Building an impressive physique and cutting down into the ever so desirable single digit body fat range doesn't happen by accident.
When it comes to building muscle mass regardless of whether you're utilizing false or inferior training techniques such as extremely high reps and muscle confusion you will see results to an extent.
Getting shredded is a different beast.
If you don't understand caloric manipulation and efficient training methods you will not get shredded.
Below are the 8 rules to follow in order to cut down into single digit body fat.
The beauty is there's no skill involved, simply follow these 8 rules and stay consistent, don't seek the quick tips or the crazy tricks.
They don't exist.
1 - Count Your Calories
A caloric intake is like a finely tailored suit, it’s designed for one specific individual. I may have a fantastic suit, but it won’t fit you anywhere near as well… the same is true when it comes to dieting.
Why is this? Your caloric intake is calculated based on your height, age, weight and activity level.
Use this guide to find out your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) and subtract 500 calories from it. This is now your daily caloric intake for fat loss.
When it comes to cutting (or bulking!) your caloric intake is king. Forget the supplements, the rest periods between sets, the number of hours of sleep you’re getting each night… Instead focus on your caloric intake otherwise you’ll be fighting an uphill battle.
If your body is not in a caloric deficit you will NOT lose a single pound of fat. Period.
2- Keep Volume Low & Intensity High
Lift heavy. In order to maintain lean muscle mass (the goal while losing fat, as unless you’re a complete newbie to the gym you won’t be building muscle while simultaneously burning fat) an emphasis must be placed on heavy compound movements in the single digit rep range. Endless isolation exercises in the double digit rep range will not help you on your quest to getting shredded, more on that shortly.
You'll work up a sweat performing 5 sets of 10 different exercises in a high rep range every workout, but all you'll be doing is sweating, you won't be maintaining muscle mass or exerting yourself anywhere near as much.
3 - Supplements Should Be Just That
Supplements should only be used once all other aspects of your regime are in check.
If you're not already in a caloric deficit (see rule #1) a fat burner supplement won't do a thing for you.
If you're not eating nutritious food protein shakes won't do a thing for you.
If you're neglecting sleep and rest brain chain amino acids won't assist with exercise endurance.
Get the basics dialled in before you think about supplements.
Supplements, as there name suggests merely SUPPLEMENT an already solid regime, they won't fix holes in a poor diet, workout regime or rest schedule.
4 - Focus On Your Compounds
If you want to build muscle mass and strength or maintain your muscle mass while you venture down into the single digit body fat range you cannot afford to go past compound exercises.
Every workout should start with compound exercises.
Hit the big stuff first then you may hone in with some isolation work if you like. Never isolate first, you’ll cut your abilities short by the time you get to your heavy compound movements, while also increasing your risk of Injury as your muscles are fatigued from the previous isolation work.
Why am I so biased towards compound movements?
The first step to understand why compound exercises are king comes down to understanding how muscle mass and strength is actually built.
The guys that spend all day hitting sets of curl, chest flies and straight arm pull downs swearing that set after set of these exercises at a relatively light weight is the key to getting ripped are the same guys that’ll tell you that ‘the pump’ equates to muscle growth.
Simply put, compound exercises, due to the sheer amount of weight we’re able to lift are far superior to isolation exercises as we’re apply to fully apply progressive overload.
Bench pressing 315lbs is putter far greater stress on your chest than high repetition dumbbell incline flyes with 20lb dumbbells. Regardless of how great the pump in your chest feels from the flyes it’s just not possible to compare the two and expect similar results.
5 - Decrease Your Fluid Retention
A physique with 10% body fat that's dry as a bone will look far leaner than a bloated physique with 7% body fat.
If you want to look ripped to shreds you want to reduce your fluid retention.
I’m a big advocate of the Epsom salt bath for reducing water weight.
Several weeks before a photoshoot or event I want to look my best for I begin to have a 20 minute Epsom salt bath 3 times per week.
The process of reverse osmosis achieved by the Epsom salts helps to flush toxins (including heavy metals) from your body as well as the removal of other salt, which in turn reduces water retention.
Dandelion is a natural diuretic that’s often used to decrease water retention; I first discovered dandelion root extract capsules upon recommendation by a fellow gym-goer as a way to drop that last bit of water weight and bloating before a photoshoot. After seeing fantastic results taking 3 capsules per day I decided to start taking it year round – my physique now remains relatively ‘dry’ year round as a result.
There’s other (expensive) and dangerous diuretics out there that I haven’t and won’t touch because dandelion root works perfectly.
6 - Understand That Rest Is Imperative
There’s many different takes on overtraining, with views ranging from conservative to extreme as to whether or not it exists and what we need to do to ensure we’re not overtraining (which becomes counterproductive to growth).
When you find yourself struggling or feeling ‘burnt out’ it’s time to take either a deload or rest week.
Perform the usual number of sets and reps as you would during your regular training regime, however only lift 50% of the weight you generally would, placing a big emphasis on your form.
This is a form of active recovery.
Take a week off from the gym, perform some light cardio and stretching/foam rolling if you wish however do not venture into the weights section of the gym, allow your body this week to recover and come back stronger the following week.
7 - Ditch The Scales
Weight on the scales, just like the popular BMI method of measuring whether you’re the correct weight and what not is flawed. Muscle mass, fluid retention, time of day, hormones and a number of other factors can adversely affect the number being displayed to you when you step on the scales.
For example, I’ve been hovering around the 185lb mark, I remember being 185lbs a couple of years ago too… does this mean I haven’t bulked or made any progress at all since then? Have I hit an unbreakable plateau?
Of course not…
My body fat has decreased, my fluid retention has decreased and my lean muscle mass has increased… resulting in my total mass clocking in at 185lbs (not to be confused with lean muscle mass which is my total body weight minus my body fat percentage… but we’ll get into that later).
According to BMI body composition is irrelevant, two men both 230lbs at 5ft 11” would be deemed overweight as lean muscle mass and body fat are irrelevant in this method of measurement (deeming it completely useless for any accuracy in measurements).
There are far more accurate methods to measure your progress.
- Take weekly progress photos
- Measure your arms/chest/back/waist/quads
- Use a body fat caliper
8 - Never 'Maintain' Always Force Progressive Overload
When in a caloric deficit the importance of applying progressive overload to your muscles via lifting is paramount.
Attempting to confuse your muscles and shock them into getting shredded by switching rep ranges and exercises is a fools game.
Go back to the basics. The squat, bench press, deadlift and overhead press in the 4 – 6 rep range coupled with a small amount of accessory work (isolation) is all you need to maintain your muscle mass and strength while placing your body in that caloric deficit. No fancy tricks required.
Every workout should be growth orientated.
Record the weight and reps you perform each workout so you can ensure you push the envelope to better yourself the following workout.
Then apply progressive overload by doing one of the following:
- Increase the number of repetitions we’re performing at a set weight
- Increase the number of sets we’re performing
- Increase the amount of weight we’re lifting
- Decrease our rest periods between sets