April 01, 2022 4 Comments
Whether you are looking to cut weight for summer, a fitness event, or simply to achieve your ideal body mass index (body fat percentage), we guarantee this cutting workout and diet plan will get you there. This guide has everything you need to know about cutting and it even lays out what you need to eat and a workout program for you to follow. Our ultimate goal with this cutting plan is to help you lose fat while maintaining muscle.
In the world of fitness, especially bodybuilding and strength training, the term cutting refers to losing weight while retaining as much muscle mass as possible.
Really, the key point is at the end of the statement above. For a cut to be truly successful, the trainee must be able to restrict muscle loss. If not, you are not really “cutting”, rather you are simply losing weight.
So, the goal of any good cutting workout & diet plan, ours included, is to take pounds off the scale while maintaining pure muscle mass. That means the pounds must mainly be FAT. To do that, we must eat at a slight deficit and continue weight training (and for most, up the cardio).
There’s obviously more to cutting, but before we get into the how of cutting, let’s go over some frequently asked questions about cutting, as we are sure many of you reading this will be wondering the same things.
Here are some of the most common questions we get about cutting...
While the goal of a cutting phase is to lose fat while maintaining muscle, a little muscle loss may occur along the way. HOWEVER, as long as you cut using a reasonable deficit, keep your protein intake high, and continue lifting weights, muscle loss will be very negligible. Most people make out the whole “losing muscle when cutting” to be a bigger deal than it really is. In fact, it’s pretty hard to lose a significant amount of muscle as long as you aren’t on a starvation diet, doing super long cardio sessions (marathon long), and/or doing a strict cutting plan for way too long (like all year round, which is obviously not sustainable).
All in all, you really don’t need to worry much about muscle loss when cutting. If you follow a plan like ours, you will certainly maintain most of your muscle mass. Also, it should be noted, the slower the fat loss, the less likely muscle will be loss. A slow and proper cut should see little to no muscle loss. Of course, don’t expect to gain muscle (or strength) on a cut, as that simply goes against science (calories in vs calories out - you can’t gain weight on a deficit).
We will get into the details of what your diet and workouts should be further below.
It depends on the individual.
As cutting is more than just losing weight, it’s about losing fat while maintain muscle mass as best as possible, bulking is more than just gaining weight, it’s about building muscle (while hopefully not getting too fat **cough cough** clean bulk FTW).
Now, back to the question...
If you are a beginner, who isn’t skinny or very overweight, then you honestly don’t need to worry about bulking or cutting. You will see good results as long as you train hard and eat a healthy diet. The worst thing you can do is succumb to paralysis by analysis.
If you are a beginner who is considerably overweight, then the first thing you should do is obviously lose fat, so following a cutting plan is the way to go.
If you are skinny, then you obviously should bulk up.
Where people get a little confused is when they are in the middle...the infamous, SKINNY FAT. If you are skinny fat, you could go either way. Some recommend putting on muscle first, others recommend cutting.
We have a specific guide for Skinny Fat Beginners - The Ultimate Workout & Diet Plan For Skinny Fat People.
Is it possible to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time?
According to this study, where a group of young men were able to lose 7 pounds of fat while gaining 3 pounds of muscle within 4 weeks by following a strength training program and increasing protein intake while at a caloric deficit, IT IS. This is especially true for beginners.
In terms of body composition, you will look a lot better with considerable muscle at a lower body fat percentage than without. So, if you are seriously lacking muscle, then just focus on gaining muscle and don’t worry about belly fat yet. Plus, the more muscle you have, the more fat you will burn when resting and newbies will shed off that belly fat even on a clean bulk.
FOR EVERYONE ELSE...
If you are intermediate to advanced, then you probably already know what to do, but to answer the question...
A healthy body fat percentage for men is anywhere from 10-17%. However, athletes may be a little lower, especially during their respective season, and as you get older, being on the higher side (even around 20% BF in your 50s) is fine. So, if you are simply worried about your health, then do a cut if and when you are above ~17% body fat percentage. If you simply want to look leaner, then do a cut until you reach your body fat percentage goal. Most people do this in the lead up to summer, at which time shirts come off often. For most men, being around 10-12% will look great, so you can plan a cut to this body fat percentage.
