If a leaner, more chiseled body is one of your New Year’s goals, here’s an amazingly inspiring success story: Joe Warner went from chunky to hunky—including 6-pack abs—in just 12 weeks. Thanks to smarter workouts and a much healthier diet, he’s reportedly gained 22 pounds of muscle—and shed about 17.5 pounds of fat, with nearly all of the loss around the belly.
Making this makeover even more remarkable, the Men’s Fitness deputy editor is an average Joe with a desk job—and works out just four hours a week. “If I can do it, anyone can,” Warner told the Daily Mail. “The regime I followed proves that you don’t need to spend hour after hour exercising to dramatically transform the way you look, even in a relatively short period of time.”
What are his body-building secrets—and would they work for other average guys? Is it really possible to pack on that much muscle in three months? To find out, I talked to Neal Pire, MA, CSCS, FACSM, and founder of PUSH at Volt Fitness in Glen Rock, NJ, who specializes in performance training for athletes.
Warner used to be “skinny-fat,” meaning that he had excessive belly fat—and relatively little muscle mass—according to his trainer Nick Mitchell. Also known as “normal weight obesity,” this type of build is linked to increased risk for diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease, the leading killer of Americans.
While in his 20s, Warner focused on cardiovascular workouts, mainly running. “No matter how far or how long I ran, I would always have a bit of belly and never any muscles on my chest, shoulders or arms,” he told the Daily Mail. Although the editor wished he looked like the fitness models featured in his magazine, he thought he had the wrong genetics and lacked the time to spend hours pumping iron.
However, he did spend 4.5 hours a week exercising, well above the 2.5 hours of vigorous exercise (or a higher amount of moderate exercise) per week experts advise to maintain fitness and good health.
His old fitness regimen:
After turning 30, Warner decided to strive for the body of his dreams, with a major increase in workout intensity. He switched to resistance training intervals focused on anaerobic workouts—exercise that involves brief, high-intensity activities like lifting weights, pushups, power training, sprinting or jumping.
“One of the biggest benefits of anaerobic exercise is the afterburn,” adds Pire. “Not only do you burn a lot of calories during these intense workouts, but afterwards, your metabolic rate remains high for up to 16 hours so you continue to burn calories at a significantly higher-than-normal rate.”
Warner’s new fitness routine:
Before starting his body-building program, Warner used to eat a diet that was high in carbs and processed foods, with a typical day including such items as a croissant, cookies, a baked potato with cheese, coleslaw, potato chips and pasta, vegetables, and tomato sauce.
To slim down, he switched to a lower-carb diet that included lean meat, chicken, fish, fresh vegetables, eggs, and “slow carbs”—fiber-rich carbohydrate-based foods that are digested much more slowly than refined carbs like white rice and baked goods.
"The diet I followed was simple but effective, so I was never hungry,' he told the Daily Mail. "I could even have a glass of red wine at the weekends, so never felt as though I was sacrificing anything."
Warner’s workout, which he and his trainer detail in a new book—12 Week Body Plan (€9.99 or just over $13 in the U.S.)—had truly awesome results: In just three months, his body-fat percentage fell from nearly 17 percent to just 5.5 percent and he lost 17.5 pounds of fat.
Remarkably, Warner accomplished this by working out fewer hours per week, since his exercise regiment took 4.5 hours a week, while the new one only took four—highlighting the benefits of working both harder and smarter.
Is it possible to lose that much fat in 12 weeks? Yes, says Pire. “Consensus recommendations are typically to target a weekly fat weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds (and no more than 2) per week.”
Sure it would be tough for some guys to gain 22 pounds of muscle in such a short time. But the poinst is that significant gains (and fat loss) can still be realized. "Joe had not been a big 'resistance training animal' prior to going on the program," says Pire. "Which would make him more susceptible to muscle gain, to the extent that his genes allowed it, compared to someone already doing this type of exercise.”
Pire cautions that anyone who is sedentary, has medical issues, or joint problems should consult a healthcare provider before launching any new exercise program.
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