Achieving your best possible shape need not be a complicated business. In fact, by consistently following a few important rules, there is nothing to stop you from reducing body fat to low single digits while keeping muscle gains on an upward trajectory. This article, while not oversimplifying what can be a complex area, will show you how to apply all of the factors necessary for superior shredding with a minimum of fuss. In doing so, your next cutting phase will not only produce the results you desire but, with a plan that is both workable and effective, you’ll be able to maintain your newfound conditioning for as long as you want.
SIMPLE AND EFFECTIVE
Whether shaping up for the beach or an important event, overcomplicating the cutting process could be a single biggest barrier to success. It seems the more heavily entrenched we become in our fat loss efforts the more likely it is we may stumble when it counts. Ironically enough, determination can be the biggest culprit. The more determined we are to achieve our best shape, the harder we may work to carve off the extra adipose. However, what many do not realize is that excellent results can be achieved without months of suffering and depletion. In fact, sustainable results are more easily achieved and more readily maintained when we are bursting with energy and feeling on the top of our game. Importantly, under such conditions, we are able to build and maintain the momentum and motivation needed to ensure that the weight we have lost stays off. Working hard and working smart are two separate things. In this article you’ll learn how to do just enough of the former and whole lot of the latter.
The most effective shredders tend to make the process look easy. These people have mastered the all-important attribute of self-observation. By closely monitoring how you look and feel and making the necessary adjustments along the way, you need not struggle to shape up. For example, counting every carbohydrate gram and getting in your cardio despite obvious muscle loses may only lead to frustration and a burning desire to revert to old ways of eating and training. Instead, it’s better to cut the cardio and up the carbs (the degree to which will always vary from person to person) and proceed from there. Indeed, those who have mastered the art of shredding know when to up the intensity and when to take their foot off the pedal. The rest of us should follow suit. We shouldn’t have to work like maniacs to carve off those extra pounds. Preserving valuable muscle while leaning out is not contingent upon one’s willingness to suffer and endure. What we do need however is a sensible approach that optimizes fat loss and muscle gains to achieve the results we want in a less detrimental fashion.
The first thing to remember when it comes to fat loss then is to take it slow. By following the advice given in this article over a 12-15 week period you will achieve superior and long-lasting results. There are no short cuts to shaping up, no rapid fat loss tricks to revamp your physique in record time. Only sufficient time and effort will yield the progress you desire. Best of all, the results you do achieve will be yours to keep. You’ll be in no hurry to revert to “offseason” mode. Instead, you’ll be happy to maintain your present plan of attack, secure in the knowledge that you are giving your body what it needs to stay healthy while keeping the gains coming.
I’d like to help you achieve superior shredding by firstly beginning with an area that can be either beneficial or detrimental, depending on how it is approached: cardiovascular training.
As paradoxical as it may sound, cardio tends to stifle fat loss more than any other shredding protocol. As with much of the advice given in this article, I’ve personally had to learn this one the hard way. I’ve also coached countless clients who’ve previously erred in their inclusion of cardio. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes aspiring shredders make is to panic when weight losses do not appear to be happening fast enough. A form of self-delusion occurs in which we believe we must do more to achieve more of the results we desire. This often involves upping the cardio. Such an approach is extremely counterproductive and I’ll tell you why.
Cardio in excess of what is needed to steadily burn fat can make massive inroads into our ability to recover from the weight training that sets the very foundation for effective shredding. It also directly burns muscle tissue for energy: the more cardio we do, the more muscle we burn.1, 4, 5 And while it’s true that fat stores will continue to provide most of the fuel for aerobic activities, the leaner we get the more likely it is that we will, via cardio, burn greater and greater amounts of muscle and the less effective the fat burning response will be. Logically we know this to be the case. One look at the average skinny-fat marathon runner tells us as much. Unfortunately logic often takes a backseat when we are in the throes of cutting fat. Once we are convinced that we’ve reached a fat-loss plateau, we’ll more than likely take extreme measures to overcome it. Since the cardio we have done has enabled us to lose appreciable amounts of fat, surely more of the same will produce more of the same results, right? Unfortunately, this is not the case at all.
One or more hours (or even as ‘little’ as 45 minutes) of cardio per day can have an adverse effect on fat loss when dieting down. By overdoing the treadmill the body enters self-preservation mode, much the same way it does when key nutrients are restricted. Sensing we are depleting valuable energy resources, the body will begin to shut down its fat burning processes, fat being essential for survival. Thus the more cardio we do in one sitting, the less likely it is we will burn appreciable amounts of fat. We will however continue to burn muscle tissue as the energy needed to sustain our increased physical output has to come from somewhere.
On the other hand, by reducing cardio in such as way as to progressively strip fat over the long term we are more likely to preserve lean muscle. In fact, this one single adjustment will enable you to retain a maximum amount of muscle while stripping the unsightly adipose to low single digits. If you find you need more than an hour of cardio per day to get cut then it’s likely you have created tremendous metabolic damage via extreme dieting and higher than desirable activity levels.