A healthy body fat percentage for women is around 21-31%. Women athletes may be lower, i.e. around 14-20% and women who take fitness very seriously yet not competitively around 21-24%. The same rules for men apply to women. You should cut if you want to reach a certain body fat percentage for an event, summer or just for how you want to look OR if you are above the healthy range.
Generally speaking, most lifters do phases of bulking and cutting as bulking will enviably come with some fat increase, so to maintain the body fat percentage they want, they will pack on some muscle then do a 8-12 week cut (some even shorter). That said, if you are already happy with your body fat percentage, you can just do a very slow bulk (aka a clean bulk) and you shouldn’t have to worry much about the whole bulking then cutting then bulking then cutting thing.
A cutting diet typically lasts 8-16 weeks, with 12 weeks usually being the best as it allows for a slower cut that minimizes or completely restricts muscle loss.
Can you do a cutting diet all year round?
There would be no point to do a non-stop cut. Once you reach your ideal body fat percentage, then you would want to maintain or build muscle. You obviously can’t keep losing weight forever. Moreover, a cutting workout plan is non sustainable. You simply can't train hard and eat a deficit for long periods of time, which is why 8 to 12 or 16 weeks is recommended for cutting phases.
Most research shows that you can lose about 1 pound of fat per week, healthily, without noticeable muscle or performance loss. So, in 12 weeks, that’s a lot of fat!
This depends on the purpose of your cut.
Are you cutting for a sporting event (i.e. bodybuilding competition), season (i.e. summer) or special date (i.e. wedding)? If so, give yourself 8-12 weeks for a cut. If you have an event July 1st, you should start your cut at the latest May 1st or the earliest March 1st.
Are you cutting just to reach your ideal body fat percentage? If so, then start anytime you want, but in theory you’ll want to have a good foundation of muscle before even bothering with reaching your target body fat percentage.
Our “Ultimate” workout and diet plan is based on 12 weeks. However, it can be adjusted by simply adjusting your calorie intake, as you will see below.
We chose 12 weeks as this will allow you to have a slow cut that maximizes fat loss and minimizes muscle and performance loss.
While we recommend 12 weeks for cutting, you can adjust the plan to the amount of time you have. We will show you how. The good news is, all of the same rules you are about to read will apply no matter what length of time you choose for your cut, as will the workouts.
When it comes to cutting, everything depends on your diet. Your results will be directly correlated to your diet. It doesn’t matter how hard you workout, if your diet is poor, your results will be too.
So, let’s first dig into the diet plan...
The fundamental aspect of your diet comes down to calorie intake. As this is a cut, you will want to be on a calorie deficit.
Since this is a 12 Week Cutting Plan, we will break this down based on 12 weeks.
TDEE Calculator: Before you start, you need to figure out your calorie maintenance level. To do this, you can use a TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) calculator. You just plug in your info and it is going to tell you what your calorie maintenance level is. You can Google TDEE calculator and many will pop up.
As you lose weight, you will need to keep track of your maintenance level as it will change slightly.
Note: You will also need a find calculator to count your calories, at least at first. Google Food Calorie Calculator or get an app to keep track nice and neatly.
Now, to the numbers...
Rather than just dropping 300-500 calories below your maintenance level right away (which would be about 1 pound per week for the average male), the best way to cut is with a taper, especially considering we have 12 weeks. This will help you to easily adjust to the lower calorie intake and not feel sluggish or let your workouts suffer.
Here is how it’ll look week by week:
Another way to look at it is:
After the 12th week. Don’t just go back into a calorie surplus and start eating whatever you want. That is, unless you want to just blow right back up and get all that fat back.
After your cut, you should do a maintenance period that lasts around 2-4 weeks. Simply eat at maintenance for a while and let your body get used to it. After cutting, even maintenance will feel great.
When you finish your maintenance period, you can begin to gradually increase your calories.
For those who only have 8 weeks, your taper can look like this:
You could even be more aggressive than this. For example, by week 2 you could be at around 500 calories below maintenance, which will be around 1 pound per week, and then maintain this until week 8. Your workout plan for the 8 weeks will be the same as the one for 12 weeks, so all you need to do is focus on your calories when it comes to the length of your cut.
Your macronutrients are what make up your calories (energy).
The 3 Macros:
Your macros will look different on a cut than they do on a bulk. On a cut, you will be on a high protein diet, since sparing muscle mass is priority.
