From Dud to Stud in 30 Days


It's one thing to look like you work out, but it's a whole 'nother thing to have a body that commands attention. The blend of full, round muscles, low body fat, and general bad-ass-ness is within our reach if we're willing to work for it. And while some of us have just started this quest for building the ultimate body and need a couple more years of iron, protein, and fortitude to build a respectable base, more of us are ready to catch a glimpse of all our hard work. The only problem: we've never tried to "unlock" the body we've built.

So what does it take to go from "all right looking" to muscular, defined, and powerful? What does it take to go from good to great? I talked with Dave Tate, John Berardi, John Romaniello, and Shelby Starnes about how they'd go about transforming a dud into a stud in 30 days.

Some of their tips may sound simple; some may sound complicated as hell. But if you stick to their recommendations, it may just be the most productive 30 days of your training career.

T Nation: All right guys, thanks for being here. First, I just have to ask: can a guy really go from having so-so to badass body in 30 days?

Dave Tate

Tate: There's a lot you can do in 30 days, but you have to know what you're doing it for, because it's hard as hell. One reason to do it is to strip away all the body fat you've gained while "bulking" like a jack-ass and set yourself up for a huge rebound. The super-compensation and resultant muscle growth will be great after a plan like this. Plus you won't be a fat-ass anymore.


Berardi: I think you can make some serious changes in your body in 30 days if you really put your mind to it. Obviously, not everyone can look like a cover model, but you can dial it in and improve your definition, lose a lot of fat, and create the illusion of better muscle size and strength for a more attractive body.

Shelby Starnes

Starnes: I agree. 30 days isn't enough time to build any appreciable amount of muscle, so the best cosmetic changes will come from fat loss. You'll see a very dramatic visual difference from leaning out.

John Romaniello

Roman: I'm with the guys that we need to focus on fat loss to bring out more definition, but if you have a guy who looks good and wants to look freakin' awesome, chances are he needs to make certain muscles "pop" while getting leaner. To not touch on that would be a damn shame.

T Nation: Good point. Let's talk training then. How is our guy going to train to make his muscles "pop" and give the illusion of more size? You want to kick us off, Roman?

Roman: Sure. First, the main muscles this guy should work on are his shoulders, traps, and upper arms. Those are usually weak points and will look the most imposing whether the guy is wearing a shirt or not. Those are the "hey, you work out" muscles.

I'd have him on a rotation where he had a specific day for each of those body parts where he just hammers them. Lots of exercises, lots of volume.

Here's how I'd set it up.

Week 1

Monday is a brutal circuit with weights. This will serve as a fat-loss workout but won't hit the showpiece muscles (shoulders, upper arms, traps) hard since we want to give those their own specialization days. I'd recommend something like:

A1 Reverse Lunges x 12 – 15 reps
Rest 30 seconds
A2 Dumbbell Bench Press x 12 – 15 reps
Rest 60 seconds
A3 Bodyweight Pull-up to failure
Rest 90 seconds
A4 Dumbbell Squats x 12 – 15 reps
Rest 120 seconds

I'd repeat that for five or six rounds while trying to decrease the rest periods with every round.

Tuesday is going to be our first heavy day for a showpiece muscle. I want around 30 total sets for that muscle group. Let's say that Week 1 we'll put traps on this day. I'd start heavy and maybe do something like this:

Barbell Shrugs 6 x 6
Rack Pulls 8 x 8

Then I'd switch into a few isolation movements.

Dumbbell Shrugs 10 x 10 with a two-second contraction held at the top
Low-Trap Raises 3 x 15
Face Pulls 3 x 15

So there's our thirty sets.

On Wednesday we're going to do kind of a mixed workout. Half of the session will be two full body circuits (think bodyweight non-competing super-sets). However, we're going to try to limit the involvement of the traps.

The other half of the workout is more dedicated, so we'll focus on a different muscle group, which in this case would be shoulders.

The goal here would be do 15 total sets. Maybe 5x5 followed by 4x3 on some main compound exercises like military presses and whatnot, and then some high rep stuff like lateral raises.

