Getting lean. Why the fuck are you searching for this? Take it from someone who knows – bulking up is way more fun. I’ve been doing it for three years solid and it’s fantastic. Unfortunately the gut fairy finally decided to pay me a visit and there we go. Time for my first cut since I went to university (I’ve graduated now – go me!). If you haven’t been bulking for at least a year straight, with the love handles to prove it, close your browser and go eat an olive-oil soaked pizza. This isn’t for you yet. You’ll need a physique actually worth cutting down to unless you want the body of an 8 year old girl. Maybe buying an ice cream van and some duct tape is the better option for that.
Anyway. If you do have some muscle and want to get as ripped as a steel tiger, thankfully cutting is as easy as a fresher with a bottle of rosé. I don’t care what everybody else would have you believe, losing fat is the easiest thing in the world so long as you have a shred of willpower in you head. Hopefully this article will shed a bit of light on the matter.
First lets make it clear what cutting isn’t.
Cutting requires no ab work – the abs are a muscle like any other, and in concert with the muscles of the lower back their job is stabilise the torso when different forces are applied to it. We’ll get on to that a bit later but the point is the reason you don’t have a shredded glorious six pack is that you’re fat. Fat as a fucking whale in some cases (don’t feel bad. I’ve been there, it sucked). Ab training won’t do a damn thing for this. It’s impossible to reduce the fat in a single area exclusively – “tone” is a product of a low body-fat percentage showing whats underneath, simple as.
Cutting requires no cardio. SOME cardio (intense cardio) can be a good thing – short sharp bursts of maximum effort sprints will improve your conditioning, fire up your metabolism, and get your body burning fat for hours afterwards. Hill sprints, prowler pushes, and sled pulls are a great idea. Steady state cardio is right out. Running for hours and hours every week just gets your body good at using fat. If you’re using fat efficiently you need next to none of it to fuel those long runs. In essence the bingo wings are here to stay. What you will end up losing is your muscle, though. Look at a sprinter compared to a marathon runner – who’s more ripped and more muscular? I rest my case on this one. If you want to be skinny fat be my guest.
Finally, cutting isn’t high reps on the weights. I don’t know how the hell this myth started but it’s the worst one of the lot. When you’re cutting you’ll be in a calorie deficit (eating less food than you need). This is basic stuff. Not only that but catabolism plus working-out is a stressful situation for the body. Bearing that in mind why the hell would you go in and do something that A) Uses more fuel substrate, and B) Causes a shitload of micro-trauma in the muscles that needs to be repaired when resources in the body are more sparse than usual? Yes that was a long question. High volume is great for muscle growth for the exact same reasons – WHEN you have the calories there to respond to it. You won’t, so don’t.
Now I know I’m being controversial. Oh Gaz you edgy bastard, you’ll say. Well it’s not just me. Here’s a rogues gallery:
Jamie Lewis. Doesn’t do cardio unless it involves carrying at least twice his bodyweight around on a hex bar. Rarely lifts above 3 reps for anything. Despises pointless training like ab crunches with a ferocity usually reserved for nuclear warfare. In this picture he only weighs 85kg.
Matt Kroczaleski. Can dumbell row 100kg for 25 reps with one arm. Does walking lunges with a tree on his back for cardio. Trains abs to improve his powerlifts. In this picture he weighs far more than you and is far leaner. I wasn’t kidding about the tree, either.
Ivan Stoitsov. As a bulgarian olympic lifter he does single rep maxes on the front squat, clean, and snatch once or twice a day. Every day. Forever. Eats bears for breakfast and keeps an axe in his beard. In this picture his quads weigh more than your overweight parents even though he weighs about 82kg.
You get the idea. None of these guys go running for hours on end, do ab circuits, or piss about lifting light weights and getting a pump on. They train heavy, they train hard, and they get the job done.
Fat loss, while easy and simple, has a few different sides to it. The most important thing is diet and the old computing term “crap in, crap out” is pretty apt if you ask me. Diet control is key and also the reason you won’t have to go near a treadmill or a thermogenic diet pill.
Now there’s more than one way to skin a cat and everybody has their own approaches to cutting. This kinda depends both on your physical makeup (and I don’t mean blusher and lipstick) and your mental attitude. Everybody responds differently to carbs, protein, and fat, and a certain method of dieting might drive you insane while another “clicks” a lot more. This shit is an issue of metabolic typing as well as psychological typing.
Dave has already gone over the “fruit and shake” method recently, which is a nice simple way of dropping weight without too much hassle. Personally I’ve never fared well with that sort of plan purely because it isn’t strict enough to keep me in line. Like I said, cutting sucks. My approach to cutting, much like my training approach, is based on incessantly logging everything. I have no life.