If you don’t want to worry about changing things up everyday, you can really just stick to a 40% P, 30% F, 30% C diet or 50%-40%-20% diet.
If you don’t want to deal with too much calculations, the simplest way is to just eat carbs in moderation (mornings, before weight training, early afternoons, and just a little at dinner - all healthy carbs), up your fat intake a little (healthy fats) and increase your protein intake to 1g per pound of bodyweight. So, if you weigh 200lbs, you will want to eat 200 grams of protein each day.
You can always play around with your macros based on how you feel and progress. You may need to decrease carbs or increase fat. But one thing that should really remain consistent is your protein intake of 1g/lb of bodyweight. For the first few weeks as you taper down your calories, you can be at .8-1g, but once you are in the thick of your cut, you will want to be at 1g+ per lb of bodyweight per day. More protein can’t hurt as long as you are eating healthy and keeping your total calories where they should be.
When cutting, it’s best to eat multiple smaller meals per day.
While some people ask about intermittent fasting when cutting, reports are conflicting and we don’t recommend it for two reasons:
So, we recommend 4-6 meals per day. i.e. Breakfast, Lunch, Snack, Dinner, Snacks or just all small even meals like you see when bodybuilders meal prep.
Work your macros and total calorie intake into those meals.
No one meal should ever make you super full. Don’t expect to get very full while cutting, but you should feel content after each meal, which is perfectly fine. In fact, this will help keep your metabolism up.
Overall, multiple small meals will keep your digestive system working strong and it’ll boost your metabolism. Moreover, you shouldn’t eat few a few hours before bed (unless its a protein shake to get your protein level/calorie level where they need to be). By doing this, each day you will have around 11-12 hours of fasting (last meal to first meal of next day), which is good too for fat loss.
The most important thing is you eat the right amount of calories, you get plenty of protein, and you eat healthy foods...and, of course, that you feel good!
You’ll want to eat healthy, unprocessed foods when cutting - Nutrient dense foods. They will give you the best bang for your buck and help you to feel full because you can eat more of these foods while staying at your required calorie intake.
What should you eat when cutting?
Your diet can be rich, just be sure its not processed garbage and it works with your macros. Also, try to avoid liquid calories, because they add up fast and they don’t keep you full! Water is your best liquid friend on a cut. Milk is ok too in moderation.
What foods to avoid while cutting?
Essentially, if you think it might be unhealthy, it likely is...
If you are out partying and must drink alcohol, then stick to whiskey, vodka, tequila or gin, STRAIGHT, and of course don’t overdo it. But a couple is fine. Be that as it may, even these will add up in calories. Whiskey is about 70 calories per shot. Vodka 64 calories. These are not carbs either, this kind of alcohol is essentially its own macro, so it’s providing completely useless calories.
What foods help you lose fat?
Some foods are said to even help you lose fat! “Fat-burning” foods like:
What should I eat for breakfast when cutting?
Most breakfasts are high in carbs, but what you want to do when cutting is eat a breakfast high in protein.
The amount you eat will depend on your current bodyweight and how much calories and macros you need for the day.
Here is a sample breakfast when cutting:
What should I eat for lunch when cutting?
Here is a sample lunch when cutting:
What should I eat for dinner when cutting?
Here is a sample dinner when cutting:
What should I eat for snacks when cutting?
The best snacks when cutting will be high in protein and fats. But sometimes you just need to put something in your stomach, so we will include that as well. Fiber is going to be your friend too during your cut.
A lot of bodybuilders will simply eat 4-6 small meals rather than the normal three bigger meals and snacks, for example:
There are so many ways to go about your diet on a cut, intermittent fasting included. All that really matters is your stay below your TDEE and you get enough protein. Also, that you are feeling good and can hit the weights relatively hard!
As minimizing muscle loss is a huge part of cutting, we need to get our workouts dialed in.
We have two things to focus on when it comes to working out during a cut and that is cardio and weightlifting.
Let’s start with cardio...
While some people don’t even bother with cardio during a cut and they simply continue lifting weights and just eat less, we prefer to do cardio on a cut because it heightens your metabolic rate and it burns more calories on the days you do cardio which means you can eat a little more, and who doesn’t like to eat more if they can.
Be that as it may, you don’t want to go overboard on cardio, so follow the instructions of our cutting workout plan below...
