Saturday, November 13, 2010

10 Commandments of Getting Cut Part 3 of 3

Posted by PicasaPart III of The 10 Commandments of Getting Cut
Losing Fat, Not Just Weight

by Chris McClinch
Food Logs & Formulating a Cardio Plan

6. Thou shalt keep a food journal.

No matter how good your plan is, the only way to make sure you're following it exactly is to keep a record of everything that goes in your mouth. Is that a pain in the butt? Yes, at first. Is it essential? Absolutely. Why? Two reasons. One, you're trying to create a consistent caloric deficit, which is tough to do if you don't know exactly how many calories you're consuming in a given day. Two, most of the eating plans that control insulin and help you lose weight are very specific about the ratios of carbohydrates, protein, and fat that you're consuming. Writing down what you eat is the best way to make sure that your ratios are correct.

The best way to set up your food journal is whatever way makes it the most painless for you. You need to keep track of how many calories, grams of protein, grams of carbohydrates, and grams of fat you're taking in at what time of the day. That's the bare minimum. It's even better if you also track hunger levels, energy levels, and mood. This will help you fine-tune your diet to include more of the foods that fill you up and make you feel good.

I like keeping my journal in a physical notebook--I use a Mead composition book--but others use Excel spreadsheets or Web journals like the one available at There is no best way: whatever makes it most convenient for you is the proper way to go.

7. Thou shalt do smart cardio. Eating properly is only half the battle in losing body fat. The other half is physical activity. Most people understand that some type of cardiovascular activity is a good idea for fat loss, but unfortunately most do their cardio in a way that actually sabotages their chances of making progress.

What do you think of when I mention cardio? An hour-long jog? A long, steady session on the exercise bike? Sweatin' to the oldies? If it's any of those things, you're doing cardio, but you're not doing smart cardio. There are lots of things you can do to burn calories, but if you're reading this article, you know that you want the calories you burn to come from fat, not lean mass. Traditional long, slow distance cardio burns muscle and fat pretty indiscriminately. In fact, if you do enough, you may find that your body burns muscle preferentially to ease the demands of doing so much aerobic work. That's exactly the opposite of what you want.

So how do you do cardio without sacrificing precious muscle? The answer is interval work. Definitely get yourself cleared by a doctor before jumping into intervals, though, because the whole idea is to rapidly and repeatedly raise your heart rate, alternating the high heart rate work with brief recovery periods. The optimal way to do interval work is probably to do walkback sprints. Sprint all-out for 15 seconds, then turn around and walk back to where you started. It should take about 45 seconds to walk back. Once you're back where you started, sprint for 15 seconds again. Do seven sprints your first week, and add one sprint per week until you're up to 20 sprints per session.

If you're not up for sprints, you can approximate them on an exercycle or an elliptical machine. Simply go all-out for 15 seconds, then pedal or walk at a recovery pace for 45. The same build-up pattern applies.

Finally, if neither of these ideas appeals to you, you can try boxer-style cardio. Pull on a pair of bag gloves and pound the heavy bag for a minute, rest for a minute, jump rope for a minute, rest a minute, hit the heavy bag for a minute, etc. for the duration of your cardio session.

Cardio should be done 2-3 days per week, preferably on days when you don't lift. If you have to do cardio on lifting days, try to do cardio in the morning and lift in the evening. If you have to do them in the same session, lift first. Under no circumstances should you ever do cardio before lifting, as you will be dramatically weaker.

Weight Training for Fat Loss

8. Thou shalt train hard and heavy with the weights.

Time to explode another old training myth. For years, people have been saying that you need to use heavy weights and low reps to bulk up, and lighter weights and higher reps to get cut. This is just plain wrong. Getting cut has much more to do with how you eat than how you train. Ditto for bulking up. With that said, you want to train in such a way that your body will retain as much muscle mass as possible; just like you can't flex fat, you can't look ripped without muscle.

So what do I mean by hard and heavy? During this time, you want to be doing primarily compound exercises that involve a lot of muscle: squats, deadlifts, bench presses, bent-over rows, pull-ups, power cleans, snatches, military presses, dips. And you want to be training for strength. This is not the time for doing three sets of 12. Bump up the weight and go for five sets of five or even 10 sets of 3. Hold your rest in between sets to about a minute, and make the weight heavy enough that you're struggling to finish that final set.

9. Thou shalt not fall victim to the myth of spot reduction.

This is the big one that seems to get people who want to lose weight or see their abdominal muscles for the first time. Doing a billion crunches won't do a thing to burn the fat obscuring your abdominal muscles. The abductor/adductor machine (the "leg spreader") won't do a thing to reduce the size of your thighs. Step-ups will firm up the muscles of the butt and upper hamstrings, but they won't burn the fat there. Fat is burned by creating a caloric deficit and training the entire body with resistance exercise and smart cardio. That's the only effective way to deal with your "problem areas," whatever areas they may be.

10. Thou shalt keep a training journal.

A training journal is never as important as when you're trying to lose body fat. Your training journal is going to provide some of your most valuable feedback on how well your diet is working for you. You're not likely to get a lot stronger while dieting down unless you're relatively new to lifting weights, but if your training journal shows that your lifts are going down, it's a pretty good indication that you're restricting calories too severely and possibly burning muscle as well as fat.

Again, you can keep your training journal in a variety of formats. The most important information to record is the time of day, the exercises you do, the poundages you use for those exercises, the number of sets and reps you complete, and how it feels. This information will provide you with valuable feedback not just about your diet but about how your body responds to exercise. It's also the beginning of a continuous log that will show you how much progress you've made since you started working out and let you see at a glance what your most effective workout programs have been.

These commandments aren't glamorous, and they call for a good deal of hard work, but if you follow them religiously, you just might find that they'll lead you to the promised land of a lean, sexy physique.

Chris McClinch is an Arlington, VA-based bodybuilder and personal trainer. He won the middleweight title at the 2001 International Natural Bodybuilding Federation's collegiate national championships. As a trainer, he specializes in physique transformation and sport-specific strength training preparation, and is an active member of the IronOnline bulletin board.
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