First you’ll actually need a method of tracking your calories and macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat). I recommend http://www.mynetdiary.com. It’s free and it works. You can pay for a year’s premium subscription and get other features like an iPhone app and the ability to track extra nutrients, which is what I’ve done for a while now.
Calories – Your body’s unit of energy. On a basic level your maintenance level of calories is what you need to eat to stay the same, if you eat more you’ll gain weight, if you eat less you’ll lose weight. Unfortunately all calories aren’t created equal and a gram of carbs/fat/protein are processed completely differently by your body so yes – it does matter what you eat as well as how much. To work out your cutting calorie level take your bodyweight in pounds, multiply it by 13-15 depending on how active you are (higher = more active) and slash it by about 500.
Carbs – Carbs, and sugar especially, are Satan clothed in water. While it’s true that carbs are an important source of fuel for your body most people vastly overestimate just how much they need. Carbs also stimulate the hormone insulin which is essentially a storage hormone. You see where this is going don’t you? An unnecessarily high intake of carbs just promotes more storage of calories and the fatter you are the greater the tendency for this storage to occur in fat cells. The fix? Limit your carbs on a cut! This’ll keep your insulin levels low and promote fat burning. For this one 200g a day isn’t a bad starting point to see how you respond. Keep your sugary foods as low as possible and focus on getting carbs from green veg, sweet potato, brown rice and pasta, oats, and fruit. Time eating your carbs around your workouts.
Protein –Considering lean muscle is made of protein and requires about 50 calories per pound per day just to keep existing, you might want to hang on to as much of it as possible. Protein in the diet is closely linked with the balance of nitrogen in the body and a high level of nitrogen spares muscle tissue. Eat protein, stay massive. Not only that but it’s a source of caloric energy that you’ll find nigh on impossible to store as fat. A good level to aim for is about 1.5 to 2 grams per pound of lean bodyweight per day. Read that carefully – lean bodyweight. You’ll need to measure your body-fat percentage for this one. If I weigh 92kg and have 23% body-fat that leaves about 70kg of lean mass, which is 154lbs. My recommended protein intake is between 230 and 310 grams per day to maintain that level of lean tissue. Simples? Get your protein from lean meats like chicken, turkey, fish, and some cuts of beef. Shakes are good too but meat comes first.
Fat – This may blow your mind but eating fat doesn’t make you fat. No no. The research this assumption was based on is sketchy at best and is a tiny snippet from a study called the seven countries study. Fat only makes you fat because a gram of fat gives you 9 calories and a gram of carbs or protein give you only 4. If you’re not tracking your diet it’s easy to forget that and eat too many calories from fat-dense foods. Hence – thunder thighs. Eating a lot of fat also stimulates everybody’s favourite hormone – testosterone – and keeps your metabolism geared towards using fat as fuel and sparing muscle. Hoorah! After your carbs and protein make up the rest of your calories for the day with fat (it’s 9 calories per gram). I usually shoot for about 100g per day mostly from things like nuts, avocados, olive oil, coconut oil and milk, and maybe a little cheese.
Cheat Meal – I’m not a total wanker. Once a week it’s good mentally and physically to re-feed yourself with a nice big plate whatever the fuck you like. One meal a week is all you get, though. This keeps you motivated, keeps your loved ones from killing you while you sleep, and actually promotes greater maintenance of muscle tissue. While it’s true you’ll always lose a little muscle on a diet a regular injection of anabolism (storage) in the form of insulin is actually a good thing and goes some way to prevent muscle catabolism in the long run. It’ll also replenish your glycogen stores for the next week’s workout carnage.
Stay on this setup for about 8 weeks. After that you’ll probably find fat loss stalling a bit and at this point reduce your carb intake from 200g a day to about 125-150g a day, and reduce proteins and fat so your total daily calorie level drops by a further 500 overall (take carbs into account). You might also want to look into carb cycling (I’ll do an article on that another time). Stay with this for another month and you should have lost a fair bit of fat. At this point it’s time to bulk again, but that’s not the scope of this article.
Training properly (read: like a boss) is also important if you want to keep all that muscle you killed yourself to build, and the heavier and harder you train the more testosterone your body will produce. Considering testosterone partitions your calories to be stored more in muscle than fat, this is a good thing. The actual form your program takes is totally down to personal preference and would be too much to go over here. Here are some guidelines though:
Train Hard –sitting on a recumbent bike reading a paper is going to do about as much for your waistline as being seen with a Justin Bieber CD is going to do for your social standing. If you aren’t sweating, swearing, shouting, or shitting yourself with fear you’re not training hard enough.
Train Heavy –lightweights are for picking up in clubs and taking home with you, not the gym. Even the first rep of your work sets (after warming up) should be challenging. Stick to reps between 1 and 5 for most things since low reps require a lot of neural effort and muscle recruitment, but are surprisingly sparing on energy resources. Perfect for cutting! A high rep set here and there is fine so long as you almost die afterwards, a set like that is almost like high intensity cardio anyway.