I like to begin my shredding journey with 30 minutes of cardio every other day and gradually increase it to where I’m doing 45 minutes, 5 days a week. Any more than this and, as a natural athlete, my strength gains begin to plummet and my body begins to look drawn and stringy.3 I also like to combine HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) with steady state cardio performed at 70 percent of my HRM (Maximum Heart Rate). I advise alternating between the two from session to session.
Much research points to HIIT as being a superior cardio method. Some researchers go as far as to suggest that low-intensity cardio has negligible fat loss benefits and that HIIT should exclusively comprise one’s cardio schedule.2
A reason why many do not do HIIT is due to its intensive nature. It’s damn hard and can take some getting used to. An effective HIIT protocol for experienced trainees is 15 seconds low intensity followed by a 15-second all-out sprint for a total of 20 minutes per session. Gradually build up to this level by doing 45 seconds low intensity/15 seconds of sprinting.2 A happy medium would be 45 seconds low intensity/20 seconds sprinting for 25 minutes per session.
FASTED OR NOT FASTED
Assuming diet and weight training are on point then cardio should be used only to add the finishing touches to the shredding process. Arnold and other top competitors of the ‘70s, for example, did virtually zero cardio, yet were able to achieve tremendous definition despite the comparatively unsophisticated training/nutritional/drug protocols of the Golden Era. Top champs like Robby Robinson opted for 45 minutes of cardio, three times a week. Yet you’ll be struggling to find a harder and more muscular bodybuilder than the Black Prince in his prime. My point is this: use cardio judiciously; do just enough to burn fat without unduly cutting into muscle gains. Monitor your physique closely, do not mistake subcutaneous water retention for fat (another major mistake shredders tend to make and which will be discussed in the next installment) and gradually scale back the cardio until you achieve the desired effect: full round muscle and gradual fat losses.
Many shredders like to do their cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. I used to be one of them until I discovered, via careful monitoring, that muscle losses were greater when following this protocol. The research certainly confirms as much. Fasted cardio, in fact, while it can be an effective way to burn fat for a certain period of time, has been shown to be no more effective than cardio performed in a non-fasted state.8, 9 Cardio done in a state of glycogen depletion (fasted) increases proteolysis (muscle protein degradation) to a far greater degree than when performed in a non-fasted state.8 Fasted cardio can also double nitrogen losses, meaning that muscle proteins are more readily used for fuel under such conditions.5 Non-fasted cardio, on the other hand, protects muscle while providing more energy to ensure that we may better intensify our cardio for greater fat burning results.
For best results take a Labrada Lean Body Meal Replacement Power Latte one hour before cardio. This product will not only enable you to preserve valuable muscle via its perfect ratio of protein and carbs but it also provides a 154mg caffeine jolt to awaken the senses, increase lipolysis and boost performance. It’s also good practice to add a scoop of Labrada BCAA-Power to your water bottle prior to all cardio sessions. This way, you’ll offset any potentially catabolic consequences arising from muscle depletion (remembering that cardio, whatever form it may take, will always burn some muscle).
It is common knowledge even among those heavily indoctrinated with cutting-edge bro-science that to lose fat we must maintain or ideally continue to build enough muscle tissue to keep our metabolic machinery on point. Aside from doing just enough cardio to blast fat stores, we should also be attuned to the intensity of our weights sessions. When cutting, many have a tendency to reduce intensity output, with lighter weights and higher reps taking precedence. Keep reading and I’ll explain why this approach is wrong.
As with cardio, too much lifting can also be a bad thing. With both, less can be better than more, but the perfect balance for your individual body type and biochemistry is always the best approach.
The harder and longer we train, the more we are subjected to diminishing returns. As with cardio and nutrition, the body may sense it is getting less than it should be receiving (with training this means rest and recovery). Without the right amount of rest, it’s impossible to produce lean muscle gains. Training provides the spark, but growth can only be achieved when we feed and rest our muscles. It must also be remembered that without the sustained muscle protein synthesis that leads to exponential growth, fat losses will be that much harder to achieve.
You’ve no doubt read about it on this site: muscle, due to its metabolically active nature, primes the body for sustained fat loss. The more muscle we have, the greater the fat burning response. This is partly why excessive cardio can stifle shredding success: by depleting muscle we down-regulate the metabolic efficiency integral for fat blasting. More lean muscle will always lead to greater fat loss independent of cardio. Remember, while diet, training, and rest will produce more muscle and thus enhance our ability to burn more fat over the longer term, cardio, while important for recovery and health and wellbeing, is most beneficial in assisting the shredding process. The key message is this: prioritize weights over cardio, even when seeking to shred.
While weights are central to fat loss and muscle building, excessive lifting can also lead to diminishing returns. To get the most from your weights program, seek always to intensify rather than to lower the resistance to “carve more detail”. Provided your form is sound and the target muscles receive the majority of the stimulation, it’s always best to go heavy and hard within a rep range of 8-12 (where muscle hypertrophy is optimized).
