When you need to get dialed-in quickly, you don’t want to hear a lecture on advanced meal planning, periodized cardio and weeks worth of fat-burners. You want to know what you can do right now to get your body tight and lean, our roundtable of expert trainers, physique artists and lab rats fill us in on what you can do to get the job done, pronto. Luckily, there’s more than one way to kill the fat.

1. Don’t Panic

“Panic is the worst thing you can do when trying to get ripped up,” says physique competitor David Sandler, MS, CSCS. “That leads to overdoing cardio, simply trying to sweat it out, which in turn forces your body to hold back its fat stores. Instead, I restrict my calories a bit and time my carb intake around my workouts. I up the pace and volume of my workouts to help with additional calorie burning while forcing the muscles to suck up the water around them. It probably goes without saying that you need to increase your overall protein intake to maintain muscle and metabolism.

I also do a water depletion cycle rather than trying to drop it all at the last minute, thereby reducing overall water and forcing the muscles to pull it in. The end effect is achieved even if I don’t hit my desired body fat—my muscles are harder and leaner overall. Besides, you can always just suck in the gut, don’t slouch, and when you need to let it all out, make sure no one is looking!”

2. Get Complex

No need to abandon the barbells and run for cardio row, says Josh Bryant, MFS, CSCS, PES. “I recommend barbell complexes performed as quickly as possible, moving exercise to exercise with no break. To construct a complex, you may do 5-8 squats, followed by 5-8 squats-to-presses (or thrusters), followed by 5-8 good mornings, followed by 5-8 power cleans, followed by 5-8 bent-over rows and finally finished off with 5-8 deadlifts.”

Bryan recommends following these guidelines when developing your own fat-shredding complex:

  • Use compound exercises
  • Perform exercises as quickly as possible while maintaining proper technique
  • Do not rest between exercises
  • Try your best not to drop the bar
  • Start with an empty bar and add weights in increments of 5-10 pounds
  • Do 5-7 exercises per complex, each set consisting of 5-8 repetitions
  • Rest 1-3 minutes between sets, doing no more than four sets. The total duration should be no more than 15 minutes.

“Complexes work because they are essentially intervals done with weights, which stimulates your post-workout metabolism much greater than long, slow cardio. Additionally, studies have shown intense intervals increase anabolic hormone response post-workout.”

3. Find a Hill

When trying to get ultra lean, people often bemoan how much time is required of them at the treadmill. Well, these folks are not only limiting how much fat they can burn—and how fast—but they are displaying a gross lack of imagination.

“Without a doubt, when you need to get lean in a hurry, nothing can compare to some challenging hill sprint workouts,” says Jim Ryno, CPT. “They are the best way to blast fat without tapping into quality muscle, which long, steady-state cardio is known to do. No other cardio-type workout produces fat loss results while also actually building muscle as quickly as hill sprinting does. To get peeled quickly, do 15-20 short sprints per workout up to five times per week. If you have more time and want to take advantage of what they have to offer, 2-3 times per week should suffice.”

Ryno says to be sure to start with a detailed, dynamic warm-up and to finish with some static stretching.

4. Push It

Justin Grinnell, CSCS, says that some good ol’ NFL-style combine training can work wonders on releasing fat stores.

“The best quick fat-burner of all-time is the sled push,” he says. “Because you don’t want to lose momentum, you are forced to work as hard as possible to keep moving the weight. It works every muscle in the body, causing a huge metabolic disturbance and a nice GH and testosterone release, which further aid in fat burning.”

If you have access to a sled and somewhere to push it, add enough weight to make it challenging to get off the line, then work up to distances of 20 yards or more. Rest 30 seconds between pushes and work up to 10-15 total per session. No sled available? Drive to a large parking lot with a training buddy and take turns pushing the car in neutral. Yes, for reals. 

5. Evaluate, Reevaluate

If you’re not as lean as you want to be, more work may not be the easy answer to your problem, says WWE strength coach Rob MacIntyre.

“If a client has already been trying to get lean and still has work to do, then I find out what they haven’t been doing,” he says. “Since the body adapts so quickly to aerobic exercises, it is important to mix it up because of the difficulty with 10-20 min high-intensity work this is often a tactic they haven’t tried. It is hard to push yourself to the limit to do this on your own and much easier with a partner or trainer. It can be any movement really. I like to combine barbell complexes with sprints or strongman work. If you can hold a conversation when it is over and stand up under your own power you may have gone too easy on yourself.”

In other words, train like a boss and the results will follow. It may not suffice to do traditional workouts that your body is accustomed to, even if you think they’re challenging. Using a training partner or coach to push you can really take you out of your comfort zone and into Leanville.

6. Focus On Hormones

Every body is different. So what is advocated by some coaches as get-lean gospel may not always be effective. And, in some cases, it can be downright counterproductive. Phil Gephart, MS, CSCS, is here to challenge the establishment.

“I do exactly zero cardio,” says Gephart, who also played professional basketball in Lithuania. “And I teach my clients the same. Traditional steady-state cardio actually makes people fatter by stressing the adrenal glands causing an excess of cortisol production. Simply look at the extremes of aerobic (cardio) exercise versus anaerobic—the Olympic distance runner and the Olympic sprinter. Distance runners have much less lean muscle with a bodyfat percentage between 9-11%. Sprinters have long, lean muscle averaging 2-4% bodyfat.

“Now, if you are already lean, some fasted morning cardio leading up to a photo shoot or competition can help you lean out that last little bit. But all of these fitness competitor coaches who prescribe more cardio are great BS artists. The hormonal response is simply not what you need for leaning out. Keep testosterone and growth hormone (GH) high, and your insulin and cortisol regulated properly and you will lean out quickly. This means sprints—not long, slow, distance cardio. All the cardio in the world won’t help you lean out and keep muscle like you want it to, especially on a time crunch. The body wasn’t designed to run from Los Angeles to San Diego. It was built to run from an animal to survive or to run down an animal to kill it to feed the family. That’s why the body is mostly Type II (fast twitch) muscle fibers. Train it as such and you’ll be happy with the results.”

Fat Blasting Supps

If you’re looking to shed more fat, try a combination of these potent supps that tackle the problem from multiple angles.

Supplement – Dose/Timing

Caffeine – 200-400 mg 30-60 min. pre-workout

Green Tea Extract – 500 mg, 2-3x per day with one dose 30 min pre-workout

Yohimbine – 5-20 mg, 2-3x per day with one dose 30 min pre-workout

L-Carnitine – 1-3 g, 2-3x per day with meals, with one dose pre- and one dose post-workout

CLA – 1-3 g, 3x daily with meals