Train Big – if you so much as look at a preacher curl bench I will find you and end you. If Monday is anything but Squats you better have a damned good reason for it. Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Row. With as much weight as possible as often as possible. They recruit the most muscle, require the most effort, and produce the most results. Do them. Other great exercises include dips, chinups, good mornings, and lunges.
Train Fast –since you’ll be doing very few reps there’s no reason other than laziness to take more than a minute between sets. Unless you’re going for a new record in the next set just get on with it. It’ll improve your conditioning and keep your energy expenditure high. Limit your exercises to 3 per session, aswell.
Some solid programs I recommend are Jim Wendler’s “5/3/1”, Chad Smith’s “Juggernaut Method”, and anything you can find on my website over at www.getlifting.info. Self-promotion aside I’ve written a tonne of articles going over the proper, non-retarded way of putting together programs that actually work. It’s worth a read if nothing else.
This stuff may seem controversial but it’s all based in science. When bodybuilders get into competition shape it’s true that a lot of them – due to the obscenely low body-fat – lose most of their strength, necessitating lighter more isolation-based training. The majority of the people reading this, and indeed on this planet, will never get lean enough for this to be a problem. Go pick up something heavy for god’s sake.
Abs + Cardio
Alright, I’ll let you off. You can do some abs if you want but limit it strictly to one exercise per workout in addition to your three fullbody movements. Pick from this list and cycle them one after the other whenever you train abs. These areas cover everything the core musculature is supposed to do (apart from getting you laid).
A quick note: You won’t find crunches or anything that calls for you to do spinal flexion in this list. Bad things happen when you flex your spine under load and if you train that movement pattern regularly you’re just gonna cause yourself a mischief. As we’ve covered already none of this shit will get you ripped, and in terms of performance improvement crunches are about as useful as a shake weight.
Do these for 3 sets of 12-15 reps if its a rep exercise or 30-60 seconds if its a hold. Work hard at increasing the load after a few repeats of each exercise but focus more on the quality of the sets than the weight. Don’t sweat this too much – the only reason it’s in here at all is to keep you happy and hopefully improve your squatting.
In terms of cardio, like I said earlier keep it short and intense to fire up your metabolism and liberate fatty acids into your blood to burn up later. Doing sprints on any cardio machine (or outside on a hill), pushing a prowler or sled if you have one, or doing tabata (2:1 work:rest ratio, 8 rounds) with pretty much any exercise will do you just fine and keep your fitness peaking. No fucking jogging.
The Results, The End
I’m in my ninth week now. One week into the second diet phase currently sitting at 80.8kg bodyweight. I started at 92kg bodyweight at 23% body-fat and after 8 weeks I was 82kg bodyweight at 15% body-fat. My arm, thigh, and chest measurements reduced by less than half an inch (my arm was less than an 8th of an inch smaller) and my waist dropped from 36″ to 33
Left – Me in late August on holiday enjoying the ability to eat ice cream and keep warm in the winter. In the summer. 92kg
Right – Me in early November before a workout. Enjoying the ability to procreate without an oxygen mask and emergency doughnut. 82kg.
Below – December at 78kg. I eventually got to 76.6kg losing a total of 35lbs (ish). Happy happy!
In terms of strength – it hasn’t gone anywhere. Some highlights of the last two month training cycle include:
- Deadlifting just over 140kg for a set of 20 reps.
- Power Cleans with 90kg for 10 sets of 2 with a 30 second rest interval (this is 90% of my 1RM).
- Single Arm Dumbell Rows for 8 sets of 4 reps with an 80kg Dumbell.
- A set of 22 Squats with 110kg, immediately into 4 sets of 20 with 60kg with a 30 second rest.
- Partial Squats from a dead start with 180kg for 12 sets of 2 reps.
- Twelve sets of 1 rep Dumbell Bench with 50kg dumbells, after doing a set of 17 reps with 85kg on Barbell Bench.
- Barbell Shrugs with 220kg. I forget the reps, I was dying at the time.
- Single Arm Barbell Deadlift with 150kg. One rep with my right hand.
The plan now is to get under 75kg in the next month to six weeks to compete in that weight class in powerlifting early next year, I’ve done strongman up until now and fancy a change. When I reach 75kg I’ll have gone from 92kg at 23% body-fat to 75kg at 7% body-fat in 3 months after 3 years bulking and enjoying being a fatass. DO NOT FEAR GETTING FAT.
No cardio over five minutes in length. Three sets of abs three times a week. Heavy weights for low reps, with some high rep madness for good measure.
In part two of this series i’ll talk about this whole cutting shindig but with a slant towards the ladies. Look for that in the next few weeks!
If you have any questions about anything in this article feel free to visit my website or drop me an email. Send me money. Train hard.