Every guy wants fast results.
But, unlike what most people think (or at least hope), you just aren’t going to torch pounds of fat during a single workout session. “You would have to do burpees non-stop for an hour just to burn one pound of fat,” says Alexander VanHouten, C.P.T., regional education and metabolic specialist at Life Time Athletic Centennial in Colorado.
And, contrary to what your favorite fighters are doing leading up to every weigh-in, trying to lose water weight isn’t the way to go. Dehydration, apart from making your muscles, organs, hormones, and metabolism work at anything but top speed, can actually cause your body to retain water. “Don’t think water loss. Think water movement,” he says.
It turns out, your body—which is about two thirds water—contains both extracellular water (ECW) and intracellular water (ICW). ECW is contained in the space outside, or between your body’s cells, and when high can make you look puffy, soft, and anything but ripped, VanHouten says. ICW, however, hangs out in your body’s cells, the ones that make up your muscles. So when levels of that increase, your muscles look bigger and stronger. The goal: Maximize your ICW while minimizing your ECW.
Dietary approaches can affect how and where your body stores water, (drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of water per day and cut out added sugars, alcohol, and excess sodium) but what you do in the gym also makes a huge impact, he says.
Check out these five simple gym strategies to make your body’s water work for you—and leave your first gym session looking trimmer and more muscular. Within an hour, you should already start seeing results, he says. And, even better, all of these tactics will help you build muscle and torch fat over the long-term.
1. Turn Up the Volume
There’s a reason that high-volume hypertrophy workouts give you a “pump.” They move ECW into your muscle cells, making them swell and look stronger, says VanHouten. Bonus: by decreasing the amount of water separating your muscle cells from your skin, they make you look like you’ve dropped pounds, even if you haven’t. He recommends performing six sets of about eight to 12 reps to get the biggest pump.
2. Go Big
The more muscle fibers you recruit, the more water you’ll move with each rep, says VanHouten. He recommends ditching the isolation work to concentrate on large compound movements that work multiple large muscle groups at once. Think: pull-ups, bench presses, deadlifts, and squats.
3. Slow Down the Negative
“Eccentric movements during weight training also accomplish maximum water movement,” he says. “So slow down the negative during a movement to tax eccentric fibers and force water into the cells.” For example, if you’re performing bench presses, spend at least some (if not all) of your reps lowering the barbell for a good six seconds. Our pecs shake (and swell) just thinking about it.
4. Skip the HIIT
No offense to calorie-torching high-intensity interval training, but if you want to walk out of the gym looking fitter than when you went in, it’s probably not for you. That’s because HIIT causes you to lose both ECW and ICW, VanHouten explains. So, you could end up weighing less after a HIIT session thanks to water loss, but you likely won’t look any leaner or muscular immediately, he says.
5. Prepare to Fail
If you finish all of your reps and sets feeling like you could do more, you need to up your weights next time, he says. Performing reps to failure—you shouldn’t be able to muscle through your very last rep—are best for maximizing water movement into your muscles.