How to Look Jacked in 3 Weeks

Deadline Training & Nutrition

If you only had a few weeks to fine tune your physique and look your best for an event, what would you do? Here's what our pros said.

The Question

If you had an event coming up in just a few weeks and wanted to look your very best, how would you change your training and diet?

Chris Shugart – T Nation CCO

Hopefully, most T Nation readers look pretty damn good all year long. But there's a difference between your usual "walking around physique" and the physique you want to have when your shirt's coming off.

That means that while you don't need a major overhaul, you will need to tweak some things. Here are some ideas for the average guy who wants to look his best for a social event, like a pool party or a Roman orgy:

  1. Finish every single workout with 10 minutes of gasping for breath. Doesn't matter much how you do it, as long as you're lying in puddle of sweat and fighting oxygen debt afterward.
    See how far you can run on a treadmill for 10 minutes. Do intervals on the dreaded stairmill. Add some bike sprints, battle ropes, or kettlebell swings. If you're able to stand up at the end of 10 minutes, you didn't go hard enough.
  2. Bring your carbs down to 100 grams per day. Take in the biggest chunk of these carbs in the peri-workout period (before, during, and after training). These should come primarily from your workout nutrition drinks. The rest of the time, think protein and fats.
  3. If you already have a handle on your diet, you'll just want to drop a few hundred calories per day, nothing crazy. No need to count, just drop the snack you have before bed for example. Or cut those calories from your evening meal. Try not to eat a couple of hours before bed. (More info on that here: The Meal That Damages Metabolism.)

If you're already pretty ripped and want to shed some water weight to really bring out your muscle definition, adopt the Shredded in 6 Days plan right at the end.

Bonus Stuff

Looking great goes beyond body composition. Sorry if this gets a little metro:

  • Whiten your teeth. It takes years off your face.
  • Get a light spray tan, white people.
  • Grow a 5-6 day scruffy beard. A study published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, which questioned over 8,500 women, showed that most of them find this level of beard growth more attractive than clean shaven or heavily bearded... at least if they were looking for fun and sex. So if your goal is to look all sexified for your event, ditch the razor about 5 days out.

Christian Thibaudeau – Strength Coach and Performance Expert

Funny you ask because I'm preparing for a photoshoot now. First of all, if your event is in 3 weeks, you should be in pretty good shape already. While you can make significant changes in that short period of time, you can't do miracles.

When you have such a short amount of time to get ready, you can't hold anything back. Especially if you aren't in a condition pretty close to what you want to look like. So if you only have 3 weeks, there's no way to get in awesome shape using a moderate approach. Especially considering that the third week will be devoted to the peaking process.

A lot of people are afraid of losing muscle by doing too much and eating too little. But there's no way you'll lose muscle if you keep training hard and keep your protein intake high. Not in three weeks.

You may feel flat, and look smaller in your clothes, but this is to be expected. Why? Because you'll lose muscle glycogen, water, and intramuscular triglycerides which will make you look deflated for a large part of the process. Don't panic and screw it up. When you peak, your muscles will pop.

Losing muscle is a protective strategy your body uses to allow you to survive. But it's a last resort. The first thing your body will do is make you lazy. You'll subconsciously reduce how much you're moving and how much effort you use in everyday life. Next, your body will give you cravings and hunger pangs. If that doesn't work and you're able to fight off hunger, the next thing it'll do is decrease the T4 to T3 conversion (T4 is pretty much inactive and T3 is the thyroid hormone that has the highest impact on increasing metabolic rate). When that happens you'll start to feel colder. If that still doesn't work, then you might risk losing muscle.

But this won't happen in two, three, or even eight weeks (if you keep training hard) and it's not likely to happen until you're at a true 8% body fat or lower. A lot of people screw up the process by panicking when they feel flat.

So when I have to get in shape quickly, I do two training sessions a day: A whole body workout in the morning, and a hypertrophy workout in the evening.

