Don’t have three hours a day to spend at the gym? Not interested in bulging like a bodybuilder? Unmoved by promises of “fat-blasting, ab-chiseling monster workouts”? This is the column for you, fellow regular human with very little free time.
Name: Brendan, New York City
Weight: 186 pounds
Goal: To have a six-pack just once in his life before he hits middle age
His Time Commitment (or Lack Thereof): “I work 15 miles from my house, and when I cycle, it takes 50 to 75 minutes to get there, depending on the wind — and my leg fatigue,” Brendan tells us. “I do this one to three times per week so that my commute time is combined with cardio time. Then, when I go to the gym, I can do weights. My job is typically 9 to 10 hours a day, so I basically just come home and flop.”
Exercise He’s Actually Willing to Do: “I separated my shoulder while swimming recently. I rolled it back into place pretty quickly, and thankfully, it hasn’t dropped out since, but it tends to feel weird from time to time and occasionally will click for a couple days. So I’d rather avoid anything that’s going to cause that to happen again.
“Diet-wise, I’m trying to eat less meat — y’know, so I’m not hurting the feelings of the Earth and the animals and all that. But I’m leery of tofu being loaded with soy, and you can only eat so many nuts. Plus beans are loaded with carbs — good carbs, but they make me unpleasant to be around at work. What, then, is a guy to do for his protein?”
What He Wants: “I’ll probably never cycle under a 6-minute mile again, but it’d be cool if my workout pace was back on the 7- or 8-minute line. I’m into building muscle and burning fat, but I have no interest in supplements. I just want to discover my body’s capabilities and maybe have a six-pack before I become somebody’s out-of-shape husband.”
Lentil-y Does It: “Being vegetarian isn’t an easy task, and it’s good that you’re aware of that,” says personal trainer Lalo Fuentes. “On every plate, you should have the right amount of protein, as well as healthy fat. For protein, try quinoa, lentils, eggs, fish (especially salmon), broccoli, chickpeas, etc. For good fats, consume plenty of extra virgin olive oil, avocados, chia seeds, full eggs, full-fat yogurt, full-fat cottage cheese and the fat from fish.
“Try to make food that combines a few of these ingredients and you’ll be golden. For example, you can do quinoa pasta with lentil sauce and grilled fish on top. Lentil sauce is super easy to make: Just drop cooked lentils in the blender with a garlic clove, olive oil, salt and pepper, and you’re done. Add a lot of pepper, and you won’t feel like you’re just having lentils.
“Another plate you can do as a snack is hummus. Eat it with cut celery, and you’ll have a balanced snack.”
Get on Your Bike: “Let’s start by making your commute an everyday activity on the bike. It’ll become easier on your body, and you’ll have your cardio done every day. If you only use the bike, your body will build up good stamina and have less leg fatigue, which will help you at the gym as well. Plus, it’s good for the environment.”
Shoulder the Burden: “For your shoulder, focus on exercises that will make your rotator cuff stronger. Once it starts to feel better, you can continue with some exercises that stabilize your shoulders.
“To strengthen the rotator cuff, get ahold of an elastic resistance band and attach it to your door, then do rotation movements. Rotate your arm inward and outwards while keeping your forearm parallel to the floor, and your elbow touching your body at all times.
“If you can’t find a resistance band, lay on the floor on your side with your elbow touching your ribs, holding a 5- to 8-pound weight with your arm bent at a 90-degree angle. Rotate your arm upwards toward the ceiling, only rotating as much as you feel comfortable.
“If you feel any pain, you should stop and see if your angle is wrong, if you’re opening too much or if it’s too much weight. Pain is a defense mechanism our bodies have — it’s telling your body something is wrong, so you should listen when it appears.
“You can do 10 to 15 repetitions of these every time before you start working out. For now, stay away from any type of bench or overhead presses and focus on back exercises instead. Once you start to feel better, step it up by doing regular planks followed by side planks to stabilize your shoulders, which is what’s going to start forming your six-pack.”
How do you feel about cycling to work every day? Sounds like it might be tricky during a New York winter. “Honestly, winter’s actually not much of a problem,” says Brendan. “I’m all geared up for wind and cold — it’s only ice and deep snow that are prohibitive, so you only lose a few days. But it’s still very unlikely. I’m biking about 26 miles round-trip a day already, and after two days in a row or three days out of four, the muscles stop responding. It’s like rolling a wet bag of sand uphill, and at that point, I’m losing the commute time to being able to switch up cardio with jogging and swimming.”
Do you think your shoulder will stand up to this advice? “Sounds reasonable, and I’m delighted to try anything that will prevent injury.”
Are you a big lentil fan? “Yeah! Though eating lentils and beans has led me toward bigger dinners, and skipping lunches so I don’t conduct chemical warfare on my coworkers. Whatever, intermittent fasting is good too, right?”