Lateral Raise

Judge your recovery, and let that guide you in terms of how much weight to use.

Thursday is going to be an intense full-body circuit where our intent is to burn as many calories as possible.

I'd suggest doing something like:

A1 Bodyweight squats x 15 rep
A2 Stiff-leg Deadlift with light dumbbells x 15 rep
A3 Plank for 30 second
A4 Dumbbell Military Press x 15 rep
A5 Jumping Jacks 25 rep
A6 Push-ups 15 rep
A7 Pull-ups 10 rep
A8 Side Plank 30 seconds on each side

Don't rest between exercises, but go ahead and take 60-90 seconds between rounds.

Of course, it's not anything too fancy, but go through it five or six times and you'll have one hell of a workout.

On Fridaywe're going to do some high-rep work for our traps. Generally, very similar exercises to the previous day, but in the 15-20 rep range.

Barbell Shrugs 2x20
(Note: If you're feeling adventurous, try overhead shrugs)
Upright Row 3x15
Low Trap Raises 2x15

Saturday is going to be another heavy day but for our shoulders. I'd keep the same volume as our Tuesday workout but switch up the exercises. Maybe something like:

Barbell Push Press 6 x 6
Dumbbell Military Press 8 x 8
Javelin Press 10 x 10
Cable Lateral Raises 3 x 15
External Rotations 3 x 15

Finally, on Sunday we're not going to do a damn thing but rest and recover.

So that's our breakdown. For the next three weeks we're going to keep the same schedule but rotate our "showpiece" muscles into certain slots.

Week 2

Monday – Circuit with weights
Tuesday – Heavy Arms
Wednesday – High-rep Shoulders
Thursday – Bodyweight circuit
Friday – High-rep Arms
Saturday – Heavy Traps
Sunday – Off

Week 3

Monday – Circuit with weights
Tuesday – Heavy Shoulders
Wednesday – High-rep Arms
Thursday – Bodyweight circuit
Friday – High-rep Shoulders
Saturday – Heavy Traps
Sunday – Off

Week 4

Monday – Circuit with weights
Tuesday – Heavy Traps
Wednesday – High-rep Arms
Thursday – Bodyweight circuit
Friday – High-rep Traps
Saturday – Heavy Shoulders
Sunday – Off

Given that I showed what I recommended for the heavy traps and shoulder days, I'll quickly go over the heavy arms day, too. I suggest trying to do 40 total sets here.

Weighted Dips 6 x 6
Close-grip Bench 5 x 8
Weighted Close-grip Chin-ups 5 x 5
Supinated-grip Barbell Skull Crushers *>- 6 x 15
Barbell Curl (Alternating between wide, medium, and close grips) 8 x 15

Finally, I'd finish it all off with light-weight exercises like:

Push-ups to failure
Incline Dumbbell Curls
Barbell Reverse Curls

* Using the supinated grip on the skull crusher gets more recruitment from the long head of the triceps. Instead of bringing the bar down to your forehead though, try bringing it slightly behind your head. Dropping the bar could get messy...

And, Nate, I know Berardi and Shelby will go over diet, but I want to quickly give one more piece of advice: While the guy should be in a caloric deficit for every other day, I want him to take in an extra 600 calories on his Tuesday and Saturday workouts. I'd recommend 60% from carbs and 40% from protein, so something like an extra serving or two of Surge® Recovery would be perfect.

T Nation: That's one hell of a plan! So, what do you guys have to add? What about cardio?

Berardi: Well, I always recommend at least five hours of "activity" to look good, but since we're going for great, I want to bump that number up to nine hours. I'd recommend adding in a 30-minute walk before breakfast six times per week. That'd be an extra three hours right there, which will do a lot of good. Pair that with a sensible weight training program and some interval work and you'll have your nine hours.

Tate: That's a good point. Personally, I'd break the guy's cardio into three different types:

Steady state

Warm-up cardio

Post-training cardio

Steady state, like John suggested, should be done first thing in the morning. Get it done. Go for a walk or something. Maybe 30 minutes on Week 1, 35 minutes on Week 2, 40 minutes on Week 3, and 45 minutes on Week 4. It'll help with recovery and it's a great time to focus on what the hell you're trying to do.

