At this point, you’re pretty well-built. You hit the gym, do plenty of lifting, and eat right—and all that effort is starting to show on your physique.
But let’s say you’re trying to chisel that weightlifter’s bulk into something a little more ripped, and achieve the cheetah-like physique that so many athletes seem to build effortlessly.
Granted, some guys are naturally built a little more on the shorter and stockier side—more Brian Urlacher, say, than a longer, leaner athlete like Wilt Chamberlain—but no matter how you’re built, you can modify your training to reduce body fat and improve the definition of your muscles just like the pros.
To get that powerful, able-bodied look—and the athletic capability that comes with it—we got in touch with Lucas Catenacci, C.P.T., co-owner of F45 Training in New York City, where Catenacci and his team put the likes of Hugh Jackman through high-intensity, 45-minute classes to whittle away body fat. Make sure your diet is on point, and then add these elements to your routine.
1. Combine weight training and high-intensity cardio
“To build a more athletic-looking body, it’s important to incorporate a weight-lifting regimen with high-intensity cardio routines,” Catenacci says. Map out your workout schedule so you dedicate three or four days a week to cardio-centric workouts that reach 85–100% of your maximal heart rate in short intervals, he suggests. Bouts of (somewhat agonizing) lung-busting work interspersed with very little rest turns workouts “metabolic,” meaning you ramp up the amount of calories you burn mid- and post-workout.
Research proves this is the most effective type of cardio for fat loss. “For the remaining two to three days, you want to zero in on strength and resistance work that incorporates heavier weights you can handle for 12-15 reps per interval,” Catenacci says. You’ll build lean muscle and continue to supercharge your body’s metabolism. You also want to make an effort to vary your routines to continually shock your muscles and prevent plateaus, which occur frequently in typical weight training programs.
2. Focus on dynamic exercises
“While both isolated and compound exercises have their benefits, to achieve athletic performance compound dynamic exercises that simulate movements you use in sports is optimal,” Catenacci says.
Furthermore, focus on functional movements—like bench press, deadlift, front squat to press, renegade rows, and kettlebell swings—that will hit your major movers and lesser-used muscles to build all-over strength. This will improve athletic performance, bulletproof your joints, and prevent injury. Compound exercises also burn more fat and transform your physique faster than isolated moves that only key in on one body part at a time. (Looking at you, Sgt. Bicep Curls.)
3. Take advantage of plyometrics, bodyweight moves, and agility work
“Plyometrics and agility exercises are fantastic for building fast-twitch muscle fibers to improve athletic performance, strengthen tendons and ligaments, and improve flexibility, balance, and coordination,” Catenacci says. Plyos can include clapping pushups, box jumps, and bounding—any quick, powerful moves that challenge your ability to generate power, jump higher, and run faster.
For fat-burning agility drills, focus on “suicides,” carioca steps, and ladder work for speed in order to fit in more cardio and sport-specific moves.
Don’t underestimate bodyweight exercises, either—MMA fighters are incredibly lean athletes who often nix the weights altogether to stay agile and powerful when they’re prepping for a bout in the Octagon. Jump squats, burpees, and pushup variations can build that strong, shredded look you’re striving for.
4. Up the reps, lighten the load
“Lighter weight and higher reps during weight training will burn fat and build leaner muscle,” Catenacci says. If you’re loading up a little over half your 1RM, move it as fast as possible. Not feeling enough of a challenge? Add further resistance with bands, or shorten your rest periods between sets.
Explosive exercises with moderate weight, like snatches, clean and jerks, med ball throws, and kettlebell swings all fit the bill.
5. Perfect your nutrition
“Arguably more important in this transformation is building a feasible nutrition plan around a high-protein diet that features good fat and wholesome carbs, while cutting down sugar and artificial ingredients,” Catenacci says. “Think 90/10 when it comes to diet—90% whole or minimally processed foods (labels with three ingredients) and 10% whatever you want,” he adds.
Flush your body with water (it’s not going to make you bloated). “Without enough water, your body feeds off toxins in your gut and sap energy, leaving you tired and lethargic,” Catenacci explains.