With summer around the corner, getting cut is on the minds of many people. Whether you’ve been bulking in the winter or want to turn that winter gut into a summer butt, you need an effective routine to get the desired results.
For those who have spent their time building up muscle, it’s important to hang onto as much of it as possible through the cutting process. While burning fat it will technically be impossible to gain mass. Since you need to eat fewer calories than your maintenance level to lose weight and you need excess calories to put on weight, your objective won’t be to put on muscle. However the body is very complex, and as such there are exceptions, for now just use that rule as a guideline.
Many people try to go on a cut and gain muscle at the same and end up with minimal changes. The simple rule is to just focus on cutting the fat for now!
Best Workout To Get Cut?
Before delving into the workout we must look at the goal which is to cut as fast as possible with minimal muscle loss. Therefore we must choose what workout to perform carefully to address those needs. There will be two aspects of this workout which are:
The cardio aspect is the staple of any fat loss program. Of importance here is what type of cardio to perform because there are several options each with its own pros and cons. You can choose which type you prefer based on your own needs. Of much concern for many people is muscle loss because of cardio since it has been scientifically proven than cardio does induce muscle loss. However, the amount you will be doing is key, as it does not significantly impact muscle mass. If you’re scared, even IFBB pro Bob Cicherillo advocates 30-60 minute runs, and for someone in his position, preserving muscle is of utmost importance. So long as you’re not doing a professional marathon training program, you should be fine.
Weight Lifting Aspect:
A lot of people do not realize to what extent weight lifting can contribute to losing fat. It is true that initially cardio burns more calories than weight lifting. However the effects of weight lifting are long-lasting and you will continue burning calories in the recovery phase so that the amount of calories expended is significant overall, not just on the spot.
I highly recommend weight lifting for anyone trying to lose weight. As well for the people already lifting, you wouldn’t want your strength gains declining as well as your work capacity. Imagine taking a couple of months break from lifting and going back to it in the bulking phase, it will make it that much harder to start again.
Ok, so now let’s get into the workout. Keep in mind that you don’t need to follow this like it has been written in stone. You can change it to suit your own needs, which I recommend because everyone has different body types and requirements. For example, if you don’t like a certain exercise then substitute one that works for the same muscle groups instead.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
One option for cardio is performing HIIT which recently has been picking up in popularity. HIIT is relatively short, only 15 minutes usually. The great thing about this kind of cardio is that it burns calories more effectively than lower-intensity but longer duration cardio. This is because of the fact that HIIT combines medium-paced intervals with higher intensity bursts even though its short duration.
Another great thing about HIIT is that it can be adapted to a diverse spectrum of sports. Numerous sports specific training programs incorporate high-intensity intervals similar to the ones in HIIT which can be an advantage if you’re juggling say football and bodybuilding. Also because it’s such short duration your chances of sticking to the cardio are much greater than if you’re going for 60-minute sessions which can be anything but desirable especially if you’re on a treadmill staring at a wall.
Performing HIIT is easy, here is how it goes together. Basically, you pick an exercise, more often than not people choose running. However, it can also be something like cycling, rowing, elliptical machine, skipping, etc.
Let’s say you choose running; you start off by doing this for a minute at 60-75% of your max heart rate. At the end of the minute, you do a sprint for 15-30 seconds using 90-95% of your max heart rate (Most people go for a 15-20 second sprint). This is one set which you do 10 times for a total time of 15 minutes max. So it looks something like this:
Warm-Up: 5 Minutes
Interval 1: Run 1 minute at 60-75% of max heart rate. Sprint 20-30 seconds at 90-95% of max heart rate.
Repeat x 10: Repeat 10 times for a total of 15 minutes.
Cool Off: 5 Minutes.
Frequency is extremely important. During the cutting phase, you’re going to have less energy because your restricting calories and to add to this most people restrict their carbohydrate intake just not Atkins style. Therefore if you’re overdoing HIIT you’re going to feel drained and overtraining is a possibility. Also, if you do too few cardio sessions you’re not going to be able to cut in time.
