The Plan

Use A Two-Way Split

“Although energy balance is key for fat loss and a full-body workout may seem like the way to go to burn maximum calories, an alternating upper/lower body split can actually be more beneficial,” says body composition specialist Andrew Tracey. “It allows more intensity – so rather than being blown out towards your final few exercises and going in half-hearted, your workout can stay ferocious to the end.”

Train On The Minute

For fat loss, short rests are key: instead of letting your water fountain breaks gradually get longer, start a timer and do each set at the start of the minute. “By working with an EMOM structure – every minute on the minute – you can put the kibosh on any thoughts of taking longer rest periods,” says Tracey. “This will result in a compounding effect as the reps gradually get more and more difficult, rest time gets shorter and lactic acid builds up, causing your body to release a cascade of vital fat-burning hormones.”

Use Finishers

“Finish with eight to 16 minutes of conditioning work,” says Tracey. “High-rep bodyweight or lightweight circuit movements combined with intense cardio works best. These finishers work to not only ramp up the calorie burn of your workout, but can aid in increasing your overall daily energy expenditure even after your workout, via a process known as excessive post-exercise oxygen consumption. Though it’s still not fully clear just how effective this afterburn effect is, the time saved by performing these protocols versus traditional cardio techniques makes them the superior option.”

Key Moves

Compound lifts are key here: biceps curls and leg extensions won’t do much to kick your metabolism into high gear. “Have a couple of regular finishers that you can track,” says Tracey. “Make a note not only of the weights you used for each exercise, but also record your reps or time, so you always know how many you need to perform to ensure you’re progressing. When you beat your original ‘score’ by 20%, add weight.”

Start with a 10-1 burpee and thruster ladder: perform ten burpees, then ten dumbbell front squat push presses (also known as thrusters), and then go immediately into nine burpees and nine thrusters, and continue down the “ladder” until you reach one. Go faster each time.

In This Series :

The Workout

This lower-body emphasis session pairs two sets of moves in an EMOM format – alternate which you do until time’s up

1A Deadlift


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Reps 5 Time 15min (start of every odd minute)

Do this at the start of minute 1, 3, 5 and so on up to 15. Pick a weight that will let you hit five reps each round, with some time to rest.

Stand with the bar on the floor close to your shins. Lean down and grasp the bar using an overhand grip with your hands just outside of your legs. Keeping a neutral back, lift the bar by driving your heels into the floor and your hips forwards to come up to standing. Lower the bar slowly.

1B Barbell lunge

Barbell lunge

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Reps 5 each side Time 15min (start of every even minute)

Do this on minute 2, 4, 6 and so on up to 14. Do five reps on each leg, alternating legs with each rep, then rest for the remainder of the minute.

Stand with the bar resting on your shoulders behind your neck. Take a big step forwards and lower until both knees are bent at a 90° angle. Push back up and return to the starting position.

2A Front squat

Front squat

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Reps 5 Time 15min (start of every odd minute)

Repeat the pattern above, alternating with 2B for 15 minutes. Do five reps then rest for the remainder of the minute.

Hold a barbell in front of your shoulders with your elbows pointing forwards. Keep your elbows as high as possible throughout the movement. Lower into a squat, keeping your weight on your heels, then drive back up to standing.

2B Romanian deadlift

Romanian deadlift

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Reps 8-10 Time 15min (start of every even minute)

From standing, hinge forwards at the hips to lower the bar, keeping it close to your shins until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Straighten back up to standing.

Finisher: Rowing / Burpee

On a rowing machine, try to burn 200 calories as fast as possible. Each minute on the minute, stop and perform five burpees.

To perform a burpee, begin by dropping and placing your hands next to your feet from standing, then jump your feet backwards to land in a press-up position. Jump your feet forwards again to your hands and jump straight up. For a harder burpee variation, lower your chest to the floor once you’re in the press-up position.

Joel Snape

From 2008 to 2018, Joel worked for Men's Fitness, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Though he spent years running the hills of Bath, he’s since ditched his trainers for a succession of Converse high-tops, since they’re better suited to his love of pulling vans, lifting cars, and hefting logs in a succession of strongman competitions.