There are two types of cardio that you can do, and you can do both depending on how you feel on any given cardio day.
The two types of "cardio" you will do in our plan are:
Not a lot of weightlifters are big on steady state cardio, however, it surely has its place in a cutting program, you just need to do it in moderation.
The reason people avoid long duration cardio is because they worry about losing muscle. However, this is not something you need to think about as you won’t be running for that long. All it takes is 30-60 minute sessions of low intensity long duration cardio to get what you need in terms of fat loss, and with that, you won’t sacrifice muscle mass. TRUST US. It’s once you get past the 60 minute point where muscle starts to be used for energy.
Many pro bodybuilders use low intensity long duration cardio (again, 30-60 minutes) and for them preserving muscle is of utmost importance. These guys know what they are doing...
The key point of low intensity long duration cardio is to be LOW INTENSITY. By doing this, the main fuel will be your fat and your body will reserve the carbs for more intense exercise. So, as long as you don’t go overboard on the intensity of your runs, you will be honed in on burning fat.
Low Intensity Long Duration Cardio Rules:
At this point, you must have heard of High Intensity Interval Training.
HIIT is great because you can burn as much calories as low intensity long duration cardio in a fraction of the time. With HIIT, all you need is around 15 minutes.
While the efficiency of HIIT is great, the real benefit comes after a HIIT workout due to the after burn effect. After a HIIT workout, you will be burning calories at a higher rate than you normally would when resting. HIIT is great for keeping your metabolic rate strong.
The only downfall to HIIT is it is much more taxing than low intensity long duration cardio, so it might not be the best for beginners. You will need to make sure that you are not overtraining yourself (yes, even with just a 15 minute HIIT workout).
How to do a HIIT Workout?
HIIT is pretty simple. All you need to do is have intervals of 60-75% max heart rate with short bursts of 90-95% max heart rate.
60 seconds jog x 15 second sprint, repeated without stopping for 10 minutes.
With HIIT, you can also choose different mediums. However, running is usually the most straightforward and easiest do correctly. So, for our program, you will be doing running forms of HIIT.
Keep your HIIT workouts to 10-20 minutes.
Here are some sample HIIT workouts for you to use during your cutting phase:
HIIT Workout #1:
HIIT Workout #2:
For the above sprints, use a pyramid scheme for intensity. So your 10 sets will go like this (max speed not heart rate) 70%, 80%, 85%, 90%, 95%, 90%, 85%, 80%, 75%, 70%.
HIIT Workout #3 (TREADMILL):
Our cutting plan will have you working out 6 days per week, with 3 days of cardio and 3 days weightlifting.
So, you will do cardio 3 times a week and it’s up to you whether its low intensity long duration or HIIT. You can choose one or the other or mix it up week by week or month by month.
For example, you may do one HIIT workout per week and 2 low intensity long duration workouts or vice versa. OR, maybe you do low intensity long duration cardio for 2 weeks, then HIIT for 2 weeks, then low intensity long duration cardio for 2 weeks, and so on and so forth. It’s up to you, just get it done.
As for timing, we will place your cardio on non weight lifting days as it will allow you to have the most energy and is actually easier to manage than something like cardio in the morning and weight training in the evening 3 days per week. Moreover, you get more calorie burn spread throughout the week rather than just double on 3 days.
Note: If you want to shorten your training schedule to 3-5 days per week, you can simply add the cardio session(s) to your weight training days, separated by at least several hours. Since your weight training won’t be as taxing as it would on bulk, you should also be able to manage this.
To wrap up the cardio section...here are the general pros and cons of HIIT and Low Intensity Long Duration Cardio for you to consider:
Low Intensity Cardio Pros:
Low Intensity Cardio Cons:
We don’t mean to beat this point down too much but we will say it one last time, cutting is not just about losing fat, it’s also about preserving muscle.
When it comes to a cutting phase, you shouldn’t attempting a very heavy lifting schedule like you normally would. You are restricting calories, so your energy will not be as good and thus neither will your strength. Be that as it may, the goal is to continue training hard and keep your strength up as much as possible.
There are many weightlifting programs that you can follow during a cut, but all should follow two key principles, which are as follows...