Warm-up cardio is basically a dynamic warm-up before your workout. Most guys are idiots and don't do it, but I stick it in there for extra calories burned. All I want is 12 movements, rotating between standing up and on the floor.

So, something like leg swings followed by a bird-dog followed by standing arm swings followed by a glute bridge would be a good start. Just keep going back and forth between standing and lying movements. I'd do six reps of each and go through it for five minutes. Increase the time each week by one minute and you'll be good to go. Add that shit up and you'll realize that by Week 4 we just stuck in an extra 40-minute cardio session into your week and you didn't even realize it.

Finally, there's post-training cardio. It's more metabolic, which means it sucks more. It can be Prowler pushes, sled drags, or treadmill sprints. Just pick something and do it for about 10 minutes and add two minutes every week. (Note from Nate:Obviously Tate isn't recommending 10 minutes of straight sprints. Try sprinting for 30 seconds and jogging for a minute. Go back and forth till you hit the 10-minute mark.)


T Nation: Damn, that's a lot of work, but it sounds incredibly effective. But we all know training isn't anything without nutrition. So how is this guy gonna eat for the next 30 days? JB, you wanna start us off?

Berardi: Sure. In general, three things need to happen: fewer calories, fewer carbs, and lots of water.

For the guys who like to count everything a good rule of thumb is to eat about ten times your bodyweight in calories. So a 200-pound guy should be eating around 2,000 calories.

For carbs, I'd recommend you take in three-quarters of your bodyweight. So our 200-pound guys would be consuming 150 grams of carbs per day or less. And for water, I want to see at least a gallon per day.

Split your calories into four meals per day with 40-60 grams of protein per meal. Skip the grains and get your carbs from fruits and veggies. Take a full serving of Flameout™ every day, and make sure to get some high-quality fats from flax seeds, avocados, olive oil, and different nuts. Just don't go too nuts (pun intended) because it'll be pretty easy to go over your caloric threshold for the day.

T Nation: Simple and to the point. I like it. What are your thoughts, Shelby?

Starnes: I like JB's approach, but I'd do things a little differently and probably throw our guy onto a "random" carb-cycling diet. Nothing too fancy, but very effective.

A normal carb-cyling diet will try to match the high-carb days to intense training days, but the random approach disregards that.

So a typical week may look like this:

Sunday - High
Monday - Medium
Tuesday - Low
Wednesday - High
Thursday - Medium
Friday - Low
Saturday - High

I'd have him switch through all of those as the weeks progress. Here's a real rough guide to the macronutrient breakdown:

High Days – 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, 1.5 to 2 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight, and no added fats.

Medium Days – 1.5 grams protein per pound of bodyweight, 1 gram of carbs per pound of bodyweight, .25 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight.

Low Days – 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, .25 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight, .25 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight.

I don't count "incidental" macronutrients by the way. For instance, in a cup of oatmeal I'm only counting the carbs, and not the amount of protein and fat that's in them.

You can get your carbs from fruits, Ezekiel bread, rice cakes, rice, sweet potatoes, and veggies, but make sure to not just eat a pure "fruit" meal. If you're supposed to have 50 grams of carbs for breakfast, try to get 25 grams from oatmeal or Ezekiel bread and 25 grams from fruit instead.

In terms of protein, I recommend taking in one to three Metabolic Drive protein shakes per day, and having the rest from whole-food sources.

T Nation: So our guy really has a choice: If he needs to clean up his diet significantly, JB's no-nonsense approach would be the way to go. If he needs an extra trick up his sleeve, then carb-cyling may be worthwhile to try.

T Nation: Now that we have our training and nutrition protocol, I want to know what supplements you guys recommend that can help give us an edge.

Starnes: I'd definitely go with a fat-burner like Hot-Rox® Extreme to give a little more energy, suppress appetite, and stimulate the use of fatty acids as fuel during their cardio sessions.