I recommend doing HIIT 3 times per week and trying as hard as possible to schedule them on non-lifting days, especially on leg days. If you decide not to lift weights then I would say you could try it 4 times per week. After discussing weight lifting I will put together a schedule that incorporates HIIT into a workout split.
Timing is an important tool you can use to your advantage. I wasn’t a big fan of this before, but now I see the benefit of doing this in the morning after waking up. Many people are doing this now because of the fact that carbohydrate stores are low upon waking up, therefore the body will utilize fat for energy.
Doing cardio in the morning is worse for muscle loss BUT remember HIIT only lasts 15 minutes which isn’t a big deal at all. Right after just eat a decent meal or a protein shake and you will be fine.
3. Changing The Exercise
It is important to change up the exercise so that your results don’t plateau. The reason why you hear people changing up their exercises every so often is so that their body doesn’t adapt and their results plateau. So every month switch from using running for HIIT to the bike (as an example).
Low-Intensity Long Duration Cardio
The second option is doing low intensity and longer duration cardio. I’ll admit I wasn’t a big fan of this before but I do see some good qualities about it that make it beneficial.
A lot of people are scared that this is a guaranteed way to lose muscle. However, I have a question to answer this. How many of you are elite athletes in which you’re pushing your bodies to the limit with endurance training to the point where your muscle is being sacrificed for energy and nutrients? I doubt anyone here since this kind of training can’t really coexist with bodybuilding. All that is required is 30-60 minutes of low intensity which is not going to have any appreciable effect on your muscle mass.
One great thing about this kind of cardio is the type of energy used. Because it’s low intensity, the main fuel will be fat since the body will reserve the carbohydrates for more intense exercise.2 However you have to be careful not to go overboard because the body has mechanisms to preserve fat levels and if you go over 60 minutes, you will start to use muscle as energy.
Also, for those who aren’t in the greatest shape and want to lose weight, lower intensities are a better option than HIIT. Some people who are out of shape and overweight might not be able to keep up the high intensities, so using a lower intensity would be best.
Like HIIT you can use a variety of mediums for low-intensity cardio. Running, biking, elliptical machines, stair climbers, rowing machines, skipping etc.
Like HIIT, frequency should be about 3-4 times per week. You might be able to do more if you decide not to lift weights but if you are lifting keep it to 3-4 times per week. It also depends on your fitness. If you’re really out of shape then keep it at 3 times per week. However, if you’re quite in shape then go for 4.
Duration is key here. You have to be going for at least 15 minutes so that your body starts using fat as it’s an energy source. Therefore go for at least 30 minutes to 60 minutes maximum. It also depends on your fitness as well. If you’re in shape then you can go longer and if you do not then keep it at 30 minutes. Also if you have more fat to lose you can afford to go longer, but if you’re just finishing up then you can keep it shorter.
Intensity is extremely important. If you start increasing intensity, you also use carbohydrates instead of fat as your energy, and this is not what you want. So throughout, you should be using a low intensity. At the end of the cardio session you should be comfortably tired, not passed out on the floor in a heaping pile of sweat.
4. Changing The Exercise
Again it is important to change the exercise so that you don’t plateau. It’s also nice so you don’t get bored. So every month switch from running, to the bike, or some other form of cardio.
Pros And Cons Of Each Type Of Cardio:
HIIT – Pros
Burns more calories.
Can be adapted to sports specific training, especially those requiring fast twitch muscles.
HIIT – Cons
High intensity can be hard for people out of shape or overweight.
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy, not fat.
Doesn’t work on endurance as much.
Low-Intensity Cardio – Pros
Easier for most people to maintain because of low intensity. Best for people who are out of shape.
The main source of energy is fat, not carbohydrates.
Works on endurance.
Low-Intensity Cardio – Cons
Boring sometimes, especially on a treadmill staring at a wall.
Doesn’t work on fast-twitch muscles if that’s what you’re looking for.
So there you have it. Now it’s up to you to choose which one is best for you and which will provide the greatest benefit. Remember to keep in mind your fitness level, whether you’re in shape or not. Also, see what type of sports you’re doing. If you’re in football and are looking to get cut at the same time, then HIIT is probably best for you.
