This is the first installment of 37 Things a Man's Gotta Do This Summer, our annual compendium of everything worth seeing, doing, eating, drinking and generally making time for in your neck of the woods between now and September. Stay tuned all month for more.
If you’re familiar with men’s magazines and/or the Internet, you’ve encountered the concept of 30-day abs.
Eat like this and exercise like that, they say, and you’ll have your very own chiseled, twitching, shimmering six-pack in no time.
But is it a genuine exhortation, or a cruel taunt? With beach days incoming, two of our editors decided to put the theory to the test.
What follows is an honest perspective on how to uncover your core, via two distinct approaches: one a veggie-first regimen endorsed by Brad Pitt, the other an old-school tummy-buster straight out of 300.
Spoiler Alert: You can get that six pack by June. But it's gonna take some work.
Start weight: 193
Method: The Vegetarian Zac Efron meets Brad Pitt
Details: Group fitness classes with intense cardio paired with a vegetarian diet and cutting out all alcohol and bread. Based on Zac Efron in Baywatch and Brad Pitt in Fight Club.
Start weight: 185
Method: The Ancient Greeks meets Greek Yogurt
Details: Weight-lifting with volume reps, no cardio; high-protein diet backed by “superfoods,” lots of meat. Based on the 300 workout.
An Honest Appraisal of Where They Started
Alex: I’ve always been at least semi-fit, the product of playing sports year-round since I was 10. And while I’m InsideHook’s resident fitness guinea pig, don’t tell anyone, but I hadn’t worked out for over six weeks before starting this regimen. As my before picture clearly shows, I had supremely grabbable love handles and naught but a whisper of abdominals. As my expression clearly shows, I was feeling sluggish, overworked and thus uninspired to hit the gym.
Tanner: I grew up playing sports year-round, before becoming a long-distance runner in high school. That’s the last time I had a particularly defined core, and it was largely a product of PB&J lunches struggling to keep up with daily eight-mile runs. (I had what the kids like to call a “skinny pack.”) In the years since, I’ve cut back cardio almost entirely, and spend the majority of my exercise hours in the gym throwing weights around. Heading into my battle with InsideHook’s resident Dwayne Johnson, I knew I had my work cut out for me.
Alex: Cutting out bread (even my beloved bagels, but not carbs as a whole), alcohol, desserts and chips (a key part of my guacamole-heavy diet). Cutting back on simple carbohydrates and eating out. Taking in lots of grains and legumes (quinoa, wild rice), leafy greens (kale, arugula), vegetables (broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower), vegetarian protein (eggs, tofu, lentils) and smoothies (with plant protein). I’m a vegetarian to begin with, so that’s a product of circumstance, but it also made it easier to make healthy protein choices.
Tanner: No salty snacks (pretzels, popcorn), no potatoes (chips, french fries), no desserts or pastries (cake, ice cream, cookies, muffins, crumb cake). Trying to stay away from bread, sugary drinks, alcohol. Emphasizing water, green tea, blueberries, apples, bananas, spinach, peanut butter. Lean meats (turkey, grilled chicken) preferred, others (burgers, bacon, crispy chicken) OK. This was an excellent resource for honing in on which foods I wanted to emphasize and why.
Six Pack Diet (2 images)
Pictured: Alex's typical meal (arugula, quinoa, seasoned tofu, avocado and an egg) and post-workout plant-protein smoothie from JuiceLand
The Fitness Regimen
Alex: I’m a big believer in high-intensity group fitness pushing people to limits they wouldn’t otherwise reach, so I signed up for Class Pass. My goal was five classes per week, with a balance of intense standalone cardio like cycling and high-intensity interval training. The idea being to trim down as much as possible while building up the entire range of core muscles (upper and lower abs, obliques, etc.) that are used in full-body workouts. Favorite classes: Beast Fitness Evolved, Cyc Fitness and Monster Cycle.
Tanner: Though my proposed diet skewed a little new-agey, I wanted to go old-school on the exercise front to see if those tried-and-true methods still clicked. Translation: countless, solitary reps, on a faithful rotation each week. I headed into the month planning to continue my weightlifting routine 2-3x a week (a rotation of chest, biceps, triceps, shoulders) and add 2-3 core workouts based in part on the 300 workout. It’s a combination of crunches, twists, thrusts, scissor kicks … you name it. There are countless regimens like this; that’s simply the one I chose. I purposely did not do any cardio the entire month.
Alex: I believe you need others pushing you to exercise at maximum capacity. A trainer blowing a whistle for up/downs, like football coaches of yore, can’t be ignored. In seeking that intensity, I found HIIT studio Beast Fitness Evolved. My first class (featuring everything from battle ropes to vertical climbers) destroyed me to the point that during cooldown, I couldn’t even stand for stretches. I dropped down, went into child’s pose and focused on not passing out or throwing up. But I came out on top.