Also, when you're dieting, you normally don't get all the necessary nutrients, so something like Superfood would be a smart investment, too.

Roman: Man, I've lived off Surge® Recovery for the past 10 years so that's definitely on my list. Also, I completely agree that everyone should be using a fat-burner. It's only going to help.

Tate: I actually take three Powerade Zero bottles and put one scoop of Plazma™ and one scoop of Mag-10® in each one and try to finish all three bottles before my workout is over. It's worked great for me so far.

Also, I'd pick up a bottle of L-Leucine and put that stuff in everything. Our biggest concern here is maintaining muscle while losing fat, and the leucine will definitely help you do that.

T Nation: That's good advice, Dave. I even put L-Leucine in my beer! (Yes, I'm kidding.) The 30 days of hardcore training, diet, and supplementation will make a huge difference, but what about that final week of preparation? Shelby, I know you're skilled in that final "peak week" of water and sodium manipulation. Care to give us a plan?

Starnes: Sure thing. If you do it right and you're lean enough, the sodium and water loading protocol is going to blow your mind. You won't believe how different you look. The whole point is to get your body in "flushing" mode where you'll dry up and look noticeably larger and leaner.

Let's say you're going to head to the beach or you've got a photo shoot or whatever on Saturday.

Six days out–on Sunday–you're going to start taking in more water and sodium than normal. I'd recommend adding a ½ teaspoon of salt to every meal and upping your water to two gallons per day. Keep this up for Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

Then on Thursday, cut your sodium and water in half. So add a 1/4 teaspoon of salt to every meal and only take in one gallon of water.

On Friday, you're not going to add any sodium at all. I want you to have half a gallon of water, but have it finished by noon. After that you're only allowed little sips.

Finally, on Saturday, I want you to reintroduce sodium into your diet. It'll make you look leaner and drier (since it'll pull any subcutaneous water out from under your skin) and fuller and more muscular (since it'll pull more water into the muscles). Simply sip on water the rest of the day.

Also, on that final week, a natural diuretic like dandelion root is a good idea. It'll help expedite the progress.

T Nation: Awesome. So how are you manipulating carbs that final week? I know they'll make a big impact.

Starnes: You're right. Assuming you're pretty lean and also a bit depleted I'd do a moderate carb-up on Wednesday and Thursday. Take in two grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight and keep protein at about one gram per pound of bodyweight.

On Friday you should be fairly full, so I'd taper the carbs back to one gram per pound of bodyweight. Also, I'd add in some fat–around .5 grams per pound of bodyweight. This will help keep you full but not spill over and turn into disaster.

On Saturday, just keep your carbs low to moderate to keep your muscles full. Pretty simple.

T Nation: Nice. I think the guys will have a lot of fun with that. OK, final question: does anyone have any cool "tricks" or habits that will help our guy stay on track?

Berardi: It's funny, Nate. A lot of guys already know how to get in great shape from a physical standpoint. They know they need to train and eat well, The difficulty is doing it every day and staying consistent. One thing I personally do and would recommend is to go buy one of those huge calendars and stick it some place where you'll see it every day. Maybe in your office or even on your kitchen counter. This is your new tracking system and its only purpose is to make sure you don't screw up.

Every day you stick to your training program, put a giant slash from the upper left corner to the lower right. And every day you stick to your nutrition plan, put another giant slash from the upper right corner to the lower left. This makes a huge X.

As you finish each day, you should have a big X marking your progress. Your success is really going to come down to this visual reminder and your ability to stick to the plan. If at the end of the month you have all X's, you're more than likely going to be very pleased with your results. If you don't, you're going to be disappointed in yourself and will have concrete evidence of why you failed.

If that's not motivation to stick to it, I'm not sure what is.

T Nation: Excellent point, JB. Well, guys, that's gonna do it. Thanks for getting on the call and helping us out. And for all you guys you want to give this a shot, let us know your plan and progress in the forums. From dud to stud in 30 days...are you up for the challenge?