In the first session, I focus on slightly lower reps (around 6 per set) using mostly compound movements. In the second session, I either train the pulling or pushing muscles. Pulling includes hamstrings; pushing includes quads. These sessions are mostly pump work. Higher volume, lower rest, more isolation, machine and pulley work.

Yes, that's a lot. Yes, every muscle is hit super often. But in the short run it favors muscle retention because you're constantly requiring your muscles to produce force so the body is less likely to dump it. In the long run it's not sustainable because cortisol will become chronically elevated, but for two weeks (remember the third week is the peak) you'll be fine.

How to Use Diet to Get Ripped

Diet-wise you also have to go hard. Heck, Paul Carter, who's monstrous, dieted down with 1,800 calories, sometimes less. Arnold dieted down at around 1,500 calories for his whole prep! Why would you need 2,500, especially for a very brief period? Don't give me the metabolic damage excuse. You will not create any metabolic damage in two to three weeks.

The two approaches you can use are either the Velocity Diet (which I've used to get my fat loss phase started for 3 weeks), or the good old get-ripped approach from the 60s and 70s: eat only white fish and broccoli, salad, celery and cucumbers 4-5 times a day.

You may feel like crap, but it's only two-three weeks. Extreme results require an extreme approach, especially if you don't have the benefit of using metabolism-increasing drugs like cytomel or clenbuterol.

For the last week, I wouldn't change the training. As for the day prior to the shoot or event, the only different thing I'd do is work the one or two body parts you want to emphasize the most. Two sessions during the day, both to create some local inflammation making those muscles look bigger, but also to increase glycogen replenishment is those muscles.

I'd also use that last week to continue losing fat, so diet-wise don't change anything until two days out.

Two days out, add around 50 grams of carbs four times per day in the form of potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, and the like. The day prior to the event increase carbs to around 100 grams four times a day. Keep the same sources but also add pineapple.

On that day also take in a tablespoon of glycerol/glycerine with every meal. Take a natural diuretic three times during the day and cut water at around 6 PM (or greatly reduce it).

The morning of the event, use your look to determine how much carbs you need. Have 50 grams if you look good, 100 grams if you're a bit flat, or 150 grams if you're really flat, and none if you're holding some water. Also go with a tablespoon of glycerin.

There's more to it than that, but that should get you in very good shape if you were not too far off to start with.

Paul Carter – Strength and Bodybuilding Coach

Three weeks is long enough that some pretty significant body comp changes can happen if you're willing to suffer enough.

Here's what I'd do:

  1. Hit cardio twice a day, 30 minutes each time, once in the morning, once in the evening.
  2. Lift seven times a week.
  3. Drop all refeeds or cheats.
  4. Go low fat and low carb every day. I'd have all carbs in a post-workout meal, and for the most part, every other meal would be lean protein and veggies.
  5. All my veggies would be asparagus only, since it has a natural diuretic effect.
  6. Water load the third and final week, then pull water the day before the shoot.
  7. Beginning three days before the shoot, carb load for two days. Then the day before the shoot pull all carbs and all sodium.
  8. Show up looking awesome.

Mark Dugdale – IFBB Pro Bodybuilder

I'm not much of an advocate of short term physique solutions because they tend to backfire long-term. However, given the question of aiming to look your best in two to three weeks, here's my approach:

Weeks 1-2

Increase training volume and frequency. Weight training, properly supported by Plazma, is highly anabolic, therefore train 7 days a week for 60-90 minutes. Include 2 servings of Plazma during each workout and take 6 capsules of Indigo-3G (Buy at Amazon) 30 minutes before training.

In addition to weight training sessions, alternate between 10-15 minutes of HIIT cardio and 60 minutes of hot yoga daily. Perform your HIIT cardio or hot yoga separate from your weight training session. Do it first thing in the morning and train with weights at night. The goal is to optimize your insulin response. Consume one serving of Mag-10 during each of these sessions.

Diet-wise, eliminate dairy, wheat, sugar and any refined carbs. Think fibrous vegetables and chicken breast or white fish for the preponderance of your food intake. Make sure you get 1.25 grams of protein per pound of body weight and keep fat to no more than .3 grams per pound of body weight. I suggest these grams come from MCT oil, Flameout (Buy at Amazon), olive oil, and almonds (no other nuts).

