The only thing harder than starting an exercise and nutrition plan is following through till the bitter end, without giving up or giving in to the "this is too hard" or "I'm just not meant to be lean" excuses.

Sometimes, however, even perseverance is not enough. It often takes something more high-tech to enable you to get rid of that last little bit of body fat that seems permanently affixed to your body.

You know the fat I'm talking about. The last few pounds that seem to defy physiology, calling your body home no matter what you do. For men, those pounds tend to linger at the belt-line, either in the front or on the lateral aspect of your lower back. Women tend to find those pesky last few pounds in the lower glute/upper hamstring region, or just out to the side on the widest part of the hips: the saddlebag region.

Regardless of your gender, where you find these pounds, or how long you've had them, they can be gotten rid of! That's right, you don't have to settle for accepting that they're always gonna be there, and you certainly don't have to resort to something invasive like liposuction to get rid of those unwanted fat cells. Rest assured, because I have a plan: a plan that has worked time and time again, over and over. If you'll read on, I'll enlighten you on just how to put the finishing touches on leaning up your physique.

Let's take a look at a few different components that need to be addressed and finely-tuned before sending you off on your way to achieving your dream physique.

Cardio Troubleshooting

If you're not doing cardio then, hello?! There's your problem! I'm going to assume that most of you who aspire to leanness are doing some cardio with decent regularity. If not, then I oughta' come through your computer screen and give you a good slap upside the head.

My first question to you is, "Are you doing some interval training?" If not, then either you don't know its benefits (because you live under a rock), or you aren't really serious about getting lean. As for frequency, I typically recommend doing three High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) sessions per week on non-consecutive days.

Regarding duration, I find that (after warming up for a couple of minutes) going all out for 30 seconds, followed by going at a normal pace for 60 seconds, is user friendly and very effective. Repeat 12 of these intervals followed by cooling down for a couple minutes. All in all this will take 20 minutes.

Assuming you want to be super-shredded sooner rather than later, you'll need to do some steady state cardio in addition to the HIIT. Since you're probably already doing steady state cardio, let me ask you a second question: do you do your steady state cardio first thing in the morning before eating breakfast? If not, then you should be.

Bodybuilders figured this out years ago, and now studies point towards the same thing: you burn more fat doing your steady state or "regular" cardio in the morning before eating (a fasted state) than during other times of the day. The key here is that blood and liver glycogen are low, causing your body to resort to using more fat for fuel. If you're on a very low-carb diet, then the timing is not as important since serum and hepatic glycogen are perpetually rather low. The timing of interval training doesn't seem to be so important, so just focus on doing it.

I'll be the first to admit that doing cardio that early in the morning is tough, and typically requires that you get up just a little bit earlier. Hey, who said having a killer physique was easy? It sure wasn't me. But I'll give you a decent alternative: do your steady state cardio after weight-training, but before eating or drinking your post-workout meal. This is another time when glucose is less readily available.

Next, be honest with yourself. Are you doing your cardio hard enough? Do you fart around on the recumbent bike because it's the only piece of cardio equipment that allows you to read the latest Britney gossip without sweating on your US Weekly? Do ya? Well, let me be brutally honest with you: if you're not sweatin' like a hog during your cardio, then you're just about wasting your time. I say "just about" because even doing wimpy-ass cardio beats sitting on the couch.

To really maximize your time and enhance your fat loss, your cardio needs to be tough. Tough enough that you're dreading the last few minutes and looking forward to taking off your sweat soaked T-shirt and undies when you get to the locker room.

Lastly, let's look at the amount of cardio you're doing. If you're doing 20 minutes of steady state cardio three times per week, then it's safe to say that one of the reasons you've reached a plateau is because you're not doing enough.

For most people I recommend doing HIIT cardio three times per week, and steady state cardio about three times per week. As for volume per session, as I mentioned 20 minutes is a good rule of thumb for HIIT, while at least 30 is optimal for steady state.

You definitely need to reevaluate every couple of weeks. If after two weeks you're not progressing, then add five minutes to each cardio session and tweak your diet (more on that later). At some point you may also need to bump up the frequency of your steady state sessions, and maybe even add another HIIT session per week.

Going up to as many as seven hour-long sessions per week may be necessary to achieve the freaky leanness you desire. However, I wouldn't increase the HIIT to more than four (maybe five) days per week. The good news is that it's harder to get lean than it is to stay lean. So while you may have to do what seems like endless amounts of cardio to get ripped, it won't take near that much to stay ripped.

Bonus Tip: Assuming you have medical clearance to use stimulants, you should consider getting the most fat-burning out of your cardio by consuming a thermogenic about 30 minutes prior (virtually no advanced bodybuilder fails to have a thermo before cardio, I assure you). In a pinch, a good ol' cup of coffee or green tea will help. For those of you who want something more high-tech, try something like HOT-ROX® Extreme. I personally like taking thermogenic supplements prior to exercising as opposed to drinking coffee and/or green tea due to the fact that the liquid ends up sloshing around in my stomach.

Training Troubleshooting

Similar to problems with cardio, the primary problems that people encounter with weight-training are that they don't train intenselyenough, and they don't do it oftenenough. While some people can get by with weight-training only three days per week, most people who have a really top-notch physique (one devoid of those last few pounds) train four or maybe even five times per week.

