I am not sure whether it is because of shows like Mr. Robot (OMG, watch that show) or the glorification of life in Silicon Valley (not that cool) but everyone and their mom is trying to find ways to hack things.
Everything is about hacking now.
In the health and fitness world the new hot, hipster lingo is “biohacking”... which is probably the silliest thing on the planet.
Putting butter in your coffee is NOT biohacking. You know what is biohacking… gene editing.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted to approach this article and how I could address how I really feel about “hacking” in our industry and what that SHOULD mean.
Let’s just dispense with something right out the gate - the hacking we are referring to here is not biohacking, it also isn’t really hacking.
It is just the most effective ways to get a leaner physique. Which, is hacking when you REALLY get down to what hacking means.
In fact, I am going to use the word hack in this article as it is defined by our BFF Webster.
Hack (n): A clever tip or technique for doing or improving something.
Now let me tell you what I think about “hacking your way to leanness”.
The dieting and fat loss world is like the Dead Marshes from Lord of the Rings where you can cross it, but it is scary as hell and you don’t know the exact route to take to get to the other side. In the movie, Gollum was the guide who “hacked” his way through.
In this article, I will be your Gollum and provide you hacks to get you to the land of leanness.
1. Lift Weights
The super complicated math behind leanness is lean body mass/fat mass. You can improve your leanness by either increasing lean body mass, decreasing fat mass, or doing a little bit of both. Good news is lifting weights can take care of both of these things in one fell swoop.
Lifting gives your body growth signal, it also burns calories which can be leveraged for lowering body fat.
Now, can you maximize muscle growth while also losing body fat? No, not really. But can you gain lean mass while simultaneously lowering body fat? Absolutely.
Just decide if you want to work on recomposition or some serious gains and then adjust your calories accordingly. If you want to maximize gains aim to be in a surplus, if you want to maximize recomp try and keep calories near or just below maintenance.
2. Skip the Bullsh*t
At this point in my career I have coached probably 10,000 people. If there is one thing I have seen that derails people faster than anything it is being drawn into the light of bullshit approaches.
Look. We know what works, we know how long it takes, we know roughly what to expect with results, and we know what approaches are sustainable and what aren’t.
There isn’t any real big magical system out there. There are GOOD systems and REALLY BAD systems but there isn’t any magic formula you can find that speeds up your gains to super human levels.
If you chase magical systems and are hopping around from one hot thing to the next searching for the magic, chances are you will spend years spinning your wheels and end up in a worse spot than you are now.
Just stick to the basics of calorie balance, prioritizing resistance training and your NEAT, and progressive overload. I guarantee you in 5 years you won’t believe the amount of progress you made.
3. Set Goals without Hard Timelines
This is number 3 on the list but might be the most important “hack” I have for people getting lean.
Stop setting hard timelines on absurd goals.
Here is what I routinely see, people want to get lean and they say, “I am going to get 6 pack abs by July 1st so I can be shredded for vacation”.
This sets up a paradigm for failure, especially long term failure.
Why? Because this leads to a few behaviors that prevent you from long term success.
First you get a deadline in your head and you think, “I will do anything I can to get there”. This usually involves extreme dieting, overzealous training, and often some form of “overdoing it”.
Second, it inevitably leads people to the old, “now what” conundrum. Let’s say you get there via extreme methods…. Now what do you do? Do you have a plan for after? Better yet, did your plan set you up for a big rebound?
Then there is the other side of the coin. What happens if you don’t hit that goal? Now what do you do? Do you throw your hands up in the air? Do you return to old behaviors?
The better approach to goal setting is this, “I want to get lean enough to have abs, I will accumulate all the habits I need to get there someday”. Then you wake up every day and you take another step toward it. July 1st comes and you have a plan for that day…. And a plan for July 1st next year.
4. Take a Balanced Approach to Your Diet
Here is the diet hack you need to know to get lean: Anything can work. I mean anything. Paleo, keto, keto extreme, intermittent fasting, veganism, the cookie diet, the master cleanse – all of it can theoretically work. Also… this will blow your mind but a balanced diet also works.
Basically, you name it, it can work.
The question you need to ask yourself is, “If I want to get lean, and almost any diet can work, do I need the extreme option?"
The issue that comes with many of these approaches is they often come with a level of “risk”. For example, we know ketogenic diets and very low carb diets come with a difficult adaptation period, they can feel very restrictive at times, they don’t fare well for performance. Veganism can come with nutrient deficiencies.
If a balanced approach works just as well, typically has fewer issues, and often times has better adherence, why not take that path?
5. Don’t Take Shortcuts
It is possible I just haven’t seen enough of the world, but when it comes to being lean AND staying lean I have never seen shortcuts work.
Fat burners? Never got a client lean by itself and never kept a client lean by itself.
Extreme diets? Never worked long term for sustaining leanness or maintaining muscle mass.
8 minute flabs, I mean 8 minute abs? I think we all know the reality of these types of things to our very core. They don’t work. They might work in the context of a much bigger intervention but they don’t work. Even the people selling them know they don’t work. They aren’t selling results. They are selling hope.
Don’t take shortcuts. Set up your long term plan to being lean using the advice above and you will get there faster than you thought and you will stay there.
The Wrap Up
Did you notice that none of these hacks were “hacks”? There is no smoke and mirrors. There is what you need to know, and what you need to stay away from.
If you want to optimize your leanness lift weights, because there really isn’t a great way to get lean without at least some weight lifting.
Skip the bullshit. You will avoid a lot of wasted time and get to where you want to go much faster.
Set goals and stick to them, but don’t give yourself crazy deadlines.
The more balanced you can be with your diet the better. Anything works (within reason) so why not be level headed and smart about it.
Don’t take shortcuts. They don’t work and they ultimately make your journey twice as long and ten times as hard.