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I'd really appreciate some advice on a specific question I have about my workout program. I am a 34 year old male of medium build, 1.80m (5'10") tall. My purpose is simply to be "fitter", meaning a rather toned/relieved upper-body musculature and keeping belly fat at a minimum. I am currently in "so-so" shape: slim, but with no remarkable muscle size/tone, and with a hint of belly fat.

I don't have easy access to a gym and so have compiled (from various sources) a home workout program for myself, consisting of the following session, which I try to do 2-3 times per week. The session consists of the following sequence, repeated 4 times:

  • A1
  • B1
  • A2
  • B2
  • A3
  • B3

Where A exercises work the biceps/triceps/chest (e.g. A1=push-ups, A2=biceps w/ 5kg dumbbells, A3=chest w/ 10kg dumbbells) and B exercises work the abs and legs (e.g. B1=jack-knives, B2=squats). A's are of main interest while the B's (except for the jack-knives) I think of as "fillers", to give the upper-body a rest. For each exercise, I try to do as many reps as I can (not quite till "failure"), typically 12 to 20, and take short breaks between sequences.

In terms of cardio, I cycle to work (1h daily) and recently began to swim twice per week (try to do as many pool lengths as I can). Since that alone does not seem to keep belly fat away, I was till recently alternating my strength home program described above with a (similarly organised) cardio one, but I have the same doubts about its efficiency (read on).

Since when looking in the mirror I'm not that happy with my progress, I am just wondering if my program is just too little, and whether there is a minimum intensity - in terms of number of reps per exercise, exercises per sequence, sequences per session or sessions per week - under which all these efforts are in vain. If so, I can either seek to intensify the program till it pays off, or, if it turns out I can't afford the necessary time for it, just drop it altogether to at least avoid spending time with it in vain. I doubt that the relation between visible results and effort is linear, I.e. That you get however much you put in. Rather, there is probably some minimum threshold above which these programs pay off - and that's what I'm hoping the fitness-knowledgeable people here can advise about.

Also, although I've been aiming to do this strength program 2-3 times per week, sometimes I really only manage one per week, and/or cut down to fewer sequences than 4. I do see some progress when I keep to it, but still hard to tell whether it's paying off even with the numbers above. My question remains - to achieve my fitness aim, should I:

  1. Not cut down on the number of reps/sequences/sessions that I set out
  2. Increase these numbers (which ones and by how much?)
  3. Do an altogether different type of home strength program, such as interval training, which I was doing last year (8 sets per exercise, 20 sec on + 10 sec off) with no-better results than what I do now

My diet may be relevant: I eat mainly vegetarian, typically cooked/raw vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, pasta, and bread. I stay away from junk foods and excessive sugars.

Also relevant is this excerpt from the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which I seem to meet:

2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and weight training muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).

Very grateful for any thoughts!

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A couple of thoughts:
* You need some pull exercises. Some sort of rowing-movement and pull ups would be nice too.
* Progressive overload is very important.
Meaning that you try to do more this workout than you did the last. More can be more reps, more sets or (most commonly) more weight (or shorter breaks or better form or...).
Keeping a log will help with this
* If you want to loose the belly fat, you need to eat less. For most people, how much you eat (calories) is much more important than what you eat ("clean", vegetarian etc.). * Changing your body composition is not done in a few months. Depends on the person obviously, but you shouldn't expect to see dramatic changes in less than a few years of consistent training and getting stronger.

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