There are a few ways to cheat. First, there are creams you can apply to your mid-section to make your abs more visible, so long as you have some abs there is a foundation. A good tan always makes for a more toned appearance. And finally, grooming that body hair goes a long way to achieving a sharper appearance.
But to do the job properly, exercise is unavoidable. And by exercise, I mean resistance training, usually in the gym, with weights. Since time is short, concentrate on those upper-body muscle groups that get noticed first – abs, chest, arms and shoulders. Here are some great exercises that will give you the most bang for your buck before you hit the beach. Let’s be realistic for a moment: if you don’t already exercise regularly, you are not going to build a superhero body by the summer no matter what you do. But if you follow this exercise routine you will look better than you do right now – how much better depends on how consistently you follow these exercises over the next few months.
These exercises are intended for guys who are not working out intensively already, and are aiming for a quick fix. So we are sticking to the basics, nothing fancy or complicated, and in each case these are exercises that will build muscle fast.
For ABS, performing movements on an exercise ball will involve all your core muscles. Lie with the center of your back on top of the ball, with your hands behind your head. Curl up into a crunch to work your abdominals and obliques. Start with 15-20 repetitions and over the next few weeks work up to 50 repetitions for each set. Second comes the hanging leg raise: grab a pull-up bar (or if your gym has one use the vertical knee raise stand), and slowly bring your knees up to your chest, then slowly lower them back down. 15-20 reps may be a challenge at first, but try to increase the reps each week.
For your CHEST, the bench press is essential to build thick full pectoral muscles. Only press as much weight as you can handle – good form gets better results than trying to lift too much weight. Remember that we are trying to get into shape as fast as we can, so save your attempts at impressing the twinks with how much weight you can lift for a future time. Slowly raise the barbell above your chest and then lower it in a controlled way back down again. By controlling the bar both upwards and downwards you are doubling the effectiveness of this exercise compared with putting all your effort into the upward movements and then letting gravity take over on the way down. My second choice for chest muscles is the incline dumbbell flye. This also exercises the triceps. Set the bench to a 45 degree angle. Grasp a dumbbell in each hand (choose a manageable weight) and hoist them so they are above your chest (not above your neck or face) and your arms are near vertical. Keeping your elbows slightly bent, slowly lower the dumbbells to your sides until your upper arms are horizontal. Reverse the action and repeat. Finally my favorite chest exercise is decline barbell presses. This may take a little time to master, especially if you do not have a workout partner, but it is a great exercise for the lower part of the pecs, which is the easiest part of the chest to build quickly, and the motion is very efficient – once you get the hang of this you can probably press more weight than in the other chest movements. Set the bench to a 30 degree angle, with your knees higher than your head, and make sure that your lower legs are secure. Try it at first with just the bar, and press vertically from a line between your nipples. Make sure that you press vertically and not at an angle. Once you have mastered the movement, add some weight. As with the regular bench press, control the bar both up and down for maximum benefit.
For SHOULDERS, start with the barbell military press. Grip the bar with your hands slightly wider apart than your shoulders. Lift the barbell up to your chin, then drive it upwards till your arms are fully extended above your head. Lower back to your chin and repeat. The shoulder muscle or deltoid is made up of three parts – front, middle and rear. The front and middle parts are the most noticeable and we will focus on these for our beach body. The barbell military press works both. The lateral raise builds the middle delt, which gives shoulder width. Grasp a pair of fairly light dumbbells – this exercise does not require heavy weights. Hold the dumbbells by your sides, and slowly raise them sideways until your arms are horizontal. Keep your elbows slightly bent to avoid injury. Lower the dumbbells back to your sides (control the descent) and repeat. This exercise can also be performed by starting with the dumbbells held together in front of the hips. This emphasizes the front delts a little more, whereas starting from the sides is stricter for the middle delts.
Now for those ARMS, we will start with dumbbell curls. Grasp a pair of dumbbells by your sides. In a controlled manner, raise the dumbbells up towards your shoulders by bending your arms at the elbow. This exercise can be performed with both arms simultaneously, or by alternating one arm at a time. Keep your elbows tucked tightly against your sides to force your biceps to take the load. Return slowly to the start position and repeat. If you want to build bigger arms, it’s important to recognize that your triceps make up two-thirds of your arm size, so making your triceps grow will add mass more quickly. Try an overhead extension. Hold one dumbbell with both hands and place it above and behind your head. Slowly bend your elbows so that the dumbbell moves down past your neck towards your upper back, as far as you can go. Then raise the dumbbell back up until it is higher than your head. Repeat.
How much should you do? Two to three sets of each exercise. Cover all these exercises in the course of a week – say three workouts. If you can do 13 or more repetitions of an exercise, increase the weight. If you cannot do eight repetitions with good form, reduce the weight. Rest for no more than one minute between sets.
What about cardio? Well, first, it’s really boring. Second, it takes a lot of time. Third, if you are serious about getting in shape quickly, it is better to focus on your diet and forget cardio. (Cardio has lots of health benefits, but here we are only trying to look good). So what should you do about your diet? Try to understand the role of the three so-called macro nutrients – carbohydrates, protein and fat. To build muscle you must consume protein; for energy you need carbohydrates. Fats also pack a lot of energy and are important to support key body functions, not least your sex life. A lot of diet advice gets way too complicated, so let’s keep it simple and easy to follow. You should be eating at least one gram of protein per pound of body weight – 1.5 grams is better. Carbohydrates are not your enemy, provided that you choose wisely. Carbs that digest slowly give you the required energy but are less likely to turn into fat than quick-acting carbs, like sugars and white starch – pasta, rice and potatoes. Choose brown rice, sweet potatoes and whole wheat pasta instead. Avoid sugars – plain sugar, candies, fruit, soda (even diet soda) and above all alcohol, if you want to get lean. Generally fats are OK unless you have health issues like high cholesterol. Choose vegetable fats like olive oil. Any fat that is solid at room temperature is not your friend, so cut down on butter and never eat margarine. And of course avoid convenience food and fast food – try to cook fresh ingredients at home – you’ll be amazed how good they taste!
You don’t have to be hungry to lose weight. Eat a high protein breakfast, and a substantial lunch. But in the evening eat only meat and green veggies – no starch or alcohol – and watch the weight fall away. For the last two weeks before you hit the beach, cut out all dairy products as they make you hold water, and you will see improved muscle definition.