1. Focus On Large Muscles & Compound Exercises
The best workouts during a cut will focus on large muscle groups, and thus, compound exercises. This is because compound exercises will give you the biggest bang for your buck in terms of maintaining strength, hypertrophy and even more importantly calorie burn (you are going to burn A LOT more calories with a squat than a leg extension, right!?). Moreover, big compound lifts keep testosterone levels high.
So, your main focus will be your Legs, Back, Chest, and Core. But don’t worry, your arms and shoulders will also get attention with our plan.
Here are the movements your workouts will/should revolve around:
Variations of these big lifts will be included (i.e. RDL, Incline Bench).
2. Keep Your Heart Rate Up When Working Out
Doing compound exercises burns more calories than isolation exercises, but that’s only half the battle during cutting workouts. You will also have to keep your rest time to a minimum.
Rather than taking 90-180+ seconds rest between sets like you may normally do during a bulking phase, you will need to keep your rest time between sets to 30-45 seconds on a cut. That way you can maximize calorie burn. This kind of metabolic style of training will allow you to maximize hypertrophy with lighter weights as well. So, your workouts will be volume-centric rather than load-centric. You won’t be lifting heavy, so long rest won’t be needed. But, you should still be challenging yourself with the weights. You should be around 70-80% your 1RM for sets of 8-12.
Note: Many cutting programs use circuit training protocols, which may have your rest time like 10-20 seconds between exercises and 60 seconds between rounds, but our cutting program is called HST (Hypertrophy Specific Training) so you will just stick to 30-45 seconds between sets. All in all, no matter what program you choose when cutting, you should try to minimize rest to keep your heart rate up at a fat burning level for the duration of the workout so its kind of like a cardio/hypertrophy session.
For this cutting program, you will be doing Hypertrophy Specific Training (HST Workouts).
HST workouts are perfect for cutting. They are full body workouts that mainly focus on compound exercises. The total weekly volume is spread out nicely throughout the week too, so it’s manageable to get the volume needed each week to maintain muscle mass while on a calorie deficit. You should have no issue with overtraining with our HST program.
Key Points of our HST Cutting Workout Plan:
Ok, now let’s take a close look at how the workouts are broken down.
Exercises & Sets:
Each workout will include:
You will be working in the 8-12 repetition range. It’s ok if you go a little over or under this on a certain set if you end up choosing a weight load that is too light or too heavy.
You have 23 sets in the workout, which is quite a bit. But, remember, you only have three workouts per week so the total weekly volume for each muscle group is ideal. You want to keep this structure. However, you don’t want your workouts to go too long, and you want to maximize calorie burn to get some cardio, fat burning effect as you lift. So, do you best to keep rest time to 25-45 seconds (maximum 60 seconds).
As you progress through the plan, you will likely be able to decrease rest time (rather than progressing by increasing load). This will help you to avoid plateau and keep your muscles overloaded appropriately for a cut.
If you notice your workouts are going a little long, implement supersets. You can superset the less taxing exercises like arms and calves.
While this program is only 3 months, and you should be fine doing the same exercises for the duration of this cutting program, you can change up the exercises each month or even just the order of the exercises. This is up to you and how you feel. If things are getting too easy, do this or simply decrease rest time a little each week.
Now, let us give you your 3 HST workouts, which you will do all three each week.
You can play around with the schedule, such as...
3 Days Per Week:
4 Days Per Week:
All in all, just try to get your 3 weight training sessions and 3 cardio sessions done each week! Worst case, if you need to skip a day, it won’t kill you as you are doing full body routines so it’s not like you’d have skipped a major muscle group.
Continue this for 12 weeks! And remember to follow the diet plan throughout the weeks.
Note: If you don't have 12 weeks, all the same rules apply, you'll just have to be more aggressive on your calorie deficit taper. It's really that simple.
You can also do full body workouts three times a week with a circuit format. Essentially, you would do 5-6 exercises with 10-20 seconds rest between each exercises for 3 rounds (60 seconds rest between each round) OR you could break the exercises into two circuits and do all three exercises without rest and just rest between rounds.
The exercises should also be compound exercises no matter which plan you choose. All in all, Upper Lower, Push Pull Leg, and Full Body Circuit or HST are best for cutting phases.
If you have any questions for us about this cutting workout and diet plan, please feel free to reach out! And if you do decide to do this, take before and after pics and send them to us. We’d love to share your photos after you finish the program!
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