While 15-20 reps may be used to complete a final ‘finisher’ set, to pump maximum blood into the working muscles and thus to create maximum metabolic stress (the accumulation of metabolites such as lactic acid) within the muscles, the key objective should always be to ensure a combination of mechanical tension, sustained muscle damage and metabolic stress. The best way to do this is to lift heavy with perfect form and optimal time under tension (two seconds on the negative and 1-2 seconds on the positive). By training this way you’ll better engage muscle protein synthesis while creating more muscle microtrauma and the inflammation that leads to the supercompensation effect (continued adaptation) necessary for fresh muscle gains. The key factor here is intensity.
FULL FORCE INTENSITY
Full force training intensity is a must if continued growth and sustained fat burning is your aim. Many are the ways to intensify training. I like to block out all distractions, zero in on what I’m doing, put my mind in the muscle, really feel each contraction (both negative and positive) through an entire range of motion, and go to complete failure on all working sets. Many make the mistake of going heavy for the sake of going heavy. The weights should be increased only to the degree to which you can safely and effectively handle them. Perfect form is a must. For growth, a lighter weight with perfect form will always beat a heavyweight handled in a sloppy fashion. That being said, it’s always best to go as heavy as you can, but only with perfect training form. Training intensity can also be maximized by decreasing rest between sets to no more than one minute and by employing a range of intensity methods, many of which are discussed on this site.
Attaining maximum intensity across an entire workout can be incredibly difficult at the best of times. This is because the body’s natural response to increasingly more intensive efforts is to draw from existing energy stores in an attempt to prolong one’s training output. When dieting for cuts, energy stores may be lower than normal. As well, the body is simply not designed to endure upwards of an hour of continuous, intensive effort. Under such conditions, cortisol is released, muscle catabolism more readily occurs and mental focus declines substantially. Short, sharp sessions are one way to counter this effect. However, we also need sufficient volume to force fresh gains. Unfortunately, it’s during the final stages of a set and toward the end of a tough workout, when our energy is typically lowest, that we are likely to make most of our gains. Fortunately, there is a way solve this dilemma.
To capitalize on every second of every session it’s imperative that you take a reputable pre-workout product. Such a product will supply creatine for ATP production and cell volumization (to mention but two benefits), Beta Alanine for fatigue reduction, amino acids to keep the muscles anabolic and to offset muscle protein degradation and a stimulant such as caffeine to boost performance and optimize mental arousal. Labrada Supercharge provides all of the above and much more and is therefore perfect at such times. I take it right before training to ensure that intensity reduction is never a limiting factor.
As with cardio, it’s also a good practice to add a scoop of Labrada BCAA-Power to your water bottle prior to hitting the iron. The extra aminos will help you to stay strong throughout your session while enhancing muscle anabolism. Intra-workout nutrition is becoming more and more important as both athletes and regular folk continue to experience the benefits of nourishing muscle not only before and after but also during each workout. BCAA’s remain one of the best of the intra-workout products. Besides upping the intensity, post workout protein is also vitally important when seeking to strip fat. It’s been shown that a high protein diet is needed when eating and training to lose bodyfat.6 Whey protein has the highest biological value of all proteins and is extremely valuable post-workout. The rapidly absorbed, high-grade Labrada Iso Whey is perfect when seeking to maximize fat loss and build muscle in the aftermath of a brutal training session.
By following the above-listed training protocols you’ll be on target to achieving the best shape of your life. However, there is much more to shaping up than the judicious employment of weights and cardio. Be sure to check out the final installment in this series to learn exactly how to eat and supplement for superior fat loss along with a host of tips and tricks to get you shredded and to help you stay that way.
- Bell, G. J., et al. Effect of concurrent strength and endurance training on skeletal muscle properties and hormone concentrations in humans. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2000 Mar; 81(5):418-27.
- Boutcher, D., High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss. J Obes. 2011; 2011: 868305.
- Dolezal B. A., et al. Concurrent resistance and endurance training influence basal metabolic rate in nondieting individuals. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1998 Aug;85(2):695-700.
- Kraemer, W. J., et al. Compatibility of high-intensity strength and endurance training on hormonal and skeletal muscle adaptations. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1995 Mar;78(3):976-89.
- Lemon, P.W., et al. Effect of initial muscle glycogen levels on protein catabolism during exercise.J Appl Physiol Respir Environ Exerc Physiol. 1980; 48(4): 624-9.
- Longland, T. M., et al. Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes greater lean mass gain and fat mass loss: a randomized trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2016
- McMaster University. Losing fat while gaining muscle: Scientists close in on ‘holy grail’ of diet and exercise. ScienceDaily, 27 January 2016. (high protein = more fat lost; weights needed to retain muscle when dieting)
- Schoenfeld, B. Strength and Conditioning Journal | www.nsca-lift.org. 23, VOLUME 33 | NUMBER 1 | FEBRUARY 2011.
- Schoenfeld, B. Et al. Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2014
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