Now if you’re also convinced that you want to continue weight lifting or what to start it to help you lose fat, then it’s onto the resistance training aspect of the cutting program.
I’ll say this again, at this point you need only be focused on losing fat, not putting on muscle. As I said before it’s quite impossible to do both. Also, another thing to keep in mind is that during cutting, you’re going to have less energy because of the fact that you’re restricting calories and also for some people limiting carbohydrates.
Therefore a lot of people can’t keep up the heavy lifting programs they have completed in the bulking session. Also if you are going to start lifting, then it’s important to keep in mind that you shouldn’t attempt a heavy lifting schedule.
To be honest there are infinite ways of doing the weight lifting aspect. There are literally thousands of programs out there that you can try and suit different people’s needs. Remember the main goal here is to burn extra calories while still benefiting from weight training, not gaining muscle.
What I’m about to suggest is just that, a suggestion. You can substitute your own workout program if things are going jolly for you, or if you would prefer some other workout program, by all means, go ahead.
Before going into the workout there are a few things you might want to consider when going about your workout in reference to cutting.
1. Focus On Large Muscles
The main reason why I say focus on large muscles is simple, it will burn more calories! I mean do you really think you’re going to be burning nearly as many calories doing heavy wrist curls as opposed to squats? The more calories you burn, the faster you’re going to lose weight, so focus on muscles like the legs, abdominals, back, and chest.
2. Focus On Compound Exercises
Isolation work is good, but compound exercises are your best bet at burning more calories. For example, take leg extensions versus squats. In leg extensions, you’re focusing only on quads. However, in squats, you’re focusing on quads, hamstrings, glutes etc. So which do you think is going to burn more calories? Of course the squats. So instead of doing pec flyes do bench press etc.
3. Keep Your Heart Rate Up During The Workout
This means exactly what it says. For example, if you’re taking 2-3 minute breaks in between sets that’s fine for some workouts, but if your planning on burning calories, that’s not the way to do it. Take shorter rests between sets for example 30-45 seconds so you’re working more consistently and therefore using up more calories. Try workouts that promote this for example circuit training.
Taking a look at those three things I would like to suggest two different kinds of workouts. The first is circuit training which is designed to be a more cardiovascular type workout that also combines the effects of weight lifting. The second is HST or hypertrophy specific training because of the fact that it utilizes compound exercises and focuses on the major muscle groups. Remember the key here is cutting away the fat.
Circuit training is great for cutting because of the fact that it’s a heavy cardiovascular workout but also has benefits of weight training such as strength etc. The only one thing you have to watch out for is the fact that it is demanding because you’re always working.
So if you’re really out of shape, then I suggest you pick something else, or I’ll show you something else you can do so you can last through the workout. Again keep in mind you might not have as much energy while cutting so try not to overstep your limits.
Basically, for circuit training, you pick 5-8 exercises to work the entire body. Once you’ve done them all in a row, that’s 1 circuit. You need to do 2-3 to finish the workout. As I mentioned above you can go straight through it which is really tough and I advise only if your in real good shape, or what you can do is take a very short rest say 10-20 seconds and go back at it.
Another thing you can do is do some form of cardio in between the exercises, for example, some skipping for 20-45 seconds to recover but also keep your heart going to burn those calories. What you choose to do is up to you, your needs, and what you can handle. I recommend skipping in between sets if you choose to do some cardio in between because you can carry your rope around etc.
Also, a few things to remember are to pace yourself. Don’t go to failure on the first set because you still got a bunch of exercises to go. That also doesn’t mean you can be lazy either.
1. The Exercises
For the exercises, I’ll choose 7. To do the workout correctly you do them all in order starting with:
Bench Press (Barbell, or Dumbbells)
Chin-Ups (Weighted Or Body Weight)
2. In Between Exercises
In between exercises you can take no rest at all if you’re up to it, so get ready for an intense workout. If you’re not so keen, then try resting 10-20 seconds in between making sure your heart rate is always up there. Or, as I said, try doing a little bit of cardio for 25-45 seconds to recover but also keep your heart rate up.