Tanner: In the third week of April, the first time I mastered the 300 workout and wanted more. The regimen doesn’t take much time (and shouldn’t, assuming you don’t give yourself many breaks), but it’s an assault on the abdomen. Gutting out 25 V-sit-ups after you’ve just done 30 squat thrusts is a long, lonely ride. On this particular day, after spending weeks working up to full reps, I finished strong and spent some time on the jump rope before hitting the mat for extra crunches.
Six Pack Fitness (2 images)
Pictured: Tanner solo training at his humble hometown gym
Alex: A little more than halfway through, a friend came into town and was staying at my place for a night … and brought over a bottle of Dom Pérignon, a pricey red and some cheesy Italian takeout. There’s no chance I was going to turn down the bounty, and I don’t regret that decision, but any indulgences like that will set you back.
Tanner: I split a 2,000-calorie carton of Yankee Stadium bottomless popcorn with a friend over the span of one (very long) fourth inning about halfway through. Some other honorable mentions: a Vermont skiing trip where avoiding hearty brews was nigh impossible and a birthday dinner that paired Fettucine Alfredo (the one time I ate pasta in the month) with Dairy Queen M&M cake.
So Was It a Success?
Alex: The photos don’t lie: 30 days ago I did not have a six pack and now I do — albeit a trim one that shows the power of a radical diet more so than ab-focused exercise. Will anyone mistake me for Mssrs. Efron or Pitt? No. (Though feel free to say otherwise.) But it proves that a 30-day six-pack is possible by way of discipline and sound methods.
Tanner: Pretty much. I’m still a week or two away from the exact definition I was looking for, but this is the healthiest I’ve felt in years. Replacing potato chips and cookies with spinach and Greek yogurt moves mountains. I got better at my rep-heavy workout each time I headed to the mat, and can confirm that dedication to the routine (even without any cardio, plus a diet with a fair share of meat) will yield results.
10 Lessons for Someone Hoping to Achieve the Same Results, in No Particular Order
1. Write down everything you eat.
Calorie-counting apps are too tedious and not accurate enough to account for portion sizes. A simple journal will do, but keep yourself honest and leave no office birthday cake unrecorded.
2. “Vegetarians don’t get enough protein” is a myth.
Eggs, tofu, lentils, beans, the bevy of plant-based meat substitutes hitting shelves, pea and rice protein at smoothie shops. It’s been debunked. Let’s all move on.
3. Willing to do anything for extra definition? Do a Zac Efron purge.
Efron’s secret to his Baywatch body: “Nine days of absolutely zero carbs and sugar. Only organic grass-fed/free-range protein and organic leafy greens.”
4. You’ll want a beer really badly. Don’t do it.
I have to single out the brews. While I had wine three times (all in semi-obligatory circumstances), I craved a cold one. But you and I and everyone who’s ever seen a light beer commercial knows those calories kill. Stay away in May, then recommence in June.
5. Results will vary.
Everyone begins at a different place both physically and, in terms of fitness experience, mentally (see my starting point above). A six pack in 30 days is obviously extreme, and Tanner and I both had the advantage of decent starting lines.
6. Not eating after 8:00PM works wonders.
There is absolutely zero benefit to snacking this late in the day. Axe it and you will sleep better and wake up hungrier. It’s also a cruel reward to your body after working so hard at the gym earlier in the day. Eating like a king early in the morning is essential, however.
7. Progress is addicting.
At the outset, I naturally judged progress by looking at the mirror. But there are better ways to measure progress — like finding the mental fortitude seemingly overnight to jilt your banned foods, or realizing you’re eager to research healthy foods. I for one, became a big green tea guy during the process … which comes with benefits aplenty. And that day I mastered the 300 workout? No better feeling.
8. If you buy two things …
After every workout, I tossed protein powder, yogurt, frozen blueberries, wheat germ and ice into a NutriBullet. It tastes like ice cream and offers excellent end-of-day nourishment. And for days I couldn’t make it to the gym, I picked up a HemingWeigh Exercise Mat for 25 bucks and was easily able to complete my routine on the road.
9. It’s possible to get bored.
Lonely, high-reps workouts worked for me, but I can’t imagine committing to that method for much longer than a month or two. Which triggered a hard truth: How hard was I working, really, by the end of the month? There’s a lot of literature out there on workout cycles that “shock” your body with foreign-feeling lifts and movements. I’d probably opt for one such regimen (in addition to introducing cardio) for my next go-around.
10. Doing this with a friend makes it easier.
Companionship and competition are an ideal pair.