Flameout Buy-on-Amazon

Week 3

Increase the reps on every set of your training sessions to 15-25. Focus on the concentric and de-emphasize the eccentric (negative) as much as possible. We want to deplete muscle glycogen, which means you'll swap out the two servings of Plazma for 1.5 servings of Mag-10. Your final training session will be two days before you want to look your absolute best.

Eliminate the HIIT cardio completely and perform your last hot yoga session three days out from the event. Continue having one serving of Mag-10 during your hot yoga sessions.

Diet-wise, stay the course with what you did during phase 1, but drop fat intake to .2 grams per pound of body weight. Also, two days out from your pool party or photo shoot drink at least two to three gallons of water. Consume 1.5 gallons of water a day out before 3 PM and then cut it completely. Take in 50 grams of carbs from rice with about 60 grams of chicken breast every two hours on the day before until 3 PM. At 3 PM switch over to 5 rice cakes with honey every two hours until 9 PM, consuming two Flameout capsules each time you consume the rice cakes and honey at 3 PM, 5 PM, 7 PM and 9 PM. Maintain a moderate amount of sodium intake throughout this entire process from sea salt.

On the morning in which you want to look your best, drink a cup of coffee upon rising and eat a small amount of protein with rice cakes as needed until your shoot or event.


Dani Shugart – T Nation Editor

It depends on what you're preparing for and how you're wanting to look. There are plenty of ways to get absolutely shredded, and they can make a difference for some people. But for others, those strategies aren't worth the trouble.

When I pull out all the stops to get super lean, I usually end up retaining water, getting constipated, losing sleep, and having no sex drive. And to me those repercussions aren't worth it. (Even if it's just three weeks.)

That's why I'm not big on the idea of "getting ready" for events in drastic ways. If people aren't impressed by my body, it's not going to keep me up at night. And when I've prepared for photos in the past, I didn't look much better than I do on any given day when working out at the gym. (Actually at the gym I have a much better pump.)

There's also something about a super strict preparation that feels a little disingenuous to me. When people see pictures of me, or meet me in person, I want them to know that that's how I look most of the time, barring illness. And it doesn't require suffering. Maybe this is just an average look for a female who lifts, but so what? It's maintainable and it doesn't make my life suck in other ways. Plus my husband thinks I'm hot.

Isn't this one of the big selling points of building muscle? If I'm trying to get other females excited about lifting, I want them to see that they can enjoy some pretty good results without the agony.

Once you shift your focus toward hypertrophy, looking your best isn't terribly hard or complicated. You're no longer part of the desperate masses who try weight loss fads pushed by Kardashians, or any other celeb whose synthetic ass is all over the internet. You're beyond that.

Muscle is everything when it comes to physique. So if you're a female who's built a decent amount and stays at about the same body comp year-round, then continuing to lift, sleep well, and avoid crappy food is mostly all you need to look great.

That said, if I'm not feeling quite as lean as I'd like, I've got a handful of things that get me where I want in no time. Here are some pretty standard, non-drastic strategies:

  • Cut alcohol – The uninhibited feeling can make it easier to rationalize eating too much, or the wrong stuff, or both. (Hummus smeared on pizza anyone?)
  • Make healthy digestion a priority – It has a huge influence on your waistline.
  • Get it on with your spouse – Intimacy relieves stress, and it reinforces your motivation to do all the things that make you healthy and hot.
  • Don't snack after dinner – Stop fueling up for sleep. Bonus: your midsection will look and feel tighter when you get frisky at night.
  • Get your carbs from mostly potatoes, squash, and oats – Choose the higher volume carbs which are more satiating and you'll actually want less.
  • Play with carbs – Nothing crazy, just alternate your meals from moderate to low carb for a few days. This can easily be done by looking at your plate, rather than an app or a calculator.
  • Get more NEPA (non-exercise physical activity) – It has a positive impact on your physique.
  • Keep your house immaculate – Clutter has been shown to make people stress and overeat. Plus chores are seriously good NEPA.
  • Always have protein ready – Get protein powder (Buy at Amazon) or have lean meats on hand. If you're going to snack between meals, go for the protein.
  • Continue to keep obvious junk food out of the house – The less you eat it, the less you want it.