3. Number Of Circuits
Doing all those exercises in a row is 1 circuit. Most people do about 3, but if you can’t then 2 should be fine but always try to keep improving yourself.
4. Number Of Repetitions
I don’t recommend at all going for the very low repetition ranges. I do recommend going for about 8-12 repetitions. If you feel like doing more than go to about 15 repetitions. A lot of people like to go 20+ for even more of a cardiovascular endurance workout but that’s up to you. If you go for the 8-12 repetition ranges your going to be working more on strength.
Intensity is everything. Like I said you always want to be working so that your heart rate is consistently high. If it’s too low then you’re not going to be burning enough calories, but if you’re working way too hard then you’re not going to be able to complete your circuits. For example, if you totally go all out in the first two exercises then the rest will suffer and that’s not what you want.
You want to use a weight where you can still continue with the rest of the circuit. Also, you don’t want to go to failure only on maybe the last exercise.
Since during the cutting phase you can’t take on as much work capacity, I recommend doing this 2-3 times per week at the most. You never want to go into overtraining because that will push your whole cutting phase further back and you won’t be able to cut in time.
7. Changing The Exercises
As always it is super important to change your exercises. If you do not, you risk a plateau and getting bored with your workouts. Change it up every 2 months. For example instead of doing chin-ups try close grip chin-ups, or wide grip chin-ups, even a rowing exercise for the back.
Putting It All Together
Bench Press – 8-12 Reps.
Chin Ups – 8-12 Reps.
Shoulder Press – 8-12 Reps.
V- Ups – 8-12 Reps.
Side Bends – 8-12 Reps.
Squats – 8-12 Reps.
Stiff-Legged Deadlifts – 8-12 Reps.
Click here for a printable log of ho_124’s Circuit 1 workout.
Repeat circuit 1 x 2-3 times for a total of 2-3 circuits. Between exercises take no rest, 10-20 seconds rest, or 25-45 seconds skipping.
Hypertrophy Specific Training Or HST Workout
HST is another option you can choose while cutting because of the fact that it works for the major muscle groups as well as using a majority of compound exercises. Therefore it is very suitable for cutting.
Like circuit training, HST is designed to work the full body in one workout. However, instead of having say 9 sets for a body part in one workout, it’s spread throughout the whole week.
I couldn’t imagine doing 9 sets for each body part in a full-body workout, you would probably die. Compound exercises are utilized the majority of the time and the larger muscle groups have more total sets per week which means more calories burned.
There are many ways to do HST workouts; some programs suggest only doing one exercise per muscle group the whole time while others choose two. So, therefore if you prefer another way then go ahead. The way I will suggest is simple so you can make modifications if you want.
Legs – 2 Exercises
Back – 2 Exercises
Chest – 2 Exercises
Arms – 2 Exercises, 1 For Biceps And 1 For Triceps
Shoulders – 2 Exercises
Calves – 1 Exercise
Abdominals – 3 Exercises For Upper Abs, Lower Abs, And Obliques
Legs – 4 Sets
Back – 4 Sets
Chest – 3 Sets
Arms – 4 Sets, 2 Sets For Biceps, 2 Sets For Triceps
Shoulders – 3 Sets
Calves – 2 Sets
Abdominals – 3 Sets
Note: You might be thinking for example, how do I do 2 exercises for chest but only 3 sets? Simple, do two sets with one exercise and one for the other. Use this principle when you run into the same situation for other body parts.
I suggest doing 8-12 repetitions. If you start going 20+ you might find that you’re doing way too many reps, so keep it around 8-12 per set. I also don’t suggest going in the low repetition ranges like 2-5 because this isn’t a powerlifting workout.
4. Rest In Between Sets And Duration
As you might see, you have a lot of work to do here, 23 sets so don’t rest too long in between. Also in the interest of keeping your heart rate up I suggest resting from 25-45 seconds ideally and 60 seconds maximum. If you drag out your workout too long (Over 60 minutes) your intensity is going to go down and you’re going to get a poor workout. Keep it short and intense always. Keep it under 60 minutes; try to aim for 45 minutes.
