The Workouts Spencer Matthews Used To Hit 5% Body Fat

Edward Lane
·6-min read

From Men's Health

Matthews has been here before. Seven years ago he took on a Men’s Health transformation alongside his Made in Chelsea co-stars and reached shoot day lean but, in his mind, a little light. “The aim this time was to cut body fat without losing any muscle,” explains his trainer, Shaun Stafford. Which is more difficult than it sounds.

To burn body fat, you need to pump up your heart rate. To maintain muscle mass, especially in a calorie deficit, you must place sufficient stress on your major muscle groups using heavier weights. Often these two goals are seen as mutually exclusive – you either lift heavy with long rest breaks, or do a lot of cardio. Stafford’s solution, and the plan he devised to help Matthews achieve 6-pack abs and 5% body fat, included zero cardio. Instead, he implemented a protocol called Peripheral Heart Action training alongside a simple nutrition plan made easier by meal delivery from Men's Health Fuel.

“All the sessions were in supersets, matching muscle groups at opposite ends of the body – chest and hamstrings, then back and quads,” says Stafford. Alternately targeting your upper and lower body forces your heart and lungs work overtime to shuttle blood between your extremities. It also gives muscles a rest as you switch target groups, helping them to recover and keep going when using heavier weights. The results are obvious. Get started with the first of two go-to workouts that Stafford and Matthews used throughout the 10 weeks.

Workout 1: Push and Pull

This targets your chest, hamstrings and glutes to fire up a huge amount of muscle fibres in one session. It’ll rev up metabolism and preserve muscle mass in a calorie deficit.

1a) Bench Press

3 sets of 5 reps, no rest

Lie back on the bench and hold the bar above you with hands at shoulder-width. Lower the weight slowly until it’s an inch from your chest, then squeeze your pecs and extend your elbow to press the bar back up.

1b) Deadlift

3 sets of 5 reps, rest 90-120 secs

Step over to the bar on the floor and hinge at your hips to grab it, keeping a flat back. Push through your heels and drive your hips forward to stand up and lift the weight. Contract your glutes at the top, then lower slowly.

2a) Incline DB Press

3 sets of 12 reps, no rest

Lift the bench up to 45 degrees and lie back with two dumbbells held straight up above your head. Drop your elbows out to the side to lower the weight to your chest, then contract your pecs and triceps to push up again.

2b) Swissball Hamstring Curls

3 sets of 12 reps, rest 60 secs

Drop to the floor, lie on your back and rest your feet on a Swiss ball out in front of you. Contract your core to create a straight line from shoulder to shoe. Dig your heels in and curl the ball back until your knees are at 90 degrees then return.

3a) DB Shoulder Press

3 sets of 15 reps, no rest

Stand tall with two dumbbells up at shoulder height with your palms facing forwards. Press up and extend at your elbows to lift the weights overhead. Keep the weights stable and lower slowly before going again.

3b) DB Stiff Leg Deadlifts

3 sets of 15 reps, rest 60 secs

Hinge forward at the hips, this time letting the weights hang down in front of your shins. Keep your legs straight but with soft knees. Push your hips forward to stand up and lift the weight. Reverse and repeat.

The Game Plan

Going back to the same two workouts over 10 weeks might guarantee success, but not necessarily enthusiasm. And considering the best training plan is the one you stick to, Stafford had to tap into Matthews’ competitive streak to keep him pushing.

“We kept the two opening big lifts from each workout the same throughout and updated the other supersets every four weeks,” says Stafford. “We started off at a low weight, then every week, if he hit his target of five good reps, he was able to go up by 2.5 kilos.” Not only that, if he hit his goal Matthews could pick a weight and go after an ego-boosting one-rep-max for that lift. This gamification kept things interesting and put the onus for progression on Matthews’ broadening shoulders. And progress was relentless – he finished the challenge being able to rep out chin-ups with 30kg hanging from his waist.

Beyond the two workouts with Stafford, Matthews had to find just 45 minutes a week for an extra session on his own. “Of the big four lifts he would pick the one he’d struggled most with that week and start the session with 3 sets of 5 reps,” says Stafford. After that he was free to do what he wanted. “Beach weights were top of the agenda – whatever makes the session fun.”

Outside of the gym Matthews continued with his beloved BJJ, but dropped from two to one session a week as his body fat stores dwindled. After weeks of an intense calorie deficit, recovery became paramount. “I encouraged him to have a total rest day before our sessions,” says Stafford. “To really benefit, he had to be fresh.”

Workout 2: Back to It

Here you'll switch the emphasis to the big muscles of your back and quads, ensuring you hit all four major muscle groups across your two workouts.

1a) Barbell Squat

3 sets of 5 reps, no rest

Stand under the barbell with feet at shoulder-width and pull the bar into your upper back. Bend your knees and sit back into the squat then contract your glutes to push back to the top of the rep. Keep the tempo steady.

1b) Weighted Chin Up

3 sets of 5 reps, rest 90-120 secs

Rack the barbell, put on the belt and reach up to the bar and hang from it with your palms facing you. Drive your elbows down to lift your chest up and chin over the bar. Hold the tension as you lower slowly and go again.

2a) Single Arm Row

3 sets of 12 reps each side, no rest

Set up with a hand and knee up on the bench, foot of the floor for stability and weight hanging below your shoulder. Contract your back and bicep to row the weight up to your chest. Hold then lower under control.

2b) DB Split Squats

3 sets of 12 reps each side, rest 60 secs

Now grab two dumbbells and hold them at your sides. Lift one leg behind you and rest it on the bench. Bend your front knee to lower the weights until your back knee is an inch from the floor. Push through your heel to return.

3a) Goblet Squats

3 sets of 15 reps, no rest

Hold one heavy-ish dumbbell in two hand in front of you, up at chest height. Keep your chest up as you sit your glutes back into the squat. Control your core – having the weight in front makes this tougher – then stand back up.

3b) Bicep Curls

3 sets of 15 reps, rest 60 secs

Stand tall with two dumbbells at your sides. Contract your biceps to bring the weight up and twist your hand to face your collarbone at the top of the rep. Squeeze, lower under control then repeat without swinging for momentum.

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