Michael Warren – Strength Coach and Performance Expert

I have five tips. Here's what to do with your diet:

From 14 to 11 Days Out

  • Calories – Have 12 calories per pound of body weight

From 10 to 6 Days Out

  • Calories – 10 calories per pound of body weight
  • Protein – 1.5 grams per pound
  • Carbs – 0.5 grams per pound
  • Water – 2 liters (half a gallon) more than normal

At 5 Days Out

  • Protein – 1.5 grams per pound
  • Carbs – 0.25 grams per pound
  • Water – 2 liters (half a gallon) more than normal

At 4 Days Out

  • Protein – 1.5 grams per pound
  • Carbs – None
  • Water – 2 liters (half a gallon) more than normal

At 3 Days Out

  • Protein – 0.5 grams per pound
  • Carbs – 2.5 grams per pound
  • Water – 2 liters (half a gallon) more than normal

At 2 Days Out

  • Protein – 0.5 grams per pound
  • Carbs – 2.5 grams per pound
  • Water – Half of previous 8 days
  • Salt – None

At 1 Day Out

  • Protein – 1.5 grams per pound
  • Carbs – 2.5 grams per pound
  • Water – Reduce by half again
  • Salt – None

The Big Day

  • Protein – 0.5 grams per pound
  • Carbs – 2.5 grams per pound
  • Water – Less than 250 ml (.06 gallons)
  • Salt – None

From day 10 through to day 4, you'll consume 1.5 grams of protein (Buy at Amazon) for every pound of body weight. That's almost two-thirds of your daily calories. The additional protein promotes fat burning and muscle sparing, but you should take in plenty of amino acids so your body won't be put into a position to break down muscle tissue to access that protein.

As for protein sources, stick to foods your body is familiar with. This is no time to experiment. If your diet has been primarily chicken, turkey, and beef, then stand fast to those three items as your protein sources.

For carbs it’s best to spread carb intake out across smaller meals, for example, eight or nine meals instead of four or five. Also, consider supplementing with a digestive enzyme to help break down carbs during your carb-load.

During that first week, the goal is to deplete your body of glycogen stores by gradually eliminating all carbs. This encourages significant fat burning. It’s okay if you look skinny after several days of depleting – that’s the point.

Over the last three days, your muscles will fill out by taking in plenty of complex carbs such as rice, potatoes, yams and oatmeal. This increases your glycogen stores and pushes water into the muscles, giving you a full and round appearance for your big day.

  • Pose and flex between sets and at home: This is a simple but beneficial tip. During your training, contract the working muscles with various poses between sets. Posing during a workout will bring more blood to the muscle, and give you a greater pump, while posing at home in front of a mirror will allow you to visualize areas that need improvement, while removing subcutaneous fluid, thereby increasing striations and separation in the muscle bellies.
  • Do the vacuum: End every workout with 3 sets of stomach vacuums. Hold in your abs tight and breathe in for a count of 5, then breathe out and repeat for 10 reps. This will not only tighten up your waistline, but also improve the overall aesthetic appeal of your upper body.
  • Be well-groomed: Be body-hair free and tanned. It'll make a big difference in your appearance, most importantly showing your maximum muscle definition.
  • Do not take: Creatine, since it stores water and may blur definition, and protein bars since most of them are sub-optimal at a critical dieting time such as this.

Eric Bach – Strength Coach and Performance Expert

Without putting the damper on your fat loss goals, two to three weeks is an aggressive timeline to radically transform your body. Still, if you're a man 12% body fat or under or a women with less than 20% body fat, you can make a few changes to reveal deeper cuts and a look your best.