To complete your workout quicker you can do what is called supersets. Supersets are where you do two sets back to back with no rest, usually with different muscles involved. For example, doing bench press then immediately chin-ups so that you don’t spend as much time resting.
Frequency should be 3 times per week. Don’t try to attempt anymore to avoid overtraining, remember you also have cardio to do. If your body can’t take it then drop to 2 times per week but try working your way up to 3.
6. Changing Up The Exercises
It is very important to change up the exercises every 2 months so your body doesn’t plateau. It is never a good idea to keep the same exercises program after program, which can also be quite boring as well. So instead of doing bench press do incline bench press or decline etc. Mix it up and you will thank yourself.
Putting It All Together
Squats: 2 Sets Of 8-12 Reps
Stiff-Legged Deadlifts: 2 Sets Of 8-12 Reps
Chin-Ups: 2 Sets Of 8-12 Reps
Bent-Over Barbell Rows: 1 Set Of 8-12 Reps
Barbell Shrugs: 1 Set Of 8-12 Reps
Incline Bench Press: 2 Sets Of 8-12 Reps
Dips: 1 Set Of 8-12 Reps
Dumbbell Curls: 2 Sets Of 8-12 Reps
Skull Crushers: 2 Sets Of 8-12 Reps
Shoulder Press: 2 Sets Of 8-12 Reps
Rear Deltoid Raises: 1 Set Of 8-12 Reps
Calf Raises: 2 Sets Of 8-12 Reps
V-Ups: 2 Sets Of 8-12 Reps
Side Bends: 1 Set Of 8-12 Reps
Click here for a printable log of ho_124’s HST workout.
This is one workout. You will do this 3 times throughout the week.
Pros & Cons Of Circuit Training And HST
I’ll help you decide which workout you want to do by listing some pros and cons of the two types of lifting programs.
Circuit Training Pros:
Type of workout aimed at a fat loss by burning extra calories.
Increases endurance and conditioning.
Focus on compound exercises and large muscle groups = More calories burned.
Circuit Training Cons:
Doesn’t focus on smaller body parts like some programs. For example no exercises for forearms.
Less focus on the strength aspect.
Focus on compound exercises and large muscle groups = More calories burned.
Focus on the strength aspect.
Less focus on endurance.
Doesn’t focus on smaller body parts like some programs. For example no exercises for forearms.
Putting The Whole Program Together
So now that I’ve filled your head with enough information about different workouts and things to keep in mind, it’s time to put cardio and weight lifting together in a training split. As always keep in mind that you don’t have to follow it exactly and you can tweak it anyway you want.
Keep A Few Things In Mind:
Try not to put cardio days on the same days as lifting days. As you will notice in both those lifting programs, the main weakness is that you do legs every workout. Normally you could do cardio on a day you have said an arm workout because your legs would still be fresh. However now that your working legs every workout the thing to do is try to avoid putting workouts on the same days as cardio.
If this is not possible try doing the lifting or cardio first and give yourself a couple of hours to recover before doing the next part whether it be the lifting or cardio. Because of the fact that your only doing a couple of sets for the legs, it won’t have as great an impact if you did say 9-12 sets.
Leave one day of rest. Always have at least 1 day of rest. If you’re working all week then you could start overtraining. Even the pros in many sports take a day off at the end of the week to rest and recover.
So remember, you can choose either HIIT or low-intensity long-duration cardio for your cardio option. Next, for weight lifting, you can choose between circuit training or HST. Now to put cardio and lifting together into a training split.
Monday – Circuit Training Workout Or HST
Tuesday – HIIT Or Low-Intensity Long Duration Cardio
Wednesday – Circuit Training Workout Or HST
Thursday – HIIT Or Low-Intensity Long Duration Cardio
Friday – Circuit Training Workout Or HST
Saturday – HIIT Or Low-Intensity Long Duration Cardio
Sunday – Rest
As you can see, it’s short and simple. Nothing too complicated.
What Kind Of Results Can One Expect From This Type Of Workout?