When you're done with your training session, you should be confident that you trained with all-out intensity, holding nothing back. We can debate training programs and set/rep schemes all day long, but in the grand scheme of things, that's minutia. Whatever you do, make sure to do some serious resistance training four or five times per week.

Diet Troubleshooting

Now we're getting into the meat and potatoes of how to get rid of those last few pounds. Virtually everyone I've worked with who had a good physique except for a trouble spot or two swore that they were doing everything right nutritionally. As you might guess, it turned out they weren't.

However well you're eating, you're going to have to eat better to get where you want to be. In fact, you should just plan on eating perfectly with no unplanned cheat meals. After all, this is exactly what the owners of the best physiques in the world do day in and day out. Why not emulate those who already are where you want to be?

Junk food

You can do better than that

To make progress you have to do better than what you're currently doing. For example, let's say you go have a blow-out cheat meal once a week. To get rid of that stubborn fat, you're going to have to make a change. You can either opt to eat a pseudo cheat meal that's lower in fat, sugar, and overall calories, or you could simply do your normal anything-goes cheat every other week as opposed to weekly. Either would be an improvement.

Once you get a handle on eating a healthy meal every 3 hours, and can resist urges to cheat, then you're ready for something more high-tech: something that'll really start to shed those last few pounds. Here's one of my favorite methods: zigzagging your calories, primarily be manipulating carbs.

For sake of illustration, let's use a 200-pound male with an average metabolism as an example. On what we'll call his High Carb Day (relatively speaking), he should eat about 35 grams of protein for each of six meals per day, and 50 grams of carbs for each of the first five meals, eliminating carbs from the last meal.

On the Medium Carb Day we'll stick with the 35 grams of protein per meal, but drop the carbs to 35 grams per meal. Again, no carbs on the last meal.

Finally, on the Low Carb Day, 35 grams of protein per meal will still be the norm, but the carbs will be dropped to 20 grams per meal during the first five meals.

If you do the math you'll see that our Joe Sample will be having 250 grams of carbs on his high day, 175 grams on his medium day, and just 100 grams on his low carb day.

Here's a table for all you visually-oriented folks (myself included):

High Carb Day

  Protein Per Meal Carbs Per Meal
Meal 1 35g 50g
Meal 2 35g 50g
Meal 3 35g 50g
Meal 4 35g 50g
Meal 5 35g 50g
Meal 6 35g 0g

Medium Carb Day

  Protein Per Meal Carbs Per Meal
Meal 1 35g 35g
Meal 2 35g 35g
Meal 3 35g 35g
Meal 4 35g 35g
Meal 5 35g 35g
Meal 6 35g 0g

Low Carb Day

  Protein Per Meal Carbs Per Meal
Meal 1 35g 20g
Meal 2 35g 20g
Meal 3 35g 20g
Meal 4 35g 20g
Meal 5 35g 20g
Meal 6 35g 0g

While this plan has you eating no carbs on the last meal, I would certainly include some fibrous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, and/or asparagus to name a few.

Those of you who are detail-oriented like me will notice that I didn't mention fat. That certainly doesn't mean that you shouldn't eat any fat!

A good range of fat to consume per day is 30-40 grams of healthy fat. That's the key: healthy fat. If you consume 6 grams of a high quality fish oil like Flameout per day, then you'll pretty well have your essential fatty acid bases covered. Other good sources of fat are fish oil, flax oil, olive oil, salmon, almonds, walnuts, avocado, and omega-3 eggs.

Putting it Together

As Mike Roussell pointed out in his Carb Cycling For Idiots article, it's best to consume a high-carb day on a training day that's either a larger body part or one you want to bring up. Off days from weight-training should be low-carb days, and the remainder should typically be medium.

Let me show you how I may lay out a progressive four-week schedule, based on training Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.

Week One

Sunday: Low Day
Monday: High Day
Tuesday: Medium Day
Wednesday: Low Day
Thursday: Medium Day
Friday: High Day
Saturday: Low Day

Week Two

Sunday: Low Day
Monday: High Day
Tuesday: Medium Day
Wednesday: Low Day
Thursday: Medium Day
Friday: Medium Day
Saturday: Low Day

Week Three

Sunday: Low Day
Monday: Medium Day
Tuesday: Medium Day
Wednesday: Low Day
Thursday: Medium Day
Friday: High Day
Saturday: Low Day

Week Four

Sunday: Low Day
Monday: Medium Day
Tuesday: Medium Day
Wednesday: Low Day
Thursday: Low Day
Friday: High Day
Saturday: Low Day

Notice that the diet gets progressively tougher each week, and has an overall reduction in carbs. The high-carb days become more spread out, and there's even a training day that ends up being a Low Day. This would, of course, be dependent upon how the individual was responding. Knowing exactly when to do what with your diet is an art and a science. But with practice you'll get better and better at it.

If you'll take an honest look at your cardio, training, and nutrition, and objectively troubleshoot them with the principles and guidelines I've given you, then you should have no problem getting lean. Even nasty shredded, if you so desire.