In training, continue lifting heavy to maintain lean muscle mass and preserve strength. Even in a sharp calorie deficit, heavy training helps you maintain anabolic hormone levels and maximize muscle retention.

Pick two to three lifts and continue to train purely for strength. Then add high-intensity strength circuits. Pick three movement patterns and sequence your exercises in a tri-set. The goal is to increase training density or do more work in less time. This is effective in short doses since lifting with relatively heavy weight and short rest periods stimulates a large HGH response, which in turn accelerates fat loss.

Here's a sample workout to get you started:

Exercise Sets Reps
A1 Chin-Up 4 8
A2 Dumbbell Push Press 4 10
A3 Dumbbell Goblet Lunge 4 6/leg
Rest 30-60 seconds then repeat
B1 One-Arm Dumbbell Row 3 * 8/arm
B2 Feet-Elevated Push-Up 3 15
B3 Romanian Deadlift 3 15
B4 Ab Wheel Rollout 3 15

* One-Arm Dumbbell Row — Rest 60-90 seconds

Try to avoid cumulative fatigue, particularly with your grip. In this case, use wraps and switch grips to minimize grip issues.

Amit Sapir – IFBB Pro, World Record Holder Powerlifter

It depends on your starting point. If you're very lean to begin with (under 12%) there are a lot of manipulations you can do with water, sodium and carbs to look harder and fuller. If you're a higher body fat then you'll have to do something much more drastic.

Here's a quick protocol for both the lean and not so lean. If you want something optimal for you specifically, work with a coach.

If You're Under 12% Body Fat

  1. Clean up your diet. This means zero junk, sugar, alcohol, dairy, processed food, etc.
  2. Do cardio daily. Try 20-25 minutes of HIIT followed by 25-30 minutes of LISS. If you're already doing cardio, then try to increase time and intensity. You only have a few weeks, so the change should be pretty drastic to increase calorie output and encourage fat loss.
  3. Start some sort of carb cycling. The lower body fat you have, the less you need low-carb days. For a week this could look like 3 low days, 1 high day, 2 low days, 2 high days. Increase the number of low-carb days if your body fat is higher (perhaps a 9 day cycle like this: 4 low, 1 high, 3 low, 1 high).
    The amount of carbs is completely individual, but I'd say cut your current carb intake to at least half on the low days (maybe a bit less if you're higher body fat) and for your high days start with just under your current consumption (assuming you're already eating clean and aren't on an 8,000 calorie diet). This will serve two purposes – the low days will deplete glycogen just enough and encourage fat loss (and also decrease calories) and the high day will help you keep muscle fullness as much as possible.
  4. Supplement. Flameout (Buy at Amazon) and Micellar Curcumin (Buy at Amazon) (these indirectly also help fat burning), and some sort of stimulant like Spike Shooter (on Amazon) to help the energy drop from dieting and again indirectly boost fat loss.
  5. Water load. Start 7 or 8 days out. This prepares your body to dehydrate and can alone drop 6-8 pounds off you temporarily. Start with 2 gallons and go up to 3 gallons per day, then keep water high until about 16-20 hours prior to your event. Then cut water completely or just have sips depending how dry you want to be. This is also the time to use some sort of natural diuretic like Uva Ursi or Dandilion root.
  6. Deplete. This is a very generalized approach. Assuming your event is Saturday, deplete carbs down to 0-50 grams (rough estimate) Monday-Wednesday. Carb load (perhaps double your high day) Thursday and Friday while water consumption is still high. This will fill your muscles up with glycogen and then when you stop the water and dry out you'll look hard, full, and vascular.
  7. Manipulate sodium. On Monday cut it in half, Tuesday another half, Wednesday no sodium, Thursday and Friday slowly reintroduce sodium again.

Over 12% Body Fat

Mainly follow the same points as above, but instead of carb cycling, drop carbs and do a refeed one day per week. I don't usually recommend this type of diet, but if you want to drop water weight quickly, it's a good option.

If you're following this protocol, then on the last week lower your fat by around half and increase your protein. When the carb load days come along this week, load for three days rather than just two.