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Every now and then, a seemingly complex question deserves a simple answer. For example: How do I build muscle and burn body fat at the same time, so I can have a carved-up six-pack to go along with my big chest and arms? The simple answer: Train with both high intensity and high volume.
That’s the whole premise behind the following upper-body (chest and arms) workout, courtesy of fitness model Joe Donnelly, who knows a thing or two about being lean while holding on to size. Yes, that’s Donnelly, a man who has probably forgotten more exercise knowledge than most personal trainers will ever possess thanks in part to a college football career at Syracuse University and a stint in the NFL where he learned from some of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the country.
“The basic philosophy behind the routine is muscle-building cardio, to get your conditioning done during your lift so you’re burning fat while promoting muscle growth,” says Donnelly, 33. “Whereas the age-old thinking was that you bulk up and then you strip away calories and add in cardio to get leaner, studies have shown that doing excess cardio and stripping away calories costs you a lot of muscle mass. Now we know that the best way to add lean muscle is doing the opposite of that: grow lean muscle slowly and add in the cardio component during your lifting.”
To execute this, Donnelly offers up four separate mini-circuits—one triset and three giant sets, each of which hits the chest, triceps, and biceps with at least three sets apiece and reps residing mostly in the 8–12 range with appreciable loads. “It’s not about doing a bunch of light sets,” Donnelly says. “You’re still doing heavy incline bench presses, for example, but you’re combining them with explosive movements and time-under-tension [TUT]. After inclines, you’re going to drop to the floor for clap pushups. You could do a regular pushup and do 40 reps, but that’s not going to put a tremendous amount of stress on the chest. A plyometric pushup, creating that explosion off the ground and catching yourself on the way down, is almost like a forced negative. And then on the EZ-bar curls, you’re doing slow reps, adding in TUT, which is building muscle.”
Intensity is ramped up via minimal rest periods; within trisets and giants sets you’ll take virtually no break. “You want your heart rate to come back down a little bit,” Donnelly says. “Because when you have a constantly elevated heart rate, that doesn’t burn as many fat calories as when the heart rate fluctuates a lot. That’s the whole premise behind HIIT training. You want the heart rate to go up and come down over and over.”
Despite entailing more than 50 total sets, this workout can be done in just under an hour. Hit it hard and a bigger, leaner upper body won’t be far behind.
Name: Joe Donnelly
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Weight: 238 lbs
Favorite Body Part to Train: Legs
Favorite Exercise: Squats, sprints
Interesting Fact: Played football at Syracuse
Directions: Within each triset (Part 1) or giant set (Parts 2, 3, and 4), go directly from one exercise to the next with minimal or no rest. After each triset or giant set, rest for specified time before repeating.