With this type of workout, you can expect to lose weight at a consistent pace. No this is not some miracle magic workout like the stupid commercials you see on TV where it promises you to lose 40 pounds in 2 weeks. None of that nonsense.
What this program will do is take off the fat in an efficient manner with hard work and consistency. If you put in half the effort, you get half the results, simple as that. Also, it varies for some people the rate at which they can take off the fat.
There are three body types, endomorphs, ectomorphs, and mesomorphs. Depending on which body type you are, you will cut fat at different rates. Mesomorphs and ectomorphs tend to cut fat easier while endomorphs tend to take longer to lose fat.
It also depends on your genetics, with some peoples bodies programmed to hold onto fat more than others. So there are a variety of factors. Just do not get discouraged and keep at it, and never listen to those garbage TV commercials and think, why can’t I lose weight that easy?
Also, something else that is very important… EVERYTHING depends on your diet. The results you expect depends on your diet! I don’t care how hard you’re working in the gym, if your diet is very poor you won’t get anywhere. I see people all the time in the gym working so hard and wasting it eating junk. That’s not the way to go.
Here are a few tips for diet when cutting:
1. It’s All About Calories
Everyone should know you have a calorie maintenance level, which is how much energy or calories your body uses on a day to day basis. Very simply if you eat over this limit, you gain weight, if you eat under you lose weight.
Of course, it is not as simple as that (take the super skinny guy who eats McDonald’s every meal), but use this rule to guide your diet. I don’t care if you have the healthiest diet if you keep eating over your not going to lose weight. So always make sure your eating under your calorie maintenance level, but not to a point where you’re starving yourself and lacking energy.
2. Watch Insulin Levels
If you’re eating sugary foods or foods that have a high GI rating, then your going to be spiking your insulin. Not only is this not healthy, but it can lead to fat gain because the sugar is converted to fat in simple terms. So always try to eat foods with a low or medium GI rating and stay away from things like white bread and sugary items.
Here are some good sources of carbohydrates:
Whole Wheat Pasta
Whole Wheat Bread And Cereals
Potatoes And Sweet Potatoes
3. Get A Good Ratio Of Protein, Carbohydrates, And Fat
Getting a good ratio of protein, carbohydrates, and fat are essential. First of all, it helps take care of the bodies needs in terms of energy, repair, and fat loss. This is an area of much debate because some people like to cut their carbohydrates a little bit during cutting while some don’t.
People like cutting carbohydrates because they believe the body will switch to fat for energy during the day. Whether you do this, it is up to you. Try something like a 40%-40%-20% ratio of protein-carbs-fat or 50%-30%-20% ratio (Remember this is a percentage of your total calories, so 40% from protein, 40% from carbs, and 20% from fats for example).
Work out something that suits you, this isn’t written in stone. Just don’t try something stupid like having 80% of your calories from fats or something.
Also, a lot of people get confused when they see the word fats. This is not referring to trans fats or saturated fats but the essential fatty acids or EFAs which are essential to any athlete. They facilitate hormone production and are even recommended for fat loss, so get them in your diet. Foods that contain these are Certain fish, nuts, seeds, oils, certain vegetables.
4. Eat 5-6 Meals A Day
Eating constantly is important to always have a constant flow of nutrients to the body. This helps you get through your workouts and start recovering faster. Also for those who have trouble with eating too much, eating more meals a day will help you so you don’t overeat. People who have fewer meals a day tend to overeat on those meals.
What Are Some Of The Drawbacks To This Type Of Workout?
There is really only one minor issue for some people. Some like to have cardio and weights on the same day but not on leg days. Seeing as how every workout has legs in it this might be a slight issue. But then again there aren’t too many sets of legs and with enough rest time in between most people should be able to work cardio and weights on the same day.
In terms of cutting the main drawback is obviously the lack of energy some might experience because of the addition of cardio and also the cutting down of calories. Also, some like to cut carbohydrates and therefore have less energy.
Lastly while cutting you’re not going to be putting on muscle. Because you are aiming for a deficit of calories and you need excess to gain muscle, you’re not going to be gaining any muscle until you bulk.
Good luck and happy cutting.